Archive for March, 2016

Restaurant Review: The Honours, Edinburgh (March 2016)

Posted on: March 29th, 2016 by Simon Carter

Honours Edinburgh

Martin Wishart is Scotland’s most prolific restaurateur. His flagship eponymous restaurant in Leith has retained its Michelin star since 2001. A sister restaurant at Cameron House Hotel in Loch Lomond was similarly garlanded in 2011. The same year saw the opening of The Honours in Edinburgh’s Newtown, in partnership with his longtime friend Paul Tamburrini. Most recently, in 2014, he opened another brasserie of the same name in the Malmaison Hotel, Glasgow. In addition, Martin runs a Cook School and Wishart’s Dining for private functions, and writes articles for the Glasgow Herald.

Martin Wishart

The Honours takes its name from the Scottish crown jewels, the Honours of Scotland The modest glass fronted exterior is in perfect harmony with the grey stoned stepped Georgian terrace of North Castle Street. Inside, contemporary chic décor and furnishings are preferred to the glitzy mirrors and brass of Parisian brasseries.  A stylish bar leads to the long, high ceilinged dining room which benefits from giant black pendant light shades, brass wall lights and large mirrors which accentuate the sense of space. Gold painted wall spots contrast with the black and white tiling and the honey toned wood veneer. Low backed leather banquettes and undressed tables add to the elegant, relaxed yet sophisticated feel.

On a busy evening, 140 covers in two sittings can be served by a kitchen brigade between nine and 12, headed by Paul Tamberrini. Sourcing of produce is ethical and seasonal but not totally Scottish. For instance, as the menu proudly states, Atlantic oysters come from the Fal Estuary oyster fishery in Cornwall, “the most sustainable in the world and the last to use rowing boats to harvest the catch.” Classical cooking skills ensure a consistently good end product that is accurately timed, well-seasoned, and attractively presented. This is especially true of the Grill section of the menu featuring prime cuts of Donald Russell grass-fed beef, dry-aged between 28 & 36 days and cooked on a Josper Grill, an indoor barbecue

Roughly 60% of the extensive carte is fixed, the remainder comprising seasonal variations. The choice is suitably wide: 11 starters including “Wishart’s Blend” smoked salmon; seven mains of meat and fish; the Grill with 11 options including Chateaubriand for two; and seven desserts, ice cream and sorbets. Specials might include cote de veau or rack of lamb. A competitively priced set menu – two courses for £18.50, three for  £22.50 – is available at lunch  and early dinner Tuesday to Friday, the latter being ideal for pre theatre meals.
A classic cocktail selection supplements a select wine list, strong on France but also representative of the New World.  Greedy mark ups are avoided, with many wines also being available by the glass and carafe.

Service, overseen by the engaging Steven Spear, is friendly, accommodating and knowledgeable. Faced with an embarrassment of riches on the menu, well briefed front of house staff, dressed in long black aprons, give helpful advice.

Fine Dining Guide visited on a busy Friday evening in March and found much to admire in the high levels of food and service.

Cornish oysters, spectacularly presented on an ice bowl, were paired with granitas of gin fizz and pink champagne, both of which complemented rather than overwhelmed the briny flavour and creamy texture of the bivalve.

Honours Oysters

Paul’s Tamburrini’s speciality with pasta dishes was demonstrated in an exquisite starter. Hand rolled, fresh silky smooth tagliatelle was enhanced with fragrant, earthy truffle puree and truffle and potato foam. This was paired with a trio of scallops, perfectly timed to produce a caramelised crust and soft, succulent flesh. This combination of savoury and gently sweet flavours, where pasta and seafood shared equal billing, was an indulgent, memorable dish.

HOnours Scallops Pasta

Equally accomplished was a special risotto. Cooked al dente to creamy richness, it benefitted from a flavoursome stock enriched with of nuggets of foie gras and finished with shavings of winter truffle. This was a triumph of gently smoky flavours and nutty textures.

Honours Risotto

An intermediate course of sautéed John Dory fillet with braised leeks and mussels showed a judicious harmony of flavours and textures. An innovative sauce of curry and Sauternes was mild enough not to overwhelm the clean, fresh  taste of the fish.

