Archive for October, 2018

Restaurant Review: Le Roi Fou, Edinburgh (October 2018)

Posted on: October 15th, 2018 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

le roi fou

I had to cancel my first reservation at Le Roi Fou (The Crazy King), at short notice. A few months later, during the Edinburgh Festival, I was perusing the menu outside hoping there was a spare table for walk-ins when a familiar voice greeted me by name. It was Jon Hemy, ex manager at The Pompadour, who, unknown to me, had moved to this smaller operation. Not only was there a free table, but he also remembered my previous cancellation. Now that’s what I call personal service!

Few new restaurants in Edinburgh have made such an immediate impact as Le Roi Fou. Within a year of opening it gained the 2017 Best New Restaurant at the Scottish Food Awards. 2018 saw three more accolades: Fine Dining Restaurant of the Year (Edinburgh News), Classic Cuisine Chef of the Year, (again from the Scottish Food Awards), and Winner of the Eating and Dining Awards (List Magazine). An encouraging mark in the 2019 Good Food Guide has consolidated these achievements

Located at Number 1 Forth Street in the Newtown district of Broughton – a stone’s throw from the York Place tram terminal – on the site of a former hamburger restaurant, Le Roi Fou is the joint venture of chef Jerome Henry and Isolde Nash, his creative director. Their aim is to promote a “joint appreciation of art, culture and food…in a bijou restaurant for bon vivants”

The brighter part of this“Restaurant des Artistes,” with window tables either side of the entrance, leads to a high tiled wooden bar and the more intimate “salon” at the back with its grey green walls dressed with fine art, and subdued lighting. Throughout, banquette seating, walnut chairs, fine napery and gold velvet curtains give a stylish, luxurious feel in an atmosphere which is relaxed and informal.

Heading a small team in the kitchen is French-Swiss born Jerome Henry. His is a bold move away from his twelve years’ experience in London: five years as head chef at Les Trois Garcons, a celebrity haunt in trendy Shoreditch, then seven years at Anton Mosimann’s Private Dining Club in pricey Belgravia. With such a distinguished CV, expectations would inevitably be high, and in this respect he does not disappoint.

A seasonally changing a la carte menu currently offers a wide choice of twelve starters (£7.50 to £17.50), ten mains (£15 to £31), and desserts and cheese, (£5 to £9.50). While vegetarians and pescetarians are well catered for, it is also pleasing to see such iconic dishes as oysters Rockefeller, seared foie gras and steak tartare. For a true gastronomic experience, there is a five course tasting menu (£50) with an optional cheese course (£9), and flight of wines for £40.

Prices are eminently fair, especially for lunch and pre theatre sittings – three courses for £24.50 – considering the quality of ingredients, the skill in cooking, and the generosity of spirit. Portions are generous even in the tasting menu with courses of a la carte proportions.

John Henry’s accomplished cooking is deeply rooted in the classics, free from faddish techniques and presentation – no smears, foams or spherification! Top quality raw materials are treated with respect, combinations showing a well-considered balance of tastes, textures and temperatures. Timing in meat, game and fish cookery is precise, allowing the natural flavours to shine. Saucing is a particular strength, elevating dishes such as lamb’s kidneys and sweetbreads with a grain mustard sauce. Occasional contemporary influences can be seen, say in a chimichurri sauce with calf’s liver or white miso and aubergine sauce dressing a scallop dish. Presentation is clean without being showy.

The select and mainly French wine list, overseen by sommelier Sam Webber, avoids greedy mark ups, with pleasing options by the glass. The flight of wines to accompany the tasting menu has inspired choices which complement the dishes perfectly.

My August tasting menu began with a amuse bouche of pleasingly light and crisp comte gougeres with a savoury dip.

A second amuse featured two oysters Rockefeller, the aroma from the toasted shells complementing the flavour of the warm spinach and herb crumbed topping enveloping the plump bivalves. The buttery, briny juices of this decadent dish were greedily mopped up with the excellent focaccia bread.

A giant hand dived scallop was grilled to produce a gently charred crust which contrasted with the delicate sweetness of the opaque flesh. Partnered with braised octopus, with its soft, texture and clean taste, the dish was bought together by a velvety sauce of confit Isle of Wight tomatoes at room temperature to maximise its flavour. This was a real triumph of seafood cookery in its combinations, timing, textures and temperatures.  Wine: 2016 Loureiro, Dócil, Projectode Dirk Nieport, Lima Valley, Vinhos Verde, Portugal

Then followed three “tasting” dishes which, given their generous size, would easily pass for main courses elsewhere.

Equally accomplished as the previous course was a generous tranche of halibut, streamed to retain the moistness of its thick white flesh. Cucumber and radishes added freshness and texture whilst a salsa verde featuring pistachios and rocket gave a deep herbaceous lift.   Wine: 2016 Pouilly Fumé, David & Hervé Millet, Domaine De La Loge, Loire, France

Cooking rabbit has been the downfall of many a good chef, but here it was handled with consummate skill. Braised and wrapped in pancetta, the meat was succulent in texture and mildly gamey in flavour. Sweetcorn in puree and kernel forms added different textures and sweetness, to contrast with the tangy bitterness of wilted cavolo nero. A light, flavoursome jus bought the dish together. Wine: 2015 Syrah, Alain Graillot & Ouled Thaleb, Tandem, Morocco


The final savoury course showcased a finely judged breast of new season grouse. Being only a fortnight into the season, the gaminess was – thankfully – muted whilst the texture had the melting softness of butter. Girolles and pearl barley added earthy elements to a dish finished with a sublime bread sauce and a rich jus with great depth of flavour.  Wine: 2004 Chateau Musar, Gaston Hochar, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon


With such robust savoury dishes, a light, delicate dessert which encapsulated the tastes of summer was offered as the final course. This took the form of beautifully sweet Blacketyside Farm strawberries with fragrant elderflower curd, a silky smooth strawberry ice cream and shards of crisp meringue.  Wine: 2016 Bugey, Cerdon, Renardat Fache, Method Ancestrale, France

Without doubt, this was one of the most impressive tasting menus I have eaten, and such a refreshing change from the dainty, insubstantial sous-vide courses, with their smears, blobs and foams encountered elsewhere. Flavour was paramount, with refined classical techniques doing full justice to the well sourced ingredients.

The whole experience was enhanced by the welcoming, knowledgeable and unobtrusive service overseen by John Hemy. Given the scale of the operation, the adage that “small is beautiful” definitely applies to dining at Le Roi Fou.

Fine Dining Guide will certainly return sample more of Jerome Henry’s exquisite cooking. No doubt 2019 will bring further accolades in the guides, especially from Michelin and the AA, which have yet to grant Le Roi Fou the recognition it deserves.

Corinthia Hotel London: André Garrett to be Executive Chef Jan 2019

Posted on: October 15th, 2018 by Simon Carter


Many congratualtions to André Garrett who has spent 5 years delivering memories to treasure at his eponymous restaurant at Cliveden House hotel, Taplow, Berkshire.  As a regular visitor to the restaurant and general Cliveden lover, he will be sadly missed.   Those naughty people at Michelin somehow overlooked a significant period where everything had come together from the kichen and one of the strongest star standard restaurants in the country was delivering without that recognition.  So all the very best to André on his new adventure! Having visited the Corinthia for the Gold Service Scholarship final judging process 2018 (as a participant consuming food and drink and asking the occasional question rather than doing any judging) I can honestly say that the Corinthia will prove a wondeful venue for André and no doubt one in which he will continue to flourish.  See you there my friend.  Take care, all the best!! And Thank You!!! Simon C

Below is more information related to the announcement:-

Corinthia Hotel London is pleased to announce that André Garrett will join as Executive Chef of the hotel in January 2019. André’s remit will include the entire hotel, overseeing banqueting events, room service, afternoon tea, breakfast, Spa and Garden Lounge, and all bar food menus as well as The Northall restaurant.

André has been Executive Chef for the past five years at Cliveden House in Taplow, Berkshire. Previously he worked in London with the Michelin-starred Galvin brothers, at both Galvin at Windows atop the Hilton on Park Lane, and prior to that at Orrery in Marylebone. Renowned for his elegant, modern cuisine, André is on the board of the Academy of Culinary Arts, for their annual awards of excellence, and the MCA, as well as a panel judge of the Roux Scholarship. In 2017 he was awarded ‘Hotel Chef of the Year’ in the Hotel Cateys.

