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.
Santo Remedio (pictured) is a Mexican restaurant in Tooley Street. It seems to be quite well regarded by many but the meal that I had was merely decent, with one good enchilada dish. It was quite inexpensive at lunch, but it did not remotely compare to the best Mexican food that I have eaten, which has been in the USA and at Punto MX in Madrid. One day there will hopefully be a really top notch Mexican restaurant in London, but I have yet to find it.
Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester is one of London’s trio of three star Michelin restaurants, though also the one that is most controversial in terms of its ranking. I have been several times now and generally the pattern is one of decent but unexceptional savoury courses followed by excellent desserts along with slick service and high prices. This particular meal largely followed that pattern, though there were more inconsistencies this time than at my last visit. The wine list in particular is excruciatingly priced.
L’Amorosa is a regular haunt of mine, with Andy Needham cooking a slightly simpler version of the Italian dishes that he used to make in the years when he was the running the Michelin-starred kitchen at Zafferano. His risotto is some of the best in London, and pasta dishes here are always excellent. It is a welcoming neighbourhood place with very good food and very fair prices.
Ham in West Hampstead was a nice surprise in an area not overly blessed with good restaurants. The modern British menu avoided hipster excesses, and served a particularly good chicken liver parfit and an excellent dish of noodles in a spicy prawn broth. This is an excellent neighbourhood restaurant.
The Crown in Chiswick is one of a growing group of gastropubs overseen by Henry Harris. It was already full just four days after opening, and although the savoury dishes were rather uneven in standard, the desserts were excellent and prices were fair.
I had my 74th meal at Hedone. Over a long tasting menu there were some real highlights, such as stunning sweetbread with black truffles, and a superb foie gras parfait. Hedone is not a cheap outing, but the best dishes here are superb and feature the finest ingredients that you will encounter at any UK restaurant.
The 2019 Switzerland Michelin guide appeared. No change at the three star level, and one new two star in the form of Focus in Vitznau and The Pavilion in Zurich. Switzerland now has a trio of three star restaurants, 20 two stars and 103 one stars.
The Petersham Hotel has a lovely setting at the top of Richmond Hill. In daylight there is a fine view down over the countryside and the Thames from its dining room. For years it had a very capable head chef called Alex Bentley, but recently there has been regime change in the kitchen. Sadly the meal we had was very uneven, with nice Dover sole and crème brulee but a poor langoustine starter and a dismal pear soufflé. This is a shame since the Petersham has many virtues including an unusually well priced wine list with some bargains tucked away. Sadly the food is no longer the draw.
The newly opened Farzi Café (pictured) in Haymarket is an offshoot of a trendy Indian restaurant group called Massive Restaurants, founded in 2012 and now with over 30 restaurants with brands including Farzi Café, Masala Library and Made in Punjab, with outlets in India and the Middle East. The food is very much modern Indian rather than traditional, and the two storey restaurant is very smartly decorated. The menu is a little confusing in places but the cooking is good quality, with a superb black dhal one example, and a delicate vegetable biryani another. Some dishes seem a touch out of place e.g. Kashmiri morel risotto with Parmesan was good but barely connected to Indian food, but there was plenty of skill on display. A shrikand cheesecake with mango was an excellent dessert. Prices are not excessive, and Farzi Café is a classy Indian restaurant – London is really being spoilt for these in the last couple of years.
BaoziInn is in the stable of Bar Shu, and serves dishes from across China rather than the Sichuan fare of its older sister. I had a somewhat mixed meal, with a couple of really good dishes but also a couple of flawed ones. Overall it was pleasant enough, though prices were a bit high given the uneven standard of the dishes.
Miryam’s Café is a new Persian place in Chiswick, established by a former journalist and cookbook author. It is a quite homely place, feeling more like someone’s living room than a commercial dining room. The menu varies daily and is a short set of specials. I had a very pleasant meal, with a nicely judged green lentil soup, a good salad and a decent chicken and saffron rice dish. It is a simple, friendly place that is a refreshing change from the chain restaurants that dominate our high streets these days.
The Michelin Guide 2019 to France came out. This was unusually radical, with a new head of the guide at the helm stamping out a definite impression. There were two new three star restaurants, Mirazur in Menton and Clos des Sens in Annecy, but there were also three demotions: Astrance, Maison de Bois (Marc Veyrat) and Auberge de l’Ill in Alsace. Maison de Bois seemed a welcome correction to me, and I have had quite a lot of negative recent feedback about Astrance. However Auberge de l’Ill is puzzling. Not only had it held three stars for a remarkable length of time, but the timing here seems wrong. A decade or so years ago it definitely had a lacklustre phase when Michelin did nothing, but I have had two quite recent meals, both of which were firmly back on three star form. It therefore seems a puzzling decision. There was further controversy in the demotion of the legendary Le Taillevent in Paris to one star. There were five new two star places and no less than 75 new one star restaurants. As one further item of controversy, Bras is once again listed, the former 3 star restaurant having requested to be omitted from the guide last year. Michelin had always stated that chefs cannot “give back” stars as they are not theirs in the first place, but rather oddly made an exception for Bras. The new French head of Michelin has, to my mind quite sensibly, quashed this decision and reinstated Bras, but at the 2 star level, which to be honest feels right based on my meals there. Hence this is an effective demotion for Bras too. Overall I think it is good that Michelin has a clear out from time to time, but I feel sorry for the Haeberlin family at Auberge de l’Ill, as there are plenty of 3 stars in France worse than there e.g. the seemingly Teflon-coated Georges Blanc, which retains 3 stars whatever food they churn out.
