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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]

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Ye Shanghai, Shanghai, China

February 12, 2012 Leave a comment

Shanghai has changed a lot over the years, and with the rise of the new wealth and the hunger for good food, there have been a lot of new exciting restaurants cropping up all over this metropolis. The area of Xintiandi, which did not even exist at the turn of the millenium, has become an affluent area for dining and entertainment in Shanghai. The pedestrianised area with the Shikumen architectural style represents one of the most successful redevelopment models.

While Ye Shanghai is a modern Shanghainese restaurant in Xintiandi, the name of the restaurant comes from a classic Chinese song from the 1930’s by the Shanghainese singer/actress Zhou Xuan, and the restaurant oozes the decadance of the fashionable Shanghai in the 1920’s/1930’s. In the evenings there’s a pianist playing music in the background.

It’s one of the restaurants that has been on my radar for a long time, and so I just had to check out this restaurant while I was in Shanghai. In fact, I ended up there twice in one month, so here’s an account on both visits:

  

Visit 1: 15 January 2012

The menu was quite extensive but one dish caught my eye straigh away: “Pot Pourri of 18 vegetables” – I could not possibly identify all 18 vegetables but certainly had cucumber, celery, yellow and red peppers and carrots. I was not even sure if there really were 18 different vegetables. However the dish had a nice refreshing dressing to go with it. Then I spotted Xiao Long Bao on the menu, and the crab meat and pork ones were supposed to be the specialty at Ye Shanghai, so I had no choice but to order that also. They were delicious with the pastry holding a generous amount of soup without any problems, and the pastry was not thick either. The soup base  did not leave a greasy flavour in the mouth afterwards – an absolute joy to eat.

 

For the next few courses, we had Crispy rice with chicken, prawns and mushrooms – this was a bit more bland than I expected, but nevertheless the dish was well cooked; Tianjin cabbage with Jinhua ham which was one of my favourite dishes anyway and my only complaint was that there was  just not enough ham (but there never would be); Dongpo Pork was delicious with a rich sweet soya sauce – the sauce was so nice that I could do with mantou (Chinese steamed buns) to soak up all the gravy, but it’s a shame that they didn’t do mantou.

  

For dessert, we ordered the Mango Pudding and the Ye Shanghai Steamed Black Sesame Rice-flavoured Cake. The latter looked like a piece of rich chocolate cake, but it was very sticky and gooey, and not a rich flavour at all – in fact it had a delicate flavour of black sesame (a bit like black sesame soup, but smoother), although it was not easy to take the two pieces fo cakes out from the steam basket because of how sticky and wobbly they were.

 

The meal was outstanding – easily one of the best meals I had in Shanghai. The food would have easily scored 9/10.

Visit 2 – 29 January 2012

Originally there was not going to be a second visit so soon, but many restaurants were in shutdown mode during Chinese New Year, even in a big city like Shanghai. The original plan of dining at 1221 did not materialise as it was closed, so in the end we decided to go to Ye Shanghai once again, especially because after the first meal we were curious about some of the other dishes. As it was our last meal in Shanghai before heading back to London, we decided to go with the classic Chinese dishes that we liked.

We ordered the Crab Roe Xiao Long Bao – while each dumpling consisted of a generous amount of soup, the flavour of the crab roe was somewhat lacking and, in my opinion, not as good as Nanxiang.

The Peking Duck came in two courses. The first course was the traditional duck skin with pancakes, and then the second course was stir-fried duck meat with lettuce. For the first course, instead of leaving everything for us to assemble, the waitress prepared the pancakes with the duck skin, scallion, cucumber and carrots for us. Nice thought but it took away part of the fun really. Also there was not enough duck but too much accompaniments, and the pancakes were a bit too thick also. For the second course of stir-fried duck meat with lettuce – the stir-fry was a bit more gooey than expected but that actually made the meat less likely to fall out from the lettuce – the flavour wasn’t quite even across the dish, so for certain mouthful the flavour of the duck was lacking.

  

We also ordered Stir-fried River Prawns, a classic dish that sounded and looked simple to do, but in fact really was a test of the cooking – it was a light refreshing dish, without the cornstarch paste taste that some incompetent restaurants would end up with. We also ordered Shanghai Stir-fried Rice Cakes, which was cooked with pork and vegetables – the dish was OK, nothing to write home about really. However the texture of the rice cake was not as nice as Restaurant 1931’s rice cake.

 

For the desserts, Russell chose the Mango Sago Cream with Pomelo while I had Glutinous Rice Balls with Osmanthus. Not being a fan of Russell’s dessert, I had a mouthful and it was actually much better than I expected – there was a nice balance of mango and pomelo flavours. For the rice balls, there was a generous amount, and the osmanthus gave the dish a more refined taste. Both were nicer than the desserts from the previous visit.