“We are delighted to welcome André to our Corinthia family,” explains Thomas Kochs. “André’s appointment reinforces our commitment to create some of the finest food and drink experiences in the capital. Together, we look forward to bringing an exquisite new offering to our guests.”

Corinthia Hotel London’s restaurant and bar outlets have seen an exciting new direction most recently with the opening of Kerridge’s Bar & Grill, the relaunch of its cocktail bar, Bassoon, in partnership with Sager + Wilde, and the hotel’s afternoon tea in the Crystal Moon Lounge has enjoyed a complete makeover to celebrate the ceremony of a traditional English tea service.

Under the helm and expert guidance of André Garrett, The Northall restaurant will take a new culinary direction with a menu offering incorporating a broad fish and seafood selection influenced by the Mediterranean. Further details of the restaurant and its new menu will be released in the New Year.

André Garrett adds: “Corinthia Hotel London celebrates exceptional food and drink, which is why I relished the opportunity to join this dynamic team. I am excited to return to London and to be working alongside Thomas on this new culinary direction.”

About Corinthia Hotel London

Housed within a Victorian building, Corinthia Hotel London features 283 rooms, including 51 suites and seven penthouses, offering sweeping views across London’s most popular landmarks. Corinthia London provides unrivalled world-class luxury with superb ground floor restaurant and bar offerings. The hotel is also home to the flagship ESPA Life at Corinthia, a spa housed across four floors, with a hair salon by Daniel Galvin. The hotel boasts the largest room sizes in London, original restored Victorian columns, and tall windows. Cutting-edge technology in rooms and meeting rooms allow for recording, mixing and broadcasting from dedicated media rooms. Corinthia London is the ninth of Corinthia Hotels’ collection of five-star hotels founded by the Pisani family of Malta.

Corinthia Hotel London – Whitehall Place, London SW1A 2BD Tel – 020-7930 8181

Vineyard Newbury: Michael Caines MBE, Guest Chef (November 2018)

Posted on: October 15th, 2018 by Simon Carter
vineyard dining room
On 21st November The Vineyard Hotel in Berkshire will host an exclusive cook off between Executive Chef Robby Jenks and one of the UK’s most celebrated chefs, Michael Caines MBE.
As Michael’s former protégé at the award winning Gidleigh Park Hotel, Robby and Michael will express their culinary talents, which will no doubt be a passionate battle between old friends.
Priced £229 per person for seven courses paired with one wine per course. 
Book Here

Slow Food Birmingham: Hampton Manor (2018)

Posted on: October 15th, 2018 by Simon Carter
Hampton Manor
On Monday 29th October, Hampton Manor will host a ‘Slow Food Birmingham’ event discussing the future of the city’s supply chain. The event will explore how chefs and restaurateurs can use ingredients to build a better city and create a buzz about Birmingham’s eateries. 
Brad Carter “Season with Salt”
The story of how Carters are leaving no stone unturned as they rethink the running of a restaurant.
Gareth Ward “Extending the seasons”
How one the UK’s most exciting restaurants is using traditional methods to extend the seasons and create iconic dishes.
David Craddick “Wasted”
Beer and the Toast Ale philosophy.
Shane Holland “The Ark of Taste”
Slow Food Executive Chair
Also featuring The Junk Food Project, The Clean Kilo, Andrew Sharp & Tom Beeston, Rob Palmer, Hampton Manor and the Sustainable Restaurant Association.
The day will include a range of other talks and activities from leading industry thinkers and practitioners that are transforming the supply chain. Tickets are £40 inc lunch and an evening BBQ to finish. Wine by Ancre Hill, Monmouth.
Hampton Manor is a family run Restaurant with Rooms in the quiet village of Hampton-in-Arden, just 12 minutes outside Birmingham. Craftsmanship is at the heart of the house. The team have developed relationships with the best suppliers in Britain for Michelin-starred Peel’s Restaurant’s tasting menus and looked to the Manor’s past to design 15 Arts and Crafts inspired bedrooms and a recently launched cottage. In 2016 Peel’s Restaurant was awarded a Michelin-star and its fourth AA-rosette. Head Chef Rob Palmer sources the best seasonal, British produce and cooks it using modern techniques. Each dish focuses on just three main ingredients, giving them an honest simplicity. The restaurant is open Tuesday to Saturday and seats 28 guests. Four or seven course tasting menus are available with optional accompanying wine flights. 
Further information attached. Bookings can be made by contacting the hotel directly or by phone 01675 446 080. 

Newsletter: fine dining guide October 2018

Posted on: October 12th, 2018 by Simon Carter

Much to report after a busy 2018.  The site maintained a focus on restaurant reviews supplemented with feature articles, interviews and broad guide coverage.  The iTunes podcast series remains – as always the links are to the written transcripts, you may find the podcast series on iTunes by typing “Restaurant Dining (UK)” into the main iTunes store search box.

itunes-podcasts-restaurant fine-dining-guide continues to have a YouTube Channel for which the site commissioned and uploaded a professional piece on The Waterside Inn featuring Michel Roux Snr.  After several years, this remains a popular video.

YouTUbe Channel fine dining guide

Top End Dining Analysed by the Chef:  Five chefs have participated in a new article series designed not to provide ‘A N Other’ opinion about a chef’s output, to be lost in the now sea of increasing ‘noise’ about top end dining.  These are something slightly different.  In these articles the participating head chef analysed each of their dishes sampled against the five criteria used by Michelin for awarding a Michelin star. How so? Discerning foodies will recall that at The Michelin Guide GB&I launch event for the 2018 Guides, a slide was briefly discussed by Michael Ellis (at the time WW Director of Michelin Guides), which for the first time highlighted the five criteria followed by inspectors in the awarding of Michelin Stars.  Michael Ellis confirmed these under interview on that day, as a reminder he explained:-

“The first and most important criteria is the ingredients, all great cuisine starts with great product – the actual product itself is considered for freshness, quality, flavour and texture and so on. The second criteria is mastery of cooking technique. The third criteria is equilibrium and harmony in flavours; the plate must be in balance, so the sauce is not, for example, overpowering the flavour of the fish or that the seasoning of the dish is found to be exactly as it should be. The fourth criteria is regularity (or consistency) and this means starter, main and dessert are all of the appropriate standard and that each are also consistent over time. Finally, value for money is the fifth criteria.”

Michelin Chef Analysis

Rob Palmer: Michelin Starred Hampton Manor is west of Birmingham, a restaurant with rooms where traditional meets innovative. Rob takes the finest ingredients and allows three flavours to shine through in each dish.

Robby Jenks: Formerly of Gidleigh Park (two stints) under Michael Caines and a spell at Whatley Manor under Martin Burge, Robby is now seeking a Michelin Star at The Vineyard.

Niall Keating: Blazing a trail at the ever superb Whatley Manor, Niall was recently awarded The Michelin European Young Chef of the Year 2018, clearly one to watch as he bids to add more accolades to his burgeoning CV.

Simon Addison: Head chef of the Dining Room at Chewton Glen, Simon takes us through the processes at a large hotel kitchen that has once held a Michelin star.

Tom Clarke: L’Ortolan in Shinfield has a long standing relationship with the Michelin Guide, Tom is the latest chef to show his talents in terms of accolades at this favourite haunt.

Interviews: A series of interviews have been conducted with various indutry figures.


Pictured from above left to right:-

Alex Dower: A new driving force behind food and beverage at Harrods, Alex has quite a story to tell about the developments at this institution.

Silvano Giraldin: An industry front of house legend, having contributed to  a lifetime of memories for customers at Le Gavroche, Silvano maintains his leadership role in the industry as a judging trustee of the Gold Service Scholarship.  In this interview Silvano takes us through the journey of his illustrious career.

Adam Smith: Having spent a decade working his way through the ranks of the kitchen at The Ritz, Adam achieved individual Michelin recognition at Coworth Park, matching his mentor John Williams!

Atul Kochhar: A proud family man, Atul Kochhar takes us through his career and achievements in this interview.

Peter Harden: Industry figure and co-founder with his brother of the Harden’s Guides, Peter is not short of an opinion in this wide ranging interview.

Andrew McKenzie: 20 years of leadership at The Vineyard, this popular industry figure and former Hotelier of the Year shares his candid views on the state of play in hospitality.

