Archive for May, 2010

The Greenhouse

May 15, 2010

27a Hays Mews, Mayfair, London

I’m lucky to have a few friends who share my culinary enthusiasms. Being back in the UK allows me to catch up with them as well as clearly narrowing down our options for where we’re going to meet.

I arranged to meet up with Sean and he kindly offers to take me for lunch at The Greenhouse. It’s a restaurant with a significant gastronomic reputation, but a relatively low profile in the media. I suspect this is because it’s the kind of sleek place generally patroned by hedge fund managers & captains of industry. I of course fit right in….

Our initial expectations are not great with a momentarily jarring of personalities with our maitre D. But that aside, a very good meal begins to unfurl and we begin to relax with a glass of champagne, an obligatory cube of foie gras and a kind of crab roll.

We of course opt for the tasting menu which reads as well as any I can remember – a procession of favourites.

With no mucking around we begin with Simmental beef tartare  with pickled kohlrabi & black truffle. Most places would ease you into a meal with a selection of dainty amuses, but this is big, ballsy and brilliant. Beef & truffles are a winning combination with the kohlrabi providing a bland crunch against the richness of the other ingredients. It goes down extremely well making us feel very buoyant.

Next up is Scottish scallop with creamed morels, grated cumbawa lime and tarragon. It can’t live up to the high of the first course and one (although sizeable) scallop on a plate is always a little disappointing. But it’s very well cooked and again a good balance of flavours with the addition of pear.

Getting back firmly on track we are served steamed brill and prawn with pork consommé, shellfish and seashore salad. It’s a beautiful dish, elegant and satisfying (that will be the pork). Although poached and still in hot liquor the brill is cooked perfectly. The course itself seems to follow a trend of creating dishes which reflect the sea and the plating is very reminiscent of this. It’s memorable.

Continuing the theme of indulgent ingredients next up is pan-fried duck foie gras with rhubarb fondant and beetroot. It’s again a dish of sweet & rich flavours well executed.

It’s at this point I should mention the sommelier who was matching our courses with wines by the glass. He was an Australian in his early twenties and while our servers were a little formal, he was engaging, enthusiastic and taking the time & effort to produce memorable tastes & combinations. He made the meal. If I recall for the foie gras course we had a very youthful sweet red which he confided is extremely popular amongst Austrian adolescents. Very amusing.

Our main course was fillet of grain-fed Aubrac veal celeriac purée, wild sorrel, hazelnuts, liquorice jus. A beautiful tender cut of meat, with a soft richness. Again a good contrast of textures and it was consumed with many appreciative nods.

Moving onto dessert we had Banana and passion sorbet coconut espuma. A fine mini-dessert. Often you get a mickey-mouse fruit course which is just a touch girly and underwhelming. This stayed on the right side of that line, hiding any reference to fruit and maintaining the momentum of the meal.

Our final dish was a deconstructed Snickers bar with chocolate, salted caramel and peanuts. ‘Everyone’ likes Snickers and this was good and satisfying. I’ve already mentioned my love for a bit of salt in my pud and every part of this dish worked well together.

It then occured to us that something was missing. That niggling feeling revealed itself to be the cheese board. Lunch would not be complete without it. It was a fine selection of french cheeses to choose from and of course went down well with another glass of red.

With petit fours & a cheeky eau-de-vie our thoroughly enjoyable lunch came to end – about four hours of good food and good conversation. It was also a tasting menu which did not overwhelm, but was  nicely balanced.

I do like this restaurant. The cooking is very competent with refinement, but not too fussy. The room itself has quite a clubby feel, though with a lightness of touch with greens & cream. I’m not sure it’s a place for a highly social evening (if you know what I mean), but it’s a perfectly civilized to forget about the outside world for a while.


The Sportsman

May 9, 2010

Faversham Road, Whitstable, UK

I’ve been in the UK for a couple of weeks, back seeing friends & family as well as revisiting a number of good restaurants I hadn’t returned to since I started blogging.

Top of the list was The Sportsman, a michelin starred pub in an almost desolate part of the country a few miles from Whitstable on the Kent coast. I’d been here in January 2009 and had one of my most enjoyable meals. I had to return, booking it 3 months prior.

