Archive for December, 2018

Restaurant Review: Roux at Skindles, Dec 2018

Posted on: December 24th, 2018 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood


Maidenhead, a prosperous Berkshire town on the banks of the Thames, has long existed in a gastronomic vacuum. Its entries in the restaurant guides have been few and far between. Even the recent improvements to the town centre have culminated in the opening, on a prime site, of another chain eatery. This has been a major anti-climax to the town’s culinary fortunes or is that misfortunes?

However, neighbouring towns and villages – Marlow, Henley, Cookham, Burchetts Green, White Waltham, Paley Street and, of course, Bray – have filled the gap; that is, until this October, when Roux at Skindles opened its doors.

Skindles Raj Chef

Located on the east side of the Thames, adjacent to Maidenhead Bridge, and at the entrance to a prestigious Berkeley homes development, it stands of the site of the legendary Skindles Hotel, which had become derelict by the mid-1990s. The handsome three storey yellow bricked building finished to a high specification houses a spacious reception, brasserie and terrace on the ground floor; a cocktail bar and balcony on the first; and the Chairman’s Room for private dining on the second floor. The brasserie itself has a raised area with banquette seating opposite the open kitchen and a brighter area, the floor to ceiling windows of which give views of the terrace and Thames. Undressed, well-spaced tables have a capacity for 80 covers.


Roux at Skindles is the joint project of Michel Roux Senior, OBE, and his son Alain, Chef Patron. Their aim is not fine dining – the surrounding area is crowded with Michelin Stars, including the Roux’s triple starred Waterside Inn – rather to showcase classic and contemporary French brasserie cooking at reasonable prices in comfortable, convivial and relaxed surroundings. In typical French tradition, children are welcome with the provision of special menus. Breakfast, afternoon tea (May to September), lunches and evening bites are also available in the Cocktail Bar, allowing guests flexibility of choice.

With Maxime Walkowiak as General Manager and Rajkumar Holuss as Head Chef, both with considerable experience at the Waterside Inn, the impeccable Roux stamp is firmly embedded from the start. It is also seen in such dishes as “grandpa Benoit Roux’s country pate with sourdough” on the menu.

The well-judged carte allows a good choice for diners without putting undue pressure on the kitchen. Nine starters are priced from £8.50 to £14; ten mains from £15 to £27; (sides £3.50); and six desserts £5 to £8.50. There are also daily specials and a festive course set menu, (£36) with four choices at each stage. Skilful cooking and simple presentation do full justice to top quality ingredients. Classics include fish soup, snails with parsley and garlic butter, moules marinieres and coq au vin, whilst Merrifield duck pie and goat’s cheese soufflé are amongst the more innovative creations

The following comments refer to dishes sampled on two lunch time visits.

fish soup

Fish soup had good colour and a pleasing depth of flavour. Served with croutons and rouille, which added substance and garlicy richness, this brasserie stalwart was suitably hearty and warming.


Less robust but equally satisfying was a daily special of clam chowder. This smooth and creamy soup showcased the delicate sweetness of its seafood ingredient.

Skindles Goats Cheese

For those who find goat’s cheese too cloying, a starter of warm goat’s cheese soufflé should win them over. Light, fluffy and full of flavour, it was twice baked and mounted on a tomato coulis enriched with a little cream. Reminiscent of the Roux’s soufflé suissesse, but less rich, the combination of tastes and textures was most satisfying.

Skindles Snails

Less successful was a starter of 12 Burgundy snails which needed more garlic and parsley butter for dunking – an essential ritual of this popular dish.

Skindles Monk Fish

A special of the day main course saw two Monkfish fillets accurately timed to retain their mild lobster-like flavour and firm texture. A rich, earthy sauce, based on lentils and chestnuts worked well with the fish.

Skindles Coq au Vin

Coq au vin featured two flavoursome thighs – surely the sweetest part of the bird – properly garnished with lardons, mushrooms and baby onions. Silky, fresh tagliatelle pasta helped to mop up the intensely reduced red wine sauce.


Another successful main was Merrifield duck pie, with a golden dome of crisp puff pastry – similar to a pithivier without the spiral markings – and a well-seasoned duck farce filling. Suitably partnered with sauce Rouennaise, a red wine Bordelaise sauce enhanced with duck livers, this rich combination was balanced by the freshness of sautéed sweetheart cabbage.

Skindles Chocolate Fondant

For dessert, warm chocolate fondant proved a winner. Precisely timed to produce a decadent, oozing centre, it sat on a pool of coffee sauce, both elements happily being not too sweet.

Rum baba with yuzu cream had a light texture but would have been improved with a touch more rum in its sugar syrup.

The wine list sees prices rise quite steeply, although there is a good selection by the glass.

A meal at Roux at Skindles impresses in its range of technically accomplished dishes, and its knowledgeable, attentive yet unobtrusive service. Attractive pricing and the vibrant buzz of contented diners in a full restaurant, as was the case in both of my visits, will also encourage repeat custom. Overall, this new and much awaited addition to a previously arid dining scene, cannot fail to be successful. Fine Dining Guide will certainly return and monitor its progress with interest.

