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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]

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]

Six Michelin Stars (and more) in one meal

I was in Hong Kong for a short 4-day visit in March 2011. On the Saturday evening, my cousin Raymond asked me when I could have dinner with him, and I said that I would be leaving the city on Monday night. He’s well into good food also, and he said “right, let’s do both Lung King Heen and Caprice for lunch on Monday then!” I said “yeah right, it’s as if we could do these two three-Michelin-starred restaurants on the same day, let alone just securing table for one of the two.”

Somehow he managed to do this, and so on the day I was returning to London, I had the rare opportunity to eat at two top restaurants in one meal, without leaving the building as both restaurants were housed in the top Four Seasons Hotel in Hong Kong.

I met up with Raymond and his wife Judy at Lung King Heen, where we started the first part of the lunch with dim sum. This was the first Hong Kong Chinese restaurant to be awarded 3 Michelin stars. It had an absolutely unbeatable view of the Hong Kong harbour.

The first two steamed dim sum dumplings were steamed shrimp dumpling with morel mushroom, and steamed lobster and scallop dumpling. Both were exquisite and stuffed with a generous amount of ingredients that tasted pretty nice.

The next dim sum was baked whole abalone puff with diced chicken – the abalone was tender enough and topped with a rich glaze. And extra marks for not having soggy pastry.

We then sampled the soup, which was superior chicken broth with shredded chicken – it was very rich in chicken flavour.

Before we left the first three Michelin stars behind, we tried the chilled coffee pudding layers – it was a twist to the traditional layered coconut pudding, with the use of coffee. It looked more interesting than it tasted – somehow I did not think that the coffee worked well in this.

By this point I was nearly full, but we had to go up two floors to Caprice – the other three-Michelin-starred restaurant in the hotel. I was not prepared to have a full-blown three-course meal, so I asked the restaurant manager to recommend his favourite dish. He said that the langoustine ravioli with veal sweetbreads and wild mushrooms in shellfish bisque emulsion. It was rich in flavour but the langoustine was on the slightly chewy side. The dish was well-executed but lacked any form of excitement.

My cousin Judy had Tourteau crab tiramisu with fruity marinade and tandoori spices – the dish looked colourful and playful, and it was very refreshing with the various ingredients. Contrasted with the rich langoustine ravioli which would be more suited to the cold weather, this dish was more in line with the hot weather and the stuffiness of the city of Hong Kong.

I wasn’t going to have a dessert but Judy and Raymond insisted that I tried the Napolean cake, which was millefeuilles with raspberries. Again while there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with it, there was nothing memorable.

 

I found the noise level at Caprice a bit too much for a restaurant of this calibre – whether it’s due to the open-kitchen design or the rushing around of the staff (apparently because of the hectic life in Hong Kong, there’s a rule at Caprice that they must be able to serve a 3-course lunch in an hour to allow the customers to get back to work, though there’s nothing stopping you having a slow lunch).

And if you would have thought that this would be the end of a crazy lunch. No! Raymond then decided that he wanted to show me the next hottest spot in Hong Kong, so he took me to a new Japanese restaurant called Sushi Ta-Ke in Causeway Bay. The restaurant was a collaboration with the famous sushi chef Sugiyama in Tokyo, and the raw fish was flown from Japan daily. We tried a few dishes, including sweet shrimp, sea urchin, clam, tuna tendon – all very fresh and tasty.

   

While we were just going to have a little bit of sushi to sample, Raymond once again insisted that I needed to try the Wagyu beef. It was tender and tasty enough.

By the time we finished this third restaurant at lunchtime, it was already past 3pm. I had to go for a stroll to walk off some of the food, before heading back to the hotel to collect my luggage and then headed to the IFC mall in Central for dinner at 7pm. It was at the one-Michelin-starred Lei Garden. The restaurant was busy and somewhat disorganised – in fact to the point where I was wondering how it managed even a single Michelin star? The service was chaotic: there was a steamed aubergine dish that obviously dried up before the aubergine was even cooked (we complained, and we got a much improved replacement); and then we asked for some rice at least three times and still none appeared. Avoid.

