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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.

monoint3

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.

Top End Dining Analysed, Chef Niall Keating, Whatley Manor (May 2018)

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

Whatley Manor

This article is the third 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 (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.”

niall keating

Niall Keating has enjoyed a remarkable eighteen months or so in the context of his 27 years. Last September, with Niall as head chef (and after but a handful of months) Whatley Manor’s The Dining Room was awarded a Michelin star at the launch of the 2018 GB&I Michelin Guide, a moment that signaled the beginning of a life changing sequence of events. Three months later Niall was taking in the Tokyo food scene on holiday with his fiancée, when he received a message from Michelin to get in touch. It transpired that Niall was to be invited to attend the launch event for Michelin Main Cities of Europe 2018 in Budapest and further that he was to be nominated by the GB&I Guide (editor Rebecca Burr) for the inaugural Michelin European Young Chef of the Year 2018. Come the day and come the young chef to win the award; in receipt of the accolade, Niall was described on the day by Michael Ellis (WW Michelin Guides Director) as displaying the right character to represent food in Michelin’s eyes in the present and for the future – a comment that sits proudly with chef Keating. Shortly afterwards Niall and his fiancée Laetizia enjoyed an exclusive use, Michelin starred wedding at Manor House Hotel, Castle Coombe. So good things are happening to Niall Keating and long may that continue.

So, now to the food and a review of those five criteria for a Michelin star. To begin, an explanation from Niall of regularity or consistency of output and value for money criteria that are generic across the menu, followed by a look at each individual dish for provenance, cooking technique and equilibrium on a plate.

In terms of consistency, first of all there is one menu so the kitchen know exactly what will be prepared that service, so whilst the menu does evolve naturally throughout the seasons we have a clear idea in advance of what is going out the door each evening. We document recipes so everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet, at the same time I see every single dish leave that kitchen and will have, for example, taste checked the risotto or the seasoning on every mackerel tartare. I orchestrate the service within the kitchen and with the front of house. I see every plate being dressed and every dish being cooked. It can be really intense on busy weekends or when there’s forty plus covers in The Dining Room but ensuring everything is prepared, tasted and checked keeps me in my safe place. Together these practices ensure there is regularity in the dishes that reach the customer and that is so important to our restaurant.

The aim is to balance out the costing of dishes to provide value and at the same time to make a profitable business. I do have a base percentage to work to that is generous to the business, however this is weighed alongside the Brasserie outlet and the new Green Room – collectively these outlets aim for a target overall kitchen percentage. Where the kitchen target is 100% my responsibility there is also an overall F&B target and certain aspects of the business will do well on beverage. The Dining Room has the one menu which means zero wastage and therefore efficiency and effectiveness. We also have a clear idea of numbers dining the night before and order accordingly; fresh fish and meat need daily deliveries. For the brasserie, the menu offering can be designed to offer (apart from fresh fish) braised meats or dry aged steak that we can keep for a few days. Week to week, month to month, season to season we may find ourselves in a different place in terms of what is possible to offer in the outlets thanks to volumes of business, this is something which is also taken into account. So, in a way, providing the right product at the right price is as much an art as a science. We aim not to get too bogged down in the finer points so as to maintain focus on the creativity of the kitchen to ensure the customers receive the best possible menu from Whatley Manor.

Now to examine, again in Niall’s words, the dishes against the other three criteria, the risotto dish, the tortellini black, the Roquefort and an overview of the very locally sourced fully organic Aberdeen Angus beef.

Whatley Risotto 2.0

The risotto is potentially a signature for the future, whilst it was on the original launch menu, it came off but has recently come back, having evolved significantly into risotto 2.0. The inspiration was in Copenhagen when simply eating left over rice with XO sauce! To explain, while at Benu (Michelin Three Star, San Francisco) working under chef/patron Corey Lee, something that was done exceptionally well was risotto made from Arborio rice (which is the classic risotto rice from the north Italian region of Piedmont). However this idea was with a more sushi style of rice so it remains in individual grains and never gets any other texture or taste or consistency than that of the grains. So I took polished single grain Arborio rice that stays individually grained through cooking, let it down with a little crème fraiche, Parmesan and a little XO Sauce. This was the origin.

I decided to do something individual with the basic concept instead of an imitation of XO Sauce. This involved chorizo, garlic and shallots that were confit to become fatty and spicy, to balance this out, diced Scallop for extra texture and sweetness plus dried grated scallop roes. To enhance and bring together in “risotto 2.0” we add a kim chi glaze: kim chi is salted, rubbed with spring onions, ginger and Korean chilli flakes before being left to ferment for a couple of weeks. Overall the dish is something I’m so proud to have on the menu at Whatley Manor.

Whatley Beef

We are in the process of putting on a (very locally) sourced beef dish, the fully organic pedigree Aberdeen Angus are reared literally at the farm next door by Tom Wakefield. The quality of the meat is very exciting indeed and we have a dish in development that will excite diners during this summer. My eyes literally light up thinking and talking about amazing produce that we can find so locally.

Whatley Cheese

The Roquefort dish is a little different. I guess the inspiration came from Bo Bech at Restaurant Geist in Copenhagen, where I first tried blue cheese with caramelised white chocolate. We had a waffle machine in Copenhagen and we’ve fortunately managed to get hold of one here. We do a waffle, Roquefort (blue cheese) baked in the oven topped with caramelized white chocolate with caramel, compote of berries and candied fruits and nuts. The salty and sweet balance each other and the crunch and softness textures contrast.

whatley_tortellini

The tortellini black is a nod to a dish from Corey Lee at Benu Restaurant in San Francisco. In general, the creativity and structure in the kitchen was extraordinary – respect, hard work and friendship underlined what that kitchen meant to me. So the tortellini black: Corey Lee does an amazing version of xiao long bao (soup dumplings) which are steamed and are light, encasing meat or shellfish that also contains a liquid that pops in the mouth. So here I take a black pasta, I do a pork farce with pork jelly, and because it traditionally comes with a vinegar dipping sauce I do an acidic black garlic vinegar and split out with black garlic oil.

For certain Niall Keating could not be delivering the success he has enjoyed from this platform without the strength and support from the top. By way of background, sometime around the middle of 2016, the owners were considering a re-investment cum re-launch of the property and looking for a dynamic but safe, strong but gentle, passionate but measured General Manager to take them forward. They found Sue Williams.

Sue Williams General Manager

Sue had very successfully taken the decaying shambles left by Von Essen at Cliveden House and managed the re-launch and re-invigoration under the new ownership of the Livingstone brothers. The property was reborn and within a short number of years, fully restored to – if not beyond – its former glories of the halcyon days of the early 1990s. Sue also enjoyed hotel GM experience of Michelin kitchens at Bath Priory and Gidleigh Park as well as years of management development at Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons. The extent of Sue’s success at Whatley Manor can partly be measured by her being the current holder of the most prestigious accolade to a Hotel GM in the industry – The Hotelier of the Year Award.

What may customers expect of the food at Whatley Manor? Well at the time of Sue’s arrival the numbers were not so good, in spite of The Dining Room holding two Michelin Stars under Martin Burge. fine dining guide are big fans of (new) classical cooking and Martin’s menus were always a pleasure on visits to Whatley. While Sue was familiar with the character of Niall from his time at Bath Priory, he had subsequently travelled the world of the Michelin firmament, working under some great head chefs and developing the potential to deliver a cooking style that finds influence from three continents, including elements of the most modern of thinking and techniques. So while there existed this potential, energy and bundle of ideas, it could be clearly contrasted to the two Michelin starred, John Burton Race trained veteran.

niall keating

The leadership inexperience of Niall Keating and the question of the suitability of the expected contrast in the food style, thus remained a brave decision, perhaps a significant country house hotel gamble. Just over a year ago, to test the water, there was a private tasting of the proposed new menu under Niall and one left admiring the boldness of ideas and flavours on a single tasting menu but possibly fearing that this might engender a love it or not effect amongst the regular clientele of such a hotel, especially given its former cuisine style. Perhaps the subsequent months demonstrated a little of that but my view is that two significant things happened. Firstly, the single tasting menu, which itself is an ongoing question of relevance in country house hotels, is now backed up by a strong brasserie offering that provides the opportunity of choice to multi-night diners. Secondly, and far more important, like a fine wine the food has developed layers of sophisticated taste complexity, elegance and accessibility that demonstrates a maturity in Chef Niall Keating beyond his years. This latter development must have caught the eye of Michelin and diners alike to the great benefit of Whatley Manor. It will be fascinating to follow Niall’s progress and continue to sample the creations presented at Whatley Manor and celebrate his progress through the industry over the years to come..

Restaurant Review: The Dining Room, Chewton Glen (April 2018)

Posted on: April 3rd, 2018 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

This article is the second in a series designed not to provide ‘A N Other’ opinion about a chef’s output, to be lost in the now ‘me too’ 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 (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.”

Simon Addison - Head Chef - Chewton Glen (1)

So here we ask Executive Head Chef Luke Matthews and The Dining Room Head Chef Simon Addison (above) to elaborate on their work at Chewton Glen Hotel’s The Dining Room.

First of all, Luke Matthews sheds some light on the challenges of delivering consistency in a large professional, luxury hotel restaurant kitchen. Luke explains that in the first instance the accent must be on the needs of the customer; so if a customer requests something, if it is possible to deliver, the first reaction is to think “yes” and then work out how. This is tough on the chefs as they need to demonstrate their flexibility, adaptability and creativity. Simon Addison added that the always something going on; lunch, afternoon tea, treehouse service, room service or buffet in the pool bar then dinner service – so keeping on top of processes and practices is vital. Chewton Glen also enjoys ‘house favourite’ classic dishes in The Dining Room that stay on the menu out of customer demand and sell in large numbers – like the twice baked Emmental soufflé on the starters, or Thai lobster curry on the main courses or The Chewton Glen honeycombe parfait with honey from the Chewton Glen estate.

The set lunch provides a vent for creating new dishes and Simon Addison explained the example of a team member getting a Hake dish on that week’s £26 for three courses set lunch menu. This creative opportunity and inclusive process raises morale and maintains focus and impetus for the whole team, Simon included.

Luke Matthews feels that The Dining Room kitchen has found that they are able to operate the menu at a consistent and sustainably high level through discipline and management. What does he mean? Well, to ensure consistency, the kitchen may have all the documented recipes, methods, processes and practices in the world but in the reality of a very large brigade of chefs in a professional kitchen, taste is the predominant consistency check; it may be a chef is not quite following the recipe, for whatever reason, and it is up to the management team in the kitchen to ensure consistent quality output to the table and that comes from “taste, taste and more tasting” – at every level, at every stage.

With value for money, Luke understands they have a little more flexibility in the Dining Room than in the more casual dining Kitchen Restaurant. In the latter volume is more critical but they do manage volume in The Dining Room too, so therefore they have scope to provide a few more luxuries on a plate. The Kitchen restaurant benefits from the same ingredient sourcing suppliers as the Dining Room, so Luke is happy that the quality standards of produce are impeccable in both outlets.

Chewton_DIning Room Sumary

Head Chef of The Dining Room Simon Addison now takes us through each of three dishes for sourcing, cooking technique and balance and harmony on a plate. The three dishes are Scallop, Halibut and Cheesecake based. While these dishes do not specifically describe local ingredients, sourcing in this way is important to Chewton Glen, with quality of ingredient being the deciding factor. Sustainability is also key in determining  a menu item, where for example, The Chewton Glen ethos is to offer only those fish which are sustainable. Simon also pointed out that the kitchen generally attempts to use as fewer added fats as possible, not ‘no butter’ but made use of in moderation.