Chef Interview: Yuma Hashemi, The Drunken Butler Restaurant (Dec 2018)

Posted on: December 23rd, 2018 by Simon Carter

The Drunken Butler is a French led restaurant with Persian influences found near Clerkenwell, London EC1. Yuma Hashemi (above) is a well travelled chef of Persian heritage, whose formative years were spent in his adopted home of Germany. In his late teens, he briefly studied business before a change of direction was accompanied by significant time invested in travelling (and living) through Portugal, Sweden and France. The garnered experience saw Yuma broaden his horizons, develop his passionate ideas for classical technique cooking with Persian influences as well as developing a lasting love affair with wine.

Yuma’s self owned (without the financial masters of backers or banks) restaurant allows a degree of creative freedom and direction, the serious nature of the happenings within is belied by the humble entrance to 20 Rosebery Avenue.

The 36 cover restaurant aims to offer guests an experience which mirrors a Persian home whether it’s the décor, the style of service, or on the restaurant’s ‘Persian Sundays,’ food offering. Yuma has a passion for artisan produce and supports those found locally from the area of East London (as much as possible). The wine list is small producer centric as Yuma sees they deliver unsung gems, mostly biodynamic, natural or organic and predominantly those originating from France, Austria, Italy and Spain.

Drunken Butler Interior

Simon Carter was delighted that Yuma found time to discuss his personal and culinary journey over food, wine, water and first rate hospitality. The resulting summary of interview conducted at The Drunken Butler in early December 2018 is found below

I never intended to become a chef. In Persian culture there are a couple of traditional family traits that may have conflicting relevance to becoming a chef – the first is that in Persian families it is natural for the parents to see their offspring aspire to becoming a lawyer, a doctor or follow some other similar sort of professional career.   At the same time, a central feature of a Persian household is the family meal, where the warmth of family togetherness and the very nature of hospitality come shining through.

In keeping with the family ethos of a Persian household, family photographs form part of the décor at The Drunken Butler, my mother and grandmother smile down on me from the shelves on the wall. The hospitality aspect of being a chef is one I enjoy very much, to the point where I ensure the nature of engagement with the restaurant’s guests is interactive from the moment their incoming call sets the phone ringing.

So I will personally take the booking right through to the level of hands-on hospitality from start to finish of the dining experience. My objective is to be the host for the evening and a host will engage you with conversation as well as cooking something for you to eat and pouring something for you to drink.

Looking back, I would say in my younger days, I had always wanted to travel, learn languages and experience different cultures – part of the latter was experienced through cuisine. While I grew up and worked in Germany (with my family) I later travelled and lived for periods in Portugal, Sweden, and France.

My first trial double shift was 18 hours long and I did not stop working, as I was so excited and passionate to be in the kitchen, I just wanted to impress. Something stuck with me from then to this day and I still use with all my apprentices – at the end of the trial the head chef said to me, “you choose, do you want this job, do you want to become a chef?” I was taken aback, she told me all the bad news that comes with the commitment and dedication required to be a success, including the exhaustion and unsociable hours. I now say the same thing to my new recruits and give them the choice as to whether it is something they want and not something I might want from them or for them…

Having previously studied business, I felt it was natural thing to do to study cooking. I acquired a copy of an encyclopedia of cookery, the great Larousse Gastonomique (first published 1938 and prefaced by Escoffier) and found the recipes and cooking techniques described fascinating. A modern edition sits on the bookshelf in the restaurant.

I see cooking as both an art and a science; your instinct, your feeling and your taste memory come from the experience of learning – part of that is the ‘how to’ science which you can read about, be shown or learn by doing through trial and error but a key part, which separates the enthusiast from the professional, is from ‘within.’ This perhaps defines the art of creating dishes.

When you lead a professional kitchen there is another art, which is the art of managing and motivating people. Even when creating the core product of the restaurant it is imperative to get interactive creative input from the team, to have buy in to what you are wanting to achieve together as a restaurant. This also helps everyone, myself included, to learn and develop in so many ways, as well as developing the team. Just as during my journeys I learned from many head chefs, I also found great gems of knowledge from stagiers who had come from other cultures or had other experiences. One of my chefs once said “we’re not running a 100 metres, we’re in a marathon.” By that he meant evolution not revolution, we do not need nor expect to be the very best we can be overnight, these things take time.

During eight years in France, I found myself accepted into the culture of the Bordeaux region of France, where people were completely welcoming to someone of a different nationality and without any grasp of the local language. I was fortunate to make contacts and friends with many chefs, sommeliers but also with the great wine Chateau such as Chateau d’Yquem in Sauterns and Chateau Petrus in Pomerol. So over time I learned about the culture, the food, the wine, the language and what living and loving really meant in that region of France.