 

The food at this second visit was somewhat less impressive than the first one, with the Peking duck being a real let-down. But then this is a Shanghainese restaurant and so I should not expect Peking duck to match Dadong or even Quanjude.

This restaurant is a top choice for a nice meal with friends or with business colleagues – beautiful decor and professional service. There is a mixture of classic and modern Chinese dishes to choose from. Definitely a place for me to go back again next time I am in Shanghai.


Address: 338 Huang Pi Nan Road, Xintiandi, Shanghai, China
Telephone: +86 (21) 6311 2323
Website: www.elite-concepts.com/eatplusdrink.php?id=20

Opening Hours: Daily: Lunch 11:30am – 2:30pm ; Dinner 5:30pm – 10:30pm

Food: 8/10
Ambience: 5/5
Service: 5/5
Total: 18/20 [Based on 2 visits in January 2012]

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]

Le Champignon Sauvage, Cheltenham, United Kingdom

April 27, 2011 Leave a comment

I have wanted to go to Le Champignon Sauvage for quite a while but never found a good reason to head towards Cheltenham for a visit. In March 2010 I have finally made it there during my gourmet tour round South-West England.

Le Champignon Sauvage is one of those restaurants that does not rely on the media for publicity. As far as I know, the chef, David Everitt-Matthias, has not appeared on television for promotion (and if he has, then he has only rarely been on) and he does work in the kitchen every day. So the restaurant really has to rely on the quality of the food to attract and retain customers. His wife, Helen, looks after the front of house service.

As we entered the restaurant, we were already warmly greeted by the staff. The bar area was relatively small, and so we decided to head straight to the table. The restaurant decor was simple and pleasing to the eyes – some of the bolder colours were dotted around the restaurant, and they were not intrusive. This was a good indication on the food – some bold uses of flavours but they worked well with all other ingredients that were pleasing to the palate.

For starter, I had roasted native lobster with miso glaze, risotto of oat groats, onion and orange, spiced bread – this was an outstanding dish, with the right amount of miso without overpowering the other delicate flavours. There was a generous amount of lobster, and the meat was moist and delicious.

Originally I was going to have “Fillet of cod, squid ink risotto, seared squid and belly pork” as the main course, but when I ordered this, Helen quickly pointed out that my starter was already a risotto-based dish, and I might want to consider something else because there’s risotto in my choice of main course and it might be a bit heavy. This was much appreciated – some restaurants would not have bothered pointing this out and I was just so impressed that Helen had this level of attention to details. So instead, I opted for the red-legged partridge, turnip choucroute, turnip and verjus puree. I was not a fan of partridge, turnip nor choucroute, but this was nicely cooked and well-presented.

For dessert, I chose the coconut macaroon, iced coconut milk and lotus seed ice-cream. I was expecting the dainty French macaroon for some reasons, but it turned out to be of the British kind. I usually can’t stand desicated coconuts, and the macaroon was full of the stuff, but I still managed to clear the whole plate. The sweetness of the coconut macaroon complimented well with the relative blandness of the ice-cream, but the textures worked well together also.

To round off an excellent meal, we were presented with a colourful plate of petit fours. We were so full that we could hardly finish all of them, but then it would be a crime to leave any on the plate!

On the whole, I was very impressed with this restaurant, with excellent food and flawless service. Certainly one I would be happy to go back to.

Address: 24-26 Suffolk Road, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, GL50 2AQ, United Kingdom
Telephone: +44 (0)1242 573449
Website: www.lechampignonsauvage.co.uk/

Opening Hours: Tuesday-Saturday 12.30 – 1.15pm (last order: 1.30pm) ; 7.30 – 8.30pm (last order: 8.45pm)

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

Nathan Outlaw Restaurant, Rock, United Kingdom

April 27, 2011 2 comments

It was Nathan Outlaw’s restaurant in Fowey that finished off my Cornwall gourmet trip on a high in 2009, and so in 2010 I have once again chosen Nathan for the grande finale of this year’s SW England foodie tour with my friends Darcy and Bob from the US. I felt this was an appropriate choice given that Darcy was a lover of seafood, and I knew that I couldn’t go far wrong with Nathan with his forte in seafood cooking and his use of local produce – being by the sea really helps!

As the Marina Villa hotel in Fowey was sold off, once again Nathan had to find a new venue to move to. He already has the Seafood & Grill at St Enodoc Hotel in Rock since middle of 2009, so it’s a natural choice to move his flagship restaurant to the same place. For those who are not familiar with the geography of SW England, Rock is in North Cornwall and is located on the opposite side of the Camel Estuary to Padstow. It’s a tough place to be competing with Rick Stein’s well-known seafood empire which dominates Padstow.

