AMETSA WITH ARZAK INSTRUCTION
Replacing David Thompson’s Nahm at the Halkin Hotel is Ametsa, a spin-off restaurant by 3-Michelin-starred Arzak from San Sebastian, Spain. The team, comprised of Veuve Clicquot Best Female Chef Elena Arzak (2013), is in London on an “Instruction” basis – whatever that means. My lunch experience at Ametsa, however, was not indicative that it was a restaurant with good instructions.
I went for a la carte options (starters at £14.50-16; mains at £27-39; desserts at £12.50). The nibble of rockfish – salted, mousse-d and encased with crispy rice crackers – was finely seasoned but its fishy scent was just too intrusive for my liking. Goat’s cheese was infused with tumeric and turned into a “Puzzle”. The taste – of an ordinarily processed kind of cheese – and the texture – of an extraordinary processed kind of cheese – were both puzzling. Soup of “Quickly Changing Squid” (£16) contained four square parcels made from butternut squash and painted with squid ink. When the lukewarm broth of squid was poured over, the color of the soup *quickly changed*. Yeah (read with low voice). Theatrical attempts aside, the dish did not do much in term of taste. The soup itself lacked depth and once the squid ink paint was diluted into the broth, it created a texture combination that stole away some liquid smoothness. The filling of butternut squash parcel was gummy, sweet and nutty, a taste that was jarring, rather than complementary. Hake with Clams and Ham “Salt” (£27) did not go swimmingly. The fish itself was watery and had a taste that could be any white fish. The clams that leaped and remained on top of confit potatoes smelled. I found the modern twist on Spanish green sauce – parsley and olive oil here – daunting but not delicious. The grating of dried Jamon as “salt”, though a nice touch, did not make any impact to the dish. The desserts were a little more palatable. “French Toast” (£12.50) featured mangoes that had been re-textured into sheets. The sheets were then used as wrapping for something that was vaguely identifiable as “Toast”. The dish was then finished with milky coconut soup and a scattering of broken pistachio nuts, dried petals and lime zest. The taste did not translate into the joy of eating an actual Spanish “Torrija”. “Moon Rocks” (£12.50) was the most likeable of the bunch. These chocolate pebbles were filled with orange flavored Cointreau. One bite into my mouth. Popped liquid… Bill.. Please..
Overall, this was a meal that disappointed at many levels – unskilled execution, unsuccessful taste combination, poor quality produce. But it might just be me thinking this? You may, of course, opt for their tasting menus (£52 at lunch; £105 at dinner), which might promise a better result.. (or not).
Brasserie Chavot at the Westbury Hotel marks the return of 2-Michelin-starred chef Eric Chavot (formerly of The Capitol Hotel) to London. The fare here is not fine dining but a French brasserie with some very polished front of house. As typifying a French brasserie, you may expect a menu that is utterly uninspiring – snails, steak tartare, choucroute and something meaty from the grill. The price tag (starters at £8-15; mains at £16-24; sides at about £3.50; desserts at £6.50-7.50) fits and does not exaggerate its prime Mayfair location.
My lunch at Brasserie Chavot was a delight. Selection of Charcuterie (£9.50), (not all French as there was chorizo involved), was of very good quality. I particularly enjoyed the “Pate de Campagne” which oozed liver-y goodness. Steak Tartare (£9.50) was appetizing. The chopped steak was fresh and served pleasantly chilled; the concoction of chopped capers, shallots and gherkins with mustard dressing packed real zing but not intrusively acidic; the soft boiled quail egg was lush and precise. (In my opinion, for London, this version is only second to BBR’s Imperial Tartare). Ricotta and Parmesan Gnocchi (£16) was a vegetarian dish that I wouldn’t mind repeating on a regular basis. (Obviously not for a health benefit). The gnocchi were skillfully prepared – soft, fluffed but not too gummy – and the cheesy combination was distinct. (Think a kink of Parmesan followed by the smoothness of ricotta). The sauce – a refined white sauce and an exuberantly juicy tomato sauce – was reminiscent of lasagne and brought quite a smile to my face. The smile did not fade away with Baba au Rhum (£6.50). Though this was not the lightest baba I had eaten, it was perfectly synchronized in taste and price. There was a clarity between the spongy cake, the perfuming citric glazing and the coy dose of rum. The marinated and thinly shaved pineapple – neither too ripe nor too anemic – foiled well with the freshly whipped Chantilly.
I will be back.
OUTLAW’S AT THE CAPITAL HOTEL
Now resident of The Capital Hotel is British chef Nathan Outlaw, who has gathered loyal followers from his 2-Michelin-starred seafood restaurant in Rock, Cornwall. The outpost at the Capital Hotel also showcases the menu that is seafood led. The price (starters at £12-16; mains at £26-32; desserts at £10-12) verges on being high. The vibe is formal and quite Knightsbridge.
