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Stephen Black leaves Berkeley Square

Friday, December 01st , 2006

xich-lo 2848 room-crop-v4.JPG

One big disappointment and one promising discovery this week. I went to old favourite the Berkeley Square Restaurant, which for a few years has been serving great food at fair prices under the hand of chef Stephen Black and his charming Swedish wife, who runs the front of house. It seems that Stephen has been head-hunted (or whatever happens to chefs: toque- hunted?) and has decamped to Australia to open a place. Unfortunately, previous sous chef Adam Kane seems not to be able to consistently produce the magic on his own. A starter of crab had tasteless crab meat and dried out grapefruit to accompany it while Stella’s pasta parcels were chewy. Other dishes were fine but you don’t expect multiple slips in the same meal, which has sunk from a good 6/10 to perhaps 4/10 now. At £100 a head this is no longer acceptable value for money.

On the positive side, I found Xich Lo in St John Street. This has the potential for disaster written all over it, with vaguely fusion French/Vietnamese food cooked by a Norwegian. In an episode of Frasier, Niles enthuses over a review of the latest fusion place to hit Seattle: “Scandinavian/Polynesian – the coconut herring gets three and a half whisks” and so I have to say I was nervous. Moreover London never seems to produce decent Vietnamese food, except for some simple cafes in Hackney. However this meal was consistently excellent, with high quality ingredients e.g. a sea bass baked with pickled vegetables and a restrained chilli sauce, and fine duck with a spicy sauce of the cooking juices. I will certainly return.

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