Archive for January, 2012

Kitchen Confidential

Yesterday I found myself having lunch with Piers Morgan. OK, not sat next to him, but he was close enough to be within earshot which qualifies in my book. He’s an odd fellow close up. Less worry lines that I thought he’d have. Maybe all those months out in LA have resulted in the inevitable Botox injections that seem to be the price of entry to most places there now. I found it rather heartening though that Piers and I should have the same taste in restaurants.

The restaurant in question is Gordon Ramsey’s latest cab-off-the-rank, the aptly named Bread Street Kitchen (http://www.breadstreetkitchen.com/home) since it is a kitchen on, umm, Bread Street. After the proliferation of confusingly named restaurants that seem to have popped up all over London – which includes BSK’s close neighbour, Jamie Oliver’s Barbecoa – it’s rather pleasant to have a nice, honest, no frills restaurant name. Which, coincidentally, could be a very good description of the inside of the restaurant itself. Your first observation is that the builder’s must have left in a hurry. It’s all rather industrial with heating ducts and wiring exposed, lots of bare metal and avant garde lighting. Maybe Gordon went for dinner with Bruce Willis during his Die Hard years.

All that being said, you’d be forgiven for not knowing this was Gordon’s place. Unlike Mr Oliver next door whose name adorns every sign and menu, Mr Ramsey’s impact is a lot more low key. Which is good, because you can then focus on the extremely well constructed menu. There are some staples on here (steak etc) as well as an outstanding raw bar which is as fresh and vibrant as you’d find anywhere. I ordered the seared yellow fin tuna with parsnip mash which was extremely good. Not your usual slab of flesh, this had been tastefully cooked and sliced yet still very pink, and topped with featherlight parsnip crisps. Perfect lunch food – not a huge portion, with the emphasis on quality, not quantity. Others round the table had mutton and potato pie, a refreshing change to see such a traditional meat being used in such a modern way.

Service was right out of the old school book of Ramsey – impeccable. Attentive, polite, knowledgeable and friendly. Hardly surprising when you consider the severe punishment that mad Scot would no doubt dish out for anyone dropping a plate or toppling a food tower.

You should try BSK, if only so you can experience Ramsey doing Bistro food rather than thin wafers of owl, or carpaccio of beaver which is the usual fayre in his posh gaffs. And who knows, you might even end up enduring a shamed newspaper editor on the table next to you.

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Watch out Jamie

It seems quite apparent that the restaurant scene in London is not suffering too much from any double-dipping (well, of the financial rather than culinary variety that is). Restaurants that I’ve been in recently all appear to be bursting at the seams, with vibrant clientele all willing to splash the cash.

Last night was no exception, as I found myself in Madison (http://www.madisonlondon.net/), one of the newest restaurants to hit the streets near St Paul’s Cathedral in London. It is situated on the roof – quite literally – of a brand new complex of shops and restaurants, also home to Messrs Oliver and Ramsey’s latest eateries – although more on that later. The restaurant has a terrace area which was over-flowing with puffa-clad twenty-somethings supping on a variety of wine and cocktails braving the cold for one of the most spectacular views across London you’ll see this side of Galvin on Park Lane. It is both stunning and beautiful at night, with a front-lit St Paul’s Cathedral and the London Eye creating an amazing pastiche of old and new London. Inside is no different with floor to ceiling windows making the best of the views, albeit in a rather warmer environment. Just check out the link above to see what I’m referring to.

The restaurant is about 50% bar and 50% dining room, all open plan, and there is a vibrant buzz delivered from mostly professionals enjoying some after-work imbibing. The waitress and menu arrived almost instantly and we were presented with a really eclectic collection of modern cuisine ranging from steamed halibut to 4 or 5 different types of steak. I selected pan-fried squid with a squid-ink dressing followed by lobster. Both courses were stunning, and worth double their modest price. The lobster in particular had been cooked expertly, and I should know having had a fair number all round the world in my time. As side orders, we had kale with braised ham hock which gave it a seasoned saltiness that matched the lobster perfectly, and truffle fries which you could smell the instant they arrived on the table.

As noted above, the ambience was lively without being overpowering and conversation was easily heard – the perfect blend in my opinion. (I hate quiet dining rooms.) Service was attentive and polite, even down to adjusting one of the courses for my dining guest without any hesitation.

Given we were 5 floors above Jamie Oliver’s restaurant, and having eaten there a couple of times before, I have to say this wins hands down. The menu was far more interesting, the restaurant itself far more inviting and it was considerably cheaper. And, to top it all, you’re eating looking out over London rooftops rather than the blank walls of the office building opposite. Not sure whether Mr Oliver has had chance to pop upstairs to review the competition but, on the evidence last night, he ought to be more than a little concerned that his less well-known neighbour is about to take away a large slice of his potential clientele.