Wishing you 新年快乐 狗年吉祥 一帆风顺 for CNY 2018. Hope you guys are still enjoying yourselves.
This year, it is with great pleasure that I report on an exciting new find; one which, in my opinion, contends with the best Cantonese siu lap, that London has to offer. It isn’t a high end HK import with a monster financial backers, nor is it Alan Yau re-inventing Hakkasan under a new name. This instead is a tiny operation set up by an English chef with a classical background, with a fondness for roast meats and now cooks his passion inside a repurposed shipping container in Pop Brixton.
Oli Brown is the man, with a CV that includes cooking for the esteemed Rowley Leigh at Le Cafe Anglais, and latterly as Head Chef for The Continental in Hong Kong (consulted by Leigh at the time). He was out there for a couple of years, cooking classic food in his day job, but had made full use of his free time out there to sample HK’s mighty siu lap scene. Alan Poon runs FOH, with stints in Nobu London, and perhaps most significantly, he is indeed connected to Poons, his family restaurant, itself I read is getting a reboot by another member of the family, Amy Poon.
In a certain sense, Oli is ‘self-taught’ in Chinese cooking, specifically siu lap. A bold career move to challenge a cooking style that is so rooted with tradition, secret and competition. Put another way, he’s adapted his classical training in his approach to a (modern) dai pai tong. With many things made from scratch in-house, a few of his own twists on classic dishes and an emphasis on product quality. Meats are sourced from HG Walter, the outfit in Barons Court, and as for kit, there’s a dry fridge on-site, and a custom oven for the BBQ
They keep the menu sensibly short, a few key meats, roast duck, roast pork belly (no char siu on this visit), poached chicken, a few dishes from the wok, and of course the rather important steamed whole fish.
There’s 3 chefs in the kitchen, and Alan runs FOH with another pair of hands, the modest shipping container has been cleverly designed (by Oli’s sister Jamie Julien Brown) with soft primary colours of pink ply and vinyl tiles, it reminds me very much of an indie cafes which you might find throughout South East Asia.
Anyway, I had seen some IGs floating on the twebs showcasing the shiny skins Oli had achieved with his roast duck, so we decided to drop in a quick Friday night dinner.
Selection of roast duck and siu yuk, £18.5
Soy chicken, £15
Greens with dried chilli and sesame, £7.50
Highly impressive siulap, it is like being back in HK again.
So starting with the duck, they are hung in a dry fridge, in which they are aged for up to a week. This is part and parcel of how Oli achieves this snappy, crispy, glass-like skin (scroll down for more piccies), with delicious layer of melting fat supplying mouth-watering umami. It is superb work. I didn’t ask about provenance, but a quick glance at HG Walter’s poultry list reveals Devonshire raised ducks. Min 2kg birds, fits the bill (speculation rather than confirmation).
The pork belly has a crunchy crackling, with moist fat under it, ‘three-layer’ meat as it were, was satisfactory. As for the chicken, the soy poach was to a tee, cooked to precisely the temperature in which the underfillet just turns white, whilst staying completely silkened. If I were to nitpick, I’d say he would just need to do a salt rub to polish the chicken’s skin prior to the poach. This allows the soya sauce to take to the skin, but its more cosmetic comment, as the chicken tasted delicious.
Not pictured are their house pickles, pearl onions, chillies and other things, which we really enjoyed as well. Also crucially, his gravy for each of the roast meats taste as they should.
We also ordered their prawn toast ‘revisited’ as a starter, which I thought was incredible, with a generous prawn mince to bread ratio, bniton flakes and oodles of kewpie mayo. Couple of drinks and sorbet to finish came to £65.81 for 2. Considering the quality on show, this is fantastic value for money and certainly a gem of a restaurant.
In fact, I was so impressed that I could think of this duck to celebrate this Chinese New Year with. So I shot Alan an email to ask if they would be able to do us a whole one to take away, to which they agreed. Hooray. £43 for the whole duck.
CNY 2018 – Whole Roast Duck takeaway, £43
The shine on the skin – immaculate! Light, crispy skin a glowing mahogany sheen, with moist breast cooked perfectly to just a suggestion of pink. The work here is incredible.
I was initially worried that the duck may not travel well (they nestled it in a box), but everything was fine when I got it home. In fact, it was best straight out of the box with the gravy heated up and poured over the room-temperature duck. Later on, I blasted portions of the duck in a 200degC oven for 3 mins, enough for the fat to wobble and for residual moisture to evaporate and for the skin to attain its crispy shine yet again.
I’m Chinese so having good siulap around is somewhat important to my diet and in this regard, I suppose it is important to state my own personal benchmarks (which I’m sure some of you will disagree). For London, I like Goldmine, Four Seasons, HKK (now defunct, I suppose Daren at Duddell’s now takes the cake..) and Reindeer Cafe (in Wing Yip Cricklewood) and IMHO, Oli Brown’s roast duck is the best of the lot. I’ll go as far as to say it is the best roast duck in London today. If nothing else, it is my favourite in town right now.
I am excited about this restaurant, given Pop Brixton‘s fluid status, I also wonder how DDG will grow in the years to come. I love A.Wong, not just because Andrew’s innovation, but at its core, the flavours are what they ought to be, which is how I feel about Oli’s cooking. It tastes right. I can’t wait to return for Oli’s wok-fried dishes, I’ll be looking for the all-important wok-hei of course, and I also hope Oli riffs on other classic DPT dishes, dry fried beef hofun would be nice to savour (my favourite in London currently is none other than A.Wong’s).
So there you have it. If you love your BBQ meats, add this to your list.
I’ve included a bunch of photos Of the whole duck below. The quality is evident, I think. Stellar duck. Enjoy the pictures, and I hope you also like it too when you visit.
Duck Duck Goose Brixton <- No relation whatsoever with Duck Duck Goose Swiss Cottage
£20 to 30pp ave + drinks + service
49 Brixton Station Road SW9 8PQ
When I last wrote about this restaurant, James was then the latest Young Turk to successfully transition into his own permanent setup, which takes his mother’s maiden name. Just under 4 years later, Lyle’s now finds itself in That list, holding a michelin star, and alongside fellow YT cohort Isaac McHale, represents the current state of Modern British cuisine.
Even with the fame, what I like about James Lowe and John Ogier’s restaurant, is how they have stuck to their core philosophy, continually building on the minimalistic approach that focuses on harmony of flavour, without the unnecessary flourishes on the plate, nor in interior design. Some might find it all too jarring, but for me, the canteen ambiance is something I really love, especially these media saturated days, it is rather like a reprieve.
With each visit, I find Lyle’s has continually improved its offering, and what I think they have become truly good at, is become this platform for expressing British terroir. While seasonality to some restaurants is more of an aspiration, at Lyle’s, it is the mantra. It fits in with the daily changing menus that observes the seasons, rather than impose, they make their ideologies invisible to diners. Viewed in that light, the starkness is more a sign of humility, to let the food speak for itself.
For instance, you might have see James’ English peas and ticklemore dish do the rounds in IG; an unassuming yet eye opening dish, all down to the quality of the peas, they pop with natural sweetness, the proverbial green caviar. The lengths he goes to source them, is probably why it’s so good – English Spring on a plate. Another example is his in-house smoked wild Lincolshire eel, with a luxuriously full texture and mouthfilling savouriness, quite unlike the industry standard of wares from the Dutch Eel Company (also based in Lincolnshire), itself a top notch product preferred by many London chefs.
All his menus are like that, Native lobsters from the South West in the Summer, apples in the Winter and of course British game in the Fall.
In an age when eating out is about trying out new things week to week, I am pleased to see that Lyle’s has stayed true to itself, honing its craft and looking in the local larder for inspiration. They are one of few places in town that sells Oliver’s ciders and perry, a little fancier than whatever goes in your snake bite, but the quality really is top notch, and worth trying. Only my fourth visit here in four years, but I will look to up the count in 2018.
