A mediocre dinner and an Outstanding dinner.

Easter Monday saw us and many others dining at Stoke Park Country club where we had all been playing golf in the Easter Cup Competition ( we did not win, nor even came close!) After the golf, there is always a dinner, which socially is always fun and the food usually very good as well.

This time though, not so good. For starters there was Paté, which I chose not to have, ( I had melon and Parma ham, no problem there,) but himself had the Paté, a biggish chunk, , which he commented ” I could taste it all night “. The main course was salmon, with Asparagus, Samphire and a champagne sauce. All very well, except the salmon was over cooked and had SLOPPY SKIN. Please, either serve it crispy or remove it, there is noting more disgusting that sloppy fish skin, and this was a second time in a row! Te dessert, which I also did not have, was a Bitter Chocolate Cremeux, Caramelized Banana Ice Cream and Toffee Sauce, which if you have a sweet tooth, as Himself does, then it was fabulous.

Onto our next dining experience, 5 years ago after the Japanese tsunami, we went to a Japanese restaurant in St. James London for a charity event, and we were blown away by the standard of food, service an everything about that evening.

Therefore we have been saying ever since, we must go back, and so this week we did. We went with friends one of whom is Japanese, one Dutch/ Brazilian, one Egyptian ( by birth) and three British. The restaurant in question is Sake No Hana and is on ST. James Street. There was a special menu for the Sakura Season. Sakura is Cherry Blossom and during the Cherry Blossom Season in Japan, it seems that the world revolves around it! And this was not different. Even the decor for the Sakura season are clouds of white and pink cherry blossoms.

The head Chef created a special Sakura menu, which included, of course, a Sakura Cocktail. This was composed of Sake, Vermouth, Cherry liqueur, Bold Aperitif and lavender bitters, beautiful decorated as well.Cocktail

Our starter was  Miso Soup, with Tofu cake, spring onion and something called wakame , which according to Wikipedia, is a sea vegetable, or edible seaweed. The tofu cake was I think fried and not soft white tofu, or it could have been smoked tofu.

Sushi, was next,  served in a box, I think representing a bento box. This consisted of Nigiri with Maguro (Tuna) and  Amaebi (Sweet shrimp), Maki with spicy Chirashi, Shiso Okra, and  Salmon, Along with Suzuki Sasa Sushi, which was Sea Bass wrapped in a bamboo leaf. All of these were delicious.sushi

For the next course we had options, we had the choice of Rib Eye beef Sumiyaki with chili Ponzu, Prawn and Vegetable Tempura, Salmon with Champagne Yuzo Miso or Agedashi Tofu. We were a party of 6 and strangely, without any consultation we all chose the beef. Beautifully presented and just a wonderful flavour.meat

It was at this point that the girls decided to have some Sake. Sake might be an acquired taste but smooth sake is quiet delicious and obviously goes very well with Japanese food. Our dessert was actually the pièce de resistance. It was a Cherry Chocolate Delice with Sakora Jelly, Bitter Chocolate and Sour Cherry, absolutely divine!!. They are having their special Sakura menu from now until June 10th. If you like Japanese food, or if you are a novice, then this is the one for you. Two of our group had never tried Japanese food previously, but loved it.

On a simpler note,  we have recently discovered Baker and Spice. They have a stand in Selfridge food hall, but we found their cafe, quiet by chance, one day when we were out and about. Yummy for lunch and very popular.

Can’t make it to the cafe, which is in Belgravia, Elizabeth St., halfway between Victoria and Sloane Square, then there is a deli or shop, in Chelsea, Maida Vale and Brighton

Lunches and a Dinner, a Late lunch, and Sunday Lunch.

So seem to have been out a lot recently, feast or famine or so it seems.This week saw us having lunch with Ray White, well actually at Raymond Blancs famous Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons, in Great Milton Oxfordshire. Dinner at Stoke Park Cub, a girls lunch at the Swallow Street rooms ( part of Bentleys restaurant) in Swallow Street London, a very late Good Friday Lunch with the willowy brunette, lunch with friends in Sloane Square and Sunday Lunch with son and wife in Fulmer

Needless to say Le Manoir topped the list both for food and service, not to mention the location. This world-famous restaurant and hotel is now part of the Belmond group of hotels ( formerly Orient Express group). I love Le Manoir, ever since we returned to the UK, it has never failed. The service is exemplary , food delicious, they encourage children to come, as well as encourage photographs to be taken. Raymond’s eldest Son, Olivier  (Olly), happened to be in the same french class at school as my eldest daughter. The french master always took great delight in the filling in of the blancs in a french test by saying Remplir les Ollys! Very odd, but something that has always stuck in my mind.

