Category: United Kingdom

Hannah Restaurant, London, United Kingdom

With the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown, one thing that I haven’t managed to have for a long time was Japanese food. One day, whilst I was doing some internet searching, I came across Hannah Japanese restaurant in Waterloo. The menu looked interesting enough, and with the credentials of chef Daisuke Shimoyama (who was the head chef at Umu in London before he opened this place) and the fact that he’s a qualified sake sommelier, I thought I’d booked the place and give it a try – at least I know the sake menu would be decent enough.

For dinner, there are 2 set menus to choose from – a 10-course Omakase Menu (£105) and a shorter 6-course Omakase Menu (£75). As usual, Russell and I went for the longer menu as we wanted to try everything, and we also went for the sake pairing to share between us.

The first “course” was actually 5 small dishes of Seasonal Starter Selection – all came on a large block of wood. In terms of presentation, it’s definitely got the wow factor. For the two of us, fortunately we were seated at a table of 4 – otherwise accommodating two blocks of wood on the table for 4 people would be a bit more challenging (one of the neighbouring tables did have 4 people and I must say that I wouldn’t have enjoyed this course so much with the more restricted table space). From right to left:

  • Sweet potato, aubergine, lotus root & padron pepper
  • Chawanmushi
  • Steamed vegetables with mushroom
  • Slow cooked duck breast with duck sauce
  • Tuna Fish with chilli sauce

The 5 starters all tasted very fresh and delicately flavoured. The first sake for the pairing was Koshi No Kanbai’s Muku (“Pure Realm”) which was light and worked well with these light starters.

The next course was “Sushi” – Langoustine Sudachi Rice with Kombu Cured Wagyu Beef Tartare and Caviar. It came with a piece of seaweed paper which you have to wrap round the rice and beef. The beef just melted in the mouth and it’s a little piece of heaven worth having again! The sake served with this dish was Kokuryu “Ryu” (Gold Dragon) – a daiginjo that was so bland that it lacks any sort of characteristics for me and so I might as well be drinking water!

Third course is Sea Urchin Tempura with Shiso Leaf & Truffle. I love sea urchin but it seems that every time I see this on an a-la-carte menu at a Japanese restaurant, conveniently the sea urchin is not available. So I am pleased to see this course on the set menu at Hannah! It’s topped with a copious amount of shaved truffle also. The sea urchin and truffle flavours kind of got a bit lost with the cooking, but still very delicious (I actually came to Hannah again the week after for lunch, and this dish was a lot better, with a buttery flavour of the sea urchin). The sake that came with this course was Sohomare “Indigo”, a junmai ginjo.

Next is the Seasonal Grilled Vegetables and Pork Belly with Seasonal Mushroom. Now this is quite something – the flavour of the various vegetables works well with the tender pieces of pork belly that blends in well with a rich flavoursome sauce. I was literally using the chopstick to try my best to pick up every last drop of the sauce using the bits of vegetables. If I wasn’t at a restaurant, I would have used my fingers to wipe the sauce from the block – finger-licking good! It paired well with the Masumi Hiyaoroshi “Sleeping Beauty”, a junmai ginjo made using the yamahai method.

The next course was Tsukuri, a selection of 5 kinds of sashimi.

From left to right going clockwise (The middle one was cuttlefish):

  • Fatty Tuna
  • Sea Bass
  • Turbot
  • Salmon Tataki

The sake served with the sashimi was Kuzuryu “Junmai” (Nine-Headed Dragon) – again, not really something I was too impressed with.

The sixth course was Hot Somen Noodle – Japanese thin somen noodles with sea bream shabu shabu and dashi stock. The sea bream was beautifully cooked, and it was a very enjoyable dish. The sake served was Dassai 45 – I love Dassai anyway…. Do I need to say more? Actually I do…. after tasting other sake earlier on, this one actually was not as spectacular. But still very drinkable and definitely worked well with the sea bream and the soup stock.

The course that followed was the Charcoal Grilled Miyazaki A5 Wagyu. The aroma of the charcoal was rich and comforting, as soon as the dish came to the table. The flavour of the beef reminded me of the most delicious bakkwa (beef jerky) from Asia (even though the meat was far more tender than bakkwa – just that BBQ flavour notes of sweet and umami).

The sake that came with the wagyu beef was Tamagawa’s Tokubetsu Junmai. Now this was a very nice discovery – the toji (master sake brewer) is a British guy (moved from Cornwall to Kyoto) called Philip Harper – who has written several books on sake, including “The Book of Sake: A Connoisseurs Guide”

Even more interesting is the pairing of this one. It has a rather umami aroma and has a umami and cereal grain flavour when tasting on its own. However, with the wagyu beef and the salt level of the sauce, it brings down the alcohol flavour of this sake and releases a hidden orange flavour in this sake. 

The last savoury course was probably the dish I looked forward to the most: Lobster Curry Rice.

Imagine the best fried pieces of lobsters, and then served in a rich curry sauce with rice – this is like katsu curry heaven!

The sake that was served with this curry rice was Seitoku “Bessen”. On its own, the sake came across a bit harsh. But it mellowed out quite nicely with the curry and the pairing worked pretty well. So a reminder that this is a good choice to pair with curry or another big flavour in future – I will have to try this with my Okinawan pork belly!

There were 2 desserts to finished off the meal – one was a fresh fruit salad with sake, and the second was Hojicha ice-cream with matcha and azuki bean paste. Both were very nice.

And again there’s a sake to go with each dessert (so by the time we finished the meal, we felt that we had drunk a bit too much even though we shared one sake flight!) – for the fruit salad, it’s a umeshu (plum sake) – I couldn’t quite figure out the details… I’d like to say that this is from Kamoizumi Brewery Company but not totally sure. For the ice-cream, it was paired with Tamagawa “Time Machine” 1712 – Because of the kimoto brewing method, this has a more “funky” aroma on the nose (purely a personal preference thing), and despite not being a huge fan of sweet sake, this one is pretty nice and mellow, and I would be quite happy to order it in future as a dessert sake.

On the whole, it was a very enjoyable meal and definitely one of the more impressive Japanese meals I’ve had in London in recent years. I returned a week later to try the shorter 6-course omakase lunchtime menu with my nephew (who loves Japanese food and the poor chap doesn’t get many opportunities to have Japanese food, let alone decent Japanese food, where he lives currently), and he was so happy with the meal too!

Address: County Hall, Southbank Riverside, Belvedere Road, London, SE1 7PB, United Kingdom

Telephone: +44 (0)20 3802 0402

Website: https://www.hannahrestaurant.london/

Opening Hours:  Wednesday: 5 – 10 pm ; Thursday – Saturday: 12 – 3 pm, 5 – 10 pm ; Sunday: 12- 3 pm, 6 – 10 pm

Food: 9/10
Ambience: 5/5
Service: 4/5
Total: 18/20 [Based on visits in November 2021 and December 2021 ]

Bladebone Inn, Bucklebury, Berkshire, United Kingdom

[UPDATE: 2021-12-28: This restaurant is permanently closed]

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 ]

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!