Sat Bains at Fortnum and Mason

8 Nov

Working on a box office isn’t the most thrilling type of work. You have to deal with people and I can’t say that is one of my favourite pastimes. But, during quiet periods where the phone is not ringing I am blessed with the opportunity of browsing the internet. While the rest of you in an office have to have the mouse arrow poised over an excel spreadsheet tab to quickly cover up a cheeky Facebook stalk whilst wasting precious time that you should be filling in said spreadsheet, when I am not on the phone I don’t have to do anything. It does mean that I am that one person you always see on Facebook chat and think ‘don’t they have a life?’ – the answer is clearly not.

It was with one of these rare moments where the world was not interested in trying to purchase a ticket for Hamlet where I came across the information that Sat Bains would have a pop up style restaurant in Fortnum and Mason as part of the London Restaurant Festival. The last time I checked Nottingham was not in London, so I am not entirely sure why Sat’s food was being celebrated for this particular festival, but then the last time I checked I was not planning to go to Nottingham any time soon so all’s well that ends well. I made sure I booked a table before a dreaded ticket booker decided to dial through… I hope the reservations team are less irritated than me by someone who quite reasonably wants to make a booking.

I was pleased that there was only a tasting menu on offer so that I wouldn’t feel that pang of regret with every bite had a cheapy lunch menu been available which lack of funds would inevitably have made me choose. Even more wonderful was the choice of non-alcoholic drinks as part of the usual Fortnum and Mason menu. We ordered a jug of a homemade soft drink which had refreshing sprigs of mint, sugar syrup and a pleasing bit of fizz. Coming in cheaper than the usual amount of water we tend to drink and being available to us on the scorcher of a day it was it was a most excellent win. On top of all that, F&M also offered a pretty good bread selection and were pretty enthusiastic about making sure we were never without. This was stuff dreams were made of.

First course was Belly Pork and Crackling, Granny Smith and Picalilli.

It was very delicious, especially because I love belly pork these days, though I do have one little gripe. Now, my adventures in pig have only just started so I could be wrong, but I would just assume that belly pork would come with crackling, so the fact it was mentioned on the menu I would also assume it would be a fundamental bit of the meal. Unfortunately it wasn’t much, just a little crunch under the teeth. Oh well. The piccalilli was deconstructed, a lovely tangy sauce with beautiful flakes of cauliflower. There was some crunchy puffed rice bits as well, and even though crunchy puffed rice bits tend of taste of cardboard I didn’t mind because I quite like food with a slight cardboard taste.

Organic Salmon, Oyster Soup, Passion Fruit and Miso followed. The salmon was raw, which is the tastiest way to have salmon in my opinion as cooked it is often the most boring fish in the world. The soup was smooth and just warm and very nicely fishy. I only recall one passion fruit pip which was hiding somewhere in the soup or behind the salmon so that it came as quite a shock on my last bite – not an unpleasant one, but a fairly pointless one I would say. You may have noticed in the photo that the bits of puffed rice had reappeared again, resting in a puddle of miso. Aesthetically it made the whole dish look a bit messy, like it had been dropped on by mistake. Taste wise, I do love a slight cardboard taste.

Around this point in the meal, Sat Bains burst out of the kitchen and rushed round the dining room meeting and greeting various diners. It appeared he only wanted to chat to the ones he knew as we were ignored despite our grinning and shining faces peering up at him. I found him a bit scary actually, probably because I had spent the night before reading his responses to bad reviews of his hotel and restaurant on Trip Adviser. Luckily I had no cause for complaint so far.

The next course was the one I was most looking forward to as every word sounded like a dream – Slow Cooked Mutton, Shallot Textures, Pickled Capers.

I do like a bit of texture in my meal. The main textures of the shallot did appear to be powder and wet, but they were nice all the same. The mutton was rich and delicious and the most tender I have ever had.

