Sunday, 26 April 2015

Taillevent, Paris

A few nights ago I saw heaven. Heaven is located in 6th arrondissement of Paris.


Taillevent is a bastion of classic French cuisine having been named after the nickname of 14th century chef Guillaume Tirel who created one of the first ever cookery books at the behest of his patron, King Charles V. You surely can't get any more French than that? It first opened its doors in a flush of post war Parisian pride in 1946. Three venues later and an ascendancy from a first star in 1948 through to a third in 1973 gave it a fixed place in the Paris gastronomic firmament.

Current chef, Alain Soliveres, has been in place since 2002. Taillevent's stellar domination took a dent in 2007 when their third star was removed by Michelin. It hasn't come back since - it being notoriously difficult to recover a star once its gone - but the meal I was served was an equal to any three star meal I have had anywhere around the world. 

The start wasn't quite so heavenly admittedly. I arrived early (my bad) and was consequently the first person in the silent restaurant. Three dark-suited waiters peered curiously at me - I think a woman dining on her own might still be an oddity-  and much whispering ensued before a wine list was produced. I buried my head deep inside the list (easy to do, its massive) to hide, cheeks burning. After working through Burgundy and Loire by way of Bordeaux and Champagne I paused and looked up. Three waiters had amoebically morphed into eight, stood in a row, staring at me. My head went back down and I blurted out an order of a glass of house champagne to keep the hovering waiter at bay.



Taillevent have in excess of 50 own labelled wines all sourced from big names in the French wine world. Their house champagne is by Deutz whilst Bordeaux names include the Chateaux of Rauzan-Segla, Phelan Segur and Haut Bailly. Things became more relaxed once accompanied by the gentle fizz of a glass of Deutz- nothing unusual- crisp with a little yeast and a general crowd pleaser as you would expect from a house champagne. 


Few things in life can appear more deceptively simple but be more delicious than a good gougere. Perfect round pillows of cheesy air that deflate on your tongue into a soft savoury goo. These were made from comte and I ate more than my fair share (I think they felt bad after the initial cold staring incident and gave me a massive plate).

An amuse bouche of a langoustine encased in filo pastry in a sweet and sour sauce might possibly be likened in theory to a riff on a Waitrose Christmas canapé classic but was on a whole different level and disappeared in a flash. A crab terrine was amongst the prettiest dishes I've ever been served although the person charged with slicing the radishes, fanning them then squeezing those tiny blobs of green herb pesto around each plate must have the patience of a saint. Pulling it apart felt like an act of sacrilege but the flavour was worth it. Intense crab bound in a soft creamy sauce, cut through and contrasted by the lightly pickled radish and pesto. Why add too many ingredients when the base is as perfect as this?



Paris wouldn't be Paris without frog's legs.This version was served with a spelt risotto and brown butter. I'm not sure that I've ever found a great deal of flavour in the frog's leg itself - its one of those meats that falls into the cliché of "tastes like chicken" - but rich butter and translucent wafers of fried garlic gave it enough flavour that the frog might be lacking to a non-comprehending 'rosbif'.


A rather large slab of pan fried foie gras with reinette apples and muscat grapes came next. Of course I ate the whole lot but in all honesty both my rapidly furring arteries and I could probably have done with half as much. A weak complaint though as it was properly caramelised to a crisp on the outside but with a warm, wobbly and gelatinous interior. No graininess or slight bitter favour as you occasionally get from less superior foie gras. Skinned sweet little explosions of grape and soft apples were ideal (although I'm feeling for the chap peeling the grapes- here's hoping it wasn't the same one who had to finely slice and layer all those radishes in the crab dish). The sauce was a masterpiece. Deeply savoury to balance out those sweet apples and grapes and reduced down to a small sticky puddle.

Ordering wine on your own can be a bit of a minefield in my experience as you are either limited to whatever is on offer by the glass or you have to order by the whole bottle and either be plastered or limited to one wine throughout the meal. For the most part (and yes I know there are exceptions) restaurants in the UK are not great at offering a good selection of half bottles. This is something that French restaurants excel at. A half bottle of 2000 Sociando Mallet set me back about 60 euros which, whilst pricey, is comparable to half the price of a full bottle. The 2000 is drinking perfectly right now, slowly gaining some more secondary flavours of cigar and smoke to complement an intense black fruit on both nose and palate. 

