Those who have not been in a cave or a coma for the last few years will no doubt have watched, or at least heard of, The F Word, eminent chef Gordon Ramsay’s TV show. Recently, the show went in search of Britain’s best restaurant. From 10,000 nominations the list was whittled down to a few serious contenders and then week by week, finally down to just two, in a head-to-head finale which saw an Indian restaurant Lasan, based in Birmingham, narrowly take the prize from an unassuming pub, far off the beaten track, in the sleepy farming village of Keyston Cambridgeshire, The Pheasant.
So it was with great delight that my good friend Laura mentioned she had somehow managed to secure a Sunday lunch booking at The Pheasant which is, as I later discovered, booked up every Friday, Saturday and Sunday until May 2010. Apparently people put some stock in what that Ramsay fellow has to say.
Joined by another friend, Hadar, the three of us set off with excited appetites on the 90 minute drive from London (thanks Laura) about 45 minutes too late. We called ahead to say we’d be arriving past our booked time expecting to receive some kind of stuffy reprimand, but the hostess at The Pheasant was cheerful and accommodating and we were ushered straight to our table upon arrival, with maybe a touch of [justifiable] haste. I ordered a bottle of Le Petit Jaboulet Aine Viognier which was wonderfully delicious and we proceeded to order the food. Hadar had the soup of the day while Laura and I both had the game terrine, which I thought was credible and quite tasty, but not spectacular. For mains we each selected a meat dish. Laura went for the pork, Hadar the beef and I the lamb, which all arrived looking perfect and beautiful but I have to say, I was slightly underwhelmed. This is partially borne of expectation, but it seemed to me a dish of similar quality might easily be produced at my local. Enjoyable? Yes, definitely. Good quality and presentation? Absolutely. Worth the drive and price? Probably not.
The Pheasant is a charming pub in a lovely part of the country which produces good, solid, traditional British fare. If you’re in the neighbourhood, go.
Telephone: 01832 710241
As part of my 30th birthday present, Gemma spoiled me with “An Evening in the Kitchen with Tessa Kiros” at Divertimenti on Marylebone High Street. She is an acclaimed chef and author of three outstanding books; Twelve, Falling Cloudberries and Apples for Jam, from which the recipes of the night were chosen. Tessa Kiros has a mixed culinary background. Part Finnish, part Italian and part South Africa, a part which endears her more to me than any other old naked (or otherwise) chef 😉 The evening started off around 7PM and proceeded exactly as advertised on the tin, with Tessa in the kitchen displaying her prowess and obvious natural flare for cooking through the preparation of several original and impressive, yet simple, recipe’s. Among them, beetroot gnocchi with a rough pesto, poached summer fruits, chicken in milk with cheese and a kind of chocolate breakfast bread. Watching a pro like Tessa work is, for me, more exciting than attending a music concert or football match… despite being the only testosterone producing person in the room. The following weekend Gemma and I plied our new skills with a measure of imagination to the making of sweet potato and roast butternut gnocchi, which turned out to be a resounding success for a first try. Thanks Gem.
One of my fondest childhood memories is of eating ‘soldiers and boiled eggs’ for breakfast. We had these red plastic egg-cups, which upon reflection were really quite cool and retro. Course, back then retro didn’t exist, or not for me at that age anyway. Over the years all those soldiers must have gone into battle and never returned because I can’t recall the last time I had that for breakfast.
So, it was with great excitement that I jumped at the opportunity to make ‘soldiers and eggs’ for breakfast at Gemma’s request this past weekend. Just as I was doing a bit of Googling to ensure I was doing exactly the right thing to get the egg just the right combination of solid white with runny yellow it occurred to me, I have no egg-cups, problem! Nah, not really, Google knows all and so I set about trying to find the perfect egg-cup. Nowhere could I find a red plastic one, preferably one that holds two eggs, so another plan had to be made. After not much luck online and surprisingly, an equally unsuccessful land based search at Selfridges, I eventually plied myself to the task more fully and discovered in the end what I am certain is the perfect egg-cup, err, cube. The “egg-cube” is a minimalistic masterpiece of design from British designer Kathleen Hills, a rising star in the world of design and owner and operator of Mul+i-Design. For me, it is the perfect synthesis of form and function. Go Kathleen!