The restaurant in Rock had only opened for about 4 weeks when we visited, so certain things still needed to be ironed out, even though most of the staff followed Nathan’s footstep from Fowey to Rock. The sommelier might not be completely familiar with his wines, but he was certainly knowledgeable, and recommended a very nice bottle of Austrian white wine, after I set out the rules of “no Chablis, no Riesling” for the evening. He was even prepared to open a new bottle to let us try a bit first, as I am not a fan of Austrian wine generally – but this was a clever move for him as the wine was light and refreshing, and so we ended up with the bottle to go with the meal.

As it’s the final evening of a week-long gourmet trip and we had a whole day of travelling around sightseeing, we were all too tired to decide what to eat in the a la carte menu, and so we chose the easy way out and opted for the tasting menu.

The first dish that was presented to the table was Smoked Mackerel with pickled vegetables, olive bread and smoked salt. It was beautifully presented (as you can see below). Taste-wise the verdict was mixed – I thought it was good but Russell did not enjoy it too much, but then he was not a fan of mackerel anyway.

The first 3 courses were all fish – it’s a showcase of Nathan’s skills in cooking seafood:

(1) Lemon Sole, with caper potato dumplings and parsley sauce

(2) Brill, with angels on horseback, seaweed and squash

(3) Bream, mussels and saffron with olives and tarragon

It’s hard to find too many faults with these dishes. The only (slightly) negative comment at the table seemed to be on the brill which was slightly on the dry side and overcooked.

The next course was still around the seafood-theme:

(4) Scallops, with hogs pudding, Jerusalem artichoke and apple. When we finished this course, the staff asked how it was – We all agreed that this was one of the best dishes we had during the trip, as the scallops were very fresh and perfectly cooked. The other ingredients complemented the scallops really well, with no one single ingredient dominating the overall flavour. We were told that the scallops just came in on the day and were only delivered at 4pm.

After four courses of seafood, the next course was a meat course:

(5) Venison, chicory tart with hazelnuts, parsnips and thyme. Nearly every restaurant we went to on this trip featured venison on the menu. This one might not be the best, but then it was very good, with the meat not too dry or overcooked.

There were 2 desserts that followed:

(6) Stem Ginger Cheesecake, with poached rhubarb and ginger ice-cream

(7) Almond Financier, blood orange and pistachio with yoghurt sorbet

I must admit that I shivered when I saw “ginger cheesecake” and “ginger ice-cream” in one dish – although I love using ginger in cooking savoury food, I am not a fan of ginger biscuits or in desserts. One of the indicators of a great chef (as opposed to a good chef) for me is that he/she can make me enjoy a dish full of ingredients I don’t like. With this ginger cheesecake from Nathan, while I can’t say that I would go back and choose this dessert specifically, I could quite happily eat another one if I had to. So that’s nearly a total success!

The desserts were nice, but lacked that certain edge that made the dishes unforgettable, like the ones I had in Fowey.

It’s probably a bit unfair to try to compare the restaurant at Fowey against the current setting in Rock. After all, the Fowey restaurant had an absolutely stunning unobstructed view – sitting halfway up the hill looking out to the Fowey estuary. The blinds were closed in the restaurant at Rock, but I didn’t expect the view to be anywhere as good. The service was friendly and informal, though some details still needed to be worked on – but this was to be expected given the early days of this venue and certain aspects still needed to be ironed out. In terms of food, the quality was still as good – fresh produce, nicely cooked. However, it lacked the excitement and the “wow” factor at Fowey – Nathan explained that this was due to the smaller number of staff in the kitchen and that limited what he could achieve. This was compensated by the scallops dish at Rock – the dish was so good that everyone at our table agreed that it would be one of our top 10 dishes to die for!

Certainly a restaurant I would look forward to returning to in the near future – in the meantime, the only thing I could do was to tell friends and colleagues heading down to Cornwall to forget about going to Padstow for seafood at one of Rick Stein’s eateries; instead, consider heading to Rock instead for an outstanding dinner at Nathan Outlaw’s.

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

Restaurant John Campbell at Coworth Park, Ascot, United Kingdom

April 27, 2011 1 comment

One of the main gourmet anticipations for me in 2010 was a visit to John Campbell’s new restaurant at Coworth Park. Since early summer 2010, I had been monitoring the opening date for the hotel and restaurant. It finally opened in September 2010, and since I was planning on a gourmet holiday in November with Darcy and Bob (who were mad enough to fly over to the UK the second time in one year to go on a UK gourmet holiday), I ended up booking a table for November to go there with them.