A pigeon pithivier seems to be something of a traditional dish at Taillevent and was cooked very rare with a mixture of winter mushrooms encased in a pretty puff pastry parcel. Sauces are all sensational at Taillevent and this one was no exception. Rich and cooked down to its very essence of red wine and game juices- clearly the work of several hours. From my perspective though, completely superfluous salad leaves! 


Any self-respecting French restaurant excels at cheese and Taillevent is no exception. You will never find a perfect triangular chunk of underripe brie served here alongside celery and a grape. Oozing cheese as far as the eye can see...


A truffled Brillat Savarin invoked the equivalent of a food orgasm with very developed St Felicien and Epoisses taking me into multiple O territory. Having stratospherically exceeded my recommended intake of both cholesterol and salt on one plate it seemed like the sensible thing to do to proceed straight to dessert. When you're in heaven no one's counting right?

Dessert wouldn't be complete without a decent wine to go with it and the claret was long gone with the cheese. A glass of Huet Moelleux Clos de Bourg 2003 can never be a bad thing. Its honey and sweet apricot fruit matched brilliantly with a pineapple and lemongrass sorbet and coconut cream parfait confection but less well with a dark and cloying Nyangbo chocolate mousse. It was filled with a vanilla ganache similar to the one found in Laduree vanilla macarons that I have never managed to replicate. I can only think that it involves an obscene amount of butter.


Petits fours included an utterly beautiful, light as a feather orange blossom marshmallow, the smallest vanilla macaron I have ever seen and a chocolate truffle. Enough, I'm done. Except I'm not as a bottle of house cognac and a glass appears on the table and is left for me to help myself. 


It's entirely likely that the cognac bottle is strategically in place just in time to properly anaethetise you prior to receiving the bill. There is no other way of putting it, its very expensive. A 330 euros kind of expensive in fact (although granted I had good wine). This is a long, long way from being a cheap meal by anyone's standards. By Parisian standards though it is positively good value for a 2 star tasting menu with wine. If someone told you than evening in your particular version of heaven would cost 330 euros who could say no? There is a cheaper way of doing things though; lunch is available for 108 Euros for 4 courses including drinks which sounds eminently more reasonable.


To round my personal heaven off in style I went for a quick gander at the wine cellar deep beneath the kitchens. 'Cellar' in the singular is a misnomer for they have five onsite cellars as well as various others around Paris. The five in the building are divided between Burgundy red, Bordeaux red, white, spirits and sparkling and locked behing steel doors by giant keys. The floors of all them are covered in gravel and pebbles to help moderate humidity and to absorb movement (the building is close to a Metro line). It was like being a child in a sweet shop. Incredible bottle after bottle was pulled out; 1894 Lafite, 1919 Haut Brion, 1909 Yquem, they just kept coming shown off by a head sommelier with such obvious pride in his babies. They threatened to lock me in there then looked slightly alarmed when I agreed. If there is ever a threat of zombie invasion or nuclear destruction I know where I will be hot footing it to. 


When I'm visiting a restaurant like Taillevent I tend to opt for a tasting menu just to make sure that I get to try as many different dishes as possible, this does mean that I miss out on the beauty of the a la carte dishes. The table next to me went a la carte and the presentation was incredible - gold leaf a go-go and ornate decorations of pastry, vegetable or chocolate depending on the dish. Traditional dishes such as crepes suzette are cooked and served with a flourish of purple flame at the table side. A la carte is a stratospherically expensive way to dine though so this may remain a spectator sport for me. 

Highlights I just can't pick one, it was all incredible from start to finish.

Would I go again? Were I a resident of Paris with unlimited means and complete disregard for my waistline I dare say I would become a regular. In fact I would probably have my own banquette. As it is I can only hope that one day I might go back.

