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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 ]

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John Campbell’s Pop Up at The Pass (23 June 2012)

Introduction

Ever since John Campbell and Olly Rouse’s departures from Coworth Park in 2011, I have been wondering what they would do next. It just seemed such a shame that the immense amount of work building up the magic of Coworth Park suddenly evaporated, and it would be hard to re-create something similar elsewhere. They went quiet for quite a while, and so I was pleasantly surprised and excited when I learnt that they would do a 3-day event with Matt Gillan at The Pass at South Lodge Hotel just outside Horsham 21-23 June.

I knew very early on that I would not be able to make it to the first 2 days as I would be away from the UK for business, so that left me with no choice but to just shoot for Saturday 23 June. Not a bad thing anyway, as I did not have to worry about getting stuck on M25 during evening rush hours just to get to Horsham. I was pleased to go to South Lodge again also, having not been there for over 10 years (last time I stayed at South Lodge was a team-building event at my ex-employer in Horsham – at that time The Pass was not even there, and the hotel was a lot smaller).

There was a masterclass run by John Campbell mid-afternoon, and so I made sure I got to the hotel before then. Even with meticulous planning, M25 as usual worked its magic against me and I was nearly late – fortunately I built in some extra travelling time and that meant I arrived at South Lodge with about half an hour to spare.

Afternoon Masterclass with John Campbell

I took a front row seat at the afternoon masterclass, listening to John sharing his passion on cooking supplemented by his scientific knowledge and understanding in food chemistry, from cooking the different cuts of beef to the use of agar in delivering the flavours in food, as well as making fizzy grapes (imagine sparkling wine in solid fruit state). A lot of good tips and hints for cooking for friends at home – it’s not a matter of making something ultra-complicated a la Heston Blumenthal style, but to understand how all the different ingredients contribute to each dish based on flavours and ultimately timing is the crucial factor for all cooking. The “back to basics” cooking is almost music to my ears. I was already looking forward to dinner by this stage.

 

Pop Up at The Pass

To serve with the aperitif, we were offered some very delicious Jabugo ham – the flavour just burst in the mouth and I had to really control myself not to eat too much of it so that it would spoil my appetite for the evening. The ham came from black Iberian pigs that have been fed on a pure acorn diet for 2 years. We also had a taster of the new olive oil which went from tree to bottle within 2 hours. It was one of the fruitiest olive oils I’ve ever tasted.

 

 

The first dish was Eel served with beetroot, corn, radish and maple. The more sour/acidic taste of radish was balanced by the sweetness of the corn and maple. Even with the sharpness of the beetroot, the dish had a clean fresh flavour. It almost reminded me of the magic of the dishes at Coworth Park.

The second course was Pollack. The fish was beautifully cooked, and I loved the contrast of the crunchy cashew nuts accompanying this dish.  The turnip and cucumber provided an interesting contrasting flavour, and accented with a bit of miso. However, none of the flavours dominated the dish. I could easily have had a second plate of this.

The pigeon dish was next – it was by far the most tender piece of pigeon I’ve ever had, and the flavour was wonderful. The plate was peppered with tiny chocolate flakes. What I thought was supposedly cherries on the plate turned out to be tomatoes – the sweetness was wonderful. The polenta was there to just soak up any remaining bits of the flavour from the plate.

The next course was buffalo cheek which was cooked so well that it literally melted in the mouth. The meat on its own was moist and has a mild flavour, but the dish was transformed when eating the meat together with lemon curd, wasabi meringue, artichoke, pearl barley and basil sauce – suddenly all the flavours came to life in the mouth.

The “cheese” course was Barkam blue cheese with truffle, mint, onion and potato. There are only very few cheeses that I like, and blue cheese is not one of them. Still, the combination of the ingredients is an interesting concept especially with the potato right in front of me. The dish was a twist to onion and cheese crisp (again, not something I’d have usually), and the after-taste certainly reminded me of that. I finished it though it’s not something I’d like to have again, but that’s purely based on personal taste rather than something fundamentally wrong with the dish.

I could not decide whether the sixth course was meant to be a palate cleanser or a proper dessert. Either way, the vibrant red colour on the dish was stunning – it was watermelon batons with moscatel vinegar strawberries, lime and clotted cream. The taste was simply refreshing in the mouth, and it’s a shame that it was not a hot summer evening as I could just see myself sitting outside eating this dish again and again.

The final course was elderflower with peach melba, green tea sponge, baby daikon leaves, raspberry, vanilla and a few broken pieces of langue de chat. The bitterness of the green tea was balanced by the sweetness of the peach; while the langue de chat biscuits added a bit of crunch to the otherwise soft texture of the dish. This dessert was also so light that I could have easily eaten a second plate of it without any problems.