For more information on Mul+i-Design, Kathleen Hills and the Egg-Cube, go to http://www.multidesign.info/
London is without question one of the great culinary capitals of the world. Whatever one may attribute this fact to, broad cultural diversity, an economically empowered clientele, or perhaps just a love of food, it is an undeniable fact and one which makes for a virtually unlimited number of possible dining experiences. I say experiences because the goal is not so much to eat, as to eat on a rooftop, at dusk, surrounded by cherry blossom trees with a piano player stroking the ebony somewhere in the background.
This past weekend, Gemma and I went in search of a dining experience both new and different. Gemma had mentioned she was feelin’ Japanese, so after some searching on toptable.co.uk and much deliberation, we decided on ‘Cocoon’. One of the things I love about London is the way all good things are hidden from view. The uber-trendy, uber-groovy places are mere ordinary doorways on a street next to other entirely ordinary doorways, but behind, they expand and unfurl, quite magically, into spaces unseen and unknown. Cocoon, despite its name, is just such a place, unfurling as it does from an unassuming doorway at number 65 Regent Street to the floor above street level and extending from there fully 6 luxurious oval dining rooms in length.
Without getting too much into the specifics, Cocoon impresses from the outset. The service is prompt and friendly, but not annoyingly so. The décor is embracingly luxurious, to the point where one feels like were you to hurl yourself, headlong, at anything, you’d come away feeling like a kid in a velvet jumping castle, but most importantly, the menu and preparation of the items therein is flawless, mixing several Asian cuisines to contribute something uniquely pan-Asian to London’s culinary choices. In short, Cocoon comes highly recommended and deservedly so. You must, I insist for your own good, go there!
65 Regent Street
This past weekend, four of us made the journey into the West Country to Bovey Castle in Devon to celebrate, a little belatedly, the birthday of my housemate and friend, Frame, aged 29. I’d never been to Devon, about which I have heard many good things, and it was with no small amount of excitement that I awoke on Saturday morning, very early and strangely with no fuzz head, to commence the journey to Paddington to meet up with the other members of the weekends travel party; Laura, Melinda and of course Frame, who at that point had no idea where he was going and indeed with whom. The look of incredulousness on his face at bumping into familiar faces at the Starbucks, in an obviously non-coincidental way, was matched only by our bemusement.
After we’d all gotten our fix we were off on the 9:05 to Exeter St. Davids, the closest station to Bovey Castle, where we were met by our driver in a spacious new Land Rover and it was obvious from that point the Castle would not fail to impress. Some 30 minutes later we entered Dartmoor National Park, 368 square miles in size, home to Bovey Castle and according to our driver, the last true wilderness in England. Shortly thereafter we arrived at Bovey Castle, turned into the drive and passed a helipad and several holes of the estate golf course while winding our way up to the house. Our driver, a very informed and also informative chap, as the reader may by now have deduced, told us the estate was originally built and owned by the Viscount Hambledon, son of W.H Smith, First Sea Lord of the Admiralty and more familiarly, namesake of the stationers and book sellers we now see all over Britain. Later it was purchased by First Great Western rail and converted into a hotel and it is in this capacity which it continues to exist today. Bovey Castle is exactly the type of place one might expect it to be, yet the impact of first laying eyes upon it is at once inspiring and profound. One is awestruck by the largesse and opulence of the place. It appeals to all the senses simultaneously. One can almost taste the scones at high tea, something which in fact we did taste the very next day.
But first things first, after checking in, we wandered the grounds, savouring (viz. photographing) them fully, while waiting for our rooms to ready. It was crisp out. Fly casting lessons were being held on the lawn. The mature golf course unfolded below. The stream at the bottom of the hill glistened with effervescent clarity and ice splinters. The air smelled of the country. Everything was green.
Later we walked to the town of North Bovey, half a mile away along a riverside, where we had lunch (and several glasses of Merlot) at a delightfully quintessential country pub called the Ring of Bells. Pub food can often be boring and bland or else on the other hand, gastro excellence. This pub fell somewhere between the two and made for an excellent afternoons pastime. Merrily we walked back down the lane, through the woods, over the river and up the hill to our rooms which were, as expected, perfect. The hotel is themed strongly in 1920’s style, from the décor, to the font used on the room numbers. A “Hits of the 20’s” CD was playing in the room and at no time was there any compulsion to reach for the iPod and the music of more recent decades.
