I visit Danesfield House

Saturday, July 10th , 2010

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Danesfield House is a very smart boutique hotel in the prosperous area between Henley and Marlow. Chef Adam Simmonds was a chef at Le Manoir au Quat’ Saisons before getting a Michelin star in his own right in Wales, prior to moving here.

Making the booking was a case study in how to be off-putting. I rang up asking for a table for two at 7:30 p.m., but was told this was impossible but that a table at 7 p.m., where we would arrive half an early for a drink, was available. Having explained that due to a commitment earlier we would not be able to get there before 7 p.m., I was grudgingly granted a table “though we will want it back by 8:45”. Pretty brisk turnover for a serious restaurant, but presumably they were ultra-busy, so fair enough I thought. I was then asked whether I’d like to give this complete stranger my credit card number, which I declined to do. I am guessing she wouldn’t have given me her credit card details either.

I am sympathetic to restaurants suffering from no-shows, but I never, ever, no-show, and it does seem a confrontational way to treat customers, who presumably are mostly trustworthy. I have an understandable reluctance to hand over the keys to my financial life to people over the phone more often than I have to, and this caution was justified when I tried to book Tom Aikens’ restaurant a couple of year ago. I was asked for a credit card and said “but I have dined with you several times; surely that is not necessary” to which the reply “ah, well we had our laptop with all the customer details stolen, so we no longer have your details” eloquently summarised why I don’t like handing over credit card details to restaurant reservation lines.

Anyway, after all that I counted a grand total of five tables taken during the evening, so what was all the fussing over timing and anxiety in case I didn’t turn up? Was it just to give the impression they were busy when they were clearly not? Either way it didn’t endear me to the place, which was a shame as I thought the service once we arrived was terrific (except for being charged each time for my coffee top ups, a personal bête noire). The food was also excellent, with a lovely dish of scallops and garlic risotto, and very good beef some highlights of the meal. The wine list is relatively kind at the top end of the list too, so oenophiles can enjoy themselves. The food seems to me around 1 Michelin star level, and the setting is genuinely pretty.

I used to be a regular at Les Saveurs in the early 1990s, one of the top restaurants in London at the time under the direction of Joel Antunes, who has since 1996 been working in the USA. He is now back to head up the cooking at the Westminster Plaza hotel, and on the basis of this week still has quite a bit of work to do. I had a wildly erratic meal, with a genuinely classy starter, very good main courses and home-made bread, yet also catastrophic desserts and an unpleasant amuse-bouche. It is rare to see quite such violent fluctuations in standard at a single meal. Joel, to paraphrase the Wizard of Oz, you are not in Atlanta any more. I know that he can do so much better, and hopefully will in time.

The Dean Street Town House is a wildly successful (judging by the difficulty I had in getting a table, and the 150 covers being turned on a Monday night) venture from the Soho House group. They certainly know how to create a welcoming atmosphere, casual yet stylish and with a very appealing menu. The dishes tried on this visit were generally pleasant rather than exciting, which indeed is very much the same feeling I have when going to my local High Road Brasserie, in the same family. The atmosphere is nice, there is plenty that I want to eat, but the execution is merely competent; then the bill arrives and it seems just a little costly for what was delivered.

The Royal China (pictured) delivered its usual very good Cantonese food this week. Steamed sea bass always seems to be cooked very well, while my favourite steamed gai lan must be one of the most wonderful things that can be done to a piece of broccoli.

A sad goodbye this week to the Quality Chop House in Farringdon. There are so many restaurants that deserved to close before this one.

The “Scores On the Doors” scheme has now been up and running for some time, and continues to throw up (if you’ll excuse the metaphor) some interesting results. There are six possible categories, from five stars (best) to no stars at all.

5 stars Excellent. High standards of food safety management. Fully compliant with food safety legislation.
4 stars Very good. Good food safety management. High standard of compliance with food safety legislation.
3 stars. Good. Good level of legal compliance. Some more effort might be required
2 stars. Broadly compliant. Broadly compliant with food safety legislation. More effort needed to meet all legal requirements.
1 star. Poor. Poor level of compliance with food safety legislation. Much more effort needed.
No stars. Very poor. A general failure to comply with legal requirements. Little or no appreciation of food safety. Major effort required.

The list seems pretty up to date, with for example Charlotte’s Bistro in Chiswick already listed, though there are some gaps. As of July 9th 2010 (obviously this database is subject to change as places get re-inspected) the scores I am about to quote are, as best as I can tell, accurate; these are taken directly from the Scores On the Doors database .  I’d firstly like to congratulate the restaurants listed on my web site that get five stars for their hygiene: Alain Ducasse, The Bombay Brasserie, Canteen, The Capital Hotel, Cocoon, Galvin Bistro, Le Gavroche, Hix W1, Jom Makan, Kastoori, Kensington Place, Le Cercle, Madhus, One Lombard Street, One o One, Orrery, Pearl, Quilon, Racine, The River Café, Rules, Sake No Hana, Skylon, Toffs, Tom’s Kitchen, Zafferano and Zeen. The most surprising ones at the other end of the scale to me were the prestigious restaurants that managed just one star: The Ledbury and Rasoi Vineet Bhatia (its one star is actually an improvement from its earlier score of “no stars”) have Michelin stars for goodness sake. What are they doing with one star for hygiene?

I was less surprised but still disappointed by Rasa in Stoke Newington (no stars) and The Only Running Footman (no stars). Le Café Anglais at one star was a surprise to me; Chez Kristof at one star was not. I think this is a great scheme, as it gives members of the public the chance to check up on the hygiene of the restaurants they are visiting, and demand improvements where appropriate. It is interesting that a number of ratings have changed since I wrote on this almost two years ago; a shame that some of the scores are actually worse, but some are better. US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once said “Sunlight is the best disinfectant” , and in the case of this scheme it seems to me almost literally so.