Calling the reservation was a bit of a chaotic affair when I rang towards end of September, but then it could be forgiven when it’s only just opened for a few weeks (though on the other hand, this would not really be a good excuse when it’s part of the Dorchester group). Still, I managed to secure a table on the date I wanted without any problem – obviously this place was still not on many people’s radars.

When we arrived, the staff were efficient and very welcoming – a good sign. We chose to go straight into the dining room and sip champagne there. To go with the aperitif, we got served Crisps with Tomato and Garlic Dips / Pork Crackling

There were simply way too many dishes we wanted to have on the a la carte menu, and so in the end we chose to go for the tasting menu. There were the non-vegetarian tasting menu as well as the vegetarian tasting menu – you’d think it would be easy to decide with just these two choices, but it’s tough. So in the end Darcy chose the vegetarian menu, while Bob and I went for the carnivore version!

1st course: Parsnip Soup, with Oxtail and Purple Cauliflower – the vegetarian version had the oxtail omitted. This opening dish was delicate and flavourful.

2nd course: Pilchard with Tomato Jam, Lettuce and Tapenade – Not being a fan of pilchard, this dish was out of the world deliciously good, and Bob was speechless as he enjoyed it so much too. For Darcy, the only word she managed to utter on her Aubergine with Cheese Sauce & Chutney was “wow”!

3rd course: Pigeon with Pumpkin & Apple – we thought the last dish was good, but this one was even better. The meat was very tender and bursting with flavour. By the end of this course for Darcy (Beetroot with Salad, Potato & Goats Cheese), she had already decided that this was the best vegetarian menu she’s ever experienced.

4th course: Dried Tuna with Olive Oil, Beetroot & Watercress – This dish sounded so interesting that Darcy actually requested to forego her vegetarian dish and replace it with the tuna also. Perhaps we were expecting too much, so unlike the previous dishes, this was the first dish which we would refuse a second plate even if we were offered another plate of the same food.

5th course: Foie Gras with Muscat, Pecan & Parmesan – the fig and foie gras combination worked really well, though I found the foie gras slightly overcooked – Bob disagreed as his was perfect, and he liked the contrast of the hot and cold flavours in the dish. The presentation of Darcy’s Carrot with Galangal Ginger & Pinenuts was absolutely beautiful, though it looked better than it tasted – that’s not the say that it’s not a good dish as it was cooked just right. It would be very difficult to beat the contrast of such vibrant colours in one dish.

6th course: Pork, roasted with Bacon and Sage – the pork on its own would have been a bit too dry, however when it was combined with the black pudding and swede mash, this added the need moisture and the dish worked like magic. The vegetarian Palm Heart with Chilli & Noodles did not seem to excite Darcy’s tastebud – her description of the dish was “forgettable”, with the noodles being a bit on the gooey side. The other ingredients on the plate was nice enough to save the dish.

7th course: Bramley Apple & Sage – as this dish contained alcohol, Bob had the alternative Mango Sorbet & Cucumber Soup which was refreshing and he said it resembled a tonic and he felt so healthy eating it. For the apple and sage, Darcy and I were pleasantly surprised by how simple ingredients could have made this into a great dish: the smooth silkiness of the apple puree blended nicely with the sage and vanilla. The dish was so full of flavour, and the texture was elevated with a sprinkling of biscuit crumbs.

8th course: Chocolate Bar with Beer ice-cream & Lime / Chocolate Bar (non-alcoholic version). Some chefs tend to go a bit heavy-handed when it comes to chocolate dessert, but not at John Campbell’s. The intensity of the chocolate was perfect. We all agreed that we would quite happily have this dish again.

After dinner, we opted to go to the drawing room for our coffee and petit fours. There was a draught where I sat and so it was not as comfortable as I would have liked, but the petit fours took my mind off that quite quickly.

On the whole, this was a very nice restaurant and the price was very reasonable for this high standard. However, I suspect that when the awards start flooding in in the near future and more people are aware of this place, the price will go up and the reservation will become more of a nightmare. We were certainly glad to have gone there, and we would happily return for another meal.

Address: Coworth Park, Blacknest Road, Ascot, Berkshire SL5 7SE, United Kingdom
Telephone:  +44 (0)1344 876 600
Website: http://www.coworthpark.com

Opening Hours:
Monday – Friday: 7:00am – 10:00am, 12:00pm – 2:00pm, 6:30pm – 9:30pm
Weekends & Bank Holidays: 8:00am – 10:30am, 12:00pm – 2:30pm, 6:30pm – 9:30pm

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