Pictures and descriptions from my last two meals here:
Smoked eel, seaweed and kale, £14
The aforementioned Lincolnshire eels, smoked in-house.
Queen scallops and blood orange, dried roe £14
A quintessential winter combo right here. Other chefs play on this as well with great effect, including Brett Graham. Here, James has simply grilled the scallops in-shell, allowing its juices to flow out, and be tempered by the blood orange. Simple, but utterly delicious.
Seabass, chicory and bergamot, £27
Spanking seabass perfectly grilled. Wonderful acidity in the bergamot beurre blanc, light and fragrant, with touch of bittersweet from the juicy white chicory. Noble fish, simply cooked and absolutely delicious.
Mallard, parsnip and pickled cherries, £25
Classically done to rare, as is required as most wild game is so lean. I like teal, but mallard really does have wonderful flavour. They will soon be coming off menus across the country as shooting season comes to a close, to be seen again in September.
Honey & beeswax ice cream, apple & rapeseed, £9
Stunning pudding. Simultaneously invoking different aspects of apple tart fine, tatin and millefeuille.
Absolutely incredible work on the puff , this is up there with London’s best. Crazy lamination, very soft and crispy flakes, similar to the likes of L’Arpege. With deep buttery flavour, it also is redolent of fine Chinese egg rolls. Pitch perfect flavours, thin mandolin apple slices presumably dehydrated till soft, provide freshness, whilst the beeswax ice cream is rich & aromatic, yet clean like a sorbet.
We paid £118.13 for 2 people.
English peas, ticklemore. sweet cicely and lovage, £11
Razor clams, sea aster, £13
Whole Cornish lobster tail, cobnuts, mousserons and a bisque sauce from the carapace, £30
Shelled, skewered, lathered in lobster oil and grilled to a perfect mi cuit. Eyeballing it, I reckon it’s from a 700g to 800g crustacean. Gorgeous butter baste on the mushrooms, and overall I really enjoyed this rather rich lobster dish. Just under £30 for a whole tail, and pretty good value.
Autumn Bliss raspberries with brown bread ice cream £8
The quality of the raspberries really quite something else, they have this deep red colour, reflected in its long flavour profile. A more than capable rival to French Tulameens.
We paid £112.84 for 2 people.
Lunch ALC £45pp ++ (ave)
Dinner set £55pp ++
Tea Building, 56 Shoreditch High Street E1 6JJ
Tel: 020 3011 5911
Tube: Liverpool Street Station
There are probably better brunch dishes out there, but for me, I can think of nothing more sinfully satisfying than a fantastic eggs benedict. It is fundamentally a simple dish, consisting of only 4 main elements, namely poached egg, hollandaise, Canadian bacon and an English muffin cut in half.
The beauty of any simple recipe is always that it is easily adapted to suit all sorts, a ‘vehicle’ for various combos so to speak. Some of you have asked me to write all this stuff down in one place, so here is my collection of benedicts I’ve made this the year, as well as a quick recipe. Enjoy.
Benedict really is egg on egg if you think about it. Effectively a yolk sauce, on egg with runny yolk, yolk on yolk, which is perhaps the reason why it is so luxurious.
I have one fundamental change, in that I prefer soft boiled egg, over poached egg for benedict. The egg is not wet, and I just think the texture of silkened egg white from a soft boil works better, especially with the sabayon.
There’s 2 things which I think warrant a recipe, after that, it’s simply a matter of stacking it all up, and then spooning over the luxurious hollandaise.
Soft boiled egg
Boil a pot of water, and chuck in lots of salt.
Boil egg for exactly 5 mins (I prefer Burford Browns).
Run egg under cold water and peel shell.
Hollandaise / Sabayon sauce
Separate 1 egg yolk.
Melt half a stick of good unsalted butter (I like butter from Brittany), on low heat until clarified.
Place yolk on bain marie, glass bowl in a saucepan of steaming water on medium heat, start stirring/whipping with egg beater.
When yolk begins to heat-up, stream in warm melted butter slowly.
Keep beating it, the sabayon will start to thicken, as heat slowly works into it
At this point, add in whatever aromats/seasoning you like to taste.
I add lemon juice, pepper, salt, touch of paprika, touch of sherry vinegar.
You can also posh it up, by reducing fancy (pre-moxed) white burgundy or champagne with onions and stream it in (like a Bearnaise basically).
If your sabayon is too thick or splits, add water and keep whipping it to incorporate more air. Be patient as it will come back together and thicken up again. But obviously dont add too much.
Water helps the give the sauce a airiness (the more you whip), and adds a little shine. It also stabilises the sauce after it cools, especially if you want to use the next day.
To use the next day, simply reheat on bain marie, stir and stir (and stir) and it will loosen up.
Get a good english muffin, cut in half and toast it (or any good bread you’d like to use).
Muffin, then ham/fixing, then soft boiled egg, then sauce on top.
Garnish with chopped chives, paprika, spring onion, pepper, caviar, truffle, whatever you like.
Crab Benedict, with chives
Cornish blue lobster claw benedict, with paprika and chives.
My favourite benedict of this lot. Buy a live lobster, I prefer native lobsters from Scotland to Devon, as a good fishmonger can get one for you with least time out of water, and also probably without seeing a tank. Then knife down the head, and twist off the tail and lobster claws. I tend to cook lobster tails over charcoal/pan nowadays as I can control the rate of heat better. For claws, I simply boil and shell.
The carapace and coral, should be reserved and they are what makes this benedict so special.
The hollandaise is made from butter that has been drawn from roasting lobster carapace and then allowing it to simmer with melted butter over low heat. I have taken the lobster coral and made it into a smooth sauce sauce (using Vitamix) and spread on the muffin. Finished with paprika and chives.
Egg benedict with Wild asparagus, champagne sabayon and ham hock cubes
Cheap Sainsbury champagne, reduced with sauteed onions, sherry vinegar and this is streamed into my sabayon. it yields a surprisingly bright yellow colour.
You’ll have to wait till the Spring for the asparagus obviously.
Winter black truffle Benedict, with cooked Wiltshere ham
Now is the season for the vaunted Tuber Melanosporum afterall. Simple is best when it comes to truffle I think. For the hollandaise, I put shavings/trimmings from the truffle into it.
Kangnam Korean Fried Chicken Benedict, with Oscietra Imperial caviar
A nod to David Chang’s (and WD40) hi-lo extravaganza of fried chicken and caviar. Really it works so well together. I like Oscietra Imperial/Gold a lot. The sturgeon are raised in Qiandao Lake, and you better believe it as this particular farm in China really does produce some of the best caviar in the world. as the grains are firm and burst on the palate, whilst its flavour remains very clean on the finish. As for the KFC, Kangnam is in New Malden, I really should double-fry my own, but theirs is IMHO the best KFC around.
Eggs benedict with Dutch Eel Company smoked eel and Oscietra Imperial Caviar
Lyle’s smokes their own eel, but if you look around town, you’ll find that most restaurants will likely be using Dutch Eel Company. It’s superb really.
I like smoked eel (gently) warmed through, rather than cold. It goes slippery and soft, and I think its smoky flavour releases better when eaten warm.
Smoked eel and caviar to my mind is a pretty classic thing, and the yolk sauce helps to tie them both together. I like this a lot, it’s a very robust flavour profile, which showcases the quality of the two (preserved) products. The better the quality of the eel and caviar are, the better this recipe tastes.
Ceps benedict with beurre blanc and beluga caviar
Beluga also raised in Qiandao lake, in contrast, these grains shimmer grey-black, are very soft and the flavours are creamy and long. Luxurious caviar this, almost a sin to eat it with other stuff. Best on its own, on the back of your hand.
Anyway, this was during cep season in the fall, simply roasted in butter. You could use pretty much any mushroom you like really. I coloured my onions, hence why my beurre blanc is that brownish tint instead of a pristine cream colour. Oh well.