Our cheese course was presented to us as cheese on toast. Reading that on the menu I did expect something a bit special, like the time I went to L’Enclume and had a sticky toffee pudding that consisted of balls of creamy liquid each taking on a flavour that makes up the much-loved desert. When we first spotted some of Sat’s cheese on toast going out to other tables it did just appear to be a slab of brie slightly melted over a crust of toast. Mark said ‘It could be one of those things where you think it is going to be just some brie on toast but is actually amazing’. Unfortunately, Mark was wrong. It was just some brie on toast, which you know, is nice, but was a bit of a let down.

Throughout our meal our waiter raved on about how great the desert was. I wasn’t that convinced as it looked to be a cold desert and I find cold deserts mostly boring. However, like the cheese on toast should have been, the Autumn Berries, Yoghurt, Hazelnut and Crispy Meringue was a complete revelation. It was cold but the contrast of sweet and sour was a wonderful delight, as were the combination of textures (the shallot textures paled in comparison). I sadly don’t remember the flavour of the granita, but it was a bitter and sour herb, set against the creamy yoghurt and crunch of hazelnuts and meringue made for a very satisfying finish.

Yes, I very much enjoyed this taster of Sat Bains. It was fresh and very well-balanced throughout. I also enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere of Fortnum & Mason paired with the (now two) Michelin starred food. This was enhanced by the sun streaming through the windows, feeding my body with vitamin D. As great as it is that I got to try Sat Bain’s food on my doorstep, as chance would have it I am actually going to Nottingham for a night next month, and this experience has only encouraged me to return the visit.

The Vineyard

10 Oct

When Mark and I were first ‘seeing each other’ I believe my main attraction towards him was his sense of adventure in the world of fine dining. He was the first person I had met who didn’t need a special occasion to eat out at a good restaurant – eating out at a good restaurant was the special occasion. Comparing our Good Food Guide restaurant tally I was severely behind, but I was more than happy to jump on Mark’s foodie bandwagon and I’ve never looked back. I believe Mark was attracted to my enthusiasm to join in, but I am proud to say that he never would have guessed that 2 years together would have resulted in 57 ticks in our Good Food Bible(Guide). I think he would agree that my eagerness somewhat outweighs his.

Mark isn’t one to want to revisit an old haunt so I am sometimes disappointed when he waxes lyrical about the deliciousness of a meal from times past. The Vineyard was one such example; previous to our culinary journey together it was credited as the best meal of his life. It pained me to hear of how brilliant it was and of what excellent value knowing it would never be for me, however, an impending trip to a theatre in Newbury and a couple of hours of batting my eyelids did the trick and we were booked in for lunch.

I have to say, there was a sense of doom as soon as we woke up of the morning of our trip to Newbury. A phone call just before we were about to set off informed us that the show was cancelled, and 10 miles out of Newbury we had to wait half an hour for a guy from the RAC to change a punctured tyre. I guiltily called The Vineyard to let them know we would be half an hour late, worrying that we would be a big nuisance as at the time of booking there was only one slot left. We shouldn’t have worried, it was empty apart from one other couple, the gentleman like a nicer version of Harry Enfield’s sleazy salesperson. He had a very nice french wife so I decided we were in good enough company.

We would have been an irritating nuisance even if we weren’t late as we both got lost finding the toilets at different times so we had to be individually escorted there, and despite the restaurant’s name neither of us ordered wine. When being a bit cheap/annoying we always try to have a friendly joke with the front of house staff but they weren’t really into it. Nevermind.

We decided to go for the tasting menu over the lunch menu as I didn’t think 3 courses would be enough to fill me up and I also wanted to trump Mark’s previous experience – so far I had a lot of catching up to do. We had a little amuse bouche to start things off, which is always appreciated: carrot velouté with carrot spaghetti. Yes, that did whet my palate. Well done.

Confit of duck liver foie gras, apple jelly and chutney was the first of five courses. I never order foie gras, I only ever think it tastes ok, but it is good to get it on a tasting menu once in a while in case I ever decide that I actually like it. Unfortunately, this was not one of those times. It was predictably ok. The nice french lady had ordered it as part of the a la carte and her version had come with rhubarb rather than apple. I overheard her saying that it worked much better with rhubarb as it had power enough to stand up to the foie gras, unlike the apple. She was right.