Honours John Dory

For mains, we decided to share the house speciality: Chateaubriand. It’s a long time since we have chosen this from a menu and it will be an equally long time before we will enjoy it to the exacting standards produced here. Given the essential simplicity of the dish, there is nowhere to hide if this delectable cut in not properly rendered. No such failing with the well-seasoned Honours Chateaubriand, coated with Madeira glaze and chicken stock, cooked over charcoal and briefly finished under the salamander.  Almost velvety in texture, with a melting mouth feel and bursting with bovine flavour, the cooking to medium rare did full justice to the meat. Sauce Bearnaise, duck fat chips, crisply battered onion rings, and a lightly dressed green salad which added freshness and cut the richness of the other components, completed this extravagant, composite dish.

Honours Chateaubriand

Desserts can often prove an anti-climax on brasserie menus, but not at the Honours. Both of those sampled reflected the strengths of the pastry section.

A layered dark chocolate mousse, topped with a rich ganache, partly resembled a slice of Opera gateau. It was light but deeply flavoured, contrasting in texture with a decorative sugar crisp. Served with a chocolate coated lemon chiboust on a stick in a shot glass with gin and tonic granita, this was a playful, inventive dessert.

Honours CHoc

A well risen soufflé of passion fruit and lychee soufflé topped with pineapple sections captured the intense tropical flavours of the fruit. Crisp at the edges and soft in the centre, and served with a smooth, intense lychee sorbet, this was an exemplary dessert, at once light, warm and refreshing.

Honours Souffle

Overall, this was a memorable meal, demonstrating strengths on all fronts. Honours is clearly several notches above the average chain brasserie, bridging the gap between fine dining and less formal cuisine, with the balance tilting towards the former in terms of the cooking and service, although the atmosphere is more relaxed.  Prices reflect the superb quality of the ingredients and the undoubted skill in cooking. Fine Dining Guide will definitely return, sampling dishes from the “Main Plates” which include some of the brasserie classics such as blanquette de veau, rabbit a la moutarde and ox cheek a la Bordelaise. We can’t wait!

Chef Interview: Tom Sellers, Restaurant Story (March 2016)

Posted on: March 16th, 2016 by Simon Carter

Tom Sellers

Tom Sellers has worked in the kitchens of Tom Aikens, Thomas Keller, Adam Byatt and René Redzepi.  At each stage he learned rapidly about cooking, managing and most importantly about himself.  Now with a restaurant company responsible for 87 staff, a figure which may double over the next 24 months, Tom tells about his natural drive while sharing his vision on how he plans to progressively move forwards with Restaurant Story.  Simon Carter conducted the interview at Restaurant Story in February 2016.

1) Tell us some personal background associated with becoming a chef?

School was never for me and I initially fell into cooking via washing pots in a pub. I very quickly found my focus, indeed discovered that my passion and imagination lay with food. In hindsight I learned something about myself very early as it just seemed like a natural next step to try and work for the very best in the industry to learn as much as possible as quickly as possible.

2) Tell us some professional background which led to Restaurant Story.

The chef at the pub where I had been working had once worked at Pied a Terre and he told me to go and work for Tom Aikens: Eleven years ago at 43 Elystan Street, Tom (Aikens) was probably the most progressive chef in Britain. I did a day at his restaurant and subsequently started working in what was a very tough kitchen with a fair turnover of chefs. I had nothing to compare it with in terms of how severe the culture may have been but I absolutely loved it!

I became known as ‘Little Tom’ as Tom Aikens kind of took me under his wing. For sixteen hours a day in the kitchen, I spent two and a half years there learning my craft: Tom Aikens was a really intense creative force and drilled into me discipline, focus, consistency and dedication. On top of his classical skills his imagination with food had little to no boundaries and this proved inspiring.

Tom Aikens helped me secure my next position, which was at Thomas Keller’s Per Se. The culture quickly taught chefs how to carry themselves, how to be the utmost professional at all times and to see the bigger picture – perhaps I went from being a boy to a cook with Tom Aikens and then from a cook to a man with Thomas Keller. As part of this journey I learned that even the small things, the details, were crucially important. Moreover the people working on those details were made to feel important. Yes there always has to be a hierarchy in a kitchen, a sous chef will tell a commis what to do but under Chef Keller, the way in which the chain of command was executed made the commis feel like the most important commis in the world! That feeling was empowering. The way you were told to do things was part of the almost beautiful culture working under Chef Keller.