Even with Brexit looming, the economic case for this rapidly modernised part of town is apparently still sound enough for a heavyweight F&B player to enter the fray. Perhaps the owners of the original Duddell’s Hong Kong (DHK) see parallels between the two locations, as the original opened in 2013 (at the top of flagship Shanghai Tang on Duddell’s Street), opposite the bling The Landmark. To great acclaim as you know, gaining a star in year one (eventually promoted and subsequently demoted) and even more amazingly, it is but one of many success stories for the restaurant’s owner, JIA Group. The story here is really about JIA’s founder Yenn Wong, in possession of the midas touch with boutique hotels and well researched restaurant concepts. Perhaps coincidence, but likely not, she and fellow Singaporean Loh Lik Peng (backer of Londrino a stone’s throw away, and Town Hall Hotel amongst others) both share a London business partner in Jason Atherton, through his sprawling Social empire which today is spread across 3 continents.
It’s not the first time a high-end HK based restaurant has attempted to crack the London conundrum (in which some of our esteemed tastemakers continue to think the London originated Hakkasan/Yauatcha franchise to be a reliable global benchmark for Cantonese cuisine rather than what it is), though quite unlike the zeitgeist, I rued the loss of Bo London, and believed it was a little ahead of its time. I suppose its not pratical to articulate ‘this is what its suppose to taste like’ with mere words, if it wasn’t part of your childhood, and like all cuisine that travels, it has a tendency to adapt to the local taste. A spot of crispy aromatic duck anyone?
Having said that, good Cantonese food is far from unfamiliar territory in Britain, although I do think that London’s Cantonese food has been in a bit of a decline lately. I’m old enough to remember when Wardour Street cooked decent plates of wok-hei filled hofun, or how the old 1997 still did silky white-cut chicken rice, and do you remember the days when you could choose between TPT and HK Diner for nostalgic Dai Pai Dong feels? While globalisation has consigned some things to history, the shifting sands of soft power is partly the reason we’re now getting direct imports from a crew at the very forefront of Cantonese food today.
I say direct, but rather than transfer one of the chefs working in DHK to this site, the owners have poached Daren Liew instead – the ex-Exec Sous at Hakkasan. Prior to his Hakkasan stint, the Malaysian-Chinese Chef had spent his formative years in Malaysia and Singapore, notably for the Mandarin Oriental in both Spore and KL. I don’t know about the extent to which DHK influences DL’s menu here in St Thomas, since I’ve never been to DHK. Even so, the style over there may itself have changed with the recent appointment of Fung Man Ip as Chef. Stepping in after Siu Hin Chi left to Ying Jee Club.
Back in London, the interior design is rather breathtaking, formerly St Thomas Church, and pretty much still looks like one. Going through their website, there is clearly a lot of effort in snazzing up the dining experience as a whole. There is an art program at DHK, which I imagine will doubt announce itself at DL soon enough. In some ways, the approach to ambiance is a reminder of 山海樓 Mountain Sea House in Taipei. They do both dim sum and dinner menus here, with an apparent use of luxe produce to signify the category it is pitching in. Although it is not quite the same level to match Asia. No sign of bird’s nests, fish maw, ginseng, conscious that a market for those things don’t really exist here.
We went for lunch in Dec 2017, and ordered staples from both the dim sum and ALC menu. I am old-fashioned when it comes to Chinese food, road-testing fundamentals so to speak.
So we start with Dim Sum.
Chicken taro croquette, £7
Pretty tasty filling, but they’ve fried this either too high or too long or both, as the crust is like breaking into cement, and far from light and crispy.
Beef and foie gras on toast, £9
I didn’t expect to see deep fried mince on sesame toast, but yet again here too high or too long. Dense texture, incredibly greasy, I dare say, I rather have a corndog than this.
Har gau, £7
Very good whole prawn, but sadly the skin was jelly-thick and sticky.
Shui mai, £7
You taste mushroom, but it lacks the ethereal balance of pork fat and prawns, tennis ball texture, drying and perhaps even oversteamed.
So dim sum…yeah, hmm. At this stage, my opinion is that the quality is average and that’s going by London standards. It just lack finesse for this price point. In the same way that pastry sections are the domain of pastry chefs, dim sum really calls for a specialist to look after this side of things. Whoever Daren has got on dim sum ain’t cutting the mud just yet. It is early days of course, and not all restaurants can get dim sum and dinner menu to the same consistent level.
Which brings us to the ALC. This on the other hand is much more promising. We ordered the following dishes.
L to R
Honey glazed charsiu using Berkshire pork, £26
…. impressive. Very tender, very moist and a caramelised crust that is well balanced between sweet and salty. I especially like these glazed beans, there is a hint of pei-pai gao to the sweet glaze. This reminded me of siu lap in HK, still some ways off my benchmark, which is Ming Court HK, by London standards, this is solid.
Chilean Abalone rice with shimeji and asparagus, £38
Saucing making is spot-on here, generously poured around the rice, with extra in the jug on the side. Really superb in fact. Slowly braised and reduced stock fully infused with abalone flavour, absolutely wonderful umami to soak in the fluffy rice, which is undoubtedly also boiled in the same stock. I loved it.
I am however miffed about using asparagus in December (Peruvian? Reverse season English?). For a restaurant pitching at this price point, serving out of season ingredients is definitely a faux pas.
As for the abalone, why bother with importing these smallish Chilean shells? How much do they they even weigh? 16 heads? There are a small but growing number of Chefs in London, who do abalone well, and more importantly live Breton and Irish shells. But if you’re importing, may as well go all out and see about ezo-awabi (yes I hear you december not the season) and green lips. Still, it’s a very good dish, and it is good to see the competition for abalone in London is healthy.
Cantonese Soya chicken, £26
A fancy version of one of my favourite siulap, using the mighty blue legged Poulet de Bresse. A careful poach, silkened chicken breast and thigh, moist, and fully infused with the flavours of the poaching liquid. Similar to Hakkasan jasmine smoked chicken. Slightly disappointed it’s all taken off the bone by default. Half a chicken served in parchment, but the portion looks small because they use small birds (ours was from a 1.4kg), so be forewarned. Overall good chicken, good technique, though for sheer QPR, Goldmine and Reindeer cafe are still tops in my book for soya chicken.
We paid £134.44 for food, 2 drinks and service.
If there one thing that bothers me, is for this price point and given their ambition, they really ought to source better ingredients. It’s cheaper to do so, and you get better quality anyway if you sync up with the seasons. Especially seafood. Slipper lobsters in Europe? Do they even come unfrozen, let alone live.
Quality fish (游水 as they say) is at the heart of Cantonese cuisine, being that we are these British Isles, I’m surprised these guys are not taking advantage of the waters. Why not the use of kicking Cornish blues caught overnight, instead of Canadian lobsters stewing in tanks for weeks? Sure, we don’t have garoupa, but wild turbot from the South West is every bit as stunning as Brittany, in my opinion, same waters on different ends of the Channel after all. Where are the Scotch scallops? And there’s lovely crab in Britain, from Devon to Cromer, perhaps some of the best in the world. The interesting bit is not that cock crabs with their massive claws are more popular, rather it is that the females are underused. Some chefs like Ben M at Perilla know this, and it is something that would fit well in Cantonese cuisine. You know what I’m thinking right? Steamed female brown crab, sweet white meat, sweet roe. Velvet crabs, mylor prawns, the possibilities. All in good time I hope.
Overall a good first visit, though I am cautious about the value for money on offer, I would not hesitate to return. Daren likely needs time to get the team up to speed, but at its core, there is good cooking going, and it is important to say that flavours are what they should be. I’m glad they are in London and look forward to return visits to see how they up the ante over time.
£50pp to £70pp (ave)
9A St Thomas Street, SE1 9RY
Tube: London Bridge
Tel: +44 20 3957 9932
In this grand new year of 2018, there is one restaurant that particularly excites me, one which I think has the potential to make a mark in the annals of Gastronomy.
