Monthly Archives: August 2009

Black and Blue – Borough Market – London

There are excellent steak restaurants in London. A current favourite is the swanky chain ‘Gaucho’. Have had some great meals there especially at the riverside branch at Canary Wharf. I was there with friends a little too early to have dinner so we decided to take the exhilarating Thames Clipper back to London Bridge to see them off. By the time we got there we were starving and our appetite for steak need satisfying.

Ribeye and Frozen Chips

Ribeye and Frozen Chips

After much aimless wandering we found ourselves at Borough Market and grabbed a table at Black and Blue, an outpost of this mini chain. The space it self was impressive but we chose to sit outside and enjoy the last few hours of sunshine. Oddly there were no cocktails available so my pre-steak Bloody Mary had to go amiss  but we settled on an amazingly generous glass of prosecco each.

We skipped starters and headed straight for the main – Ribeye 280g for £20. It arrived looking promising with a nice dollop of bernaise salad on the side and an odd unasked for salad which was a mix of Waldorf and Caesar salad brought to us seperately. Steaks were ok but the accompaniments were terrible. The salad was bitter with a nasty oily dressing, I would have rather they provided a grilled tomato or portobello mushroom.

The chips were woeful. They were obviously frozen and were completely tasteless. I think J D Wetherspoons would have been ashamed to serve them.

The food was functional and filled a gap but no more. Disappointing.

Score 4/10

Artistas Restaurant – Kirkcudbright

Its pronounced Kir-cood-bree as I learnt at the tourist information office. We took a detour on the way back from Edinburgh, a long detour as it happens and booked in at the Selkirk Arms hotel which boasted a fine dining restaurant called Artistas. Presumably it got this name as Kirkcudbright is known as the artists town.

We were served amiably by the owner of the hotel and though we were seated next to a huge family party the kids were well behaved and everything was fine.

We started with a glass of prosecco while we looked at the menu.

Scallop Starter

Scallop Starter

I wanted to eat as locally as possible so started with the local smoked salmon which was beautifully rich without being too oily. My friend had the local scallops which although sans roe were perfectly perky due to being judiciously cooked.

Rose Veal

Rose Veal

For mains, I had the Local Loin of Rose Veal topped with a rich tomato & olive compote and gremolata, drizzled with balsamic reduction and my friend had Pan Fried Medallions of Galloway Beef Fillet served on wilted spinach leaf with gratin dauphinoise and a wild mushroom jus.

Wonderful, just wonderful. The meat was perfectly cooked and the plate was put together extremely well with seasonal vegetables and flavourful reductions.

Chocolate Gingerbread pudding

Chocolate Gingerbread pudding

For desert we had the sticky banana pudding and the chocolate gingerbread pudding. They were both top notch, thank god we just had to roll upstairs to the room.

The owners are right to feel proud, this is excellent seasonal cooking in an unlikely location. Pity the breakfast the next day gave me indigestion for 2 days but hey-ho. Forgetting that it has to score highly.

Score 9/10

Petit Paris – Edinburgh

Went to Edinburgh for the Tattoo and had a wonderful stay. High on my agenda was to revisit the authentic bistro in the Grassmarket area called Petit Paris. It is an unpretentious cafe style French eatery with great service and wonderful food. It was sunny and warmish so we sat outside and ordered.

Chicken or beef?

Chicken or beef?

I had the ribeye steak again which seems to be my default position these days. My dining companion had the supreme of chicken. Both came with roast potatoes and seasonal veg. Both tasted great and were exactly what we were looking for, honest hearty food.

Frilly Cheese

Frilly Cheese

For dessert we shared the cheeseboard which featured a frilly cheese which presumably is made by dragging a knife across the block and all three tasted great. Quick turnaround then off to the Tattoo.

Quick march!

Score 8.5/10

Numero – Manchester

It had been a rainy day in Manchester and I was recovering from the blow of finding that my favourite restaurant in Manchester had closed. I wandered up and down Dean Street looking for the side road that led to Simply Heathcotes restaurant, a reliable Modern English establishment that has branches across the Northwest. It had completely disappeared. I mean, completely. The building I think that housed it had become and insurance company or something but it looked like they had completely remodelled the doorway.

Gloomy News.