To finish off the dinner, it was the usual plate of petit fours, though we were never told what they were?!

After Thoughts

At the end of the meal, I did not feel that I’ve over-eaten – it was just a very pleasant sensation, feeling that I’ve eaten a light meal, and I don’t feel lethargic. It’s a shame that I was at the tail end of a bad cold; otherwise the enjoyment of the meal would be even greater. It would be difficult to choose one single favourite dish as each of them was good in its own right; the use of simple ingredients to create a symphony of flavours is the way to go – as John has said several times that chefs are custodians of nature’s larder and not magicians, and they should not change what nature has given us.

The best part of the meal for me was actually to speak to John Campbell and hear from him about his vision of cooking and the journey of re-discovering his passion and drive. Bizarrely enough, while I work in a completely different industry, my view in what I do is also “going back to basics” as many people are just too immersed in doing “fancy things” and losing sight in the bigger picture. So I can totally relate to what John is thinking and can share his excitement. If this meal is a preview of what is to come later on this year when he opens his new restaurant venture, it could easily be the most exciting restaurant opening in 2012, and I’m already looking forward to that!

Restaurant Sat Bains, Nottingham, United Kingdom

December 26, 2011 Leave a comment

My UK geography must be worse than I thought – for some reason I thought it’d be a perfect idea to stop over in Nottingham en route from Scotland back to London, as I thought that’s just over the half-way point. It’s only when I figured out the mileage from Scotland to Nottingham that I realised that I might as well drive all the way back to London. Still, it’s “north of Watford” and I thought it’d be a good idea to have a nice meal at Sat Bains and also stock up on the meat at one of my favourite butchers in the UK (JT Beedham in Nottingham). Just by pure coincidence, my friend Val has just moved to Nottingham from Sussex, and it was a perfect opportunity to meet up with her after not seeing each other for years.

The amuse-bouche was Sweetcorn Chowder with Pop-Corn – this was a variation of the same dish from my first visit to Sat Bains. I loved the intensity of the sweetcorn flavour, and the contrast of the crunchy pop-corn worked well with this dish.

Sweetcorn Chowder with Pop-corn

(1) Although I’ve had the famous “Ham, Pea and Egg” a few times now, since Val has never had it, it was only fair for her to try it; and it would be torturous to just watch her eating it, so we all had one each. Although there were a few modifications to the dish, it was still impressive – simple ingredients all come to life in a magical way really.

Ham, Pea and Egg

(2) Pressed Pigs Head with Smoked Haddock and Pickled Vegetables – a rather vibrant colourful dish that looked so much like a piece of modern art that it seemed a shame to eat it. I was half expecting this dish to be heavy on flavour but to my surprise was rather light and refreshing.

Pressed Pigs Head with Smoked Haddock and Pickled Vegetables

(3) Salcombe Bay Crab with Sea Vegetables, Peanuts and Lemon – this was served with a very intensely-flavoured crab bisque. It’s a truly outstanding dish: the rich bold flavour of the bisque was balanced with the sweetness of the peanut brittle; and the contrasting texture of the crab meat and peanut brittle also worked surprisingly well.

Salcombe Bay Crab with Sea Vegetables, Peanuts and Lemon

(4) Oxtail with Pearl Barley and Smoked Bone Marrow – I was not so keen on the presentation of this dish, though it tasted wonderful.

Oxtail with Pearl Barley and Smoked Bone Marrow

(5) Ripley Estate Mallard Duck “Waldorf Flavours” with Stilton and Chicory – I’m not a fan of Stilton cheese but it seemed to work well with the duck, which was cooked beautifully.

Ripley Estate Mallard Duck "Waldorf Flavours" with Stilton and Chicory

(6) “The Crossover” – Buttermilk curd with rocket and tarragon granita. The green colour resembled Japanese matcha, but the curd with the granita worked so well together. I could quite happily eat another bowl of this.

The Crossover

(7) Chocolate with Yoghurt and Cumin Caramel – I was most curious about the cumin caramel and it’s probably one of those things that I’d either like it or hate it. Fortunately it’s something I really liked.

Chocolate with Yoghurt and Cumin Caramel

(8) The Bramley – the caramelised apple with apple sorbet, cider granita and custard worked so well together that I wouldn’t even mind eating this for breakfast and still feel healthy and good about it.

The Bramley

Restaurant Sat Bains continues to deliver exceptional food, and with this high quality I was not surprised to see that in October 2011 it finally gained the long-awaited second Michelin star that it deserved. Now I just need to plan my next visit to Nottingham in 2012.

