Archive for March, 2013

Restaurant Review: Yalla Yalla (Winsley Street)

Posted on: March 28th, 2013 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Yalla Yalla Interior

The ‘Street Food’ concept has become de rigueur for those seeking informal dining and is something to which Lebanese cuisine, seems ideally partnered. Based largely around Mezze, which like antipasto or tapas, offers the diner a cornucopia of choice, the food is vibrant, fresh and exciting and ideal for enjoying sociably with friends.

Yalla Yalla, established in 2008, is at the forefront of taking Lebanese cooking from the mundanity of Edgware Road to the hip Soho crowd. Initially based at a tiny site in the heart of Soho with only 28 seats, Jad Youseff and his partner Aga Ilska have expanded their business rapidly on the back of brisk trade, with a larger venue off Oxford Street and, more recently, a pop-up restaurant in Shoreditch.

Fine Dining Guide visited the Winsley Street restaurant on a Tuesday evening. Approaching the door, the popularity of this eatery was immediately obvious, with a large queue stretching out the door. Like many of its contemporaries, Yalla Yalla does not take bookings, however a relaxed bar area and efficient service mean that the wait for a table is far from arduous.

Drinks orders were taken quickly and our refreshment arrived promptly, accompanied by a tempting selection of the usual nibbles. Unusually, this included some extremely moreish slices of turnip that had been pickled with beetroot, along with requisite olives and fiery peppers.

As we enjoyed our drinks and accompaniments, we reviewed the menu and soaked up the surroundings. The decor, as one might expect, is contemporary and open plan, meaning noise can carry somewhat. Generally this adds to the vibrancy of the place, as does the close proximity of neighbouring tables. The walls are adorned with bright modern art pieces depicting street scenes from Beirut, and the soft furnishings appear similarly on theme, with cushions in the style of Kaffiyeh.

The menu is extensive, particularly when it comes to Mezze, and as we discovered, generous portions can make a hazard of over-ordering!

Staples such as Tabboule and Hommos were expertly delivered, with some interesting twists, for example, the Hommos Shawarma, with tender pieces of lamb shoulder were heaped upon a rich and glossy chickpea mash. This contrasted well against the fresh and slightly tart flavour of dishes such as the Samboussek Jibne, pastry parcels stuffed with Feta and Halloumi cheeses. Fine Dining Guide also sampled some more unusual options such as Makale Samak, an assortment of deep-fried seafood including Calamari, White Bait and Tiger Prawns, served with a chilli and mint yoghurt dip. One of the greatest achievements on the menu however, is the Sawda Djej, Chicken Livers sautéed with garlic and pomegranate molasses. This has been awarded the recognition as one of the top 100 dishes in 2012 according to Time Out Magazine, an accolade of which the perfectly cooked chicken livers were more than worthy.

Yalla Yalla Chicken Livers

Delicate spices and abundant starches form the backbone of most main dishes, enriched by the generous use of fresh herbs. The Lamb Casserole was rich and flavoursome, albeit slightly overpowered with Cumin. The Chicken Shawarma was more delicately flavoured, accompanied by a fresh red pepper salad.  All dishes were served with delicious buttered rice and had in common a generous use of authentic and relatively expensive ingredients, used more sparingly by some other proprietors.

Despite there being plenty to feast heartily on for the savoury courses, dessert is a treat not to be overlooked.  For those who have really over-done it, there is a decent range of refreshing sorbets. On the other hand those who are feeling more capacious will enjoy the sticky sweetness of the Baklawa selection or lighter options such as Mohalabya – fragrant milk pudding – topped with perfectly balanced Pomegranate syrup.

Prices are very reasonable, with Mezze ranging from £4-5 per dish and main dishes all coming in at less than £15. There is also a varied and well-compiled wine selection, including wines by the glass. With all this in mind, the name of Yalla Yalla seems very fitting, meaning ‘come on’ or ‘get going’ in Arabic.

Hotel Review: The Vineyard, Nr Newbury (March 2013)

Posted on: March 22nd, 2013 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Vineyard Exterior

Great wine, great art, great food. This unique combination of three delights is offered at The Vineyard. A member of the prestigious Relais & Chateaux Association and awarded five AA red stars; this “Restaurant with luxury suites attached” is owned by Sir Peter Michael.

Vineyard Sir Peter Michael

Sir Peter Michael

Since 1998, when The Vineyard opened, he has lovingly nurtured it to reflect his vision and passions, receiving a host of accolades, one of the most recent being Decanter /Laurent-Perrier Restaurant of the Year 2012. His success in the hospitality industry matches that of his other entrepreneurial ventures in the varied worlds of high tech, wine, art and music – he is probably best known to the general public as the founder of Classic FM.

Sir Peter Michael’s position as patron of art and sculpture is evident both inside and outside the two storeyed Portland stone building.

For guests arriving at night, the flames dancing on the ornamental pool at the front of the hotel create an immediate impact. The magical changing patterns of light, from William Pye’s metal, stone and water sculpture, Fire and Water are especially visible from the restaurant and guest bedrooms.

On entering the recently remodelled reception area another dramatic spectacle awaits – a stunning glass walled and floored wine vault. Extending to the basement, it contains over 880 bottles from the extensive and comprehensive cellar. Almost as a substitute for the absence of a vineyard on the estate, it leaves guests in no doubt that this is a serious destination for wine.