We headed to the Manchester Hilton and queued for the lift to the cocktail bar halfway up. Half and hour later after suffering fancy dress pub crawlers trying to push in and failing and registered guests trying to push in and succeeding we ascended and ordered overpriced cocktails looking out at the grey clouds that swaddled the building.

You couldnt see a thing.

Out with the iPhone and attempts were made to book Harvey Nichols. No luck. We ended up using http://www.toptable.com to find anything half decent. It pointed us to Numero near to the where we had parked the car. I wish it had kept its nose out.

Numero is in the Manchester235 complex in the Great Eastern building off of Dean Street. On entering it reminded me of an airport hotel, spacious, well designed with plenty off staff.

Good start.

Then things went downhill. For an Italian restaurant it seemed to lack actual Italian food especially in the mains.

Venison Ravioli

Venison Ravioli

I started with venison ravioli in a cream sauce (looking at this written down god knows why as it sounds vile), it was not good.

The pasta was undercooked and had that awful uncooked flour taste that made it inedible. The sauce had solidified over the pasta and I suspect that it sat under the hot lamp for quite some time. Yes, I should have complained but the waitress had pretty poor english so to explain what was wrong could have taken a while so I just left it.

Lamb Steak

Lamb Steak

The main courses was much better but again, not italian. A lamb steak on a bed of mashed potato with gravy is nice enough comfort food but why serve it here.

Ribeye Steak

Ribeye Steak

My friend had a rib eye with chips, which was well prepared but not italian fayre. These items were typical of the a la carte menu so I’m not sure whether the chef was just uncomfortable with italian food.

I finished with the italian cheeseboard and it was pretty grim. Granted, it was huge but it was filled with cheese you didnt want to eat. A smoked baby bel type cheese, an unidentifiable blue cheese and a cheese that was like solidified skimmed milk which had been heavily salted. Quite vile. It went back mostly untroubled.

It was a bad end to a gloomy day. Sometimes a meal can lift an ordinary day into something quite memorable. In this case the memory left a bad taste in my mouth.

Numero 4/10

Le Bar a Huitres – Paris

On the last day of our trip we were going to try a restaurant that had been featured on many travelogues and also reviewed on Essex Eatings great blog. It was right by the station so we could spend our last hour enjoying great french bistro food before plodding back to St Pancras. In the end we decided that we would have to lug our luggage with us so decided to eat somewhere before heading back to the station.

Paris has a fantatic bike hire system which we think is soon to be adopted by Boris in London. You use your credit card to subscribe to the scheme, then I think it something like 1 euro per hour. There are 400 racks where you can pick up or drop off the bike and after initial confusion with how to release a bike, we found the system easy to use. We had a fantastic time whizzing down boulevards and generally getting lost in neighbourhoods we hadn’t visited already.

Outside of Le Bar a Huitres we were immediately attracted to the display of seafood perched on a mountain of ice outside of the restaurant. We chained the bikes up to a handy railing nearby and headed inside past a large tank of lobsters. Mmm my menu choice was deciding itself for me.

18 lovely oysters

18 lovely oysters

We sat in a covered verandah and ordered a half bottle of Sancerre. We both took advantage of the blue lobster deal which offered 9 oysters, a whole lobster and a dessert for 45 euros which we thought was a pretty good deal. The oysters can come on ice or natural which appeared to be on a bed of seaweed. They came on ice and were plump and tasty.

Sweet, sweet lobster

Sweet, sweet lobster

The lobster quickly followed and came with rice and some sauteed vegetables. They tied bibs on us before we ate. I took a look around to see if anyone was sniggering. My paranoia told me that they only do this to foreigners. No one else was eating lobster so will never know. The lobster was dismembered using an array of implements that made the table look like a scene from the movie ‘Dead Ringers’ (google it). I enjoyed extracting as much protein as I could from the plump crustacean, though as always was disappointed by the golfball sized pile of meat I managed to harvest from each half of lobster. Sadly my biggest mouthful had a piece of shell in it so I spent a few minutes trying to decided the etiquette for its removal. After trying to seperate it for a while with my tongue I ended up choosing the worst option and spitting the whole lot into the cloth napkin. I placed it on the side but was dismayed when the waitress tried to relay it on my lap showering me with half chewed bits of lobster.

