Last Month Summary – February 2017
Feb 17 was a quieter month in comparison to others as only 6 restaurants were managed in a packed timetable of other committments however it was extremely good to do 4 new venues and revisit two oldies that I was genuinely looking forward to repeating. In terms of the new, I saw first had the unique setting that was John’s House – a farm complex owned by one family for generations (going back to the 1600s) providing an intimate and unique setting but, above all serving a very reasonable luch menu. Michelin starred and deservedly so, it was a text book example of why I think more people should try more of these ‘scary’ Michelin starred venues for lunch which may surprise some how reasonable they can be.
Next up was a long awaited visit to Gravetye Manor, a beautiful and establised country manor house from Relaix & Chateux with more of a castle-like feel than I was expecting inside. Thankfully the dining room was as elegant and comfortable as they come and a pleasant Sunday roast was had which was of obvious quality but not the smoothest of deliveries on this particular visit, but what it did reveal was needing to come back in the summer to see the huge acerage of vegetables used in full anger on the menu in a better season.
Finally, I managed to return to James Sommerin in Cardiff which produced a spectacular menu. No surprises then that the restaurant was recently awarded a Michelin star in the new 2017 guide and although I only tried the set menu last time, there clearly was a gear change in what was produced on this occasion and which simply needed a fair degree more polish on the timings of service I felt (you can comment on whether I’ve been too harsh or not on the diner expectation part beneath the review should you wish). And also during Feb saw the return to an old favourite of The Red Lion Freehouse pub in East Chisenbury. Quite simple here – still Michelin starred, still got it all round.
And finally, my other committments saw me dart around the Wilsthire county a little more than usual during this month and this gave the perfect opportunity to jump in to the nearest Michelin starred venue to the Tidworth and Andover area which is this little place to the right – The Harrow at Little Bedwyn. A establishment serving some well pronounced ingredients with a little flare and creativity in the mix as well which was nice to see. A reasonable lunch price wise as well but for this I was on my own and driving so that was going to be the case with those perameters.
So a fairly quite month as mentioned but with a wonderful 3 Michelin starred experience tucked in the wings for March.
I normally tone things down in January and allow a natural period of detox to ensue which is becoming more and more the norm. For this year however, I would like to go on record in saying that this was absolutely not the case and I reveled in a continuance of Christmas for as long as possible throughout the whole of January.
This first month went in the blink of an eye and my first port of call was the Black Swan in Yorkshire and was a charming Michelin starred pub to finally get to. It was a tasting menu only and there was some seriously good treats here all round, to the tune that l genuinely look forward to going back whenever possible. The next was a milestone I visited my last 2 Michelin starred venue which in this case had been promoted as at 2017 – The Raby Hunt. Some genuinely good creations enjoyed here but I have to say it did not live up quite as much to the rest in its family but, had a couple of superb moments nevertheless.
Next up was a journey to Cumbria and this meant passing another starred pub, The Yorke Arms where I popped in for supper. An entirely snug experience had here with one knock out dish with supporting aspects that were ok, all coated with warm hospitality. So that was Fri and Sat of my first main foodathon weekend which left one more starred venue in Cumbria to be done.
What better way than go to newly refurbished The Samling overlooking Windermere and with gracious service all round, the food here showed much care in design with some mixed but overall, good effects. And that concludes the first weekend of Jan.
Next up was Trinity in Clapham. Somewhere I have been meaning to go for quite a while and now that it has gained its Michelin star, this was an even nicer way to begin the year. Trinity reminded me of Chapter One in Blackheath in my younger days as was clearly the flagship neighbourhood restaurant of the area (now replaced by Chapters). Trinity was comfortable, bright, well designed, welcoming and with good food – what more do you want? There was a lovely, unpretentious feel about it yet it was clearly a notch up in all regards and Adam Byatt was there all the way and was great to listen to and talk with him. This actually stands out now as a new favourite of mine in London – enough frankly to want to live in Clapham.
Next up was a trip to Edinburgh where I had the express mission of maximising the visit so I decided to eat in all 4 Michelin starred venues over that weekend having put in the books a fair few weeks before. As at 2017, the four in question are Number One at The Balmoral on Princess Street, 21212 by Regent Gardens and The Kitchin and Restaurant Martin Wishart both in Leith (far north Edinburgh). My verdict from all four is that Martin Wishart wins on all counts (food, atmosphere, hospitality and sense of occasion); Number One produced
the finest dish and was a nice restaurant but I felt took itself a little too seriously; 21212 was the most homely and had the most innovative style and The Kitchin was the most beautifully designed restaurant with a superbly done set menu. They were all cracking in their own right and given the chance I would like to get back to The Kitchen to do their full blown menu and would go back to Martin Wishart in a heartbeat – forget Edinburgh, this is frankly one of the most enjoyable places I have been to in the U.K.