I would say I had enjoyed perfect timing in working in these two kitchens at a time when these two chefs were present and sharing their knowledge. With Tom Aikens there were probably twice as many ingredients on a plate than at Per Se but those dishes were produced with half as many chefs. Both chefs’ food was highly labour intensive but the division of labour was different, in fact they contrasted in so many ways but were inspiring in equal measures.

At 21 years of age, after five years working under Tom and Thomas, I came back to the UK ready for a three month break while I considered my next move. I went on a few trials, spoke to a few people and so on. It turned out that I met Adam Byatt at Trinity Restaurant in Clapham. I felt we had similar values, motivations and focus so it proved a pleasure and a further learning experience to work in Adam’s kitchen for two and a half years. I got first hand experience of how a slightly smaller scale, privately owned restaurant worked. I learned about the practical operational management, finance and business aspects of running your own restaurant. I had always dreamed of being a chef patron one day but there was one more step to take on the journey before opening my own place. I worked at Noma.

I was actually approached by Matt Orlando who I had previously worked under at Per Se. It transpired he had moved on to work as Rene Redzepi’s head chef. I flew over and had a meal at Noma with Tom Aikens and on the way back to the hotel just said “I must work there!”

This was the period just before Noma reached number 1 in World’s 50 Best Restaurants – very much a powerhouse on the rise, driven by a man (René Redzepi) who was head to toe about identity for his restaurant business. I was blown away by his drive and approach and towards the tail end of my time (two years) I knew I would never work for someone else again. It was an inspirational time.

3) Tell us about Restaurant Story.

I came back to London and felt confident in my ability and mixed with pure, young, ballsy naivety I met my future business partner. He had this former toilet block building east of the city, south of the river – he said to me if I build a restaurant from this building block what will you do with it? I said “Make it one of the best restaurants in the country!” £2m later – he had a half share, I had a half share – Restaurant Story was born!

There was a real buzz at the beginning. The print media came and consistently gave great marks; in addition over 18 months there were the guides awarding three and then four AA Rosettes plus a Michelin star in the September after opening in the April. We were full full full with a long booking sheet. I look back on it now with some maturity and hindsight but it all honesty it was mainly a blur – working 16 to 18 hours a day for 18 months and never leaving the kitchen. Now the restaurant has evolved, developed and matured in tune with my growth as a chef patron – all things are being done better and better with the sole aim of giving our customers an ever improving top level experience at Restaurant Story.

I am also a firm believer in value for money: Should you charge £10 or £100 then so long as it represents value then customers are happy. I can only judge this from my own standards and they are from experiences I trust. At my own company I try to take, learn and develop from both the good and bad experiences from the past, from which I evolve my own ethos, signature and way of doing things in my kitchen, restaurant and business. This is not a stationary concept, the goal posts keep moving as more information comes on board and improvements can be made. This openness to adapting is vital in every aspect of the business.


Also with ‘identity’ comes consistency, by identity I mean key signature dishes that remain on the menu but are gradually evolved, while at the same time encouraging motivation and satisfaction in the team by creating sets of dishes in the food offering that represent Restaurant Story (with particular focus on seasonality.)

5) What can you tell us about The Lickfold Inn?

Originally the site was owned by my business partner who was considering turning it into a house. It had been a pub owned by Chris Evans that had become derelict for three years. After some discussion we decided to keep it as a food led pub where I would consult on the menu and be responsible for placing the right chefs in the kitchen, work with the suppliers and so on. The pub building is beautiful and characterful, the surroundings are stunning and Graham Squire is the perfect chef for the venue. Graham spent seven years at Claridge’s and the menu we devise there really works for the customers.

We like to think we do things properly at The Lickfold, it’s a £300,000 kitchen, a top classically trained chef, strong team and I believe if you work hard and do things properly you’ll get the right rewards.

