owlfish: (Feast)
For weeks, I'd been looking forward to eating at Dabbous, but they cancelled at the last minute, thanks to a gas leak. We already had childcare, so I did a quick search around for a different place to eat out. I was after something quite nice food-wise but not particularly formal; C was already out in London and dressed for a casual office day. And so we ended up at Theo Randall at the Intercontinental.

In no rush, we went along with the suggestion to start at the bar. The bar menu was an interesting one, but they were out of my first choice. My second choice was a fluffy marshmallow of a drink; on its own, that was fine, but alas, the dessert wine ended up being extremely similar.

Oh, the hazards of Italian food in Britain. Any menu which lists "primi" and "secondi" is one which raises my hopes that portions are thoughtfully small, enabling me to have lots of courses. The waitress cautioned that their portions were large. No antipasti for us, then. The little bits of bread which arrive are delicately soft and bode well for the rest of the meal.

I started with the linguine con aragosta, linguine with Dorset blue crab and chili. No, no parmesan for me, I am too inculturated into having no cheese with a pasta seafood dish. The crab meat is tender and tasty, a feat when paired with chili; but that's as high as the dish rises. The pasta is precisely al dente, which works for my linguine, but not for C's capelletti di vitello, which should be tender parcels without that bit of undercooked stiffness. They're fine. We've had better. By the standards of most of the meal, the pasta dishes were relatively pedestrian.

The secondi, on the other hand, are wonderful, delicate, rich, and intimidatingly enormous. My arrosta di faraone could easily have served both of us on its own. The best dish of the night, and I end up leaving a good half of the guinea fowl on my plate. ("Was something wrong?" is a painful query to receive for the evening's highlight!) C made slightly better inroads on his his costata di agnello. Even the side salad, a lovely array of colorful crunch, is quite substantial.

We loitered for a while and agreed to consider the dessert menu. I *want* to try out more of their offerings, but the secondo has made it difficult. We go with sorbet and ice cream. My peach sorbet is overly sweet. It's peach season, but this is a year-round dish, the richness of preserved fruit, not the refreshing juiciness of fresh peaches. It's heavy, and the accompanying marshmallow of the moscao d'asti adds more freshness than the peaches themselves have. C polishes off his chocolate-hazelnut ice cream, so it can't have been that bad.

I came away wistful. Should we have done the tasting menu after all? Is there any place in the UK which allows for consumption of both primi and secondi without food overdose? Should I never try another upscale Italian restaurant in the UK again, because I have spent too much time in Italy? For better or worse, I already have provisional plans to check out one of the Polpo family.

If I ever have reason to go back to Theo Randall's restaurant, I'd be inclined to gamble on the tasting menu, or just have meat and salad.
owlfish: (Feast)
posted by [personal profile] owlfish at 03:25pm on 09/04/2015 under , ,
One advantage of doing a formal celebration with a very small number of people is that, several years ago when it happened, we felt we choose a really nice restaurant for it. I was initially leaning towards Hibiscus: creative, high reviewed, private dining room. Only on further reflection, I started to think that Claude Bosi's cooking might be a little *too* creative to impose on my extended family. I wanted them to enjoy the meal a little less critically than the truly unexpected might permit.

In the intervening years, the restaurant has, from all accounts, only improved. Last year, Bosi bought the restaurant back from its backers, and with full oversight, has pushed the cuisine in new and interesting ways. It was very pleasant; but one of the first tidbits to arrive reaffirmed my certainty that we had made the right choice in going somewhere else for the wedding meal.

Arriving in dark wooden block holder, two svelte, crisp ice cream cones looked gentile, but were, in fact, revelatory. As introduced by our waiter, they held smooth, fairly delicate, light fois gras ice cream, with an underlying, hidden layer of blood orange jelly - gently tart, brilliantly, glowingly, red - filling the bottom of the cone, slowly oozing out through the small shatters of narrow cone. Creamy ice cream, sweetly tart orange. It was delicious.
owlfish: (Feast)
A post of [livejournal.com profile] desperance's on kumquats reminds me that I've been meaning to start writing about our meal at Hibiscus. I'll be writing this in likely-erratic installment. Thanks to Chaz, I'm starting with the cheese course.

