I try The Commander

Saturday, February 21st , 2009

the-square 3648 outside-crop-v5.JPG
The Commander opened just a couple of weeks ago and was already quite busy, even on a Sunday evening. It serves British food and has a food shop attached selling meat and fish. I was impressed in particular by a very good fish soup (a dish which so often is watery, relying on a spicy aioli to disguise the lack of fish flavour) which had strong and robust flavour.   Other dishes were more hit and miss, but this was early days and if the kitchen can deliver greater consistency then it should do well. An unusually well chosen and tolerably priced wine list is a bonus.
Tangawizi continues to impress me. One simple example is the quality of the naan bread. So often in England naan can arrive as a hard disc that could double as a Frisbee, but here the bread is soft and supple, made from a particular brand of flour (Sovereign) that the chef has sought out, cooked in a charcoal rather than a gas-fired tandoor. It is an example of the care and attention that is going on in the kitchen. The tandoori cooking is skilled, as this week shown with tandoori duck and also tandoori prawns, while vegetable dishes are also skilfully executed: the dal makhani, made with lentils and kidney beans, is thick and tasty when so many versions are thin and watery. If there is better Indian food in London than this I would like to know about it.
I had a particularly good meal this week at The Square (pictured). I went with a pair of very knowledgeable diners and we were able to sample a wide range of dishes. What came across was very strong technical execution, combined with appealing dishes. Some of these were quite complex, such as the turbot with pigs trotters; so often kitchens fail to carry off sophisticated cooking (yet still try).  If a dish has many components then it needs clockwork efficiency to get all the elements ready at the same time, and often the result is a dish with flaws; moreover many chefs seem to want to complicate for the sake of it, rather than to do things that really enhance the dish. Here the dishes that had several elements made logical sense, and the elements came together exactly as intended. Flavours come across as distinct and full rather than muted, and I found almost all the dishes very enjoyable. It was a bonus to see the service improve; it was always efficient, but in the past I have often found it distinctly chilly. A strong 8/10 meal.
I had a lovely tasting menu at Cambio de Tercio this week. Highlights included superb tuna tartare, excellent rabbit, sweetbreads and skate. These were superbly executed. The pata negra here is from Sanchez Romero from Jabugo and was carefully cut, with five different cuts of the ham represented; their modern interpretation of patata bravas was very well made. In the last two meals in particular here I have explored most of the menu and had some genuinely superb food, and in this last meal there were no slips at all, so I am raising the web site score to 6/10. Several people I have eaten with here in recent times have been bewildered as to why Michelin does not give this place a star, and I am beginning to agree with them.
I thought it was time to revisit Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester, where I had a distinctly under-performing meal just after it opened. I had heard that the cooking had settled down, and Michelin recently awarded it two stars (with an espoir) so it seemed a good time to give it another try. Certainly several things have improved, in particular the service.   The silly idea of serving crudités as a nibble has been discarded in favour of goujères, something I am very fond of, though the ones at Hibiscus win. Desserts are still genuinely top notch. However I again found a mixed bag amongst the savoury courses. A main course of “meagre” (shade fish) was very capable, as were a couple of the dishes (an excellent scallop with truffles, a good mushroom soup) I sampled that my dining companions had ordered. Yet I had a really disappointing crayfish salad, and while the seafood is of high quality, I cannot say the same for the vegetables. This is now a strong 6/10 nudging 7/10, but it still seems to be to be at the one star level (desserts excepted). The meal just two days earlier at The Square was in a different league in my view. 
In other news, it seems as if the Gordon Ramsay empire is pulling in its horns a little, with its restaurant Maze in Prague is apparently closing.
Next week – Hong Kong. The blog next week will be a day later than usual due to the travel.