Archive for April, 2013

Michelin Star Restaurant Map GB 2013

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

Below is a map of Michelin Stars found in mainland Great Britain in the 2013 Guide edition. Just four have three Michelin stars, nineteen two Michelin stars and a hundred and twenty seven one Michelin star.  You may view the map in three sections (to aid de-cluttering) by choosing those with two and three stars, those in London or those in the rest of GB. Simply click the check boxes on or off to view the desired sections of starred restaurants on the map.

When a restaurant is clicked on a dialogue box appears with details of that restaurant; a new feature provided by google (Map Engine Light) allows you to click on the ‘find directions to’ icon (bottom right).  The map shows restaurant locations by postcode rather than specific address (for google maps technical reasons) so please accept if the marker is the wrong side of the road or up to 200 yards away from the target!

Happy Eating!

Hotel Review: Lainston House (April 2013)

Posted on: April 23rd, 2013 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Lainston House Exterior

Set in 65 acres of gardens and parkland, Lainston House, part of the Exclusive Hotels group, has distinct character and charm. This graceful two storeyed 17th century mansion was commissioned by Charles II and designed by Sir Christopher Wrenn.   Elegantly proportioned with a three bay centre, two bay projecting wings, archways and loggias, it is built in fine red brick, with a hipped roof and dormer windows.  Overall, it is a distinguished example of the William and Mary style. The site, however, is of medieval origins, as seen in the romantic ruins of the 12th century chapel of St Peter and a well preserved dovecot, either side of the wrought iron entrance gate.

The public areas of this 50 roomed country house hotel are of are modest dimensions, giving a reassuring, homely character. The Drawing Room has a feminine quality with its bold colour palette of soft blues, creams and chocolates accented by vibrant turquoise, resulting in a light, airy feel. This eclectic mix is juxtaposed against the traditional background of an open fire, shuttered windows and chandelier lighting. While the décor might not appeal to more conservative tastes, there can no disagreement about the comfort afforded by the sumptuous sofas and armchairs.

Lainston Drawing Room 2

The Cedar Bar, more masculine in tone, takes its name from the handsome panelling wrought from a single tree in the 1930s. The aspect of the room is especially pleasing. Guests, sipping a cocktail or a rare malt, armagnac or cognac, can enjoy an uninterrupted view of the avenue of lime trees which, being some 9/10ths  of a mile, is the longest in England.

Lainston Cedar Bar

The Avenue Restaurant has handsome, dark paneling and gilt framed portraits. With its well-spaced tables dressed in fine napery, high backed burgundy leather chairs, patterned carpet and chandelier lighting, this room has a stately, classical ambiance. Adjacent to it is the elegant, brighter Carlton Room, which also has views of the avenue of limes.

Other public rooms include the mahogany paneled Mountbatten Room, used for private dining and chef’s table events. In cold weather, the open fireplace is an added attraction. Larger private events can be accommodated in the original 17th century Dawley Barn which has benefited from an elegant conversion whilst retaining its high ceilings, wooden beams and other original features.

This mixture of old world charm and modern convenience is seen most strikingly in the hotel accommodation, which ranges from traditional guest rooms to exclusive suites. All individually designed, they reflect a thoughtful elegance which maximizes comfort and enjoyment.

I was lucky enough to stay in the ground floor Chapel suite which has a small private terrace and views of the wedding pavilion and chapel ruins. Decorated in warm pastel shades of purple, green and brown, this spacious set of high ceiling rooms is replete with classic furniture and fittings and state of the art facilities.

Lainston Chapel Suite

In the sitting room, an exquisite chandelier, standard lamps, open fireplace, gilt framed mirror, and a magnificent carved writing desk are amongst the fine traditional features. Alongside these are a cutting edge 32” flat-screen television, a dvd player, a Bose Audio system, wi-fi    access and a Nespresso coffee maker. The technophile’s playground extends to the bedroom where a 37” television, remotely raised from the foot of the bed, is the dominant feature.  In addition there is a Bose Wave CD/Radio Alarm system with Apple 30 pin connector docking. As if this is not enough, an Aqa television is fitted in the bathroom.