The cheese course was a sumptuous lump of melted Mont d'Or cheese partially smeared across a plate, a modest quantity to keep us comfortable in the midst of the installments of a tasting menu. A little bit of well-cooked leek added nominal vegetative fattiness to the cheese's well-rounded unctuousness. Black truffle shavings were applied, as they were to many dishes, with unnecessary abandon and, oddly, more coarse texture than flavor.

But the leek and truffle played supporting roles. The thin slices of lightly candied kumquat were the real contrast to the Mont d'Or, their distinctive sharp bittersweetness assertively balancing the smooth richness.

It was an evocative moment for me, one which put me on the edge of tears, because kumquats - a fruit of which I am not especially fond, but can work well as a condiment - are the fruit which reminds me of Louise Noun.

My family were over at her apartment for a rare dinner there (my memory is that she didn't really like to cook), her amazing collection of artwork by female artists on the walls. I was probably a high schooler at the time. After the meal, she served a bowl of fruit for dessert, and I tried my first kumquat: small, hard, bitter. It was so small, I thought I surely could finish it, and did. It wasn't a particularly pleasant experience, although obviously I grateful for the introduction.

The bittersweetness though wasn't just from the fruit or the largely pleasant memories of that dinner. It's Louise herself. She said she would commit suicide when sufficient age incapacitated her to the extent that she was in danger of becoming more burden than benefit. And she did.

She was in her 90s, she lived an amazing, accomplished life, and she ended it on her own terms. It still took away from my mother one of her best friends, and from the rest us, a well-loved family friend. One aspect of her work lives on the Chrysalis Foundation, which works to help girls and women be safe, secure, and educated.

So that was the cheese course.
owlfish: (Feast)
posted by [personal profile] owlfish at 04:29pm on 22/10/2014 under , ,
We celebrated Chocolate Week with [livejournal.com profile] taldragon and [livejournal.com profile] lazyknight by having dinner at one of the only restaurants in London doing anything other than afternoon tea in its honor. I had fairly high expectations of it thanks to having had a wonderfully sumptuous meal earlier in the year at its upscale sibling, Galvin La Chapelle.

Chocolate and toddlers... )

I would highly recommend the Bistrot especially for tall parents who are frustrated by how low changing facilities usually are. They not only have them (armpit-high on me), but beautifully clean high chairs and an erstwhile free meal for the under-eights. (No guarantees as to when it's for.) And the food really was pretty good overall, if clearly - based on our sampling - more worth ordering the full-priced mains than the prix fixe if what you're after are the tastiest dishes. But the prix fixe is good value, and a welcome option.
owlfish: (Feast)
posted by [personal profile] owlfish at 03:41pm on 15/01/2014 under , ,
High-end restaurants bring out the highest expectations and the worst of dismissive snark. Even running into that snark second-hand often puts me off discussing restaurants. (But it's annoyance with snark which inspires this post.) Because, you see, I really like to go to intensely creative, experimental, highly-recommended restaurants even if they are expensive. I don't do it all the time. It's a treat. It's a long-term hobby, if you will. It's an education. And it's a financial choice; other people are most welcome to choose to spend their money on things I don't. (I very much appreciate that I have the luxury of being able to make this choice.)

Alinea is in the news currently for its chef, Grant Achatz, insulting the crying baby who dared join its parents for dinner recently. (via [livejournal.com profile] aliettedb) They had a last-minute baby-sitter cancellation, and nonrefundable tickets for the currently very, very hard to get into restaurant. He reacted in horror at how a crying baby was likely disturbing all his other customers. I hope everyone else had a good evening that night, even if Achatz did not.