France now has 27 three star restaurants, 85 two stars and 520 one stars. As of this moment there are 127 three star Michelin restaurants in the world. The Michelin season for 2019 guides is nearly finished, though the Germany guide has yet to appear.
This week we had a beach vacation in Goa. This was my 23rd visit to India, though I hadn’t been to Goa for almost a decade. It Is a nice spot if you fancy some winter sunshine, as in January the daytime temperature is typically around 30C, dropping to 20C at night, with a virtually guaranteed ten hours of sunshine daily in January, which is the sunniest month.
The Leela Palace in Goa is a beach hotel that first opened in 1991, situated a one hour drive south of the main airport. It is an extensive, low rise property spread over 75 acres of landscaped gardens, with the 210 rooms set out in groups around artificial lagoons, all within an easy walk of the extensive private beach. The hotel has a well-equipped spa and gym, tennis courts and a pitch and putt golf course amongst its facilities. There is a large open-air pool overlooking the golf course, a little casino and a few shops. If you are feeling idle then there is a fleet of little electric golf carts cruising the property that can give you a lift to where you need. The hotel, incidentally, has 775 staff, with the consequent staff to room ratio of 3.7 being triple the current average of 1.2 for a five star hotel in India, so there is always plenty of help on hand for just about any requirement that you may have. It is a very civilised spot.
The hotel has three restaurants in addition to a beach snack bar. An all-day restaurant in the main building one serves a wide variety of different food including an extensive buffet, and there is also an Italian restaurant overlooking the water and a more formal Indian restaurant called Jamavar, The smarter restaurants are only open in the evening. Additionally there is a separate “Club” area with its own exclusive lounge, dining room and bedrooms, and with its own private pool. We ate at the Jamavar throughout our stay, having explored a few local dining alternatives on previous trips here, and having found nothing close to it in standard.
Imperial Treasure is the first London opening of a restaurant group with several branches in Asia. Its Shanghai branch gets two Michelin stars for reasons that elude me, and two more of the group have single stars. The London version is very swish indeed, with a beautifully decorated dining room and prices to match the setting. Service was very slick and the menu heavily loaded with luxury ingredients. Singapore noodles with lobster was superb, but so was a much humbler hot and sour soup, so the kitchen is definitely in capable hands. This is an expensive outing, but is far from style over substance.
Tamarind was one of the first two Indian restaurants to gain Michelin stars (the other was Zaika) and has been rather drifting along for some years. Finally there has been a major shake-up in the form of a complete makeover, doubling the size of the restaurant, and a brand new kitchen team. We had a very good meal there with some genuine highlights, such as excellent chicken tikka and biryani and a terrific gajar halwa soufflé with guava sorbet. Service was good and the food prices not excessive for Mayfair, but the wine list is grotesquely marked up. Of the wine lists I have analysed, only Nobu has higher mark-ups in the capital.
Hankies is a peculiarly named Indian restaurant at the Montcalm Hotel that serves romali roti, the very thin Indian bread that is tossed in the air and then folded over and over and cooked on a steel hemisphere. The bread itself was excellent, and most of the dishes were very nice, with just two of the things we tried pulling down the average score.
Hakkasan (pictured) in Hanway Place is the first incarnation of what is now a global restaurant empire. It still looks beautiful, with its clever lighting and slick service from its carefully trained waiters. Dim sum was very good, and today we tried a whole duck served in two stages, as well as assorted other dishes. Hakkasan sails on serenely, as smooth as ever.
Hunan is a long-established Belgravia restaurant that serves a no-choice tasting menu of small plates featuring dishes from Hunan province, along with other influences. I have never quite understood the appeal of Hunan other than its wine list, and periodically resolve to return and try and see what draws customer in. I’m afraid this was another occasion where the food left me cold, with some decent dishes but also several badly overcooked ones. The wine list, by contrast, is a joy, with superb growers, low prices and some bottles with a decent amount of age. I wouldn’t rush back, but you can at least drink well.
It seemed appropriate that my last restaurant meal this year would be at The Ritz, where I have enjoyed a series of really top class meals over the course of 2018. Following canapes of coronation chicken tuile, crab and caviar tartlet and Comte gougeres, this meal featured a silky terrine of partridge, mallard and pheasant, salt-baked celeriac with truffle sauce, turbot with champagne sauce, pigeon with black truffle, a cheese course with honey from hives on the roof of The Ritz, and finally a lovely dessert of chestnut, Poire Williams, rum and spun sugar. Total bill - £99 each, including coffee, mineral water. and a glass of wine. Lovely service, a grand dining room and proper cooking - the Ritz is truly grown-up dining experience.
