My 2007 culinary highs and lows

Saturday, December 22nd , 2007

ledoyen 3648 spaghetti with truffles-crop-v3.JPG
I returned to Hawksmoor, a steak restaurant in newly trendy Spitalfields. This again delivered terrific steaks, sourced from the Ginger Pig; the steak here (both rump and fillet were tried) is as good as any you are likely to find in London. A macaroni cheese side dish was surprisingly good but generally the other dishes here are merely pleasant: the meat is where the kitchen has put all its efforts. Combine this with perhaps the most fairly priced wine list in London and you have a successful formula, ideal for all those carnivorous city types nearby.
Generally December is a terrible time to eat out, as restaurants are full of drunken office parties and bookings are a nightmare. A typical experience involves a harassed girl from Eastern Europe saying something like: “we can fit you in at 17:15, or perhaps 23:12, but need the table back within 35 minutes and you will have to help with the washing up. Please give us your credit card details and a family member of your choice as hostage in case you don’t turn up. We will be serving a special menu that is just twice our normal price for food that you don’t really want to eat. Happy Christmas”. Consequently we usually cook at a lot in December and just return to a few old favourite haunts where we will be treated well. Roll on January.
Zafferano is of one of my favourites, perhaps my overall favourite London restaurant. Amuse bouche was a little potato crisp with tartare of tuna, a nice idea as the crispness of the crisp worked as a good texture contrast to the silky texture of the tuna. (6/10).  Chestnut tagliolini with assorted wild mushroom was cooked to the usual high standard of pasta here. In this case it is a freshly made pasta with excellent texture and a distinct taste of the chestnuts, with excellent wild mushrooms and a little of their cooking juices (7/10). Fillet of beef with porcini and white truffles was a tad extravagant, but the fillet was tender and carefully cooked, the porcini very high quality (much better than some I bought and cooked with a few days ago) while of course the white truffle adds a lovely fragrance (7/10). Mango sorbet is served with dice of mango with a little passion fruit juice poured over it – the combination works nicely and this is a refreshing way to end a rich meal. The bread is made on the premises and is, as ever, excellent; the tomato foccacia my personal favourite. Service is always slick. I haven’t seen a celeb at Zaffs for a while, but Jennifer Saunders was on the next table to ours tonight. 
Another old favourite is Haandi. The popadoms here are unusually delicate, but with rather ordinary mango chutney and a little mint yoghurt (2/10). Murgh burra tikka was on form this week, an almost absurdly generous portion (ten pieces tonight) of succulent chicken which have been marinated and then cooked in the tandoor. Haandi does this as well as anywhere in London (5/10). Aloo gobi was its usual excellent self (4/10) while a black dhal was pleasant but I found it, as I usually do, a little on the watery side (2/10). As ever, the service here seems a bit laid back when the owner Mr Singh is not around.
I notice that the Berkeley Square Restaurant has met its maker. I reported the sharp decline in standards that occurred when chef Stephen Black departed for Australia, so I cannot say I am surprised. On a related note I wrote in July 2006 of Noisette: “I am sceptical as to how well this place will do”, and I was told last week by an industry insider that Noisette is struggling. If true it will confirm how cursed this site seems to be for restaurants, as this building has seen the recent failure of Pengelleys, and before that a string of others. If even Bjorn van der Horst and Gordon Ramsay Holdings cannot make this place work then the site will start to acquire legendary status, rather like the tomb of Tutankhamen.
I don’t usually indulge in reminiscences of the year, but here are my culinary recollections of 2007, the highs and the lows.

Best pizza: Giusto
Best steak: Hawksmoor
Best chips: The Fat Duck
Best dessert: flight of desserts at Ledoyen, Paris.
Best London discovery: Tangawizi
Best ethnic dish: tandoori quail at the Brilliant
Best British meal: Grill Room at the Dorchester
Prettiest dish: Parmesan spaghetti at Ledoyen,, Paris (pictured)
Bets London opening: Hibiscus
Most pleasant surprise: Bacchus
Most improved restaurant: Cambio de Tercio
Most disappointing meal: Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester
Worst food: Bosworth Hall Hotel, Warwickshire (competition was strong in this category)
Best UK meal of 2007: Manoir au Quat’ Saisons
Best one star meal: Konigshof, Munich
Worst one star meal: l’Escargot
Best two star meal: Tantris, Munich
Worst two star meal: Zur Traube, Grevenbroich
Best three star meal: Meurice, Paris
Worst 3 star meal: Waterside Inn
Best Overall Meal: Meurice, Paris.

Finally, a preview of a new feature of the site: a map of London restaurants.

Happy Christmas!