The good news it that not all restaurants competing in the creative, high-end league that Alinea is in, are like that. Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons makes its own fresh purées for babies with vegetables fresh from its garden. Toddler food is given equal care. It's in a hotel, it's true, but it's not alone.

We had lunch at L'Enclume the other week, taking advantage of familial childcare. It's currently rated by the Good Food Guide as the best restaurant in the UK. It was a gloriously wonderful, creative, largely seasonal, twenty-two course meal. Two other tables had each brought a young child. The parents of one, not quite an independent walker yet, handed over a supermarket ready meal for the staff to heat. The parents of the other fed their slightly older baby with food from their plates. The two high chairs the restaurant was using were very different from each other, so clearly they requisitions one from elsewhere for the reservation.

Especially having left Grouting behind, it was a delight seeing the other babies running around. When one because unhappy, one family member sacrificed the quality of their food for a happier child, taking them outside for a break. There aren't any changing facilities, but improvising changing places is an ongoing issue when out and about with a very small person.

One of the things about Alinea's food is that much of it is very time-dependent. If the mouthful isn't served with a minute or three of intention, it won't necessarily work. The hot/cold contrast will be lost. The broth-filled dumpling might be a little more underwhelming at the wrong temperature. It's a conflict between eating the food as the artist/chef intended, and caving to the realities of serving actual people. It's also a conflict over the roles of children in society, and whether or not "fine dining" should be a sphere in which young people grow up comfortable. It's also the endless conflict over parenting styles, tolerance of and reasons for a crying child.

I've eaten at Alinea, one of the very best meals of my entire life. It was years ago, before it was quiet as expensive as it is now, before the non-refundable ticketing system came into effect, valid only for quite of two or four. I called the week before and got a table for one.

Much as company is also good, one of the things that made that meal for me is that I was by myself. It just me and the food and my thoughts and people-watching. It was a meditative, as well as delicious, experience which I could take entirely at my own pace. I enjoyed eating the occasional thought-provoking, whimsical, humorous meal by myself.

Achatz may worry about saddling the baby's fellow diners with their company; but whether they want it or not, they're obliged to have company of some sort, in their multiples of two and four, quite apart from the lottery of whomever else has happened to buy tickets for that meal.

Edited to add: More concrete details on the story. The problem wasn't a baby at Alinea, but parents who weren't actively parenting.
owlfish: (Fishy Circumstances)
posted by [personal profile] owlfish at 12:50am on 07/10/2013 under ,
"Better than Belgique" read the recommendation from someone I don't know. Belgique's a chain of Belgian patisserie/cafés in NE London and Essex; they're not bad. The Larder's website shows heaps of pastries and bread. I was looking forward to those. The problem was, I think, that the advice came from someone talking about their Wanstead branch.

Really good ingredients, mismatched expectations... )

The Larder at Butler's Retreat has a really pleasant location whose design made the line to order often look more intimidating than it probably was. Food was fresh and well-considered, with very good ingredients. I just wish I'd gotten off to a better start: between expecting pastries from the website and our own fault in mis-guessing the end of breakfast service, it took a while before I was in the right frame of mind to enjoy all the positives which the place did offer.
owlfish: (Feast)
posted by [personal profile] owlfish at 11:31pm on 11/03/2012 under , , ,
We made our first trip to Westfield City Stratford yesterday, aka what will be the Olympics gift shop, in effect. Restaurant magazine has been covering interesting new concepts there since it opened, and it was a chance to try out a new movie complex.

The mall was very crowded but functional in the late afternoon on a Saturday, but information-gathering while waiting for a transit-delayed C meant I found how to navigate much of the mall from the much more tranquil exterior. The interior has a decent number of comfy seating clusters, especially at the end furthest away from the main entrances; although these are in places that look like they may yet be rented out to stalls and kiosks once the still-fairly-new-mall has filled in more of its space gaps. Waiting, I appreciated the cluster of coffee shops and quick food places right near the front.