6) Tell us about the exciting new venture Restaurant Ours?

This is launching on the old site of The Collection at 264 Brompton Road – an amazing site, with what was an amazing premium and a short lease. I was fortunate to negotiate with the Reuben Brothers directly on the site and a deal was done.

My role in summary is ‘Culinary Director’ – I came up with the name (we’ll go to ‘Ours’ – as in ‘Our place’ – so why not Restaurant Ours?), the kitchen design, consultations on chefs and menus and so on. Hopefully I can sprinkle a little magic on top of the product, which will be served in one of the most exciting venues in London.

7) Tell us about your new book?

Three years in the making! I originally said I don’t do recipes and I’m too early down the path of my journey to write about it! My agent was quite persevering and she said write a one page summary of anything you would write a book about so I did, the idea went to auction and various publishers bid which gave me real confidence. It’s called ‘A Kind of Love Story’ and is about snapshot moments in time that reveal details about my influences, aspirations, high, lows, achievements and so on. It is partly foodie, partly about business, partly about life experiences – a reflection of the journey I have been making for the last number of years. It will be published on September 8th 2016, which will be a proud and humbling moment.

8) What are your ambitions for the future?

To be considered one of the most progressive chefs in the world! To be always evolving and adapting while nurturing and communicating the company vision. I employ 87 people at present and we share the drive and creativity that comes with the vision. Those staff levels may double over the next 24 months.

I am aware that chefs are packaged, labelled and perceived by the public’s idea of their restaurants. My ambition is for my frame of reference to have a wider scope, a contribution to the industry that will impact people’s lives positively in a broader sense – whether that’s training and development, talent discovery, food innovation and so on.

However I must stress that this long term philosophy is tempered by the fact that every business decision I take has the caveat ’how does this preserve and enhance Restaurant Story?’ When you run a flagship restaurant with twelve tables and large staff numbers you need to bring in financial balance to run at the level you want to run at, it is as simple as that! Were I to do a pop-up in Hong Kong, a pub or a restaurant project in west London would all those projects protect and enhance Restaurant Story? It begins and ends there for me. To give you examples, moving to a two team chef system (like Per Se) is a massive financial decision, to go from 13 tables to 12 tables both of which are to improve the experience and ensure consistency of product at Restaurant Story is another massive financial decision. I think it can be hard in the media world to understand that when a Michelin chef is doing “other things” he is not diluting his core product, most likely the opposite! He is protecting, enhancing and investing in it for the future!!

Restaurant Review: Oakley Court Hotel, Windsor (Mar 2016)

Posted on: March 12th, 2016 by Simon Carter


On the banks of the Thames, and set in over 30 acres of grounds, Oakley Court Hotel’s 19th century Gothic Revival architecture certainly creates a distinctive impression. This splendid Grade 2 listed building was originally built as a family home by Sir Richard Hall-Say, High Sheriff of Berkshire, but in more recent times it has been pressed into service as the alleged home of the World War 2 French resistance and then later as a film set for Bray Studios. New owners, however, have recently invested heavily in the fabric of the building and grounds, and the interior is reliving former glories. The reinstatement of the kitchen gardens, the rejuvenation of the orchards and the introduction of bee hives are all contributing to the running of the restaurant and kitchens, whilst the possibility of keeping livestock is being investigated for the future.

Oakley_woodenSculptureThe recent refurbishment of the Dining Room in natural shades and with bare polished floorboards has created a calm, almost pared-down atmosphere. The clean lines of the wooden paneling and dado rail, the classically restrained sideboards and indeed, the initial absence of cutlery on the table contribute further to a feeling of understated elegance. Ornamentation is confined to the cane backed and Empire inspired designs of the chairs. In contrast a spectacular driftwood sculpture by James Doran-Webb of a leaping hare occupies the centre of the dining room, adding a focus of contemporary extravagance.

The restaurant, however, is still a work in progress and plans are afoot to redesign the remaining dining areas along similar lines and to link them with the new, delightfully presented New England style breakfast room.

Central to the revival of Oakley Court as a destination restaurant has been the appointment two years ago of a new Executive Chef.