In addition, interviews were conducted with the then WW Michelin Director Michael Ellis, Michelin two star chef Simon Rogan as well as a separate interview piece with Robby Jenks.

social media

Twitter/Facebook/Instagram: The three social networking platforms continue to deliver good traffic to the site but also offer a shift to providing focus for photo logs, video logs along with a general news feed.  Indeed more and more unique content is appearing on these platforms as they offer a digital web presence for ‘fine dining guide’ in their own right – Facebook has over 2,814 likes, Twitter enjoys over 7,693 followers and Instagram 1,414 followers. Each may be found using the handle @finediningguide.

Facebook and Twitter have progressively introduced more detailed analytical data about the performance of entries/tweets as well as the overall page/feed.  This proves very useful in tracking which information is considered most valuable to an audience and tailoring entries accordingly.

Restaurant/Hotel Reviews: Reviews by Simon Carter and Daniel Darwood have included numerous visits to venues from Edinburgh to the Lake District as well as around London and the home counties…  (See Reviews)

Guides 2019

Guides: The 2019 GB Guide season took place during September 2018 (as applicable to fine-dining-guide). The ‘gold standard’ of Michelin Guide GB&I 2019 was eagerly anticipated with some buzz about the possibility of a new Michelin three star in GB&I.  In the event, three restaurants have been newly awarded-two stars: Kitchen Table at Bubbledogs in Bloomsbury from chef James Knappett; CORE by Clare Smyth in North Kensington (which goes straight into the guide for the first time with two stars); and Moor Hall in Aughton from Mark Birchall, which gained its first star in 2018.  Sadly, Le Champignon Sauvage under the legendary and tireless David Everitt-Matthias was awarded one star instead of two stars, likewise Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley received one star instead of two and Gidleigh Park under a new chef was awarded one star.  In all, five 3 stars, twenty 2 stars and 155 one stars (21 new) were awarded.  In the Bib Gourmand category 143 restaurants were awarded (27 new).

Restaurant Nathan Outlaw (10/10) enjoyed number one status in the Waitrose Good Food Guide 2019 for the second year in a row while L’Enclume (10/10) retained its lofty status in second place. New entry CORE by Clare Smyth in North Kensington (10/10) also followed in the illustrious footsteps of Chez Nico, Restaurant Gordon Ramsay and The Fat Duck in achieving maximum marks and found third place in their Top 50 restaurant list.

There were new 5 AA Rosettes gained in the AA Restaurant Guide 2019.  In addition to Claude Bosi being awarded Chef’s Chef of the Year 2019, Bibendum was awarded 5 AA Rosettes.  CORE by Clare Smyth in North Kensington and Moor Hall in Aughton from Mark Birchall were also given the 5 Rosette accolade – familiar names plus some consistency found at the top end of the leading inspector led guides.

New 4 AA Rosette restaurants were Adam Reid at The French, Manchester: Burlington Restaurant at the Devonshire Arms, Bolton Abbey: Dinner by Heston, London: Driftwood, Portscatho: The Man Behind The Curtain, Leeds: Tassili, Jersey: The Tudor Room at Great Fosters, Egham.

GB Guides

Top Restaurants Lists 2019: While still awaiting the January review of awards by the AA but with all three main guides for 2019 published, fine dining guide are in the process of updating the ‘Top 100’ feature that lists top restaurants in London, Scotland and Wales based on a formula applied to leading guides to give an FDG score per restaurant.  There will be an associated Top 25 Restaurant in Britain 2019 Guide editions feature coming soon.

Opinion: At least two luxury hotels with quality restaurants have understood a trend in terms of high value clients.  Both Chewton Glen and Hampton Manor have accommodations that suit the wealthy client who desires some peaceful (and effectively private) home away from home time but with the luxuries associated with a high quality hotel.  Hampton Manor offers the convenience of a holiday hire cottage but with all the facilities of a hotel, a Michelin standard restaurant, and ‘pamper rooms’ at the end of the drive.  Similarly, Chewton Glen Treehouse properties are tucked away but replete with a private concierge cum butler to take care of these customers’ every need, as well as being a buggy ride away from the luxuries of the hotel.  In addition, numerous private services are available to clients at each of these properties.  James Hill, owner at Hampton Manor, explains that high value clients warrant specific customer relationship management to make them belong, be it to a club like arrangement or simply assisting them at key moments (for example, by putting on a lunch at short notice in a private room) to assist in encouraging long standing high value custom.

For a while now there has been increasing demands on front of house to deliver value add to all customers as part of the standard offering – simply offering a social meeting place where you happen to have something to eat is no longer enough.  These extra demands are also increasing in scope and range but vital to developing business.  It may take the form of chefs entering the dining room to present dishes or customers having the option of a cocktail in the restaurant’s own gin room/distillery (or at least a selection of specialty gins or whatever delight it may be that the restaurant uses as a hook).  There may be seeing field to fork from a kitchen garden or having a cookery school with an open kitchen or having interactive kitchen tables.  Perhaps promoting themed wine lists (organic/biodynamic English championing et cetera) or providing bespoke offerings in private dining rooms or offering guest chef nights.  Some restaurants put on a dinner dance or have a golf day and so on.  The days of a little liquid nitrogen are numbered as being enough! 

Hampton Tea

Hampton Manor demonstrate this idea further in their Full Afternoon Tea concept – scones with cream and jam are the only recognizable element of the traditional Full Afternoon Tea – opening infotainment includes a presentation from the head waiter and a chef of the new concept, the experience begins with a themed cocktail based on William Morris, the story telling here (and yes story telling is a significant value add!  See, from Blumenthal to Tom Sellers) is that Morris’ arts and crafts movement ideals from the 19th century pervade the house.  Then some dry ice for effect from the chef.  The food itself arrives in multi-course stages, mini savouries are re-imagined from the Michelin starred restaurant menu (instead of finger sandwiches which are nowhere in sight) and cakes replaced by creative interpretations of the restaurant’s desserts.  Even the tea itself was a presentation of specialty loose leaf products.  Wonderful concept and very popular.

The breadth of information now available via web content (and especially social media) has naturally encouraged customers to become more adventurous in their tastes.  Not only are customers now generally fascinated by detail of quality but in addition all levels of established, emerging and new cuisines have become affected by the continuous search for expression, authenticity and individuality. 

In fact, the speed of this observed change is witnessed simply in the tea and coffee menus at Michelin starred Amaya in London,  which read like the kind of sophisticated notes once reserved for the greatest of wines from the Médoc Classification of 1855!  Consider Balseri Gold 2nd Flush Assam – 2016 rich, sweet, malty and full bodied tea typical of Assam or a Wonder Classic Darjeeling, 1st Flush Gopaldhara Gardens – 2017 tropical fruit notes, papaya, mango with sweet white florals.  Where once coffee was black or white before Espresso, Cappuccino and Latte were imported into restaurant fayre so now it is Indian Monsoon Blend which is fragrant and smokey with dark caramel overtones which is blended with the exclusive Indian cherry parchment coffee. This highlights the need for restaurants to deliver a new level of discerning understanding in the details of quality, something which has become standard to satisfy this new breed of knowledgeable customer.

Michelin Revelation

Michelin produced a live launch event that was broadcast simultaneously over the web via Facebook.  Michelin teamed up with various sponsors for the launch event.  Presumably this commercial move has been extended globally to protect the resources at Michelin in the digital age (during the move from print media) and thereby defend their quality, integrity and leadership position. This year a strong turn out of chefs came to support the Michelin launch process.  We await with interest the actions of the guides to maintain their positions in the ever more dynamic world of top end restaurants and their demanding customer bases.

Until next time Happy Eating!

Hampton Manor Review, Hampton In Arden (Oct 2018)

Posted on: October 10th, 2018 by Simon Carter

An “area of special architectural or historic interest, the character or appearance of which it is desirable to preserve or enhance“. Since 1968 Hampton-In-Arden has been defined as one such Conservation Area. The church of St Mary and St Bartholomew dates from the 12th century with additions in 13th, 14th and 15th centuries. Its reputed to hold a tomb containing the heart of a Knight’s Templar who died on a crusade with Richard the Lionheart. The church was restored in the 19th century.


In 1086 the village appeared in the Doomsday Survey as Hantone but was also known as Ardene. Across the centuries the land of Hampton-In-Arden passed between the crown and many notables of royal court significance, particularly in Tudor times. George Fentham (17th Century) was perhaps the most famous non-royal benefactor to the village, the successful businessman was a true philanthropist leaving a trust to support developments and relieve hardship from the poorest in the community. Mr Fentham’s legacy lives on with an eponymous club, green and hall.