The near (but not unhealthy) obsession with wine is also evident in tasting classes, as well as tasting menus with matching flights of wine at three price levels, and in a magnificent wine list of 3000 bins (The Long List), in which California takes pride of place, and from which 100 (The Short list) can be taken by the glass.

Clearly visible in the room (California Bar) beyond the glass vault is the mural “After the Upset,” completed in 2012 by Gary Myatt to commemorate the 1976 Judgement of Paris. This celebrated blind wine tasting resulted in Californian wines being rated higher than the finest French vintages. The shocked, incredulous faces of the major French wine aficionados are graphically depicted, with Sir Peter Michael, who owns a winery in California’s Sonoma County, looking on, (no doubt with a certain glee?).

Vineyard Judgement of Paris

Judgement of Paris, Sir Peter Michael (far left) looking on...


An equal love of art and sculpture manifests itself on the walls of the lounge, restaurant, long corridors, gardens and guest accommodation.  Articulate – An Introduction to Art at The Vineyard – provides a tour and commentary to familiarise visitors with the major attractions. These include notable collections by Ronald Searle, Boris Smirnoff and Doris Zinkeisen, alongside favourite pieces such as Bucolique by impressionist Henri Martin. With its idyllic depiction of rural life, Sir Peter claims “It is the most perfect picture that epitomises everything about The Vineyard”.

Sensual pleasures of a different kind are provided by the 5 Bubbles Spa. The circular pool with Jacuzzi, sauna, steam room and four treatment rooms allow guests to relax and be pampered in peaceful surroundings. A wide variety of massages, manicures, pedicures, facials are on offer using Darphin and The Vineyard’s own Red Grape products.

The split level restaurant has benefited from a recent refurbishment, its grandeur with sweeping staircase and decorative balustrade being enhanced by impressive lighting and soft furnishings, reflecting a more contemporary design. Well-spaced tables with fine napery, blinds and sumptuous drapes add to the elegance of the room, whilst works of art and sculpture provide a rich backdrop to the dining experience. It was pleasing also to see the owner dining here, as he regularly does.

Pre- and post-prandial drinks might be taken in the California Bar or the spacious, comfortable lounge which has plenty of individual armchairs and a  fire. Alternatively, guests could take their time admiring the numerous pieces of art and sculpture throughout the hotel.

Given their luxurious quality, retiring to one’s room is equally attractive. Of the 49 rooms, all of which are named after iconic wines from around the world, 32 are suites. Room 210, where I stayed, is named after Joseph Phelps of Napa Valley and Sonoma Coast, California. As with other deluxe suites, which feature separate sitting rooms, the design is that of the renowned Serena Richards Interiors.

Vineyard Suite

Decorated in bold tones of violet and grey, with the use of ecofabrics, it provides spacious accommodation with an understated elegance.  With a first floor view of the ornamental lake, both sitting room and bedroom benefit from French windows and thick cotton drapes. Tastefully furnished with a two-seater settee, striped armchair, antique table, sideboard and mirrors, soft lighting, modern conveniences come in the form of a flat screen TV – thankfully not too wide – soft lighting and a mini bar. (For me, the lack of tea and coffee making facilities is a bonus, giving an excuse to call for room service or visit the lounge and California Bar.) The bedroom is superbly comfortable with plump feather pillows and crisp Egyptian cotton sheets. The marble tiled bathroom offers the softest, fluffiest towels and bathrobes with a range of designer toiletries.

Vineyard Hayden Bowl

General Manager Hayden Bowl

Overseeing the whole operation is the charismatic and inspirational General Manager, Hayden Bowl. At interview he enthused about the opportunities and challenges involved in running such a distinguished property. With a management style that is ‘the host of the house’, he is much in evidence during most of the day.  Hayden is vigorously proud of his team – “his family” – and is fully aware that happy staff means happy guests. Preferring to give immediate praise rather than assessing snapshots of individual performance, he appreciates the importance of personality – sometimes more so than paper qualifications – when recruiting and promoting staff. A great believer in continuous staff training – “knowledge is cool”- Hayden can see the benefits of, for example, wine tasting and matching with food, which gives added value to both staff and guest. Sharing an appreciation of the art works is also important in staff development, given The Vineyard’s unique selling points.

A customer-led approach, so guests see their stay as very much a home from home, is central to his philosophy of hospitality. Understandably, he is excited about Daniel Galmiche’s new dining concept, which offers maximum freedom of choice in food and wine. This also extends to a more guest friendly approach to such things as the dress code.

Certainly, the general sense of enjoyment and relaxation amongst guests at dinner – so noticeable by its absence in similar ranked establishments – is a testament to the success of Daniel’s and Hayden’s vision. It is also reflected in the seamless, friendly and informative service seen throughout my stay, from the welcome at reception, dinner in the restaurant, through to breakfast and departure. Overall, The Vineyard offers so much more than luxury accommodation and fine dining: Sir Peter Michael and the whole of the restaurant and hotel teams have created a destination venue of which they can be justifiably proud.

Restaurant Review: The Vineyard (March 2013)

Posted on: March 21st, 2013 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Vineyard_Galmiche_webAt interview, Daniel Galmiche radiates warmth and charm. This classically trained chef, with extensive experience that includes Harvey’s in Bristol in the 1990s, and L’Ortolan and Cliveden since then, has set himself a new challenge at The Vineyard. Seeing the trend towards a more relaxed, consumer-led approach to dining, he now offers a unique dining concept that offers maximum choice in wine and food. Tables (to a maximum of six) can select wines and leave the kitchen to prepare dishes to match them; or tasting menus of three, four or five dishes can be chosen from a list of 18, to be eaten in any order  with the only proviso that one is a dessert.