Dinner that night took place in the hotel dining room. There were high expectations all round but Bovey Castle once again delivered with each course extracting uncontrollable aah’s and biblical references from each diner in our dinner party. I think I may have shed a small tear over the apple crumble such was its perfection.
Sunday morning dawned and it was sunny, a perfect day for exploring. One of the hotel staff had offered us a tour of the Castle the day before and he met us at breakfast to say he’d made arrangements. After watching a charming falconry display we set off in a 6-seater golf car with one of the grounds keepers, an enthusiastic individual, former golf and tennis coach and clearly avid outdoorsman. He proudly showed us the Bovey Castle he knew and loved. The sentiment rubbed off, a lot.
Careful not to lose or waste any time, Frame hatched a plan to take a country walk and our driver was nice enough to take us out to the moor, commenting quite nonchalantly as he went on landmarks of the area, a 500 year old granite cross here, a 3000 year old bridge there. One can begin to feel quite humble amongst things built during the Iron Age. The moor was desolately beautiful.
At last the day was drawing near its close and we departed Bovey Castle after the most excellent and obligatory tea and scones. There was less talk in the car this time.
Bovey Castle is a bastion of English countryside opulence. It stands for the way things used to be and perhaps the way they ought to be. It is an experience not to be soon forgotten and hopefully soon repeated.
After having eyed out the facade of this well known fine dining Indian restaurant in London’s famous Chelsea for many months, Laura and I decided to venture out on Saturday night to see if all those nicely dressed people were really just an expensive a rent-a-crowd, or actual patrons of very fine Indian food. I made a booking for 7:15PM and we arrived on time to find things were just, no pun intended, hotting up around there. Chutney Mary exudes opulence from the moment you enter the plush entrance room attended by a hostess, a maitre d and a cloakroom attendant who make about as much fuss attending to your arrival as they might for the arrival of the maharajah, just dismounting his elephant. Our hostess lead us downstairs into the even more luxurious main restaurant with a charming old style colonial cum modern day Indian ambience. The perimeter of the room is filled with huge windlights and photographs of the old days of the empire, depicting such scenes as British lords on safari in India, hunting Bengal tigers on elephant back. The overall effect is charming and grand and bestows upon the place a sense of largesse. It also no doubt goes down well with the older crowd who probably frequent the place just to savour the masala-laden vapours of days gone by. After some drinks order attendance by the waitress, we settled down to choosing some wine from the very well rounded wine list, opting for, at last, a Stonier Merlot (Australian) of, as much as I hate to say it, excellent proportions. Starters followed swiftly after and it is at this time that any patron, mentally challenged, blind or otherwise disabled or disadvantaged should realise Chutney Mary is no corner curry shop with a wicked vindaloo. I had grilled prawns skewered on asparagus spears while Laura has an excellent mushroom and goat’s cheese, erm, experience. The mains were equally impressive. I elected for the masala lamb shank accompanied by a vegetable dish, the name of which now escapes me, consisting of spinach, corn, peas and no doubt several other things I failed to identify. Laura opted for the lamb cutlets that were plain perfection. Apart from the food, the service was prompt, professional and personal. On the whole, Chutney Mary was a dining experience to be remembered and repeated whenever possible, highly recommended.
535 Kings Road
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7351 3113
Last night, after my lovely girlfriend Laura finally got back from Australia after a month, we decided to go find some dinner, someplace local, someplace quaint, someplace reasonably priced and more to the point, someplace we hadn't been before. After walking for about 10 minutes, which is about all that one can stand in the type of cold that can whittle a tan off an outback sheer shearer quicker than you can say f-f-f-fffrozen, we came across a local, quaint, reasonably priced little ristorante we hadn't been to before called Cafe Rialto. The menu at the door looked good and there were a few tables full of what looked like locals, always a good sign, so we decide to give it a try. The menu is a line-up of all the usual Italian suspects. I got pan-fried chicken livers with rocket for starters, Laura got a classic tomato, avocado, olive and buffalo mozzarella starter, both of which were perfect. Mains followed shortly after on plates so large, it was obvious most diners were guilty of 'eyes bigger than tummy' syndrome. I got an excellent grilled salmon fillet served with tagliatelli in a yoghurt, avocado, garlic and tarragon sauce, while Laura got an equally impressive and tasty cod on green beans main, both of which went perfectly with a bottle of stock standard Chianti. The service was prompt and the food was excellent. There are probably several hundred little Italian restaurants across London that never fail to impress the intrepid diner, but Cafe Rialto is the one we chose last night and much to our delight, it was a complete winner.