Luxurious furniture is provided by a three seat sofa with two armchairs and a decadent king sized bed. The exceptionally comfortable hand-made mattress, breathable duvet, and adjustable pillows – chosen from a menu of five – with calming lavender sleep balm placed on them at turn down, gave me  the best night’s sleep I have enjoyed in any luxury hotel. Twin sinks, a walk in rain bar shower, a jacuzzi bath and a selection of Plantation toiletries made using the bathroom a sheer delight.

With 65 acres of gardens and parkland to enjoy, in addition to the luxuriously comfortable public rooms and well equipped bedrooms, it would seem superfluous to suggest that the hotel needs any other facilities. That it lacks a spa is not a major disadvantage given the aforementioned assets. For the more active, however, there are tennis courts and a gym housed in the old well house. The grounds, especially the kitchen garden – where summer barbeques are also held – provide an endless source of interest, whilst the displays of falconry – a unique selling point – are a major attraction for guests.

Lainston Antonio

General Manager Antonio Lopez-Bustos

Overseeing the whole operation is Antonio Lopez–Bustos, appointed General Manager from April 2013 but with five years’ experience as Operations Manager at the hotel. His engaging charm immediately puts guests at their ease, making him approachable and likeable. Whilst giving me a guided tour of the house and gardens, his love of Lainston House is powerfully evident. His vision now is to make its restaurant a food destination, exploiting to the full the talents of Head Chef Phil Yeomans. With a staff of 77, his trust of individuals is a key factor in motivating them to achieve their full potential.

Given that many jobs in the hotel require the appropriate attitude over technical skills, it remains key to employ those with a positive, caring outlooks and a willingness to please and learn. Antonio considers a well-rounded personality, able to adapt to the needs of the guest in a friendly, cheerful manner, as essential in anyone he employs. This facilitates the relaxed “home from home” feeling which attracts so much return trade amongst weekenders. Such loyalty is shown especially at Christmas when some 85% of guests are repeat visitors, whilst in the summer it is about 50%.

These figures reflect a very high satisfaction rate, confirmed by the service and discussions I enjoyed at Lainston House. Check in at the front desk was welcoming and courteous. The young attendant, dressed in hunting lodge style uniform, helped with my luggage efficiently and explained the features of my suite in detail. Later, when I had trouble with my internet reception (a fault with my computer), the night porter did his best to help, whilst showing me how to use the Nespresso coffee maker. (I am a technophobe). Service in the restaurant, both at dinner and breakfast was attentive without being obtrusive. Billy Taylor, the resident falconer, added value to to the day by discussing his role during my guided tour.

Overall, staying at Lainston House was a real joy. The beautiful setting, the supreme comfort of the rooms, the quality of the cuisine, the staggering attention to detail, and the strengths of the service, made it a highly memorable experience.

Restaurant Review: Avenue, Lainston House (April 2013)

Posted on: April 23rd, 2013 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Lainston House Avenue Restaurant

Head chef Philip Yeoman’s early career spanned the kitchens of The Dorchester, Harvey Nichols and Soho House before crossing the Atlantic to gain experience in the USA and Bermuda. Seven years at Lainston have seen his cooking acquire a distinct identity under the auspices of Executive Chef Andrew Mackenzie, who encourages maximum freedom of creativity. More recently, the two Michelin starred John Campbell has been has been acting as a consultant. This, combined with the inherent abilities of Phil, have led to a blossoming of The Avenue’s cuisine, which has been awarded three AA rosettes.