Summary Classic French food cooked superlatively well. Yes, its starchy and extremely old school but its hard to beat for a sense of occasion. An experience that almost felt religious with Taillevent as the temple.

9.5/10
Taillevent
15 Rue Lamennais, 75008 Paris, France
+33 1 44 95 15 01

Friday, 10 April 2015

Shackfuyu

If you've read this blog for a while you may know how rare it is that I am unstintingly positive about anywhere - what can I say, I'm a discerning (*picky/fussy call it what you will) kinda gal. That said, one of the few places I adored without limitation last year was Flesh & Buns. I was therefore pretty excited when I heard about Flesh & Buns owner Bone Daddies opening a pop up place on Old Compton Street.


The term "pop up" has a rather ambigous meaning these days. When the term first, well- popped up, it meant somewhere opening for just a few days or weeks. Then the phrase became a bit overused so when Jamie Oliver announced his "pop up" Jamie's Diner in Piccadilly Circus - still marketing itself as "for a limited time only'- eyes rolled, especially when it was uncovered that the lease was for a minimum of three years so hardly what most people consider "pop up".  In the case of 14a Old Compton Street it seems that the lease is for an initial year so its not yet a permanent fixture but also isn't going to be one of those places that by the time I've pulled my finger out and written about it you can't go because its already upped sticks and left. Due to its not-sure-if-its-permanent status its also not had a high gloss makeover so is charmingly rustic with the previous inhabitant's brick pizza oven still very much mid restaurant (and in use). Its is suited to casual dining with your mates rather than first date territory but none the poorer for it. It also gets pretty smoky in there from the oven so don't be going on to anywhere you need to smell nice.

I'm still allergic to queuing so we had planned afternoon tea at Dean Street Townhouse for a lazy Sunday afternoon but when our table still wasnt ready 15 minutes after the booked time I went in search of Shackfuyu. Its one thing to queue when its 'no reservations' but quite another level of annoyance again to queue when you had bothered to book. Back to Shackfuyu... Not a single person queuing and a haven of peace and calm inside with a lovely warm smiley welcome- job done!


Drinks are served pre-mixed in little potion bottles and, feeling a little delicate after a big night out, I went for a "California Dreaming" apparently a mix of cranberry, lychee and lime. I say 'apparently' because  the lime was dominant and the lychee almost indiscernable. It was still tasty but the bottles are pretty tiny so I'd stick to the label soft drinks like Fevertree ginger beer. The boozy cocktails sound rather delicious though so Id be tempted on a less tender day. Its also worth mentioning the comparatively large downstairs bar that you can have a beer or two in whilst you wait for a table on those evenings when queues inevitably grow. Better than trailing down the street in the rain...
"Prawn toast masquerading as okonomiyaki" was just that; a circular slab of minced prawn fried patty but topped with spring onion, creamy sauce and the faintest whisps of bonito flakes that fluttered and danced in the air just like Hiroshima's favourite snack. This was nothing like your stereotypical Chinese takeway prawn toast though. No fried bread and not overly greasy; a soft, well seasoned prawn filling and the lightest of coatings.



My highlight beyond compare was the beef picanha with kimchee tare butter. Or an alternative description would be just really tender, rare beef slices dripping in savoury salty butter. Let's go with that. As with Jinjuu, the meat is listed in the dish description as being USDA. Yes, I know its good meat, my mouth told me that, but its a long way to bring cow when we have very good ones here too thank you very much.


Its apparently almost illegal to go to any Asian fusion type place in Soho at the moment and not order Korean fried chicken so we jumped on board. Sticky enough to require copious finger licking with sharp tang that gives way to a blast of chilli and spice- they are not for the faint hearted.  Being brutal, the wings aren't quite as good as those at Jinjuu (mainly down to their incredible sauce) but they are still delicious so I certainly wouldn't hold back on ordering them again. The Mentaiko Mac & Cheese got full marks for quality of sauce- thick and creamy- but I'm not sure about the mentaiko ball served on top. It was suggested that we stir it into the sauce but having tasted a small mouthful of cold pollock roe we decided to go more traditional and keep fish and cheese well apart.