My dessert, forgot to take pic before eating a mouthful

My dessert, forgot to take pic before eating a mouthful

There was a great choice of desserts. Mine looked like madness on a plate but tasted delicious. Sorry about the photo. This is all still new to me so I took a bite before remembering to take a snap. It was Pistachio Financiers Cake with mango sorbet, Brandy snap basket with creme patisserie. I thought it was delicious in a retro sort of way.

The meal left us satisfied without being full which was great as we were heading back to the hotel before heading to the Eurostar. I would definately recommend eating here if you get the chance. Just dispose of your lobster more discretely than me!

Score 8/10

La Fountaine de Mars – Paris

We decided to eat at La Fontaine de Mars following a very positive review from Kang on his excellent London Eater Blog. We booked in for our final night via the concierge and got a great table seat on a very narrow pavement. Squeezing in of elbows was required occasionally to let pedestrians past but it was charming all the same.

We started with a couple of glasses of champagne and took a look at the menu though to be honest, I had decided what to eat before I got there thanks to Kang’s mouthwatering descriptions and previewing the menu ahead of time on the internet.

Oeufs au Madiran " façon meurette "

Oeufs au Madiran " façon meurette "

We shared our starter of Oeufs au Madiran ” façon meurette ” which were softly fried eggs on a  reduction of shallots and red wine avec huge chunks of bread. It was utterly delicious and they kindly split the dish into two seperate servings so we could devour them unhindered. Eggs in France are marvelous. They take me back to my childhood when eggs were full of flavour. The yolks were huge and deep orange. I imagine it must be something to do with their diet. I hope it wasn’t because of the addition of colouring. Made a mental note to myself to see if I could buy french imported eggs in London. I bet you can.

Perfect Duck Confit

Perfect Duck Confit

For mains I followed Kangs advice and had the duck confit which was deliciously crisp and flavourful. Often duck confit is so rich that it leaves you with a ‘carsick’ feeling after eating it but this contained moist flavourfull flesh and didn’t taste greasy at all even though it was served with fried potatoes as an accompaniment.

Rich had the fish which was the special that day. He kind of liked it, the fish was moist and well cooked but the choice of accompaniment clashed slightly with the fish and in the end his opinion was ‘It was ok.’

Illes Flotante

Illes Flotante

For desert my long term wish came true and I tried the Illes Flotante. I first saw this dish on Masterchef, it appeared to be small islands of meringue floating in a sea of custard. The one we were seved instead had a huge Krakatoa of an island surrounded by sauce anglais. It looked and tasted delicious and light. We followed this with a well put together plate of cheese with a basket of wonderfully fresh bread.

Service was precise and friendly. We were told a little about Obama and families visit earlier that year and learned how the road was closed and the street swarmed with security.

Overall I really enjoyed this restaurant which lacked any form of pretension, had honest well cooked food and cheery service.

Score 9/10

Four Seasons George V – Paris

Four Seasons Paris Courtyard

Four Seasons Paris Courtyard

No I didn’t stay there. Wish I could afford to though. I’m  a great fan of the Four Seasons brand. I’ve been lucky enough to stay in their  hotels a few times and found the stays to be pretty breathtaking. Service is impeccable, the facilities amazing and the prices bordering on astronomical.

We tested this when we recently visited Paris. The Four Seasons George V is not far from the Champs Elysees and the Avenue George V. The lobby area is just extraordinary combining 17th Century tapestries with contemporary tastefulness.

The bar area seemed quite busy so we headed for the courtyard which is overlooked by the hotel rooms in the center of the hotel. No sign of a menu. It always worries me being seated at a bar or restaurant without knowing what the prices will be. We agreed that we would pay up to 20 euros for a cocktail. Surely it couldn’t be more than that. They gauge it pretty well because after we were seated at a beautiful table overlooking the bizarre central floral display we opened the menu and found that cocktails were 24 euros each. We decided that the best value would be a bottle of wine, the cheapest being a Poilly Furmee for 65 euros.

Service was amazingly friendly and attentive. Nibbles of olives and nuts were replaced regularly and time was passed extremely pleasantly. We asked for some tap water and were bought a bottle of Evian. ‘This is our tap water’ the waitress remarked. Sensing our worries she said ‘There is no charge of course for water’.