We went with  friends and their friends, the sun shone and the gardens as well as the food was perfect ( apart form the constant arrival of guests, Via Helicopter!

The next visit was to The Swallow Street rooms, for a birthday girls lunch. This was wonderfully organised by the lovely Antonia for her Mum, and it turned out to be a complete surprise with girl friends descending from Belgium and far-flung places.

As Cate, the Mum, is from Wales originally, Antonia took the opportunity in her dad’s absence to have Lamb as the main course.c1

The Swallow Street rooms are a private dining room which seats 24 or so below Bentley’s. The room is made to look like a smart library with sage green Panelling and mirrors. Bentleys is the place to go for Oysters and people watching as it would seem that a lot of M.P.s go there as well!

Onto Stoke Park Country Club, for dinner with the older male members, a once a year event, which I have the impression is just an excuse to raise money for their drinking fund! However it is usually a very nice evening in good company. For dinner this year, the starter was poached salmon, which tested very nice, but to my mind it was a pity that they did not remove the skin, crispy skin is great but sloppy skin, on poached fish, Uh No No!, For the main course it was  Pork Cutlet with Ham and Swiss cheese, again I feel that the execution was not the best, it looked very dry and burnt at the edges. If this was me cooking it, I would make a pocket in the pork, fill it with goats cheese and wrap in Parma ham. Fortunately, I chose the alternative choice which although a bit skimpy was a far better dish, Salad with King Prawns. Dessert for those who have a penchant for Puds, AN apple crumble with Blackberries.

Onto Saturday Lunch. we went to Colbert on Sloane Square to have lunch with friends from the Cotswolds. Colbert is part of the group of London Restaurants run By Corbyn and King. Fortunately it is Jeremy King and Chris Corbyn ( and not Jeremy Corbyn, otherwise we might indeed be a bit concerned.)

Apart from Colbert, they also own  The Wolseley ( my favourite) The Delaunay, on Aldwych, Fischers in Marylebone, Brasserie Zédel in Piccadilly, The Beaumont a hotel in Mayfair, which won best hotel 2016, and within the hotel the American Bar and the Colony Club grill. There was one other, on Lower Regent Street, but they changed their format, and it just didn’t  work, it is no more. So all of the above have a similar theme, a grand European Brasserie type restaurant. Fischers, is based on an Austrian Theme, Brasserei Zédel, very much a french brasserie with a Prix Fix very good value menu.

Maybe I have just eaten out too many times in the recent past, plus himself is learning to cook, as I was left disappointed with my lunch. My starter salad was beetroot and goats cheese which i really liked, but when I see dressed crab on the menu, i expect os see A Dressed crab, not a tiny pile of crab on a plate for £17.00 and himself chose the Feuilletés Anchois as a starter, and expected the very least a small pastry case filled with Anchovies, but think again, it was just like Cheese Straws with a smidgen of Anchovy. I have to say that the Filet Americain however was good, or so he said. Our waiter was on the other hand surly, too quick to remove plates and generally did not seem to love his job. So not good marks I am afraid, they must do better.

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Sunday Lunch on the other hand was for the most part what the Doctor ordered. We had, ham Hock Fritters and heritage tomato salad, followed by, Sausages and Mash, Smoked haddock fish cake with a poached egg, beer battered haddock and chips followed by a crumble and Ice cream. This was in The Black Horse, in Fulmer, a small very pretty village in Buckinghamshire, worth a visit, they have rooms lots of outside tables, parking and seem to serve food at least on a Sunday, pretty much all day.

And finally, it being Sunday, breakfast was cooked. A His and Hers.