Damian Broom is energetic, confident and highly talented. He is also modest and self-effacing. You will not his photo on the hotel’s website and will have to search hard on Google Images. Yet, after sampling his creative cuisine and chatting with him at interview, you will understand why he wants his “food to do the talking.” His cooking reflects the passion, inspiration and dedication that are integral parts of his character.

Damian’s two years at Oakley Court, with the second year developing the 2 AA rosette Dining Room, have been rewarded with two distinctions: Berkshire and Buckinghamshire Life Restaurant of the Year and Chef of the Year for 2015. Given the intense competition in these two affluent counties, replete with high end restaurants, this is no mean achievement. Typically, Damian almost didn’t attend the ceremony as it meant closing the kitchen for the evening. There is also no mention of the awards on the hotel’s website.

Realistically, Damian views his role not as a job, but a whole way of life. He oversees The Dining Room, The Scullery (brasserie), the Bar and the soon to open Terrace, all of which cater for a variety of business and leisure clients of all age ranges. In the busy summer season there may well be 200 guests during the day with a further 100 at night

His major project, the kitchen garden, is well under way, whilst foraging and bee keeping add to his wild larder. In all these activities he has been aided by a small loyal team, including sous chef Scott Meaden, most of whom followed him from Danesfield House, and by his wife who is also a chef and fully appreciates the pressures of the industry. Future plans include extending the three acre kitchen garden, developing poly tunnels located at his father’s allotment, and ultimately – a very long term project – rearing his own livestock. Provence of ingredients is fundamental to his food philosophy, and, although he accepts he cannot be 100% self-sufficient, he aims to maximise the potential.

The latest innovation is the Supper Club on the last Friday of each month featuring a surprise multi course dinner of experimental dishes with interaction between chefs and guests around a communal table

Largely self-taught on the basic skills – which he laments many young aspiring chefs lack – Damian refined them at the Old Vicarage Hotel in Shropshire and at Danesfield House in Marlow, where he retained the Michelin Star and won other awards. His distinctive style, blending rusticity with sophistication has developed without the need to ape the trends of past and current chefs.

The use of the highest quality, sustainable, ultra-seasonal, local organic produce is axiomatic. The sourcing of ingredients is proudly displayed in detail alongside the menu. Line caught fish from his supplier in Cornwall can arrive at the hotel four hours after a phone call made at 5.30 am. Closer at hand is Jerry Rock butchers whose exceptional quality meat is well known in the area. For Damian, the breed and age of livestock are also important, with cows of seven to eight years being preferred. Beef aged for 130 days is a prized item in his larder. Herbs, flowers and honey are provided in house.

Not a slave to fashion, Damian scoffs at foodie trends such as foraging becoming an industry in itself, with professional foragers, and the ubiquitous use of micro herbs which add nothing except a decorative flourish to a dish.

Cooking techniques are classical with minimum use of faddish techniques: indoor wood and charcoal barbeques are preferred to sous vide. The timing of dishes is well judged, with accurate seasoning and harmonious combinations of ingredients. Balance of flavours and textures, with the use of less popular meats or parts of the animal, feature in savoury dishes. Vegetables are given the same care and attention as meat and poultry and may star as a course in their own right. Desserts may showcase varying tastes and temperatures, being refreshing and not overly sweet. Damian modestly describes his food as “simple” but this only applies to the relatively few ingredients in each course and the plating of dishes which has a natural feel without being contrived and over thought. Clearly, from conception to execution, each dish, from the dainty amuse bouches to the more robust and hearty main courses and refined desserts, is labour intensive, involving precise timing and meticulous attention to detail. Menu descriptions are sparse, giving no idea of the cooking method or cuts of meat, allowing an element of surprise when the dish is served.

Accompaniments are made from scratch: The culture for the sourdough bread is also home grown, starting life with apples in the orchard left to acquire naturally the essential wild yeast needed for the fermentation. Butter from 54% fat Jersey cream is made once a week and aged for a week. Milk curd is made a few hours before service.

