Welcome to food critic Andy Hayler’s restaurant reviews. My weekly blog covers my recent dining and restaurant news. Follow to keep up with Independent reviews of restaurants and hotels from a professional food writer.
The Scran and Scallie is a pub that is the sister restaurant of Kitchin. As well as serving terrific haddock and chips, it serves more ambitious dishes such as hand-dived scallops with pea sauce, a dish featuring a really top of the line scallop. The standard of food here is very high indeed, and the meal that I tried was as superb as the last one that I ate here. I have no idea why it doesn’t get a Michelin star rather a bib gourmand.
On the subject of stars, The Castle Terrace is another restaurant in the growing of Tom Kitchin, and one that had a Michelin star until 2015. On the basis of our meal on this trip the loss of a star is puzzling, as we had a very elaborate and enjoyable evening, the cooking frequently quite technical but also based on top notch products, such as some lovely langoustines.
The previous chef of The Honours has now struck on his own at a hotel called MacDonalds in the city near Holyrood House, whose ruined abbey is pictured. This restaurant, with the lengthy name "Bistro De Luxe by Paul Tabmurrini", was also a pleasant experience, the best dish being hand-dived scallop with tagliatelle and black truffle.
Edinburgh is blessed with some excellent restaurants, and certainly Kitchin and Martin Wishart seem to me to be worth two stars rather than one, especially when I compare them with some other starred places in Scotland like Braidwoods. This trip confirms that there are a number of good choices in the city in addition to these.
In the 2018 guide there were two new three star restaurants in France. Restaurant Christophe Bacquie is in the south of France between Marseilles and Toulon, located in a large resort hotel. He specialises in seafood and we had a tasting menu that featured this, the star dish being a superb barbecued langoustine. This was a good meal, marred only by an annoying sommelier and a weird dessert.
The other newbie is also a reference to the past. Maison du Bois is the new restaurant of legendary chef Marc Veyrat, who had three stars at two separate locations over a decade ago, in Annecy and Megeve. Now recovered from a serious skiing accident, he has opened a restaurant on the site of the house where he was born up in the Alps (the view is pictured), and certainly the location is stunning. The meal was enjoyable and was full of theatrical flourishes, though to be honest the food is not of the level that I recall from his glory days in Annecy.
Two venerable three stars, however, are keeping up the standard admirably. Auberge de l’Ill has one of the prettiest settings of any restaurant, overlooking a weeping willow-lined river in Alsace. This meal was excellent, living up to the superb setting, with a particularly enjoyable Bresse chicken dish with truffle.
Pic in Valence is another restaurant with considerable history, and these days is home to the very precise cooking of Anne-Sophie Pic. This was a classy meal, with fabulous pigeon the star of the savoury courses. The pastry section here is without doubt one of the best in France, and they brought out several cracking dishes, the most remarkable being an extraordinary apricot dessert with amazing flavour and a hint of spice – it is one of the finest things I have ever eaten.
Baiersbronn is an obscure little municipality in the Black Forest, nine villages strung out along a beautiful valley lined with pine trees. It is remarkable for its density of Michelin stars, the most of anywhere on earth. It has a pair of three star Michelin restaurants in Bareiss and Schwarzwaldstube, and a two star called Schlossberg (no relation to three star restaurant Schloss Berg in Perl-Nennig). It exceeds the count in Bray in Berkshire, with eight stars compared to seven (Waterside Inn, Fat Duck, Hinds Head) yet with a population less than half that of Bray.
Bareiss is one of the three star restaurants, located in a luxury hotel at the base of the valley. It has a very traditional dining room and serves classical food, using top quality ingredients such as venison from its own hunting estate. This is entirely worthy of the three Michelin stars that it has held since 2007. It is a top-class place.
Bareiss has a casual sister restaurant called Satellei, set in a former hiking hut in the woods overlooking the hotel. This little restaurant produced two really fine dishes, a pork dish with mustard and terrific quality sauerkraut, and also a delicate tarte flambee, a flatbread dish that is a local (ish) take on pizza. The prices here were absurdly low given the quality of the food, and the woodland setting is gorgeous.
Schwarzwaldstube is the most famous restaurant in Germany, and is remarkable not only for its cuisine but its knack of training other chefs that go on to glittering careers of their own: thirty chefs who have worked there have progressed to Michelin stars of their own, including some other three star places. The restaurant is in the rustic Traube Tonbach hotel, and looks down over the valley. It has a new chef in the form of Torsten Michel, who was the long-term sous chef under former head chef Harald Wohlfhart. The food at this meal was absolutely superb, slightly bettering the fine meals that I had eaten at the restaurant under the previous kitchen regime. This is without doubt a world-class restaurant. We had just enough time to sample a couple of dishes only from its casual sister restaurant Baurenstube, which serves traditional dishes of the area, and though this was an insufficient sample for a review, what we tried was excellent and I will return another time to do a proper visit.