We both remarked that this was probably the best value 65 euros that we spent in Paris, room rates are around the 500 euro mark which initially seem expensive but if the quality is as good as the bar area it will definately be worth researching next time we visit.

Score 9/10

Smiths of Smithfield – London

I’m a huge fan of meat. There are few meats that I haven’t eat and even fewer that I would refuse. I tried vegetarianism in 2001. Worst day of my life.

IMG_0728I’ve been to Smiths before and enjoyed it greatly. Smiths stands before Smithfield Market and plies its wares on four floors. Basically it gets more pricey the higher you go. We went for the second floor as a well cooked casual meal was what we were after. Inside Smiths it has a kind of slaughterhouse/S&M feel to it. It was a warm day so we eschewed the lift and walked upstairs where we were greeted by a friendly waitress and seated near the edge of the room.

The place was buzzing and this was midweek. The staff looked harried and rather over stretched. Our orders were taken reasonably promptly then it all sort of went quiet. We ordered a duck salad to start, mozzarella and tomato bruschetta and the gravlax. About 15 minutes later the food came out. Portion size was a little mean but everything tasted just so. Well flavoured and cooked.

IMG_0726

School dinner like Salt Beef

Our mains took another 30 mins to arrive. We ordered salt beef, chicken with lemon and garlic and the ribeye steak. The chicken priced at 14 1/2 pounds (don’t ask, this is how they price things) was delicious but meanly came with no vegetables at all so we had to buy jersey royals and green vegetables for a cheeky 3 1/2 pounds each. When they came they were as hard as rocks so were sent back. The staff took the price off the bill. The meats themselves were really good but the accompaniments let them down. My ribeye steak was cooked to perfection but the chips that came with it tasted a little stale as if they had been kept warm a long time. My friends salt beef was apparently delicious but looked a bit school dinner to me. School dinner in a bad way.

We skipped dessert and coffee to have it instead back home. We felt a bit flat after the meal. Its a very exciting space and atmosphere but the service just couldn’t keep up and the main courses could have been better.

Score 6/10

Fine Food and Wines Sheffield

Fine Food and Wines

Fine Food and Wines

Went to Fine Food and Wines for lunch on Saturday. I really like this place, its a real Oasis of middle class foodieness on Ecclesall Road in Sheffield. They are just in the process of converting the next door shop into a bistro and I’m really looking forward to being a regular there. I have been twice before, once for lunch where I had a masterful Salad Nicoise where the tuna was barely seared and and the eggs were beautifully soft boiled.

The next I visited with friends was for one of their tasting evenings. Our evening was themed on pairing wines with spicy foods. Its rather social, you all sit on a long table and have about 8 dishes with wine pairings, the food was good but became a little samey by the end and it was frustrating to have just small portions of some of the dishes. The wine tasting seemed a little perfunctory, I would liked to have learned more. However it was great fun and everyone got on really well and we had some great conversations.

Homemade Salmon Fishcakes

Homemade Salmon Fishcakes

On Saturday the lunch menu was great and I would have happily had anything on there but we had a glass each of the house white and the home made salmon fish cakes with a poached egg and a curry mayonnaise with a sauteed potato. It was really marvelous. Initially I was disappointed that the poached egg wasnt oozing but the curried mayonnaise was preventing the dish being at all dry so it worked out well.

Its very interesting to eves drop on conversations in FF&W as everyone is so obviously obsessive about food. Behind us was a big communal table where you can sit and share the conversation which is generally about fantastic restaurants that people have visited or food that they have prepared.

It is a little ‘cliquey’ but cliquey in a good way, cliquey in the way that you would like to be part of the clique! A table across from us was offered a ‘secret’ dish of belly pork which we would like to have been offered but in a way it added to the ‘mystique’ of the place. The owner is a ‘bon viveur’ and circulates and mingles with newbies and regulars alike and the staff join in the conversations also, even the chef. It has a real buzz about the place.

We will definately come back for lunch and we are looking forward to sampling the bistro when it opens, go and give it a try it is a really special place which Sheffield should treasure.

