A trip to the Pot Kiln

Saturday, August 01st , 2009

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The Pot Kiln is the country cousin of the superb Harwood Arms. The same obsession with ingredients is evident here, with the game (example pictured) on the menu mostly shot by the owner, bread made from scratch each day, and crayfish caught locally. I was particularly impressed with the depth of flavour of a crayfish soup, and the venison that I tried was also very good. This is a friendly place in a pretty country setting, and is a great place for a leisurely lunch. We didn’t get a chance to sample something from their new wood-fired pizza oven (in use on Sunday evenings) but it looks like it knows what to do with a pizza.
The Satay House is a long-established Malaysian restaurant in Paddington that seems very popular with locals, and had a good smattering of Malaysian diners.  I have never really understood why there are not more Malysian restaurants in London given the sizeable community here, and in particular why none of the places I have tried seem quite able to get it right. Here the beef rendang tasted authentic, as did the nasi goreng, but some other dishes were downright poor. It is not an expensive place, but there was a distinct inconsistency about the delivery of dishes which makes it hard both to score and to recommend.
The best meal of the week was at Cambio de Tercio, which is clearly the best Spanish restaurant in London. We had an impromptu tasting menu, including a number of off-menu dishes. Highlights for me were a superb gazpacho, poured over a dish with lobster and cherry ice cream, the gazapcho itself thin as it should be in Spain but with great intensity of flavour – the other elements of the dish complemented it well (7/10). A dish of hake with piquillo pepper sauce was also excellent, the pepper sauce having concentrated flavour but avoiding any hint of metallic taste that can afflict this dish (6/10). A tortilla (omelette) with spinach was particularly impressive, such a simple dish and yet of a much higher standard than one would expect (6/10). A chicken dish with concentrated chicken stock and a sweetcorn puree showed that chicken can, after all, have taste in England (7/10). Other dishes tried included ceviche of scallops, sardines marinated in assorted vinegars, and very good sea bream. I had a wonderful 1981 Rioja Alta 904 to go with part of the meal. 
I also popped back to The High Road Brasserie, which is pretty much on my doorstep. It is a relentlessly busy restaurant, packed out pretty much whatever time of the day or night that you go past it. This I think is due to the excellent atmosphere and efficient service, together with an appealing menu, because the food in itself is nothing special, while prices are no bargain. 
Another restaurant local to me that delivers consistently is Tarantella, a family owned Italian restaurant with a pizza chef from Naples. Tarantella is much better than the high street pizza chains that, and the welcome there is genuine. It shows also that producing a good pizza has more to do with the dough and the skill of the chef than simply having a wood-fired oven (Strada has the latter, yet produces exceedingly dull pizzas).  This week I tried their spaghetti, which was prepared from scratch using proper Italian OO flour, and had good texture.
I was very sorry to report that Jean-Christophe Ansanay-Alex is leaving Ambassade de l’Ile and returning to Lyon to focus on his 2 Michelin star restaurant there. Ambassade de l'Ile will close during August (its last day is in fact today) and will re-open in due course as a bistro rather than a fine-dining restaurant.  This is a real shame since it was, in my experience, serving some of the better dishes in London during the year it was open. I wish the chef all the best and hope that the rest of the team find roles that suit them.      
In France, the plight of restaurants in reaction to the economic depression has caused the French government to react. It has slashed the rate of VAT (for restaurants only) from 19.6% to 5.5%. Also, rather remarkably, Michelin has decided to drop its 2010 Guide to Las Vegas and Los Angeles, citing the economy. I am unaware of Michelin ever ceasing a guide before, even if temporarily, other during the slightly larger distraction of World War II, though perhaps the parent company's current profitability issues are rippling down the company . It claims that its other non-European guides will go ahead as normal.
Finally, if you pick up a copy of the Sunday Telegraph this weekend then there is an article on page 9 featuring me, which discusses value for money in high-end restaurants. You can read it here.