The hand-dived scallops are sourced from a company called Keltic Seafare (http://www.kelticseafare.com/) (Orkney Islands.) Simon may ring them in the morning and next day they arrive with consistent volume and quality. To meet demand of 200-300 scallops a week, it is natural for the kitchen to maintain support suppliers, however this is predominantly only relevant in the midst of winter.

Chewton_Scallop_Web

The cauliflower puree is designed to keep the natural flavours. Firstly, it is cut really fine so it cooks quickly and keeps the freshness, then vacuum packed and steamed on its own until it is cooked through, then blended with a little of its own water and a little milk added for the smoothness. Granny Smith apple is pickled for acidity, the mooli is sliced very thin on the meat slicer and shaped into a disk and compressed in a rice wine vinegar for light pickling.   There are some little florets of cauliflower that have been roasted. The caper and raisin puree; equal quantities (500g) of lilliput capers and raisins – the capers are washed to reduce the level of natural saltiness, then barely cover them with water and simmer for ten minutes until everything is tender, drain them off, then blend and add a little of the cooking water back to the puree should it be needed for smoothness. The Morteau sausage is from Oakleaf (http://oakleafeuropean.com/), which is straight out of Rungis Market.

In terms of balance and harmony or equilibrium on a plate, the quality and depth of flavour will come from the sourcing of the ingredients and here it is the best, I want to enhance where possible and certainly not take away from the main ingredient. So in this dish I’m looking at flavours, textures and temperatures – The dish has the silky smooth mellow cauliflower flavour, in contrast to the roasted florets that are heavily caramelised and charred. A little smokiness from the Morteau and the acidity comes from the pickled apple and mooli. Capers and raisins bring the sweetness and saltiness.

Chewton_Halibut_web

The Halibut dish is sourced from Gigha (http://www.gighahalibut.co.uk/) who create farming pens at sea, they have a specific feed and while the fish swim they naturally (as if wild) build the texture and quality of the fish. The dish is more Asian inspired than most on the menu. Pak choi is cut into quarters, steamed in a bamboo basket, the water for the steaming is infused with lemongrass, ginger, szechuan peppercorns and garlic and so on as flavour enhancers to the steam. Some Julienne of cucumber and wasabi to create “noodles”, which are wilted very simply in a light butter emulsion (shown to a hot pan) they wilt as they rest and retain some texture, then some crab meat added, meanwhile some dulse seaweed, which tastes of the ocean – a salty flavour – is blanched in a little butter emulsion. The peelings from the cucumber used in the julienne are then blended into the beurre blanc sauce with some wasabi for a gentle heat.

The balance and harmony comes from cucumber and crab together and the saltiness of the dulse provides a form of seasoning coupled with the warmth of the wasabi assisting the beurre blanc in bringing it all together.

chewton_cheesecake

We use Brillat-Savarin as a core ingredient for a cheesecake, the taste I find absolutely stunning and menu wise it is a personal favourite. There are a few pivotal moments into getting it absolutely right. The first is oven temperature, the second is in the timing to use the residual heat from the oven to allow it to set. The base has some texture, it also comes with passion fruit and lime leaf – I feel it has sweet and sour, creaminess and floral, richness and acidity. It is actually something that has a significant number of behind the scenes multi-stage processes and a good number of ingredients to get it just perfect and overall to produce something on a plate that appears so simple. Perhaps the best example of what professional kitchen fine dining is really all about.

Overall, Chewton Glen’s The Dining Room restaurant offers excellent variety across a broad menu to suit multi-night guests perfectly.  The addition of The Kitchen restaurant on site has expanded that variety to ensure the longer stay guests have no need to leave the property to dine for the duration of their stay.  The Dining Room exudes confidence, quality and consistency combined with the service and hospitality that you can come to take for granted from The Iconic Luxury Hotels Group.  Simon Addison leads a large and well drilled brigade while reporting to the long standing Executive Head Chef, Luke Matthews, who counts fifty-five employees across all food operations.  As a food and beverage success story Chewton Glen goes from strength to strength.

Restaurant Review: Wild Honey, Mayfair (Feb 2018)

Posted on: February 26th, 2018 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

wildhoneydemetre

Anthony Demetre’s Wild Honey, in the heart of Mayfair, celebrated its tenth anniversary in 2017. This is no mean feat in the highly competitive world of fine dining, where casualties greatly outnumber successes. Yet Anthony Demetre is a true veteran – in the best sense of the word – of the London gastronomic scene. It is a rare pleasure to chat with a chef whose experience with two of the greats of the last three decades – Gary Rhodes (at The Castle, Taunton), and Bruno Loubet (at The Four Seasons and Bistrot Bruno) – existed alongside a glittering world that also featured Nico Ladenis, Marco Pierre White and Gordon Ramsay, to name but three.

Along with many fans of “bistronomy” (although not familiar with the term at the time), I was a regular visitor to Bistrot Bruno in Frith Street and later at L’Odeon overlooking Regent Street, where skilful, inventive cooking and relaxed, efficient service could be had in simple yet comfortable surroundings at attractive prices. These two restaurants, where Anthony honed his skills, were always packed, so booking was essential.

Awarded Michelin stars at Putney Bridge (where he was chef/director) and his first two restaurants – in partnership with Will Smith – Arbutus and Wild Honey, all in their first year of opening, Anthony’s culinary reputation was assured.

His cooking style is rooted in the classics, eschewing the latest fashions and fads. Use of the hob, grill and oven, without the use of sous vide, are the preferred methods. This needs precise timing in cooking and resting, essentials lost in less worthy kitchens. Flavours are bold and combinations are harmonious, showing balance in tastes and textures. Plates rarely exceed four ingredients, allowing each one to shine. Vegetables serve not as a mere garnish but an essential components in the success of each dish. Presentation is clean and attractive without being contrived. Although perhaps a little less adventurous and experimental and using more luxurious ingredients than Arbutus, where the mackerel and squid burger was a signature dish, the menu at Wild Honey still delivers in terms of finely executed contemporary cooking.

The winter a la carte menu features a winning formula of seven starters from £8 to £16; seven mains, £17 to £29, with rib of beef at £49.50 for two; cheese at £14; and five desserts at £9, with tarte tatin serving two, three or four at £20. Given the superb quality of the seasonal ingredients and the sharply honed skill in cooking at this level, not to mention the Mayfair location, these prices are eminently fair, offering perhaps the best value in this part of the West End. This applies even more to the £35 three course set lunch and early supper (6.pm to 7.pm) menu, which includes some dishes from the carte.

WildHOneyInterior

Revisiting Wild Honey after a few years’ absence, I found the renovations – completed in 2012 – had improved the restaurant considerably. Brighter chandelier lighting, the removal of booths, and the relocation of the mirrored bar to the centre of the restaurant gives a more spacious feel to the long, narrow oak panelled room. More comfortable too are the rounded sofa tables replacing the banquette seating. Colourful photographic artwork, curated by Maxine Davidson remains as before, adding a contemporary note to the club-like atmosphere.

Not that service is haughty or over formal. Overseen by David Durack, the relaxed formality is in keeping with modern trends, putting guests at their ease. It is attentive and knowledgeable without being intrusive.

A mid-week dinner for three in February began with an Apple Negroni, a variation on a classic cocktail, the red apple, Campari and vermouth complementing the botanicals of the in house distilled gin. This is a new, exciting addition to Anthony’s repertoire.

In addition to the extensive, 100 bin wine list, which includes organic and biodynamic selections, it was pleasing to see on the daily menu two wines by “Coravin.” This is, after all, Mayfair, where budgets can stretch!

A starter of Cornish mussels saw the creaminess of the flesh balanced by the inspired additon fo blood orange, the sweet acidity working well with the plump bivalve. Sea purslane acted as a seasoning, giving a measured degree of saltiness.

WildHoney_moules

Grilled quail – not the most flavoursome of game birds – was lifted by lacquered coating of honey and sweet spices – amchor, sechuan pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, and cumin. Kumquat puree gave a counterpoint with its sweet bitterness whilst winter vegetables provided the necessary textural contrast.

WildHOney_Quail

Grilled Galician octopus was precisely timed, the gentle smokiness not overpowering its mild flavour and tender texture. Paired with a finely judged creamy squid ink polenta, adding flavour as well as colour, the dish was dressed with a salsa verde, the grassy piquancy of which enlivened the dish. If only there was more of this!

WildHoney_Octopus

The fourth starter, a smooth Guinea fowl and foie gras boudin blanc – a rich but light pairing – was poached and browned in the pan to perfection. Celeriac tagliatelle with its subtle celery like flavour and nutty overtones added texture whilst pickled quince gave a tartness that worked well with the other components.

Wildhoney_boudin

A main course of Lancashire (Goosnargh) duck was accurately timed and well rested, doing full justice to the deep flavour and dense texture of the thick breast. An accompanying pastilla of the leg meat resting on a bowl of herbed grains,was lightly spiced and well-seasoned. Silky caramelised cauliflower puree – possibly the best way to treat this most uninteresting of vegetables – young parsnips, and red cabbage all complemented the duck well.

WildHoney_Duck

A second main featured rabbit, that notoriously difficult protein to cook. The saddle and farce, wrapped in pancetta, seared in the pan and finished in the oven, retained its moisture and delicate flavour. Equally impressive was an accompanying cottage pie featuring the slow cooked shoulder meat topped with a potato puree of exquisite smoothness and creaminess. Caramelised endive and chestnut mushrooms completed this tour de force of game cookery.

WildHoney_Rabbit2

The same skill was shown in the third main course of roast loin of Dartmoor venison. Cooked to a medium rare to showcase its mild gaminess, it was paired with sweet potato, beetroot and onion, all of which emphasised the essential earthy flavours of the dish.

WildHoney_Venison

For dessert, we all opted for the irresistible tarte tatin. The not too sweet dark amber caramel enrobed generous wedges of soft apple and fine pastry in this classic, well executed dessert.

WildHoney_Tatin

Good coffee and signature cannele completed a memorable meal, one enhanced by the seamless service and the lively buzz of contented diners in a busy restaurant.

Wild Honey is a class act, but nothing less would be expected of a chef whose wide experience and refined skills transcend the more ephemeral developments of the restaurant scene. No doubt Fine Dining Guide will return to sample the remaining abindance of riches on the menu.

Top End Dining Analysed: Chef Tom Clarke, L’Ortolan (Jan 2018)

Posted on: January 23rd, 2018 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

exterior lortolan

The purpose of this article is not to provide ‘A N Other’ opinion about a chef’s output, to be lost in the now ‘me too’ sea of increasing ‘noise’ about top end dining.  This is something slightly different, something not seen before, this is an attempt at a new concept.  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 (WW Director of Michelin Guides), a slide 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 these are:-

“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 – a piece of fish, for example, might have a window as small as 30 seconds where it is perfectly cooked, before that it is undercooked and after that time it is overcooked. Our inspectors are looking for this mastery; albeit something the average diner may not realise but is in actual fact critical to the consistent quality of the experience and a key factor should the restaurant be seeking Michelin star recognition. 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.”

So fine dining guide decided that it would be a great idea to sample a Michelin starred restaurant’s output and then interview the chef to discover how they believe their efforts meet those criteria described by Michelin.  This would involve the chef analysing each dish prepared, against each of the five criteria.

Tom Clarke

First stop Michelin starred L’Ortolan restaurant, the only such garlanded eaterie in or around Reading.  Chef Tom Clarke (above) has some broad influences and inspirations to his cooking; including Asian cuisines, where he particularly appreciates the flavour impacts of certain ingredients which Tom suggests can add great value to strong tasting menus. Naturally, Tom is grounded in the classical style, forged at Le Manoir and further developed under his former mentor Alan Murchison.  At interview, Tom appears fairly quiet but very quickly shows his confidence when discussing his home subject, and clearly within burns a desire to succeed shared by all these elite level chefs, indeed one harnessed by a quiet but unmistakable competitive spirit.  So to the food but first an overview of a couple of criteria that span the menu – consistency and value for money.