Scallop with chilli miso butter might sound pricey in the singular at £8 but our portion contained two scallops and a plump roe so kept me happy if not my scales. Swimming in a deeply savoury butter (albeit with less chilli then the name might suggest), the molten pool gave way to a springy but delicate opalescent flesh. 




The hot stone rice comes in a big cast iron bowl with gome tare, chilli and beef along with various veggies like shredded carrot and roast sweetcorn. It is then mixed together at the table so that the heat of the bowl cooks the egg through the rice. Don't just take my word for it though, my first attempt at a gif below will hopefully prove it.

Shakfuyu


Kinako french toast with matcha Mr Whippy is the only dessert on the menu and has been a much instagrammed and talked about dish. I think its worth all the praise it gets. Although firm on the outside, the caramelised, kinako-covered crust gives way to a sweet, soft inner. L wasn't so sure about the ice cream but I know that the not-quite-sweet and a bit powdery flavour of matcha can be an acquired taste.



Would I go again: Yes definitely. Lovely staff, no queue on a Sunday afternoon and not too spendy (sub £30 a head although no booze)

Highlight: Its between the French toast and the beef. I can't decide. Am I allowed one sweet and one savoury highlight? Oh, I make the rules here so yes! Have both.

In summary: Another Eastern fusion riff on the Bone Daddies/ Flesh & Buns concept but so nice and different enough that you don't care.

7.5/10

Shackfuyu
Old Compton Street, Soho, London. W1D 4TJ
020 7734 7492

 
Shackfuyu on Urbanspoon Square Meal

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Jinjuu

I love how the restaurant world evolves so quickly in London. A few years ago options  for Korean restaurants would have been limited to the occasional local place run by Koreans for other Koreans with any public comment on their cuisine likely to involve manifestly unfair references to eating dog. I'm not a fan of the proliferation of start-of-the-year "food trends for 2015" articles littering the internet but you have to admit that a lot of them have hit the nail on the head with a nod to the continued explosion of last year's Korean theme.

Granted, a lot of focus has been on fried chicken and kimchi pickled vegetables but Jinjuu is so much more than that.  Billed as a Korean fusion restaurant and also described as being home to a 'celebrity chef' I have to admit I wondered what I was letting myself in for. Fusion can be very hit and miss and quite frequently restaurants that rely on PR about "celebrity chefs" focus on that fact because the food ain't up to much. In this case I was very wrong.

The stairwell downstairs


Chef Judy Joo is not someone I was previously familiar with but I like her story, as a desk chained lawyer it inspires me. Starting out as an engineer before becoming a Morgan Stanley trader, sensibly she quit to work at Saveur magazine and become classically trained. A move back to London lead to her working for Gordon Ramsay and for Time Out before involvement with the restaurant at the Playboy Club which, bar various Iron Chef interludes, brings us right up to the present. 

A UK tv show "Korean food made simple" is imminent on the Food Network so if Ms Joo is not yet a household name its likely she soon will be. If she can show me how to make food half as good as what I ate on my first visit to Jinjuu I will be watching.....
 
The interior is classy, the bar upstairs is dark and sleek perfect for dalliances in dark corners over cocktails whereas the restaurant area downstairs has booths and tables all with a view of the kitchen where flames leap from hissing hot woks. In summary a hybrid of Hakkasan meets Flesh & Buns. 



Posters of androgynous K-pop pretties adorn the walls of the loos with a matching soundtrack to accompany ablutions. That and a door covered in Korean Spam adverts because... well just because I guess.

 
 
Although Judy Joo is the name in all the press releases (and by all accounts is presently qite hands on in the kitchen - she was there when we ate) the man with his hands firmly on the tiller is Head Chef Andrew Hales who's background includes stints with the Rouxs and the Pont de la Tour before a role as head cheef at the Playboy Club which last placing all three keys chefs have in common.

Enough about the facilities though and onto the food. Edamame were perhaps the most perfect specimens I've ever tried. Covered in a dusting of spices (some kind of fish sauce and garlic definitely featured in the mix) they were both fiery and juicy in equal measure and infinitely munchable whilst poring over the menu. The portion is also enormous and most of them came home in a tub and were just as good cold in front of the tv later on.