My hopes should have been dashed to the ground, never to rise again, but luckily the one magic word was printed not once but twice on the menu: soufflé. Scallop soufflé with wild mushroom sabayon was the first of the two to pop up and it was course number 2. This particular souffle may be in the top 3 soufflés I have ever eaten. Piping hot, soft, light, sweetness coming from the scallop flavour, a delicious fishiness. It looked as smooth as a set custard and was just as smooth on the tongue. The sabayon was fantastic as well. I had eaten my slice of bread so I threw all formality to the wind and wiped the bowl clean with my finger.

On an egg white high, I could see what Mark had been going on about. This is a best meal ever kind of place, I thought before tucking into the following dish. However, my next thought was one of confusion: is this custard on my lemon sole? I know Heston triumphed the use of vanilla with fish, but he cleverly infused mayonnaise with it, not a slightly sweet cream sauce with an undercurrent of burnt. The sole was unpleasantly mushy, the perils of eating fish on a Monday I suppose… At least I enjoyed the roll of celeriac and potato, which says something as celeriac is disgusting (fact, not opinion).

With 2 out of 3 courses being a disappointment, The Vineyard needed to pull something quite spectacular out of the bag.  The penultimate dish was lamb and braised shoulder with artichoke and aubergine crisp. I love lamb and I love artichoke so they couldn’t really get this one wrong… just less of the unnecessary aubergine crisp next time, yeah? There was a hidden artichoke heart wrapped up with the braised shoulder which was a lovely surprise. However, this wasn’t quite spectacular, just pretty nice.

Thank god the final course was a souffle so we can all end on a high. It was a lemon and raspberry souffle with citrus sorbet. Not the most lemony of soufflés ever, but whole raspberries were dotted throughout which really was an added delight with every spoonful. The sorbet was certainly citrussy and rested on a pleasant dark chocolate sesame snap thing which also rested on a redundant bit of chocolate cake. I am not sure what the creamy translucent coating was, but it sure didn’t look appealing.

Best meal ever? No, not quite. Quite nice meal but I wish I didn’t spend that extra money on the tasting menu? Pretty much. I think Mark felt he had a little explaining to do, but he didn’t need to. Now I am not sure he would agree, but I like to look at this experience as a reflection on his life. No, I am not a disappointment, but a visit from the ghost of restaurants past highlights just how far he has come with me – at least 10 more best ever meals of his life in just 2 years. Lets just hope the restaurants don’t run out.

The Anchor

21 Jul

I found myself in Suffolk the other month to help Mark walk around shops and stick up posters for a new writing theatre festival. I tagged along like a good and supportive girlfriend, but I will be honest, if the prospect of a nice dinner wasn’t on the cards I wouldn’t have been the one handing over bits of bluetack. With help from the Good Food Guide and an extensive google search complete with menu comparison we decided on The Anchor in Walberswick. I find when a cheese soufflé is on offer, there is no competition.

Which is why I was thrown slightly when, seated at our table, menus in front of us, I couldn’t see the word ‘soufflé’ anywhere. I am surprised my eyes didn’t burn holes through the paper I looked so hard for it. The next five minutes were spent convincing myself that fish soup was really what I wanted because it would come with a spicy and garlicky rouille.

“Are you ready to order? Or would you like to hear the specials?”

“No, no need for that. Fish soup for me please.”

“Actually, I would quite like to hear the specials.” Mark interjected.

I am not entirely sure how it happened, but I somehow ended up with a fish soup with a grainy texture while Mark tucked into a deliciously piping hot, fluffy, cheesy soufflé. I couldn’t even taste the garlic in my rouille. I am still sad about it, I shouldn’t have brought it up, I don’t want to talk about it anymore.

I was thoroughly out of sorts, which was not helped by the sudden aversion to scallops that I had developed when we were served our main courses. Luckily I didn’t have to eat them as I had ordered steak and chips, but just the sight of them on Mark’s plate nonchalantly hanging out beside a piece of monkfish was enough to send waves of nausea through me. I was able to endure these bouts of sickness for a while as my steak was juicy and perfectly rare. I continually pointed out the delightful redness underneath the charred outside of the meat to Mark who was sufficiently impressed.