Sir Robert, Prime Minister (left), his son Sir Frederick Peel (right)

During late 18th and early 19th century, 1st Baronet Robert Peel was one of the original Lancastrian cotton mill owners during the industrial revolution.  He made a vast fortune from the textile industry, this afforded his eldest son, 2nd Baronet Robert Peel the best of education at Harrow and Oxford, he would go on to twice become Prime Minister and founder of the modern police force. He was the first ever man to come from a business background to become Prime Minister.  Sir Frederick Peel would also be educated through the family fortune and enter politics and inherit Hampton-In-Arden from his Prime Minister father who had acquired it as investment land.   Sir Frederick proved quite a visionary for Hampton-in-Arden, building and developing shops, housing and lodges. In 1855 he built Hampton Manor.

Fjona and James Hill

Fjona and James Hill

Relaunched in 2009 by James and Fjona Hill having been lovingly restored, converted and developed into a beautiful luxury restaurant with rooms, with significant sections further redecorated in 2015. Set in 45 acres, boasting 15 luxury appointed rooms and suites which seamlessly blend the richness of its history with the contemporary demands of the modern customer – a ‘home from home’ with state of the art twists – all this, yet respecting centuries of heritage that delves far beyond the garlanding of rooms with the names of the great and the good who have graced the estate over the centuries.

The visit started on the driveway! Providing by chance a stunning visual first impression as we arrived through the gates and into the main entrance way, with the manor house straight ahead and to our left a Mclaren and Rolls Royce event discreetly hosted. Predominantly out of eye and earshot but just enough on view to admire. Stepping through the entrance door, the meet and greet was exemplary. Ably assisted at the reception desk that sat just inside the house, tucked away to our right. As we turned more staff were waiting to help us to our room and tell the first of many ‘soul of the building stories’ in the wide and welcoming main reception. Indeed, throughout staff exhibited knowledge which was shared carefully and cleverly to optimize the pleasure of the guest.

hampton industria

Having been built at the height of the rewards to Britain of the industrial era, and given his family heritage, it is easy to see that Sir Frederick Peel celebrated those developments by having the likes of Industria proudly engraved on the staircase.  There are also three examples of the imposing carved figure of a lion holding a shuttle from a loom found in a cotton mill.  The figure represents Sir Frederick’s grandfather, 1st Baronet Robert Peel, as ‘protector of industry,’ in this case his lucrative textile factories during the industrial revolution.

hampton peel lion

Contrary to this strong industrial imagery, Sir Frederick Peel appears to also have been an advocate to a certain extent of Romanticism, a movement which looked back fondly to a memory of the past through literature, poetry and arts and crafts.  The antithesis of the industrial revolution, few were less vocal on this subject than a champion of the movement, William Morris. Some might argue an early socialist, Morris had clear ideals about the quality of design of textiles in a way that industrialised production methods could not match, ironically this made his work very labour intensive and so hard to produce in a cost effective manner.  Such challenges saw Morris’ craft fall from the mainstream.  His work however is celebrated throughout Hampton Manor.  It may be that Sir Frederick looked back on the challenges of industrialisation – pauper child labour, terrible working conditions, excessive hours – challenges which dogged both his father and grandfather later in life and later still in politics.


William Morris (1834-1896)

The works of William Morris are a thing of beauty and Hampton Manor continues Sir Frederick Peel’s interest by paying tribute to Morris, not only in influence of theme, style and décor but more creative and modern ways such as the beautiful afternoon tea. The introductory ‘Red House’ cocktail was wonderfully conceived, constructed and presented.

red house

Indeed this proved our immediate appointment after arrival – Like industria versus Romanticism afternoon tea embodied the innovative versus the traditional.

The service started simultaneously for all guests with no staggered bookings. The event began with an informative presentation of the concept from the head waiter, alongside a chef demonstrating dry ice. The multi-staged process started in my case with the William Morris inspired drink with an English sparkling wine from Nyetimber described as an alternative option.

Hampton Tea

A succession of courses followed including reimagined versions of Peel’s dinner savouries in place of the obsolete finger sandwiches. Lalani rare loose leaf tea was presented in jars, alongside the more traditional scones with clotted cream. A further course, which instead of traditional pastries, found tasters of Peel’s desserts.

Overall the package was a huge hit and remains understandably popular with guests and local visitors.

A tour given by Gianrico (deputy GM) took in the Parlour – the room which hosts the afternoon tea, Peel’s restaurant dining room, tasting toom, a private courtyard, library, the walled garden plus a look at ‘The Cottage’.

Hampton Peels Restaurant

Upon entering Peel’s, the mixture of stained glass windows, oak paneling, William Morris wallpapers (the latter found in half the bedrooms and suites) make a bold statement. A kind of mid-Victorian mixture with many beautiful contemporary touches. Indeed, you may be forgiven for imagining the sights, smells and sounds of a Tudor feast at William Self’s hand-planed long oak table, that above all else takes centre stage in the restaurant. The concept of gathering, socializing, sharing together, like friends away from home in a relaxed atmosphere, works very well indeed.


The kitchen table or tasting room, appears more a 19th century gentleman’s study, perhaps unashamedly only vaguely converted but undeniably fit for purpose as the juxtaposed collection of state of the art cuisine is delivered from Rob Palmer’s kitchen to the study table. The modern thinking, organic, biodynamic, English championing, wine list that allows wine lovers to travel in any direction on the list from the traditional to – you guessed it – the innovative. Yet further evidence of the theme encompassing our visit.

hampton walled garden

The walled garden has proven a rapidly developing success over the previous 12 months, delivering more and more consistent quality produce. As owner James Hill pointed out, the process of being connected to the seasons simply by seeing the vegetables growing in the walled garden is good for the souls of the chefs working in the kitchen of Michelin starred Peel’s restaurant. The garden provides more evidence of the field to fork mentality that is gastronomically sweeping the nation.  In addition, Bee hives have been put in place to harvest home produced honey during the forthcoming year.


Just beyond the walled garden resides Manor Cottage which sleeps 4-6 (adults only), the separate property is marketed as a home away from home hideaway for those that wish the convenience of a holiday hire cottage but with all the facilities of a hotel, a Michelin starred restaurant, and ‘pamper rooms’ at the end of the drive.

In terms of new approaches, owner James Hill pointed out that head count had been allocated to customer relationship management for particular types of custom. Hampton Manor has appreciated both its undeniable quality in the product offering but crucially how this sits alongside its geographical opportunity: Situated close enough to Birmingham city centre, the NEC and the airport, the result is business potential from providing the right kind of relationship focus on high value clients. As one example, Peel’s does not officially open for lunch but for certain customers a club-like service may be offered to encourage such patronage.

This also concluded our tour with the charming Gianrico, later that day we took a drive around the local villages before heading back to Resort World at the NEC, a 15 minute drive, to catch a movie. A staff member had explained that we could alternatively pop into Solihull, also a 15 minutes drive, if a movie was our activity of choice for the afternoon. This actually allowed a wedding event to take place back at Hampton Manor so in all the property was very busy.


Robert Dudley was the name of our first feature room – An Earl of Leicester who bought Hampton Manor estate in 1572. The aforementioned George Fentham room provided our second night stay with amazing views out of the large period sash windows to gardens situated at the back of the manor. Across the property the thought, effort and attention to detail provides a perfect feel, a far cry from any corporate homogeneity, the individually themed rooms are completely on point for the luxury demands of the modern market. Good sizes, high ceilings, and sumptuous fabrics. A large comfortable bed is supplemented by modern comforts of technology via TV, iPod dock and high performance Wifi along side the creature comforts of organic tea and cookies, or a pampering roll top bath or walk-in shower.

Over second morning breakfast we were joined by owner James Hill whose passion and vision, shared by his wife Fjona, have driven Hampton Manor continuously forward in the delivery of the details that lead to perfection.  Indeed, they remain open minded about opportunities, keeping a watching industry brief for any ideas on the investments and achievements of the likes of Mark Birchall at Moor Hall or by listening to proven market leading consultants about how best to achieve their goals.  Overall, a happy making stay in a beautiful property with charming staff and food to match.  A great success story in such a short space of time, no doubt the property will continue to thrive under the astute stewardship of the Hill’s, of whom – were he looking down – Sir Frederick Peel and his ancestors would be feeling rightly proud!

