Posts Tagged ‘15/20’

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

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 ]

Degustation, New York City, United States

September 11, 2011 Leave a comment

One of my ex-colleagues in Boston shares the same surname as me (and no, we are not related) and she loves her food, so there was a running joke in the company that we were the London and Boston representatives of Chow With Chau guide on the company intranet. She is now living in Manhattan. So when I was out there visiting, I thought I’d meet up with her for dinner, and let her decide on the restaurant. After consulting some of her friends, she informed me that she’d made a reservation at Degustation in East Village, based on the recommendation from a friend of hers that “it was the best meal I’ve had in NYC”.

Open kitchen at Degustation, New York City

The restaurant was smaller than I expected, and it’s basically an open kitchen with customers sitting at the bar (though we were sitting on chairs and not bar stools). Having experienced the rather “warmer-than-average” open kitchen setting at Momofuku, this one was a lot more pleasant. As our reservation was rather early in the evening, the restaurant only had a small handful of people in there, though we were still “asked” to wait at the tiny reception area for a minute, for no apparent reason, before we were led to the table.

The menu contains a selection of small dishes, a bit like having tapas really. We were told that we could either order a la carte (in which case, we’d order about 3-4 dishes per person) or go for the 5-course or 10-course tasting menu. We decided to go for the 5-course menu, as I was still quite full after a heavy lunch earlier in the day.

The first course was Ajo Blanco with cherries and fine herbs: the white garlic gazpacho was creamy and a welcoming soup for a humid summer evening (it was the evening before New York City went for a complete shutdown due to hurricane Irene – so the outside was rather stuffy). The cherries gave a bit of extra sweetness to the taste of the soup.

Ajo Blanco, Cherries, Fine Herbs at Degustation, New York City

The next course was marinated sardines wrapped in nori and served with salmon roe – the thin slices of sardines were sandwiched between the seaweed and then deep-fried to a very beautiful crispy and light texture. This was probably the best dish in the whole meal.

Marinated Sardines, Nori, Salmon Roe at Degustation, New York City

The third course was sturgeon with vegetable caviar and sea beans – the vegetable caviar was essentially tapioca, which was nicely cooked. However the sturgeon was verging on the tough and dry side. While the taste was nice, the texture and presentation was a let-down.

Sturgeon, Vegetable Caviar, Sea Beans at Degustation, New York City

The fourth and last savoury course was flank steak on rye, sauerkraut and served with a spicy mustard – I was not keen on this dish at all.  The flank steak was cooked to a pastrami style: unfortunately it was rather tough and even with a good steak knife it was still a bit of an effort to cut through the meat. The spicy mustard had a very strong bold flavour – maybe a little too strong if more than just a little dab of it was used with the meat.

Flank Steak, Rye, Sauerkraut, Spicy Mustard at Degustation, New York City

There were two choices for the dessert: Caramelised Torija or a chocolate pudding with vanilla marshmallow and granary cracker. I was going to opt for the chocolate, but then they could not tell me what chocolate they used, so I thought to be on the safe side, I’d go for the former. It turned out to be a good choice – the torija was like a brioche-based bread and butter pudding, with a nice thin crust of caramelised sugar on top.

Caramelised Torija at Degustation, New York City

By the time we finished the meal, the restaurant was completely full and there were already customers on the second seating. It’s a nice cosy restaurant and a fun place to take a friend or two to for dinner. However, due to the layout, it’s probably not a good idea to go with more than 4 people as you can’t really have a conversation with everyone without shouting across. The waitress was friendly and very helpful in explaining some of the dishes.

If I didn’t have such a big lunch a few hours before, I’d probably have happily gone for the 10-course tasting menu. Ah well, there’s always next time!

Address:  239 East 5th Street, Manhattan, New York City, NY 10003 , United States
Telephone: +1 (212) 979 1012

Opening Hours: Daily: 12.00pm to 2.30pm; 7.00pm to 9.30pm

Food: 8/10
Ambience: 3/5
Service: 4/5
Total: 15/20 [Based on visit in  August 2011]

Paul Ainsworth at Number 6, Padstow, United Kingdom

How do you squeeze in a meal when your itinerary is already jam-packed and your stomach is not able to squeeze in another full meal? Well, this was the dilemma I had in Cornwall – I had the intention of going to Paul Ainsworth at Number 6 restaurant in 2010, but there was no way to fit it into the tight schedule. This year I had to try to find a slot to visit this place between the two dinners at Nathan Outlaw’s restaurant in Rock – doing a full lunch and then a proper dinner would push my stomach (and waistline) way past its limit, but a “light” lunch in Padstow would be a good compromise.