However, about half way through my steak I began to lag. Mr Creosote would not have needed that wafer thin mint to push him over the edge had he just eaten this. I hate leaving food, especially if I have had to pay for it, but it was just not an option on this occasion. The lady who ran the place jokingly challenged me to finish it, but the idea brought tears to my eyes. I couldn’t have done it if my life depended on it. I spent the rest of that course slumped in my chair, my back to Mark in case I caught a glimpse of a dreaded scallop and sweating profusely.

It felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders when the plates were cleared away. In fact, the sense of relief was so immediate I was able to sit up straight in my chair and peruse the dessert menu with no worry of vomiting or exploding à la Mr Creosote, a character I began to have strong sympathy for.

I went for the Panna cotta with cherry beer jelly and was rather amused by the presentation of it. I like to imagine the chef having spent hours trying to make the dessert look elegant slamming his fists down upon the plate, biscuit in each hand, while screaming ‘I JUST DON’T CARE ANYMORE’ and thus the shortbread positioned naturally into their fateful places.

I once made a Panna cotta and used so much gelatine that it was like trying to eat a rubber brick. The consistency of this one was much the same, but I still enjoyed it. The jelly was brilliant and I was flooded with memories of eating those beer bottle jelly sweets as a child. You know the ones – they tasted inexplicably good whilst being explicably weird at the same time. I liked this dessert a lot.

Look, I know I said I didn’t want to talk about it, but had I had that soufflé I would be planning my next trip to Suffolk. Instead I can only look back on my experience with the deepest of regrets. Most of you will just understand this to be an anecdote about how I made one wrong course choice, just one of those things that makes life what it is. But I believe my story has a deeper message.

If you don’t follow your souf… I mean dreams, you will inevitably be disappointed.

 
The Anchor
Main street, Walberswick, IP18 6UA
www.anchoratwalberswick.com/


Apsleys – a case study

10 Jun

Names have been changed to protect the identity of the people involved.

Martin had been offered lunch at Apsleys in return for a favour he had sorted for a member of staff called Iago. Martin was given the number of the concierge who he called the next day to secure the booking. Although Martin would never have considered paying for a meal at Apsleys due to the extortionate prices, he has always been happy to accept a free meal, be it a Michelin starred lunch or a jacket potato.

On Sunday 20th March at approximately 1.30pm, Martin and his girlfriend Natasha entered the Lanesborough Hotel and walked towards the entrance of Apsleys in order to claim their free meal. They were greeted by the a lady on the door who asked for Martin’s name, however, she was unable to locate his booking. She assured them that it wouldn’t be a problem and asked them to follow her towards a vacant table. Concerned for his bank balance, Martin explained “It should be a complimentary meal.” This threw the lady somewhat and Martin had to show her Iago’s business card so that the slight misunderstanding could be cleared.

Unfortunately, Martin’s action did not take immediate effect as Iago had to be contacted. Meanwhile, Martin and Natasha were asked to sit on a sofa in the long hall of the Lanesborough Hotel. Approximately five minutes passed before Iago appeared. “Martin! How are you? I said I could sort you out with a table, I never said it would be free mate.” He said. Natasha whipped her head away in horror and Martin began to stammer. He apologised for the misunderstanding and Iago asked if he would consider paying for his meal, Martin declined. Iago went away to investigate another option where Natasha took the opportunity to say to Martin: “Why would we need him to sort us out with  a table? I could have booked one myself. And he didn’t even manage to do that.”

Iago returned to inform them that they would be entitled to free food but they would have to pay for the drink. They accepted, but realised only moments later that the most sensible thing to have done would have been to decline. They followed Iago to their table like they were walking towards their execution.

Menus were placed in front of them – they both decided to order from the cheap lunch menu to cause the least offence. Natasha also decided to order a token glass of wine so that some money would be spent, though she was dismayed to find that the cheapest glass was £10.

Unfortunately, Martin and Natasha have found it difficult to recall what they had to eat – their levels of embarrassment overrode every other sense that they posses. The only comment Natasha was able to make is that she certainly didn’t taste salt as everything was devoid of seasoning. Martin has vague recollections of the plates of food being attractive in appearance.