The sommeliers will then choose matching wines from three grades, priced accordingly. There are other alternatives including the Discovery menu of the five courses with matching wines, and the ultimate Judgement of Paris menu which features two wines, one Californian, one French, with each of seven courses!

Daniel admits the new formula places pressure on the kitchen, the sommeliers and front of house. However he demonstrates the energy and determination to make it work, and has adapted his kitchen to facilitate this approach. His mainly young brigade is also committed to its success.

Prioritising the needs of his diners rather than the safer, chef-led approach that might please the guides, is paramount. Accessibility to a wider range of smaller dishes and a greater range of (sometimes expensive) wines by the glass, is equally important. Indeed, he sees this as future of fine dining. The result so far has been impressive, with a vibrant relaxed ambience and sense of fun pervading the dining room. This is especially noticeable on Saturday evenings when 90 covers are often served.

Rightfully proud of his Decanter /Laurent-Perrier Restaurant of the Year 2012 award, Daniel has been advised to trademark his unique formula before it is copied. Indeed, chefs and food glitterati have been impressed by observing it in action. Moreover, many of the guests are Londoners, keen to escape the constraints of dining in the capital.

Daniel Galmiche’s cooking style, based on the classics, has become increasingly light, colourful and fragrant, with Mediterranean influences. Employing first rate ingredients, he is passionate about their provenance and sustainability, from line caught fish, hand dived scallops, single estate, grass fed meat, to maize/hand fed foie gras. Many seasonal dishes are locally sourced.  Embracing modern techniques to enhance flavour and texture, dishes comprise relatively few ingredients, allowing the main element to shine. The use of foams, gels and purees is evident but not to excess and added not for mere decoration but to add taste and texture. Precise timing of meat and seafood dishes is a major strength which, given the various menu permutations, is a staggering feat in itself. So too is the final dressing of plates – not over-elaborate but labour intensive nevertheless. The overall result is clear flavours, balance of tastes and textures, and elegant, clean presentation.

Fine-Dining-Guide opted for a five course tasting menu with matching wines on a busy Thursday evening in March 2013.

The three breads – country farm, soda and rosemary and potato – were all exemplary in their crisp crust and delicate crumb.

A soft disc of guinea fowl ballotine, expertly poached, rolled and chilled to give a mild gamey flavour, was given a lift by the addition of lemon zest. Textural contrast was provided in the crisp yellow frisee leaves dressed with lemon and a scattering of sourdough crumbs mixed with walnuts. The luscious floral notes and minerality of the wine was a highly satisfying match with the food. (Wine: Kistier Chardonnay, California 2009)

Vineyard_Ballotine Guinea Fowl

Pressed terrine of foie gras had a creamy texture and superb flavour. Dressed with celery gel and raisin puree to give sweetness and carrot batons for texture, this was another refined, balanced composition. The magical finishing touch was spice of angels which gave a gentle anise fragrance to the dish. Again, the acidic apple and pear notes in the wine proved a good foil for the richness on the plate. (Wine: Torbreck Australia, 2008)

Vineyard_FoieGras Terrine

A tranche of foie gras was seared to produce a caramelised crust and soft melting interior. Smooth celeriac puree mixed with cardamom added an earthy warmth, whilst orange and chicory salad gave a freshness and zing which cut the richness of the delectable piece of offal.

Vineyard_Pan Fried Foie Gras

Seared, hand dived Orkney scallops retained their sweet succulence under their caramelised crust. This was balanced by Iberico ham which added a mild saltiness with broccoli florets and gel giving a gentle bitterness. A sprinkling of blanched almonds provided a nutty textural contrast to the finished dish. The crisp, dry Alsace Riesling with lemon notes complemented these elements well. (Wine: Trimbach F Emile, France 2007)


Both fish dishes benefited from accurate seasoning and timing, with minimal garnishes. The thick fillet of Cornish sea bass had delicate translucent flakes under its crisp skin. Wilted red chard, chive dressing and a sprinkling of quinoa were lively, well balanced accompaniments. The honey and spice flavours of the dry Californian white did full justice to this to this dish. (Wine: Tables Creek, California 2009)

Vineyard Seabass

Softer in texture but equally flavoursome was the fillet of Cornish brill. Here, the delicate sweetness of this pan roasted fish was balanced the more robust, earthy flavours of chanterelles, salsify and Swiss chard. A rich, intense poultry jus brought the contrasting elements together well.  This dish could take a medium bodied red wine which the Pinot Noir did perfectly. (Wine: Byron Pinot Noir, California 2009)

Vineyard Brill

The poultry dish married the crisp skinned breast of corn fed chicken with a classic accompaniment of mushroom in puree form to intensify its flavour. Kale added both colour and flavour whilst potato and chive ribbons, stir fried slowly, gave a crisp texture and mild onion fragrance. The saucing for this dish was again exemplary. The use of the same Pinot Noir as for the brill amply demonstrated the both the versatility of the wine and the skill of the sommelier. (Wine: Byron Pinot Noir, California 2009)