Lainston Avenue Phil Yeomans

Leading a team of 15, Phil caters for a maximum of 60 covers in the restaurant, together with a host of special functions – the hotel is very popular for weddings and conferences. As a leading member of Hampshire Food Fair and Farmers’ Market – the largest in England – Phil is passionate about the sourcing of high quality regional produce, the suppliers of which are credited on the menu; hence scallops come from Portland Shellfish, lamb from the Hinwood flock, Broughton and pork from Lainston’s own pigs. The four acre kitchen garden, developed over the last two years and inspired by Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons, provides 90% of his herbs and root vegetables, alongside a range of other vegetables and fruit.

Phil’s style, modestly described as “English cooking with a modern twist”, is based on classical roots, with the employment of modern techniques. Using water baths to maintain consistency of cooking is clearly in evidence, as is a degree of molecular wizardry in the production of foams, gels and spherification. However, they are not used to excess and are integral parts of the dish, adding flavour and texture.

The menu is adventurous, showing an assured understanding of taste and texture. Unusual but compatible combinations are seen in a starter of scallops with smoked eel, and mains of veal rump with goat’s curd and lemon, or halibut with oxtail, parsnip and walnut. Meat can involve two cuts cooked differently, best seen in the top selling roast loin of lamb with braised shoulder or pork fillet with braised pig’s cheek.  Desserts such as white chocolate, hob nob biscuit, toffee popcorn and mandarin sorbet can be playful and innovative.

Although some dishes appear relatively simple, this is not to underestimate the complexity and labour intensity of their production. Flavours are pure, with main ingredients allowed to speak for themselves. Textures and temperatures are well judged whilst the final presentation is clean and delicate.

The structure of the seasonally changing menu features five choices in each course, with cheese instead of dessert or as an additional course. Breads are baked on the premises. The ones sampled, onion brioche, baguette and country bread were all exemplary in their crisp crust and firm crumb.

The seven course tasting menu (with a vegetarian alternative) does not duplicate any of the dishes on the carte, showing the versatility and range of Phil’s cooking.

An amuse-bouche featured beetroot jelly, with goat and lemon curd. This combination of strong flavours was brilliantly conceived, the sweetness of the beetroot and richness of the goat’s curd being cut by the citrus. Candied hazelnuts added crunch to balance the other  smoother textures.

Lainston Avenue Amuse

A terrine of loin and confit shoulder and leg of wild rabbit had a depth of flavour not usually found in bland inferior versions. Layered with cabbage and shitake mushrooms, it was moist and well-seasoned. Blackberry and pear puree with turnip shavings gave an element of sweetness and crispness. (Wine: Nyetimber Classic cuvee, Sussex)

Lainston Avenue Rabbit Terrine

Beautifully fresh seared scallops were perfectly timed to produce and caramelised crust and soft sweet flesh. An intense bisque, reduced almost to a demi-glace, complemented the seafood well, as did the silky smooth cauliflower puree and a “dressing” of sliced razor clams, which added a firmer texture. A molecular “snow” of beurre noisette powder gave an exciting temperature contrast to this warm dish. (Wine: FMC, Chenin Blanc, Ken Forrester; Stellenbosch, 2008)

Lainston Avenue Scallops

The next dish was a tour de force of vegetarian cookery. Jerusalem artichoke cooked to an al dente texture, and also in puree form, worked well with muted saltiness of parmesan crisps. Roasted black garlic perfumed the whole of this beautifully balanced composition which was finished by a scattering of chestnut shavings.

Lainston Avenue Artichoke

Beef blade benefitted from long slow cooking in a water bath before being finished in the pan. Apple batons added an element of freshness although the horseradish meringues needed more bite to offset their sweetness. Cep puree added deep earthy notes and the red onion marmalade and rich jus brought the dish together. (Wine: Exclusive hotels edition, Rioja, 2005)

Lainston Beef Blade

A pre dessert of apple compote, vanilla espuma and crumble was well executed, each component adding a distinct flavour and texture. The star however was a quenelle of kalamansi sorbet which added an intense citrus note.