Hampton Manor

To Book: 01675 446 080,

Shadowbrook Lane, Hampton-In-Arden, B92 0EN

Map: Hampton Manor Map

Restaurant Review: Peel’s, Hampton Manor, Hampton-In-Arden (Oct 2018)

Posted on: October 7th, 2018 by Simon Carter



This article is the fifth in a series designed not to provide ‘A N Other’ opinion about a chef’s output, to be lost in the now sea of increasing ‘noise’ about top end dining.  This is something slightly different.  In this article the chef will analyse each of their dishes sampled against the five criteria used by Michelin for awarding a Michelin star. How so? Discerning foodies will recall that at The Michelin Guide GB&I launch event for the 2018 Guides, a slide was briefly discussed by Michael Ellis (at the time WW Director of Michelin Guides), which for the first time highlighted the five criteria followed by inspectors in the awarding of Michelin Stars.  Michael Ellis confirmed these under interview on that day, as a reminder he explained:-

“The first and most important criteria is the ingredients, all great cuisine starts with great product – the actual product itself is considered for freshness, quality, flavour and texture and so on. The second criteria is mastery of cooking technique. The third criteria is equilibrium and harmony in flavours; the plate must be in balance, so the sauce is not, for example, overpowering the flavour of the fish or that the seasoning of the dish is found to be exactly as it should be. The fourth criteria is regularity (or consistency) and this means starter, main and dessert are all of the appropriate standard and that each are also consistent over time. Finally, value for money is the fifth criteria.”

Rob Palmer honed his craft at Peel’s, so named after the former prime minister Sir Robert Peel, whose onetime estate in the picturesque village of Hampton-in-Arden, now houses the luxury restaurant with rooms Hampton Manor.  Today the infrastructure for guests is abundant with road and rail a short distance away. A short drive from the M42, west of Birmingham, finds this peaceful idyll.  Rob was originially sous chef to Martyn Pearn. After 4 years under Michel Bourdin and twelve years of Michelin stardom across La Reserve (Bordeaux) and Buckland Manor (Cotswolds) Martyn proved a great mentor in the grounding of classical technique. From September 2014, at the tender age of 27, the opportunity arose for Rob Palmer (below) to take the reins and stamp his own personality and creativity on the developing kitchen at Hampton Manor.

rob palmer chef hampton

Ably and astutely developed by stages in Michelin Two Star kitchens such as Andrew Fairlee and Nathan Outlaw, by the 2017 ‘guide season’ Rob had led Peel’s restaurant to a first Michelin Star in the GB&I Guide, along with the award of 4 AA Rosettes and a Michelin Welcome and Service Award, all of which justifiably recognised both the wonderful food and front of house found across Hampton Manor.


Peel’s wins 2017 Michelin Welcome and Service Award


Onto the food, the dishes to be analysed by Rob across the five criteria are langoustine, beef, eel and chocolate led plates.

Consistency and value for money will be considered separately before each dish is discussed in terms of the other three criteria. To aid consistency as well as development, each chef is given their own recipe book which is to include the house dishes as well as work on creative input to the team. The rule is that a recipe can be documented only after the chef has twice made that recipe successfully – twice is to ensure the difference between understanding something in theory and delivering it in practice. So typically Rob will provide his book and taste the dishes to check that each chef can produce the dishes to the correct consistent standard. During service Rob tastes dishes before they reach the customer or if Rob is not available the sous chef will taste the dish. Incoming chefs are trained thoroughly, which is a natural insurance of consistency, anyone who comes in shadows a section for a period of time until they are comfortable.

In terms of creation or evolution of dishes, not everything has to come from Rob, it is a collective effort involving tasting and refining, before agreeing whether changes or new dishes make it to the menu. Naturally as dishes evolve the taste make-up of the whole dish will change, so in addition to taste checks during any given service, every couple of weeks dishes are collectively re-checked.  This ongoing tasting process ensures that dishes are served as intended and that no deviation has happened (by accident) over the course of say twenty services.  This is very different from a chef unilaterally deciding (typically in a very large kitchen environment) to do something differently during service outside of the house recipe for a dish, the nature of the Peel’s kitchen is close knit and the value add of each chef clearly visible from front to back of the kitchen, so such an instance is ruled out.

When asked if Rob felt he was a scientific or instinctive chef, he felt that instinct was critical to being successful at the top end of the industry in that all ingredients are unique, so simply applying the science of weighing things out and cooking for a set period of time will take a chef so far but mastering the art means having instinctive creativity in the kitchen.  Peel’s keep up with seasons and pay focus and inspiration to the concept of an English walled garden (below), the garden at Hampton Manor is in its first year but this is developing into a stunning resource. While Rob will employ a few different techniques and Asian influences in the dishes produced, the protein, vegetables and garnishes have a clear English focus.

hampton walled garden

Hampton Manor Walled Garden


In terms of value for money, there exists a kitchen GP, but the hotel as a whole may meet in the middle with Peel’s, so say, large functions naturally yield higher margin compared to Peel’s top end restaurant kitchen being afforded a lower margin. We put on a seven course menu for £95 and the customer will get a pre-dessert, snacks, amuses (as traditional ‘extras’ on a menu) but in addition premium produce such as Wagyu Beef or Langoustine may feature in dishes: How many top end independent restaurants are required to charge a supplement for these sort of luxuries? The nature of the way the hotel works allows Rob to put on these wonderful premium ingredients for the customer.

Beef comes with a certain masculine comfort and accessibility factor, the kitchen experimented a couple of years ago with taking beef off the menu but brought it back by popular demand. Rob decided that rather than offer a kind of cliché like ‘fillet of beef’ (which has been done so often), Peel’s would instead offer rare and premium breeds such as Longhorn and Wagyu. While these breeds have limited access, they remain the best choices for kind of sheer quality and flavour that turns customers in regulars.

peels langostine

Now the three dishes, Langoustine (above), Beef, Eel and Chocolate led dishes are analysed by provence of ingredients, cooking technique and balance and harmony on a plate.

The Scottish Langoustines are from Keltic Seafare, which the kitchen get in every week and are beautiful products. Nothing is wasted, the shells help make the sauce with a little ginger for some heat (added to the bisque).  The dish is served with leek. The langoustines have a delicate flavour so to cook and season it naturally brings out the best of the product. Rob consciously doesn’t over manipulate the ingredients which could lead to overwhelming the natural balance and harmony of a dish. The philosophy is to try and stick to no more than three flavours on a plate. In terms of the langoustine dish Rob would want no more that the taste of langoustine, ginger and leek cooked properly and accurately seasoned.


The three flavours of the Wagyu Beef dish are beef, carrot and black garlic (above). The carrots are from the walled garden, an English black garlic which is sourced from the UK, and the thoroughbred Wagyu beef from Aubrey Allen.  Aubrey Allen sources the beef from Earl of Stonham farm which offers the best Rob had tried on the market. The beef is cooked sous vide at fifty-six degrees for six minutes and then quickly seared in a pan to give it a little caramelisation.  The brushed glaze of soy and sugar works very well. The black garlic ketchup enhances the natural flavour of the beef and complements the dish.


The eel dish (above), the sustainable eel is acquired from the Devon Eel Company, already smoked as the kitchen don’t have the capacity to smoke them in house and the consistency and quality is superb. The team fillet, skin and portion the eel before pan frying for less than a minute. The Kohlrabi is cooked sous vide in preparation and then to order is diced and roasted in a pan with miso butter. The Kohlrabi is also blitzed with a 2% salt solution and fermented for a week in sous vide bags.  When ready, they squeeze the juice out and infuse the eel bones. The result is loads of natural seasoning, smokey eel, salty sea herbs (samphire or sea perslane) and an acidity from the juice that bring together the dish perfectly.


The Chocolate dish (above), Rob had  been drawn to the idea of the chocolate notes in sherry combining with chocolate. Each element of chocolate has different textures and intensity through different percentages of cocoa. There’s biscuit, croustillant and a frozen mousse to go with sherry.  Rob says proudly “I love this dish.”

Not only does the cooking at Peel’s delight the most discerning of palates but the needs of the market in general are met squarely between the eyes. The mantra of three tastes on a plate, where the key is in the clear quality of ingredients prepared and cooked properly, is a rule that has reaped dividends.  Add to this a warmth of welcome from service that is barely matched across the country and customers are inevitably woo’d by this irresistable combination.  The customer base naturally draws from the growing fanbase of Michelin dining from across the flourishing Birmingham area, where no less than six Michelin starred restaurants reside.  Fine Dining Guide look forward to returning in the near future and following the great progress made by Rob Palmer and his team.  Long may their success continue!