Imagination and creativity are abundant in the constantly changing tasting menus offered from Wednesday to Saturday dinner. Hardly any dish figures twice (it has only happened with a duck and chicken dish), hence there is no signature dish. Ideas for menus are developed in the previous week, constrained only by what can be grown, bought and stored. Key ingredients can be cooked and presented in a totally different way from the previous evening. Thus, meals are prepared from zero each day, the tasting menu at £65 for seven courses being taken by 80% of the guests. A three course Market Menu at £38 includes dishes from the tasting menu. Prices are realistic, given the quality of the produce and the skill in cooking.


Fine Dining Guide visited on a weekday evening in February and found much to admire in the cooking and service of the tasting menu. A unique feature on the table is a magnificent box from which diners take their own cutlery.

Amongst the delicate, finely crafted canapes were garnished crisp fish and chicken skins, a warm, flavoursome duck confit croquette and a rich Parmesan cream centred “Oreo” which simply melted in the mouth.


Home baked sourdough made with London Pride bitter was exemplary in its firm crust and gently tangy crumb. Served with a deeply flavoured but light savoury broth of mushrooms, leeks and seaweed, it was inspired by Damian’s childhood suppers in the north of England

The first starter comprised very young Jersey royals, with their waxy texture and uniquely sweet flavour, partnered with various caramelised baby onions, and garnished with leek ash and leek oil. Fresh milk curd gave a lactic note to balance the earthiness of the vegetables, a scattering of Naggalo Nero herbs added freshness and colour, whilst a light jus brought the elements together. (Wine: Guardsman , Windsor and Eaton Brewery)


A second starter featured another happy marriage of free range chicken and leek heart. The sweetness of the thigh meat, poached in a lemon thyme to maximise its succulence, contrasted with the crispness of its skin and the richness of its heart. Burnt onion puree had a smoky sweetness and sorrel leaves added a hint of acidity the dish needed. (Wine: Fleury la Roilette Vignes Bernard Metrat, Beaujolais, 2014)



The first main course combined the bounties of earth and sea. An accurately timed Turbot fillet, with translucent flakes of firm sweet flesh, worked well with sweet nuttiness of roasted chervil root and crisp artichoke skin. An inspired touch of luxury saw Russian caviar, which acted as a seasoning, mixed with an artichoke puree of velvety smoothness. (Wine: Louis Latour Montagny 1er Cru, Burgundy, 2012)


This was followed by a less utilised but nonetheless delicious meat. A tranche of mutton was cooked medium rare, its distinctly strong but not overpowering flavour enhanced with the addition of Ortiz anchovies – another classically inspired pairing. Braised Little gem lettuce benefited from caramelised Parmesan topping, helping to add texture and richness to the dish. A lamb fat jus successfully rounded off the plate (Wine: Cote du Rhone Famille Perrin, Rhone, 2012)



It’s a confident chef who offers only a single cheese as a course, even in a tasting menu. However, Mrs Bell’s Blue with its creamy texture and strong, salty piquancy offered a taste sensation when matched with honeycomb from the hotel’s hives. (Wine: DR Rieseling 2012)

A pre dessert of yogurt espuma – one of the few concessions to contemporary techniques – came with “last year’s blackcurrants” and a granita of dill. This perfectly balanced combination of sweet, acidic and herbal elements served its purpose in being light and palate cleansing. (Wine: Tattinger Nocturne, Demi Sec, France)


The main dessert featured sliced poached rhubarb, shards of milk crisp, apple marigold and a crème fraiche sorbet topped with a rhubarb syrup. It delighted in its simplicity and combination of sweet and gently acidic elements (Vergelegen Straw Wine, Somerset West, South Africa)


Homemade petit fours, which embraced the diverse flavours of Sea Buckthorne, olives, white chocolate, lemon and honeycomb confirmed the strength of the pastry section and completed an excellent meal.

The whole experience was enhanced by the engaging and knowledgeable service of Shaun and Head Waiter Angelo who served the wines and coped admirably describing their provenance.

Overall, Damian Broom and his team have created a dining experience of which they can be justifiably proud. Given the hotel’s proximity to London, the Dining Room can expect to see increased custom as news travels of its strengths. Surely a third rosette is overdue whilst a Michelin star would justifiably crown the achievement. Fine Dining Guide will certainly return to Oakley Court and will follow its progress with interest.