From Sketch to Gallery

Friday, February 22nd , 2013


The Whitechapel Gallery Dining Rooms is on the ground floor of the Whitechapel Art Gallery, and has Angela Hartnett as consultant chef.  The food is modern British, the tiny kitchen producing simple but well-executed dishes. A razor clam salad stood out, as did a prune and Armagnac tart. The dining room is light and airy, and the prices moderate.  The cooking is pleasantly down to earth, unlike some of the art that hangs in the gallery around it. 

Sketch Lecture Room and Library (pictured) now has Romain Chapel (son of legendary French chef Alain Chapel) in charge of the stoves, having moved to London after the closure of his family restaurant last year. The cooking style remains that of Pierre Gagnaire however, who is consultant chef  at Sketch. The Lecture Room and Library is one of the most lavishly decorated dining rooms in London, and the service is remarkably good. The food is complex, with dishes having many elements, each brought on separate little dishes around a central component. This can work well when eating at Gagnaire in Paris, but my meal here this week seemed to be straying in places from the formula. For example a langoustine dish at Pierre Gagnaire in Paris has langoustine prepared five ways, which makes sense, but a langoustine dish at Sketch had some quite disparate elements (crab, avocado) to accompany the core langoustine foundation, which seemed less coherent to me. There was certainly some excellent cooking, such as a superb vanilla soufflé, but there were also some minor flaws, such as a stray bit of crab shell. The problem is that price level is set so high that you expect perfection rather than something merely very good: £172 a head with some glasses of wine is a lot of money, especially when that already had a £50 discount voucher taken into account. I would eat here more often if the pricing was kinder, but given that the place was full on a Tuesday lunch they obviously have no need to dial the prices down.

Langans is an old stager of the London dining scene, a sprawling brasserie seating 190 with a lengthy menu of appealing dishes. Tables were being turned on the night of my visit, so the place is clearly still highly successful. I enjoyed my veal Holstein and scallops with chorizo, though some other dishes tried were rather less successful. Still, there were no howlers, service was remarkably slick for such a busy operation, and the bill was not unreasonable. This is not a place aiming for Michelin stars, but it delivers what it intends to pretty well.

Kitchen W8 has a clever wheeze of offering no corkage on Sunday evenings, so you can bring your own wine at no cost instead of paying the chunky premium that London restaurants charge (on average, around three times retail price in London, though of course this varies wildly from place to place and wine to wine). The cooking at Kitchen W8 continues to be consistently good, with an enjoyable scallop starter and very good sea bream, though a pigeon main course was not flawless. Service, however, was very good indeed, and the bill fair given the standard of what appeared. Incidentally, you can bring your own wine to Kitchen W8 on any other night for a £20 corkage, which is quite reasonable if you like to drink good wine (a wine that retails at £10 will typically cost at least £30 on a restaurant list, possibly much more).

Diwana Bhel Poori has been one of my regular haunts ever since I moved to London in 1983. It is a very simple café near Euston station, serving south Indian snacks and dishes such as dosa, which are traditionally a breakfast dish in India. What I like about the place is the consistency and the rock-bottom prices: it is hard to spend £12 a head, even with some lassi to drink on top of the snacks. This week the bhel poori and aloo papri chat were as good as ever, as were the excellent samosas here. Although some of the other dishes here are less good, if you stick to the south Indian snacks then you encounter great value cooking.

The final 2013 Michelin country guide came out, the Michelin France Red Guide. There was a new three star, with chef Arnaud Donckele of the Résidence de la Pinède in St Tropez bringing France’s total of three stars to 27. Two Michelin stars were awarded to Yoanne Conte, La Table di Kilimandjaro, William Frachot, La Marine and Auberge du Pont d'Acigne. Alain Chapel sadly closed and so lost its two stars, and l’Espadon also lost its two stars. There were demotions from two star to one star for Le St James, Bigarade and Restaurant de Rois. There were 39 new one star places, and 35 deletions. In total, there are now 82 two star Michelin restaurants in France, and 487 one star establishments. It was nice to see ex-Greenhouse chef Antonin Bonnet gain a Michelin star for his new Paris venture Le Sergent Recruteur.

In case you are curious (and contrary to the inaccurate information published in The Daily Telegraph this week), at present Japan has 31 three star restaurants, 123 two stars and 516 one stars. These figures are subject to the Hokkaido guide emerging in April, which may adjust these current figures a little, and the heralded new Hiroshima guide in May, which will bump the Japan totals up further.  At this moment there are 849 Michelin stars across Japan versus 732 in France. The only 2013 Michelin guides remaining are the Main Cities of Europe (covering Scandinavia and Eastern Europe), Hokkaido and Hiroshima. 

Next week I head west of London in search of some interesting food.