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Bladebone Inn, Bucklebury, Berkshire, United Kingdom

January 1, 2013 Leave a comment

I have lost count how many years I have chatted to Kiren, the current owner of Bladebone Inn, in the social media space; but it’s only in June 2012 that we accidentally bumped into one another in the real world. One of his first questions when we finally met was “when are we going to see you at Bladebone?”. OK, Berkshire is not exactly that far from London but I just did not seem to find that opportunity to visit Bladebone Inn because of all my work travels outside the UK. In fact, there was one time when I got so close to visiting the place, but a business acquaintance decided to take his initiative and book another place in a neighbouring village for dinner instead, thinking that the other place was where I was thinking.

Still, finally just before Christmas, the opportunity came up one lunchtime, en route from London to the west country. I grabbed that opportunity firmly and made sure that it would not slip out of my hands into 2013.

Bladebone Inn is a pub in the quiet village of Bucklebury – thanks to modern technology, the GPS was a much-needed gadget to guide me to this former 17th century inn. Strangely enough, the GPS and mobile phone signal just dropped dead as soon as the pub was in sight. There’s a certain charm to the pub, not just its location, but with its “Dogs and muddy boots welcome” sign at the front door.

Kiren came to the bar area to give us a warm welcome and suggested that we should try his “cheeky little 5-courser”. Even though I’ve got plans for dinner that evening, I thought – why not? A first little plate of “cheese and pineapple” promptly arrived, as a prelude to the 5-course tasting menu. Even for a non-cheddar cheese fan, the salty flavour of the fried Montgomery Cheddar cheese really brought out the sweetness of the pineapple cubes.

Cheese and Pineapple

We were then taken to the table, where brioche was brought to the table. Then Kiren just pushed the plant pots in the middle of the table in front of us, and announced proudly “here’s your first course, Chicken Liver Parfait with Brioche”. The presentation  certainly came as a surprise, as it did look more like a quirky herb pot decoration than an edible dish, with some herb leaves growing out of a dark-brown soil-like layer of dried crumbled malt loaf. Digging down into the “soil”, the chicken liver parfait was revealed. The concept was certainly interesting and made the food look fun. The flavour of the liver was a bit too strong on its own; and it was better when combined with the sweetness of the brioche.

Chicken Liver Parfait Brioche

The next course was like a piece of art on a plate and was brought to the table with a glass dome cover – smoked salmon with beetroot and wasabi mousse. The smoked salmon tasted beautiful, and one piece of beetroot disguised itself as a raw tuna lookalike – it’s only when I cut into it did I realise that it was not tuna at all. The wasabi mousse was not too strong-flavoured which was a relief (some chefs were very good at over-doing it with wasabi and I hated that, unless I had a bad cold and completely blocked nose). The beetroot meringue added the necessary sweetness to the dish. There were beetroot popping candies peppered over the plate, which I thought was not needed. Making the dish fun and playful? Yes, but it lowered the tone of the dish.

Smoked Salmon with Beetroot and Wasabi Mousse

The third course was mackerel with squid ink pearl spelt, mussel, samphire and trout roe. While the mackerel was a little on the dry side on its own, it was saved by the moisture from the spelt. There were a few small crunches of honeycomb which gave that little extra sweetness to the dish. The presentation was once again impressive and looked like some Japanese artwork.

Mackerel with Squid Ink Pearl Spelt, Mussel, Samphire and Trout Roe

The main course was duck breast and confit leg, celeriac, mulled cabbage, beetroot, walnut and blood orange. Whilst the duck breast was a bit tougher than I would have liked, it was still beautifully cooked, and all the ingredients worked well together. With such impressive starters and fish courses earlier on, it was a hard act to follow.

Duck Breast and Confit Leg, Celeriac, Mulled Cabbage, Beetroot, Walnut and Blood Orange

So far the portions were not exactly little, but I enjoyed the lunch immensely. The final course was a light . Apart from the lemon, all the ingredients were locally sourced, according to Kiren. This dessert was light and not too sweet – a very refreshing dish to finish off this wonderful journey for the taste-bud.

Blackberry Mille Feuille with Crab Apple Jelly, Wood Sorrel Sorbet, Lemon and Honeycomb

The presentation and choice of ingredients showed some very promising and impressive, yet playful, ideas, even though some fine-tuning is needed to take this to the next level – it’s only a matter of time. Is this a  future star in the making? I think so. I already look forward to the next visit to Bladebone Inn (hopefully not too long into 2013).

Address:  Chapel Row, Bucklebury, near  Reading, West Berkshire RG7 6PD, England, United Kingdom
Telephone: +44 (0) 118 971 2326
Website: www.thebladeboneinn.com

Opening Hours: Monday-Saturday 12.00-23.00 ; Sunday 12.00-22.30

Food: 7/10
Ambience: 4/5
Service: 4/5
Total: 15/20 [Based on visit in December 2012 ]

Stoney River, Nashville, United States

January 1, 2013 Leave a comment

Stoney River is a chain of about 10 steakhouses dotted mainly in the Central Eastern part of the United States. There are two in Nashville – one in Franklin near Nashville and another one in Nashville itself. I have been to the one in Nashville a couple of times and the food has always been good.

For starters, I would recommend the New England Lobster Bisque garnished with sherry. It had a strong kick of the sherry in the soup which was rich, smooth and sweet in flavour.

One of the best main courses there, in my opinion, was the coffee-cured filet mignon, cured in coffee, brown sugar and molasses. The steak  was cooked to perfection and melted in the mouth. The enjoyment was augmented by the sweetness of the molasses with the hint of coffee.

Desserts never seem to be the strong point in a meal in the USA. However, the cappuccino creme brulee with spiced pecan and berries was worth a try.