Vineyard Chicken

The final savoury dish was saddle of Balmoral estate venison, cooked to a medium rare to maximise its mild, gamey flavour. Cooking this dish reflects Daniel’s meticulous attention to detail to show case ingredients at their best: the venison is lightly brushed with espresso from his own coffee mix before being gently cooked sous-vide and finished in the pan to add colour and more flavour. Finally, before being sent to the table, a grating of 70% Andoa single estate Fair Trade chocolate from Venezuela is added. This regal dish, in all senses of the word, was master-class of game cookery, producing a tender, almost melting texture. The sweetness of butternut squash, the textural contrast of hazelnuts and pearl barley and the vibrant notes of spring greens helped to make this a highly satisfying dish. Pairing a Uruguayan red might not seem to be an immediate choice, but the one chosen had a lovely sweetness with spice and oak notes that worked well with the venison. Again, the breadth of knowledge of the sommelier and the ability to share this with disarming charm was amply demonstrated. (Wine: Preludio  Deicas Tannat, Uruguay 2010)

Vineyard Venison

Often, desserts can be an anti-climax after the embarrassment of riches that precede them. This was not the case, the pastry section displaying its strengths to the full. The new menu concept requires consistency across the courses as well as amongst sweet and savoury.

Griottine cherry and cranberry terrine balanced sweet and sour elements well in a layered composition that was complemented by a fragrant pistachio parfait. The strength of flavour of the kirsch marinated cherries helped to make this a very adult dessert, white port being a very acceptable wine accompaniment (Wine: Caldas Alves de Sousa, Portugal NV)


Finally, a delicate cylinder of dark chocolate filled with ginger ice cream, and pineapple, was crowned with a tonka bean emulsion which added a characteristic fragrance of vanilla, cinnamon and cloves.

Vineyard Chocolate

Good coffee and mini lemon tarts, passion fruit jellies and chocolate truffles completed a first rate meal. Pino Marletta, Restaurant Host Manager, ensured that service went smoothly, with dishes and wines being clearly and concisely explained. This was a highly memorable tasting menu that did not falter on any dish and which skilfully balanced the composition of courses. It is a mystery why a Michelin star has not been awarded, but it can only be a matter of time before this distinction, gained by Daniel Galmiche in his previous restaurants, is achieved. Fine Dining Guide will watch his progress with interest.

Experiment with Flavour at the Lab (Press Release)

Posted on: March 20th, 2013 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Experiment with Flavour at The Lab

The Lab

‘The Lab’, is a brand new event brought to you by the creators of Taste of London and in partnership with AEG. Hosted by TV chef and food writer Gizzi Erskine, The Lab’s kick-off three night flavour experience will launch on 25 April 2013 at Tobacco Docks, London, with a spectacular chef line-up and DJ’s to open and close the night.

Guests will be offered an array of interactive experiences, working with some of the world’s gourmet innovators, including Brazilian top chef Alex Atala whose Sao Paulo restaurant D.O.M, is currently fourth best in the world. Massimo Bottura whose three Michelin star restaurant in Modena Italy is fifth best in the world, will be presenting at The Lab. Lars Williams (Noma’s head of research and development) will host and curate the Noma Flavour Test at The Lab, holding tutorials and masterclasses with surprise collaborations on the night!

Joining the star studded international bill is Dinner by Heston Blumenthal’s Ashley Palmer-Watts, who will present alongside world renowned forager Miles Irving on the live stage, as well as pioneering drinks creator Tony Conigliaro. The AEG Experiment will showcase the creativity and thinking of many of the UK’s top chefs including Bo London’s Alvin Leung, Bubbledog’s James Knappett, Bruno Loubet and Duck & Waffle’s Daniel Doherty.

Other experience features include an intimate ‘audience with’ Research Lounge for insider info, tips and techniques from the professionals. An interactive mixology lab and pour your own beer feature will run alongside the experimental cocktail bar.

The Lab will engage guests through interactive, exclusive and intimate experiences, learning about flavours and enjoying a night out, with dishes and drinks to tantalise your taste buds!

More info and the full line-up will be released closer to the event. Tickets go on-sale on 27 March 2013 at or call 0871 230 7132.

Twitter: @the_taste_lab • Facebook: The Lab

Restaurant Review: CUT at 45 Park Lane (March 2013)

Posted on: March 16th, 2013 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

CUT at 45 Park Lane is the first European venture of the celebrated Austrian born, American chef Wolfgang Puck. Housed on the ground floor of one of the newest luxury hotels in the Dorchester Collection, it opened, along with the hotel, in September 2011. As with his other award winning restaurants, such as Spago in Beverly Hills, Trattoria del Lupo in Las Vegas, and Chinois in Santa Monica – to name but three in his empire of 20 fine dining establishments – CUT oozes glamour and  luxury.

Although some might find the narrowness of the room slightly out of character with its grandiose Park Lane setting, the high-ceiling, marbled floor, wood panelling, dramatic silk drapes and slated blinds offer an appealing club-like feel to the dining experience. They are the work of internationally renowned New York based architect and designer Thierry Despont whose cloud like, glittering chandeliers and glowing table lamps provide eclectic décor and lighting. They illuminate well-spaced, reflective tables surrounded by comfortable leather chairs and banquettes.

CUT at 45 Park Lane

Art deco influences are juxaposed with cutting edge contemporary art, namely Damien Hurst’s beautiful limited edition butterfly “Psalms.” 16 of these are displayed together for the first time along the whole length of the room.