I had some quite good meals in the past year, but was asked by a reader to pick the very best dishes, as distinct from restaurants, across the year. You can click through to the reviews to see more detail on the dishes. These are in no particular order, though certainly no dish was better than the first one, the dongpo pork.
Dongpo pork at 28 Hubin Road in Hangzhou was a remarkable dish, dazzling both for its flavour and the technical skill needed to make it.
Toasted bread with black truffle and butter sauce foam at Ultraviolet in Shanghai.
Saddle of rabbit with anchovies at Atelier in Munich.
Charcoal grilled squab pigeon with rosemary at Ryugin in Taipei.
Beck at Browns marks the return to London of the talented Heros di Agostinis, formerly head chef of the late lamented Apsleys. Heros continues to cook his sophisticated Italian food at a high level. The star dish of my latest meal here was a remarkable winter green risotto with white truffle, the rice enriched with veal broth, Madeira sauce and Parmesan – the whole meal was excellent but this dish was extraordinary.
La Buvette in Richmond is tucked away near the tube station, serving quite traditional French food since 2004. This is quite simple and old-fashioned fare, so expect to see bistro dishes like fish soup, terrine, onglet and fries and the like. The menu is appealing and priced quite low, appealing to a mostly local audience. The wine list could have a lot more range but had the virtue that the mark-ups were modest, and the dining room is quite cosy. This is very much a local, neighbourhood restaurant, but a pleasant one.
The Brilliant in Southall has been serving Punjabi food since 1975, and I have been eating regularly there since I moved to west London in 1991. It has expanded several times in that period but the food has maintained a consistently high standard. Star dishes include the various tandoori chicken variants such as jeera chicken and chilli chicken, along with aloo tkki and methi murgh. They are one of the few restaurants in London that serve romali roti, ultra-thin bread cooked over a steel hemisphere and folded multiple times. The restaurant is usually full of Indian families and on a Saturday night will do at least three packed sittings. There are many good restaurants in Southall but this is my favourite. As a bonus the prices are very low: a large portion of papri chaat was £5 and popadoms are just 50p.
Someone posed a question to me the other day about the best and worst meals of 2018. This year I travelled to New Zealand, Australia, the USA, Singapore, Denmark, Sweden, Spain, Greece, Germany, The Netherlands, France, Scotland, Italy, Taiwan, China and Japan. Over the year I ate in seventeen 3 star Michelin restaurants. My best meal was at Schwarzwaldstube in the Black Forest, whose new chef has taken the food to an even higher level. The worst 3 star meal was at Grand Palais in Taipei, and the worst meal overall a complete shocker at two star Michelin restaurant Schlossberg in the Black Forest. It was a meal of stellar levels of incompetence in both food and service. I also reviewed 64 London restaurants this year.
I would like to wish all my readers a very happy Christmas!
Sorrel in Dorking is where Steve Drake moved to after Drakes at Ripley folded (the old premises now house The Clock House). Sorrel is set in a building with wooden beams, and offers a quite modern menu, recently gaining a Michelin star. The service here was lovely and the wine list was fairly priced by London standards. The cooking was generally very good and the technical skill level was quite high, though dishes tended to have a lot of elements, and the menu was perhaps trying a bit hard to be “cutting edge” in places, with its unusual ingredient combinations and shrubbery-infested desserts. The meal mostly worked though the price point was quite ambitious.
It is now 17 years since Hakkasan opened, but the original branch in Hanway Place and Hakkasan Mayfair sail on, now part of an international restaurant empire. The formula is to provide Cantonese food without the challenging bits, to execute it consistently well, served in slick surroundings. The London branches at least succeed admirably in this. At this lunch we had classic har gau dumplings along with scallop shu mai, as well as more exotic fare such as chicken and black truffle rolls. The baked venison puffs are always a must order item, and char sui buns as light and fluffy as you could desire. Service was silky sooth as it always is here.
The Crown at Burchetts Green near Maidenhead is one of those rare restaurants where a chef works single-handed in the kitchen. Given the constraints, it is surprising that Simon Bonwick elects to cook classical French cuisine, including sauces made form scratch with all the labour-intensive reduction that involves. The cooking seems to go from strength to strength here, the latest meal being a lovely tasting menu featuring quail stuffed with foie gras and sweetbreads, nibbles involving white truffles and a spectacularly good rum baba with mango and coconut. The price for all this? £42 a head, which would barely buy you a main course at a mediocre Mayfair restaurant. It is a crowning glory.
The Hong Kong 2019 Michelin results were announced. There were promotions to the three star level to Caprice in Hong Kong and Jade Dragon in Macau. Hong Kong now has 7 three star restaurants, 12 two star and 46 one star. Macau has 3 three stars, 5 two stars and 11 one stars.