Breaking new ground may not be at the fore of Leandro Carreira’s mind, as the man is a vision of modesty, humility and generosity. A Chef at heart who is visibly happy being able to simply cook and serve his guests, yet groundbreaking is what I believe his cuisine is.
Leo is no stranger to the cutting edge of gastronomy, as he had spent 3 years in the Basque with Mugaritz (ask him about his time living with the Bar Nestor crew) and then latterly as Nuno Mendes’ right hand at Viajante. From there, Leo joined up with Junya Yamasaki and James Lowe for collaborative menus at Koya and Lyle’s respectively. Through 2016, he pitched up at Climpson’s Arch for a long residency to showcase his cuisine, and that is where I first happened upon Leo’s food, of fermenting, salting, smoking and simply on the grill. A combination of flavours that veer away from classical cooking, which I find both subtle and thrilling in equal measure. Of course, this also stems from my own unfamiliarity with Portuguese flavours, though his food doesn’t adhere simply to heritage, rather it is one that’s built from his own food memories, that of his Leiria coastal upbringing, through his time in becoming a Londoner in his adopted city.
Needless to say, his Climpsons residency ended successfully as he’s now received the backing of Hotelier/Restauranteur Loh Lik Peng (22 ships, Socials, Townhall Hotel) to launch Londrino. Cameron Dewar, who was with Leo during Climpsons also joins him here as FOH/Somm.
And this space truly is a blessing, it sits 70 and has an attached wine bar that is open through the day. The ambiance has an air of maturity and modernity, yet is casual enough for you to feel at ease. There are accents of industrial design such as an upcycled turbine as chandelier and the exposed concrete, but these are softened by the mid-century touches, the polished wooden tables, through to the hexagonal douglas fir parquet that overflow to the walls, around the open-plan kitchen.
The ALC menu is loosely framed around canapes + four courses, with 2 to 3 selections in each, suiting solo diners, but it is also clearly flexible enough for those of you wanting to order the entire menu to share. It rotates seasonally, depending on what produce he can get in on the day, with off-cuts going as off-menu specials.
I did both ways, firstly solo and then as a table of 3, across two visits in December.
Bowl of grilled Mylor prawns with preserved lemon oil, £9
I love these little prawns, they are fantastic seasonal English catch and about the only shrimp that arrive in London restaurants alive and popping. Simply grilled until they turn bright orange and lathered with preserved lemon oil. All you need to savour the succulent, incredibly sweet flesh and above all deliciously crispy shells. I ate them whole, a great snack to start on.
Razor clams, garlic, mushrooms (from the Chef)
I nearly jumped out of my seat when Leo brought this to the table, as it was one of my favourites from his Climpsons residency.
The sweetness of fresh raw razor clams palpable, yet freshly shucked, they also exhibit a touch of crunchiness in texture, in contrast to the hearty cooked mushrooms, diced and loose, providing a kind of groovy deep bass for the sweet razor clams. The dish looks utterly simple and minimal, yet the flavours, textures are wonderfully calibrated. The first of many a-ha moments.
Aside from say Lyle’s and Taberna, it is still a rare occurrence to see fish head in London restaurants, due in no part to an enduring culture in this country that attaches a premium to bone-free fillets. There are all degrees of meatiness and gelatinous(-ness) to be found, the cheek, top of head, tongue, throat, behind the eye sockets. All the best bits as they say, and perhaps that best part is this off-cut is sold cheap in restaurants, since fishmongers tend to assign minimal value to it.
Leo’s intervention is minimal, a gentle kiss of the grill, to a caramalised skin keeping the flesh juicy and moist, with oils to keep it so and capers for a bright spark of acidity to lift the gelatinous flavours.
Bisaro secreto, dry buttermilk, salsify, £16
Fantastic marbling and texture from the prized secret shoulder cut of the native Portuguese breed. The rub on the pork has an interesting charcoal yeastiness, faintly redolent of rou-gan, and no doubt it acts both as flavour booster and natural tenderiser. A little funk, acid and saltiness to go with the the sweet salsify.
Background: Isle of Barra cockles bulhao pato, £10
Foreground: Crab steamed in-shell, with pickles (from the Chef)
The cockles were simple and soul nourishing. The natural and light broth of white wine & it’s own juices best eaten with the bread soaked in it.
But it was the crab that had us coo-ing with delight, and yet another example of highlighting the flavours of a ‘off-cut’, this time that of one of Britain’s greatest seafood: the mighty cock crab.
The carapace is steamed whole, without loss of juices, and then the brown meat is made into a smooth and creamy puree and served as kind of cold dip for warm bread. There is not much to look at, but it is in effect a luxurious take on brown crab on toast.
Potato noodles, coriander oil and salted cod, £7
Yet another one of my favourites from Climpsons days. A simple yet uttering refreshing dish of crunchy textures, refreshing acidity and all framed around the saltiness of the cod. Minimalist yes, but this is a dish I find to be thoroughly genius.
Raw squid noodles in potato broth, £8
Following the potato, is a reverse dish of sea and land. Of course, I must credit Pierre Koffmann as the originator of this manner of serving squid (his version a thorough nose to tail with tentacles and ink as ragu), it is truly elevation of a humble, yet fantastic fish.
And here, ribbons of soft and silkened squid are gently cooked in the warm potato broth, gentle being the operative word, as mere seconds can result in tennis ball texture, but not here. Here, it is a luscious al dente, the slightly smoky broth enhancing the squid’s natural flavours.
Octopus, red pepper, daikon, whey emulsion, £15.5
A star dish, showcasing minimalism with maximum deliciousness. The cooking on the tentacle is spot on, superiorly tender, it slides off the knife, and its juices burst on to the palate. Is it steamed or poached? Perhaps the latter, in its own juices. Raw daikon adds crunch and freshness, whilst the red pepper miso works like a romanesco to pair with the octopus. Wonderful cooking.
Grilled cabbage, black garlic and cabbage juice £7
Grilling vegetables as if they were cuts of meat is not new, but if you’ve not experienced it yet, then this is something that will change you mind about the potential of vegetables. Rather like cauliflower, cabbage – especially hispi – cooked on coals develops this moistened meatiness, and done correctly as it is the case here, the leaves flake like that of noble fish, and lead to one of the most rewarding eating experiences you’ll likely have. For me, I think grilled cabbage is more of a revelation than say Clare Smyth‘s potato poached in seaweed.
Raw smoked beef, apple sauce and jerusalem artichokes, £12
Steak tartare with artichokes is a well established and rather magical combination, of which the likes of say Phil Howard and Brett Graham also subscribe to. Leo has given his beef an extra dimension with the smokiness, and balanced the flavours with this tart apple sauce.
Neck of Bisaro, dry buttermilk and salsify, £16
As with my 1st visit, with a cut that stands out in its texture, and somewhat cleaner flavour.
Background: Snipe and fermented pinenut, mushroom crisps (from the Chef)
Foreground: Teal (with heart) and cranberry sauce, cress salad, £25
The best Game of the year right here for me. Looks deceptive, that of simply roasted game birds, but the flavours from both were full yet clean, with a moist and tender texture. I really enjoyed the fermented pinenut, much like a miso, had sweet, salty funk perfectly tuned to the precious snipe.
Of all the wild duck, I think of teal as being the most unique, a small and very lean bird that has a purity rather than gaminess to its flavour.
Later we asked Leo why the snipe tasted so clean, and he revealed that the bird had been aging in-house for a month, periodically turned and brushed with brown butter.
Ice creams, clockwise: sheep’s milk with lovage ; caramel & vanilla; caraway & carrot, £3.50 each
House-made, and all were fabulous. During my first visit, I had a whey and smoked honey one, which is my favourite of the lot.
And finally, Leo’s take on rabanadas/pain perdu, itself a popular dish from Climpsons days.
I paid £68.63 during the 1st visit, solo diner. 2nd visit, we paid £222.19 for 3 people.