Executive chef David McIntyre from California worked in some of Wolfgang Puck’s most high profile restaurants for 13 years before relocating to London to head the kitchen. His team includes senior sous chef Sheldon Fonseca, who has a wealth of experience in top London restaurants.

Loyd Loudy, Restaruant Director, has an equally good pedigree, including stints at the Oxo Tower, Hakkasan and China Tang at the Dorchester. His young team has ensured that the impeccable food is matched by seamless professional service which is at once friendly, informative and unobtrusive.

After enjoying a speciality cocktail in the impressive Bar 45, which runs at mezzanine level along the length of the restaurant, being separated from it by upper level slated louvres, diners can descend the imposing central staircase to their tables below.

Whilst steak is the undoubted star on the menu, to describe CUT as a modern top-end American steakhouse understates the variety and quality of the food on offer. This includes ten salads and starters, three sandwiches, five steak and one lamb options, along with four seafood mains. The five desserts are also too good to be ignored. It is no great surprise, therefore, that, as a testament to his industry and creativity, and just one year after opening, Wolfgang Puck won “Chef of the Year’ in the 2012’s prestigious British GQ Men of The Year Awards.

A weekday lunch in February began with two delightful amuse bouches.

CUT Tuna Cones

Crisp, spiced cones were filled with utterly fresh and succulent Big Eye tuna tartar.  Bound in a not overpowering wasabi aioli, and enhanced by a well- judged addition of ginger and soy, this enlivened the taste buds perfectly.

CUT Wagyu Burger

Equally accomplished were the delectable miniature wagyu beefburgers whose well-seasoned meat had a rich, melting texture.

All the three breads offered – sour dough, focaccia and onion and oats – were competently executed, with crisp crusts and firm crumb.

A starter of “Louis” cocktail was generously packed with beautifully sweet white crab meat and lobster, moulded into a circlet and set on a delicate savoury pannacotta. Avocado pieces and spicy tomato horseradish sauce gave a creamy texture and contrasting flavour which set off the seafood perfectly.  Basil leaves and puree lifted the dish with a herby fragrance. This beautifully dressed plate, with is crown of micro leaves and spots of dressing was also visually stunning.

CUT "Louis Cocktail"

Another outstanding first course was prime sirloin steak tartar. With more flavour than the classic fillet, the hand chopped beef had a soft chewy texture enhanced by herb aioli and given a gentle kick with capers and mustard.  A raw quail’s egg in its shell allowed the diner to mix this extra richness into the other ingredients.

CUT Beef Tartar

For a main course, CUT’s signature tasting of beef was not to be missed. Three small portions of Devon Angus, Kansas USDA Prime and Australian Wagyu, had been grilled over hardwood and charcoal then flashed under a broiler and accurately timed to medium rare, as requested. With differing degrees of flavour and succulence, largely due to the variations of marbling, the Wagyu with its pronounced gamey aroma scored highest on the first, the Devon Angus on the second.

CUT Beef Tasting

Sauces, condiments and accompaniments were integral to the success of the meal. Three sauces – béarnaise, barbeque and Armagnac and green peppercorn – and four mustards including  English, Dijon and Violet gave ample choice for demanding diners. A generous stack of wonderfully crisp tempura onion rings and a portion of wild field mushrooms with Japanese Shishito peppers in a rich piquant sauce proved outstanding accompaniments alongside herbed French fries and sauteed spinach with garlic.

For those who prefer a seafood main, the choices, although not as wide as the meat options, are nevertheless tempting. These include Dover sole meuniere, broiled miso glazed Scottish salmon and grilled shashimi quality Big Eye tuna.

My dining partner finally selected Scottish diver scallops. Five large specimens of this delectable bivalve were accurately timed to produce and a caramelised crust and delicate, sweet flesh. Set on a smooth parsnip puree, garnished with braised salsify and topped with deep fried parsnips, this highly satisfying dish was given a fragrant lift with a dressing of black truffle vinaigrette.

CUT Scallops

Desserts proved not to be an anti-climax, given that this section of the kitchen is in the capable hands of Executive Pastry Chef, Melissa Zahnter.

Both sweets chosen featured Wolfgang Puck’s “10” year chocolate sauce, which took that number of years to perfect. An exquisite balance of sweet and bitter flavours, it enhanced both desserts perfectly.

Amarena cherry ice cream profiteroles had light crisp choux pastry and an intensely flavoured filling that captured the slightly sour taste of the small dark fruit from Italy.

CUT Cherry Dessert

Bruleed banana cream pie with Bananas Foster ice cream adapted two classic American desserts in one combination. The rich but light layered pie, topped with caramelised banana, was complemented by a quenelle of velvety smooth ice cream packed full of rum, brown sugar, cinnamon and banana flavour.

CUT Banana Dessert

Overall, a meal at CUT is a highly memorable experience. Whilst prices are challenging, including those from the impressive wine list, this is a restaurant worthy of a special occasion, with the “modern American steakhouse” tag seriously understating the embarrassment of riches on offer. CUT and its creator truly deserve the success they have achieved in the highly competitive world of fine dining.

Michelin Main Cities of Europe 2013 (PR & Listing)

Posted on: March 14th, 2013 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Boulogne-Billancourt – March 14, 2013

Poland wins its first MICHELIN star in the MICHELIN guide Main Cities of Europe 2013.

