Archive for the ‘French’ Category

Hey, Blog. It’s been a while…

I’ve been trying to work out why it’s been so long since I updated my blog. Let’s face it, it’s not like I’ve not eaten anything (in fact, quite the opposite as my jeans keep telling me). Am I short of time ? Well, yes. I guess I have been. Selling a company does kind of take up a bit more of your time that blogging would allow. But that’s no excuse, especially as I’ve been to some amazing restaurants in the time I’ve been on extended vacation from the Blogosphere. I’ve been to Minneapolis for the first time (land of steak, steak and more steak), New York again (land of pretty much anything you want), Cornwall (land of Ricardo Steinos) as well as the four corners of London (land of annoying tourists).

Clearly I’m not about to back-date my blog with all the places I’ve been to. Not sure my keyboard would thank me for that. So instead I thought I’d put the high point and low point down and leave you, dear reader, to fill in the gaps in between.

The High Point

Drakes Restaurant (http://www.drakesrestaurant.co.uk)

OK, this one deserves an extra special mention and is, without question, the culinary high point of the year. Not only have some other foodies deemed it worthy of a couple of Michelin stars, but it also goes down as one of the most spectacular meals I’ve ever eaten. And for someone who has wined and dined in some of the world’s very finest restaurants, that really is one hell of an accolade.

I’ve long been of the opinion that the best Michelin-starred restaurants are outside of London (Fat Duck, Manoir, etc) and, having experienced Drakes, this is further reinforced. It’s a typically French restaurant in all respects, from waiting staff to menu, and from the moment you arrive you just get this overwhelming feeling that you’re….well, special. Service is a delicate balance between attentiveness and servility, but Drakes has it spot on. Given this was a joint celebration of closing the Deal, and our 10th Wedding Anniversary, we both went for the 9 course tasting menu. They didn’t even flinch when I asked for two of the courses to be swapped round. Now that is the sign of a restaurant who treats its customers well. (And, before you say it, I have eaten in restaurants where they would rather have murdered your entire family than deliver something that wasn’t to “chef’s design”.)

Each course was exquisite, there’s no other word for it. The selection and balance of ingredients harmonised with a delicate and very well trained chef’s hand delivered course after course of breathtakingly good food. We had also chosen wines from 2000 across each course too which, while they almost required a second mortgage to buy, ensured that the food / wine combination was consistently perfect from amuse bouche to cheese (Puligny Montrachet, followed by Chateau Margaux – what else ?). The Sommelier was top rate too, offering up a cheeky little Barsac to have with cheese. I would never have paired dessert wine with cheese but, believe me, it works perfectly.

I will remember that meal at Drakes for a long, long time to come. In fact, I would struggle to fault any part of it. Take note, Ramsey.

The Low Point

The Seafood Restaurant (http://www.rickstein.com)

Now, this must have come as a surprise already for those that know me well. I adore all seafood. I would trade a dry-aged fillet steak for a lobster any day. And, you would think, there comes no finer that Mr Stein, the king of fish himself. Well I’m sorry to say, this was anything but the case.

We’ve eaten at the Seafood Restaurant 4 or 5 times before and never been disappointed. It is normally one of those places where you are guaranteed to have a top class dining experience using locally sourced, fresh ingredients. On all previous visits this has been very much the case. A relaxed dining experience, no rush, a low hum of conversation floating round an airy and light dining room, Stein himself probably propping the bar up trying to explain to some Japanese tourists that no, he wasn’t Gordon Lamsey.

This time was different. The restaurant has had a major refit since the last time we went and now features a circular bar in the middle that makes it look more like an All Bar One than a fine dining restaurant. But the thing that struck me most was how packed in the tables were. I could literally hear every word of our neighbours conversations and, rather than it being a low hum, it was loud and brash which is not what you want when you’re expecting a nice, relaxing evening. The other thing that I think sets apart top restaurants from the rest is the treatment of the wine. Average restaurants put the wine on the table in front of you and below-average restaurants make you pour it yourself. I spent the evening pouring our own wine. Not good. The food itself was as good as ever but the other aspects of the dinner just tainted it. And when you’re paying £370 (we both had lobster and Montrachet before you ask) for a meal for two you really do expect it to be good.

I just can’t explain it. Why Rick Stein has done this to his flagship restaurant is beyond me. What was once the pinnacle of fine dining anywhere in the South West of England is now just an average, up-market bistro which in turn makes it extremely over-priced for what it is. Disappointed ? You will be. Maybe I should have told the Japanese where they could find Lamsey after all.

So there you have it readers. The highs and the lows of the past few months. Clearly everything I’ve cooked at home beats all that hands down but I’m not one to boast so thought I’d write about someone else’s cooking for a change.

Watch out for more. This blog is, most definitely, revived.

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Cafe Rouge – Take Note

Brunches should always happen in relaxed atmospheres. You shouldn’t be rushed. This is probably the Sunday morning following too many G&T’s the night before. So, what a pleasure it was to visit Artisanal (http://www.artisanalbistro.com) on 32nd and Park.

It reminds me a lot of Cafe Rouge, that sort of faux French bistro look. It’s a toned down Cafe Rouge though, without the crass “old” French signs on the wall or cheap slogans painted on the walls. It’s altogether a lot classier in look and feel.

Sundays are clearly brunchdays in New York as this place was heaving. Nice to see young and old nestled side by side though. Although entirely accidental, it did add to the French feel since they do the whole family-eats-together thing like nobody else.

Probably the least French thing on the menu was cheese fondue, which we chose. Absolutely superb hangover food, I can tell you, and a nice change to have chunks of apple to dip in (with no danger of dropping them in the bubbling cheese). Keeping with my Cheese For Every Course theme, I had the most wonderful croque monsieur for the main course. Thick wedges of home-baked bread with top quality ham and a great mix of cheeses. Perfect. But the absolute star of the show was the slice of New York cheesecake that we all shared (too full by then). Truly amazing. You can’t get better cheesecake than this. If I had to put together the menu for my last supper, this would be the pudding, no question.

I don’t know exactly what it was about Artisanal but I just loved it. I would really like to go back and try a lot more of the items on the menu as they had some real classics on there. I’m sure they would be just as good.