Hampton Manor, Peel’s Restaurant,

Restaurant Review: Brasserie Prince by Alain Roux, Edinburgh (Oct 2018)

Posted on: October 4th, 2018 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Two empires meet at the stately Balmoral Hotel in the first co venture of the Roux and Forte dynasties. Alain Roux and his father Michel Roux O.B.E. of the three Michelin starred Waterside Inn, Bray, have joined forces with the Forte family, in particular Lydia Forte Rocco Forte Hotels’ Bar & Restaurant Development Manager and Olga Polizzi, Rocco Forte Hotel’ Director of Building and Design and sister of Sir Rocco Forte, to establish Brasserie Prince by Alain Roux. Its opening in June marked a watershed in the culinary progress of Edinburgh, being the first serious attempt to recreate an all-day dining venue inspired by Parisian models such as La Coupole and Le Train Bleu.

princes brasserie

Whilst not as ornate as either of these French counterparts, Brasserie Prince with its marbled bar, large windows, brass fittings, banquette seating, antique mirrors and chandelier lighting bears all the hallmarks of classic brasserie fixtures and fittings. However, renowned restaurant designer Martin Brudnizki and Olga Polizzi, have integrated regional materials and colours into the design. Wood panelled walls, leather dining chairs and woollen cushion covers are used judiciously, whilst the blues and greens of the banquettes and armchairs in the library mirror the predominant colours of the Scottish landscape.


The green and white stripes of the outside awnings are repeated at intervals on the dining room ceiling, to break up its long length. Overall, a brighter, fresher feel is evident throughout.

The Auld Allaince meets in the food offering which features French bistro classics in a seasonally changing menu, employing the exceptional produce of Scotland and France. . Anticipating possibly a large French clientele, the menu is printed in English with French on the back. As Signature Chef, Alain Roux has created an extensive range of dishes, from seafood platters from the raw bar, sharing plates and light bites such as Croque Monsieur or hard boiled eggs mimosa with anchovy from the long bar, to three course meals in the main restaurant. Of particular interest are the “Grand-Mere Specials” of the Roux family, (all at £17.50) which vary throughout the week, from Tripes de Saint-Mande on Monday to Beouf Bourguignon on Sunday. Starters which include Grandpa Benoit Roux’s country pate with sourdough cost between £8.50 and £18.50. Main courses from the carte (£16.60 to £21.50) include bistro standards – albeit elevated to a higher level – such coq au vin with tagliatelle, steak tartare and Bouillabaisse. Desserts and cheese (£6 to £19) showcase favourites such as dark chocolate mousse and truffled Brie de Meraux

Prices can be challenging, but are also realistic given the quality of the produce, the skill in cooking, the comfort of the venue and central location in an iconic hotel, There are also bargains to be had at this level: a three course lunch special including the Grand Mere dish of the day, a starter and dessert from the carte and a glass of wine costs £32. Some dishes accommodate more modest budgets such as a hearty and filling Normandy soup at £9 – a popular choice on the day I visited – or Parisian gnocchi gratin at £9.50. It must also be remembered there is no requirement to order multiple courses; indeed a light lunch might consist of just one starter or small dish from the menu. Some might baulk at the £3 charge for bread, but given its quality and quantity – greater than other establishments adopting the same practice at the similar or even higher prices – this is unjustified.

prines team

Maxime Walkowiak (above, left) from the Waterside Inn was seconded to oversee the transition from Hadrian’s to the Prince Brasserie Taking over as Director of the Dining Room is Hubert Laforge whose extensive experience of the exclusive world of five star hotels will enable him to reconcile the standards of luxurious accommodation with the more relaxed and informal ambience of the brasserie. Managing varying expectations will be a challenge.

The welcoming, knowledgeable and unobtrusive service by (above, centre) liveried front of house staff encourage an informal, relaxed ambience. A large brigade in the kitchen, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner is headed by Phillip Hickman from the Waterside Inn is able to cope with a maximum of over 200 covers. The acid test is always on a busy service where standards of cooking and service have to be maintained.

On a weekday visit during the Edinburgh Festival in August, I opted for half a dozen oysters from the carte (£12.50) followed by the lunch special.

A basket of sourdough and baguette, exemplary in their crisp crusts and firm crumb, arrived with unsalted butter and good olive oil. In addition there was a surprise amuse bouche of blinis with a guacamole dip.

Properly presented on a bed of ice with of lemon, red wine vinegar, shallot and pickled cucumber, the oysters with their creamy texture and briny aroma oozed the taste of the sea. A ritualistic dish, anointing the bivalves with the garnishes was a true gastronomic indulgence.

prince oyster

My choice of starter, given its rarity even on brasserie menus in France, was a foregone conclusion. Sauteed frogs’ legs Provencal exuded the heady garlic and parsley aroma of its persillade, of which there could have been a little more. A squeeze of lemon lifted these delicious morsels of finger food with sour dough used served to mop up the garlicy, buttery juices.

prince frogs legs

The Grand Mere Special of the day was lamb cutlets Germaine, with couscous, sorrel and mint sauce. Three generous partly French trimmed cutlets – a thin layer of fat was retained for flavour – were well seasoned if a slightly over done. Sorrel and mint added piquancy to the intense veal based sauce which the couscous helped to soak up. Accompanied by a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon included in the lunch promotion, this was an highly enjoyable dish.

princes lamb

For dessert, a little theatre was employed in the serving of a signature mille feuille from the trolley. Slicing the delicate buttery leaves of puff pastry sandwiching a well flavoured vanilla crème patissiere required a swift, deft approach, which was perfectly achieved.

Double expresso completed a memorable meal, one enhanced by the seamless service and congenial atmosphere. Visiting Brasserie Prince was a joy, as it is with all Roux restaurants. Fine Dining Guide will doubtless visit again on a future visit to the Scottish capital to sample different dishes from the embarrassment of riches on offer. We wish this new venture every success and will follow its progress with interest.

Restaurant Review: Black Pig and Oyster, Edinburgh (Oct 2018)

Posted on: October 4th, 2018 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Black Pig and Oyster is an exciting new addition to the Edinburgh dining scene. Specialising in Spanish cuisine, in particular dishes featuring the celebrated Iberian Black Pig, its tapas, street food and small sharing dishes alongside an a la carte menu make it ideal for both casual and special occasion dining.

bp interior

Located on the Commercial Quay in Leith, and housed in what was originally a whiskey warehouse, it finally reopened in May this year after being flooded from the dentist above. The contemporary glass and steel frontage belies the warm, inviting décor of the interior. The original arched ceiling of red brick has been retained, giving it a cavernous feel, emphasised by stone pillars and up lighting. Parquet flooring, large, well-spaced tables and leather-backed chairs give a cool, sophisticated look to the dining room which can take up to 80 covers. At one end of the long room, adjacent to the wine cellar and with a clear view of the kitchen passe, is the chef’s table for to ten diners.

Clearly, considerable investment has gone into this venture which is very much a family run operation. Owners Bryan the chef and wife Michelle leading front of house, are assisted by son Jack on the pastry section and waitress daughter Yasmine. Overall, there are four in the kitchen and four front of house.

The ambitious menu is extensive, with a variety of tapas, street food and sharing options, popular at lunch time. Although the main carte contains vegetarian dishes, it emphasises the carnivorous and pescatarian elements. Five Iberian Black choices (£25-£28) include smoked and schnitzel versions. Five Butcher’s Finest dishes, (£18-£25), include wild mushroom and garlic chicken and crispy lamb with Picos blue. Shell and Fish ((£18-£25) include halibut and prawns and Iberian fish supper. Four desserts, (£6.95-£7.25) range from tempered chocolate brownie to Mojito panna cotta. An artisan cheese board is also offered at £8.95. Prices are fair given the quality and quantity of the raw materials, the skill in cooking and the comfort of the venue.