The 32nd edition of the MICHELIN guide Main Cities of Europe features a selection of hotels and restaurants in 44 European cities.

Once again this year, the MICHELIN guide inspectors have travelled through 20 countries looking for the best hotels and restaurants in all styles and sizes and for all budgets.  For its 32nd edition, the MICHELIN guide Main Cities of Europe offers a selection of 3,728 establishments, made up of 2,154 restaurants and 1,574 hotels.

Michelin Main Cities_2013This year’s selection includes a number of newly honoured restaurants. These reflect a European culinary scene that is both traditional and inventive and which offers enormous variety to diners, who have a greater understanding and appreciation of cuisine and wines.

Illustrating the dynamism of European cuisine, the 2013 edition of the MICHELIN guide Main Cities of Europe includes 9 new two star and 50 new one star restaurants, making a total of 412 starred restaurants (309 one star restaurants, 80 two star restaurants and 15 three star restaurants).  That’s nearly 10% more starred restaurants than in 2012, when the guide listed 376 starred establishments.

The new edition of the guide features four important new distinctions. For the first time, a star has been awarded to a restaurant in Warsaw (Poland) –  Atelier Amaro – where Michelin inspectors were enchanted by the chef’s preparation of local products, his innovative cooking style and original combinations of ingredients. In the Nordic countries,  Geranium in Copenhagen was awarded a second star just one year after obtaining its first. In Sweden, Stockholm has two new one-star restaurants, Gastrologik and Ekstedt. Sjömagasinet, one of the most well-known restaurants in Gothenburg, regained its star while Bhoga was included for the first time in the “Rising Star” category.

New stars were also awarded to restaurants in Athens and Vienna.

For readers who want to eat well at a reasonable price, the Michelin inspectors – all of them are fulltime employees and former hospitality professionals who work anonymously – have discovered  54 new Bib Gourmand restaurants, bringing the total to 265 in the 2013 edition of the guide. The Bib Gourmand pictogram shows the head of Bibendum, the Michelin Man, licking his lips. Named after a shortened version of Bibendum, it was created in 1997 and is awarded to restaurants that represent excellent value for money. Year after year, the Bib Gourmand selection has proved increasingly popular with the public, who are always pleased with a good deal, as well as with restaurant operators who find it is good for business.

Written in English, the MICHELIN guide Main Cities of Europe targets business customers and tourists visiting the leading European cities. They may want to find accommodation near a convention centre or a tourist attraction, a restaurant in which they can entertain their customers or sample local gourmet cooking, or a reasonably-priced hotel near the city centre.

The guide is filled with valuable information, including street maps of each city showing the exact location of recommended hotels and restaurants; key words which define each establishment’s style, and useful tourist information.

Given free of charge to motorists more than 100 years ago, the little 400-page red guide contained useful information about where motorists could find fuel, accommodation or a meal. Since then, the MICHELIN guide has become an international benchmark in hospitality and dining. Today, its 24 editions cover 23 countries and feature more than 45,000 hotels and restaurants. The purpose of the guide is to make traveling easier and more enjoyable for readers. The guide has always supported the Michelin Group’s mission, which is expressed in its corporate slogan “A Better Way Forward.”

Germany (Berlin, Cologne, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Munich, Stuttgart) –  Austria (Vienna, Salzburg) – Belgium (Brussels, Antwerp) –  Denmark (Copenhagen) –  Spain (Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia) – Finland (Helsinki) –  France (Paris, Lyon, Strasbourg, Toulouse) –  United Kingdom (London, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Glasgow) –  Greece (Athens) –  Hungary (Budapest) –  Italy (Rome, Milan, Turin, Florence) –  Ireland (Dublin) –  Luxembourg (Luxembourg) –  Norway (Oslo) –  Netherlands (Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague) –  Poland (Warsaw, Krakow) –  Portugal (Lisbon) –  Czech Republic (Prague) –  Sweden (Stockholm, Goteborg) –  Switzerland (Bern, Geneva, Zurich).

Available in sales outlets beginning March 14th, the 2013 MICHELIN guide Main Cities of Europe is priced at €23.90. Versions are also available for smartphones and digital tablets. The 32nd edition of the 2013 MICHELIN guide Main Cities of Europe covers 44 cities in 20 European countries and features 1,574 hotels and 2,154 restaurants, of which:

309 one star restaurants (50 new)

80 two star restaurants (9 new)

15 three star restaurants

265 bib gourmand restaurants (54 new)

Selection Main Cities of Europe-ENG 2013

Chef Interview: Daniel Clifford, Midsummer House (2013)

Posted on: March 11th, 2013 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Daniel Clifford is one of those rare breed of Michelin two star chefs (20 in the UK) who collectively exhibit the on-going passion to succeed while encouraging those around them to learn and grow.  Daniel has successfully spawned three Michelin starred chefs from his kitchen at Midsummer House – a restaurant which continues to gain plaudits and recognition.  You can see Daniel on Great British Menu from March 11th onwards…here’s what he had to say to fine-dining-guide about his career and aspirations.

Daniel Clifford

Tell us about your experiences cooking on Great British Menu?

I’ve really enjoyed it!  It’s strange, when I watched back the first year that I participated in the programme I was shocked – I thought I would struggle to work for that guy!  Maybe I could see some truth in the rumour (laughing) that I had been a tough guy to work for.  So this was good for me, as it made me step back and think about the restaurant (Midsummer House), where we were going and the pressure I was putting on people.

