Diwali in Southall is princely

Saturday, November 10th , 2007

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I spent Diwali (9th November this year) at the Brilliant restaurant in Southall, which played host to an event as part of a campaign called “Just Ask”, designed to promote the use of local food by restaurants.  There were exhibits by some local suppliers that the Brilliant uses, and the event was attended by Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall. It was a mercifully small group with just over 20 guests, and indeed the guests seemed almost outnumbered by Clarence House public relations people, security people and assorted hangers-on who no doubt had very useful functions to perform beside ushering Charles around. Charles and Camilla were very courteous and pleasant, chatting briefly to each person in turn, even the peasants like me. 

I asked Camilla whether she ever had a chance to eat in restaurants, and apparently she does every week or two (her son Tom is now food writer for the Daily Mail). The food on offer today included lamb from Melton Meat in Melton Mowbray (e.g. terrific spicy tandoori lamb chops), paneer using milk from Windmill Foods in Bedforshire and vegetable dishes using vegetables from a variety of UK producers e.g. the aloo gobi used potatoes from St Nicholas Court Farm in Kent and cauliflower from E. Francis & Son from Lincolnshire. It seems to me that this is a worthy initiative, since food is undoubtedly at its best when in season and local.  Of course it is impractical to get everything in this way (not too many alphonso mangoes are grown in the UK for example) but I think it is good to use local producers where practical.     

The highlight of the week from a restaurant perspective was Cambio de Tercio, a Spanish restaurant in the Old Brompton Road that seems to have somehow lifted its game recently. Chef Alberto Criado was trained in a 2 star place in Madrid, but on my two previous visits here a few years ago his food seemed to be pleasant but little more than that (around 3/10 level at most).  However I was urged to revisit and I am glad I did, as the food was dramatically better than on my prior visits.  Quiet apart from perfect pata negra ham, there were several dishes that showed genuine culinary class, such as a modern version of patatas bravas and a terrific fillet of Iberico pork with black pudding.  I will definitely be coming back here.

Not all recommendations turn out so well. Someone (who will remain nameless) who seemed to have foodie credentials recommended Pizzeria Rustica in Richmond to me.  This was a really dire meal, with bruschetta that appeared on soggy toast with tasteless, fridge-cold tomato topping.  The pizza base was doughy and had a bizarrely sparse topping (the gross margins on pizzas are immense, so why be mean with the topping?).  We cancelled an order for a side salad after catching the waitress dipping into the salad bowl with her fingers and nibbling: she did not appear to be washing her hands between dips into the bowl. This was at least cheap, but way below the standard of a Pizza Express.  

An earlier trip to the Brilliant involved me trying a lovely special: little hollow pooris in which were poured a liquid made from tamarind, garlic, black salt and chilli. The crisp poori melted in the mouth and there was a lovely explosion of tamarind taste on the tongue when I bit into the poori.  They used to make a similar dish at the much missed Sabras, but at least now I can eat something close to it here if I ask nicely (it is not on the menu but can be pre-ordered). 

The San Francisco Michelin 2008 guide  appeared, with the French Laundry remaining the only 3 star establishment.  There are two new 2 stars, Chez TJ and Meadowood, which join existing two star places Aqua, Cyrus, Manresa and Michael Mina.  There are 27 one star places.  Most Michelin country guides appear from December through to the end of February, with France traditionally being the last one.

Michelin has also just brought out a guide to Las Vegas and Los Angeles, increasing its coverage of the US.  The big news is that the Joel Robuchon venture in Vegas has been given three stars.  Vegas also scores with two stars for Picasso, Guy Savoy and Alex.  There are 12 one star places also.

For Los Angeles, there are no three stars (quite right too based on my eating there) but three two star places: Spago, Melisse and Urasawa. There are also 15 one star places. 

Back in London, Marco Pierre White has halved his stable of restaurants, selling Michelin-starred Mirabelle as well as Drones and Quo Vadis, to an investment group.  Marco must now get by with just Belvedere, l’Escargot and the Criterion.