Address: Lenton Lane, Nottingham, NG7 2SA, United Kingdom
Telephone: +44(0)115 986 6566
Website: www.restaurantsatbains.com
Opening Hours: Lunch: Tuesday to Saturday 12:15 onwards (Chef Table only) ; Dinner: Tuesday to Saturday: 19:00-21:00

Food: 9/10
Ambience: 5/5
Service: 5/5
Total: 19/20 [Based on visit in November 2011]

L’Enclume, Cartmel, United Kingdom

December 25, 2011 Leave a comment

It’s pure coincidence that I returned to L’Enclume exactly one year after the last visit in 2010. It just seemed to be a perfect half-way point to stop over for the night before heading up to Scotland from London.

The menu has changed so much in one year – is it good news or bad news? Well, it’s bad news for me in the sense that I had to decide whether to go for the 8-course or 12-course menu, or even opt for the new vegetarian menu. However, it’s good news that even by choosing the 12-course menu again, the dishes would all be different. So it’s like a brand new dining experience again.

Once we’ve got the champagne ordered, the snack was brought to us: Duck crackling & duck skin crackling. OK, it was not the healthiest thing on earth, but then it was delicious, and I would happily trade part of my health in for the enjoyment of my taste buds.

Duck crackling & duck skin crackling

There were two different amuse-bouches as a prelude to the 12-course meal:

(a) Smoked mackeral with cream cheese and garlic leaves – although all the ingredients came in a small mouthful of pastry cup, I could taste all the individual ingredients, and then the flavours all blended together nicely in the mouth, with a spicy kick of the raw garlic at the end.

Amuse-Bouche - Mackeral

(b) Mayonnaise with fried cod tongue – It was a nice quality piece of fish, though at one point it reminded me of McDonald’s filet-o-fish (still no idea why that would be the case – the quality couldn’t have been further apart) – perhaps I would not have dreamt up this unfortunate association if the batter was slightly finer.

Amuse-Bouche - Cod Tongue

(1) Beetroot and mozzarella, celery and dill – there were layers of surprises as you dug deeper into it – all the contrast of textures and flavours, finishing with a sweet beetroot flavour with a vibrant colour at the bottom.

Beetroot and mozzarella, celery and dill

(2) Caramelised parsnip with mousse of meadowsweet, duck sweetbread and black mustard – the sweetbread was fried beautifully and worked well with the parsnip, give a sweet flavour with the mousse. The black cabbage leaves, while giving the whole dish an extra dimension of the flavour at the time, were rather too strong and there was a lingering bitter taste in the mouth well after I finished eating.

Caramelised parsnip and meadowsweet, duck sweetbread and black mustard

(3) Grilled salad smoked over embers, Isle of Mull cheese, custard, cobnuts – there were a variety of thinly sliced roasted vegetables including cauliflower, black cabbage and broccoli etc. The smell was very pleasant, esp on a cold winter evening, though the strong mustard-like taste of the black cabbage was a little too overpowering in the whole dish. It was interesting to have the sweetness added to the dish with “custard”

Grilled salad smoked over embers, Isle of Mull cheese, custard, cobnuts

(4) Marinated scallop, toasted seeds, red cabbage and wild sorrel – I usually love dishes with contrast of taste and texture: while this dish offered a mix of soft scallops and “a bed of” crumbling mix of toasted seeds, with a red cabbage sauce, this dish was not something I liked too much as I find the texture of the seeds actually too hard for the scallops – a bit like biting on sand.

Marinated scallop, toasted seeds, red cabbage and wild sorrel

(5) Jerusalem artichokes, Ragstone cream, tarragon, malt – This dish had a good balance of the strong malt taste, and a clean moorish texture of the Jerusalem artichoke.

Jerusalem artichokes, Ragstone cream, tarragon, malt

(6) Roasted snow crown with young squid and elderberry vinegar – the snow crown was cauliflower “on a bed of squid ink”. For some reasons L’Enclume really loved using the phrase “on a bed of….” to describe their dishes, and it became a bit of a running joke with my friends. Still, this was a very impressive dish, with the rather soft and bland cauliflower contrasting with the squid, mixing in with the more salty flavour of the squid ink – this combination really worked well.

Roasted snow crown with young squid and elderberry vinegar

(7) Kohlrabi baked in salt, parsley, chicken offal, bristly ox tongue – I found the chicken offal very greasy and salty, to the point that the dish became a bit too heavy for a 12-course meal. The kohlrabi did help to neutralise that greasiness and gave the dish the much needed breadth of freshness.