Plates were cleared and desserts were ordered. Having enjoyed the slight numbing effect of her glass of wine, Natasha decided to order another. This time she recruited the help of the sommelier to advise her and he suggested a particular sweet red wine. As she did not want to attract any attention to herself, she accepted the advice even though said wine was £20 a glass.

When the wine arrived, Natasha made the decision to enjoy herself considering she had just spent more on one glass of wine than she had ever spent on one bottle. Martin too was encouraged to take light of the situation and the couple found they were able to smile and laugh, feeling less self-conscious with every minute. They even found they could enjoy their chocolate dessert, delighting in the smooth texture and light flavour of the mousse coupled with a crispy praline base.

Despite having had their spirits lightened, Martin and Natasha were eager to leave. Natasha immediately relayed her experience to many of her friends over the phone to achieve reassurance. After these discussions and another lengthy one with Martin, they both came to the conclusion that Iago was a manipulative and deceiving dick.

Spuntino

8 Jun

I was very excited when Spuntino opened. From the moment they first opened their doors, blogs were being updated left, right and centre filled with glowing reports and tantalising photos. One look at the truffled egg toast and I knew I had to go. So when Mark and I were walking around aimlessly after our three course meal at Alain Ducasse, there was only one thing on my mind – dinner at Spuntino. All it took was a three-hour stroll around Soho to marginally open the hunger gates and before we knew it we were waiting patiently for a table. In all honesty I wasn’t that hungry, but when the opportunity is there at the end of an hours wait for a seat, one would be foolish not to sit down.

Spuntino takes no reservations and seats are few so the only way to secure a bite is to wait for as long as it takes. I spent most of my teen years obsessing over the Lord of the Rings which often involved standing around for hours in the cold to catch a glimpse of the cast, so an estimated hour and a half wait meant nothing to me. Luckily for us, some people do not posses the same gift of patience as I and they left within minutes bringing us closer to the front of the queue. Before we knew it (20 minutes later) we were sat at the bar with a complimentary portion of eggplant chips with fennel yoghurt! I don’t even like aubergine, but there I was, devouring the lot. Forever a fan of the amuse bouche/canapés/extra free food, it couldn’t get much better than this.

Our stomachs ordered us not to push our luck so we ordered a modest four dishes. Food arrived thick and fast and our small bar space was soon taken over by plates of wonderful looking American tapas.

The Truffled Egg Toast was the first to catch my eye – cheese dripping off the side of the bread, the circle of yolk in the middle like the sun, radiating rich smells of truffle oil. I could taste it and experience the textures before I had even tried it.As reality would have it, it was a bit cold. And because of this it was all a bit chewy. The cheese had lost its ooze and the toast was not as much crisp as it was soggy. The sacred ceremony of cutting into the yolk had a rather poor result as only a few drops of orange dripped onto the plate. I have a feeling I caught this particular dish on a bad day, so I do not want to write it off as something not worth trying. Go for it, I might do so again one day.

Much more successful was the Softshell Crab with Aioli. I could eat anything dipped in aioli, a stapler for example, but it really is something special when the dippee is perfectly tasty without said garlicky magic. The flavours were fresh, making the whole dish incredibly easy to eat.

The beef and bone marrow slider was another winner. Small brioche bun, rich and almost creamy meat, the compulsory layer of melted cheese… I could have done with a big version of this, unfortunately sharing with the other half meant that I only had two bites.

Though our order was relatively small, my painfully swollen belly cursed my masochistic appetite, but I was not done yet. “Thinking of having a pudding? There is no thinking to do – Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwich” the waiter told us. My appetite was charmed by his wit and before my belly could clog on to what I was doing, I had taken his advice. And what advice that was.

Two layers of peanut butter parfait cemented together with raspberry coulis and topped with crumbs of sugared peanut. I don’t think I have ever eaten anything with as perfect a combination of flavours and textures than this dessert. The parfait was both salty and sweet as well as creamy on the tongue, and the coulis sliced through with zingy fruit pang and sticky finish, not forgetting the surprise crunch from the scattered peanut brittle. Though bursting at the seams, my stomach forgave me.