Finally a highly skilled and ambitious dessert featured quenelles of dark chocolate mousse, spheres of liquorice mousse, and lemon mousse encased in a dark chocolate cigarette. The richness of these decadent elements was offset by a lemon sphere, which oozed an intensely sharp liquid centre when cut. Almonds gave a much needed crunch to offset the overall smoothness of the other elements. (Wine: Elysium, black muscat, Andrew Quady, Central Valley, California 2010)

Lainston Avenue Chocolate

Strong coffee and excellent petit fours – passion fruit jelly, truffle, Florentine, chocolate crisp and fudge completed this distinguished meal.

All this was enhanced by knowledgeable, unobtrusive service and wines – from an award winning list – chosen by head sommelier| Peter Foulds.  His infectious enthusiasm – in particular for Nyetimber wines – and comprehensive knowledge are a testament to his passion and dedication to his craft.

Clearly the quality of the cooking at Lainston House hotel deserves a higher national profile than it has received so far. Certainly, the tasting menu I enjoyed was on a level equal with those eaten at other  Michelin starred restaurants. Indeed, Phil Yeomans has created a cuisine of which he can be justifiably proud and Fine Dining Guide will watch his career with interest.

Restaurant Review: Charlotte’s Place (April 2013)

Posted on: April 7th, 2013 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Charlottes Place Group Photo

What do you look for in a good neighbourhood restaurant? A high standard of cuisine consistently maintained; a strong following of regulars attracted by value for money prices; a warm welcome with friendly, efficient service; and pleasant surroundings in which to enjoy a relaxed meal out.

Charlotte’s Place in Ealing has all these qualities in abundance. But this is no ordinary neighbourhood restaurant. Winner of the 2013 Good Food Guide’s London Readers’ Restaurant of the Year Award, and currently holding two AA rosettes it is developing a higher profile in the capital as a whole.  Opened in 1984 and still bearing the name of the original owner, it was refurbished, rebranded and reopened under new ownership in 2005. Since then its reputation for being THE PLACE – forgive the pun – to eat locally has been regained.

Its appeal lies partly in a sheer lack of pretention. Located in a quiet street overlooking a corner of Ealing Common, it shares its home in a 150 year old house with an adjacent pub, The Grange, and is barely noticeable from the residential properties nearby. Ringing the doorbell in the side entrance gives an intimate, domestic feel which is emphasised by the simple décor of the ground floor dining room. Floral prints, large mirrors, wall lighting, wooden floor and plain, candle lit tables make the room cosy, compact and comfortable.

With a maximum of 54 covers, over half of which are in the basement dining room, the restaurant is open for lunch and dinner all week, a remarkable feat given the kitchen is smaller than those in modern homes, and is only able to accommodate four of the six chefs at any one time.

Chef Greg Martin leads the brigade offering what the restaurant describes as “traditional and European food.” Certainly, the presence of roast beef at Sunday lunch would confirm this. However, the set menu of six starters, mains and desserts shows a pleasing degree of ambition in its use of first rate, well sourced, seasonal ingredients. Consider for instance Heirloom Beetroot with goat’s curd cigar or crisp pig’s cheek, pork and fennel sausage roll , pork terrine and sauce Gribiche as interesting starters; or Home cured Saddleback pork loin, Chorizo , tomato and white bean stew as a main.

Whilst dishes are mercifully devoid of foams, purees and gels, the cooking is thoughtful and precise, with modern interpretations and combinations. A few dishes executed well in each course seems to be the key focus.

Pricing is also well judged: three courses at £29.95 for dinner, £19.95 for lunch (£5 extra at weekends) with reductions for two courses constitute real bargains. Even more so is the early evening offer of three courses and an aperitif for £26.95. Supplements – so often encountered in many restaurants – are noticeable by their absence.

Fine Dining Guide visited on a Wednesday evening in March and was delighted with the dishes sampled.

Cornish mackerel tart featured slices of the raw fish, anchovy fillets, diced peppers parmesan shavings and balsamic dressing on a crisp puff pastry base smeared with tapenade. These strong flavours and contrasting textures were perfectly balanced, allowing the beautiful freshness of the oily fish to take pride of place.