The accent at L’Ortolan is on tasting menus, supplemented by a set menu at lunch time and an a la carte that looks like it has two, two and two choices – in fact there is a separate vegetarian choice on request that effectively brings this up to three, three and three.  What I was about to discover over a 40 minute conversation with Tom Clarke was that the level of preparation and multi-stage complexity found in the food, was such that limiting the choice may help ensure consitency of such elaborate dishes. This not to suggest that food is over engineered, far from it, the guiding theme of enhancing flavour results in uncompromising dedication to deliver the processes that meet the optimum flavour punch, admittedly sometimes this is complex, but that is why customers pay for a craftsman’s work, the true wonders of Michelin cooking and the flavours delivered.

L’Ortolan owner Peter Newman has provided Tom Clarke and team with the best of technology to help with recipe, ingredient and cooking process management for the team.  There is a L’Orotlan database and a set of iPads for the kitchen to serve as a productivity tool for the chefs while tracking what is happening for the business ensuring the long term efficiency, effectiveness and consistency of the restaurant.  Larder, garnish, sauce and pastry are digitally documented, plus each dish that is on the menu along with all methods and recipes.  A resulting affect is that in the event of a chef leaving, a stronger foundation is in place to pick up where that chef left off for a new chef on the team.  Further, there is clarity of actions required for the kitchen at all times rather than referring to written recipe folders or whatever form of manually written documentation that may happen to have been produced.

In terms of value for money, perhaps the most typical kitchen target is GP on a plate, like any top end restaurant these targets are a moving challenge, why?  The costs of ingredients are themselves fluctuating on a regular basis; Tom sites vegetable, fish and dairy costs.  For example, over a year, a 10 kilo block of butter was £42 but is now £72 so this forces the kitchen to be creative and find ways to deliver the same or better end product while using less dairy.  So, for example, Tom will finish with rendered beef fat for beef or rendered duck fat for duck and not use butter.  Wild sea bass is £30 per kilo; langoustines, scallops or turbot and so on are all reaching price points where the restaurant might struggle to source the right quality that would enable combining these ingredients on the same plate.  To avoid any compromise on quality in L’Ortolan dishes, the focus is to therefore have the highest quality sourced core ingredient stand out through its individual quality, further enhaced by creative cooking technique.

I have to say none of these honest observations of kitchen cost management were evident in the end products on a plate, which you will see and read below, were quite stunning in conception, deftly skilled in their execution and delivered by a Michelin starred kitchen on full throttle!

Tuna

The opening starter dish comprised yellow fin tuna which has proven to be of consistent quality when sourced from different areas via Kingfisher.  Tom marinaded the tuna for a couple of hours in a mixture of soya sauce, mirin, kecap manis and wasabi.  The tuna was then taken out of the marinade and sealed off quickly before chilling down.  The marinade was then reduced down to make a glaze in which the tuna was rolled with sesame seeds. The idea was flavour enhacement upon flavour enhancement.  The cracker was for texture, which was a sushi rice cracker made with crab stock to provide an adiditonal but complimentary layer of flavour.  Torched water melon for freshness, compressed in sushi ginger giving the sensation of the flavour of having sushi, freshness and acidity of pickled mooli and lemongrass to lift everything and kecap to bring it all together.

foie gras

A goose liver parfait rolled in pain d’epices crumb, along side a pan fried goose liver so you have the texture, taste and tempature contrasts of the liver. Pineapple gel, poached pineapple in caramel then torched provides some acidity and sweet wine jelly with a pain d’epice meringue, pineapple meringue, pineapple and coriander chutney and coriander cress. Smoked duck ham add a further dimension of flavour and texture.

Tuna

Torched mackerel with Bonito gel and wasabi buttermilk.  The Cornish mackerel was marinated along with soya and blowtorched for a smoky flavour and caramalisation. Dried Bonito flakes were used to make a stock which was then made into a gel which covered the mackerel to provide a flavour punch – again the theme is flavour enhacement on top of flavour enhacement and you get both elements in your mouth together.  Wasabi buttermilk provided heat and freshness and was created via the process the kitchen developed for making their own in house butter.  Some texture is provided by puff rice with seaweed powder for saltiness gives further seasoning.

Beef

L’Ortolan had a truffle evening a few months ago and from that came this concept for a beef dish.  King oyster mushrooms cooked whole and then cooked down in rendered down beef fat with aromats, then broken down to look like a bone marrow.  Traditional truffled pomme puree, seasonal carrots, seasonal girolles and confit shallots.  Then the blade of beef is marinated in red wine with plenty mirepoix for 24 to 48 hours to tenderize it, make it juicier and more flavoursome.  Tom then sealed it to get smokiness into the meat and then waterbathed for 16 to 18 hours.  The sauce is reduced red wine and shallots with port and parsley and so on…to really pack in the flavour!

dessert

Peanut mousse with a wafer and a feuillantine chocolate base and some gold leaf; coffee and banana work well together with peanut so coffee ice cream sitting on dyhadrated banana and a peanut brittle.

Overall Tom Clarke’s food is well engineered; everything has a purpose to deliver the theme of depth of flavour punch upon depth of flavour.  In his maturity the plates are generally getting less technically complex to look at but the skill and craftsmanship in bringing out the true enhanced and deep flavours of his star ingredients goes from strength to strength.  For this reason, for me, the beef and mackerel dishes shone through.  This is surely a penny dropping.  The best food from a great restaurant can look simple but taste sensational, why does it taste sensational? Because countless hours of technical achievements have brought things together in the processes behind the scenes to give the customer the optimum end product experience.  This possibly signals to the Michelin aspiring world exactly what they should be aiming for… 

Restaurant Review: Hawkyns by Atul Kochhar, Amersham (Dec 2017)

Posted on: December 14th, 2017 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Hawkyns

Atul Kochhar, the twice Michelin starred chef, continues to impress the restaurant world with his latest opening, Hawkyns. Named after Sir William Hawkyns of the East India Company who pioneered the import of Indian food into England, it is housed in the Crown Hotel, originally a 16th century coaching inn used in location for Four Weddings and a Funeral, in Amersham, Buckinghamshire.

Such a quintessentially English market town, set at the eastern end of the Cotswolds, is far removed from the West End glamour of Mayfair where Atul Kochhar made his name at Tamarind and Benares, let alone his restaurants in Madrid, Mumbai and Dubai. But Amersham is in Betjeman’s Metroland, a prosperous London suburb noted for its attractive mix of well-established restaurants and pubs, in many ways is similar to Marlow, where his much lauded Indian restaurant Sindhu is located in the Compleat Angler hotel.

Inside, a long, low ceilinged oak beamed room with cream walls, dark wooden floors and open fires is lit by large sash windows which look onto the Market Square. The décor and furnishings have an understated contemporary look which retain a country pub feel, with well-spaced chunky wooden tables, black and white wooden cushioned chairs and floor lamps with designer shading. The overall ambience is warm and cosy.

Atul Kochhar and Arbinder Dugal, a former finalist in the Roux Scholarship, and head chef since September 2017, have teamed up to create an exciting seasonal menu that is proving popular with the well-heeled clientele. Each dish combines modern British with Indian elements in a creative yet retrained way. Combinations are harmonious, with a balance of tastes, textures and temperatures. Spicing is judicious, often used to add a lively flavour rather than heat. It is never overwhelming, so enhancing the main element of the dish. Presentation on bespoke designer clay plates is refined and uncluttered. This is creative but not outlandish cooking which fuses the best of both cuisines.

Prices are realistic given the quality of ingredients and skill in cooking. On the carte, six starters range from £8 to £12, seven mains from £14 to £24, and four desserts from £7 to £9, with a cheese option at £12. A six course tasting menu is competitively priced at £45 with an optional wine flight for additional £45. Those coming for lunch benefit from a good value set menu, two courses for £19, three for £23.50

Fine Dining Guide visited on a busy weekday evening in November, choosing dishes from the carte and being won over by the food and service.

Hawkyns_Chicken

A starter of well-seasoned and softly textured chicken terrine flecked with coriander and lifted by Ras el Hanout was balanced in texture by crispy chicken skin and in flavour by the gentle acidity of pickled radish and shallot. A mild creamy curried mayonnaise and a flourish of spring onion lightly dusted with more of the Moroccan spice completed this accomplished dish.

Hawkyns_Mackerel

Equally impressive was a seared fillet of beautifully fresh mackerel anointed with a Madras masala which complemented a fish which could take the moderate spicing. These soft textures and aromatic flavours were juxtaposed against a remoulade of mouli and fennel which gave a pleasing aniseed crunch and compressed apple which added a lively freshness.

Hawkyns_Pork

A main course featured pork cooked two ways. A braised cheek, succulent and tender, was enveloped in a rich vindaloo sauce that was mercifully moderate in its heat. It was paired with a portion of roasted belly, which, although flavoursome, would have benefitted from a little more cooking time to capture totally its melting porcine deliciousness. Nevertheless, other components of the dish – spiced savoy cabbage cooked with grated coconut and chorizo and buttery potato fondant – were exemplary in taste and texture.

Hawkyns Lamb Shoulder

It was pleasing to see lamb shoulder, the most flavoursome of cuts, on the menu. Charred to give a heady smokiness, the generous portion was perfectly timed to maximise the moist sweetness and yielding texture of the meat. Autumn vegetables including turnips, carrots and cauliflower along with pearl barley gave a deep earthiness and contrasting texture. These elements were bought together by a rich, aromatic broth which, when poured at the table, added an element of theatre to the dish.

Desserts did not disappoint either, showing the strength of the pastry section of the kitchen

Hawkyns Mille Feuille

A mille feuille featured delicate crisp layers of buttery puff pastry sandwiched and topped with a fragrant saffron yogurt and dressed with blueberries and blackberries. Accompanied by a tonka bean ice cream of velvety smoothness and a taste best described as “vanilla caramel with honey,” this dish was well executed and visually stunning.

Hawkyn's Dessert

A more exotic offering saw a light, not over rich coconut mousse dressed with a pineapple and chilli salsa which worked well by cutting its creaminess and adding a gentle hint of spice. To balance this, a refreshing lime and mint sorbet gave a necessary fragrant citric lift

Good expresso completed this memorable meal, enhanced by paired wines chosen by the charming and engaging Operations Manager Richard Martinez. Service under his direction was courteous, informative and helpful, without being intrusive.

Clearly, Hawkyns is a welcome addition to the dining scene in Amersham, and, given its unique offering, will hold its own in a highly competitive market. Being on the Metropolitan line and Chilterns Railway, it is also accessible to those from further afield as well as locals.

Fine Dining Guide will follow the fortunes of Hawkyns with interest and hopes to return, perhaps to sample the tasting menu or to book a table for a special Chef Season dinner:  Paul Ainsworth and Nigel Howarth are all guesting in the first three months of 2018!

Restaurant Review: Pompadour by Galvin, Edinburgh (July 2017)

Posted on: July 16th, 2017 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

caley

The Pompadour by Galvin is the fine dining restaurant of the prestigious Caledonian Hotel in Edinburgh, part of the Waldorf Astoria group. On my first visit two years ago I was surprised to find that this elegantly proportioned room – rather like a Parisian salon – bore few other traces of the French rococo style prevalent in the mid-18th Century, when the eponymous mistress of Louis XV held sway at Court. Given its name, I was expecting it to resemble The Ritz or Le Meurice, with their highly ornamental yet graceful décor, furniture and fittings, enhanced by artwork with oriental and mythical themes.

bg_Pompadour

Nevertheless, the restrained Belle Epoque design has a more soothing if less glamourous effect. The soft grey walls are punctuated by exquisite hand painted Chinese floral panels in egg shell colours. Above, intricate cornicing, a delicate ceiling rose and a central pink chandelier add interest. Well-spaced tables, some by the large semi-circular windows enjoying views of Edinburgh Castle, are doubly dressed in fine napery and matched with comfortable upholstered chairs.

