Saturday, August 30th , 2008
is the much publicised new opening from Angela Hartnett (formerly at the Connaught, pictured). The menu is vaguely Italian mixed with French, in line with Angela’s well known predilections (though brought up in Wales, she had Italian antecedents), and the cooking was quite consistent on the night of our visit. There are plenty of nibbles, an attractively redecorated room (a big improvement on Zen Central) and a very appealing menu (a £70 tasting menu, or £55 for three courses). Yet, just as with Angela’s cooking in past incarnations, I found it enjoyable without ever really hitting the heights. Given the Ramsay PR machine and the smart Mayfair location, there is little doubt it will be a success, and I wish it well. Yet it seems to me solid 5/10 level cooking, but at prices that would suggest something more. If I really wanted Italian food then I’d prefer a Locatelli or Zafferano, and for French food I’d rather eat somewhere either more ambitious, or simpler/cheaper. For me this falls in between. I can stumble out to the end of my road and eat at La Trompette, after all, which is 6/10 level food at a lower price.
is a Soho café owned by Nick Jones, founder of the very successful Soho House Group. There are plenty of visible similarities to the High Road Brasserie
in Chiswick, in décor, menu style and even some of the serving utensils. The formula works in Soho as well as it does in W4, because the place is absolutely packed. I was impressed by the service from our (authentically French) waiter, but the food was merely pleasant. A fish soup had good flavour, but at £12 I expect a Caesar salad to use real, not tinned, tuna. Still, the menu is appealing, technique was generally fine, and the place was certainly buzzing.
This was my fourth full meal at Ambassade de l’Ile
, and the cooking seems to be, if anything, improving as the kitchen settles into a rhythm. A starter of pike quenelle with pieces of frog’s leg topped with a garlic crisp (nougatine) was a good example. The nougatine not only tasted great but was an excellent texture foil for the soft, rich mousse, which had terrific flavour (easily 8/10). Chicken “royale” was actually a famous classical French dish, the whole chicken, stuffed with pork, chicken and goose liver, cooked in a pig’s bladder and then carved open at the table. The chicken was sublime, wonderfully tender, with the complex stuffing giving layers of additional flavour, complemented by a beautiful sauce that was intense without being over-reduced (9/10, bordering 10/10). Cheeses are from La Mère Richard inLyon, and we were presented with an attractive board with classics such Brillat Savarain, Beaufort and as bleu d’Auvergne. The cheeses were in mostly very good condition, but one or two were a little past their peak (7/10). Desserts were again not to the same level as the rest of the meal. A millefeuille of red berries was very pleasant, as were the other desserts tried, but these are all around the 6/10 level. With a better pastry chef (the current one comes from the Waterside Inn, so in theory has a good pedigree, but I am unconvinced) the cooking here could reach a new level. The starters and main courses are, for me, already the best that you can eat in London.
, perhaps due to its out of the way location on the wrong side of Richmond Bridge, must be the most underrated Indian restaurant in London. Michelin manage a bib gourmand, and that is about all you are likely to read about it in the food press, yet it serves arguably the best Indian food in London. The two chefs have a fine pedigree, one from Yatra, which in its day was a deserved 4/10 in the Good Food Guide, and the other from Bhukara, the most famous restaurant in India. This means that certain dishes have been directly transplanted: the dhal makhani tastes exactly as it did at Bukhara. Tandoor cooking is superb (they use both gar-fired and charcoal tandoors) and, as well as the excellent meats, the naan bread is superb. Curries are vibrantly spiced, vegetables are cooked carefully, and even the chutneys and kulfi are made from scratch rather than bought-in. While I feel aggrieved for the owners regarding the lack of recognition, it does mean that (popular though it is with the locals, who must hardly be able to believe their luck) I can get a table pretty easily.
is the kind of family run Italian pizzeria that you’d like to have at the end of your road, and my case that is pretty much where it is. Nothing fancy, just friendly service and very well made pizzas. A starter special of sardine with chill and garlic dressing was actually quite good as a bonus.
In other news, it is now official that the next Michelin Guide will be to Hong Kong and Macau; it is scheduled for publication in December 2008.
Tom Aiken’s fish and chip shop
is now sleeping with the fishes
, as the Italians put it, after six months in operation. This is a great loss to me, not because of the fairly ordinary food, but because I now have no outlet for my fishy puns, given that I can’t bear the thought of going back to Geales.
If you are fans of Masterchef, then you may be interested to follow the new series, “Masterchef the Professionals
” . The format is similar to regular Masterchef, but instead of contestants being amateurs hoping to become professional chefs, in this case the show features professional chefs hoping to be able to reach a Michelin star level of cooking. The judges are Gregg Wallace and Michel Roux Junior, and on the September 12th
episode (BBC2, 18:30, Friday) I will appear along with Jay Rayner (of the Observer) and William Sitwell (Waitrose Magazine), assessing the efforts of the contestants.