Charlotte's Place Mackerel Tart

A raviolo of delicately smooth pasta was generously filled with Cornish crab. The sweetness of the well-seasoned white meat worked well with the braised leeks and a chive butter sauce, making this a rich, unctuous dish.

Charlotte's Place Raviolo

A main course saw meltingly tender shredded braised oxtail topped with a tranche of roasted cod accurately timed to produce succulent flakes of translucent flesh. Added richness and sweetness was given by caramelised onion to contrast with the artichoke puree, cabbage and brown butter sauce. Crisp potato waffles crowned this robust tour de force of a surf and turf dish.

Charlottes Place Cod and Oxtail

Equally accomplished was the more classical ballotine of chicken. Gently poached then wrapped in smoked bacon and finished in the pan, it was well seasoned and moist. Simple garnishes of buttered potatoes and steamed purple sprouting broccoli allowed the main element to shine, whilst a rich sauce spiked with tarragon lifted the whole dish.

Charlotte's Place Chicken

Nor did the third courses disappoint. A classical pear and almond tart featured crisp pate sucree with soft frangipane and with sweet poached pear. The accompanying vanilla ice cream was velvety smooth whilst the butterscotch sauce gave a not too sweet a finish.

A selection of fine cheeses from La Fromagerie were in peak condition. Quince paste and oat cakes added to their enjoyment.

Overall, this was a most impressive meal, enhanced by well informed, engaging service and well- chosen wines from the extensive wine list. Given the skill shown in the cooking, the range of dishes offered and the competitive prices, it is no surprise that Charlotte’s Place is open all week, with 90% of diners booking to guarantee their places. Success has also led to expansion, with the opening of daughter restaurant Charlotte’s Bistro in Chiswick in July 2010. This has already gained Michelin Bib Goumands in 2011 and 2012. Fine Dining Guide will watch the progress of both restaurants with interest.

Britain’s Top Twenty (20) Restaurants 2013

Posted on: April 7th, 2013 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Arguably, the three leading inspector-led guides are Michelin, The AA and The Which? Good Food Guide.  Below is a weighted formula applied to the scores in those guides to discover the top 20 (twenty) restaurants in Britain.  The weighting is 6 points per Michelin Star, 3 points per Good Food Guide mark and 2 points per AA Rosette as per the latest 2013 editions of the guides.

1. Fat Duck, Bray, Berkshire.  3 Michelin Stars, 10/10 Good Food Guide, 5 AA Rosettes. Points 58

2. Gordon Ramsay, London.  3 Michelin Stars 9/10 Good Food Guide, 4 AA Rosettes. Points 53

3. L’Enclume, Cartmel, Cumbria. 2 Michelin Star, 10/10 Good Food Guide, 5 AA Rosettes. Points 52

4. Sat Baines, Nottingham, Notts. 2 Michelin Stars 9/10 Good Food Guide, 5 AA Rosettes. Points 49

5. Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester, London. 3 Michelin Stars, 8/10 Good Food Guide, 3 AA Rosettes. Points 48

6. Waterside Inn, Bray, Berkshire. 3 Michelin Stars 7/10 Good Food Guide, 4 AA Rosettes. Points 47

7. Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons, Oxford, Oxon. 2 Michelin Stars, 8/10 Good Food Guide 5 AA Rosettes. Points 46

7. Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley, London. 2 Michelin Stars, 8/10 Good Food Guide, 5 AA Rosettes. Points 46