After extensive refurbishment of the Caley, as the Caledonian is affectionately known, brothers Chris (right, below) and Jeff Galvin (left, below) added The Pompadour by Galvin (and Galvin Brasserie de Luxe in Edinburgh) to their rapidly expanding gastronomic empire in the autumn of 2012.

chrisjeff_galvin

Since March 2017, Daniel Ashmore (below) has been head chef. His distinguished CV at Michelin starred kitchens includes three years at Fischers at Baslow Hall, two years at The Square in Mayfair, a year at Restaurant Tom Aitkens and La Trompette, and three years at the Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh, where he rose to sous chef at restaurant Number One.

Daniel Ashmore Pompadour by Galvin Edinburgh 1 web

With a cuisine strongly rooted in the French classics, giving “quality and luxury in simplicity,” diners are treated to dishes bearing the refined elegance of the Galvin stamp. Menus change seasonally, featuring the best of British ingredients, although there are signature dishes such as crab lasagne, halibut with langoustine bisque, mussels, cockles & squid ink farfalle, and apple tarte tatin which it would be difficult to take off the menu. Ingredients harmonise well in taste, texture, temperature and colour, with accuracy in the timing of meat and fish. Presentation shows a conscious artistry with a willingness not to overcrowd the plate. My one minor criticism of the tasting menu is that full sized portions from the a la carte menu – say of cured foie gras or beef fillet – were obviously halved, being less aesthetically pleasing than a smaller portion prepared for one.

This does not apply to the Lasagne of Crab of which the chef kindly substituted a full sized portion for the advertised first course on the tasting menu. Intensely rich but light, it features silky, soft layers of pasta sandwiching a well-seasoned delicate mousse of scallops and the white meat of North Berwick crab. Dressed with a velvety beurre Nantaise, flecked with chives to add a gentle oniony lift, the unashamed creamy indulgence of this signature dish is a tour de force of creativity and imagination. A Galvin classic dish, this is not to be missed on any visit. Wine: Pinot Gris, Greywacke, Marlborough, New Zealand, 2014

Pompadore_Crab

Next came a duo of plump Wye Valley green asparagus spears, grilled to enhance their robust flavour and to produce an al dente texture. Accompanied by a creamy burrata Mozzarella enlivened by a topping of Kalamata olives and olive oil, this dish encapsulated the vibrant flavours and colours of early summer. Wine:The flower & the bee, Cotto de Gomariz, Ribeiro, Spain, 2015

Pompadour_Asparagus

A well seasoned slice of cured foie gras melted on the tongue like the richest butter. The bitterness of endive and the acidity of orange compote worked well in balancing the richness of this delectable piece of offal, both in texture and flavour. Classically served with toasted brioche, here was another accomplished dish that offered “quality and luxury in simplicity.” Wine: Riesling, Smaragh, Burgstall, Weingut Pichler, Austria, 2015

Pompadore_Foie

The fish course featured a precisely timed fillet of Loch Etive sea trout, with soft moist flesh and crisply seared skin. Light pillows of herb gnocchi, sea beet and mussels added interest, whilst the whole dish was bought together by a light,flavoursome broth. Wine: Weiber Burgunder, Trocken, Weingut, Huber, Germany, 2011

Pompadore_SeaTrout

For the meat course, a fillet of Cumbrian beef precisely cooked to a medium rare, was well seasoned and rested. A square of potato mille feuille – a variant of fondant potato – artichoke barigoule and a wedge of braised white cabbage were suitable accompaniments. Shallot purée was subtly sweet and creamy but slightly at odds with a pool of piquant sauce béarnaise. Although the various components of this meat course were skilfully prepared, I feel they did not work together as a coherent whole. Although not dry, perhaps a veal based sauce rather than the béarnaise might have improved the combination and finished look of the dish. Wine: Taurasi, Vesuvo, Manuel Barbone, Campania, Italy, 2009

Pompadour_beef

For a simple cheese course, a slice of truffled Brie de Meaux, in perfect condition, came with spiced grape chutney and home-made biscuits. Wine: Krohn Port Colheita, Douro, Portugal, 1998

Warm raspberry soufflé, so often a disappointment in flavour in lesser establishments, was a triumph here. Well risen, light and bursting with the sweet sharpness of the fruit’s acidity, it confirmed the superior quality of Scottish raspberries. Enhanced by a tangy, smooth yogurt sorbet, this dessert exemplified the strengths of the pastry section of the kitchen. Wine: Contero, Brachetto D’Acqui, Piedmont, Italy, 2016 

Pompadour_Souffle

Good coffee and petit fours completed this seven course tasting menu. The enjoyment was enhanced by the front of house team providing seamless service that is professional but not haughty. They work under the watchful eye of Jon Hemy whose hosting is welcoming, warm, engaging and informative. Sommelier Damien Trinkquel, whose experience includes The Glasshouse and La Trompette, advised knowledgeably on the wine, showing a passion that comes from a successful career in the industry.

Clearly, The Pompadour by Galvin is in capable hands, both in the kitchen and front of house. In the highly competitive market of high end Edinburgh restaurants, which has blossomed in recent years, it is more than holding its own. Fine Dining Guide will visit again, following its progress with interest.

Restaurant Review: Oxford Blue, Old Windsor (June 2017)

Posted on: June 21st, 2017 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Oxford Blue the team

Oxford Blue, the recently opened food led pub in Old Windsor, takes its name from the regiment of its original founder, Tom Evans. The dark tone of azure, the official colour of Oxford University distinguishes its wood panelled walls, window frames and the terrace balustrades and furniture. Inside, orange leather banquettes, upholstered bucket chairs in tartan and well-spaced tables dressed in fine napery add to the colour scheme. The up market décor and furniture blend well with classic features of the original building, exposed oak beams and double sided brick fireplace which separates the restaurant from the pub. The spacious bar area, comfortable stool and banquette seating, ensures that drinkers are given equal treatment.

Outside, a decked terrace offers al fresco service, whilst upstairs the Wine Attic, the private dining room, features oak tables surrounded by wine fridges set at different temperatures, to ensure the perfect service from the extensive list.

oxblue pub exterior

Clearly, during the 18 months before opening, there has been a huge investment in renovating a building that was originally two gamekeeper’s cottages. The transformation includes a new state of the art kitchen, a priority for Chef Proprietor Steven Ellis. His distinguished CV includes working as sous chef for Clare Smyth at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, and for Andrew Pern at the Star Inn, North Yorkshire. The pedigree of senior management team is equally notable. General Manager Daniel Crump trained at Royal Hospital Road whilst his wife, restaurant manager, Margriet Vandezande-Crump held management positions at Trinity in Clapham and Petrus in Knightsbridge. With Michelin starred experience in abundance, nothing is done by halves both in the kitchens and front of house.

Provenance of ingredients is exemplary and partly regal, the Balmoral and Crown Estates supplying meat and game. Fruit and vegetables come from the Mash family farms, cheese from Neal’s Yard, herbs from the pub’s own five herb gardens, and ales from Windsor & Eton Brewery.

Steven’s cooking is firmly grounded in classical French techniques whilst reflecting British influences. Indeed, the fusion of traditional pub food with the elegance of fine dining is a balance that is masterly achieved. Dishes bear the mark of a highly creative and skilful chef. Dishes are multi component with combinations that are sometimes surprising but always harmonious in terms of taste, texture and temperature. Timing is precise and presentation being artful but not overworked.

Menu descriptions on the seasonally changing menu are terse, listing the main components of each dish but not the cooking method, which provides an element of surprise for the diner. Given the skill in cooking and the impeccable quality of the ingredients, prices are realistic. A good choice includes six starters ranging from £7 to £15; six mains from £19 to £32; sides at £4; and six desserts from £6.50 to £8.50. Cheese is £2.80 a slice. These are supplemented by Specials, three starters and three mains.

Fine Dining Guide visited on a busy weekday evening, with high expectations which were happily exceeded.

An amuse bouche of venison bon bons, immediately set the tone of rusticity and refinement. These warm, lightly crusted balls of soft, sweet and mildly gamey meat were lifted by a tangy mustard mayonnaise dip.

OB_BonBon

Delicious warm cider bread, with crisp crust and firm, well risen crumb, was served in a paper bag to extend the rustic theme. Baked on the premises it was served with a divine Ampersand cultured butter (minimum 82% fat)!

Three starters were enjoyed.

A refreshing chilled pea and mint soup had all the colour and vibrancy of a summer’s day. Based on a flavoursome stock, it was dressed with crème-fraiche to add richness and a crispbread stick to give texture.

OB_PeaSoup

A suckling pig’s trotter featured a gelatinous cylinder of succulent skin encasing the soft, well-seasoned shredded leg meat. A black pudding croquette with crisp crust and meltingly soft interior was topped with a dainty fried quail egg. Thin slices of Granny Smith and Pink lady apple added texture, colour and complementary flavour whilst blobs of sauce Gibriche gave a sharp lift to this inventive, labour intensive, porcine tour de force.

OB_Trotter

An equally accomplished starter where all components worked well together, saw a silky smooth, creamy, chicken liver parfait – a stalwart of pub menus – encased in an inventive Guinness glaze which elevated the dish to gastronomic heights. Apple batons, chutney, jelly and miniature brioche slices completed this sophisticated offering.

OB_Parfait

A main course saw Cod cooked three ways. A thick tranche of the loin was accurately timed to give a burnished crust and flakes of soft, clean white flesh. A brandade fritter gave contrasting flavour and texture whilst a swirl of taramaslata added a gentle, smoky richness. Simply accompanied by Jersey Royals, heralding the start of summer, and caper berries to add piquancy, this was another well-balanced, inventive dish.

OB_Cod

Cooking wild rabbit is sometimes seen as one of the acid tests of game cookery. Notoriously difficult to get right in terms of flavour and texture, no highly regarded chef would resist the opportunity to offer it on their menu; and Steven’s Windsor Great Park rabbit dish is indeed another testament to his outstanding abilities. The braised shoulder and leg meat, cooked under a suet pudding crust, were properly soft and gamey. Loins encased in pancetta were moist and flavoursome whilst tiny chops retained their succulence. Peas and purple sprouting broccoli proved suitably summery accompaniments, adding texture, flavour and colour, whilst the elements were bought together by a light but rich jus.

OB_Rabbit

Desserts, often an anti climax on gastro pub menus, did not disappoint, maintaining the high standards set by the preceding courses. Headed by Steven’s fiancée Ami, the pastry section delivers exquisite dishes in conception, flavour and presentation.

A peach parfait of perfect texture and creaminess was encased in a peach gel so as to resemble the whole fruit. Slices of the poached fruit, fresh raspberries and a crisp almond tuile showed this accomplished dessert needed no further dressing. On reflection, was this a playful take on Peach Melba?

OB_Peach

Another fun dish, a unique interpretation of tea and biscuits, was Tregothnan Earl Grey tea soufflé which was well risen, fluffy and delicate. Paired with Biscuit ice cream which had a velvety texture this was another simple yet elegant dessert.

OB_Souffle

Finally a layered Chocolate dessert featured the malted mousse, piped cream and cocoa nibs topped with the thinnest sheet of tempered chocolate. A tangy Marscapone sorbet cut the richness of the sweeter elements.

