Clarkes reviisted

Saturday, November 06th , 2010

Michael-Hoffmann 750 Margaux -crop-v2.JPG

Sally Clarke was a pioneer of Californian cuisine in London after spending some years in kitchens out on the west coast of the USA; she never cooked at Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse but here cooking style seems influenced by it. What later became known as Modern British cooking could be argued to have its roots in Californian cuisine i.e. an emphasis on seasonality, a love of Italian cooking and a willingness to put in the odd exotic ingredient as a nod to fusion influences. After many years of serving a no-choice menu, Clarkes recently relented and started offering a choice of dishes, but still very much in the same style. In the meal I ate there this week pasta was skilfully made, chicken was carefully cooked with good seasoning and seasonal vegetables, and a Campari and grapefruit sorbet was an unusual but successful dessert. You won’t find costly ingredients here (and indeed the advertised Alba white truffles in a starter were virtually undetectable) but the technique was very solid, and the wine list kindly priced by the standards of W8.

The Crown near Maidenhead is a place that is easily overlooked. Taken over by its current owners around six months ago, it seems like just another local pub until you observe the attention to detail of the ingredients. Many of the vegetables are grown in the pub garden, mushrooms are foraged by the chef, and the meat is from a top-class supplier. Technically the cooking ranged from good to excellent, with just some minor slips in evidence that can easily be tightened up. Above all the prices are extremely fair - £10 or so for a main course is a price that you would struggle to find in a pub in London with a fraction of the ambition level here. This was all the more a nice surprise to me given that the restaurant is completely unheralded; it is always great to have one’s expectations exceeded.

Apsleys deservedly gained a Michelin star in the 2010 guide, and despite quite high prices the cooking of Massimiliano Blasone is producing, for me, the best Italian food in London right now. A revisit this week confirmed my earlier impressions, with a highly consistent meal featuring superb pasta, an elaborate but well balanced grouse crepinette and the usual fabulous desserts, which for me are easily at the two star Michelin level.

Quilon was on good form this week. At my last meal I had some excellent dishes but also one real dud, but this time the dishes all hovered on or about the 4/10 level, so I have nudged the database score up a point in recognition of this. As an aside, I do find Michelin’s assessment of Indian food in London utterly baffling, rewarding smartly decorated restaurants (Rasoi, Benares, Tamarind) and ignoring places serving better food but without the surroundings (Haandi, Tangawizi, Brilliant). For me only Amaya is a decent pick for a star (though I am unconvinced it is really of the standard of a French starred establishment), but at least with Quilon I can just about see where Michelin are heading, as the cooking here is very good.

I am delighted to add a chef interview with Michael Hoffmann (pictured) of Margaux in Berlin this week, at which I had an excellent meal recently – Michael’s cooking reflects his passion for vegetables, most of which he grows himself.

Congratulations to Claire Lara for winning "Masterchef: The Professionals" - the finalists all looked very accomplished.  You may enjoy this spoof version.