All posts filed under “French

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Antidote

Four clues..

There were rumours that a certain Michelin star chef has quietly moved in at an existing restaurant address around Carnaby Street. He shunned the aids of PR. I was also further teased, “you had his food before and you liked it”. That’s about it. My two clues: the “Carnaby” location and that the chef is a “he”.

My brain labour started, no doubt. Social media network didn’t help much. The “no PR” works most effectively to obscure, when a lot of restaurants these days (especially in Central London) rely on PR bombs. Luckily, I was able to single out a couple of possible sites that had recently been refurbished. My foot work followed. I looked through the menus of my narrowed-down restaurant list.

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Michelin Guide London (2014 Results)

The most controversial yet?

2 stars – Dinner by Heston Blumenthal and Greenhouse.

1 star – HKK, Angler (South Place Hotel), Outlaw’s at the Capital, Story, Ametsa with Arzak Instruction (seriously!?), Brasserie Chavot, Bo London, Lima, Social Eating House.

One Leicester Street retains its star after the transition. Yeah!!!!

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Grain Store: Bruno Loubet and New Vegetable-Centric Dynamics

The Third Coming?

If you have hung around in London for a while, you are definitely familiar with the glory of chef Bruno Loubet. He has traversed from Michelin-starred kitchens (Pierre Koffman, Le Manoir, Inn on the Park) to Australia and back to acclaimed Bristrot Bruno Loubet at the Zetter Hotel. Loubet’s latest restaurant project is Grain Store, occupying one corner of the new, formidably creative-looking hub of Central St Martins’ in King’s Cross. The menu features a mix-bag of veggies and super-food (though meat does make occasional appearances). The inspirations are trans-cultural and thoughtfully fused. The portion is medium-sized and facilitates sharing. The pricing (£4-10.5 for starters; £10-22.5 for mains; £5.5-6 for desserts) is kind. A tasting menu is also available for £35 per person. The space is well-buzzed but stays casual.

The taste (during my visit) was comfortingly inventive but wouldn’t convert me into vegetarianism. I liked the refreshing bitterness in Endive, Pear and Roquefort Salad (£6) but the dressing of smoked pepper jelly was excessive and led to a quite-sweet aftertaste. Courgette and Prawn Falafel (£6.50) was deliciously spiced and carefully fried. The prawn patty had very good bouncy texture, which as I was munching, released quite a complexity of taste. That said, I thought the broad beans (nicely cooked) were disparate and the raita not contributing much. Butternut Squash Ravioli (£7), served with sage, mustard-ed apricots, rocket leaves and pumpkin seeds, was (if you have a good set of teeth) a feast of texture. While the plump ravioli showed skills, the taste construction (with balsamic and Parmesan) remained down-to-earth comfort. Corn and Quinoa Tamale with Sticky Pork Belly (£15) was a spectacle on the plate. The tamale – made predominantly from sweet corn – was baked and served in corn husk. The belly (the pork – not mine) wobbled magnificently. Together, they created (again) quite a sweet taste, which my rather thick salsa failed to cut through. Strawberry & Balsamic Jam with Horseradish Ice Cream (£6) was invigorating. I loved the feisty ice cream very much but felt the dish would achieve a better balance if the ice cream was served slightly less (a quenelle, instead of a full scoop?).

Despite some ups-and-downs, Grain Store will become an awesome operation. The menu has already introduced new dynamics for vegetable-centric cooking. And, given time, it will transpire more clearly onto the cooking at the restaurant.

 

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RATING 3.5/5

GRAIN STORE

Granary Square
1-3 Stable Street
London
N1C 4AB

Tel. 020 7324 4466

www.grainstore.com

Grain Store on Urbanspoon

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London Round Up: Little Social + Brasserie Chavot + Ametsa + Outlaw’s + Sketch (Lecture Room)

AMETSA WITH ARZAK INSTRUCTION

Ametsa with Arzak Instruction on Urbanspoon

RATING: 2/5

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).

 

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BRASSERIE CHAVOT

Brasserie Chavot on Urbanspoon

RATING: 4/5

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.

 

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OUTLAW’S AT THE CAPITAL HOTEL

Outlaw's at The Capital on Urbanspoon

RATING: 3/5

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.

 

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SKETCH (THE LECTURE ROOM AND LIBRARY)

Sketch Lecture Room and Library on Urbanspoon

RATING: 3.5/5

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.

 

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LITTLE SOCIAL

Little Social on Urbanspoon

RATING: 4/5

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.

 

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AMETSA WITH ARZAK INSTRUCTION

The Halkin Hotel
Halkin Street
London
SW1X 7DJ

Tel. 020 7333 1234

www.comohotels.com

BRASSERIE CHAVOT

41 Conduit Street
(The Westbury Hotel)
London
W1S 2YF

Tel. 020 7078 9577

www.brasseriechavot.com

OUTLAW’S AT THE CAPITAL

The Capital Hotel
22-24 Basil Street
London
SW3 1AT

Tel. 020 7589 5171

www.capitalhotel.co.uk

SKETCH THE LECTURE ROOM AND LIBRARY

9 Conduit Street
London
W1X 2SG

Tel. 020 7659 4500

www.sketch.uk.com

LITTLE SOCIAL

5 Pollen Street
London
W1S 1ND

Tel. 020 7870 3730

www.littlesocial.co.uk

 

 

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Balthazar London: The New “It” of Covent Garden?