It is less than a month old, but already I feel that Londrino is a special restaurant. A shining beacon walking the line between customer satisfaction and practicing gastronomy. The two can be sometimes mutually exclusive, but with Leo’s cuisine, I think they go hand in hand.
Perhaps it is down to the natural way he handles proteins, non-classical so to speak, preferring to keep the juices intact, rather than recombine after the fact in the pan, resulting in minimalist dishes that deliver maximum flavour. There is also his resourcefulness to product handling but without allegiance to prime cuts in the quest for deliciousness, aided of course by training, heritage and the all-important gift of a palate. The bottom line is that Leo is someone who knows good food. But I think the true secret to the comforting quality in his food is it reflects his personality, generous and convivial, cooking the food he loves to eat.
£40 to £50pp + drinks + service
36 Snowsfields, London SE1 3SU
Tel: 020 3911 4949
Tube: London Bridge
Roast scallop, blood orange, pine nuts and broccoli
Steamed cod perfectly timed, moist, glimmering and delicately flaky. Topped with skin-on and gelatinous hake jowl, served with purple artichoke, anchovy and green olive.
Middlewhite suckling pig rack, temple, belly, crackling. With hen of the woods, potato emulsion, charred onion.
Best suckling pork dish I’ve ever had. No question (Hedone included).
Pyrenean Milk-fed Lamb shoulder slow cooked overnight in miso, pulled, rolled, morels cooked in earl grey, luxurious puree of jersey royal, celery, wild garlic, gorgeous…..
Aged Belted Galloway fillet, slow braised shortrib, smoked marrow, salt baked turnip, padron puree, garlic cream and jus gras
Herdwick lamb rack and neck, padron sauce and white aubergine dusted with dried olives and black tea (link)
Brett Graham has been consistently on top form for at least the last five years, and most of his dishes have become quite iconic, and also rooted in his seasonal repertoire. But this year in 2017, I think he’s managed to find reinvention and further refinement in his cooking. Minor but significant tweaks to his perfect dishes, here and there, and all of it stacks up to something rather quite spectacular. For me, The Ledbury is the yardstick for Modern Gastronomy in London, fundamentals, handling of quality seasonal produce and the hallmark Front of House that walks the line of casual-slickness. For me, The Ledbury is the best of 2017.
And that’s it. Next year will be 10 years I been doing this. If you’re someone whose been with me since 2008, I thank you kindly for reading.
It’s a wonderful thing that in 2017, the cult of Le Chef is pretty much consigned to history. Restaurants today work harder to make the dining room, a place in which the punter can feel truly at ease. In London, at ease also sometimes means queuing, sharing little plates of food, and new restaurants are still reliant on introducing the next greatest exotic cuisine to joe bloggs, rather than do classic cooking well. Talk about diversity though, there’s heaps of that in the way we eat these days, Londoners can easily pinpoint a regional ramen broth, as well as they can tell a great tarte tatin from a merely good one.
In my 9 years blogging about London restaurants, I’ve been a witness to this liberalisation of eating out, and all of this is good. While we are moving from year to year hopping from one cuisine to another (Jerusalem today, Bangkok tomorrow), it does worry me that gastronomy in London is in danger of being watered down with the myriad of concepts and business plans. More quality in the mid range is always welcomed, but I wonder if someday the industry might feel the opposite of the trickle-down effect which it currently enjoys. Where else are our future James Knapetts going to hone their craft?
Yes it is true the ‘scene’ is business after all, it’s a marketplace and restaurateurs (thanks Pete) are at the mercy of you and I voting with our wallets, so its only natural that it adapts to the popular taste. Of course if something tastes good, it rightly deserves to be celebrated. Who am I to say that the Cod Black isn’t as iconic as the Tagliatelle of oysters and caviar?
Perhaps some of this was at the fore of Clare Smyth’s mind, when she pondered her solo restaurant. It’s been nearly 2 years since the great Chef announced she was going it alone and I’m both excited and glad it has finally arrived. Here is the premise of Core, a calibration of luxury and casual – the high low game. A real kitchen brigade that takes its gastronomy seriously, yet masquerades as your friendly neighbourhood restaurant, in an effort to pitch itself to a fickle city spoilt by choice, and at times averse to a little culinary ambition. None of this is new of course, Yves Camdeborde started his over 20 years, David Chang made his name on high-low dining, Pascal Barbot the epitome of a 3-star casual, and over here the likes of Mchale, Lowe are the poster boys of modern, relaxed, high end British haute cuisine, sans table cloths. Even Phil Howard has got in on it.
If you’re reading this, then chances are you need no introduction to Clare Smyth. Yes, she is the first (and only) woman in Britain to hold 3 stars, no small feat in her testosterone charged profession, but it is important to say that Clare is the real deal, with mastery of her craft. It helps to have Ramsay’s name above the door, but the Bib have rightly recognised that it is under her leadership, that the restaurant has retained those 3 stars for the good part of the last decade. Eventually Gordon made her Chef-Patron, and latterly she played a consultant role to Matt Abe, her then right-hand, now in charge at 68RHR, for the past year or so, while she got Core (of which, Gordon is an investor) off the ground.
My last meal at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay at 68RHR was in January, and I felt the restaurant is held back by its over-refinement, and has become old-fashioned by today’s standards in its lack of generosity. As suave as JC Breton is (and he is one of the best maître d’s in this country), he can only do so much with the miniscule portions, of which London has moved on from years ago. But the restaurant is an extension of Ramsay more than anything, watching the GP like a hawk, as the Petrus experience is very much the same. It’s a business and the margins at the top end, ironically are tighter than we are led to believe, especially in Britain, where we (myself included) are driven primarily by price (some of you by the cost of a bottle of house wine), rather than by fair value of ingredient and have no sympathy with the overheads associated with a London restaurant.
The one thing I cannot fault at 68 however is the cooking – it really is top notch. Clare created a fair number of her own signatures during her tenure at 68RHR, such as her suckling pig many ways, and this is for me a symphony of joy. Put that up against any of the greats in Paris, Bernard Pacaud to her (other) mentor Alain Ducasse, and her dish is worth every bit the three stars as their signatures are.
TD;LR Core opens in a London that couldn’t care less about the alters of the Rouxs, Koffman or MPW graduates.
Naturally, a few of Core’s key guys have come from 68RHR to join Clare including head chef Jonny Bone and Restaurant Director Rob Rose. Head Sommelier is Gareth Ferreira, previously Launceston Place, who I did not meet at this lunch.
First of all, I think the ambiance is fantastic. A noticeable high grade finish on the cosy decor, linen free and decked out with a shiny kitchen, in full view behind the floor to ceiling glass wall. Service is gentle and gingerly. If you recall the feeling at The Fat Duck, that homely charm, Core’s ambiance is much like that. I’ve no idea what it was like when it was Prue’s, but right now, this is a little sanctuary in the city. I feel I need to mention Clove Club as those guys are the benchmark in the ambiance department (Luca included), but Core is every bit the match, so all credit to Rob and his team.
There are two taster menus that vary in length and price, starting with 5 for £85 and 7 for £95. On the surface, the QPR looks low, especially if you consider that Core eschews luxury produce and instead focuses on humble ingredients (i.e. let the carrot shine) elevated by cooking technique.
I opted for the ALC, it is presented as a three course menu (for £60), but immediately here, Core is already a friendlier place than 68RHR’s rigidity, as Rob – dare I say – slicker than JCB in this area, informed me that Chef allows diners to pick and choose whatever they wish from any of the menus. They cost it up accordingly in the end of course, i.e. take 4 instead of 3 courses, and they will supplement the £60 bottomline. And so I did, I asked for an extra course of Clare’s potato dish. Rob recommended I take a half portion, of which they charged £15. So 4 courses selected.