825 Fulham Rd
"Wing Night", is something of an institution amongst Canadians in this town. Held every Monday night at the Maple Leaf in Covent Garden, the evenings festivities consist mostly of, well, chicken wings and of course beer (otherwise commonly known amongst patriotic Canadians as 'sweet nectar') by the pitcher. Wings come in four flavours, Honey Mustard, Sweet & Sour, BBQ and HOT, so hot in fact, that according to the waitress, it makes her eyes water just carrying the former flight equipment to the table, of course we had to get some of those. Fortunately, or unfortunately, on this particular night, the HOT wasn't so hot and in any case, the flames would have been doused by the arrival of yet another pitcher of beer, oops i mean sweet nectar, at the table. Sitting there, I began to wonder exactly how long this could go on for, I mean, how many wings can there possibly be left in the world with stories of 500 wings consumed in a single night by 5 ravenous guys? Surely this carnage cannot go on. Surely, this begs the question, why not turkey wings, or ostrich wings for that matter? Maybe one day, somebody will breed a double-size chicken with 6 wings and this fabulous bird will do for wing night what the pepperdew did for pizza. Overall, wing night rocked and the Maple Leaf, as I discovered, was not full of Canadians only, but Australians, Brits, yanks and South African's (of course) alike. Not the most low-cal of nights but then again, hey who's counting?
The Maple Leaf
41 Maiden Lane
MMMMmmmmmm, the Chelsea Bun, cheesy puns aside, the Chelsea Bun is just about the most impressive hangover-cure breakfast spot in London, to my knowledge thus far anyways. This morning, Laura and I, waking with respectively sore heads, moseyed on over to the Chelsea Bun restaurant in, believe it or not, Chelsea. The place was abuzz and we did well to avoid what was either the late breakfast crowd, or the early lunch crowd by arriving somewhere around noon. A quick survey of the menu confirmed my expectations, those being, the Chelsea Bun is a kind of gournet greasy spoon, serving honest to goodness soul-pleasing food which sends one back the following weekend, probably having purposefully sought out a hangover just for the mere pleasure of having a legitimate excuse for yet another trip to the beloved Chelsea Bun. This morning, I had the decadent good fortune to breakfast on the "The Ultimate Breakfast", consisting of no less than all of the following: French toast, pancakes, maple syrup, clotted cream, a sausage, hash browns, a beef burger, 3 eggs, rashers of bacon and grilled mushrooms. Oh what a feast, what a feast, I shall not forget it soon.
9a Lamont Road
Phone: 020 7352 3635
A week after meeting Laura, I had arranged a bona fide dinner date with her for September 20th 2004. Not knowing the restaurants in this town too well, I decided to go with the names I knew and find something that looked sauitably flash and impressive. I had a look around on toptable.co.uk and came across Angela Hartnett at the Connaught. The Connaught is a very upmarket hotel within walking of Green Park. The thing that turned me on to Angela Hartnett is that she is one of Gordon Ramsay's protege's. I figured one couldn't really go wrong with Gordon Ramsay, so I booked the table for 7:30PM. Upon arrival with Laura, I was very impressed with the venue. It is classic in every sense with lots of dark wood and heavy chairs. It is warm, ambient and impressive... in fact so impressive it might not be exactly the best venue for a first date, we do not afterall wish to overwhelm the lady on the first encounter. As it turns out, the first date was quite nearly a complete disaster. We sat there, for 5 stonily silent minutes, surveying the menu, no doubt with thoughts racing through our heads about finding something to say, anything to talk about. Fortunately, it did not take long, we made some excellent menu selections from a very impressive menu and much to my surprise, their very comprehensive wine list featured a bottle of Meerlust Rubicon 2000, which was duly ordered and readily, and somewhat greedily, consumed. The starters were perfection, the mains perfection and the desert, well, I almost shed a whole tear it was so good. Suffice to say, the night was a success, 4 months later we're still going to good restaurants and Angela Hartnett at the Connaught is still at the top of my list. Next time we may try out Marcus Wareing at The Savoy Grill.