OB_Choc

Good coffee and a slab of salted hazelnut chocolate – served with a small mallet to crack it – completed this memorable meal. This was enhanced by the seamless service, from the doorman’s greeting to the final farewells, which was friendly, knowledgeable and enthusiastic without being obtrusive. The engaging and highly experienced General Manager, Daniel Crump, who oversaw the service on the evening we visited, gave us a tour of the premises, delighting in the achievements to date.

Oxford Blue is a class act, well deserving of the plaudits it has already received. The lofty standards reached both in the kitchen and front of house will stand it in good stead. Fine Dining Guide will follow its progress with interest, confident it will gain justifiable recognition by Michelin and other major guides this autumn.

Restaurant Review: Benares, London (May 2017)

Posted on: May 28th, 2017 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Benares-Mayfair-LogoAtul Kochhar, chef patron of Benares in Berkeley Square, is renowned for combining traditional and contemporary elements in his innovative take on Indian cuisine. Having gained a Michelin star first at Tamarind in 2001 then at his current restaurant in 2007, his unique blend of regional Indian cooking with a modern British twist has been frequently imitated but never matched. At the heart of his cuisine is the balance of flavours and textures in sometimes unusual combinations, where spicing, for warmth and aroma rather than heat, is acutely judged, thereby enhancing, rather than overwhelming the true flavour of top quality British produce. Minute attention to detail and elegant presentation do full justice to a seemingly inexhaustible creativity which has elevated Indian cuisine from curry house staple to sophisticated fine dining

Benares Interior

The restaurant itself also bears signs of traditional Indian and modern British design and décor. The stylish interior, especially in the mural of rowing boats on the Ganges in the reception area, hand-crafted furniture and the lily pond water feature speak of the subcontinent. On the first floor, the elegant bar and glass-walled wine cellar are thoroughly modern British. So too is the low ceilinged 120 seat restaurant with five private dining areas. Decorated in tones of black and white, with dark wood screens, textured walls and extensive spotlighting, the spacious room exudes understated luxury and sophistication. Well-spaced, albeit small, tables are dressed in fine napery, whilst comfortable seating is provided by low chairs and banquettes.

A variety of menus includes a good value three courses set lunch at £35 and a carte where starters range from £14 to £27, mains from £26 to £36 and desserts £9.50 to £12. A Street Food Menu, designed to be eaten by hand” are priced individually or £30 for five sharing dishes.These prices are realistic given the impeccable quality and provenance of the ingredients, the skill and flair shown in cooking, the generosity of the portions and the artful presentation, not to mention the luxurious dining room and prestigious location in the heart of Mayfair.

Fine Dining Guide visited on a busy lunchtime in mid-May, opting for the seven course tasting menu with a flight of “Captivating” wines. Pairing Asian food with wine has always been a challenge for even the most experienced of sommeliers. That Benares offers flights of either “Captivating” or “Prestigious” wines chosen from their extensive list is a testament to the confidence it has in its offering.

Famed for the inventive yet judicious use of spices, this expertise extends to the two vodka based signature cocktails. The first, a green martini with coriander, chilli and tamarind marinade balanced spicy and sour flavours. The other, mixed with a homemade chutney of passion fruit and chilli flakes was equally refreshing. Both were enjoyed between nibbles of mini lentil popadoms with freshly made apricot, tomato and gooseberry chutneys.

benares cocktails

The amuse bouche which opened the tasting menu elevated a staple of North Indian street food to a sophisticated fine dining starter. Potato and sweet potato chaat, enveloped in yoghurt foam and scattered with marinated pomegranate seeds, was lighter, sweeter and more refined than humbler versions.

Benares Chaat

An aromatic shellfish course featured a plump seared scallop, with a sesame and coriander crust and soft, succulent flesh, paired with a succulent king prawn pickled in five spices including cumin and mustard seeds, fenugreek and fennel. Tomato chutney and slow roasted tomato gave sweetness to balance the subtle spicing – which also included a fragrant pine nut podi – allowing the natural flavours of the shellfish to shine. This composite dish of contrasting textures, temperatures and flavours was a tour de force for creativity and invention.  Wine: 2014 Viognier, Clay Station, Lodi, California, USA

Benares_Scallop

Tandoori Chicken Tikka pie for two – a playful Indian take on the French pithivier? – had delicate domed pastry case surrounding a creamy, mildly spiced filling. Mixed berry chutney, perhaps a little too sweet – proved a good foil, enlivening the whole dish.  Wine: 2014 Soave La Rocca, Pieropan, Veneto, Italy

Benares Chicken Pie

The fish course saw a tranche of marinated Scottish salmon cooked in charcoal tandoor. The gentle smokiness enhanced the rich flavour of this oily fish, which retained its moistness despite being cooked at an extreme temperature. Finished with a moulee sauce of coconut, curry leaf and mustard seeds poured at the table, the Keralan influence was clearly in evidence. In contrast, the accompaniments of Cornish crab croquette perched on tomato chutney, spiced vermicelli and a swirl of beetroot puree revealed some modern British influences. Overall the components worked well together, making this a well-conceived, skilfully executed and elegantly presented dish. Wine: 2013 Gewurztraminer Atul’s Signature, Jean Claude Gueth, Alsace, France.

Benares_salmon

Sorbets as an intermediate course have lost favour in modern European tasting menus. How pleasing it is to see them in Atul Kochhar’s repertoire. Indeed, the lime sherbet with fresh mint and roasted cumin embraced mainly citric, with hints of herbal and spice flavours, proving to be a most refreshing palate cleanser.

Compared with the preceding dishes, the main course was relatively simple but no less accomplished. Two cuts of English lamb treated in different ways: rump, arguably the most flavoursome, was simply roasted whereas the cutlet was marinated in Kashmiri red chilli and cooked in the tandoor. Again, accurate timing in the cooking and resting maximised the rich flavour and tenderness of the meat. The accompanying mildly spiced Rogan jus set off the meat perfectly.

benares lamb

Side dishes were also carefully rendered. Pilau rice was fluffy and fragrant, parathas flaky and buttery; and Dai Makhani, (the black lentils cooked for 12 hours in cream and butter) being slightly sweet, thick but not mushy. Wine: 2013 Pinot Noir Muddy Water, Waipara, New Zealand   savour, leather – perfect match

benares sides

Finally, for dessert, chocolate lava cake with its molten filling worked well with an intense raspberry jelly and Bhapa Doi, the steamed yoghurt being delicately lifted, not overpowered, by rose water. Wine: 014 Eradus Sticky Micky, Late Harvest Sauvignon, Marlborough, New Zealand.

benares dessert

Overall, this was an outstanding tasting menu. The experience was enhanced by the highly professional front of house team ably led by restaurant manager Mukesh Pandey.

Benares-Manager

Welcoming and attentive but not intrusive, informative without being condescending, the carefully timed, seamless service ran like a well-oiled machine, but one with personality and good humour.

It is hardly surprising that Benares remains the leading gastronomic Indian restaurant, having retained a Michelin star for ten years. Fine Dining Guide is confident in its continued success and will follow its future progress with interest.

Restaurant Review: GBR, London (May 2017)

Posted on: May 24th, 2017 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

gbr restaurant sign

The Great British Restaurant (GBR) is the new incarnation of Thirty Six by Nigel Mendham at Dukes, London, (2011 to 2017). It has undergone a radical transformation in design and décor accompanied by the equally modern food offering of all day dining. Remodelled, with the removal of the PJ lounge corridor wall, it now features two smaller areas. Gone is the orange and cream of the traditional, conservative feel, to be replaced by a more casual yet luxurious look, featuring tones of blue, black, white and grey.

Antique mirrors, lining the low ceiling and part of the walls, increase the sense of light and space. Equally glamourous is the black granite top bar with upholstered bar stools for seven. Well-spaced granite topped tables have classic leather and velvet banquette or more traditional dining chair seating. Black and white reportage photography line the walls, evoking the hotel’s celebrated past and the guests who frequented it.

Executive head chef Nigel Mendham has now diverted from a career noted for hotel fine dining, including leading the kitchens at the Michelin starred Samling in the Lake District. This is a bold move indeed, necessitating the oversight of three services a day, seven days a week. Diversity in the main lunch and dinner menu is another prerequisite, hence the need for traditional British classics alongside more contemporary, casual and fine dining dishes. Few restaurants would offer, say, confit duck egg, duck liver parfait, fish and chips, treacle sponge and jam rolly poly on the same menu.

The carte includes six starters ranging from £5.50 to £11.50; “A taste of Spring” featuring charcuterie and smoked dishes to share, both at £16; four salads, £14.50 to £18; “Signatures” of chicken pie, GBR burger and sausage roll, £18 to £6; mains from £10 to £28 with sides at £4.50 and five desserts at £6. Overall Prices are reasonable given the quality of ingredients and the large portions. Not forgetting this is St James’s!

The drinks list avoids greedy markups. Signature cocktails are priced £2 to £14; craft beers £6 for 33cl, 13 white and 13 red wines are offered, 7 of each by the glass.

Fine Dining Guide was invited to visit for lunch in mid May, before the official opening.  Restaurant manager Robert Dokler was welcoming and informative, and the service itself was well meaning, if occasionally in need of fine tuning.

Four starters were sampled.

Duck liver parfait was suitably light, smooth and deeply rich in flavour. A crisp Yorkshire pudding added a contrasting texture and proved a novel and memorable idea. A quenelle of caramelised onion, which cut the richness of the parfait, helped balance the dish.

GBR Duck

The beautifully sweet, fresh white meat of Norfolk crab was presented on a light mayonnaise. Rye bread melba toast added an element of crispness, and overall the dish worked well, although perhaps not needed was the addition of the cubes of compressed apple.

GBR Crab

Wye valley asparagus was accurately cooked al dente. The accompanying hollandaise made this an enjoyable summer dish.  The breaded quail eggs provided a pleasing combination of tastes, while to be completely satisfying, more accurate timing would have produced runnier yolks.

The best of the starters sampled, more suited to a fine dining menu, was the slow cooked confit duck yolk with a smooth, vibrantly flavoured pea veloute and earthy morels. This refined dish allowed the sweet and savoury elements to speak for themselves.

GBR Pea

Two contrasting main courses were ordered.

Free range chicken pie had a classic filling of cubes of chicken breast in a white sauce. Generous in size – the dish was enough for two – and rustically presented, the filling perhaps needed a little more seasoning to lift it. The herbed hot suet top crust had striking flavour and with a little tweaking this will prove a popular dish with regulars.

GBR Pie

By way of contrast, new season lamb rump was more refined, the quality of the meat was clear – packed with flavour, tender, cooked to retain its moisture and enhanced by classic garnishes of smoked aubergine, confit tomatoes and wild garlic.

GBR Lamb

Of the side dishes, triple cooked chips had the delicious, moreish quality expected from the preparation. Both the broccoli (with pancetta and almonds) and heritage carrots showed strong produce but demonstrated some cooking inconsistencies that might be expected of a pre-opening kitchen, which can easily be corrected with a sharper focus on timing.

GBR Sides

To finish, there was a refined lemon based dessert: a base of lemon curd accompanied lemon parfait, which, topped with confit lemon zest, had perfect texture and a good balance of sweetness and acidity. Lime leaf cream added extra fragrance and softer texture, contrasting also with crisp meringue shards giving a light crispness.

GBR Lemon

Yorkshire rhubarb dessert was cooked sous vide, in this case it remained too firm and stringy, the ginger crumble was well made, the rhubarb gel was not too sweet and the smooth vanilla ice cream added a contrast of temperature.

GBR Rhubarb

Overall, this was a lunch of highs and lows, but it must be remembered the visit was in a period of pre-opening, during which inconsistencies are identified and ironed out. This bold new venture deserves success, and, given the reputation of the chef and hotel, these are likely to be rectified sooner rather than later. Fine Dining Guide will follow the GBR’s progress with interest.