Kohlrabi baked in salt, parsley, chicken offal, bristly ox tongue

(8) Roasted monkfish in our spices, chervil root and wild watercress – the monkfish was slightly overcooked and on the dry side, but nevertheless had a nice taste. The raspberry coulis gave the dish a pleasantly sweet flavour in addition to the parsnip puree.

Roasted monkfish in our spices, chervil root and wild watercress

(9) Shorthorn short ribs cooked for 72 hours, smoked marrow and butternut – Instead of the hogget, I requested to have the short ribs from the 8-course menu. The piece of beef was very tender, and that was not surprising considering that it was cooked in a waterbath for 72 hours. I could cut into the meat with minimal effort, and it just melted in the mouth. The sauce was rich in flavour, and the presentation of the dish was sensational with the various colours – I was glad to have opted for this, even though I was struggling with finishing this dish because my stomach felt rather heavy and full, probably due to the lingering effect of the rather greasy chicken offals earlier.

Shorthorn short ribs cooked for 72 hours, smoked marrow and butternut.

The hogget dish was: Yew tree farm Herdwick Hogget in mulled cider, baked celeriac and pennywort – I had a little taste of that…. it was good but I still preferred the short ribs

Yew tree farm Herdwick Hogget in mulled cider, baked celeriac and pennywort

(10) Chestnut, honeyoats, anise hyssop, apple – this was a rather refreshing and light ice-cream. A very welcoming dish to come down from the heaviness of the last few savoury courses.

Chestnut, honeyoats, anise hyssop, apple

(11) Fig and malted cream, Williams pear ice – the first mouthful of the pear granita was very cold, but as my mouth got over the initial shock the various ingredients worked really well together. The whole dessert was not too sweet either, and I could easily have another one.

Fig and malted cream, Williams pear ice

(12) Mellilot yoghurt with nuts, Cartmel grapes, brown sugar – another very deliciously light dessert. It just seemed unbelieveable that there would be locally-grown grapes even if they were grown in green houses, as the November evening just seemed so cold to even think about the area getting warm in the summer.

Mellilot yoghurt with nuts, Cartmel grapes, brown sugar

I was glad when the 12th course ended, and I couldn’t even consider having any tea or coffee afterwards. Still, the staff brought over the tiny ice-cream sandwich for us to finish the meal with.

Ice-Cream

I left the restaurant with my stomach feeling rather bloated and heavy like a lead balloon, a contrast to the year before when I felt that I had eaten a lot without this less-than-pleasant feeling. Still, the meal was nice and I was glad to have returned to sample a whole new array of dishes. With a sister restaurant Roganic opened in London earlier this year, there’s always bound to be comparisons – for me, I actually prefer Roganic (with the added bonus that it’s in London rather than 300 miles away in Cumbria).

Address: Cavendish Street, Cartmel, Nr Grange over Sands, Cumbria, LA11 6PZ, United Kingdom
Telephone: +44 (0)15395 36362
Website: http://www.lenclume.co.uk
Opening Hours: Lunch: Wednesday to Sunday: 12:00 – 13:30 ; Dinner: Monday to Sunday: 18:30-21:00

Food: 8/10
Ambience: 4/5
Service: 4/5
Total: 16/20 [Based on visit in November 2011]

Roganic, London, United Kingdom

July 17, 2011 2 comments

Roganic - Interior

So far this year we have seen the openings of restaurants by a few prominent chefs: first Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, then Pollen Street Social by Jason Atherton, and then in May The Gilbert Scott by Marcus Wareing. And most recently, it’s Simon Rogan (from the Cumbrian one Michelin-starred L’Enclume ) who opened the restaurant Roganic in Marylebone. It’s a two-year “pop-up” restaurant venture – meaning that it will be gone in two years time, when the lease is up.

I knew I would plan to visit this place at some point later on this year, but I certainly did not expect to pay a visit only three weeks after its opening. It was a rainy Saturday, I had not done my food shopping for the weekend, the fridge was completely empty (most unusual) and I just couldn’t be bothered to face fighting my way round the supermarket. So the next hard task was to decide where to go for dinner. I didn’t expect any tables available at Roganic but I thought I’d try my luck anyway – and I was glad to have made the phone call as there was a table for two the same evening.

The restaurant was not huge – seating for approximately 20-25 people. The decor and setting reminded me very much of L’Enclume, and maybe a little bit warmer and more cosy than L’Enclume – but then my last visit to L’Enclume was in November 2010, when Britain was hit by the heavy snowstorm and extreme cold weather.

