The ever-improving Notting Hill Brasserie

Saturday, December 16th , 2006

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For those who prefer to eat out on Christmas day it has never been an easy choice, even in London. Most restaurants close and those that do stay open have restricted menus, odd seating times and inflated prices. Restaurants certainly have extra staff costs (double time, maybe having to pay for taxis home as there is no public transport) but even so the seasonal gouging is excessive. For some years we have been going to the Capital Hotel which at two Michelin stars is the best restaurant open, and as an added bonus sensibly go the French way and serve tasty capon instead of dull, dry turkey.  There was always a premium but this year they have really succumbed to greed, with the menu offered now weighing in at £139 a head (before service or drinks).  To add insult to injury they also want payment in advance; not a credit card in case you don’t turn up, but payment in full. Hell, why not just get the customers to do the washing up while they are at it?  Perhaps they could set up a reality game show where customers have to go through some humiliating tasks in order to qualify to eat there: the winners get a table. This latest price increase was enough for me and I will be cooking this year.  Not that the Capital is even the worst offender:

 -          Capital £139, pre-payment now required

 -          Gordon Ramsay at Claridge’s - £175 per person and pre-payment required

 -          Foliage at Mandarin Oriental, £195 per person and pre- payment required.

 -          The Dorchester Grill, £165 - £250 per person and pre-payment required

 -          The Ritz, £250 per person and pre-payment required

It is all just a bit too cynical for me. These are the same places that want customers to return in January and February on quiet weekdays.

On the food front I had a really good meal at the ever-improving Notting Hill Brasserie, where Mark Jankels has been cooking understated but excellent food for some time now. The dining room is particularly cosy, split up into little alcoves, with a bar at the front with tasteful live jazz playing (piano and double bass). We had a special tasting menu. This began for me with rare beef salad with girolles and tiny French beans; the beef had excellent texture and the girolles in particular were delicious (16/20). Canneloni of lobster and prawn had tender pasta, the seafood contents carefully cooked and the pasta resting served in a pool of intensely flavoured shellfish veloute (17/20). Next was a single scallop with superb caramelised onion, with carefully cooked chanterelles and excellent Parmesan gnocci (16/20). A little fillet of sea bass was cooked with a scattering of tiny pasta balls that were so small that the dish resembled risotto at first glance; the sea bass was fresh and well timed, the pasta an interesting idea that worked well (16/20). Halibut had excellent flavour, cooked with a breadcrumb crust and served with a sauce with mussels and tomato and a single oyster beignet (16/10). My wife at this point had monkfish cooked with red cabbage and sweet potato puree (16/20). I had tender venison with red cabbage and sweet potato puree (16/20). A pre-dessert was vanilla yoghurt topped with rhubarb (15/20). The only slight flaw of the evening for me was cheesecake on a biscuit base with honey and truffle, with a hot pear poached in red wine and spices.  The cheesecake was correctly made (maybe 15/20) but I didn’t like the idea of the truffle flavour, which seems to me showy and unnecessary, and not a flavour that goes well with the cheesecake. Coffee was served with small biscotti. Service throughout was capable. Bread is a choice of white rolls, black olive rolls or walnut and raisin rolls (16/20). All in all a really fine meal at a fair price. An underrated restaurant. 

Other than that I was mostly cooking, but did squeeze in a curry at my regular the Brilliant in Southall.  With a couple of new chefs recruited from Delhi the cooking was on good form tonight e.g. fish pakora with a tasty filling and a very light, crispy batter. Regular dishes such as jeera chicken and aloo tikki were excellent as ever.  This is another paragon of reliability; we come here every couple of weeks and I struggle to recall an off-night in all the years we have been coming.  This of course is one reason why they are thriving after thirty years, when more than half of UK restaurants fold after less than three years.