An agreeable wine list is prefaced by an interesting range of cocktails such as Madeiran Punch (Couvosier, lime and orange juice at £7.25) and De-Licious (Baileys, Frangelico, Crème de Menthe and fresh cream at £7.50)

A visit on a weekday evening during the Edinburgh Festival enabled me to same dishes from the carte. The ambience was relaxed and informal,

bp oysters

Loch Fyne oysters came in three preparations – natural with pickled shallot and sherry dressing, deep fried in a crisp and transparently thin tempura batter, and grilled with mahon cheese to reflect the Spanish theme of the restaurant. These gave satisfying contrasts of taste, texture and temperatures, a promising start to the meal.

bp scot pie

Next came a regional classic, Scotch pie, but not the flat, soggy unappetising specimens often encountered elsewhere. Here, the burnished water crust pastry was deliciously thin and crisp, encasing a well-seasoned mutton filling. Standing proud, it was topped with a flavoursome haggis bon-bon and paired with a smoked tomato chutney, which helped to cut the richness of the pie.

bp surfturf

The main course was “Black Pig Surf and Turf” which showcased some of the best ingredients the restaurant has to offer. Two thick slices of Presa, the leanest cut of the acorn fed Iberian Blackpig from the lower back of the animal, had a steak like texture and rich, porcine taste, although any charred element was lacking. Equally enticing were the three giant grilled prawns, dressed with garlic butter which were accurately timed to enhance their succulent sweet flesh. The best part, however, was sucking the heads, where most of the flavour is! This combination would have been improved if the pork and prawns had been gently charred which would have boosted their flavour. Strangely, the lemon garnish was charred. Aioli and sauted potatoes completed this generous dish.

bp eton mess

“The not so messy Eton mess” was the creation of son Jack, who has trained under a winning patissier of Crème de la Crème. A suitably light dessert to end a heavy meal, it featured toasted and dehydrated shards of meringue, cream, cubes of Chambord jelly, and fresh raspberries and strawberries with their coulis attractively arranged around the edge of a dark plate.

Overall, dinner at the Black Pig and Oyster was a most pleasant experience, enhanced by the unobtrusive and knowledgeable service overseen by manager Marian. It deserves to be successful, not just because the misfortunes forcing it to close temporarily, but, more importantly, because of the accomplished cooking based on first rate Scottish and Spanish produce. Fine Dining Guide will return to sample some of the smaller dishes and will follow its progress with interest.

Restaurant Review: Mono, Edinburgh Old Town (Oct 2018)

Posted on: October 4th, 2018 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

mono exterior

The opening in June 2018 of Mono marked a watershed in Edinburgh’s gastronomic fortunes.  Whereas most fine dining restaurants are to be found in New Town and Leith, Mono’s location at 85 South Bridge, in the heart of the Old Town’s student quarter, represents a deliberate attempt to elevate the level of dining in an area replete with fast food and takeaway outlets.

Mono is also ground breaking in using progressive northern Italian cuisine to “highlight the relationship between raw nature, the ingredients used and the cultural history.” This joint vision of chef Maciek Zielinski, who has worked in one and two starred Michelin restaurants in Rome and Milan respectively, and Joseph Crolla of Crolla’s Italian Kitchen in Musselburgh, is supported by a research lab / development kitchen in which dishes are invented, tested and refined, employing both classical and contemporary techniques.


Serious investment is also seen in the restaurant design and materials used. A Nordic/ Eastern European theme where wood predominates has been chosen, although here it is brighter and lighter than other restaurants of similar design. Untreated walls, partly lined with cork, parquet flooring and comfortable upholstered smooth wooden chairs exemplify the “textural” element of the promised “multi-sensory” experience, whilst an open kitchen and beautifully presented dishes qualify for the “visual” descriptor. A wood burning stove, pendant and spotlighting together with piped music are encompassed in “sound and all kinds of stimuli” The overall effect is pleasing in its natural simplicity.

The ground floor dining room and long bar is mainly used for lunches and pre dinner drinks, whilst the heart of Mono lies downstairs, where guests can enjoy dinner with a view of the open kitchen.

mono brigade zielinski edinburgh

Chef Zielinski’s (far left, above) cooking is unashamedly complex and labour intensive. Modern Italian approaches fused with Scottish and Asian produce and influences reflect a degree of invention and creativity that is measured and assured: unusual combinations work, with each component harmoniously adding to the finished whole. Dishes are multi component with layers of bold flavours. A balance of tastes, textures and temperatures is evident throughout. Presentation is stylish without being over contrived. Uncompromising in their seasonality and locality, the finest Italian and Scottish ingredients are sourced, menus being changed every six to eight weeks. With a maximum of 70 covers, including the private dining room, a brigade of six in the kitchen and 4-5 front of house are kept busy.

The dinner menu has six starters from £10 to £12; six mains from £19 to £27; and six desserts all at £10. A six course tasting menu at £75, with an optional wine flight at £60, features dishes from the carte in smaller portions and is the best way to sample the range and versatility of the kitchen. Menu descriptions are terse and understated, giving an element of surprise to the diner. Prices are high but realistic given the skill in cooking and the exceptional quality of the ingredients.

Mono is open seven days a week – highly usual for restaurants of this quality – which facilitated a visit on a Monday evening to sample the tasting menu.

The assortment of breads, Focaccia with rosemary, rye, crispbread and grissini stick, were exemplary in their crusts and crumb, the focaccia being especially moist and fragrant. Dipped in the extra virgin olive oil, they were a delight.

mono amuse

The meal began with four stuzzichini or amuse bouches: a succulent cube of crispy lamb belly dressed with a punchy bagna cauda of anchovies, garlic and olive oil; earthy, rich butternut squash puree with crispy rice; a delicate jellied rabbit consommé with parsley; and a caprese bomb of mozzarella, basil, and tomato which captured the essential flavours of Italy in one melting mouthful. These dainty morsels, inventive and with great attention to detail and bold flavours, augured well for the courses to come.

mono octopus

Next came a unique take on an Italian classic: octopus alla piastra. The slow cooked tentacle, tender in texture and clean in flavour, came with an ethereally light potato and paprika foam, a salad of dehydrated oyster mushrooms and a deeply flavoured dashi mushroom sauce which bought the dish together. This was a tour de force of fusion cooking, embracing Italian and Japanese elements in an umami taste sensation.

mono rabbit

A dish of accurately timed rabbit loin came with its more flavoursome belly and kidney. Strips of lardo added richness and mustard seeds gave an aromatic touch which did not overwhelm the delicate flavour of the rabbit. The vegetable accompaniment came in a variety of forms – baby carrot, carrot sponge, carrot purée and powdered carrot – each demonstrating a different cooking technique. Nasturtium flowers added a peppery note, whilst a light jus rounded off the dish.

mono beetroot

Although not as visually appealing as the other dishes – it being essentially monochrome in appearance – the next course was equally accomplished. The silky pasta of beetroot tortellini encased Katy Rodger’s rich and crumbly crowdie cheese. With discs of fermented and dehydrated beetroot, and a fermented beetroot soup, this comprised a successful marriage of flavours and textures demonstrating considerable technical skill. Here, the union of an Italian staple with Scotland’s ancient cheese was a truly inspired creation.

mono mullet

Fillets of crisp skinned, firm fleshed red mullet were accompanied by seared spring onion, crispy courgette flower and a head of zucchini encased in a cube of fried bread. The most innovative element in this Italian – Indian fusion was the mild curry butter sauce which complemented the delicate flavour of the fish.

mono lamb

Scottish and Italian influences were clearly evident in the meat course. A noisette of Borders lamb saddle was cooked and rested to a perfect pink, maximising its rich flavour and firm texture. Seared sweetbreads had a delicate creaminess, adding contrast and a luxurious touch. Puffy pillows of gnocchi Romana, smooth pea puree and slightly bitter chard proved suitable accompaniments, whilst powdered capers and a chilli, lamb and lovage sauce lifted the whole dish.

mono parmesan

The cheese course proved a finely judged combination of Parmesan cream, tarragon sorbet, roasted apple purée, and chicory marinated in star anis, all topped with a Parmesan buckwheat shortbread. The dairy, herb and spice elements worked well together, enhancing the soft and crisp textures and salty and sweet components. This was another highly creative dish.

The following coconut and curry sorbet served its purpose in refreshing the palate for the final two courses

A rich and creamy saffron risotto was balanced with Scottish berries, lemon balm sorbet and meadowsweet for sweetness and herbal fragrance. Puffed rice gave contrasting texture and, as a playful flourish, a block of white chocolate and pepper, masquerading as Parmesan, was shaved for at the table.

mono choc

The second dessert, billed as “Cherry and chocolate” was Mono’s novel interpretation of Tiramisu. Mascarpone cream, flavoured with cherry Grand Marnier, was paired with a sorbet of tonka bean and cherry to imitate the feel of a cherry stone in the mouth. Aerated chocolate and coffee and cacao nibs crumb dressed with cherry and balsamic vinegar finished this sophisticated dessert of contrasting tastes and textures.