After ordering some Philipponnat champagne, the amuse-bouche was brought to the table: Rosemary and chickpea with aioli on crisp bread. The vibrant colours certainly made it memorable in terms of presentation, and it tasted just as nice as it looked – the garlic aioli flavour did not overpower the freshness of the other ingredients, and the mouth was left with a surprisingly refreshing aftertaste.

Roganic - Rosemary and Chickpea aioli on crisp bread

Just like L’Enclume, there was a wonderful array of bread. This evening we were presented with potato bread, spelt bread and pumpernickel bread, fresh baking hot from the oven. A massive dollop of butter was placed on the stone on the table – and at first I thought “what a waste of butter”. But then when we tried the butter, we couldn’t get enough of it – the butter was churned to a soft whipped-cream texture at the restaurant, with Maldon salt added to it to give that slight saltiness and crunch.  It was so delicious that we ended up eating 11 bread rolls between us and had a second helping of butter during the whole dinner.

Roganic - Potato, Spelt & Pumpernickel bread Roganic - Butter to die for

The first two courses were broad bean and hyssop, fresh curds and beetroot; and Rubin turnip baked in salt, smoked yolk, sea vegetables and wild mustard. Both courses were so colourful and presented so beautifully that they looked like pieces of art that I could just look at and admire for a long time. In terms of taste, the beetroot and curd in the first course went surprisingly well together. The smokey egg yolk in the second course was cooked perfectly – still warm and slightly runny, and with a very distinctive smokey flavour to it.

Roganic - Broad bean and hyssop, fresh curds and beetrootRoganic - Rubin turnip baked in salt, smoked yolk, sea vegetables and wild mustard

The next course was seawater cured Kentish mackerel, orache, broccoli and warm elderflower honey – the sweetness of the honey balanced well with the oily strong-flavoured fish, which was perfectly cooked. The thinly sliced dried broccoli and the pattern on the plate augmented the look of the dish – it looked as if the fish was swimming in between the coral reefs in the sea.

Roganic - Seawater cured Kentish mackerel, orache, broccoli and warm elderflower honey

At this point I was already impressed with Roganic – I didn’t expect the food to be this good when it’s only opened for three weeks, and the dishes were not that straightforward to put together.

The next course was shredded ox tongue, pickles and sourdough paper – it was interesting, with the ox-tongue that sandwiched between the sourdough paper reminding me of potted meat that I used to have when I was young.

Roganic - Shredded ox tongue, pickles and sourdough paper

The next course was probably the biggest surprise of the evening: flaky Crab and mallow cream, young squid and cucumber. It was refreshing and had a pleasant aroma that transported my mind to the seaside – it was as if I was eating this dish at an open-air restaurant by the sea. The squid ink croutons gave the crunchiness to the perfectly-cooked pieces of crab meat and squid. It was a truly memorable dish.

Roganic - Flaky Crab and mallow cream, young squid and cucumber

The next course was one of the very few dishes that featured on both L’Enclume and Roganic menus: vintage potatoes in onion ashes, lovage and wood sorrel. This was supposedly to be one of the signature dishes, but I must say that I was not that keen on it – as much as I liked onions, the dehydrated onion with the onion oil drizzled around the potatoes was just too strong and had a taste that reminded me of something I was not keen on when I was younger.

Roganic - Vintage potatoes in onion ashes, lovage and wood sorrel

The 7th course of the evening was roasted monkfish, chicken salt, mushroom and fennel leaves. While the monkfish was cooked slight a bit too much, it was made up by the bold and intense flavour of the stock and the salt made from chicken skin. The mushroom puree and the fennel leaves provided another dimension of strong taste to the dish. Overall a combination of flavours that worked well together.

Roganic - Roasted monkfish, chicken salt, cockles and ruby chard

The last savoury course was Cumbrian hogget, artichokes and chenopodiums. A rich flavour of the hogget with the sweetbreads on the dish, but it was just too salty for my liking – to the point where it left a bitter salty taste after finishing the dish (and so thirsty on the way home that I couldn’t stop drinking water).

Roganic - Cumbrian hogget, artichokes and chenopodiums

For the desserts, the first one was sweet ciceley with strawberry, buttermilk and verbena – the macerated strawberries were refreshing (very welcoming after the previous dish) and went well with the strong perfume flavour of the verbena and mint.

Roganic - Sweet ciceley with strawberry, buttermilk and verbena

The finale was warm spiced bread, salted almonds, buckthorn curd, smoked clotted cream – I was dreading this dish because I didn’t like the buckthorn at L’Enclume. Each ingredient on its own sounded (and actually tasted) a bit ghastly, but together they were like match-making in heaven. It was a bit like the magic bacon and egg ice-cream at The Fat Duck. The dish was not too sweet and was a good finish to the meal.