It was a very sunny and warm day in April – almost like mid-summer. Padstow was crowded, but as it’s not the height of the summer yet, it was still manageable (well, not the parking – the carpark was overflowing).

The restaurant had a bright casual feel to it, and I loved the decor, with its large mirror in one of the rooms. It might just as well be a comfortable surrounding that I could settle into – the task of choosing the dishes from the menu was hard. There were so many dishes which sounded so interesting that the difficulty was to narrow down to a manageable number of dishes – not so simple when even there were several starters that I wanted. The waiter was so helpful that he hinted that we could have ordered in whatever way we wanted from the menu, so the decision was then made: three starters to share between me and Russell: we’d have one each and then share the third.

I chose the sweetcorn soup with thyme and crabmeat tortellini – the soup was smooth and sweet, but I found that the sweetcorn taste overpowered the fresh flavour of the crabmeat. A shame really but it was nevertheless a well-executed dish. Russell had the Terras farm duck “Scotch eggs” with smoked mustard mayonnaise – while it tasted nice, the texture was a bit too crumbly for his liking. I had a mouthful of it and I agreed.



We then decided to share the third starter: St Enodoc asparagus with Serrano ham, parmesan, quail egg and salad. It was the season for the asparagus and the combination of the various ingredients, although verging on the somewhat predictable side, was well balanced.

Our original plan was to just have a light lunch of three starters, but with the dishes being so promising, we decided to go for a dessert also. Alas, another list to select from…. Difficult choice. So to go for the easy (but very greedy) option, we went for the “Taste of no. 6” dessert plate. We were expecting about 4-5 items on the plate, but when the plate arrived, we were (pleasantly) shocked by the size and selection. It consisted of a few items that I would have liked from the menu, such as pineapple tart tatin with thyme and coconut ice-cream, hot chocolate moelleux, espresso creme brulee with fairground doughnuts, rhubarb trifle etc. So much for a “light” lunch!

On the whole, it was a very enjoyable meal and I would certainly go back next time I am in Padstow. There’s some fine-tuning to do on the dishes to take it to the level of excellence, but the signs were promising. While most people would flock to one of Rick Stein’s eateries in Padstow, I’d be more happy to go to Paul Ainsworth at Number 6 for better food.

Address:  6 Middle Street, Padstow, Cornwall, PL28 8AP, United Kingdom

Telephone: +44 (0)1841 532 093

Opening Hours: 
From May to Sep: Tuesday-Sunday: 10:30-16:00, 18:00-22:00
From Oct to Apr: Tuesday-Sunday: 10:30-16:00, 19:00-22:00
Food: 7/10
Ambience: 4/5
Service: 4/5
Total: 15/20 [Based on visit in April 2011]

Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley, London, United Kingdom

April 27, 2011 Leave a comment

This is the first time I returned to this restaurant at the Berkeley Hotel since Marcus Wareing broke away from the Gordon Ramsay empire. Hailed as one of the best restaurants in London, and possibly the UK, I have been eager to re-visit this place in the post-Petrus era, to see what the fuss was about. The previous time when I visited Petrus, the restaurant only had one Michelin star, and in my review I thought the starter was good but then it went downhill from there. Therefore I was curious to see if that much has changed.

A few snacks were brought out to accompany the aperitif: squid fritters, foie gras with orange marmalade, and smoky tomato and olive spread with toasted bread. I’d never have thought of combining foie gras with marmalade but the combination worked well.

The amuse-bouche was a mushroom veloute with a truffle mousse on top. The presentation was very topical – it was the week when the volcanic ash from Iceland caused widespread disruption in Europe. The soup was smooth and rich in flavour – this was a promising start.

We ordered the Menu Prestige, which consisted the following dishes:

(1) Foie gras, rhubarb, muffin top, pink pepper, yogurt, thyme. Everyone seemed to be doing foie gras and rhubarb these days. The ingredients were so beautifully arranged that the whole dish looked like an artwork, and the different contrasts in flavour and richness worked well also.

(2) Dorset crab, mackerel, apple, chargrilled bread, hazelnut. The texture of the apple complemented well with the fish. The crab meat was firm though the portion was a bit on the small side.