Another visit to Birmingham allowed me to finally do Adams where there was a personalised sense of service and some intricate dishes offered – I very much enjoyed here and their newly designed kitchen houses a very well done chef’s table. Following Birmingham, a trip to East Anglia was in order, starting with John’s House just outside Loughborough. This turned out to being part of a 17th Century farm complex with numerous livestock and ingredients a
t the chef’s disposal. A couple of great moments here on the set menu with a bland element as well – certainly unique as a place. Next up was Morston Hall and this was far nicer in the flesh than it appeared online. Even more of a surprise was having Galton Blackiston personally serve my second course and seeing him cut around the other tables delivering other dishes. Speaking of these, they were carefully presented and some pleasant moments had throughout – a very safe bet here.
Finally, a Sunday lunch was had at possibly my last Michelin starred pub to do in the UK, at The Neptune Inn (even though I don’t believe it can be classed as a pub as it is pretty much a restaurant). Unfortunately this was definitely lower on the Michelin starred Richter scale for me – some simple things that would be extremely good amongst the norm but in the starred world, overall it didn’t seem to shine but was a good way to finish the month off with a traditional roast nevertheless. February has already seen numerous new places tried as I itch closer towards eating in all Michelin starred restaurants in the UK. Other commitments will see me in the US for two weeks in late Feb / first half of Mar so I will have to resume the UK Michelin guide on immediate return and consequently Mar may not be as gastro-active as Jan and Feb.
A very belated Happy New Year to all foodsters! It was quite a ride lastmonth and one of my most far-reaching for my UK travels. But to begin, December ‘16 kicked off with a visit to one of London’s longest standing Indian restaurants called Red Fort, in the heart of Soho showing a perfect example of a non-Michelin starred restaurant providing some quality goods – this one in the style of Mughal Court cooking. Then, another non-starred place in Soho called Kiln, which is a new Thai venture in London doing all their cooking from coal, underside of countless pots which you can see being done in front of you. No gas or electricity used here in the cooking at all and made for a unique place, but if you are venturing downstairs, I would expect to be flexible on the trendy versus tatty furniture downstairs.
And then on to the new stars of the 2017 Michelin guide again, starting off with Pigdin in Hackney, East London. This was frankly one of the finds of the year along with some I picked up in Devon and Cornwall earlier on in ’16 as this little snugged beauty was so cosy and with some of the finest flavours and textures had in a while, I simply cannot wait to get back again and share with fine company as this now deserves it. Lords of the Manor Hotel in the Cotswolds was a new one for me and a pleasant option to do. I was a little surprised that I had to book months prior and yet the dining room had numerous spare seats however, it was accommodating on the night, even if there was a 15 minute at reception to find staff that could process the bill.
Next was the great trek up north prior to Christmas which saw 10 starred restaurants being done in 6 days but very necessary in the pursuit of this grand adventure! The halfway stop was at Simon Radley at the Grosvenor in Chester, demonstrating some mixed results of dishes in a fine dining room. Then two places in Cumbria – Forest Side Hotel, with its very modern and brassiere-looking dining room and very pleasing 4 course set lunch and a return trip to The Gilpin. The latter was just about as good a Sunday roast as one can get and confirmed its wonderful ease combined with beautifully designed interiors. What was interesting was GilpinSpice that has also opened by the Michelin starred chef there and no doubt the inspectors will be popping in there if they get a chance. They’ve got their work cut out though, as there are three, separate Asian dining rooms within this one restaurant serving different Oriental cuisines in each. So if they don’t get in there this year, I will!
I then headed north to do as many of Scotland’s 13 Michelin starred restaurants as I could in the time available. You will be able to see where all these are on the map feature (within main tabs of the Major Foodie home page) but in order of visit they were, Martin Wishart at Loch Lomund, Isle of Eriska, Kinloch Lodge (Skye), The Boath House (Nairn), The Peat Inn (Capur) and The Cellar (Anstruther). I would have done Sangster’s whilst in the area of the last two but this has now closed. The summary for this wonderful exploration is that the prize for food alone goes to Martin Wishart for superb gastronomy and flavours; the prize for all round loveliness, scenery, homeliness and you ‘shouldn’t miss ever’ goes to Kinloch Lodge and most original design / interior setting going to The Cellar (which also happened to have very good food!).
All of these were Michelin starred and had some great things in each but those are the headlines and it just leaves two in the West and North and four in Edinburgh to go to complete the set for the 2017 guide in Scotland and am already looking forward to doing in the coming weeks / months.