Score 8.5/10

Rafters Restaurant Sheffield

I don’t think the people of Sheffield would mind me saying that there seems to be a dearth of good restaurants in Sheffield. Reliable chains such as Strada, Loch Fyne and Cafe Rouge are present and correct but more interesting choices are few and far between. On Friday we took some friends out for a birthday celebration to Rafters Restaurant in Ranmoor. Rafters has been there since 1994, and was taken over by Chefs Marcus Lane and Michael Sabin in 2001. The food is Modern European with a subtle french influence. When I arrived the room was filling up quickly with other diners which is always encouraging to see. The menu we were offered was:

Starters

Fritter of soft shell crab with a crab claw & avocado salad, ponzu mayonnaise.
Ploughman’s: warm goats cheese, ham hock, onion marmalade, piccalilli with sage focaccia.
Steamed new season English asparagus with lemon hollandaise, baby brioche & parmesan shavings.
Poached sea trout with confit of Jersey Royals, pickled cauliflower egg & caper dressing.
Home smoked duck breast with a salad of baby kos leaves, smoked feta and a raspberry & walnut dressing.

Main Courses
Roast rump of Derbyshire lamb with a broad bean puree, English asparagus and an almond & parsley sauce.
Fillet of pork wrapped in pancetta with a baby flan of peas and artichokes and a sauce of puy lentils.
Grilled fillet of sea bass on a bed of vine tomatoes & basil with a clam vinegrette.
Chargrilled fillet of Angus beef with a pressed pate of salt beef & green peppercorns, roast shallot and truffle puree with a Shiraz wine reduction.
(£3.00 supplement)
Tart of summer vegetables glazed with mustard & herbs on whipped potatoes.

Desserts
Summer pudding with Pimms’ jelly & clotted cream sauce.
Strawberry parfait, strawberry sabayon, strawberry frappe.
Valrhona dark chocolate cone filled with milk chocolate mousse, served with orange sorbet.
Blueberry curd and mascarpone cheesecake with baby waffles and vanilla syrup.
Locally sourced cheeses:
Hunters House (cows milk Brie)Hawes Dairy (Blue Wensleydale) Lancashire creamy farmhouse
Served with an olive, celery, apple and walnut salad.
Coffee
(Filter, latte, cappuccino and espresso)
And petit fours
£3.50

£36.00
Three Courses

We were giving an interesting amuse bouche of smoked haddock with cream cheese in a parmesan basket with what looked like a tempura caper berry. It was very nice indeed. Bread was very interesting, warm rolls stuffed with interesting combinations. I had the rather gross sounding tomato and curry stuffed roll but it was absolutely delicious. I was only sorry that they didn’t come round again!

Smoked Trout

Smoked Trout

I had the poached sea trout to start, with the beef to follow. The sea trout sounded rather hearty as a dish and I was slightly worried about being too full for the main but I was a relieved when it arrived as an elegant tower of sea trout supported by a wonderful, slightly tart potato and cauliflower salad. Great start. My companions had the asparagus which looked verdant and fresh and the soft shelled crab which looked fresh and crisp and was portioned perfectly.

Fillet Steak

Fillet Steak

The mains of beef were pretty good. The meat felt a little tough for fillet. I thought that the provided steak knife for fillet steak would be overkill but it was actually required to easily cut the meat. It was cooked medium rare as I asked but somehow seemed less than tender. The accompaniment of a pate of salt beef was interesting but in my opinion overbalanced the dish on the meat side. The small (for 4) portion of side vegetables didnt help this matter. The sauce was well flavoured though a bit clarty (good Yorkshire word!) probably a bit of over eagerness with the cornflour. It wasn’t bad though and it was quite nice as a whole.

Dessert was excellent. Again, a well constructed tower of bread, summer berries, clotted cream and a Pimms jelly riding atop. I have to admit, I couldn’t taste the Pimms in the jelly but it was a great idea.

Service was excellent and unhurried, we asked for a digestive interval after the main course and without hovering they seemed to instinctively know when we were ready for dessert.

Rafters is deservedly a favourite amongst discerning diners in Sheffield and its good to see that it has not been swayed by the constant obsession with adding ‘twists’ to classic recipes and instead produces top quality, jolly interesting food.

Score 8/10