(3) Quail, smoked white beans, toast foam. It’s not always easy to cook quail but this one came out tender and moist. The flavour of the quail blended in well with the strong smokey flavour of the white bean.

(4) Scottish scallop, celeriac, sorrel, lemon jam – the scallops were somewhat dry and overcooked, which was a real shame as this could have been an outstanding dish. The lemon jam was very sharp and tangy on its own, but it did give an extra dimension in flavour when mixed with the other ingredients.

(5) Cumbrian lamb, red pepper, artichokes, fennel, saffron, or Lakes District venison, smoke, beetroot, juniper. First the lamb – it was on the slightly dry and tough side, and the flavour was somewhat lacking. It was a bit like daily home-cooking – you’d eat the food but it’s not memorable. The venison was tender but the flavour was once again smokey. For a tasting menu, this was the fourth dish with such flavour – where’s the variety to showcase the chef’s ability? Or was Mr Wareing too enthusiastic about his food smoker?

(6) Pre dessert – this was a passion fruit mousse and a chocolate opera. This was beautifully presented – the contrast in colours and shapes was impressive, and they both tasted good too!

(7) Espresso arctic roll, bitter chocolate, blackberry – Maybe because the pre-dessert was so good, this was a let-down.

On the whole, the meal was not as good as I had hoped. Several dishes had the smokey flavour, which would have been fine if the menu was a “smokey menu” rather than a “tasting menu”, which I would expect a chef to showcase the different flavours he/she was capable of. The menu lacked some of the excitements and innovative ideas, and with the price it’s commanding, it felt more like it’s catering for the rich bankers’ expenses accounts. Just like the previous Petrus, the meal started off very promising and it gradually went downhill without recovery.

Address: The Berkeley, Wilton Place, Knightsbridge, London, SW1X 7RL, United Kingdom
Telephone: +44(0)20 7235 6000

Opening Hours: 
Monday to Friday: Lunch    12.00 – 14.30 ; Dinner 18.00 – 23.00
Saturday: Dinner 18.00 – 23.00

Food: 7/10
Ambience: 4/5
Service: 4/5
Total: 15/20 [Based on visit in April 2010]

Galvin at Windows, London, United Kingdom

April 27, 2011 Leave a comment

I usually try to resist going to a restaurant which is at the top of a tall building and offers panoramic views. Often the quality of the food had to be compensated by the view. However, a few friends have recommended Galvins at Windows and so I thought I’d give it a try. I went there on the Friday when Pope Benedict happened to be visiting London, and so it was a real nightmare trying to find parking in Mayfair that evening because all the on-street parking spaces were suspended. So I ended up paying a fortune for the parking at Park Lane Hilton – thanks Ben!

The restaurant was very busy that evening – it was a fine September evening, when the sky was clear and there was an excellent view of London.

Ordering the aperitif was hard work – the staff was obviously so busy trying to serve all the tables and I nearly stood up and went to the bar to serve myself. So that was not a promising start.

For food, this was what I had:

Starter: Seared Scottish Scallop, cuttlefish, chorizo & “paella”. The scallops were overcooked, which was unfortunate. However, the dish was full of flavour and the rest of the ingredients were delicious.

Main: South Coast John Dory, oranmge braised endive, cauliflower puree, curry oil & golden raisins. This was a very impressive dish – the presentation was beautiful, the fragrance of the curry oil rose to the nose and just made me want to eat it straight away. The melange of flavours worked well also.

Dessert: Hot soufflé of banana, chocolate & caramelised peanut – I was looking forward to this dessert. However it was somewhat disappointing for me. While all the flavours were there, the hardness of the peanuts did not compliment well with the softness of the souffle, and the whole thing came out a bit dry.

In conclusion, it was not a bad dinner. The main course was memorable and it was worth the visit, but I’d rather like to forget about the dessert.

Address: 22 Park Lane, London, W1K 1BE, United Kingdom
Telephone:  +44 (0)20 7208 4021

Opening Hours: Lunch: Monday-Friday 12.00 – 14.30 , Saturday closed , Sunday 11.45 – 15.00 ; Dinner: Monday-Wednesday 18.00 – 22.30 , Thursday – Saturday 18.00 – 23.00 , Sunday closed

Food: 8/10
Ambience: 4/5
Service: 3/5
Total: 15/20 [Based on visit in September 2010]