Roganic - Warm spiced bread, salted almonds, buckthorn curd, smoked clotted cream

Afterwards we were brought the Douglas Fir & Pine milkshake with Douglas Fir flapjack. The milkshake was something I had at L’Enclume. The flavour of this one still reminded me of some medicine I had when I was young – but it was not at all unpleasant.

Roganic - Douglas Fir & Pine Milkeshake, Douglas Fir flapjack

To finish off this suprisingly good meal, we ordered some tea that was made specially at the restaurant, using a mixture of verbena, douglas fir, and other herbs. To go with the tea, the petit fours were some mini Victoria sponge cakes topped with raspberries.

Roganic - Petit Fours Victoria sponge with raspberries

On the whole, it was a nice meal – apart from the hogget which was too salty for my taste, the rest of the dishes were nicely flavoured, and there were some very memorable dishes. There’s always going to be a comparison between Roganic and the older brother L’Enclume – while some people might claim that L’Enclume was more adventurous and experimental, personally I found that at Roganic the food was less salty (apart from the hogget), and a slightly warmer decor and service. For Londoners who can’t be bothered to venture all the way up to Lake District, Roganic is certainly a well-worthy alternative. It’s a place I’d certainly be back – now I just need out-of-town visitors to give me my perfect excuse to return to this restaurant in the next two years.

Roganic - Entrance in the evening

Address:  19, Blandford St, London, W1U 3DH , United Kingdom
Telephone: +44 (0)207 4860380
Website: www.roganic.co.uk

Opening Hours: Tuesday – Saturday: 12.00pm to 2.30pm; 6.00pm to 9.00pm

Food: 8/10
Ambience: 4/5
Service: 5/5
Total: 17/20 [Based on visit in July 2011 ]

Restaurant Nathan Outlaw, Rock, United Kingdom

July 2, 2011 1 comment

Sometimes part of the fun of planning a holiday is to come up with excuses for the destination. For me, I have mastered this art to a new level: a weekend break in Ludlow in Shropshire has turned into a 10-day long holiday, including a “detour” of over 200 miles to Rock in Cornwall. This year I decided a two-night stay in Rock would be a good idea – with both evening meals at Restaurant Nathan Outlaw. Last year when we went there for one night, the only thing in Rock that we manage to visit was Restaurant Nathan Outlaw, which had opened for merely a month and was still finding its feet in the new venue of St Enodoc Hotel at that point. Within a week of sorting out my reservation of two dinners at the restaurant (it was that good last year that one dinner would simply feel too much of a wasted effort to travel all the way there) and the stay at the newly-refurbished hotel, the restaurant was awarded two Michelin stars. It was a good sign and it was just what I had expected.

Now that I have been to the restaurant a few times and got to know the staff a bit, it felt like going to visit old friends rather than just a visit to a restaurant. The service was friendly and informal, and it was nice to see that they were not trying to cram in more seats – the restaurant still felt spacious enough that each table still had its privacy.

As the restaurant only offers one single set menu these days (which was a wise move given the capacity), I was concerned about dining on two consecutive evenings in the same place. However, I was assured that I would get a different menu on the second evening.

Dinner 1 (19 April 2011)

The amuse-bouche was mackerel with horseradish salad and wholegrain bread – it was an impressive start: a deliciously moist piece of fish.

Restaurant Nathan Outlaw - Mackeral with Horseradish salad on Wholegrain bread

The first course was John Dory with tarragon, St Enodoc asparagus, bacon and hazelnut: the fish was firm and beautifully cooked, and the tarragon sauce was bold without overpowering the flavour of the fish.

Restaurant Nathan Outlaw - John Dory

The next course was crab salad with apple and fennel. Crab was one of my favourite seafood. The crab here was fresh and cooked nicely (anything less than that, I’d have thought “what a waste of food”). The combination of the apple and crab pate worked well in this very refreshing dish.

Restaurant Nathan Outlaw - Crab Salad

The third course was bream with saffron, mussels, olives and pepper. These ingredients produced a rather bold but refined bouillabaisse flavour. It was as if I was suddenly transported to the south of France. Another impressive dish.

Restaurant Nathan Outlaw - Bream

The “main” course  was turbot with lamb belly, beetroot and rosemary. As it’s lamb belly, the dish had a rather strong smell which could be problematic for some people if they did not know the strength of that smell. But for me, it’s not a problem. I thought that the lamb belly would overpower all the other flavours of the dish, but to my surprise it provided a nice balance to the sweetness of the beetroot discs and jus, and the flavour of the turbot was not buried underneath all these other flavours. Another well-executed dish.