My lunch (I just don’t seem to go out for dinner!?) at Outlaw’s was nice. The nibble of mini salted cod croquette was tasty. The quality of the fish used was not skimped. That said, I found its garnish of herb mayo (mainly garlic and parsley) too strong. Scallops with Hazelnuts, Saffron and Jerusalem Artichokes (£16) was not life-changing. The herb and hazelnut crust was soggy; the puree of Jerusalem artichokes was sticky and sweet; the drizzling of saffron oil, despite its wonderful aromatic contribution, was excessive and intrusive for its glossy texture; the pickle-y dimension did not find itself much tasted. The identically formed medallions of scallops, however, were of decent quality, but their taste was not aggrandized enough amidst the garnish. Hake and Cuttlefish with Braised Lettuce, Red Pepper and Ink Sauce (£26) was more promising. The very fresh hake was excellently sourced and perfectly cooked. The garnish was individually lovable but disparate as a combination. I loved the sun-kissed richness of the red pepper but thought the cuttlefish ink cried for more depth. As a result, the ink failed to bind the whole dish. Equally nice was Lime and Chocolate Tart (£12). The construction, though deceptively minimal, was a successful maneuvering of different temperature and texture. The cocoa-infused tart crust and the silky chocolate mousse – both at room temperature – encased the sharp and zesty lime sorbet. The proportion of taste could be more finely tuned. I found the sugary content from the chocolate to undermine the sorbet.
SKETCH (THE LECTURE ROOM AND LIBRARY)
Brainchild of maverick French chef Pierre Gagnaire, Sketch The Lecture Room and Library is now a holder of 2 Michelin stars. The best way to *sum up* this restaurant is that you need to know how much a meal there can cost before walking in, otherwise you will feel f**ked. (It is also advisable that you tell your companion how much a meal there can be, otherwise he or she is also f**ked). In a more polite manner of phrasing, the 6-course tasting menu at SLRL is billed at £95. The price for a la carte dishes is dearer (starters at £33-42; mains at £43-55; desserts at £13-25).
If you wonder why THAT much money, the Sketch townhouse complex is laboriously designed and periodically revamped. Pretty much a club for *cool* and wealthy kids (and adults). The FOH was pristine and meticulous. Together with Gagnaire’s cuisine and serving style, this is the place that excessive pomp is stubbornly encouraged. (This means, you might need to spend extra ££££ for your outfit for the occasion so that you won’t feel *humbled* by the place).
Let’s talk food, and for the sake of food, I quite like Sketch. Japanese influences are implicit in Gagnaire’s cooking, and his thought process was a breath of fresh air for London. Also, Gagnaire’s style of serving is unique. Say, my starter of “Scallops” was accompanied by 4 other mini dishes. The taste of each dish did not jar but together they ascertained a luxurious procession rather than harmony. The highlight was Mediterranean sea urchin with oyster granita. The freezing snow of oyster-scented iodine amalgamated the taste of yolk-y sea urchin. The other dishes in my collection of “starters” faded a little in comparison. For example, the scallops – thinly sliced, assembled into a shape of flower and pan-seared – came with loose, jam-like persimmon fruit. While there were some fresh dices of persimmon to contrast, I found the dish too rich for my taste. Both persimmon and scallops were well matched in (excellent) quality. “Simmental Beef” as a main course was good but not exemplary. The beef lacked robustness; the peppercorn jus was moderately neat; the crisps were deliciously fragile. Vanilla Souffle was very capably risen. The texture was ethereal. The quality of the vanilla used was a statement in itself.
(Honestly speaking, I did not know the price of this meal (but it was within the guided price of what I mentioned above) because my friend took (not “took care of”) the bill.
Go, if you are curious and think you can handle it..
The full photo album is on my Facebook here.
Over the last couple of years Jason Atherton has opened quite a handful of restaurants, in London, Singapore and soon, Shanghai to great acclaim. Little Social, a tiny restaurant right opposite his Michelin-starred flagship on Pollen Street, is one of them. The den-like design – of leather booth, brick walls and neon lights – is cozy and impeccable. The menu is a clever mismatch of comfort and inventiveness. The price tag (starters at £8.50-11.50; mains at £17-22; desserts at £7) is not wallet-blowing.
My meal at Little Social was acutely prepared and outstandingly delicious. Cauliflower and Crayfish Risotto (£9.50) was just GOOD. The correctly al dente risotto was doused in cauliflower cream and finished with robust crayfish essence. The aroma from beautifully roasted cauliflower was unmissable, while the shavings of raw cauliflower lent great taste, texture and temperature contrast. Halibut “BLT” with Portebello Mushroom and Sauce Bois Boudran (£22). The fish was brilliantly roasted; the “Bois Boudran” sauce – chopped tomatoes, mustard, balsamic, parsley and tarragon (I think) – was refreshing and accomplished; the lettuce (again I think) was braised with the chunk of bacon and absorbed its meaty goodness. The latter was the star – smoky, voluptuous and melting in my mouth – adding mature depth of saltiness to the delicate halibut. Personally I thought the mushroom, situated behind the bacon, was redundant. Eton Mess (£7) was upgraded with poached rhubarbs, rhubarb sorbet and velvety ginger ice cream. It was a joy to eat.
(Again) I have no doubt I will return.
AMETSA WITH ARZAK INSTRUCTION
The Halkin Hotel
Tel. 020 7333 1234
41 Conduit Street
(The Westbury Hotel)
Tel. 020 7078 9577
OUTLAW’S AT THE CAPITAL
The Capital Hotel
22-24 Basil Street
Tel. 020 7589 5171
SKETCH THE LECTURE ROOM AND LIBRARY
9 Conduit Street
Tel. 020 7659 4500
5 Pollen Street
Tel. 020 7870 3730