His was Sautéed mushrooms on Toasted Sourdough Bread with Soft Poached Eggs, Rocket, Tomatoes, Chimichurri sauce and a Mexican spicy salsa.

Hers a bowl of Berries!

his and her

London Calling

I am delaying the continuation of all things Mexican. There is so much to tell, but meanwhile back in London, there has also been a lot going on. This week, has seen us eating at the iconic restaurant that is known as the IVY as well as Côte in Islington, Quantus in Chiswick and Memories of China in Kensington.

So for starters, we had a house guest who had never been to the IVY, so we went. It belongs to Caprice holdings, which owns/runs many London restaurants, including La Caprice, Daphne’s, J. Sheekey, Annabels, Harrys Bar,  as well as Côte, Grillshack and Balthazar, and until recently Wentworth. All I can say is that the service in all of these establishments is impeccable, but not at all stuffy, friendly and professional.

The Ivy is the ultimate people watching venue, and we were lucky enough to be facing into the room ( himself faced the window/wall, poor thing). As far as I could see, there were no rich and famous to focus on, but some American business men with their escorts ( Indonesian and female) and some English, boy next door types, with their English escorts ( Dusty Springfield look alikes, have not seen backcombed Beehives in years).ivy menu

I and house guest ate the fois gras, which was divine,whilst himself had the steak tartare( raw meat to you and me), his disappointment was that he could not mix it himself. for mains  they chose the calf’s liver and bacon whilst I had the dressed Dorset crab , with a side portion of chips. The crab salad was lovely but I have to say that I had to send the chips back, if I am going to have chips ( which I shouldn’t) then they have to be perfect, and the first ones were on the soggy side and only luke warm. I have to say that 2nd time around, they were perfect, crisp and hot.

Fois Gras
Fois Gras

 

Liver and bacon
Liver and bacon

 

For dessert,Herself, chose the sticky toffee pudding, which she declared half way through, “I should not have, I can not finish it”, and himself had the frozen berries with hot white chocolate sauce. this is such a splendid pud and sooo easy to make. The Food at the Ivy would not be called fine dining, BUT the menu is very eclectic, that it is very hard to decide what to have, so much to choose from and then every two weeks they change some of the dishes out, so even if you are dreaming of the fish cakes, or fish pie, or the best hamburger, it might not just be on the menu when you get there. That just means you have to go again, and why not!

Côte I have written about previously, a good place to go for lunch with girlfriends, or breakfast with hubby, pre theatre, post theatre, the standard is consistent, the quality good, the service excellent and the price is right.There are now 47 Côte locations with 24 of them being in the London area, so if there is one near you, do check it out.

Onto, last night, I went to a wine tasting event held by Naked Wines.

Naked Wines is an online wine retailer  which launched in the UK on 1 December 2008 and founded by Rowan Gormley.

They fund independent winemakers from around the world, in return for exclusive wines at wholesale prices – and they currently ship wine throughout the UK, the USA and Australia.To get the best price from this company, you have to become an Angel. This costs only £20 a month and it remains you money, as every time you buy, the £20 is deducted from your bill. Some of the discounts are up 40-50% so well worth the investment. Anyway, I went with friends, tasted some excellent wines and then had dinner in a great Chinese restaurant called “Memories of China” This is Ken Lo’s restaurant which opened 30 years ago,  and although the food was good, I think it is probably a little jaded. With so many other restaurants in London, it will have to up it’s appeal as on a Saturday night it was fairly empty. Our waitress who was from Nepal, was charming.naked 1 naked 2

So if you like fine wine, from small independent producers, check out NAKED WINES> you will not be disappointed! Back to Mexico, next time!

The Worlds Top Restaurants 2013

“My Tamales are Red Hot”, so sang Hugh Laurie ( of House Fame) on his 2011 album Let Them Talk. Unfortunately, PUJOL number 13 on this years Best 50 Restaurants in the World list does not seem to have heard this. Pujol is in Mexico city where one might expect a certain kind of spiciness when eating out, even if you don’t want Red Hot Tamales all of the time.