Restaurant Nathan Outlaw - Turbot

After such a flavoursome main course, it would be hard to find something to cleanse the palate sufficiently for the desserts. But here it was: Rhubarb jelly with vanilla cream, rhubarb and ginger sorbet. It was a light pre-dessert, with the rhubarb pieces not too sharp or overpowering. I usually would not go for ginger biscuit but this one had a nice clean taste to it without being too much of the ginger taste lingering afterwards. All the ingredients just worked very well together.

Restaurant Nathan Outlaw - Rhubarb Jelly with Vanilla Cream

The dessert was chocolate orange cheesecake with orange-yoghurt sorbet, cocoa syrup and orange curd. If there’s anything I did not like about this meal, it would have been the use of milk chocolate but that’s more a personal preference of  dark chocolate and I thought the taste of milk chocolate was a bit wishy-washy and might have worked better with a darker chocolate which would give a stronger body of flavour. However, the orange curd and sorbet were delicious.

Restaurant Nathan Outlaw - Chocolate Orange Cheesecake

Petit fours

Restaurant Nathan Outlaw - Petit Fours

Dinner 2 (20 April 2011)

For the second evening, we had a different menu.

The first course was lemon sole with crispy oyster, cucumber and dill. As usual, the fish was cooked to perfection – at this point I must say I’d expect nothing less than perfection really on the fish-cooking front. The sauce had a flavour that was a cross between mayonnaise and tartare sauce, and it went well with the fish and the oyster. If there’s anything I had to nitpick on this dish, it would have been the batter of the oyster – I thought it might have worked better with a lighter batter.

Restaurant Nathan Outlaw - Lemon Sole

The second course that arrived at our table won hands down on the colour alone: Bream with beetroot barley. The vibrant maroon red colour of the beetroot was stunning on a white plate. Often at many places the beetroot would have such a vinegary taste that it would ruin the rest of the ingredients, but not here – the beetroot had sufficient flavour without overpowering the fish. The smoked bream pate on top of the beetroot and parsley had a nice flavour, and the these two main ingredients provided an unforgettable mixture of texture and taste.

Restaurant Nathan Outlaw - Bream

The third course was sea bass, brown shrimps and shellfish sauce. Often I’d get very frustrated with people overcooking the seabass, to the point where the flesh of the fish would just disintegrate at the slightest touch. Here, the cooking was once again impossible to fault. The shellfish sauce was sweet and provided an interesting extra dimension to the dish.

Restaurant Nathan Outlaw - Sea Bass

The main course was turbot with piccalilli sauce and ham hock – again a combination of flavours and texture that worked perfectly together: the freshness of the fish came through in the middle of the saltiness of the ham hock and the vinegar flavour of the piccalilli.

Restaurant Nathan Outlaw - Turbot

As we enjoyed the meal so much, we decided to just be a bit greedy and added the cheese course. We had a selection of six cheeses: Wyfe of Bath, Stratton Belle, Tunworth, Keltic Gold, Davidstow ‘3 Year Old’ Crackler, Beenleigh.

Restaurant Nathan Outlaw - Cheese

I must admit when I saw the menu, I was not looking forward to the pre-dessert of Sea buckthorn cream and sorbet. Maybe it was a bad experience I had with sea buckthorn elsewhere the year before. But the concern was totally unfounded – this dish was so nice that I could easily have had another one without any problem. The ultra-smooth sea buckthorn cream and sorbet were refreshing and light. It was a truly pleasant surprise.

Restaurant Nathan Outlaw - Sea Buckthorn

The dessert was chocolate sponge, with coffee syrup and vanilla ice-cream. This was a variation of chocolate fondant with a smooth ice-cream. The syrup had a nice sweet flavour. Once again the meal finished on a high note.

Restaurant Nathan Outlaw - Chocolate Sponge

Both dinners were exceptional, but if I really had to choose, the second dinner had a slight winning edge – it was probably the best meal I’ve had in the past 12 months also (and this was reflected in the perfect score).

Considering the size of the kitchen and the number of staff, it was impressive that Nathan Outlaw managed to produce such a consistent set of dishes. If you are after really fancy elaborate cooking in the Heston Blumenthal or John Campbell style, you won’t find it here. This is returning to the basics: good quality fresh food with simpler cooking style in order to let the ingredients speak for themselves. Nathan’s use of locally-sourced seafood coupled with flawless cooking has made this one of the best restaurants not just in the Southwest England, but in the whole of UK.

My Favourite Restaurant is here!

