Fine Dining in London

Saturday, March 01st , 2014

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Quattro Passi has just opened in London, the sister of a well established two Michelin star restaurant on the Amalfi Coast. It specialises in seafood, and the cooking was of a high standard. Dishes such as linguine with crab and apple, salad of cuttlefish and a particularly fine tiramisu were consistently excellent. Antonio Mellino is not just here for the opening months; he has moved to London with his family, so will be here most of the time rather than just making flying visits, and can clearly cook very well indeed based on my meal. What will be interesting is whether the standard will be maintained when he returns to Italy during the summer months, as is the plan. This question is particularly relevant because my visit to the original Quattro Passi, when he was absent, was quite disappointing. At the London branch the meal was of a high standard, though prices seem ambitious, even for Mayfair. 

Cambio de Tercio has long been my favourite Spanish restaurant in London. With its red walls, paintings of bullfighters, and Spanish guitar music playing in the background it is a little corner of Spain on the Old Brompton Road. Tables are packed in and there are always lots of Spanish guests, so there is a lively atmosphere. The kitchen has a wide repertoire of dishes, such as the excellent modern take on patatas bravas (originally done by Sergio Arola). The wine list is extensive and there is a fine list of sherries as well as plenty of classy Spanish wine.

On this visit to Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester (pictured) I had the full tasting menu. I have had rather mixed experiences at this restaurant. On its opening night it was a mess, but over time it gradually settled down and improved, with the sauces and desserts particularly good. This most recent meal was less impressive than some I have eaten here. I enjoyed the barbajuan and the lobster with truffled chicken quenneles, but a sea urchin dish was uninspiring and a starter of raw and cooked vegetables lacked the quality of produce needed to carry off such a dish: this works at Louis XV, where the local markets have stunning vegetables, but not here. This was still a good meal, with a very nice exotic fruit dessert, but it was too inconsistent, especially given its already ambitious three star rating and price point. I have reduced my website score by one to reflect this.

By contrast, Hedone goes from strength to strength. It was interesting that a tasting menu here within days of the Alain Ducasse experience was actually a significant step up in standard. A one star Michelin restaurant should not be outperforming a three star, and yet this is exactly what happened. Since January Hedone has really upped its game, with the few relatively weak dishes weeded out, nibbles upgraded, the trademark obsession with ingredients taken to an even higher level than before. Highlights of this meal were many, but included liquid Parmesan ravioli with horseradish foam, stunning suckling pig and a lovely citrus variations dessert. This cooking is clearly at a very strong two star level now, and in places is even higher than that.

The Michelin France 2014 Guide was published. There was a new three star in the form of l'Assiette Champenoise in Reims, though the number of three stars in France remained unchanged at 27 because Plaza Athenee was delisted while the hotel is closed for a major refurbishment. There were two star promotions for Villa Madie, la Table de Connetable, Kintessence, Le Chambard, Il Cortile and Akrame. The following fell from the two star level: Auberge de l'Ile, Apicius, Senderens, Hostellerie le Castellas, Casadelmar, Hostellerie de Plaisance, Hostellerie Jerome and Chateau St Martin. There are 79 two star restaurants in France now, and 504 one stars. All Michelin guides for 2014 are now published except for Scandinavia and Eastern Euriope. There are now 113 three star restaurants in the world, as can be seen here. The new ones are Kichisen, Eight, Bo Innovation, Sushi Shikon, Reale, Uberfahrt, Diver XO, De Leest and l'Assiette Champenoise. 

The San Pellegrino awards these days have at least as much commercial impact for restaurants as Michelin, but the list itself is almost comically flawed. The Asia section was announced this week, with David Thompson's Nahm supposedly the best restaurant in Asia, followed by Narisawa in Tokyo and then Gaggan in Bangkok, Amber in Hong Kong and Ryugin in Tokyo. Just ten of these are from Japan; overall I suppose that the list this year is slightly less daft than last year. The set of Japanese entries has little correlation with Michelin, my own experience nor with the main Japanese langauge guide Tabelog. There are so many absurdities in this list that it is hard to know where to start, but if you look purely at the restaurants in Japan, there is no mention of the sublime Mizai or Kitcho, for example. The idea that Atelier Robuchon is much better than the superb Robuchon Dome is also surreal, so they cannot even get the correct sequence within the same restaurant group. I could go on, but it seems a waste of time to point out all the issues. I guess it gets people talking about restaurants, and that must be, on balance, a good thing whatever the flaws in the list itself.