Heading down to London meant stopping in for lunch somewhere and I was only too pleased to go to Newcastle’s only Michelin starred House of Tides to break up the journey a bit. I thought this was in a hotel but no, turns out to be a converted warehouse with a bustling atmosphere upstairs and a frankly superb set menu. Not much choice, but that doesn’t matter when it’s that good! And so foodsters that brought about the end of one of the nicest grand tours and adventures I’ve ever had and cannot wait to have the space to get on the road again.
Jan 17 has already started in the same spirit and I look forward to sharing with you all when another leg is done on the way to completing every single Michelin starred restaurant in the UK! What a rush and here’s to a new year of new horizons! 🙂
Another busy month seeing 15 places visited, but mercifully a notch down from the summer months. 14 of these in Nov were done for the first time and of these, 3 were newly promoted Michelin starred restaurants for 2017. The latter were the impressive Peels at Hampton Manor which really did show some modern and highly enjoyable food; Ellory, in Hackney as one of London’s new starred venues providing a very full, set menu on a Sunday visit and Veeraswamy – the UK’s oldest Indian restaurant, steeped in history and showing genuinely pleasing dishes and my first ever Michelin starred coronation chicken, one of my utter favourite dishes of all time, which was a sight to behold on the menu(!).
My continued theme of Michelin starred pubs continued with a visit to The Star Inn, a 20 min drive outside of York and I don’t think I could have actually been more content than having one of the finest prawn cocktails at Michelin starred level, a comfy corner to myself, chatting to locals whilst watching England beat South Africa at the rugby opposite a log fire during this visit. Sorry SA readers, but these things are pretty special! On a separate Saturday I had the good fortune to try the Pipe and Glass pub which was another lovely discovery as a truly lovely place that pretty much had everything you could want in a pub; it’s another one for the memory banks that one and just a shame I need to travel to the other side of Hull to get there, but am frankly happy to make that journey with a stay over in one of their rooms to do an evening at the Pipe and Glass properly.
Another couple of Michelin starred pubs were done at the beginning of the month. One being The Cross in Kenilworth (just outside Birmingham) which I was quite astounded by the level presentation and menu choices verging in to 2 Michelin starred territory. The other was a pub I have been waiting to get to for quite a while called Sir Charles Napier between the NW part of the M25 and Oxford and was another Michelin starred eatery showing such good value – £28 for a set three course supper Mon – Thurs (although some dishes looked so good I had to deviate to the a la carte). The only shame with these visits is that I was restricted to the evening times and as it gets dark hideously early now, I’m prevented from seeing all the gardens and setting. Although The Cross trumped most placed I have been to all month, I have a feeling I will be returning to Sir Charles Napier in the daylight to see it properly when it is warmer next year.
On the same theme as pubs I managed to get to Tom Kerridge’s second pub in Marlow, The Coach (the man behind the only 2 Michelin starred pub in the UK – The Hand & Flowers) and this proved to be as good as the menus sounded in reality. The Coach was another belter of food and the sort of place you could frankly sit within all day and simply graze through the entire menu. And there was a revisit to a local favourite of mine, The Gun, just opposite the O2 Arena in the Docklands, this time to fill some time sharing some bar snacks as the lunch, proving a mix but a darned good scotch egg.
Three other Michelin starred restaurants that were new visits for me included Hambleton Hall just outside of Leicester, showing some really good design of dishes in its formal dining room, Fischer’s at Baslow Hall in central England providing a very nice environment to eat in but with most of the food impressions being appreciated by the eyes in comparison and The Box Tree in Yorkshire, which has evidently reigned its local area for quite a while and is proud to be doing so. Finally, a unique setting in the home of the owners in Grantham at Harry’s Place was good to do for definitely something different and the much awaited Eneko at One Aldwych in London (Aldwych funnily enough) by the 3 Michelin starred chef Eneko Atxa, who’s only venture outside his temple in Spain is this one. Although I probably had a bit of too much expectation at the latter, there certainly were some very good moments here to enjoy. Finally, a Sunday roast in Wales was enjoyed at Michelin starred Tyddyn Llan – a very homely end to the month with superb add ons such as Welsh lava and crackling.
And so that was it for November 16. However, the more steely-eyed readers and users of Major-Foodie may also have seen some upgrades I have installed on the site last month, which I’m very pleased to have done. Above the live twitter feeds, upgraded review layout with compression and expansion tools for those with lowered reading attention spans, multiple visit tab layouts and detailed summary widgets for result searches, loyal users (and everyone) can now enjoy the benefits of the filtration and mapping tool. This is accessed via the ‘Restaurant Map’ tab on the main menu and I’m very pleased to bring this which charts all of the best places in the country / world nearest to you that I have personally done and users can simply click any of the features in boxes to make all other flags disappear according to your preference for ease of finding (for eg if you wanted all Michelin starred Chinese restaurants or places best for pre-theatre occasions in London, or only the 3 Michelin starred venues dine in the land etc).