Address: 3015 West End Avenue, Nashville, Tennessee, TN 37203, United States
Telephone: +1 615-340-9550
Website: nashville.stoneyriver.com

Opening Hours: Monday – Friday: 11am-2pm Lunch / 5pm-10pm Dinner ; Saturday: 4pm – 10pm ; Sunday: 11am – 3pm Lunch / 5pm – 9pm Dinner

Food: 7/10
Ambience: 3/5
Service: 4/5
Total: 14/20 [Based on visits in April & November 2012 ]

Soto, New York City, United States

January 1, 2013 Leave a comment

My first visit to Soto, a Japanese restaurant in Lower Manhattan, was actually in April 2012. It was so impressive that I went back with the “usual suspects” of food friends in October, the Saturday before that superstorm Sandy hit Manhattan.

The restaurant was not easy to find, as there was no sign or name outside to indicate the location of the restaurant. So if you do ever visit this place, remember it’s number 357!

The menu was extensive and served a whole range of dishes that sounded delicious enough without even sampling them! The four of us decided to pick with the dishes we really wanted to try, and then go for another round of ordering afterwards – if there were any dishes in the first round of ordering that were really exceptional, we could just ask for another portion in the second round.

(1) Fluke Ponzu (Thinly sliced fluke with chive, shiso leaf, ginger shoots, scallion, under mizore ponzu sauce) was fresh and worked well with the citrousy ponzu sauce.

(2) Goma Tofu (Black sesame and white sesame tofu, served with wasabi soy sauce and soy form) had a silky smooth texture with a rather delicate soy sauce.

Fluke Ponzu Goma Tofu

(3)  Uni Tempra with Uni Powder (Deep fried sashimi quality sea urchin in tempura batter, flavoured with home-made uni powder)  was interesting with the sea urchin just melting in the mouth. A first dish that won our hearts and got a repeat in round two of ordering.

(4) Sea Trout Carpaccio (Cured sea trout with black truffle sea salt, chive and caviar, served with watercress with miso mustard sauce and sesame) was so fresh it was almost like eating by the sea. Another dish we simply had to repeat in the second round.

Uni Tempra with Uni Powder Sea Trout Carpaccio

(5) Chawan Mushi (Traditional organic egg custard soup with shrimp, chicken, shiitake mushroom, mitsuba, gingko nuts and yuzu zest) tasted a little bland at the start but the flavour grew with every mouthful of it, and finished off to a very nice memorable taste.

(6) Botan Ebi Tartare (Chopped botan ebi sweet shrimp with fresh ginger, topped with uni served with shiitake dashi broth) had the expected sweet taste of the shrimp. However there was too much of a ginger taste.

Chawan Mushi Chawan Mushi

(7) Uni and Yuba (Black soy bean milk skin with finest uni, served with shiitake broth)  was one of the very few disappointing dishes – a lack of flavour of any kind.

(8) Tuna Tartare ( Chopped big eye tuna with pine nuts, asian pear, cucumber, scallion, sesame seed in spicy sesame sauce) was like a fish version of the Korean Yuk Hwe (raw beef), and it was delicious with a nice hint of spiciness.

Uni and Yuba Tuna Tartare

(9) Uzaku (Broiled fresh water eel with tosa vinegar and sweet eel sauce, garnished with japanese cucumber) was the third winning dish for us. The sweetness of the sauce coupled with the delicious eel meant that we simply had to order another one to make sure it was that good – and it was!

(10) Steamed Lobster with Uni Mousse (Layers of steamed Maine lobster and uni mousse in lotus wrap, garnished with smoked uni and caviar) was so beautifully presented that it left us staring at the dish for quite a while, wondering who would have the courage to ruin the piece of edible artwork in front of our eyes. However, the meat of the lobster was a little too cold (maybe we should have stared at the dish for longer to let the meat warm up a bit more) but the sweetness of the uni mousse really lifted the flavour of the dish.

Uzaku Steamed Lobster with Uni Mousse

(11) Uni Ika Sugomori Zukuri (Sea urchin wrapped in thinly sliced squid with shiso, served with quail egg and tosa soy reduction) was interesting enough though it lacked the flavour somewhat, which surprised me because I was expecting the sweetness of the sea urchin and the soft-boiled quail egg would really come through in this dish.

Uni Ika Sugomori Zukuri

(12) Tartare Tuna Roll (Spicy tuna tartare with asian pear, cucumber, avocado, sesame, pine nuts, scallion wrapped in white kelp) had an extremely creamy texture and easily one of the best tuna rolls ever.

(13) We also had a few pieces of nigiri sushi: Maguro (blue fin tuna from Massachusetts) and Zuwaigani (snow crab from Nova Scotia) were good but not that impressive, while the Anago (sea eel from Nagasaki) had a very slick texture and was absolutely delicious.

Tartare Tuna Rol Maguro Zuwaigani Anago

(14) To finish the meal off, it’s a selection of ice-cream mochi. Pleasant and light enough as a dessert.

Mochi

For a restaurant of this high calibre in the middle of Manhattan, the price was not ridiculously expensive. If anything, even with sake thrown into the meal, it cost no more than USD100 per person which was very reasonable indeed. I usually find Japanese restaurants that are Michelin-star-rated in the Western world rather disappointing, but Soto has proven that this is not always the case – if anything, it has become one of my favourite restaurants in New York City for sure.

Address:  357, 6th Avenue, Manhattan, New York City , United States
Telephone: +1 (212)-414-3088
Website: www.sotonyc.com

Opening Hours: Monday-Saturday 5:45-11:45 pm

Food: 9/10
Ambience: 5/5
Service: 4/5
Total: 18/20 [Based on visit in October 2012]