A touch of Clove Club with the impressive spread of canapes, both a visual delight and also a showcase of the kitchen’s house style. Clockwise from centre, parmesan gougères filled with pumpkin puree; jellied eel, toasted seaweed and atomised malt vinegar (‘released’ at the table); Crispy smoked duck wing, burnt orange and spices (presented under a smoked clotch) and this…
…Cep and foie tartelette
Shortcrust if memory serves and not potato, a taste of the Autumn. I took the lunch in mid October, so this must be the seasonal amuse bouche.
Classic techniques, 100% deliciousness. The real deal and a great start.
1. Crab royale, steamed Colchester, crab doughnut and consommé
While there are similarities to MJ‘s modern a la minute classic, Clare’s celebration of Colchester crab is very much her own, and it is absolutely stunning. A triptych of a starter that harnesses the crab’s shell to shell deliciousness.
The claw is gently steamed and sits on a brown crab royale (video here, very slick custard) , a luxurious flan with a slick of crab essence, that is noted for how soothing and balanced the flavours were. Crafted umami !
Then to the hot donut, a mini crab Benedict so to speak. Topped with picked white meat and plopped on an exceptional crab hollandaise (presumably with butter drawn from shell), a frictionless sabayon impossibly airy, matched by the equally puffy donut.
Finally, a hot crab consomme served in a spirit glass to wash it all down. They mentioned a citrus foam, though I speculate that granny smith is in the mix as well. The effervescent fruit, freshness, its like finishing on a bubbly of crab and apple.
The cuisson is precise and polished, the dish is harmonious and generous, and in my opnion, this is 3 star caliber and without question, one of the best dishes I ate this year.
2. Charlotte potato, dulse beurre blanc, herring and trout roe
The spud is close to Clare, being that she grew up on a farm in County Antrim, and my guess is this dish is the torchbearer for the thin line of informal gastronomy that Clare now walks.
Cooked in seaweed, it retains its waxiness, but is imbued with umami, an a-ha moment, then again who doesn’t love a bloody delicious potato, which this is.
The vinegar chips gives both texture and acidity, sweet trout roe pop in the mouth, and a textbook beurre blanc adds the final flourish of luxury. A good dish, but in my opinion, well behind Passard’s various preparations of Belle Fontenays that re-orientate your mind about the potential of vegetables taking the lime light on the plate.
Whilst I admire Clare’s elevation of humble products, however in this style, I think the dish would benefit from sturgeon caviar, as the herring roe somewhat ruins the overall palate for me. She does not shun caviar, as it is part of the Chicken dish, and I would happily take a supplement for a little Exmoor or Oscietra for this dish, if it were an option. This isn’t a luxury vs substitute product thing, it is simply that caviar is the classic pairing to potato. Besides, if you’re going to celebrate the spud, do it in style innit.
3. 120 day old chicken from St Brides farm, pickled spiralised kolrhabi, clam, razors and caviar
Older certainly means more flavour with chicken, these from St Brides are definitely up there. Of course they are still behind the gold standard Bresse birds, but perhaps not by much.
I speculate that rolled breasts suggest sous vide followed by high heat to crisp the skin. For me, the cooking is spot on: silkened, moist and full of flavour. Of course, chicken roasted on the crown is always going to be more impressive but this was very good, and I thought the sea flavours certainly worked with the chicken. Especially the caviar pairing, as others like Dufresne, Chang have also done.
Where the kitchen really showed their quality was with the jus. Stunning depth of flavour, redolent of say Chicken double boiled soup, of shaoxing and ginger, maybe some brandy or sherry tipped in I wonder. Perfectly seasoned, that’s both over and under at the same time, to borrow David Chang’s Unified theory of Deliciousness. Superb work.
I thought I’d love the high low skin and caviar, but to my surprise, I found it incredibly salty, all that flavour (and fat) from the crispy skin a little overwhelming. I would have preferred a neutral base, bread, brioche, … the potato… or maybe Chang’s less refined battered chicken skin really is a better fit. So it turns out there is such a thing, as too much of a good thing.
Pre-dessert: Cherry Bakewell
An inverted bakewell, with cherry in sorbet form, a light lemon mousse and crumble. Reserved, smart and a good interlude before the finish.
4. Pear and verbena, poire Williams sorbet
Beautifully assembled yet simple and absolutely gets the business done. A vacherin of meringue cup with a refreshing pear sorbet centre, creme pat and interchanging aroma of pear sweetness and lemon verbena acidity. The entire pudding cuts cleanly and straight through with little pressure (video here). Marvelous pastry section.
I drank only a glass of wine, Spatburgunder, a good one, from Rudolf Fürst, embodying the virtues of German pinot noir – sleek, forward, jammy but balanced with freshness. A middle-weight red that can bridge the gap between white and red meats.
I paid £113.62 for all food, 1 glass of wine, double espresso and service, table for 1.
I get the feeling that Clare is playing it safe in the opening menu for Core. Simple dishes, made well. I found luxurious, frictionless textures and well-balanced flavours and I think this is fine cooking in equilibrium between classic and modern. It is in the less obvious things that I notice all the hard work, the sauces, the seasoning, the bread, strong fundamentals and a strong basis to build an eventually great restaurant.
As it stands, I think the quality of the cooking is in the 2 star bracket, though there is no doubt this kitchen is capable of turning out 3 star dishes. But I feel Clare is conscious of costs and kitchen experience and is running her output conservatively in the early days. There were certainly moments of grail greatness during my lunch, and it is always admirable when Chefs apply craft to elevate cheaper produce, though I would be very interested to see what Clare will do come next Spring. Asparagus from Galis? After all, it does take time and the right season to develop something truly special around vegetables that hasn’t been claimed by somebody else. Case in point Ledbury’s beetroot/smoked eel dish. Paris may already be fully in tune with high end vegetable cooking, London still needs a bit of time to get there, but if Simon Rogan can find a market, then so will Clare. I think she will get there, and I also feel that it is only natural for her to work in better quality produce as Core establishes itself with suppliers in the market. A fabulous debut, the food is delicious and above all, it is accessible and an enjoyable place to eat. Definitely worth visiting, and myself I look forward to return visits in the near future.
Core by Clare Smyth
ALC 3 for £60
Taster 5 for £85
Taster 7 for £95
92 Kensington Park Road W11 2PN
Tel: 020 3937 5086
Tube: Notting Hill Gate
You might recall my previous write-ups of L’Arpege here and there. As I finished my meal last summer at Alain Passard’s landmark restaurant in the 7th Arrondissement, I was filled with disappointment and dread, his improvised cuisine of vegetables spectacularly crashing, making the Lunch menu really quite the expensive gamble (Believe me, unless you’re a regular, the Lunch surprise menu won’t feature any proteins, despite what the FOH will say to you).
This is why we chose to do a la Carte during this visit – it is the best option here at L’Arpege. Hélène Cousins manages the FOH at L’Arpege, and she does let diners know that Passard’s troops are more than willing to whip up bespoke taster menus, consisting of half portion ALC dishes, charged at half the ALC price. We went as a table of 2, so basically split the courses between us.
And it sure was a fantastic meal. In fact, it was one of the best meals I can remember. With 2 glasses of wine and a bottle of water, the bill came to 425euroes per head, inclusive of the amuse bouches of vegetable tartelettes, hot-cold egg and the tray of petit fours, not pictured below.
I also think ALC would be a better experience than the full taster menu, which weighs in at 390EUR per person, as much as L’Arpege’s grand cru vegetables are of superior quality, sitting through 6 courses of them before seeing protein is quite the challenge. If you are eyeing Passard’s low and slow grand rotisserie, then ALC is the way to go. We pre-ordered the langoustine carpaccio with our booking, about 2 months ahead – A mythic dish, one of his oldest dishes and worth every penny.
(PS: There is also a Carte Blanche, but I’ve not done that yet..)
Pictures and notes below.
1. Carpaccio of langoustines with caviar
The Grail dish, the ultimate Classic, generous portion (30g?) filling the plate, and it was absolutely stunning.