So, I hope you find those useful and enjoy using when needed and if there are any other pointers you would like to see, don’t hesitate to pop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. Until then, have a a quality December and have an absolutely fantastic Crimbo and rest of 2016.
See you in 2017! 🙂
Well, I think a few more trips to the gym might be in order after last month! It’s been great to get out of London more and explore what’s good in the country and with the half term, that lead me to trying 18 new places in the month which I think is an all time best of gluttony(!). 15 of these places were Michelin starred venues (all new to me) and of those, 3 were newly promoted in to the starred club as of 2017, which was great to see.
Restaurant Tristan (1*) had a very reasonable menu for dinner and I was delighted to get back to The Lanesborough and have a superb lunch at Céleste (1*) showing style tantamount to 2 Michelin starred level. The Whitebrook (1*) in Wales had extremely well crafted dishes as well as the Tudor Room at Great Fosters, the latter showing a very strong Michelin starred menu. Another newly starred venue was The Ninth, which had some great options albeit with reduced polish on the overall service.
And then on to Birmingham for the first time! Carters of Moseley (1*) was a notable tasting menu showing genuine sparks of creativity and entertainment in the mix. Although I had not the best experience re the hospitality at Simpsons (1*), everyone has off days and it does not change the fact that the food was actually very good and quite an elegant looking restaurant with rooms. Then on to Turners@69 (1*) which was an evening befitting restaurant by design but with some absolutely stonking flavors from things that you just know will be appreciated.
And then finally on to Devon and Cornwall for the half term break. Quite a packed affair starting with The Elephant (1*) in Torquay, then on to Padstow to finally see what the score is with Rick Stein’s venues (which I now know at the grass roots level) and with the total bonus of experiencing one of the year’s joys by visiting Paul Ainsworth at No 6 (1*) – really and truly, a little treasure I thought. A short drive away I had a revisit to Port Isaac for what turned out to be another little gem of Nathan Outlaw’s Fish Kitchen (1*) right at the bottom of the port serving simple and effective, tapas style seafood dishes. A trip to Ilfracombe gave me the pleasure of experiencing Thomas Carr at The Olive Room, which, as a newly promoted Michelin starred venue turned out to be one of the more notable ones I have been to in the year as well. The Masons Arms (1*) in Knowstone back in Devon was a pleasant Saturday lunch as a final farewell to the SW counties.
Finally, a pass through Bristol on the way back gave the perfect
opportunity to brush by Wilks (1*) to do one of the two, Michelin starred venues there; again, something I have been wanting to dofor quite a few months and was lovely to finally do. I would frankly drive back there just for a bowl of their mashed potato in itself.
So a rather packed month and with much cause to stick to protein meal-shakes either side of these restaurant visits which is the only way that I am barely keeping the waistline under control! I have no idea where the month of Nov will take me, but I will simply keep on exploring and eating my way around the country. See you next month! 🙂
The month of starred pubs! This is one of my favourite combinations going – somewhere that serves really quality food in a comfortable environment and where you can have pint if you prefer. Answer: a Michelin starred pub in the UK. I think it’s where we all feel at home anyway but throw in superb food and you make a very happy individual or group. This month I went to 9 eateries, 7 of which were new and 4 of which were Michelin starred pubs in England and Wales which was superb to do and expand the starred pub theme.
Going backwards, the Walnut Tree in Abergavenny had a beautifully lit and designed walkway to the extremely busy and bustling inside; some good things here particularly one of the best duck liver parfaits had on record. The Red Lion Freehouse in Wiltshire was an absolutely fabulous equation as they have extended their evening services to include a set menu in the evening. The three courses with side for £28 was superb value especially as the tagliatelli starter with butter and chive sauce was a thing of beauty as was their sauce béarnaise that was kindly afforded to go with my chips with the main, sending me in to the upper troposphere of overall happiness.
Another wonderful return was to Lyles in Shoreditch which confirmed it was at a consistently high and quality level to my first visit with such simple and powerful dishes with some wonderful, recommended wines as well. It was also great to get to The Pony and Trap, which had easily, the best snack options I have seen in a long time and it was clear as a bell how much the owners enjoyed doing what they have worked hard for over the past decade.
This was also evident at the utterly delightful Butchers Arms just outside Cheltenham where I was frankly blown away by how graceful and warm the hospitality was with the added factor of serving simple dishes that really satisfied. Here, the art of making me enjoy ingredients I don’t normally enjoy was made possible and that is a special talent in its own right and I left here knowing why the Michelin Editor for the UK chose this charming venue as the best pub for 2016.