Restaurant Review: Purslane, Edinburgh (April 2017)

Posted on: April 23rd, 2017 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Purslane2

Fashionable Stockbridge, the Hampstead village of Edinburgh, presents an embarrassment of choice to discerning foodies. Purslane in St Stephen’s Street – no relation to its namesake in Cheltenham – is foremost amongst restaurants offering fine dining menus.

The cramped basement dining room has a maximum of 28 covers. The low ceiling, wooden floor, rustic décor – planks line one of the walls – and closely spaced, undressed tables all serve to concentrate the mind on the food.

This emerges from the even smaller kitchen, staffed by a brigade of up to five, led by chef patron Paul Dunning. With an impressive CV, including experience in the kitchens of Marco Pierre White, Jeff Bland, Phil Thompson and Jean Michel Gauffre, Paul’s cuisine blends classical skills with more contemporary influences. Menus are seasonal, with 80% of ingredients sourced from local Stockbridge suppliers. Dishes are harmoniously composed, accurately timed, balanced in taste and texture, and cleanly presented. Generosity is reflected in the large portions, the select wine list which avoids greedy mark ups, and the attractive pricing, ranging from £17.95 for a three course lunch to £55 for a seven course tasting menu.

I opted for latter, keen to sample a range of dishes taken from the full carte in smaller portions.

An amuse bouche of smooth, light butternut squash veloute spiked with wild garlic oil served its purpose in enlivening the palate without stealing the thunder of the courses to come.

Purslane_Stockbridge

A trio of wonderfully fresh scallops were seared to produce caramelised crusts and soft, succulent flesh. The bitter sweet notes of orange marmalade served to emphasise the inherent sweetness of the seafood without overpowering it. Dots of carrot puree added colour whilst basil leaves gave a pleasing herbal fragrance to balance the sweetness of the seafood.

Duck two ways partnered slices of pink, soft breast meat perched on creamed cabbage with a dainty pithivier of its confit leg. Cubes of red wine poached pear cut the richness of the other elements. Here was another labour intensive, well balanced dish which allowed the separate flavours to sing.

Accurate timing of a fillet of sea bream, with its crisp skin and luscious, white flesh did full justice to the inherent qualities of this popular fish. Well-seasoned crushed potatoes and steamed kale added contrasting earthy notes, whilst the whole dish was bought together by a rich mussel and saffron veloute.

Next came rump of lamb, cooked medium rare to maximise the flavour and melting texture of this underrated cut. Boulanger potatoes were presented in a novel but satisfying croquette form. Steamed broccoli and artichoke, braised and pureed, added colour, flavour and texture and an intense olive puree lifted the whole dish.

An optional cheese course – a snip at a mere £5 supplement – comprised five varieties of British and French cheeses, soft and hard, mild and strong, the best being Fourme d’Ambert and Epoisses

A beautifully presented pre dessert, the size of a full dessert, saw a delicate vanilla pannacotta layered with rhubarb jelly and served with a quenelle of ice cream.

Finally a demoulded vanilla creme brulee with orange sorbet and fresh segments provided a rich yet refreshing finish to a highly satisfying meal.

The cooking at Purslane showed strengths in all departments, delighting a packed room of diners. This was enhanced by the seamless service, overseen by the engaging restaurant manager Alex, who, one assistant down on the night I visited, served all the tables with efficiency and good humour.

For over five years, Purslane has maintained its leading position in a highly competitive field. Its understated frontage – the signpost leading to its basement location is easily missed – and uninspiring décor need not detract from the stellar quality cooking, the welcoming, efficient service, and relaxed atmosphere. Fine Dining Guide will return to Purslane to sample other dishes from the carte and will monitor its progress with interest.

Interview: Q&A Profile of Claude Bosi (June 2015)

Posted on: June 6th, 2015 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Claude Bosi

Celebrating its 15th anniversary in June 2015, Chef Claude Bosi originally opened Hibiscus in Ludlow, before relocating to London in October 2007.  The personal signature from the kitchen brings together classic French cooking with modern techniques and the finest British ingredients – a successful formula which has garnered a customer following and numerous culinary accolades. Hibiscus has held two Michelin stars since 2003; it has a 9/10 rating in the Waitrose Good Food Guide 2015, and is ranked 5th in the UK; has five rosettes in the AA Restaurant Guide 2015 (retained since 2003) and is a member of Relais & Chateaux.

Claude found time to speak to Simon Carter of fine dining guide to profile his 15 years of experiences at Hibiscus, his philosophies as well as plans for the future.  Interview took place June 4th 2015.

The picture above combines the 15 years anniversary tasting menu (middle, faded but hopefully readable) with an image of Claude (Left) contemplating what to put on that menu and then right three dishes from the menu.  Throughout the interview Q&A there are further food pictures taken from this celebration menu.  Booking essential, menu only available lunch and dinner until 30th June 2015.

It must feel good to reach your 15 year anniversary with Hibiscus at the top of the restaurant world?

Fantastic, it seems to have gone so quickly. If I stopped and thought about it too much I might feel old (Laughing)

How have the Ludlow and London years compared?

Ludlow to start with was a mix of local clients including those who had stayed with me from my previous employer (Overton Grange) and then progressively more destination restaurant clients.

The London years have been about accumulating private as well as business clients, I am lucky that a good proportion of my customers are loyal and regular. There are also naturally tourists who may be recommended the restaurant by their hotel concierge. There is of course the constant for twelve years of two Michelin stars, which brings in interesting clients who have sought out the restaurant.

And since 2013 you have become your own boss?

After completing the deal to buy out the financial backers at Hibiscus (29 Maddox Street) in 2013 I am delighted to be my own boss. It has not affected my mentality in any way in that I was as dedicated at being successful with those backers as I am for myself. I am grateful at having had the opportunity here with Hibiscus.

I also no longer have any focus on the pubs so 100% of my time, drive and enthusiasm goes into Hibiscus.

Hibiscus Egg

What is the make-up of your staffing at Hibiscus?

We have 14 chefs in the kitchen per service and we can seat 46-48 covers upstairs, the private dining room downstairs can seat up to 18 and the chef’s table six. Front of house is around 12, so that’s 26 staff in the restaurant, four receptionists and two in the office – so it’s a business of 32 people overall.

What has the response of your customer’s been like to your 15 year anniversary June tasting menu idea?

I was really amazed by the response, I didn’t know what to expect, maybe one or two replies when we polled our guests, but we had a lot of replies. In the end we chose the best summer combinations that naturally complemented each other across the menu. This special tasting menu is only on offer through the month of June to coincide with our 15th anniversary of Hibiscus.

HIbiscus Lobster

What do you think of the move toward tasting menus in the top end of the market generally?

I understand why. When you consider the number of staff required to maintain a busy restaurant; the cost implications for staff and produce; the control and consistency opportunity that tasting menus offer, then a restaurateur or head chef would be foolish not to consider such menus.

Personally, we tried it here at Hibiscus and were not ready for this move – the older I get the more I like to try fewer courses rather than more, so I’m delighted to have a three course a la carte, a three course set at lunch times (£49.50 including half bottle of wine and coffee) as well as a six and eight course tasting menus.

Something I have noticed is that customers in the modern age are less likely to spend 2-3 hours plus at the table so also giving an experience that people can enjoy in 45 to 90 minutes becomes important.

It might appear that people today have less available time for everything so in some ways we want to break from the perception of ‘fine dining’ meaning spending too much time in a restaurant: We wish to welcome as many as possible so this perception may put off some potential new people from coming into the top end restaurants.

So yes, fewer courses is perhaps a counter trend but being accessible on time and courses does not mean compromise on food – I will source the very best produce and prepare it to the best of my kitchens’ ability, that idea will not change.

Hibiscus Pea Mint

Is the Michelin Guide still the force in the industry for chefs and consumers? (And Why?)

Michelin remains the most important guide, there is no doubt about it! When I got the first star at Overton Grange I thought I was dreaming because for me only people you worked for and looked up to received such accolades. Customers definitely look at the guide; the demand, the customer type, the expectations all change and therefore so does your business at each star level.

In recent times it has perhaps been to Michelin’s credit that they have shown that two stars can be achieved in the relaxed and accessible surroundings of a pub (where Tom (Kerridge) has done fantastically.)

As a restaurant we are first and foremost serving quality food but then equally this must be in the context of wonderful hospitality. We want customers to feel good about themselves, to make it easy for them to enjoy every minute; be welcomed and treated warmly and with respect. It is as if you are coming to my house, yes a difference is you get a bill at the end, but I want you to feel that warmth of hospitality at Hibiscus.

Is a third star something you are working/aspiring towards?

Anyone who is close to a star wants a star, anyone who has one star wants two and anyone who has two would like three; this is only natural. I do think about the dream of three Michelin stars but I do not work towards it as it might change the way I think about food and the way I go about preparing menus. I might spend too much time looking at other restaurants that have three Michelin stars and wondering whether I could implement things they are doing into my repertoire. This would be wrong for me…

I do what I think is right, right for me, for my style of food, for my front of house and my hospitality philosophy. If I get three stars this way it would be real for me and I would be very very happy. If not to be, then also fine.

What is your view of the increasing volume of (immediate) online feedback for restaurants?

Interesting and scary at the same time. People can have strange expectations and write unpleasant things based (on at best) misunderstandings. Generally if the feedback is positive you know you are doing OK and if it is consistently negative then maybe it can help you to change in some way. I’m pleased to say that the ‘social media’ or ‘information age’ appears to be working well for us at Hibiscus.

What are your plans for the future?

Keep busy, a lot of openings and a lot of closings in London. So keep my head down be busy and focus on Hibiscus.

Restaurant Review: Masala Grill, London (May 2015)

Posted on: June 5th, 2015 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Masala Grill Kings Road Interior

They say that location is everything. With this maxim in mind, one can understand the recent move of the much-loved ‘Chutney Mary’ to the West End. With few other fine dining establishments in the area specialising in Indian cuisine, there exists a golden triangle of opportunity between Amaya (Belgravia), The Cinnamon Club (Westminster) and Benares, Tamarind and Gymkhana (Mayfair) which the new St. James Street location will surely capture.

Masala Grill Example Dish

Masala Grill Example Dish: Dahi Puri

 

But what of the Kings Road location that for 25 years satisfied the hunger in West London for high quality Indian cooking? Thankfully MW Eat, the family team behind Chutney Mary, have chosen this location to launch their newest venture: Masala Grill. Building on the reputation and success of the former venture, the identity of Masala Grill is formed by specialising in authentic family recipes that reflect the different regions of India, bringing together the expertise of sister establishments such as Amaya and Veeraswamy with the innovation and panache of something new.

Muttar Tikki Chaat

Example Dish: Masala Grill Muttar Tikki Chaat

 

The interior of the old restaurant has been revamped to give a less formal feel. Particularly impressive is the domed conservatory, housing a tree and strung with decorative streamers. A rich tapestry of colours – red and amber predominating and exotic objets d’art create an oasis of colour and vibrancy that is thoroughly atmospheric and conjures images of Rajasthan. The menu too offers fresh thinking and it is pleasing to note that innovation has been encouraged, through the creative input of co-owners (and sisters) Namita and Camellia Panjabi.

Inspiration is taken from traditional street food, particularly grilled meats and fish; however there is also a range of curries, biryanis and thalis on offer which showcase both traditional and contemporary Indian cooking.

Fine Dining Guide visited Masala Grill within a fortnight of its opening on a Thursday evening in May 2015.

We were pleased to find a deliberately simple menu, with all offerings except dessert featured on one double sided A3 card. The menu is divided into appetisers (to accompany drinks), starters and main course dishes such as grills and curries. Accompaniments such as vegetable dishes, rice and breads are all listed separately. Prices seem very reasonable with most starters under £10 and the majority of main courses in the £15-20 range.