Immaculate shelled and gently pressed live langos, they shimmer on the plate, and greet the palate with a rush of pure sweet ocean. I speculate the caviar is quality oscietra (due to the black & gold) from Qiandao lake, smooth and clean in flavour, a superb product. The oils, the cream, the acidity, the perfect seasoning, fennel(?), radish, pepper, fleur de sel.. it looks so simple, but there are no hard edges, the combination is a harmonious one and resulting the eating experience is incredibly profound. Put another way, the craftsmanship here is top notch.
I’ve been fortunate enough to taste different versions by others, but this is by far the best. I suppose in some ways it is the original, conceived in the 1980s at Le Duc d’Enghien, predating L’Arpege’s opening (86), to an earlier point in the great Chef’s career. A great dish, one I am unlikely to ever forget… La beauté du geste.
2. Fines raviolies potagères multicolores
This is my favourite from the myriad of Passard’s vegetable dishes. 3rd time having this, and it still floors me. It looks so simple, and for me it pulls up childhood memories of wonton soups, yet there is depth and clarity from simply vegetables. This is the sort of dish that resets your mind about the potential of vegetables. Analogous to the power of a great Tokyo based sushi ya, there is so much more to neta-shari than meets the eye. Minimalism implies the craftsmanship need be spot on, and its that which cannot be easily replicated.
The vegetables used obviously change with the seasons, on this visit we’re told the consomme is based on leek and celery. Ive always wondered if a standard mirepoix forms the basis, yet it does also taste like a pure extraction of a specific vegetable in liquid form. The depth and sweetness ( not to mention the visual clarity of the stock) is simple yet complex at the same time. Perhaps there is also a tipple of sherry vinegar, honey, argan oil and other things in here too, as the consomme gives off this floral, subtly spiced quality. And then to the incredibly fine dough holding the filling. Melts on the palate with zero resistance. The epitome of 3 star vegetable cooking.
3. Bouquet of Chausey lobster, honey from their apiary and translucent globe turnip
We actually asked for the ALC whole lobster (with vin jaune) but they couldn’t do it, and instead offered this which was part of the taster menu, and I wondered if perhaps they didn’t have any ideal sized ones in the 700-800g range.
With cooked lobster roe picked off the swimmerets as a visual garnish more than anything. The honey sauce is spiked with healthy dose of acidity, with a pronounced citrus element ,rather than sherry vinegar.
The turnip beautifully cooked, the texture is softened, and hangs together like film, redolent of Brett Graham’s clay baked beetroot where moisture is fully retained. Amazing, and the star on this plate.
However the lobster itself (precooked and served cold) was a little too firm, more langouste than homard, or bouncy rather i should say, in which the Chinese in me finds very appealing, but it lacks the delicate sweetness which I associate with a perfectly cooked European lobster. Perhaps it was was a big old girl, but also density is also characteristic of Breton lobsters and how they they compare to British counterparts. In terms of colour, the flesh had a touch of translucence, so there’s nothing wrong with the cuisson.
As noted by others over the years, the honey sauce is both too sweet and too sour for the lobster, in fact it can do with much less of it. I fall in the camp that believes less is more with this noble crustacean. Less time out of water, cooking a la minute, and less adornments, all result in a greater experience.
4. Gratin of young Sturon and Red Baron onions, with parmesan and chestnuts
It’s as you expect, sweet onion, a caramlised crust, nuttiness, it’s comfort food, but then I saw documentary (Video, at 21:04) in which Passard was eating this with perigord truffle and cannot unsee it. Melanasporum season is weeks away, so if you’re there in the next couple of months, winter black + onion gratin may be that epiphany moment…
5. Roast leg of Mont St Michel Lamb, oyster emulsion, grand cru vegetables, and potato puree
When I asked Helene about the roast of the day, she casually mentioned lamb and oyster sauce. Seemed like a quirky pairing, so we ordered it.
Only when they presented the leg, did they say it’s Mont st Michel, which drew a gasp from me, and I thought was a really nice way for them to keep the low profile on the prized lamb.
Anyway, the natural flavours of the salt marsh lamb was in perfect harmony with the minerality of the oyster beurre blanc,. Natural being sea greens, purslane, samphire and whatever else they graze on during the low tide.
I’m a huge fan of salt marsh lamb, love the Welsh stuff from Rhug, but Mont St Michel, especially late in season, is next level. Blooming gorgeous. The depth of flavour is incredible, long yet subtle and simply delicious. Wonder if it is Le Grevin, or the other 3…and also wonder how close they graze to his gardens over there.
Cooked to a touch of pink (needed for leg), juicy and unsurprisingly, the cuisson is perfect.
6. Bouquet of Roses ®️ , aka the Apple Tart
It is more tarte fine than tarte Tatin, the apples retaining a little crunch being rolled up like this, and overall the pudding is very light on the palate, considering the amount of butter in it. I cannot say it is my preference when it comes to apple tarts as I think a classic tarte Tatin done right (simple as it is) is a perfect pudding.
7. Chocolate Millefeuille
Finally, we ended on the lamination supreme. Its incredibly soft, fluffy, and the way it shatters into little fine flakes is one of life’s great pleasures. Incredible puff pastry (Video here). Haven’t been to Guy Savoy, thankful London has CB, TK and MJ puff pastry, but this is still pretty epic.
Even though Claude got teary eyed at the ceremony, it really came as no surprise when the Bib gave him back his double stars. The award to Araki san did surprise me (I am of the opinion that Brett Graham deserves it), and you know my mind wanders to master craftsmen like Sugita san, and it is bewildering that the Bib believes Balfegó to be an ample substitute for Oma black diamonds. Especially for the £300++ bottomline.
A trojan horse of a digression, since the subject restaurant is located in none other than the former UK HQ for the French tyre company. Without boring you with its history, Sir Terrance Conran and Paul Hamlyn bought it in the 80s and had installed a great Chef in the form of Simon Hopkinson to run the Bibendum kitchens in those days, though never showered with stars by the Bib. WIth Claude’s appointment, this has now changed.
From the cynical angle, you could look at Bibendum’s 2 star award/Claude’s reinstatement, as the result of a carefully orchestrated courtship of the Bib – a delicious narrative in the making, for the Michelin house to finally house a three star restaurant. As it turns out, joining up with Conran has yielded early success and may yet prove to be a viable route to the ultimate accolade. Claude is of course the real deal. He has the pedigree, clout and experience to command a 3 star reputation, and in this day and age with the Bib’s ongoing identity crisis, it is rare to come across a London chef who remains passionate about achieving the milestone.
I much prefer this room robed in natural light to the darkly lit shoebox that was Hibiscus (in its Maddox St location, rather than Ludlow). It must be a pleasure to work this room, as happy feelings ooze from Front of House. I’ve always found Hibiscus an intimidating place to dine in, though there was no question about the immensity of what arrived on the plate; Larger than life flavours, ingredient pairings that seek to break the mould rather than nod to convention. Improvisation and innovation come to mind when I think of Claude’s cuisine, taking risks which can result in spectacular achievement and also incredible failure. Perhaps it is a trait he picked up from his mentor Alain Passard – whose cuisine is anything but static – and why not push the boundaries if you are capable of it.
So we dropped in on a sunny Friday afternoon in early September, and took in the ALC menu, rather than the attractively priced lunch menu (£40 for 3 courses, featuring trolley carvery roast) or the taster menu (£110 carte blanche, arisen from the ashes in a manner of speaking). It was expensive, but I found plenty to love. The savouries were absolutely two star caliber cooking. Puddings, a little anti-climatic, but did not dent the overall impressive nature of the meal. An amuse that nods -at least visually- to L’Arpege’s hot-cold egg, Hedone sourdough and excellent Ampersand cultured butter (deep flavours, almost cheesy) rounded things off. We paid £180.80 for 2 people which included 6 plates, 2 coffees and service.
As it stands, the 2 stars are fair and I think the restaurant is in a good place. There is no compromise in cuisine, but there is an upgrade in its expansive and relaxed ambiance. Of course, it is still very early days (it opened in April this year) and like you, I’ll be watching Bibendum closely over the next couple of years, where promotion may yet beckon.