5 North St was another new experience demonstrating no nonsense cooking that was unquestionably excellent, starting with the superb Welsh rarebit canapés prior to superb dishes. I discovered the chef and husband of the team single-handedly cooks all the meals here (as was also the case at The Butchers Arms) and focuses on making great flavour combinations as the first priority. Great care in presentation and home-grown ingredients were seen at Bybrook at The Manor Hotel in the Cotswolds which also revealed a stunningly picturesque 5 star hotel and golf club at the same time. Finally, a neighbourhood Michelin starred venue in Tunbridge Wells called Thackerays was visited with some nicely done treats that were overall extremely good value for money for lunch on a Saturday.
So quite a packed month! One can be forgiven for thinking I am grading places quite highly across the board, but the fact is that I continue to be drawn to finding where excellence is and so many of these places are reputably already in this space, so it often falls to which area of higher tier they are(!). I will continue this pursuit of quality with new places next month especially as the Michelin guide 2017 is announced on 3 Oct 16 – I am certain there will be numerous promotions and I will keep fingers crossed for the ones I think are deserving of the accolade. See you all on the other side of the annual milestone point! 🙂
A month of newbies! It was great to be able to try some things I’ve been meaning to do for a long while. First up, was finally geting to the top of the ‘Walky Talkie’ building (20 Fenchurch St) to have breakfast in the skygarden at Darwin Brasserie, as who wouldn’t want that to kick off a day’s leave? Sadly, the view turned out to be better than the breakfast, but it was still very good to do and all details and photos are at the above link naturally.
Next, was a visit to Noble Rot in Bloomsbury, the rather superb brainchild and coupling of Steve Harris (from The Sportsman) and Noble Rot magazine. I will leave the talking for this one mainly in the review, but suffice to say, if you are in London, I would frankly put this down as a marker that has to be done – without fail. It was also very good to try another newbie to me, which was Bocca di Lupo, a swanky yet comfortable Italian in Soho. Very pleasing environment here and with a grand, looking bar on entry. Uncomplicated, Italian dishes were had and I would happily have a quick pit stop here at the bar again some time.
Probably the highlight of the month in terms of glitz and for absolute curiosity value was to visit The Ritz restaurant. I didn’t say so in my long review of this, but the evening had a strange start, by going to what we thought was the front entrance within the cloisters of the main drag of Piccadilly, to be greeted by a stern-looking and smartly dressed doorman saying, “The restaurant is around the side of the building”, causing us to be a bit confused and double check, to receive exactly the same, straight faced, ‘don’t mess with me’ expression and automated response from the bouncer, sorry, doorman.
Now, we could have been two inebriated morons trying to bluff our way in to the casino (which that entrance turns out to be) and I’m sure he gets his fare share of that but we were actually sober (genuinely) and legitimately had a ‘res’ at the restaurant(!). So, it was a bit of a stern, first impression and useful point to note if you are dining there. As a balance, once we were inside and on asking to have a look at the casino (to apply to join), the same doorman came to us and was far more amenable, having the proof that we were genuinely headed for the restaurant no doubt.
In terms of the experience inside, this too was very interesting to see with aspects I thought were far better than I was expecting, notably the food and caring service which was brilliant to see. But also, some other interesting factors came in to play which, although are suitable for this location, you would not need to worry about in some of the world’s best 3 Michelin starred restaurants. However, the summary is that the most important aspects were in fact very good and the negatives can be put to just the way various places roll – please comment away, good or bad beneath my review on your take on the all the points made.
Lastly, two more new venues were sampled, the very social, buzzing and atmospheric Polpo in Soho and Bob Bob Ricard. Both actually immediately opposite each other just off Beak Street and also very different. Polpo, a place that has been constructed to look like the interior of a casual Venetian brasserie serving comfort, tapas style dishes with a glass of classic Venetian Spritz and Bob Bob Ricard being grand in elegance and unique in this way as well. Both had a charm of their own but I would say that Bob Bob did have the definite edge on the food.
For the present and this month of September, I plan to hit new, Michelin starred restaurants outside of London particularly as my new work location I have just moved to places me in the centre of South England. So, as the leaves start to fall, I’ll look forward to the Autumn menus in various shapes and will report on these after each occasion on twitter as always. Until then, on these means, have a great month and see you at the beginning of the next one! 🙂
The month of revisits! Some, through pure chance of the occasion such as a lovely Birthday treat in staying over at The Punch Bowl, Crosthwaite and finally getting to enjoy this beautifully rustic and homely pub serving a fabulous breakfast as well. Other revisits this month included a meeting at the 3 Michelin starred Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester which reminded me of the need to do their meats and grill dining room as well as a number of neutral sources have told me how good this is.