Amusingly, there's a "2012 Viewing Platform". I think that would be a fantastic place - symbolically, not in practice - to spend next New Year's Eve, seeing in the wrong year. Really, it's a view out toward the Olympic Stadium for the 2012 Olympics.

Cabana is in one of the cluster of shops outside the main building of the mall (Chestnut Plaza). Two layered, busy, and people-intensive, it's a Brazilian barbecue place, food on skewers, plus sides and starters. It's casual sit-down dining, expeditious and decent. I had a lovely, refreshing coconut drink which was, as C put it, more than the sum of its parts. The starter packet of melting cheese was made interesting by smoked chili oil.

The parmesan-coated pork tenderloin was a taste highlight for me, as were the sweet potato fries - fluffy within, crunchy without. The grilled corn-on-the-cob was negligible, and the sticky short back ribs - C's highlight for their falling-apartness - were well-flavored, but my portion was too gristle-intensive to be much pleasure. Chili cumin lamb offered decent depth of flavor.

A major point in Cabana's favor is that everything we ate had sufficient flavor of its own that the provided house sauces added nothing we needed - spiciness which overwhelmed the flavor range already built-in. We had a very leisurely dinner in all of 45 minutes, in the quieter upstairs section which only has room for tables for two or four.
owlfish: (Feast)
posted by [personal profile] owlfish at 12:12am on 04/02/2012 under , ,
Location: Castle House hotel, Hereford. Near the cathedral.

We came for a leisurely dinner and didn't get off to the best start. We were set enough on leisurely that we started at the bar, for pre-dinner drinks and loitering. The menus had barely arrived before someone first tried to take our orders. The nibbles were plated elegantly, but not intelligently, with the crisps prone to migrating out of reach underneath the dish containing olives and nuts. In the heart of cider land, the bar only stocked Westons.

Our drinks followed us to the table, since we were seated before we finished them. There, a selection of bread arrived - but no introductions to their variety were given - and immediately after, our starters. Mine was a homey, beautifully-balanced pear and celeriac soup, sided with a dull little herb scone. C's was all good looks and general disappointment; dry pork belly, bland layers of apple, adequate black pudding, plus slate is much easier to deal with as a dish for finger food than anything requiring cutting, or where edges would be convenient.

In retrospect, we should have tried beef variants for our mains, as I now know that's the restaurant's specialty; but neither menu or our uninformative waitstaff told us so, and we'd both had beef for lunch. The lamb dishes were okay; the meat itself was excellent, if not cooked into the tenderness I'd have liked. The carefully-layered potato was very much over-salted.

By this point in the meal, we were both seriously questioning the Good Food Guide rating as being overblown, a rare point of major disagreement for us with it. But then there was dessert.

One dessert between us, one more chance for the kitchen to redeem itself. And oh, did it ever. This dessert was sublime, exciting, a thrill for my tastebuds. The coconut pannacotta arrived as two thick semi-circles of dense, creamy pannacotta, rolled in toasted, shredded coconut. It came with mango sorbet, which was topped with what tasted like essence of mango, an intense, delicately-thin, transparent layer of chewy mangoness. In between were two tiny little marshmallows, passionfruit-flavored and topped with sesame seeds. That doesn't sound like much, but they were amazing, even better than the rest of the dish, hits of flavorsome intensity which we divided into smaller and smaller pieces to make it last.

So that was dinner. Our would-be leisurely dinner took about an hour-and-a-half of efficiency. A perfectly pleasant, be-linened dining room, a spectacular dessert after a lackluster dinner, haphazardly-functional plating, and staff going through all the right motions but without nuance or brain engaged. I blame the management and their training, not the young staff members personally.