This would usually be the point where I would conclude my blog entry with a few pithy sentences about the great time I had. However, I found myself a few weeks later wandering through Soho after a Wayne’s World shwing-along desperately looking for a bite to eat. All that head banging and air guitaring unearthed my masochistic appetite, and like a magnet I was drawn back to Spuntino with the idea of ordering completely different dishes but to end with the same sublime pud. And so my adventure continues.

Complimentary cup of popcorn covered in chilli oil started us off this time. Bit greasy and not as exciting or substantial as the eggplant chips, but it was in my brief of eating only the untried. Our first plate was another dabble with egg, this time in the form of a sesame crusted egg with toast. A boiled egg and soldiers is a classic for a reason, though Spuntino’s version wasn’t much more than that. If even I can make it at home, I don’t think it is worth spending money on.

Our slider of the day was salt beef with gherkin. There was a lot of meat and a good layer of schnoz burning English mustard. Nice, but nothing beats Gabby’s in Leicester Square for salted cow.

No, the real winners of this round were the steak with eggs coupled with shoe string fries. This, my friend, tops the PB&J Sandwich.

“I am not sure why this is so good, but it is” Mark said. I am not sure either, how something so simple can be so delicious. I used the shoe string fries to dip in the runny yolk and then to mop up the remaining meaty juices once I had finished. I know that I am going to return to Spuntino many times over so that I can scream “BINGO” once I have tried every single dish, but I also know that I will not be able to resist ordering this every single time.

We had a bowl of grits on the side which Mark rejected after a couple of mouthfuls, but I finished the lot, finding the texture utterly comforting that only a cuddle with my old teddy bear could inspire. I wouldn’t mind ordering that again too.

Of course we finished with the dessert we planned to finish with and of course we enjoyed it. I might order the liquorice ice cream with pineapple carpaccio next time instead. I will probably not enjoy it as much, but you live and learn. And if I am to live and learn I may as well do it at Spuntino.

 

Spuntino
61 Rupert Street, London, W1D 7PW
http://www.spuntino.co.uk/

Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester

28 May

On my 22nd birthday my friend Frances took me to lunch at the Dorchester. We had a great time, we ate lots of food and we drank many cocktails and a glass of diet coke which cost £4.50. When I went to work the next day three different people informed me that Alain Ducasse was responsible for my meal. I wasn’t convinced, but as I knew I definitely hadn’t eaten at the Grill apparently there was no other option. A few months later Alain won his third Michelin star, and although I had a brilliant time I was most definitely surprised. After a quick visit on the Dorchester website my suspicions were confirmed – I did not eat at Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester, I just had lunch in the Promenade bit. Ho hum.

However, by this point I was too embarrassed to reveal my discovery and every time Mark asked me about my Ducasse experience I just had to say that I was too drunk to remember (partially true). Mark and I have a mission to eat in every 3 Michelin star restaurant in England. We have already ticked The Fat Duck off our list and Mark has been to Restaurant Gordon Ramsay so I should really have been on a par with him. A couple of days before our reservation at Alain Ducasse I had to break the news to him, and what a relief! And I sort of was on a par with him anyway – me wrongly believing that I had been to Alain’s and his experience at Gordon Ramsay wasn’t that successful as he felt ill on the day and couldn’t eat anything. It is as if our 3 star journey together is meant to be.

We walked past the table Frances and I dined at and were taken through some glass doors to a dining room that screamed THREE STARS.  Our table was tucked away in a corner behind a private dining area which did block my view of the rest of the restaurant, which was a blow as I do enjoy judging my fellow diners. At least we had a moody Australian couple next to us for me to stare at.

I found the lunch menu an absolute delight to read. Lobster ravioli! When do you ever see that particular crustacean on a cheapy menu? I was quick to order that with the lamb to follow and Mark did the same. From that moment on there was never a time where our table didn’t have some food on it. First up was a bowl shaped as a cabbage leaf piled high with balls of cheesy chou pastry. They were hoovered up by our salivating mouths very quickly. The Australians, I noticed, only nibbled on a couple from their bowl, the fools. The bread basket was an absolute marvel with at least seven different types of bread complete with a choice of spreads – unsalted butter, salted butter and cream cheese blended with whipped cream. A couple of months on I am wondering if I dreamed the latter up but Mark confirms that it was true.