An absolutely splendid return visit to Story confirmed how right this was to choose here to show to my trusted associate, Mr Bainbridge one of the remaining venues in London that has genuine sparkles of invention combined with good flavour. It was also good to get in to the bar of Sosharu and confirmed how modern this restaurant is for having its own underground bar with some pleasing things offered via their bar and bar snack menu.
Other very welcome revisits took place at Social Eating House, Chiltern Firehouse and a long overdue visit of 5 years to St John Bar and Restaurant – all of these being nothing but a pleasure to get back to with some lovely new dishes tried at Chiltern Firehouse in particular.
Two new Michelin starred venues were enjoyed this month also, both revealing a superb value for money set lunch menu option at each – Alimentum in Cambridge having exceptional value with some really good dishes and L’Ortolan in Reading revealing a very pretty option with some equally lovely food treats in a slightly more formal setting, but one that would be ideal for special occasions. I would happily get myself back to both of these very good discoveries whenever I can. The same can be said for the new Darbaar by Chef Abdul, as the Darwaat menu experienced here was highly enjoyable and worth going for the butter chicken and chai tea which were impressive in their own right.
The final wonderful treat of the month being a two day excursion to Italy and this time to a place I have actually never been to before – Venice. Hitting here in the peak season made me question whether there were actually any Italians in the city above the sea of tourists but thankfully my group was able to enjoy an exceedingly good collection of Mediterranean products at Alle Testiere and although a postcard worthy setting in Burano, mixed results sadly at the beautifully picturesque restaurant Venissa.
A packed month regardless(!) and I will need to focus more on new places I think for next month. Thankfully, that is entirely the plan! See you at the end of what I hope, is a sunny one for all of us. 🙂
It’s going to be very difficult to top this month through the rest of the year I think(!). Last month, after an 8-year gap I was able to get back to The Fat Duck using my 40th as the perfect excuse. The only time I have been here before was prior to a six month work placement to the Middle East in 2008 and was the highest food experience I had had in my life at the time. Numerous 3 stars and many moons later, I was worried it would be difficult to live up to the first impression, but the headline is that, if anything, it was actually an upgrade(!). I was utterly delighted and wow’d by the whole experience, which had improved flavours, more creativity and greater balance which brought the added bonus of not feeling like I needed medical attention this time over calorific overload – a truly happy experience.
No sooner had I left Bray it was time to go back a few weeks later for a special Space Menu at Heston Blumenthal’s Hinds Head pub. The central beef dish (which was flown up to Tim Peake to have in the International Space Station) was frankly outstanding. It really was good with such creamy mash to compliment the truffle gravy that went with the beef confirming my belief that he really does know how to please the senses in every way in relation to food and it is not just all theatre.
A new restaurant that I popped in to was Benihana which proved to be extremely good for families and celebrations whilst I was mainly taken by the reasonable wagyu offerings. A return trip to Tom’s Kitchen brought nothing but Sunday joy in experiencing something never had before in the form of truffled eggs benedict – quite wonderful.
Following the theme of return trips was a full blown dinner on a Saturday night at City Social which proved to be utterly grand at their rounded, sofa both tables overlooking London with some highly sexy starters and steak dishes at this slick venue. I also had a superb return visit to The Clove Club in Shoreditch which was a special wine tasting event hosted by the effervescent Tom Harrow (aka Wine chap) in tandem with a superb tasting menu from Issac McHale, delivered superbly by the floor heads Daneil Willis and Johnny Smith. This was a treat and a half to be a part of.
But the absolute prize in many ways this month was taking all closet souls to The Sportsman and constructing all to have ‘the works’ at this venue, which was basically perfect and still one of my favourite places in the entire world which pretty much wrapped up one of the meals of the decade. The only downside reality being it will all be very hard to beat for July which, I rather sadly predict, will be a little quieter.
What a month; what a month! This one leaves its mark in the annals of history for me, having had some utterly golden moments. May 16 started with a Michelin starred pub I wasn’t aware of in the vicinity of Bicester village and after an evening’s shopping need, a very nice drop in occurred at The Nut Tree Inn. Homely classics were available here and the tasting menu offered superb value for money with 9 courses for £60 and many of these courses being uncomplicated and fitting.
In keeping with the pub theme I was delighted to come across another pub never been to before in Cambridgeshire called Brampton Mill, which is one of those unsung beauties that you simply didn’t know about unless guided there by a trustworthy source (thankfully I had one to show me this place!). A gorgeous setting which is not very easy to find, but will make you very pleased that you did and had some straightforward and pleasing options. A revisit to Smith & Wollensky was a no brainer in terms of getting the local boat there one impromptu Saturday evening (a 6 min walk from Embankment pier) having received an offer. Although this offer didn’t go quite according to plan, it still retains its title as the best meats and grills option in London for me – my guess if you haven’t heard of this one but please trust me, it is well worth trying if you don’t mind splashing a little extra cash.