So it was either 6 Michelin stars in one lunchtime meal, or 7 Michelin stars in one day…. Either way, it was a fun thing to do though I would not have wanted to do it again, especially just before a 13-hour long-haul flight to London. One definite advantage was that I did not have to suffer any in-flight meals. Would I go back to the restaurants? Well, I would go back to Lung King Heen – whether the three stars are equivalent to ones in the Western world is debatable. For Caprice, there’s no reason for me to go back. Sushi Ta-Ke would be interesting to go back for a proper meal and sample their cooked dishes. As for Lei Garden, they won’t see me again which is a shame as it’s so convenient for the airport express train and it could have easily become a restaurant to serve my pre-flight dinner in Hong Kong!

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]

Northcote, Langho, United Kingdom

June 12, 2011 1 comment

After a whole day sightseeing around the Lake District and then a longer-than-expected drive on the motorway, I was looking forward to a quiet evening at Northcote, another stop on the gourmet trip in the north of England.

It was a cold and busy Friday evening, and the hotel was bustling. As usual, Darcy, Bob, Russell and I got to our drill of sipping champagne before dinner. With all the travelling during the day, we were quite hungry by the time we made our way to the dining room (despite having a large number of scones for cream tea at Sharrow Bay in Ullswater.

The amuse bouche was goat cheese mousse with beetroot ice-cream and rocket. It was a good balance of flavours in the goat cheese and beetroot, however there was probably a little too much goat cheese but not enough beetroot.

The first course was shavings of Radholme wild duckling, smoked foie gras snow, pomegranate, black pudding crumble and watercress. The toast that came with this dish was burnt and actually was a bit pointless (or did none of us get the concept?) – after all it’s not a parfait or terrine or foie gras. The foie gras snow was non-existent in taste – we would not know what the dusting was if it’s not explicitly mentioned on the menu. The duck slices had a delicious flavour but it was a little too cold. The pomegranite worked well and was bursting with flavour that complemented well with the duck. A few more salad leaves would also be more welcoming.


The second course was roast halibut, Shorrocks Lancashire cheese fondue, streaky bacon, tempura Ascroft’s cauliflower. it was a shame that the fish was way too overcooked, resulting in a rather dry texture – other than that, the tempura and bacon worked well with the fish.

The celeriac consommé (with partridge turnover and sage) had an intense sweet flavour, though this was somewhat spoilt by the soggy pastry on the partridge turnover. The partridge meat was a little dry also.

The main course  was butter puff pastry wrapped Cockerham goat, cultivated mushrooms, Jerusalem artichokes, savoy cabbage. This was a rather heavy dish: after the last course with the pastry, I thought it was a bit repetitive to have another dish with yet more pastry; and the goat meat and battered vegetables just added to the stodginess of this dish. We all felt rather unhealthy after this main course.

The dessert was quince, chestnut and praline trifle, with sky dancer beer choc ice. The choc ice was so cold and hard that I was worried about cutting into it and then part of it would fly off the wood block and hit someone like a bullet. The choc ice probably came straight out of the freezer and put onto the wood block and served straight away; but it could have been better if it’s left to warm up for a few minutes. I loved the trifle – the quince jelly would have been very bitter on its own but it worked wonders with the rest of the trifle, though I somehow missed any bits of praline that was supposed to be in it?!

The meal was somewhat disappointing – the dining room was a bit stuffy and noisy, and the meal was not as good as expected. Was it just below average because its a busy night? I wasn’t sure.

Address:  Northcote Road, Langho, Blackburn, Lancashire,  BB6 8BE, United Kingdom
Telephone: +44 (0)1254 240555
Website: http://www.northcote.com/
Opening Hours: Lunch: Monday to Saturday: 12:00 – 13:30, Sunday: 12:00-14:00 ; Dinner: Monday to Friday: 19:00-21:30, Saturday 18:30-22:00, Sunday 19:00-21:00

Food: 7/10
Ambience: 3/5
Service: 3/5
Total: 13/20 [Based on visit in November 2010]