The style of Yuma’s cuisine sampled in the evening tasting menu, included the bold and the elegant. Within each dish there proved a significant demonstration of classically trained technique but with the eagerness to gently explore cultural Persian roots in their composition. As a result, some dishes might be considered robust while demonstrating complexity of character. Indeed a fine Cabernet led wine from the Medoc or a classic Hermitage from the Rhone Valley, may deliver a certain immediacy but thereafter unfold an array of flavour complexity, elegance and indescribable subtlety. Such moments are those few seconds when a thousand angels teardrops fall on your tongue.

As a metaphor for his cooking, this may be going a little overboard on Yuma’s behalf but he does profess to having developed a love of wine during an eight year stay in Bordeaux and the dishes dabble with pairing relatively strongly flavoured elements with a delicate protein, which dictate the walking of a culinary tightrope to a balanced and harmonious conclusion. On each occasion this is achieved successfully.

Consider for instance cooked Oysters, delivered with a required acidic piquancy but balanced with an unusual pistachio paste – Or Scallops, delicate, sweet and seasoned with a little natural salt, paired with sorrel, squid ink crisp, trout roe (the natural salt) and courgette.   The squid ink is a natural partner, (as discovered decades ago by Pierre Koffmann at La Tante Claire in Chelsea) however the sorrel combined with the Persian favourite of courgette delivers a greater flavour punch: Yuma clearly posseses a wise and sensitive palate as this, like each and every tasting menu treat, delivers its intended affect. One of the new forays into harmonious flavours on the palate, is based on wild mushrooms, spinach oil and brought together by a luxurious saffron mussel velouté, this leans toward more delicate notes and a greater complexity masked by its apparent simplicity (below), as one might find in a fine white burgundy!


Kaskh-e-bademjoon with smoked eel and roast aubergine and sundried fermented yoghurt invokes true Persian memories to those in the know, whereas a lamb with endive main course treads a more familiar path to fine dining guide. 

Overall, since it’s opening in December 2017, The Drunken Butler has significantly evolved and proven itself as one of the more exciting additions to the diverse central London culinary and hospitality scene. The continued success and rise to prominence of the chef patron Yuma Hashemi will be followed with interest.

Gold Service Scholarship 2019 – The Finalists

Posted on: December 5th, 2018 by Simon Carter


The Trustees and Judges of the Gold Service Scholarship (Below) have conducted a series of interviews and performance tasks over the past few months to assess the 100 candidates vying for the coveted 2019 Scholar accolade. The Semi-Finals took place on 26 November at Rosewood London, with 40 young professionals spending the day in judging sessions that covered myriad aspects of front-of-house service.

Edward Griffiths, Chairman of the Judges (third from right above), expressed delight at the impressive candidates this year, stating: “The level of enthusiasm and expertise among the Semi-Finalists made the task quite challenging to whittle down the list to just eight Finalists. Each year, we note the very high quality of candidates from hotels, restaurants, private clubs and many other service establishments from across the country. Our goal is to identify and encourage these young people to grow within the hospitality industry, and we are delighted with the group of eight making it to the Final this year.”

The eight Finalists (in no particular order) represent broad backgrounds and expertise, and hail from London and beyond, into Wiltshire, Oxfordshire and Scotland. They are as follows:

George Austin, Maître d’Hotel – Annabel’s, London

Lauren Chappell, Assistant Restaurant Manager – Cromlix Hotel, Kinbuck, Sterling, Scotland

James Dainton, Assistant Restaurant Manager – The Northall, Corinthia Hotel London

Tiziano de Mattia, Assistant Restaurant Manager – Hide, London

Eleanor Dimes, Junior Head Waitress – Lucknam Park Hotel, Chippenham, Wiltshire

Karen Gruet, Assistant Restaurant Manager – Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, Oxford

Laura Schlegel, Head Waitress – Dinner by Blumenthal, London

Alexander Sumerauer, First Head Waiter – The Ritz, London

The Final of the Gold Service Scholarship competition will take place on 21 January 2019 at Corinthia Hotel London, where eight candidates will vie for the winning Scholar accolade. That result will be announced and presented on 4 February 2019 at Claridge’s, with dozens of leading industry figures in attendance.

The winning Scholar will receive an impressive array of prizes, including placements at a leading international hotel, as well as at prestigious UK restaurants and at a Buckingham Palace State Visit, in addition to ongoing mentoring from the Trustees. All of the Finalists will enjoy European wine tours and ‘stages’ at top restaurants, and will join the recently launched Team Gold, a forum for networking and communication which had its most recent event at Brown’s Hotel with Sir Rocco Forte who shared his insights at a dinner and an ‘In Conversation’ presentation.

Background on the Gold Service Scholarship

The Scholarship was launched in 2012 to encourage a lasting heritage of excellence in hospitality. The programme celebrates the craft of service in F&B and front-of-house and nurtures the young talent through tailored mentoring. The past six years’ Scholars and Finalists have had impressive progression in their careers to date, due in part to the networks that they have established during their association with the Scholarship. As Alumni, they make up the recently launched Team Gold (a newsletter and social sharing platform for all Scholars and Finalists).

Website –

Twitter & Instagram – @goldscholarship with Hashtag #GSS2019