The menu is divided between small plates known as "Anju" designed as snacks to accompany drinks and larger main courses. You could order a small plate or two each before a main or pile in and all share a selection. 

Sae-woo pops (£7.50) are deep-fried minced prawn balls on a stick with a fiery gojuchang mayonnaise to dip. They come to the table piping hot with a crisp shell on the outside giving way to a springy prawn rich filling. If your visit is anything like mine you will be hard pushed to see a single table not adorned with a sputnik of sticks bearing these treats.



Mandoo steamed beef and pork dumplings were good, packed with meat although the skins were not quite as thin and were a little tougher than a good dim sum.


Fried chicken sliders were just ridiculously delicious. Fried flavoursome thigh chicken meat is tender and juicy with an explosively crispy coating. Sweet, sticky gojuchang red sauce and black soy with mayo all keep it moist and put you in peril of a drizzle down your chin. A mini brioche bun is almost into perfection territory; scratch that- it is perfect! I even ate the lettuce because pulling it out would have risked losing some of that precious sauce and that's saying something.




After the sliders it was impossible not to try a portion of the fried chicken. A choice of either thigh or wing makes up the options.  For larger groups you can plump for an entire chicken deep fried whole. The sauce served with the fried chicken is little short of the crack of the sauce world. I kept finding myself pouring more and more on my plate and frankly only just stopped short of needing physical restraint from pouring it onto a spoon and lapping it up like a pussy cat. 

The highest praise possible is that both of us simultaneously developed criminal tendancies and contemplated snaffling it away in our handbags.  A plate of radish cubes with black sesame seeds act as an effective palate cleanser after all that grease. 



A main course of glazed short rib beef was served the traditional way in cubes with lettuce leaves to heap with meat, kimchi, spiced radish and toasted seaweed. More of that sauce might have made its way into the parcels too. Alongside the beef are chargrilled vegetables and garlic chips which add another flavour and texture dimension.

The only thing that made me sad was that it was USDA beef; we have very good cows in the UK you know Judy!




Whilst the wine list isn't bad, it also didnt thrill me so I'd recommend cocktails as the way to go, especially as all the staff seem very empassioned by them! I tried a Lychee Lover; lychee liqueur, champagne   - possibly the prettiest smelling cocktail you could ever try, almost wearable as a perfume. Gun Bae!


 
My pictures do not do the desserts justice. Quite often in Asian restaurants desserts are very much an afterthought but here they are just as perfect as the savoury food. Not surprising as the restaurant has a dedicated patisserie chef in the form of Jaime Garbutt who has just as impressive a pedigree as the other chefs having worked in various classic restaurants of the non-Asian variety such as Petrus and Ottolenghi. Its fair to say that they aren't Asian desserts but desserts with an Asian twist. 

A yuzu pudding cake was served with sesame tuile biscuit and coconut ice cream. Yuzu is apparently called Yuja in Korea but its the same delicious citrus flavour (I always think its somewhere between lime and grapefruit). The sesame tuile was quite strongly flavoured though so a little more yuzu would be great.



The  next dessert was essentially a very fancy version of a Snickers bar. A heavy, creamy peanut parfait is served alongside an oddly (but not unpleasantly) chewy doughnut thing filled with sweet sesame and salted caramel. A rich, thick chocolate ganache and lashings of crunched caramel crumbs balance it all out texture wise.  




Jinjuu

15 Kingly Street, London. W1B 5PS
0208 1818887

Would I go again? In a flash! I tried booking for 4 days later but they were already full. In good news though apparently they are soon to introduce lunchtime take away so we can keep getting a fix of that food without going through reservation hell. 

Highlight: Fried chicken & its sauce and edamame

Summary: Proper Korean meets Soho cool but you for once you can book!

8/10  Would have been 9 but I'm taking a mark off for the annoying habit of the card machine asking you to add a gratuity when service has already been included. Its a pet hate and I've mentioned it before but it feels a little grabby and deceptive. That's my only negative. 
 