The only disappointment of the trip was the two star Schlossberg, which is within another hotel in the valley. There was a serious problem with over-salting of dishes, in some cases to an extent that rendered the food inedible. Additionally there was some very clumsy cooking, such as a chewy octopus and monkfish with the texture of cardboard. Service was also almost laughably bad. Although there were a couple of acceptable dishes amongst the wreckage, this was a shambolic restaurant that has absolutely no place as a Michelin starred establishment. I have literally never eaten a worse meal at a starred restaurant anywhere in the world, and I have tried hundreds.
This aside, Baiersbronn is a terrific destination for a break, with beautiful scenery and world-class cuisine as well as some classy and cheap restaurants serving the local specialities. Do yourself a favour and visit.
Hide is probably the highest profile opening in London this year, with gazillions being spent on the three-floor venture overlooking Green Park, with executive chef Ollie Dabbous. The formal restaurant “Above” (there is also the casual “Ground” and the bar “Below’) delivered some very prettily presented food that included a particularly good beetroot dish. The wine list here is very unusual in that you can drink anything from wine shop Hedonism, owned by the same people as Hide, and pay £30 above the retail price there. This means that the better wines are a steal compared to what you would pay elsewhere in central London. It is essentially a corkage charge but you don’t have the bother of carrying the wine to the restaurant. This is a real bonus and the food was very polished, albeit of the highly tweezered variety.
Neptune is a large seafood restaurant in a flashy new hotel called The Principal on Russell Square. We had some acceptable food, though the service operation was decidedly shaky, and there was little that really stood out on the food side. This is a quite expensive restaurant, and given its slightly unusual location I wonder how well it will do once the initial hype subsides.
Pied a Terre has had a succession of gifted chefs over the years, including Richard Neat, Tom Aikens and Shane Osborn, who all maintained two stars for the Charlotte Street restaurant for many years owned by restaurateur David Moore. These days it has one star, and the latest person to head the kitchen is former sous chef Asimakis Chaniotis. We had a very enjoyable meal, the star dish being a smoked quail salad.
I had another excellent meal at Beck at Browns, where the kitchen is already settling down and ironing out a few minor early glitches that I encountered in my first meal here. This lunch was spot on, with particularly classy pasta and risotto but also high end desserts. The head chef Heros di Agostinis here is a class act, and deserves to earn a star for his cooking, as he did at his previous stint at Apsleys.
Marianne is a tiny Notting Hill restaurant that has built up a good reputation, recently winning Harden’s "top gastronomic experience n London" award this year. I had not been since soon after it opened, and certainly the food has developed in sophistication since that early meal. It turns out that Marianne Lumb is actually moving on herself to travel in Asia, handing over the kitchen to her head chef.
Inter Scaldes is in the far west of the Netherlands, on reclaimed land in Zeeland, and is actually closer to Antwerp in Belgium than it is to Rotterdam. It has a dozen rooms to stay, which is useful given how isolated the place is. The dining room looks out over attractive gardens, and the food was very good indeed. A cod brandade dish in particular was remarkable, but the standard was high throughout. This is quite a journey from, well, just about anywhere, but was most enjoyable.
Simul was a pleasant enough and moderately price restaurant in Athens that had a couple of minor issues with the savoury courses but produced a genuinely classy dessert: a strawberry millefeuille. This was overall a decent enough place, though it is not a destination restaurant. I’d be tempted to return for dessert though.
Tudor Hall is in a posh hotel in the very centre of Athens, and has a terrace with a fine view of the Acropolis in the distance. It is very smart, and we had a very good modern take on moussaka amongst the savoury dishes. Even better were desserts, where a French executive pastry chef has managed to conjure some very serious pastry from the kitchen. The desserts could have come straight from a two Michelin star restaurant in France.