Details of our meal below.
Hedone bread and Ampersand cultured butter, £free
Amuse: Sweetcorn and coconut
Adour foie gras ala Grecque, cauliflower and coriander, £22
A generous portion of a Hibiscus classic, by other accounts. A little worried this would be too rich, but was surprised to find it incredibly lightly textured, almost like egg tofu rather than a wedge of wobbly fat. Result from a 5 hour SV, and then finished in pan so it has a lick of smoke. Perfectly cooked. Cauliflower and coriander both high in acid and fragrance, well balanced with the savoury liver.
Cornish turbot Grenobloise, £38
Top notch turbot, two fillets rolled & cooked together (like a “boneless tranche” so to speak), evenly to a pearly translucence, I hazard, in the magic 50ishC region. Firm flakes, this is a near perfect turbot dish. On a bed of liberally seasoned (crushed?) potatoes hidden in whipped emulsion of beurre noisette. Big flavours, a hearty main course, impressive and delicious.
I too was intrigued when I saw coco beans in the pudding menu, so had to try it. To my surprise, beans in sweet was good, analogous to say a Chinese yam pudding in flavour. But I cannot say it would displace a conventional bourbon vanilla as personal preference.
Of course with MFs, its all about the pastry, and I was rather excited about this given Claude’s L’Arpege background. Sadly, the pastry was not flaky, lamination didn’t seem defined, did not shatter (at all), a challenge to cut with a fork (swipe above video), portion a little small. The only misstep in a largely impressive meal.
Chocolate souffle, glazed with shiny ganache, and loaded with Indonesian basil ice cream, £14
During the last days of The (Old) Square, Gary’s style was becoming evident, which I find to be rather more elegant on the plate, with tidy compositions and precise cooking applied where necessary. Of course he had to do it within the confines of having to intepret Phil Howard’s more generous cooking, but I certainly thought that the Foulkes years (2013 to 2016) was a rather slick effort in the modernisation of Phil’s classics.
Scouring Gary’s IG feed, it partly shows his inspirations that has informed his current cooking, his love of Thai and Japanese cuisine in particular. A seafood restaurant (as is suggested in the restaurant’s name) seems an appropriate for him to flesh out his cuisine. Gary is an experienced veteran having started out with Richard Neat (the original Chef at ** PdT) and eventually spending the good part of the last decade with Phil at The Square. As you know, Phil sold The Square last year, and since April 2016, Gary has quietly built up his repertoire at The Angler. He replaces Tony Fleming, the previous Chef at Angler, and has managed to retain the restaurant’s michelin star in the 2017 guide.
What is significant to know is since the sale of The Square, you could say the old team has branched off into two locations; Some have joined up with the Boss at Elystan Street, and the other (larger) contingent went off to join Gary at Angler.
And so we left it with Gary (who was in the kitchen) to make a menu for this lunch on a Friday afternoon, for two.
0. Squid ink cracker with taramasalata
Kian, one of many Old Square regulars, had shed some light on the history of this omnipresent canapé, in which its invention can be attributed to Gary during his Square days. As far as originals go, this is cool runnings. Wafer thin, and a clean snap with a full flavoured taramasalata. Good.
1. Tartare of yellowfin tuna, Hass avocado, wasabi and shiso
A classical combination, and appealing, the fat of the avocado puree with the acidity of the marinated tuna tartare. Fresh, enlivening and well-made. A good star, although (it is not so PC to say it these days, but is a fact) yellowfin is a far cry from blue fin for raw prep.
2. Ajo Blanco, raw red prawns, Zerbinati melon, grape, fig leaf oil
On the other hand, you already know how fantastic these Sicilian red prawns are raw – Slippery, sweet, natural brine and jewel-like. The almond garlic ajo blanco is sufficiently seasoned to match the prawns, but here the real genius is the dried spicy shavings made from the head of the prawns.
They remind me very much of sambal, belacan or even dried shrimp. Pickled and spicy with a very true punch of umami. The finish is is a contrasting clean and cool, the spectre of melons. Smart dish this, this is Gary showing his quality.
3. Roast octopus, crispy chiporones, taramasalata, jersey royals, red wine bagna cauda
I really like this dish, and I find it pretty unique. It is mature, confident, well thought out and is of course delicious. Especially the cooking of the octopus tentacles, slow braised in stock, and then coloured in high heat to finish. The suckers are removed and this gives the visual illusion of frankfurters, but frankfurters these are not.
The reduction is sweet and sour-ish (say anchovies and balsamic) to a sticky consistency that plays well as foil to the creamy and garlicky taramasalata both holding up to the octopus well. Impressive as the meal builds.
Summery indeed, I like this hot and sour aspect to the broth, lemon verbana plays like lemongrass, no doubt this is Gary inspired by his trips to Thailand, dare I say it is a very sophisticated tom yam.
5. Cornish turbot, line caught squid tagliatelle , Japanese mushrooms, bonito dashi
Spectacular. Have to hand it to Gary, the cuisson here is absolutely perfect. It is an elegant composition, yet jam packed with flavour without being heavy (no butter). It is obviously Japanese inspired, I have no doubt this can sit comfortably in a kaiseiki menu.
This pearlescent fillet, lifted off a 4kg fish, is timed until each and every firm flake is as polished as a cut diamond.
I think this steaming in kombu is brilliant – it has completely penetrated the turbot with deep umami, and the mushrooms as well as the dashi serve only to enhance it. A pure explosion of flavour greets every spoonful of this gorgeous dish.
Some of you know how much I love this noble fish, and I must say this is the best piece of turbot I’ve encountered in London this year. It was that good. Well done to Chef.
6. Roast Newlyn cod, spring peas, Cornish squid, Scottish girolles
This must be the Anglo-French parallel to the turbot dish. Golden crusted on a one side only, an indication of how it was roasted on the pan, and of course a technique familiar to Phil Howard fans. A straight up classic dish here with little to fault. Delicious piece of firm, flaky and moist cod.
Just when I thought we were winding down, the pastry section breaks out a trio of extremely impressive puddings, starting with this one.
I love these French fruit, they are incredibly intense things, especially the ones with the saturated red flesh, as these are. Balanced flavours and truly a pudding to savour when the spoon goes in.
8. Tart of English strawberries, Brillat-Savarin and violet
I think the quality of the shortcrust is evident even in pictures, very thin, and extremely light, it is perfect pastry work. The filling is equally fleeting, essentially a cheesecake whipped with plenty of air with a compote centre from soften and sweet fruit.
I could not resist, I had to have a souffle and for you old Square fans, this should be familiar.
As you can tell, the souffle is very stable, and is very likely a mix of rice pudding (puree as they use to do at old Square) in place of classic creme pat with the meringue. I urge you to play the video above. Utterly luscious, entirely gorgeous and this is truly what puddings ought to be!
We paid £275.06 in total for 2 taster menus, water, 4 glasses of wine and service.
I must say, I was delightfully surprised by this meal, especially considering Gary has to do his thing within the confines of the D&D banner. I did not expect this much quality, but came away marveling at an array of hugely accomplished dishes that showed maturity, precision in execution, and a unique identity to his cuisine. The latter is quite the feat in current times. Gary and his team more than deserve their michelin star. If you love seafood, you will be in good hands and be mightily impressed by the output, and you should take advantage of the dying embers of the British Summer. There should be a patch of good weather coming up, and if you are lucky with the weather gods, you really must try his turbot dish. To reiterate, it is without question the best turbot I’ve eaten in London this year.
When you do eventually visit, do leave room for pudding. They are incredible things and certainly make for a sweet ending.
ALC £65 for 3 courses (average) + drinks + service
Set Lunch £38 for 3 courses + drinks + service
Taster menu £60 for 5 courses / £90 for 8 courses + drinks + service
South Place Hotel, 3 South Place EC2M 2AF
Tel: 020 3215 1260
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