A cherry habits and coffee cocktail, specially invented by bartender Mattia and sommelier Roberto to accompany this dessert, proved a delicious, perfect match.

Overall, this was a most memorable meal, full of excitement and surprises, reflecting the creativity and dedication of the kitchen. The whole experience was enhanced by the welcoming relaxed formality of the seamless service, overseen by assistant manager Lukasz.  At my table Roberto was able to describe each course in detail and with enthusiasm – something rare in even top flight restaurants – while Alessio served matching wines with a maturity and passion of someone truly engaged with his craft.

Although having only been open for three months, Mono is rapidly establishing its credentials as a destination restaurant. Certainly, it deserves to be successful in the highly competitive world of Edinburgh high end restaurants and there is a market for adventurous cuisine of this type. Fine Dining Guide hopes to visit again and will follow its progress with interest.

Restaurant Review: Amaya, Belgravia (Oct 2018)

Posted on: October 1st, 2018 by Simon Carter

Amaya Dining Room

Situated in Belgravia, on Halkin Arcade off Motcombe Street, Amaya opened to critical acclaim in 2004, receiving and retaining a Michelin star since 2006, and taking its dining concept and inspiration from an age old approach to Indian Fine Dining: Stated on the inside cover of the menu, as the penchant for traditional Indian gourmets to graze through a selection of grilled delicacies before a grandstand finish of a special curry and a rich biryani.

On this midweek visit, Camellia Panjabi proved a most charming, knowledgeable and generous host to our group.  Having had the pleasure of meeting Camellia on several occasions I was once again wowed as she shared her undimmed passion for the industry with a vim and vigour that belied any jet lag that she may have felt from her arrival earlier that week from Mumbai – working through a full daily itinerary, Camellia’s mixture of genuine warmth and dynamism proved infectious. Along with her sister Namita and brother-in-law Ranjit Mathrani, they have built a collection of highly successful Indian restaurants across London (See Profile).

In the past few months, over mid-week evening meals, I have sampled both Amaya and the equally impressive sister restaurant Chutney Mary.  While the cooking and food offerings at each of these two restaurants represent a different focus – Chutney Mary provides a range of progressive Indian dishes mixed with some classics, whereas Amaya is broadly speaking ‘grill led’ –  the two share a few things in common: An appreciation of what it takes to deliver a decor, ambience and atmosphere that strikes a chord with those that enjoy a lively evening buzz in a happy social (almost club like) dining environment. The mixture of dark wood, black granite and clever offset mood lighting amid splashes of colour encourages a first thought of young(ish) well-heeled professionals with some considerable disposable income.  Then there is a second hit on this first impression which is a kind of ethereal sense of well being that might draw in the diner of any demographic and from a scan of each room, both the former and latter hold true. 

I would imagine a glance at the reservations databases of these restaurants would demonstrate that the customer profile has some significant cross fertilisation, particularly in the evenings.  A further element these two eateries share in common is the importance of high quality service, particularly for first time diners.  Why?  The menus are broad and it is important as a customer to be educated by the service on how to navigate the menu to best enjoy the food on offer. 

Amaya Kitchen

As an example, Amaya has an impressive open kitchen (above) with a salad section, tandoor (clay oven), sigri (charcoal grill) and tawa (griddle) which facilitate a rather broad menu of three different tasting choices, a few curries, bread and rice.  However, the main focus is found across a selection of over 30 Salad, Seafood, Poultry and Meat dishes that are divided up by ‘first to arrive’, ‘mid-arrivals’, ‘later arrivals’ and curries.  At first glance it is possible to feel a little overwhelmed, however, the levels of service provided by the waiting staff shine through and would appear shared across the group, reflecting the owners passion to inform, encourage and enjoy the most balanced selections of Indian fine dining. 

Camellia explained on the tour of the open kitchen that Amaya take 90% of supplies daily reflecting the deliberately limited storage space in the kitchen.  Salads are prepared at time of order, all grills are cooked and served immediately and there is no compromise on quality – Grass fed Welsh lamb, Normandy duck and Madagascan giant prawns. On top on this, the quality of spicing is seen as critical to success in the flavours of the prepared house specialities.  The spices are acquired during their peak time within the spice harvest in India to ensure the best of the crop!  So for example, the Kashmiri chilli grown near Hubli is harvested from 14 January onwards – the best of the crop sells out within a week! Reshampati chillies are harvested in the middle of March whereas cumin and coriander in early April.

So as well as optimising provenance of ingredients and spices, the cooking techniques to produce taste, texture and temperature are fundamental.  Dishes have their own marinades, cooking oils and chutneys are made fresh and in-house.  Outside of the centrepiece grazing dishes are the three curries and two biryanis that change each month.  The kitchen operates brigade of around 15 chefs with a flattish organisation structure.  In addition, there is at least twenty front of house staff.

A sample of dishes follow.  The minced chicken lettuce parcels delivered on crisp freshness with a burst of Asian herbs and spices.

Amaya starter

Black Pepper Chicken Tikka maintained a delicate texture which was lifted by a rich pepper marinade that defied any dryness that would have become evident in the slightest of overcooking.  This proved a happy feature which purveyed throughout the meal.  Indeed Venison Seekh Kebabs retained a moisture and tenderness that again defied any mistimings that might be evident in lesser kitchens. 

Amaya Chicken

A fine seafood platter made up of Tandoori Ocean Wild Prawns (Madagascan) perfectly timed to retain moisture and texture of the delicate shellfish and complemented by lightly spiced tomato and ginger marinade.  King Scallops, diver caught, seared with appropriately delicate seasoning which worked with the natural sweetness of the flesh and enhanced rather than overwhelmed by a gentle herby sauce. Finally, Rock Oysters, flash grilled with a coconut and ginger sauce offered an unusual but appealing taste that lingered on the palate for a good 10 seconds.

Amaya Starters

Amaya is proud of their selections of vegetable dishes that for ‘first to arrive’ include Tandoori Organic Paneer Tikka, Goats Cheese and Yogurt Kebabs, small peppers with ginger, soft cheese and cashew nut.  Shakarkhand Chaat which is a griddled Indian white sweet potato.  ‘Mid Arrivals’ for vegetables include Tandoori Broccoli (below) with a ginger infused yoghurt, griddled portobello mushrooms or Spinach Fig Tikki.

Tandoori Broccoli

The selection of curries enjoyed such as a Nimbu Gosht – best described as a lamb Osso-Bucco, which by definition is slow cooked in light spices to fall off the bone from tenderness, the dish served with fresh lime to cut the richness and caramelised onions that added sweetness.  Other delights included a prawn Biryani, a Badami Chicken Curry or a Kerala Prawn Curry.  Bread and rice finish the feast of savoury dishes.


A trio of signature desserts, each of which may be served with a specially selected sweet wine. A chocolate Rasmalai, Saffron and Cardamom Pannacotta and Strawberry Malai Kulfi proved a satisfying and sweet conclusion to the meal. 

London consumers have become increasingly discerning in all they consider, due partly perhaps to the breadth of information available via web content and social media, something which naturally encourages people to become more adventurous in their tastes. Indeed all aspects of established, emerging and new cuisines are affected by what appears to be a continuous search for expression, authenticity and individuality.

In fact, the speed of this observed change is witnessed simply in the tea and coffee menus at Amaya which read like the kind of sophisticated notes once reserved for 1855 classification Grand Cru Classe wines.  Consider Balseri Gold 2nd Flush Assam – 2016 rich, sweet, malty and full bodied tea typical of Assam or a Wonder Classic Darjeeling, 1st Flush Gopaldhara Gardens – 2017 tropical fruit notes, papaya, mango with sweet white florals. 

Where once coffee was black or white before Espresso, Cappuccino and Latte were imported into restaurant fayre so now it is Indian Monsoon Blend which is fragrant and smokey with dark caramel overtones which is blended with the exclusive Indian cherry parchment coffee.  This is not intended to be critical but instead to highlight the need for restaurants to deliver this detail on quality, that is now ‘par for the course’ where informed customers are concerned!

As well as feeding the local clientele, clearly Amaya is a destination restaurant, patronage of the restaurant is strong all round because the offering is strong all round – forever evolving to meet the changing demands of the market, ably watched over by  Camellia Panjabi, whose wisdom reflects her years but whose dynamism, focus and passion retain a perennially youthful outlook and insight.  Long may they continue!