Santorini is a Greek island that is formed around a sunken volcanic caldera (it happens to be the largest caldera on earth). There are two towns, one called Firo near the airport, and the other, called Oia, clinging picturesquely to the cliffs on the north edge of the island. The holiday brochure pictures that you may have seen of Santorini, looking out to the sea with pretty blue domed stone buildings in the foreground, will have been taken at Oia. From top to bottom Santorini is fourteen miles long, and its dramatic setting and warm climate means that it is a tourist magnet, with an endless supply of cruise ships stopping off. Other than tourism, the island is known for its wines, the local Assyrtiko grape capable of producing high quality, acidic wines with a citrus fruity bouquet. The notoriously high winds here mean that the grapes are trained low near the ground, or protected by baskets, rather than as you would see vineyards in France or Italy. The hot climate also allows it to produce excellent cherry tomatoes, along with white aubergines and fava beans. However, other than the vineyards the economy is mostly driven by tourism, and even in May the bars and cafes were becoming busy. This is a good time of year, to visit, since the weather this week was 24C rather than baking hot, the tourist hordes have yet to arrive en masse and rain here is as rare as the English cricket team managing an innings without a batting collapse. If you come to Santorini for any length of time then consider hiring a car, as although the island is not that large, the taxi drivers appear to have modelled themselves on the highwaymen of old. Taxis have no meters and extract vast fares for short journeys, there being no competition from Uber. The three kilometre trip from the airport to our hotel here at €20 was pricier than the 33km airport taxi journey that we made in Athens, and a cab driver here won't as much as look at you for less than €10. To put this into a global context, the website The Price of Travel does a survey of 88 global cities to compare the cost of a 3km taxi fare; its last update reckoned Zurich was the costliest city at €19 for a 3km fare, still less than our €20 fare here of the same distance. Hence Santorini taxis appear to be literally the costliest on earth: such is the price of such a beautiful location, and municipal authorities that allow this daylight robbery to unfold. Incidentally, on departing the island the little airport has an attractive outdoor cafe where you can have a drink in the sunshine while you await your flight, which is a nice touch, and a lot more civilised than the woefully small un-air conditioned holding pen that you encounter once you go through security.
On the food front there are some similarities in my mind to Venice, another place whose businesses have become accustomed to milking tourists who visit briefly and are unlikely to return. There are three upmarket restaurants on Santorini. One is Lycabettus, which has a genuinely spectacular setting in Oia but where the sky high prices are matched only by the mediocrity of the food. The old stager on the scene is Koukoumavlos, which also has a lovely view but whose menu was full of barking mad flavour combinations with far too many elements on each plate. Selene, which is away from the main tourist areas, was far and away the best of the smart places, serving food of one Michelin star level in my opinion.
We fared better at the tavernas. Aktaion has been running since 1922 and serves traditional dishes like moussaka, and fried balls of local vegetables, at a modest price. It was a real pleasure to eat there compared to vastly more expensive yet inferior Lycabettus and Koukoumavlos. Even better was To Psaraki, another taverna near the island’s port, serving excellent seafood such as terrific grilled sardines. Santorini is a spectacularly beautiful island, and there is surely an opportunity for better high end restaurants than currently seem to exist, given all the tourist money that passes through here. Until that happens then there are fortunately some very enjoyable tavernas to enjoy in Santorini plus the excellent Selene. Also the views, which are really special.
This week was spent in Seville and the nearby area. I needed to go to Aponiente in order to keep up with the Michelin three star carousel, which this year has bestowed a third star on no less than sixteen restaurants around the world. Aponiente is near Cadiz, but it can also be reached by train in just over an hour from Seville, which is a very beautiful city to visit. It has sights such as the Alcazar royal palace (pictured), which is a UNESCO world heritage site with fine architecture and beautiful gardens.
Seville itself has a very well preserved Old Town, whose narrow streets are shared by throngs of tourists, impatient motorists and the odd horse and carriage doing a tour. The bustling Old Town is packed with tapas bars and restaurants, with places such as La Azotea. To explore the tapas scene properly then it is worth getting some local expertise, such as that of the knowledgable Shawn Hennessy of the excellent and long established Sevilla Tapas Tours.
We had time to try two well-known and very different seafood restaurants. Canabota is fairly new and centrally located, with a relaxed atmosphere and an element of theatre with its display of seafood and open kitchen. I had some lovely langoustine cooked over charcoal here, as well as very good croaker (a huge fish reminiscent in taste of sea bass).
Even better was Jaylu, situated out of the centre across the canal, and with a much more formal atmosphere. The seafood here was every bit as good though, with particularly excellent tuna tartare, good sea bass and superb fried anchovies, as well as having the bonus of a kindly priced wine list. This feels far from the bustle of Canabota, but the restaurants's fifty year (and counting) existence shows that it has staying power.
Aponiente itself is in a distinctly industrial location on the edge of the town of Puerto de Santa Maria, and its kitchen is on a mission to explore the boundaries of what can be done with seafood. Here you will find seafood charcuterie, seafood cheese (I am not kidding) and more ways of serving plankton that you are ever likely to have previously considered. The waiters were enthusiastic and charming and some of the dishes were very good, though there were some distinctly strange ideas mixed in on the lengthy tasting menu that we encountered.