MasalaGrill_Malai Chicken Tikka

Example Dish: Masala Grill Malai Chicken Tikka

 

The wine list is similarly focused on quality and value, comprising around 30 different whites and reds (priced from £23-£90) and a small selection of Champagnes, sparkling wine and Rose. A tempting range of cocktails is listed at £8 each.

We began our meal by sampling a couple of the cocktails. The Passion fruit and mango mojito is a long drink that is both crisp and refreshing, with the sharp and astringent passion fruit offsetting the sweet and fragrant mango. ‘Paradise on Ice’ lived up to its name; a tropical concoction of flavours comprising rum, grapefruit liqueur, guava juice and lime served in a martini glass. These were the perfect aperitifs to whet our appetite for the rich and spicy flavours to come.

We took the opportunity to sample the full range of appetisers from the menu with our drinks.

The crispy fried squid comes in a vibrant red batter, made with gram flour for extra crispiness. The squid meat was perfectly tender and mouthwatering, revealing the virtue of batter and a quick, hot frying.

MasalaGrill_Crispy Fried Squid

Example Dish: Masala Grill, Crispy Fried Squid.

 

The ‘Chicken Sixers’ gave us our fix of chilli and provide a hit of flavour with every bite.

Masala Grill: Chicken Sixer

Masala Grill: Chicken Sixer

 

Meanwhile the Pani puri were palate cleansing marvels! This dish, also known as Gol gappa, consists of small crisp shells of Pani (bread), filled with chopped onions, potato, chickpeas and tamarind. A conical of spiced liquid (Puri) is provided to fill the shells. Although this requires quick action to transfer the Pani Puri from plate to mouth without creating a mess, the challenge is half the fun and the taste is well worth the effort.

Not to overlook some of the classic street food dishes listed on the menu as ‘starters,’ the vegetable samosa chaat is one such delicacy. This comprises a traditional samosa topped with yogurt and chickpeas and a garnish of pomegranate seeds. The cool and creamy yoghurt is the perfect enhancement to the slightly dry samosa crust and adds richness to the simple vegetable filling.

Another was the ‘Mixed Vegetable Bhajia’, the vegetables had a wonderful lightness, which seemed more akin to a tempura batter than a traditional bhajia mix, avoiding any of the soft dough that can beset traditional bhajia.

Main courses were divided into Thalis (tasting dishes), biryanis, grills and curries. We sampled dishes both from the ‘Grill’ and ‘ Curry’ section. From the grill the salmon steak was a particular highlight. The succulent and translucent fillet was marinated in honey, dill, mustard and chilli. The technique of first cooking in a steam oven gave a wonderful moistness to the fillet, avoiding the uneven cooking that one might often associate with grilled fish.

The Raan Khyberi; a lamb dish cooked for 12hrs with a marinade of black cardamom and star anise. Although a grilled dish, this was served with light meat liquor. The meat itself was beautifully soft and gave way to the lightest of fork movements. The tastes were surprising subtle, but this had the advantage of allowing the full flavour of the meat to shine.

Masala Grill: Example Dish Nialli Barra

Masala Grill: Example Dish Nalli Barra

 

Prawn Malabari was predominantly flavoured with ginger and curry leaf while the base of the sauce was coconut. This was a rich and spicy dish, best paired with the simplicity of plain rice. The prawns were cooked to perfection having been added at the end of the cooking process to avoid over-cooking and the dreaded sensation of eating cotton wool.

To accompany the curry we sampled the Bhindi Dopiaza, or to translate okra-onions. This was a simple dish, but one full of flavour. The okra had crucial bite and the accompany sauce had good flavour but without over-powering the vegetables. For bread we tried Lacha Paratha. This has a rich, flaky consistency and is almost like pastry to eat. Although very moreish, this is probably better tried with simpler dishes such as the grills and was a little too rich to accompany a coconut based curry – a failure on our part when it came to ordering

Our main dishes were accompanied by a glass of the Aleegory Pinot Noir (Western Australia 2010). At £8.20 a glass, this is very drinkable and is well matched.

The dessert menu offers a number of Indian classics that it would be a pity to miss. One of these is Bebinca, a traditional Goan dessert made with layers of coconut pancakes. With an ingredient list that includes ghee, coconut milk and almonds, this is not for the faint hearted (or those with a cholesterol problem!), however this proved a wonderfully sweet and sticky sensation with a strong hit of nutmeg at the end. For those looking for a lighter option, there is a range of sorbets and ice creams. Both the lychee and orange sorbets may have been improved had the sharpness of the fruit been allowed to come through, but nevertheless made a pleasing end to the meal.

Masala Grill seems certain to successfully cater to displaced business from Chutney Mary. No doubt it will also attract an altogether new crowd, drawn by the informality, quality of cooking and exceptional value on offer. The service is knowledgeable, efficient and unobtrusive. Overseen on our visit by the welcoming and charming deputy manager Johnson Fernandez, it ran very smoothly indeed. Overall, Masala Grill is destined to be another success in the story of MW Eat and one that we shall watch with interest.

Hotel Review: Storrs Hall, Lake District (April 2015)

Posted on: April 17th, 2015 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Storrs_ExteriorBack

In the highly competitive market of luxury Lake District hotels, an embarrassment of choice awaits the first time visitor. With most establishments boasting lake views, fine gardens, superior accommodation and gourmet cuisine, the decision of where to stay is, indeed, fraught with difficulty.

That said, no one would regret choosing Storr’s Hall, a member of the Exclusive Hotels Group. Standing in 17 acres of grounds and woodlands on the eastern shore of Lake Windermere – note actually  on the shore and not some distant hillside with a glimpse of the lake – it is undergoing a comprehensive room renovation. At the same time its gastronomic credentials have been raised by the arrival of Connor Toomey as head chef.

Storrs Logo

Unlike many other properties in the area, Storrs Hall has the advantage of historical and architectural interest. Now a Grade II listed Georgian villa, it was built in the mid 1790s for Sir John Legard then transformed on the profits of the slave trade by architect Joseph Gandy for John Bolton in 1808-9. A private family home to a succession of wealthy owners until 1892, its heyday witnessed guests from the worlds of literature – Wordsworth recited his famous “Daffodils” poem here – politics, industry and the military. From 1892, when Storrs Hall converted to a “Grand Hotel”, it changed hands three times, with the present owner, Les Hindle, investing heavily in the hotel’s extensive renovation.

One building within the grounds which has not been altered and is worth visiting is the National Trust owned folly, “Storrs Temple” reached at the end of a stone jetty. Built by Sir John Legard, it honours four naval heroes of the 18th/19th centuries: admirals Duncan, Nelson, Howe and St Vincent.

 

Externally and internally, Storrs Hall retains many of its original classical features. Guests are able to drive up and park next to the main entrance, admiring the entrance loggia with Greek Doric colonnade. Internal decoration and fittings of the highest quality, including inventive, luxuriant plasterwork and chimney pieces, are a testament to the excellent design and craftsmanship of the period.

Exploring the main public areas the Georgian interpretation of classical forms is clearly evident. The entrance hall, with a segmental-arched opening, leads to the central rotunda. This circular hall, with niches containing classical busts on the ground floor and a balustraded gallery on the first, is capped by a domed lantern in blue, orange and yellow. This rises from an entablature with a scalloped, fluted frieze. Equally impressive is the cantilevered staircase with decorative brass balustrade lit by an oval dome. At first-floor level the detailing is in the Composite order of architecture. The portraits and large tapestry evoke a past in which the rich merchant class unashamedly displayed their wealth.

 

StorrsHallInterior

The spacious, well lit dining room facing the lake has access to a verandah which links the two wings of the original building.

Fortunately, levels of comfort at Storrs Hall are not of Georgian standards. Decorated in pastel shades, public and private bedrooms ooze luxury and sophistication. In the Drawing Room and Study, a variety of clubby armchairs and settees, in a range of sumptuous materials, offer guests an ideal place to relax.

Many of the 30 bedrooms, consisting of Traditional and Deluxe guest rooms as well as Traditional, Deluxe and Exclusive Junior suites, have benefited from renovation in both traditional and contemporary designs which respect the building’s historical legacy. This was true of our twin aspect De-Luxe Junior Suite decorated in a bold arborial motif in brown and cream. Period mahogany furniture – desk, dressing table, bedside tables, chest of drawers and coffee table – were in sympathy with the spacious, sash windowed, high ceilinged room. A two seater settee and Queen Anne armchair offered comfortable seating. The beds, with padded leather headboards and dressed in the fine linen, gave a blissful night’s sleep. Modern additions included a large flat screen television, free internet access, designer chrome standard lamps, bedside reading spotlights – a particularly thoughtful touch – a Nespresso maker – perhaps essential for this level of room – and tea and coffee making facilities.

Storrs Bedroom

The bathroom had been totally modernised with twin white bowl sinks, separate bath with a built in waterproof television encouraging a long, relaxing soak. More stimulating for the senses was the walk in monsoon shower with side jets. Fluffy towels and bath robes side jets added to the sense of luxury.

However, whilst the clean white lines of the bathroom were aesthetically pleasing, the practicalities of using the facilities raised issues. The bath and shower would have benefited with hand rails for safety and instructions for use – it’s amazing how many different ways are invented for turning on a bath tap, plugging the tub or operating a shower! The lack of a soap dispenser, a range of quality toiletries and a box of tissues seemed particularly odd given accommodation of this quality. These, however, are minor blemishes which can easily be rectified and did not spoil what was a most comfortable stay.

Finally, the quality of management and service can make or break a hotel, regardless of how attractive the venue and modern the facilities. In this respect Storrs Hall is in safe hands. Derek MacDonald, ex The Vineyard in Berkshire, has recently taken over as General Manager. He is supported by an able team of over 30 including the charming and helpful Assistant Manager Sarah Nelson who chatted with us over dinner and chose the wines.  As a graduate of the 10/10 scheme, she has trained in all aspects of hotel life at such prestigious hotels as Cliveden, Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons and the Chester Grosvenor. Clearly, this will stand her in good stead for a successful career at Storrs Hall. Restaurant assistants, especially Frederick Milando, and reception staff were polite, welcoming and attentive. Overall, the hotel runs efficiently and effectively, putting its guests’ needs first.

From check-in to departure, staying at Storrs Hall was a most pleasurable and memorable experience, exceeding our already high expectations. The idyllic setting – the hotel is inevitably popular for weddings – combined with high standards of accommodation, cuisine and service mean it can easily hold its own, and see off, much of the competition in the area.

Restaurant Review: Storrs Hall (April 2015)

Posted on: April 17th, 2015 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Conor Toomey came to Storrs Hall after working with Michael Wignall at The Latymer, Pennyhill Park, (two Michelin stars), where he was promoted to sous chef, followed by a stint in the kitchen at Coworth Park, Ascot (three AA rosettes). This wealth of experience and inspiration has already helped to gain three AA rosettes for the Storrs Hall restaurant.

Chef Conor Toomey

Conor is a chef who loves the creativity and excitement his career can bring. Accepting that it is a very tough life, but one of choice, he relishes the start of the busy season after the slowness of the winter. He enjoys weddings – unusual amongst highly creative chefs – and has helped to enhance Storrs’ enviable reputation in catering for them, (on average three a month in the summer).

Conor’s approach to sourcing ingredients – the freshest, best quality, seasonal – is axiomatic. Unlike some of his peers, he is not obsessed with local provenance at all costs. He does work with local suppliers – witness the foraged pennywort, wild garlic and hare on his current menu – but will only accept the best, whether local or from further afield.