This time I dragged my wife & a couple of good friends along for the 2 hour trip out of London just to have lunch. I know it seems a little too much effort to go to for a meal, but there a some restaurants which reward this endeavor. The Sportsman is one.

If you book far enough ahead, you can pre-order the tasting menu which at £55 represents one of the best dining bargains you will find, as you will see. It did however require us to arrive for 12pm, so after an early start and a quick stroll around the groynes we settled down for our gastro-tour from a chef who takes inspiration from the finest dining around the world while keeping his cooking as local as possible.

We start with a fresh asparagus with cream cheese tartlet. It serves to freshen the palate and is as simple as it comes. It whets the appetite.

The expectations are risen with an oyster with apple dressing & a morsel of home cured ham, beautifully served on a bed of cockle shells. It’s a pleasant if unusual dish that shows great care and thought. I’m not sure it’s my favourite preparation, but it’s thought provoking in terms of balance of flavours.

The famous nibble board follows with mackerel and apple ‘cube’ which is a great, but everyone’s really interested in the pork scratchings which is quintessential pub food. It is not a food people like to admit to loving, especially the ladies, but people don’t really want to share them or go without their share. They rock.

From the essence of pub cuisine we get a beautiful & memorable dish of oyster baked in cream with rhubarb granite. It’s smooth, rich, sweet and briney.

The bread course follows with home-made focaccia, wheat-germ & a country loaf. They are served with homemade butter (of course) and fish roe. It’s a dish where restraint is required especially with the impending courses. I mostly limit myself to the herby and oily focaccia. My friend Jack on the other hand clings on to the fish roe for dear life and would not let go before it was finished.

The first course now arrives and it’s a tremendous crab risotto. On my previous visit this dish was unavailable and it was the only thing that dampened a great experience. The wait was worth it. I’m a sucker for all things crab and this dish had a depth of flavour you rarely come across. A desert island dish if ever there was one.

A meat course followed – smoked wigeon with quince & puy lentils. Smoky, tender and a flavour that only comes from being well hung. It again did not disappoint.

We were then able to reflect properly on the home cured ham on our next course. I’ll resist more superlatives, but it was rather good and again demonstrated the effort that Stephen Harris puts into his craft and the home grown culture he cultivates.

The next dish was the highlight of the meal for me – braised brill with vin jaun, cabbage and a bad-ass piece of smoked pork. The fish was delicate – edible with a spoon, with the cabbage providing a good bit of bite.

Still the food kept coming. A stalwart of the menu is deep fried breast of lamb served with mint sauce. It’s a pretty unprepossessing cut of meat here turned into a delightful bite. It was much enjoyed.

The savory menu came to end with a rack & shoulder of Monkshill lamb served with my wife’s favourite – Gratin Dauphinoise (my wife would insist on the capital letters). You could see the lamb themselves out of the window in the fields. People talk about reducing food miles and it doesn’t seem to be done any better. It goes without saying that the dish was excellent. It was the details that made the difference with crisp skin (under-rated on lamb) & a meaty jus.

We looked forward to the procession of desserts with a sense of wariness found amongst the full.

1) Chocolate pudding mixture with an orange lolly – It took you back to being a kid again; not be able to wait for a cake to be baked.

2) The wobbliest of custard tarts with a rhubarb compote – it was incredibly silky, excellent flaky pastry and a nice hit of nutmeg. Despite being full, it demanded to be finished.

3) The final assault was the dessert tray

– rhubarb sorbet (or sorts) with space dust

– cream cheese dessert (can’t remember the name, but was indulgently good)

– the obligatory chocolate mousse

– shortbread

And so our meal came to an end with mixed emotions. We were relieved since we were beaten by the quantity of food (all believing we’d never eat again). But the quality and ethos of the cooking will create fond memories for time to come.

There is great generosity in the food – the little extras and the sheer quality of what’s delivered. The chef comes out and explains the dishes with a smile and enthusiasm that you surprisingly don’t often see. It’s hard not to also be enthused in this relaxed environment.

Clearly I’m a fan of this place and although it’s a trek, it’s a place you simply have to visit.