Next, a gorgeous 1 Michelin starred option in Newbury was trialled (The Woodspeen) for the first time via their pre-theatre menu which is frankly one of the best I have ever had and although will not be accessible to all, this was a superb find which I will definitely be doing again. Another new experience was doing The Croft Kitchen in Biggleswade which, as a local option to my current work base, proved to be a good contender for evening food.
Terroirs in London is a place I have been meaning to do in a long time and was great to sit at the bar, talk to the chef and barman about their products in the very easy environment it was serving numerous European cuisines. At the advice of Richard Vines, chief food editor for Bloomberg, I tried Gunpowder, a small, kitchen-like Indian restaurant, off the beaten city-track, which served some pleasant, family recipes with a proud ‘kick’ to their dishes.
And then I made our way to Copenhagen for what was essentially the gastronomic weekend of a lifetime. Being lucky enough to be on the Opinionated About Dining Top 100 food bloggers list, I was extended an invitation to have a place at Noma for dinner, which was duly accepted within 1 second of getting the email. Their adage of expecting the unexpected turned out to be very accurate and overall, there were some great moments in amongst my palate needing a fair amount of open mindedness on a couple of occasions.
Not only was the whole weekend a delight to be a part of with an incredible dinner from 11 European starred chefs on the penultimate evening, the celebratory banquet after the awards ceremony for the OAD best restaurant in Europe 2016 was a grand occasion with some highlights of that on my twitter and Instagram links. It was however, the meal at Geranium that transcended the experience to new heights. There is not enough space to say why here, save to say, if you only have time to click one of the links here, please click that one as it actually sailed in to the pantheon of greats pretty early on in the proceedings and is now etched in my mind as one of the most grand ever experienced with all three, 3 Michelin starred chefs displaying so much skill and deep, comprehensive thinking. It was a truly sublime experience in every way and one of the very best in the last three decades of eating.
Next month I celebrate that three decades turning in to four decades of eating(!) and a return trip to The Fat Duck and The Sportsman being on the cards to enjoy for another special week, interspersed with a few newbies I’m sure.
Another month gone in the blink of an eye (I’m sure it was Christmas not so long ago, let alone Easter!) and I have hardly managed to scratch the surface of exploratory food needs, but I have been glad of a few ticks gained. I’ve been meaning to try Tom’s Kitchen, St Kathrine Docks for a while now and managed to have a very pleasant lunch there at the start of April. It was far bigger inside than expected and the dishes really were well done with some simple classics such as simple, cured salmon to start but with original herb blends and a lovely fragrance of vanilla, setting the tone for the visit.
Numerous other newbies were experienced such as Ben’s Canteen in Battersea, having been shown in by a friend and this proved to have a sensational pulled pork brunch option in the very informal but hip environment it clearly was. I have also been waiting for a while to see Jason Atherton’s new Japanese restaurant, Sosharu having been reminded of this on his recent re-appearance on Saturday Kitchen. An elegant place in less formal surroundings with extremely fun things to try and a couple of surprises as well. I still have to vote on the absolute gems of the Atherton empire in the UK being Social Eating House in Soho and for swish quality in all senses, the bar at City Social. However, this was certainly a pleasing visit in any case and all of Mr Atherton’s places have made me want to try the next one.
A chance passing in between meetings led me to be driving through a little village in Bedfordshire called Buckden and brought me to a charming pit stop called The George Hotel. This is one of those pleasing, you never knew of it being there but grateful you stumbled across it places. The hotel was modern, suave and comfortable and packed an entirely decent croque-monsieur for the bonus of the visit!
Then finally I have had two return visits, one to Dishoom, Covent Garden for breakfast and then just over the road at Tredwell’s for lunch(!). Dishoom proved that this is simply one of the nicest options for a weekend breakfast I think you can get in London and a return and Tredwell’s taking me to a new high. I really do believe these are two starlets for the area (there are 3 other Dishooms in London and Marcus Wareing has The Gilbert Scott in addition to Tredwell’s) and the dishes served at Tredwell’s were once again homely yet refined at the same time with one in particular producing upper troposphere happiness.
Next month will unfortunately see a slightly quieter number of visits owing to other commitments, but that will be made up for in spades owing with a very fortunate reservation at Noma in Copenhagen. This will fulfil a long-term ambition and will also be backed up with a visit to the 3 Michelin starred Geranium among other fixtures as part of 4 day gastro-extravaganza I have been very lucky to be invited to, as part of being in the global top 150 food bloggers according to the Opinionated About Dining website. The costs will be hideous but am happy to blow the majority of the month’s salary to do this and I shall report all with bells and whistles on live on social media channels and in nauseating detail on the main site. Have a brilliant May everyone!