Address: St. Enodoc Hotel, Rock, Cornwall, PL27 6LA, United Kingdom
Telephone: +44(0)1208 863394
Website: www.nathan-outlaw.com

Opening Hours: 
Lunch: Friday & Saturday 12:30 – 14:00
Dinner: Tuesday to Saturday: 19:00-21:00

Food: 10/10
Ambience: 5/5
Service: 5/5
Total: 20/20 [Based on two visits in April 2011]

Mr Underhill’s, Ludlow, United Kingdom

In an ideal situation, I would have booked to dine and stay at Mr Underhill’s in Ludlow when I went there with Russell, Darcy and Bob. However, our visit coincided with the Ludlow Medieval fayre at the end of November – managing to secure a table was already a pure stroke of luck; but my fortune did not extend to getting the rooms. It appeared that all hotels in and around Ludlow were full also. So we ended up staying in Tenbury Wells – not ideal to find our way round this part of the country on a cold dark November evening with the GPS almost non-functional.

After getting a bit lost driving in Ludlow, we parked the car near the castle and then walked down to the restaurant. We got there just before 8pm, and were greeted warmly by Judy Bradley, and then led to the table straight away. The restaurant was buzzing – with no empty tables and everyone in good spirit.

To go with our aperitif (kir royale as usual), we were presented with a trio of olives (marinated, gougeres & flatbreads). There was only one set menu which was fine – Judy phoned me earlier in the day and checked if we would have any problems to the dishes (of course not!). We also asked for recommendation on the wine and Judy suggested half a bottle of albarino to start – it was a good choice.

The first course was a cone of marinated smoked salmon – the salmon was beautifully marinated and filled the whole cone. It was a very promising start to the meal.

The next course was white onion velouté with crispy shallot – the soup was full of onion flavour, and the sweetness and creaminess of the soup contrasted well with the texture of the shallot.

The third course was duck liver custard 2010 with sweetcorn cream and lemongrass glaze. Every mouthful of this made me want to eat more. The duck liver custard was already heavenly delicious on its own,, but it was elevated to a new level with the intense sweetness of the sweetcorn at the bottom of the little jar. It was an extraordinary dish. Bob, on his anti-plastic-straw campaign (yes, he hated plastic straws in drinks), said “you can put a plastic straw on it and I’d still like it”. Not that you could have enjoyed this with a straw anyway!

The fish course was hake on fondant tomato with chorizo & orange – the fish was very fresh and perfectly cooked, with a fine balance of tomatoes, chorizo (without going over the top with the quantity like some other places) and a fantastic orange sauce. At this point of the meal we enjoyed everything so much that we all agreed that we could have had a big plate of every dish on its own without any hesitation.

The meat course was slow roasted fillet of Mortimer Forest venison with venison jus, gin and orange vinaigrette, and girolles and baked potato mash. The venison was very tender, and went so well with the sauce that Darcy even forgot that the wine was there (now that’s a first!). The dish was not too heavy on the stomach either.

The pre-dessert was plum ‘sponge’ with star anise ice-cream – the “sponge” was a very refreshing plum granita. Overall a very pleasant taste.

For the desserts, we could choose from a menu of various dishes. Although Darcy was not a dessert fan, she went for the rhubarb crumble tart with clove ice-cream (and in her words, a dish “To Die For”!). Bob chose the sticky toffee pudding with creme fraiche ice-cream, which he claimed it to be “sticky toffeerific”

 

Russell went for the Highland parfait with flapjack wafer,  with Scottish oat praline, caramel and drambuie – he was disappointed with this one as he did not think it was anything special.

For me, being the adventurous one, I went for a dessert that was billed as “part savoury, part dessert” for those undecided: Oakly Park rarebit with anchovy sauce and delicate piccalilli. Interesting concept but it was definitely nowhere near a dessert. At best it could be classed as a cooked cheese course. 10/10 for the idea, but it’s not something I enjoyed that much.

We were one of the last customers to leave the restaurant, and before we left, we were given some shortbread biscuits to eat “on the road” – not that we needed them that evening, but it was something that we enjoyed the next day and reminded us of what an enjoyable meal it was. We agreed that it would be one of the restaurants we’d make a special effort to go back to.

Address: Dinham Weir, Ludlow, Shropshire, SY8 1EH, United Kingdom
Telephone: +44 (0)1584 874431
Website: http://www.mr-underhills.co.uk/
Opening Hours: Dinner: Wednesday to Sunday arrival between 19:15-20:00

Food: 9/10
Ambience: 5/5
Service: 4/5
Total: 18/20 [Based on visit in November 2010]