We dined at Pujol on the 20th April, this year and we took the tasting menu at 995 Pesos ( about £50 or $77). Our reservation was for 7 pm, which for a city like Mexico was early indeed. We  soon realised why we’d been unable to get a later booking as they stagger the arrivals – only  a quarter of the tables were occupied when we arrived. Fair enough, but we were offered the table, next to the bar, which doubled as the glass washing and the coffee making area. We rejected this and took another table.

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We started our meal with some snacks. This was fun, a smoking pumpkin, with baby smoked corn, some tiny tacos, a finely sliced avocado and a consommé. I’m honestly not sure what was in the consommé, but it was wonderful. However this was where the service started to fall down. Before I had finished my nibbles, Boom, Bang, the next course began to appear. Quelle Horreur!!  We had to ask them to slow it down somewhat. And they did but the service on the whole was very indifferent.

So there were 10 Courses, YES TEN, but they were only tasting size. The first was Tortilla souffle with escamoles. For those who do not know, ESCAMOLES are ants eggs! And they either come from the roots of the Agave tequilana  ( Yes you are right TEQUILA)

or the roots of the Agave americana  (Mezcal) A must try!!photo(3)

Next came Beef tartar tostada with Alfalfa and Serrano chili sauce

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As you can see the Tostada dominated the plate, the serrano chili sauce was nice without being too overpowering

So now onto course three, this was Fish ceviche taco with Hoja santa tortilla. Beans. Hoja santa (Piper auritum) is an aromatic herb with a heart-shaped, velvety leaf which grows in Central and Southern America as well as in parts of Florida.The name hoja santa means “sacred leaf” in Spanish.    I ate it several times whilst in Mexico, cooked a number of ways, but I really feel it is not memorable enough to go hunting for  it in my local grocery store. At PUJOL, the Hoja Santa leaf served as the taco to the ceviche and although this was a bit gimmicky, the whole thing worked  (this is their signature dish) and was delicious.

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Next came Purslane noodles with grilled onion and spearmint. We were not overly impressed with this dish, neither in its appearance nor its taste, sort of cactus and Purslane. Not our favourite. Though Purslane is valued for its high levels of Omega-3 fatty acids; it is considered to have higher levels of this essential fatty acid than any other vegetable!!

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Our next course was also rather nondescript, Sorry! it was a small aubergine and not sure what else, see for yourselves

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Then, it was Pork confit with Almonds, Raisins and Cumin Mole, an absolute delight and one of our favourites. On the down side, it was another plate of food, which was brown and cream in appearance.

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But then we went onto Mole. This was called Mole Madre, the taste was interesting but a plate of Mole by itself?? For the uninitiated Mole is a rich thick, dark, brownish-red sauce, but the term is really more general than that. Mole can be anything from dark and thick to soup-like and bright green, with red, yellow and black mole. Three states in Mexico claim to be the home of mole, Puebla, Oaxaca and  Tlaxacla, with Peubla and Oaxaca being the best known. However it is almost always served over something, meat or fish, or even rice, but on it’s own?? Did you eat it with a spoon? ( we did not have one) or scoop it up on a fork, or even a knife?

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Then came the desserts, all four of them. Honestly, you can see for yourselves, they were all cream in colour, and not one of them stood out as being memorable.

But honestly they all blended into one, both in appearance and taste.

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Firstly it was Banana served with macadamia zest, camomile flower.

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Thyme biscuit. Lemon gelatin. Pulque sorbet. Cookie soup. White chocolate.

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Guava Sorbet, Mezcal and Chilhucle chilli salt

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And this? well some sort of Mousse in a chocolate casing? but as I said, all the colours and all of the flavours in the desserts blended into one!

So all in all, I will not be recommending this restaurant to anyone, anytime soon, but the consolation is that although it is rated one of the best restaurants in the world, it does not come close to being one of the most expensive, that honour goes to Guy Savoy in Paris at a whopping $1200 for two people!!

One other restaurant that I will mention here is “Dinner” by Heston Blumenthal at the Mandarin Oriental in London. It is rated this year at # 7. I love Heston’s food, having eaten at his flagship restaurant ( the Fat Duck in Bray  Berkshire, UK ) many times, even before it became famous. “Dinner “is no different, it is innovative, fun and the service is exemplary, having said that the bill for two will set you back about $600. Not to be sniffed at!