His menu changes within the seasons and with his suppliers. Some popular dishes, such as loin of hare and his yuzu dessert have remained on the menu for several weeks. Nevertheless, his creative juices are stimulated by new ingredients which he can transform into innovative and exciting dishes. This means he does not have a signature dish as such and his cuisine is constantly evolving.

This approach also helps in the management of his brigade of seven chefs – he needs nine – some of whom, including his sous chef, came with him from Coworth. As a group they are actively involved in suggesting, testing or fine tuning new dishes, giving them a role in the creative process.

Conor’s cooking is unapologetically complex, strong on both classical and modern techniques in producing multi component dishes with satisfying layers of flavour. Freeze drying and dehydrating to create airy powders and granules are part of an extensive range of current cheffy skills. He likes to experiment with interesting, if sometimes unpopular, techniques such as fermentation, as in his fermented cucumber granita with smoked eel parfait, which heightens the sweet and sour taste that no other process can achieve. A water bath is used to soften Jerusalem artichokes before grilling. Strawberries are compressed to create an intense stock. On the other hand, a duck dish is finished with a classic Jus gras in which rendered fat is combined with Xerez vinegar and duck stock.

Other influences on his cooking might include his personal love of curry and raita, hence yogurt with his cucumber granita; or the influence of Michael Wignall who introduced him to a northern speciality, pigeon peas, which appear on the menu as glazed maple peas.

Whilst approving of the current restaurant scene, especially in London, with their “incredible chefs… and massive creativity,” Conor cannot understand the vogue in Nordic design or the trend in relax informality where service takes a nose dive. Fine dining needs a little pomp and ceremony including fine napery, so he would also hate to have his food served on bare tables.

storrs hall dining room

With a mixed client base, and the slow pace of change in the Lakes, he appreciates the need to attract a more local clientele. One method is an attractive price point. The set lunch on Sundays is £16.50 for two courses, £21.50 for three. The seasonal carte offers three courses for £52 with a supplement for cheese. However, the best bargain is the nine course tasting menu at £65, a snip compared with London prices.

Conor’s preference for stronger flavours is amply revealed in an exceptionally generous nine course tasting menu which includes amuse bouches, two seafood, two meat/game, two vegetarian dishes, and two desserts.

To start, one had to be careful not to eat too much of the delicious home-made soda bread and mini baguette

The delicate amuse bouches were a mini meal in itself, showing originality and precise attention to detail. A tapioca crisp flavoured with squid ink dressed with with taramasalata; pork crackling with saffron tapioca with chorizo jam; brioche, pork mayonnaise and truffle; and roasted aubergine puree with bread sticks all offered harmonious combinations which produced flavour explosions in the mouth. Tantalising the palate, with the added fragrance of truffle, they served their purpose well.

Storrs_Amuses

In the first course, a lively fermented cucumber granita balanced the intensity of smoked eel parfait. This marriage of fresh and rich flavours, given a dressing of yogurt and herbal lift with dill oil and fresh dill, acted almost as a palate cleanser with its light and refreshing qualities.

Storrs_smoked_eel

A colourful plate of roasted golden and red Heritage beetroot delighted in their vibrancy of colours and flavours. Robble valley goat’s curd added a gentle acidity which balanced the sweetness of the root vegetable. Dainty beetroot meringue simply dissolved in the mouth whilst puffed rye added a necessary crunchy texture.

Storrs_Beetroot

 

Next came blackened Cornish red mullet, accurately timed to highlight its rich, shellfish like taste. Accompanied by olive tapenade, compressed celery, shellfish oil espuma, and a Bouillabaisse reduction, these strong flavours complemented each other well, the mullet not being lost amongst the other components. A well-made rouille and grilled fennel, which gave a mild aniseed note, completed this tour de force of fish cookery.

Storrs_mullet

Preparing the glazed loin of hare with its immaculately cleaned rib bones was surely a labour of love. Such delicate meat received the precise timing it needed to maximise rich, gamey flavour. Morels and parsnip puree added a deep earthiness and contrasting texture whilst maple glazed peas provided an interesting nuttiness.

Storrs_Hare

Jerusalem artichokes were cooked sous vide in a butter emulsion before being finished on the barbeque, giving an al dente texture and a slightly nutty taste. This worked well with the slight sweetness of roast celeriac puree, and the herbal boost of parsley oil.

Storrs Jerusalem

The final savoury course comprised duck treated well in two classical ways, pan roasted breast which was well seasoned and rested, and slow cooked confit leg. Spiced granola added texture and flavour, and sprouting broccoli gave colour and crunch. Braised Yorkshire rhubarb and purees of rhubarb and prunes cut the richness of the meat and a classical jus gras round the dish off perfectly.

Storrs_Duck

Two beautifully presented, complex desserts showed the strengths of the pastry section, employing some unusual ingredients and the latest technological wizardry.

Sweet Gariguette strawberries were delicate, soft and juicy with a pleasing fragrance. They were enhanced with a stock of compressed strawberry, given a lemony lift with wood sorrel and herbal freshness with mint ice. The accompanying quenelle of white chocolate ice cream added richness to this light, well-conceived dessert.

Storrs_Strawberry

The second dessert might be seen as a playful interpretation of deconstructed lemon meringue. Here the lemon custard was frozen and paired with a Yuzu cremeaux which gave an added boost of citrus. Meringues were flavoured with green tea. Given its powerful nature, fennel pollen was used judiciously in an ice cream, giving it notes of liquorice, citrus and marshmallows.

Storrs_Yuzu

Overall, it was a pleasure to sample Conor’s imaginative, skilfully wrought dishes. There was much to admire in their sheer labour intensity, thoughtful construction and clean presentation. As one of the few chefs in the Lakes producing cutting edge cuisine, he deserves even greater recognition, especially from the AA, Good Food and Michelin guides. Fine Dining Guide is keen to return on its next visit to the Lakes and will follow his progress with interest.

Restaurant Review: Linthwaite House (April 2015)

Posted on: April 15th, 2015 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Set in 13 acres of gardens and grounds, with hillside views of Lake Windermere, Linthwaite House offers gourmet cuisine to match its fashionably designed, contemporarily furnished accommodation.

Linthwaite continues to be garlanded with distinctions and awards. The coveted four AA red stars for accommodation and three AA rosettes for the restaurant make it one of the leading luxury hotels in the area. Not surprising, Conde Nast Johansen granted it the “Most Excellent Country House Hotel” award

More recently, Linthwaite has won the Cumbria Life 2015 award for Best Hotel Restaurant. This is a fitting tribute to Head Chef Chris O’Callaghan, his brigade in the kitchen, and the front of house team.

Linthwaite_ChrisOCallaghanweb

Chris, who came to Linthwaite in April 2012 from the Michelin starred Paris House, part of the Alan Murchison stable of L’Ortolan, Le Becasse and The Angel in which he spent nine years of his early career. He has had three years to develop his style of cooking. In talking to Fine Dining Guide, he stressed his style had become much simpler. Initially, he was out to prove a point which led to complicated, over wrought dishes. The emphasis now is on clean tastes and tidy presentation. Achieving a perfect custard tart on his dinner menu, for instance, is more important than over-elaborate desserts.

However, simple does not mean easy, hence alongside classical skills Chris has embraced current technical wizardry. Menu descriptions give no idea of the techniques used to enhance his dishes. Chris enjoys the freedom being Head Chef has given him. Creativity there is in abundance: consider, for instance, gin cured salmon, lemon purée, and tonic sorbet, or roasted Cod, cavolo nero purée, hazelnut orzo, artichoke, and prune on the dinner menu. Combinations of ingredients are sometimes unusual but always compatible.

Chris’ passion for seasonal British produce continues. Developing good relationships with top regional suppliers guarantees quality supplies. In line with the restaurant’s excellent reputation for its cheeseboard – Linthwaite has been previously won the Cheeseboard of the Year competition – he works closely with John Natlacen of Churchmouse Cheeses in Kirkby Lonsdale, the “Best Independent Cheese Shop of Great Britain”.

With a brigade of up to nine, Chris took pride in his recruitment policy, given the difficulty in attracting and keeping young staff. His links with the local college, facilitating the training of students for Level 4 NVQs, has resulted in two ex-porters now running sections in his kitchen.

Chris commented that the recent Cumbria Life award has helped boost covers at lunch. Although the priority of his kitchen is to please the guest, regardless of price or awards, he accepted that the attractive price point, £14.95 for two courses, £19.95 for three, helped to build up a client base who will return for dinner. Currently, some 80% of guests for dinner are residents.

Menu alternatives are three in each course for lunch and double that number for dinner, (plus a special each night). Dinner costs £52 whilst a tasting menu – a feature Chris introduced – is also available at dinner for an additional £10. These prices compare very favourably with the local competition.

A diversified, award winning wine list with plenty of Old and New Worlds – includes many vintages which match the food.

Although they lack lake views, the three dining rooms – one of which is small enough for private dining – have decorative mirrors, prints, semi abstract landscape photos and antiques which gain the attention of diners. In the main room, colours, textures and patterns are inspired by nature in a style described as “Raffles-meets-Ralph-Lauren.” Green, pearl and taupe are the predominant shades, balancing the fumed oak and solid wood floors. Banquette and contemporary dining chairs, in a variety of fabrics and patterns are supremely comfortable. Lighting varies from spotlights on tables to bespoke large pendant lamps, giving a background glow at a high level

Drinks in the spacious conservatory lounge, with roaring log fire, preceded a Saturday lunch in late March.

Delicious homemade breads – wild garlic focaccia, white and wholemeal augured well for the dishes to follow.

A starter of smoked salmon mousse was smooth and well balanced. Topped with salmon eggs, the gentle saltiness of which acted as a seasoning, it was dressed with crispy skin which added texture and crispy capers which helped to cut the richness of the mousse. The clean tastes and uncluttered presentation made this a delightful first course.

Linthwaite_Salmon

Equally accomplished was a generous cylinder of ballotine of wild rabbit. Flecked with herbs and well-seasoned, it was suitably moist with a light, gamey flavour. A chutney of butternut squash and cumin added sweet and spicy notes which worked well with the more subtle taste of the rabbit. Crisp seeded puff pastry wheels provided the necessary contrasting texture to this attractively presented dish.

Linthwaite_Rabbit

A main course of accurately timed guinea fowl breast was elevated to stellar heights by a seasoning of pesto, hazelnuts and black fermented garlic. Tiny cubes of white balsamic jelly added a counterbalancing sweetness and marjoram gnocchi gave the dish a herbal lift. A rich madeira reduction brought the elements together in this innovative composition, embracing both classic and contemporary techniques.

Linthwaite_GuineaFowl

The most inventive dish was a main course of roasted cod, the soft, translucent flakes of which glistened under shards of crispy skin anointed with nodules of lemon puree. Accompanied by quinoa which gave a contrasting firmer texture, the plate was finished with a flourish of roasted aubergine puree and balls of apple and sage. Visually stunning, with imaginative combination of ingredients that worked well together, this dish typified the attention to detail given to what, in essence, was a simple dish.

Linthwaite_Cod

Desserts continued to show the versatility of the kitchen

A supremely light vanilla cheesecake came topped with an intense mango gel. A puree of mango and a quenelle of its sorbet piped with white chocolate completed this elegant, refreshing dessert.

Linthwaite_Cheesecake

Finally, an indulgent dessert featured rich but light salted dark chocolate mousse and a novel hazelnut aero. Orange ice cream provided a harmonious flavour combination and poppy seed Madeleine gave contrasting texture.

Linthwaite_Chocolate

Overall, this was a most accomplished lunch made more pleasurable by the knowledgeable, attentive but unobtrusive service. Having enjoyed two previous meals at Linthwaite, this exceeded our already high expectations. Clearly, Chris O’Callaghan and his team deserve the acclaim they have already achieved and have the potential to go even further developing their adventurous cuisine.