Ikeda is a long established Japanese restaurant in Mayfair, and has been running since 1978. Not many restaurants in London last forty years, so it is clearly doing something right. I had some pleasant sushi with particularly nice tuna and eel, though it was a pity to be served fake wasabi rather than the real thing. Tonkatsu was enjoyable enough, though after trying some of the better ones in Tokyo such as that at Sugita, it is always tricky to match up to that standard. Overall, Ikeda delivered a pleasant meal, but at quite a high price point. Eating Japanese food in London continues to be a struggle if you have spent any time dining in Japan, where the ingredient quality in particular is simply of a higher level.
Twist is a curious tapas bar north of Marble Arch, near Edgware Road station. It sounds highly dubious: “tapas with a twist” from an Italian chef – just about every alarm bell should be going off when you hear a pitch like that. Much to my surprise it was very good – padron peppers were of exceptional quality, tuna tartare with yuzu and Japanese chill was genuinely excellent, and marinated Japanese scallops and red prawns were classy too. Not everything worked e.g. an over-rich gnocchi with langoustine cream and crab, but there were a lot more hits than misses. Worth a look.
I also had another very good meal at Amorosa in Ravenscourt Park, a regular haunt of mine. Here Andy Needham, former head chef of Zafferano when it had a Michelin star. His saffron risotto is a delight, creamy and gorgeous, and this week a new lamb shoulder pasta dish was particularly impressive. At £47 a head for this most recent meal Amorosa is excellent value.
Next week there will be reviews of some places well off the Tube network.
The Clock House is in Ripley in Surrey, in the premises that used to be Drakes. The restaurant regained its Michelin star in the 2018 guide, with the kitchen now run by Fred Clapperton. We had a very pleasant evening there, with some unusually good nibbles and a series of capable savoury courses, though things slid down a notch or two at the dessert stage. The staff were nice and the bill was not excessive, at least by London standards.
Dip in Brilliant is a casual sister restaurant of the long established Brilliant in Southall. The new place is almost next to the Chelsea football ground, and is run by the daughter (Dipna Anand) of the owner of the Brilliant. We had a pleasant enough meal when we visited, though not all the dishes were quite to the standard of the original Southall mother ship. Prices were also quite high, but rents in Fulham are clearly much higher than in Southall.
We had another excellent meal at Noize, which along with Core is my pick for the best London restaurant opening of 2017. The menu of fairly classical French dishes is appealing, and there are nice touches such as the kitchen making old fashioned sauce reductions. Service is charming and the wine list is unusually good, alongside a fairly modest corkage charge.
I can’t seem to stay away from The Ritz, and had another excellent meal there. There was a particularly good dish of Provence asparagus with gull egg and truffle sauce, and a lovely Ballotine of Dover sole with leek terrine. As usual, the desserts here were top notch, with an especially elaborate and pretty chocolate concoction.
Four Degree is a very ambitious Asian fusion restaurant on the river in Vauxhall. It is very smartly decorated and the menu is reminiscent of places such as Roka and Zuma, with mostly Japanese style dishes. Black cod with miso was suitably buttery and the dish of the night, but even the desserts were surprisingly well made. It is far from cheap here, and given its cavernous dimensions, seating well over 300 customers at capacity, I am curious to see how it will get on, but it is certainly interesting.
If you ever ate at Apsleys at The Lanesborough hotel before it closed when the hotel changed hands, and wondered where the chef there went – now you have your answer. Heros de Agostinis, who has worked for many years with Heinz Beck at Pergola in Rome and other places, now heads up Beck at Browns, the hotel in Albemarle Street. The Italian menu here is rather more casual than at Apsleys but still has plenty of ambition, with dishes such as red mullet stuffed with olives and tomatoes and cooked in a thin layer of bread. The risotto here was top notch and worth visiting for this alone. Prices are high and the wine list takes no prisoners, but there is no doubting that the chef here can cook.
I had my 72nd meal at Hedone. As usual, I opted for the “carte blanche” tasting menu, which on this visit included highlights of a sashimi scallop so fresh it was still moving on the plate when it was served and lovely asparagus from Pertuis in Provence. I particularly liked a foie gras nibble that was served inside a very delicate millefeuille, and top-notch red mullet with artichoke and bouillabaisse. Rum baba was a lovely way to finish the lengthy meal. Given the very high grade ingredients, labour intensive dishes and inventiveness, Michelin’s award of just a single star here gets harder to understand with each visit.