Since that rethink it’s been a lot easier to do the TV.  On the face of it, you’re put in a stressful (and competitive) environment, you’re not trained for it and you don’t know what to expect.  Having got that first year under my belt it definitely got easier.  I’ve taken part in it this year, going out from March 11th 2013, and hopefully people will enjoy seeing how a more relaxed version of me gets on! (laughing).

Describe the experience of setting up your own restaurant (Midsummer House)?

The fact is when you set up your restaurant and build it from scratch you are following a dream:  You invest everything into it, your heart and soul as well as all your money.  People may imagine that because it is (now) a Michelin Two Star restaurant that the chef/patron is making lots of money; on the contrary I’ve constantly re-invested every penny; this has been a fifteen year project and there are still a hundred and one things I want to do to take it forward.  For example, I’ve just invested a large sum in improving the quality of the cellar.  This may prove a ten year financial return on investment project.  I suppose it’s a pension plan in a way but crucially it is helping me to drive forward the vision I have for Midsummer House in the here and now and right now that’s all that’s important!

So perhaps its understandable that chefs have that ‘passion’ because they do what they do because they love the craft and that same passion may lead them to getting upset when things don’t quite go right. (smiling).

At Midsummer House we’ve really relaxed into our personality as a restaurant.  I feel like I’m inviting people into my home so we’ve moved away form the ‘stiff’ and ‘starchy’ to a more relaxed ‘British led’ service with a sense of theatre in many of the dishes – finishing the plating at the table, on some occasions the chefs coming to the table to finish the dish and so on.  I feel it’s created a much more ‘relaxed and giving atmosphere’ rather than a restaurant in which you just eat quietly, are served at arms length, and appreciate the food.

How have you evolved your personal signature on a plate?

The important thing is to cook from the heart and share my personality on a plate.  If I got too carried away with what other chefs were doing I could go round in circles wondering whether what I was doing was “right,” whether it should be “different” to be “better.”  In actual fact learning to put my collection of 3000 cookery books in the loft and concentrate on developing my personal signature was the best thing that’s happened to me.  Yes, you may get some inspiration from other chefs but ultimately it has to be in harmony with your own style.

Which chefs do you admire from the Michelin firmament and why?

What’s been great about Michelin recently is the diversity being shown in recognition of restaurants in every aspect of the word diversity.  This must be applauded.  In a way Michelin have been brave.  What do I mean? Well one example is that they’ve demonstrated that someone can set up a restaurant with next to no money, follow their dream and get two Michelin Stars: Tom Kerridge (Hand & Flowers) produces a consistently great product; you may not get the theatre of Paris with truffles being shaved at the table but he is equally worthy and congratulations to him! At the same time such recognition must be an inspiration to so many aspiring chefs in Britain and that can only be a good thing.

Another perspective might be Simon Rogan (L’Enclume, two Michelin Stars) who is so in tune with what he is doing and a chef genius.  You know he is possibly one of the few (if any) chefs that I’ve worked with in close quarters (on Great British Menu) and thought “If I were a few years younger I could work for him!”  He has such a lightness of touch, which made me step back and think about, for example, my more classically rich reduced saucing.  That’s the beauty of something like Great British Menu, you get to see others close up and not just learn from them but importantly learn about yourself!

Tom Kitchin is one hell of a cook and a certain tip for two Michelin stars, I worked with him at The Cube and he and his food are like Pierre Koffmann with a cheeky smile (laughing).

I’m also good friends with Claude (Bosi) who can pull almost anything together and make it work beautifully and Sat (Bains) who thrives on passionate organized chaos. We all speak regularly, visit restaurants together and socialize.  Each has their unique signature and as friends and peers I admire them and they are influencial, too.

At what point in your career did you realize that being a top end restaurant chef was your destiny?

I think the first Michelin star was a massive moment.  For me it took a long time to come but when it did come I was worried that we weren’t actually ready for it!  I’d set myself a goal of achieving in my career one Michelin star so when it happened to say I was happy was an understatement.  Then I stepped back and was so afraid of losing the one star that I turned into ‘an animal’ and everything that went out the door was perfect, perfect and more perfect.  I was so determined to keep hold of that (Michelin) star.  Then what happened?  Two years later the restaurant got two Michelin stars!

How would you describe your kitchen management style?

I’ve mellowed and matured a great deal in my outlook toward the kitchen.  I find that it’s so important to nurture the team and make decisions in the kitchen as collective as possible.  The longer your team stay with you and grow together, the stronger you are, the stronger your restaurant will become.  At the same time you have to show some strong leadership – if a chef cooks a piece of fish I want him or her to love that piece of fish as much as I do – there’s also lines that mustn’t be crossed as we have to be happy with absolutely everything that leaves the kitchen.

One of the hardest things to learn (for me) was to respect the fact that everyone expresses themselves in their own way and that this can be developed to the benefit of the kitchen.  After all, if everyone in the team was a clone of me and cooked in exactly the same way, not only would we all fall out but they’d all be off running their own restaurants (laughing).  In fact when they’re ready to leave and set up on their own you can see it – like Mark Poynton (seven years here), Matt Gillan and Tim Allen and I’m so proud that they’ve all gone onto to gain Michelin stars.

Describe one of your favourite ingredients to cook and the techniques involved?