Jinjuu on Urbanspoon Square Meal

Monday, 5 January 2015

New Year's Resolutions. Hint; they involve a lot of wine.......

Like most people I always sit and think about some well meaning resolutions at the beginning of each new year. Sure, do more exercise, use my juicer more and eat five a day inevitably feature in there somewhere but they aren't very interesting or original are they?
 
Sat back at work on the first Monday of the year overlooking a grey and dreary West London flyover I've realised that what is needed is more fun so this year I'm adding a few wine based resolutions to the fray. None of them are vital to life, health or general well-being but the first three might just get me through the last one still vaguely sane. Here goes......
 
1) Blasting Through Bordeaux
 
I'm  setting myself a challenge to try a first wine from one of each of every of the Cru Classé chateaux of Bordeaux. Couple of caveats attached to this one. Its quite possible that this might take longer than a year just to ensure I'm not declared bankrupt before the end of 2015. Also, I may have to cheat and do some of them retrospectively- I can't imagine many Mouton Rothschild opportunities popping up any time soon.
 
2) Ringing in the Changes
 
It doesn't matter whether its a lesser known grape or a wine from an unusual country but there has to be something completely new each month so expect Juhfark from Azerbaijan or some such curiosity. I'm quite conscious that this could result in drinking some truly horrible concoctions but this will surely be tempered by the Bordeaux deliciousness above? I am distinctly tempted to try and find one wine made from every one of the 1368 grapes covered in Jancis Robinson's gargantuan tome "Wine Grapes" so consider that one as a quasi resolution for now - I don't want to bite off more than I can chew/ swallow.

The Mighty Juhfark grape.  Image:  Budai Zoltan Wikipedia Commons
 
3) Visiting More Wine Regions
 
Despite being essentially food and wine obsessed, the majority of my "big" holidays seem to result in me being bereft of decent wine for extended periods of time; the Arctic, Namibia and Sri Lanka being cases in point. 2015 is hereby decreed to be the year of the wine based minibreak. Burgundy, Bordeaux, Tuscany, Priorat and many others in between; I'm coming to get you!
 
Hospices de Beaune, Burgundy. Photo: Stefan Bauer, http://www.ferras.at (wikimedia Commons)
 


4) Getting the Diploma Done
After getting WSET 3 out of the way in 2014 I had mulled it over and decided to take a break from studying in 2015 rather than plunging straight into the diploma. Cue a long break over Christmas and the realisation that I'm never going to get less busy so maybe I should bite the bullet. To cut to the chase I'm signing up to start the distance learning version of the course. Two years of study, swilling, spitting (occasionally swallowing!) scribbling and sweating ahead of me but I think it will be worth it.
 
If I'm going to be doing this via distance learning then I'm going to need as much support and advice as possible from all you clever clogs' out there who have already completed it or who are undertaking it too as well as lots of tasting opportunities. Consider this a plea for any help and advice!
 
There. Its all down in writing now so I can't escape. If anyone fancies joining in on any of the above escapades let me know.......

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Le Chalet, Selfridges



We were supposed to be meeting at the Savoy for drinks at 6.30pm. I got caught up in the shops. Then he got delayed at work. Then there was no 3G. I passed the time by ambling around Selfridges food and beauty halls buying things I shouldn't have with my arms getting ever wearier with each bag added to the fray then I remembered the new "Le Chalet" bar on the roof. He agreed to hotfoot it from the City and I prepared to settle in with a cocktail list.


There is a lift near the main entrance dedicated to getting to the fifth floor and when you emerge its to a Narnia like tunnel of trees and fairy lights. 



A honeycomb Old Fashioned was exactly what I needed post-shopping. The bar staff make them properly; swirling in a bit of whisky then a bit of ice then a bit more whisky until the glass is full. If I'm honest I couldn't identify any distinct honey flavour but didn't care as it hit the spot magnificently. At the moment its still fairly warm so with the heaters and flames so I was in dire need of a cold drink but the alcoholic hot chocolates look obscenely good and I can't wait to drink one outside on the roof another time.  How good does a Cuban sound- Rum, Cinnamon & Chocolate? Or Hazelnut almond liqueur, dark chocolate and hot chocolate. 