The steady flow of edible extras continued with an amuse-bouche. Butternut squash velouté with apple, goats cheese and chestnuts. The little lumps of goat cheese were incredibly soft and melted immediately in the mouth within the piping hot velouté. The apple gave a welcome freshness and the chestnuts provided a comforting chewy texture. The empty cups were removed from our sight and our cockney waiter appeared once more with his basket of bread. He immediately understood what we were all about – taking advantage of all the free food that we possibly could – and decided on his favourite types of bread before loading them up one, two, three on my side plate. The Australians, I noticed, only wanted one bit of bread each.

Finally onto the main event, our lobster ravioli with lemongrass consomme arrived looking beautiful. In an ideal world I would have preferred my lobster ravioli to be served with a beurre noisette or maybe something a bit creamy, but Asian style is what I got. The flavours were punchy and the lobster was fantastically fishy. I am not sure what the red things were but they were pickled, crunchy and delicious. The attractiveness of the dish is what I appreciated the most. Though my dodgy camera phone photo may suggest otherwise, it was a symphony of colour and shapes. Vegetables were carved into unrecognisable forms which was a challenge for my not particularly lively palate, but I think those little balls were carrot (they were orange). The freshness of my starter certainly whet my appetite and I can still clearly remember what it tasted like.

I finished off the cream cheese whipped cream during our quick break between courses. It’s silver container was deceptive in size as it looked as though there were up to five inches of creamy delight, when in reality the bottom of the bowl stopped just an inch below the top.

My main course appeared before I could get too upset. Lamb with baby gem, girolles and these little potato pancake things.

I think you’ll find me simple for saying this… but it really tasted of lamb. Like it really tasted of lamb. The lamb flavour was so intense I still cannot get my head around it. I liked this course a lot. I wasn’t so hot on the idea of baby gem as I thought it might be braised thus soggy, but to my surprise and delight it was grilled and fresh. The potato pancakes were excellent for soaking up the excess lamb sauce. As with the first dish and the amuse-bouche, the variety of textures were spot on.

The desserts were not particularly inspiring. I did have to google what a vacherin was a couple of days before in case I ordered it not knowing what it was and it arrived dripping in amaretto (vom). Turns out it is a bit like a pavlova, or it is a particular kind of cheese. I opted for the rice pudding to be on the safe side. It was nice, though extremely cold. Like all of the courses it looked stunning with tiny cubes of multi-coloured melon scattered on top. Mark went for the vacherin (not of the cheese variety), which was also nice but not particularly memorable.

No, the desserts were nothing special. But little did we know that our adventure in sweet was about to get so much better. Our earl grey teas arrived with a vast array of petit fours.

Working from the front to the back – a selection of chocolates, chocolate covered nuts, an assortment of wrapped toffee and nougat and a compilation of  macaroons.

We ate them all, down to the last chocolate covered nut. The Australians, I noticed, did not.

Many critics believe this restaurant is undeserving of it’s three stars. It wasn’t the greatest meal I have ever had, though I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I think I know where these Michelin inspectors are coming from. If it were my job to eat and judge, I think I would give a star for every extra bit of food that wasn’t included on the menu. Now if the Promenade had offered me that, I would still be none of the wiser that Alain Ducasse was not responsible for my food.

Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester
Park Lane, London, W1K 1QA
www.alainducassedorchester.com/

The Hand & Flowers

18 Apr

March 13th marked a very special day for Mark and I. A first anniversary. It was hard to believe that it was just a year ago that we went to The Fat Duck. Now that is an anniversary worth celebrating, and how better to celebrate this special occasion by consuming good food? This day would also mark the start of an anticipatory week of delicious dining (Alain Ducasse on the Wednesday and lunch at Apsleys on the following Sunday). And before you ask, no, I don’t seem to spend my money on anything else and lunch menus are the only means for me to get by.