I love poaching birds, for example, Quail which I might poach in a chicken stock with herbs and aromats for about three minutes.  Then as soon as it is poached and seasoned we roast it in the pan (does not enter the oven) and it stays moist.

I have spent many years of my career fascinated by water baths but they have to be used only for the right kinds of produce.  There’s also a worry of de-skilling chefs for the future if there is over reliance on the concept.  We now use pressure cookers in many instances and we’re finding that a technique which is producing some wonderful results.

What is the menu offering at Midsummer House and how often does the menu change?

I like to change about two dishes a week, which keeps us all sane and motivated.  It also ensures the regular customers have variety.  When we had the chicken dish on the menu that won on Great British Menu last year, we sold 70 portions of chicken a day for two months.  As soon as it was becoming robotic to the chefs (and me) and some love had been lost for the dish it was time to change.  This is true of any dish – it has to loved and be produced perfectly for every guest, every time and the only way to ensure that is to retain the love and passion for what you are cooking!  Having said that, the scallop dish has been on the menu since day one and is a signature to hang your hat on, year in year out.

What are your views on regionality, sustainability and foraging?

Foraging has been an interesting experiment for me.  A couple of years ago we picked chickweed outside the restaurant which was a success so I bought the foragers book and took out my sous chef on a foraging adventure.  I picked what I thought was wild spinach, put it in my mouth, my tongue went numb and my mouth blew up.  That was the last time I went foraging.  I think it’s brilliant if you know what you are doing and dangerous if you don’t.  I do have a forager for some things that I can trust but ultimately it’s about an end customer experience at a Michelin two star restaurant in Cambridge.

Regionality and sustainability are of course important, you want to help local businesses and reduce transport miles while ensuring your produce is sustainable.  At the same time, I remember a talk by Ferran Adria about red peppers – he said that the taste of the pepper would actually be enhanced travelling from one side of Spain to the other compared to one picked in the garden.  So you have to think about what tastes the best for your customer.  I source some things from further afield quite simply because that is where they taste best.  On the other hand, we have, for example, a local chicken farmer who produces the best chickens in the UK.

What do you make of the information age and its impact on chefs eg Twitter, Facebook, Blogs and Websites?

It’s a genius invention and wonderful for the industry.  When you create a dish you put it on the web and then everyone knows it’s yours!  I remember working for Marco (Pierre White) at Harveys before going to France for a while.  At the time everyone was doing what Marco (the master) was doing at his peek and I think the web helps and encourages chefs to embrace their own style and signature of cooking.

Twitter also provides a role in chefs coming closer together as a community, I socialize on twitter and copy in three of four chef friends.  We have a laugh and joke and also share ideas.

As a flip side something like twitter has its dangers – you have to think carefully before posting things out onto social media as once it’s out, it’s out and what may seem funny to you may cause offense to others.  As an example I own two King Charles Spaniels (and love them dearly), we’d just got the brand new barbeques and before they’d ever been switched on one of the dogs jumped up on the barbeque.  I posted a picture with the caption ‘hot dog’ which I thought was very funny.  You’d have thought the world had ended on twitter.  So you have to be careful!

When you get the chance where do you want to eat out?

The four three stars are all so different.  I want to try all four of them in a week.  Each one offers such a unique package so I’ll be fascinated to try them again in a short space of time.  Last year I went to Scandinavia, which confused me a little and the year before to Spain (which I loved).

What do make of reader-led Guides like Zagat, Hardens and Trip Advisor compared to inspector-led Guides such as Michelin, AA and Which?

I think you have to take them all very seriously!  With certain reader-led guides people can write a nasty review (if they have an axe to grind) having never eaten at the restaurant.  However, I do listen to them all.

Michelin remain the strongest of all guides and certainly the most respected in the industry.  I think customers can be confident that they’ll always get a good meal at a Michelin restaurant and if they don’t you can be sure Michelin will be onto it quickly.  The interesting thing, perhaps driven by the web, is whether Michelin will start updating awards on-line on an on-going basis rather than having an annual publication.

I remember the day Derek Bulmer called here, a day before the guide came out, my receptionist didn’t have a clue who he was and asked me if I wanted to take the call.  “Of course I want to take the call”, I said (or words to that effect).  I was frightened that he was calling to say that the restaurant had lost the Michelin star.  We started chatting “Hello Daniel, how’s it going?” he said, I said “Oh fine, Mr Bulmer” I had started shaking with fear at this point.  “We’ve never met,” he said “but I’ve been to Midsummer House many times.” Where is this going I thought, starting to feel physically sick – an hour had seemed to go by but it was seconds – “You’ve got two Michelin stars,” he said.  I dropped the phone, ran into the garden and was physically sick.

Only people within or close to this industry can know what that moment of recognition means!  Within a couple of days I had received congratulatory calls from Heston Blumenthal and Gordon Ramsay.  Should three stars ever come along I’ll probably collapse (Laughing).

What are your plans for the future?

Continue to enjoy laying down more roots while encouraging those around me to develop and grow.  I hope to be at this restaurant for some considerable time to come and enjoy my job every day.


And so it was time to leave after a thoroughly enjoyable lunch and an hour’s chat in the company of Daniel Clifford.  A far more relaxed and approachable man than the interviewer had anticipated – his sense of fun and humour in abundance.  Who knows the workings of Michelin but if there are marks for bold, imaginative and honest cooking with underlying sophistication then Daniel Clifford stands well in the firmament.  We wish him well!