The dining area is decked out in fairy lights, lanterns and mini alpine trees all adding to the low lit glow.



Granted, the name is far from imaginative but I suppose you know what you're getting. Yes, there's also a strong risk that Arabella and Jasper will be knocking back hot chocolate and braying about apres ski in Courcheval/St Anton/Klosters and the time that Squibby once skiied down a black run topless after one too many schnapps. Yes, its also a bit early for Alpine scenes but come Christmas it will be fabulous, I promise - stop fighting it and go with it, you just need to get into the mood. 

Run by the people from Q Grill in Camden, the kitchen offers a varied menu both in terms of style of food and prices- mains range from £13-40. It is a bit of an exercise in crowdpleasing with some dishes veering from the theme (not sure how 'Alpine chalet' a  but I'd expect that Selfridges get a good deal of input into making sure it fits every demographic. 


Barked Shortrib with caramelised parsnip mash was a no brainer sitting squarely in the mid price bracket at £19. I'm not entirely sure what made the shortrib "barked" but whatever it is I hereby decree that all shortrib from henceforth and forever more should be "barked" because it tasted bloody delicious. As delicate and prone to falling apart as Kerry Katona on a reality tv show, its held together only by a charred outer crust and something unidentifably sticky but sweet. Just to make you feel like you're not a complete carniverous neanderthal there's also a sprig of something green and utterly superfluous, excellent. 


Buttermilk chicken schnitzel was an absolute triumph. Hammered thin, coated in a light, crisp coating it still managed to be really succulent. The accompanying blue cheese fondue was one of nicest things I've eaten in ages; smooth and creamy with a subtle blue cheese tang - not in the least bit overpowering. 



A side order of broccoli and chilli may not have been the most exciting dish Ive eaten this year but it was great with the schnitzel and made me feel a modicum towards healthy.






Dessert was skipped in favour of a bag of macarons and chocolates that I'd accidentally acquired from Pierre Herme, Pierre Marcolini and Artisan du Chocolat downstairs in the foodhall (so many good things in one place!) but the fabulous sounding "Apple Struesel with Lashings of Custard" did make my mouth water. "Egg Nog Snow Egg" still has me baffled...

There was some confusion over the wine, I thought I'd ordered a Chilean Cab Sauv and wasn't paying attention properly and before I knew it the Waterford version from Stellenbosch had been poured. At £60 a bottle its overpriced but a cook hearty cab sauv rich in ripe blackcurrants. 


If you're a cigar fiend they also have a decent humidor and lots of outdoor seating and blankets to enjoy it.  Like all the rooftop pop up restaurants, it won't be around forever is bound to get busier towards Christmas so get down there as soon as possible.

Would I go back? Yes definitely, I've been dreaming of the food all week since I ate there!

Highlights: the location (helped by the fireworks, granted) and that Schnitzel and blue cheese fondue

Summary:  The overall effect is even cheesier than my blue cheese fondue but its a lot of fun. Go and do it. 

7.5/10

I eat out far too much for my own good and as a result its pretty rare that I get fixated on a dish but that schnitzel and blue fondue kept sticking in my mind so I found myself back there only a week later mid shopping trip begging for a table for one. It was just as good the second time and even better when accompanied by boozy hot chocolate. Its gone up half a point as a result....

8/10

Le Chalet
Selfridges, Oxford Street

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Rules

Fighting our way past a rag-tag group of Guanabara carnival dancers (some of whom might want to rethink a sequinned g-string in a breezy overcast Covent Garden - and I'm not just talking about the women) was not how I had imagined my arrival at Rules. 




