Michelin reveals its next guide

Saturday, April 11th , 2009

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I was keen to try a pair of gastropubs under the same ownership that have been gaining an excellent reputation recently, the Bull & Last in Gospel Oak and the Prince of Wales in Putney.  In both places a blackboard lists their various food suppliers in great detail, and a very good list it is too, with suppliers that are used by many top London restaurants, but rarely by pubs. One difference between the two is that at the Prince of Wales they make their own bread, and I particularly enjoyed their excellent sourdough. The Prince of Wales, with its chef having previously cooked at a senior level at Tom Aikens, has a slightly fancier menu, and I am not sure benefits from it, though there is nothing to really frighten the punters, and unlike at Tom Aikens no food was presented in a test tube.
Both pubs go to the trouble of making triple-cooked chips, in my view the best possible way to prepare chips, and which are famously done this way at the Fat Duck and its sister pub, the Hinds Head. These work very well here, though I slightly preferred the version at the Bull & Last, where I think the final frying is done at a slightly higher temperature, given a slightly crisper result. In both establishments the cooking is to a high standard, with carefully executed dishes. I have had much worse food than this in grand restaurants, let alone in pubs. Along with the superb Harwood Arms, this pair of pubs is showing just how pub food can be, but so rarely is.
My gastropub tour finished at The Princess Victoria, which is not quite in the same league for food but has the advantage of a superb wine list. They also prepare excellent triple-cooked chips to go with a pleasant rib-eye steak, make their own bread from scratch and end with a comforting bowl of spiced beignets costing just a fiver. No wonder the place is packed. 
I also tried the Sunday lunch buffet at the recently revamped Bombay Brasserie. The airy conservatory is an excellent venue for a lunch, and the buffet is attractively displayed around a central chef station (pictured). Buffets are tricky because not almost all food is better cooked fresh than if it is kept warm, but luckily curry is one thing that is just fine (I often find a curry at home better then next day, after the spices have had more time to suffuse the dish). A shrimp lasooni (a spicy, fried prawn) was particularly good, while chicken tikka had good taste but was a little dried out (I asked if they could make some fresh, which they did, and these were much better). The vegetable curries in particular showed a lot of care, and the breads are sensibly prepared fresh and brought to your table as needed. The menu is £22 for as much as you can eat. 
Ambassade de l’Ile now serves a very reasonably priced lunch menu (£25), and I tried lunch this week along with an American gourmet friend. The kitchen was on excellent form, with a series of carefully balanced dishes with robust yet controlled flavour. This is just the kind of food that I like to eat, with fine ingredients, a thoughtful, seasonal menu and top notch execution. 
For some time there has been speculation as to where Michelin would next extend its guide coverage. The answer is Kyoto (pictured) and Osaka, in a guide coming out in October. Kyoto is quite a logical choice in many ways, as it is regarded as a foodie centre in a foodie country. It will be interesting to see how Michelin get on in peering into the Kyoto dining scene, which I have not sampled for a decade (I recall some lovely Kobe beef there). The Kyoto dining scene is impenetrable even by Japanese standards, with some well-respected restaurants having reservations available by invitation only, rather like an informal club. 

When Michelin came to Tokyo it was greeted with mixed feelings, with a few restaurants refusing to participate (while there is no fee for being in the Michelin guide, the restaurants apparently had to cough up for the photos taken of their premises). A few claimed that they did not actually want foreign diners, either because they didn’t have any English speaking staff and felt they would not be able to cope well or because the owners just didn’t like the idea of gaijin barbarians in their restaurants much; however the guide itself sold out its print run within 48 hours, so certainly generated plenty of interest locally. I am guessing that Kyoto, where there are far less foreign expats than cosmopolitan Tokyo, may be considerably more conservative about opening up its dining scene to foreigners, but Michelin has presumably done its homework.  

The blog will be a day or two later than usual next week, as I have a little trip planned.