Miami vice, or at least dining

Saturday, May 15th , 2010

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A busy week of dining. The French Table in Surbiton has a strong local reputation, which I suspect is partly due to the extremely good service that we experienced. The cooking itself was fine, and I always have a soft spot for kitchens that make their own bread, but the meal was uneven. Desserts were good but a starter of home-smoked mackerel was simply poor.

The Waterside Inn has one of the prettier settings for a top restaurant, though the price reflects that. Ingredients are of good quality, but at both this and my last meal here could be found uneven technique, which is very surprising for a restaurant that continues to retain its third Michelin star. The consensus of the four experienced diners today was that the meal was really only 7/10 level, though to be fair there were a couple of highlights, such as a lovely lobster dish with ginger and a fine rhubarb soufflé, that were genuinely high-end dishes. This is the second meal in a row here when we have sent a dish back to the kitchen, and although they were very nice about it I really don’t expect this to happen at a restaurant of this level. At the end of the day it was a very enjoyable lunch, but this cost £215 per person, even being careful with the wine. This is simply too high in my opinion.

I also had a few days in Miami. If you are not familiar with the city, be aware that Miami Beach is actually an island linked to the mainland, and is technically a separate city. This is the place with the lovely art deco buildings (pictured) and desperately fashionable beach scene. Most restaurants in this area employ good-looking staff (in one case in bikinis) to stand by the door and entice you in – you just know that isn’t going to end in a top-end culinary experience. Miami downtown is a concrete jungle well worth avoiding. When I went for an early morning stroll by my hotel the only people around seemed to be vagrants, and pavements (sidewalks) disappear alarmingly at times, leaving you walking along busy roads with cars swerving to avoid the obviously mad English tourist; I doubt that many local taxpayers stroll along this area (at least not twice). Elsewhere there is Little Havana, where you can watch the locals playing dominos (and a little chess) in the park, and the smarter Coral Gables area. As a tourist I would suggest sticking to Miami Beach.

To say that Miami is not renowned as a restaurant destination is rather like saying that the Titanic had a small buoyancy issue, but I did my best. The best restaurant objectively was Michy’s, whose simple but pleasant food was helped along by some genuinely charming service. That was quite a contrast with the fashionable Michael’s Genuine, whose waiting staff barely bothered at all; the food here was fine, but it was not a very enjoyable experience.

My ventures into South American food did not go well. Rosa Mexicano was very ordinary and not worth the prices it charged, while Yuca, an up-market Cuban restaurant, was simply dismal, as well as expensive. My best experience was at what I had suspected would be tacky, but was not: Joe’s Stone Crab has been around almost 100 years serving up the local stone crab claws, and did not try to go beyond this modest ambition – it just did what you would hope for. I wish the same could be said of the smarter restaurants in this city. I strolled by a soon-to-open branch of Zuma: they should clean up here.