This was not my first visit to Rules, the last time being almost a decade ago and as a host for a work dinner back in the days when entertainment budgets had several zeros.  I had one of those 'cultural sensitivity' incidents that those who work in a corporate environment with an avid HR team will be painfully conscious of.  Smoked salmon arrived. A table of colleagues of around 10 different nationalities all looked in bemusement at the beige fabric parcel on their plates. After seeing me pick it up prod it with a fork and squeeze liquid out onto the salmon tentative questions were asked - the main one being "but why?". Nil points for British Cuisine so far then. Things carried on in the same vein with roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. It didn't occur to me to warn them that the innocuous creamy sauce on their plates concealed fire in the form of horseradish the result being a United Nations worth of lawyers joined in their common hatred of British food through tears streaming down their faces. I recall an Indian gentleman spluttering "I like spices, I eat a lot of chilli, but this? This is evil!!!" Oops, no job offers in diplomacy for me in the near future. 

The positives that I do remember from that evening were both the attentive service and the beautifully decorated private room we were squirrelled away in so it would prove interesting to see if the experience was the same for common or garden diners. I also learnt that very few people of any nationality can find treacle tart offensive and thank goodness for that. 

Rules has a significant history to it not least for having been one of various central London destinations where the then Prince of Wales ('Bertie' to his friends) carried on his secret - or not so secret - assignations with mistress Lillie Langtry. Even now regulars can enter via a private door reputed to have been used by Langtry. Stories of this ilk combined with the chockload of antiques and pictures and a Covent Garden location makes it a mecca for tourists. Indeed, on this visit Japanese and Americans made up a majority of the diners.


So, fast forward ten years or so and is Rules still the same place? This time we were sat downstairs in the main room nestled under an unusual painting of Maggie Thatcher - see what I mean?


The impressive reputation of "London's Oldest Restaurant" brings with it a certain level of expectation and cachet. This assumption of cachet seems to be directly reflected in the attitude and demeanour of various of the serving staff who treat guests with a certain froideur usually reserved for the snootiest of Parisian brasseries which is unfortunate as the food is very decent. Our waiter was distinctly unhelpful, seemingly adopting an attitude designed to make you feel as though you should be grateful to be there.

The menu is understandably very traditional and very British. You're never going to come here looking for culinary wizardry or foams, savoury snows and anything sous vide. A starter of smoked duck salad with stilton was good but largely down to the quality of the ingredients rather than any level of culinary expertise.


A dressed crab with a delicately flavoured aioli was plentiful and, again, of excellent quality. 



Smoked salmon (£15) was served with that pesky lemon muslin again with the option of chopped egg or not. personally I find the addition of egg a little too breakfast but nice touch nonetheless. 




I was abroad for the glorious twelfth so this was my first occasion of the year to eat grouse. A whole grouse no less (£32). In hindsight I should probably have taken up the option of the bird being pre carved and served ready to eat but I got all cocky (see what I did there?) and decided I could do it on my own. So a carcass arrived at the table, feather strewn legs and all and I got to work with a rather large knife. Not a very sharp knife incidentally so it did all rather descend into a Neanderthal display of tearing meat from fowl.  The Americans sat at the table next to me looked slightly horrified. The flavour was good though- just the right side of gamey and still moist- and although I might have regretted how I'd opted to have it served I was glad I went for it. I somehow always manage to forget that "game chips" aren't chips at all in the British sense but crisps. I know its tradition but it still feels weird having a plate of meat, veg, gravy and the best part of a packet of crisps. 


Steak and kidney suet pudding (£18) was hearty with a suet pastry so full of grease it was almost translucent. Breaking it open revealed a rich, meaty filling surpassing all of our expectations. Vegetables and sides are well cooked if unexciting.



Desserts are of the rich and comforting variety; sticky toffee puddings, lemon meringue pies and almond tarts. All nursery favourites that never grow old. 



Would I go back? I'm sure that I will, although not on a regular basis, its rather too pricey for that. If you want to experience the place without the almighty price tag then pop into the upstairs bar for a cocktail. 

Highlights: The crab, the pomp of the surroundings and all the desserts.

Summary: It feels like its become a little touristy but can still be relied on to provide well executed British food albeit at an eyebrow raising price and will undoubtedly remain as part of London's dining Establishment for years to come.

6/10

35 Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, London. WC2E 7LB
0207 8365314

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