What’s in the name..
Keith McNally. Balthazar. These are a couple of names that could give (some) restaurant scenesters a very sturdy erection. In NYC Balthazar has been one of the city’s *top* reservations, the partyground of the beautiful and the famous, and it’s the sort of place that you feel could transform you. When the ever jolly doorman leads way to the pale amber-shaded dining room, the bustle hits you in the face and makes your blood sizzle. When you sink your well-garbed buttocks onto the gleaming red leather banquette, seeing big trays of casually dressed lobsters flying past and peeping at the trendy universe that revolves around you over those oversize brass mirrors, you know this is sort of *it* – the place to be. And this is what exactly Keith McNally has created, a venue that makes you glow and indulge a little with sense of self-importance (nothing’s wrong with it, of course), and this is, to me, what’s in the name of Balthazar.

In London the transfer of such vibe couldn’t be more spot on. I had my handsome and cheerful doorman. I had my bustle (as well as an army of receptionists). I had my red banquette, my mirrors and then trays of lobsters (not mine) flying past. I had my pale yellow light (not ideal for iPhone photography). I even had the one and only Keith McNally inches away from me. This was, of course, not to mention that I had also spent a good 25 minutes or so over the phone re-dialing and queue-waiting to make this reservation. The eating experience – bear in mind this was their first public service – was just nice.
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What’s on the menu..
The menu covers pretty much most of your well-known, humbly presented French brasserie dishes, from Onion Soup to Dover Sole Meuniere. The price for starters is between £6 and £15.25; for entrees/mains, between £13.50 and £35; for side dishes, £4.50; for desserts, around £7. The grillades and the fruit de mer platters are more dearly priced (forgot to note, sorry). Escargots (£10.50), containing six plump snails with your typical garlic and parsley butter, were good and not excessively greasy. Lobster and Black Truffle Risotto (£10.50) was finished with cauliflower cream and black truffle butter. While the risotto itself was adequately studded with lobster morsels, the truffle flavour was missing. The al dente texture here was, to me, quite soft and spoke of an American descent rather than European. Steak Tartare (£15.25/Main Size) was pleasant. I liked the careful mixture of both coarsely and finely chopped filet mignon, the rather chilled temperature and the slap of acidity. That said, it could have done with more salt and mustard-y boost. The toasted bread was also too thickly cut and rough on the hard palate, and the watercress salad too wetly dressed. Pithivier (£14.50) was a vegetarian dish at Balthazar. The pastry was nicely cooked and not heavy; the filling of spinach, squash and pine nut had iron-y bitterness and was not the most remarkable; the mushroom fricassee did not stand out. Steak Frites (£17.50) for my lovely dining companion fared better. The beef (I forgot to ask which butcher’s it was from) was requested medium rare and arrived accordingly. It was gently charred, though not to the point it formed a delicious crusty exterior. The fries, for which Balthazar NYC was famous, were nothing spectacular. I also didn’t think highly of the Bearnaise sauce, but that could be because I have a penchant for a thicker and more yolk-y version.

The desserts (both £7), sadly, were a leap below the savoury courses. Profiteroles were nice enough. I enjoyed the vanilla ice cream, which was half way between milky and icy (rather than being full-on creamy), and the warm chocolate sauce. The profiteroles cases, however, were a little dry and lifeless. Not so good was Rum Baba, served in an inglorious pool of pineapple and papaya fruit salad and topped with Chantilly cream. The baba itself was a heavy sponge soaked in inadequately boozed and over-sweetened syrup and the experience of eating this dish was akin to savouring a Gulab Jamun. (Being in England, we, of course, said it was “ok” when asked).

Worth a try, still?

Well, that depends on what you look for in a restaurant.
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RATING 3/5

BALTHAZAR

4-6 Russell Street
London
WC2B 5HZ

Tel. 020 3301 1155

www.balthazarlondon.com

Balthazar on Urbanspoon

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Balthazar Bakery: NYC Haunt Finds Home in Covent Garden

New kid on the block..

The ever popular Balthazar brasserie has been THE place-to-be of New York City and recently emulated its uber-glam vibe to Covent Garden occupying the Flower Cellars, the corner of Russell Street and Wellington Street. Annexed to the restaurant (soon to open) is Balthazar Bakery, an amalgamation of an authentic-looking all-day French boulangerie and a luxe sandwich haunt.

In the morning (from 7.30am) a wide range of viennoiserie is served and this is to be followed up with a selection of salad and sandwiches at lunch hours onwards. Everything is prepared from scratch; the ingredients speak quality; the staff are charming, handsome and hospitable; the wonderful range of all good and freshly baked things on display that encapsulate you when walking into the shop can easily induce a bread-gasm. The price is also reasonable enough not to ruin the orgasm. (£4 for filled croissant and croque monsieur; £2.75 for most pastries; £4.25 for a bag of madeleines). I lost track of the price for bread. Like at a boulangerie, all items are to take away.

 

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I spent some good minutes sampling the free stuff. Pain au Chocolat was nice but I found Pain aux Raisins (£2.75) more balanced in taste and texture. The plump raisins, in particular, were appealing. The paid items were pretty good, too. Croque Monsieur (£4), which can be warmed up on the grill on request, was generously stuffed with finely shaved ham. The coy aroma of grilled cheese mingled well with the cheese-laded bread. Comforting and delicious, it left a glossy texture on the lips. Ham Gruyere Croissant (£5) was pimped with juicy roasted tomatoes. The croissant had an excellently crispy exterior. Personally I think the filling could do with less cheese as the ham was rather overwhelmed by it. Cinnamon Bun (£2.75) was decadently caramelized and the cinnamon perfume was notable. The bun itself was a little dense and hard. Financier (£1.45) was one of the best I’ve had in London and arrived dotted with raspberry jam. Moist. Buttery. Sweet. The tang from the jam and the pistachio nutty-ness provided good contrasts.

(Will be back for lunch)!! And I haven’t opened the madeleine yet.

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RATING 3.5/5

BALTHAZAR BAKERY

4-6 Russell Street
London
WC2B 5HZ

www.balthazarlondon.com

Balthazar Boulangerie on Urbanspoon