7. Hibiscus, London. 2 Michelin Stars, 8/10 Good Food Guide, 5 AA Rosettes. Points 46

10. Restaurant Nathan Outlaw, Rock, Cornwall. 2 Michelin Stars, 9/10 Good Food Guide, 3 AA Rosettes. Points 45

11. Le Champignon Sauvage, Cheltenham, Glos. 2 Michelin Stars, 8/10 Good Food Guide, 4 AA Rosettes. Points 44

11. The Square, London. 2 Michelin Stars, 8/10 Good Food Guide, 4 AA Rosettes. Points 44

11. Whatley Manor, Malmesbury, Wiltshire. 2 Michelin Stars, 8/10 Good Food Guide, 4 AA Rosettes. Points 44

14. Michael Wignall at The Latymer, Bagshot, Surrey. 2 Michelin Stars, 7/10 Good Food Guide, 5 AA Rosettes.  Points 43

15. Le Gavroche, London. 2 Michelin Stars, 8/10 Good Food Guide, 3 AA Rosettes. Points 42

15. The Ledbury, London. 2 Michelin Stars, 8/10 Good Food Guide, 3 AA Rosettes.  Points 42

17. Midsummer House, Cambridge, Cambs. 2 Michelin Stars, 7/10 Good Food Guide, 4 AA Rosettes. Points 41

17. Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles, Auchterarder. 2 Michelin Stars, 7/10 Good Food Guide, 4 AA Rosettes. Points 41

17. Gidleigh Park, Chagford, Devon. 2 Michelin Stars, 7/10 Good Food Guide, 4 AA Rosettes. Points 41

17. Pollen Street Social, Mayfair, London. 1 Michelin Star, 9/10 Good Food Guide, 4 AA Rosettes. Points 41

Guide Covers 2013People’s fascination with ranked lists of restaurants seemed to take off around a decade ago with the launch of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants.  Now such a practice is common place with The Sunday Times, Harden’s, Zagat, Trip Advisor, Elite Traveler Magazine amongst others all producing lists, some with ranking scores.  The practice has extended to Elizabeth Carter, consultant editor of The Good Food Guide, who started championing a top 50 restaurant list each year with the launch of the guide.

An interesting point of departure is how these scores and lists are produced.  Some pride themselves on being purely reader feedback such as The Sunday Times/Harden’s bi-annual list, Zagat and likewise the Trip Advisor Awards for restaurants.  Harden’s add an element of sophistication to the Sunday Times compilation by scoring those establishments across a number of factors such as food, service and ambience as well as factoring in a value for money ‘in category’ element.  Zagat, now owned by google, is largely free to access for google+ subscribers and shows marks out of 30 for food, service and decor.  This guide too is purely reader feedback but with the fact that every google search for a restaurant will provide the Zagat score on the right hand side of the screen means we should expect this guide to become increasingly powerful across Europe.  As Trip Advisor quietly moved from the hotel feedback rating business into restaurants it quickly gained momentum as a yardstick of a restaurants success, to the point where software systems can incorporate the Trip Advisor score into incentive schemes for staff (Hotel’s with restaurants currently). As with all purely reader feedback systems the element of ‘did they actually eat there’, ‘do they have an axe to grind’ or even ‘do they know what they’re talking about’ will always come into play.

The latest version of 50 Best Restaurants list is due out later in April and has certainly been successful in promoting the elite restaurant category in the media.  The hoopla extends through twitter to the broadsheet and television media which can only be a good thing for the profile of top end restaurant dining on a global level.  This list has gathered significant momentum since its inception and has become considerably more sophisticated in its production.  The question will remain with global lists that are produced by “panel” is who has visited enough restaurants outside of their own “region” to make a reasoned judgement about the relative merits of the better restaurants on the planet.  There’s even a limit to how many of these Andy Hayler can visit in a 12-18 month period.

The Top 20 Restaurants in Britain 2013 List above has been derived from guides that focus purely on the food on a plate where restaurants are benchmarked for quality of the food end product by teams of anonymous inspectors.  This process attempts to make the objective out of a subjective business but nonetheless the enduring popularity of these guides is testament to the industry and consumer respect for their output.  Michelin, Which? Good Food Guide and The AA Restaurant Guide have all been going for a long time and remain point in time paperback publications (for now).  In the web/twitter age the pressure must be mounting on these guides to go exclusively on-line and make real time updates of their awards.