As the 13th fell on a Sunday this year we decided we needed to eat at a Sunday Lunch kind of place and The Hand & Flowers fell neatly into that category. Ever since watching Great British Menu I have been salivating over the idea of Tom Kerridge’s roast duck with duck fat chips and their website has the most enticing picture slide show of various dishes that would lure anybody through their front doors.

The Hand & Flowers is all chunky wooden tables and low ceilings but well-lit with natural light. As I had furiously studied their online menu for weeks beforehand, I was pleasantly surprised at a couple of additions, particularly the salt cod scotch egg with red pepper sauce as a starter. Embracing the exhilaration of the risk that comes with spontaneity I went for the scotch egg over my previous decision of veal sweetbread with pearl barley. Mark decided to play it safe and went with his original choices.

Canapés were in the form of deep-fried whitebait with marie rose sauce. I liked these a lot. Sure, they were a bit cold, but they were the most substantial canapés I have ever had and probably the most original. Nothing can beat the taramasalata at Marcus Wareing for sheer incredible tastiness in the canapé league table, but these newspaper wrapped fishy morsels came in at a close second.

Our starters were brought to us by the greatest waitress of all time. She joked and smiled and was completely genuine. We listened in to her chat with the couple next to us who appeared to be as ardently enamoured with her as we were and we discovered that this was just her weekend job and she was currently studying for her A Levels. I don’t know why but that made me love her a little more, probably because some like Bybrook’s nasty little man could learn a thing or twenty from her and no doubt his experience by far exceeds hers.

I seem to have become a little distracted, we were here for the food after all. My scotch egg was nice but Mark definitely won with his veal sweetbread. I tried the sweetbread with closed eyes and I was momentarily confused as I thought I had taken a bite of my egg. It had the consistency and taste of a very rich egg yolk. Uh-mazing.

I was a little worried that I wouldn’t be full when my main course arrived. At a first glance the slice of duck breast looked alarmingly small so I was slightly relieved when my chips arrived shortly afterwards.

However, once I had finished thanking the waitress profusely and my gaze was fully concentrated on my plank of food I noticed lots of extra bits hiding. Like a deep-fried ball of rich ground up duck bits. And pieces of duck lurking in the mini pot of creamy cabbage. It was a duck fest! The actual duck breast was really wonderful and it was covered in a delicious sweet sticky glaze. The skin was so so great. As were the chips, especially when dipped in the gravy. And I think my favourite thing about it was how greasy it all was – greasy in the most positive sense of the word in that it just dripped flavour. I felt my arteries clog with every bite, but they understood and they cheered me on when I began to lag: ‘FINISH IT FINISH IT FINISH IT’. I did. Just.

Mark had a venison and beetroot tart. The pastry tasted purely of butter. Marvellous.

My eyes were obviously distracted by the word ‘soufflé’ on the dessert menu so every other option was irrelevant. The lovely waitress confirmed it was a good choice but do be careful of the hot copper pans so I felt doubly pleased with myself.

Apricot in flavour, heaven on the lips. My greed got the better of me and I took a bite before I took a photo. Both Mark and I managed to severely burn ourselves on the copper pans but it was worth it. Mark showed the lovely waitress his burn, looking for sympathy and she made a joke about how men always do exactly what they are told not to do. I didn’t share with her my burn in case she thought less of me.

Petit fours were not included with the tea, we spent an extra £2.50 on those. They were very nice but not as nice as if they had been free. There was a tea list which was great. When confronted with a wine list I always feel intimidated as I know absolutely nothing about wine, but with a tea list I feel at ease even though my knowledge about tea really begins and ends with a builders brew –  incidentally a builders brew was included, to be served in a mug for a mere £1.50. Brilliant.

Highlights of the rest of the meal was witnessing a lady accidentally pour her bowl of soup on to her lap.

The 13th March 2011 was not as exciting or adventurous as the 13th March 2010. But it was really very nice. And hearty, as a good Sunday meal should be. It was certainly a good enough meal for the 13th March to be kept as a special day of culinary delight.

The Hand & Flowers
126 West Street, Marlow, Buckinghamshire, SL7 2BP
http://www.thehandandflowers.co.uk/