Currently, I'd go back for dessert. I'd be willing to consider beef. But for anything else, I'd be interested in seeing what else there Herefordshire area had to offer instead.
owlfish: (Feast)
Location: Butler's, at the Chesterfield Hotel, Mayfair. London. UK.

Why do so many London places go through the motions of serving afternoon tea, their heart so clearly not in it? Butler's, at the Chesterfield Hotel, proved yet another of these places, who have so lowered my expectations of adequacy in a full afternoon tea that I was rating this one as vaguely averagely mediocre while K was totally slating the food.

Front-of-hotel service was excellent, with staff volunteering to check away our coats and bags voluntarily, organizedly giving us a cute little envelope with our coat claim numbers. The atmosphere where we ate was pleasant, a greenhouse roof over white linened tables, and a mini-courtyard just outside the window, complete with running fountain. The chair covers were a bit awkward, but forgivable on the whole.

The service was very well-intentioned, although clearly operating without sufficient management guidance. The good was that we were regularly offered refills, of water and anything else we might want. The oversights were intrinsic to afternoon tea: no milk was provided along with our teapots although one of us was on black tea, and the teapots were placed on our table the wrong way around, such that when K tried pouring herself a refill from the nearest pot, it turned out to be my tea instead.

Another sign of the lack of thought given to this period of food service was my tea. The peppermint had lots of fine leaf particles floating in it, the sort which would ideally be strained out by the provided strainer; only all the particles were finer than the holes of the strainer.

The food... well, it went through all the right motions. There were finger sandwiches, scones with good clotted cream and jam, and little pastries. The scones had a good crumb, although they were rather bland; the chocolate eclair was decent, and the orange cupcake was practically a highlight because it had a decisive candy orange flavor, full-bodied in a way nothing else was. The fruit in the tart was good, but I've had better pastry cups from any number of supermarkets. The sandwiches were a wash. The only one which tried was bland chicken salad overpowered by incongruous toasted almonds which prettily edged it. Salmon, ham, and cucumber (there was a fourth, blanking on it) were bland and uninteresting. Most supermarkets do better sandwiches. It is entirely possible to do tasty little proper afternoon tea finger sandwiches; I have eaten them elsewhere.

I had a lovely afternoon with K, and staff were good about letting us loiter, but food-wise and tea-consciousness-wise, it wasn't worth the effort to have gone there.
owlfish: (Default)
Sometimes, it all works out better than plannable. Friday was one of those nights. As of Wednesday morning, I could not have told you I would be at the sold-out Much Ado about Nothing at the Wyndham, but someone else's inconvenience was my fortune. (It was very generous of you to have a conflict, [livejournal.com profile] ashfae!)

Dinner at Hawksmoor Seven Dials... )

After a little bit of suspense, we found L, who had the tickets. It required texting since it was a busy pub and we had not previously met her, and K, whom I do know, had gone to look for me when I was looking for her. L was a delight, and we had more time to get to know her and the rest of the group at another pub afterward. Anyways, the important thing is that it worked out just fine.

Much Ado about Nothing at the Wyndham sold out long since because it stars Catherine Tate and David Tennant as Beatrice and Benedict. It was a giddy romp of a production, adorable and delightful and ridiculous to the degree that the serious parts were often overshadowed. They often are in this play, but they particularly were in this version. The scene in which Hero tells Beatrice that Benedict loves her - I didn't hear a word of it because all attention was on the aerial hijinks of Beatrice. Poor Hero.

I wonder how many tunes there are out there for "Sigh no more, ladies". The Branagh movie had one. This version set in post-Falklands Gibralter had an '80s rendition (as, indeed, was the entire original soundtrack). These are surely not the only two. There were lots of '80s jokes/references/homages built into the visuals, from heavy Princess Di/Hero paralleling to an electronic keyboard to a Rubik's cube. I missed the Super Mario Brothers homage (a costume in the masked ball/dance), but there was one, apparently!

In any event, a really lovely evening.

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