A little bit quiet last month on account of being wiped out with flu for well over a week however, it was good to try some alternatives I have not done before, starting with Iberica in Canary Wharf. This was a fun option as a local choice with very reasonable food but only hitting a certain mark with the quality of the experience. Mother’s Day was enjoyed at Côte (Blackheath) with a delightful French set breakfast with a glass of fizz to treat the Memsaab as Dad says, and was mission success on that all round. The six nations brought me to Cardiff for a University reunion and I took advantage of giving The Pilot in Penarth and Bully’s in Cardiff a go, which were both pleasant surprises in their own way. Another visit to Chiltern Firehouse was never in danger of being a miss however, the gem was returning to Dabbous for the first time in three years and this time without the similar wait for a table. A superb set menu lunch was given here and it is simply one of the best value places in London I believe for that reason.
Well, what a month! I say this as it not only included a mini trip to Rome which was great as have never been to this one before, but also a fairly hefty month in being able to do two 3 Michelin starred venues. Both of these happened to be in Italy, one inn Rome (La Pergola) which was meticulous and produced the best pasta carbonara I have ever had in my life and one in Padua, a three hour train journey from Rome and sat just 20 minutes outside Venice (Le Calandre). A great thing that came from this was to see how two of the best restaurants in the world were so different. Modern and careful cooking in a 5 star Hotel setting with elaborate furniture and décor mainly to cater for the wealthy travellers of the world (and those in need of private and intimate occasions to gain serious relationship points) was displayed at La Pergola, whereas Le Calandre was a hugely signposted building sat just off a dual carriageway with just a few tables in a dimly lit dining room. They both had supreme cooking but the classic dishes at Le Calandre and sheer power in the simplicity of most served here made this more a temple for gastronomy. I had the best marrowbone of my life here and you will see in the review what other unbelievably nice touches they afforded to make this truly original and special as a visit.
This trip also included the best pizza I have ever had in my life and in one way was an equal highlight of the whole trip – this was at Bonci Pizzarium and with wonderful ice cream had at Galateria dei Gracchi and wonderfully simple pasta at Gracio & Pepe. Earlier in the month, a revisit to Kopapa confirmed that its trump card seems to be the Turkish eggs and although I liked some of the other aspects to the breakfast, it wasn’t as superb as the first visit. I still love 7 dials so if I’m ever near and need something, I know this is still a safe bet and need to try their lunch / evening options next time. Other little gems that were pleasant to come across this month were a café called The Groundworks in Hitchin which is a pleasant and upgraded café and a wonderfully eye opening experience to try Smith and Wollensky just off the Strand for the first time. Unquestionably, S & W is now logged as a special marker and am already looking forward for the next occasion when it feels right to go back. Another new experience was to try Spuntino in Soho, part of the Polpo group where very original dishes and scenery were experienced – pleasing and with a general desire to try another aspect if I’m passing by. Finally, I had three other revisits in the month, to Dishoom, Hakkasan Mayfair and The River Café. Mixed emotions on these as Dishoom needed a reshow whcih, thankfully was regained as an experience, but Hakkasan Mayfair proved its consisetency and The River Café showed wonderful colours I had not seen at all before especially through one of the greatest desserts I’ve ever had through a lucky twist of fate. A great series of places done last month and probably need to take it slightly easier this month to prepare for some rather more exciting irons in the fire in the oncoming months of May and June 16…
Generally, a quiet month but that is only to be expected after the absolute gluttony of Christmas. The onslaught also led me to undertake another C9 detox which, with the help of a lot of aloe vera gel, water and 800 calories max in the evening got rid of 4kg in the nine days and allowed me to celebrate with a long awaited visit to The Araki and try the 2 Michelin star newcomer to London and the careful precision of this Japanese menu. I was simply very impressed with the sheer quality of the ingredients however there are some interesting factors in this
restaurant. That was also a milestone visit as it has now made me able to get back on top of all michelin starred restaurants in London again and all 2 Michelin starred venues in the country. I was delighted to catch up with a dear old friend and do so in Wild Honey as this has long been overdue a revisit and proved to still be one of the best set menus in London. I was especially pleased to be able to finally get to The Typing Room in Bethnal Green as a mere stone throw from Canary Wharf and proved to have some wonderful aspects to it which I was very pleased to experience (amazing bread and lovely pre-meal snacks). The other highlight to the month was being able to take my parents to
Chiltern Firehouse for a proper meal (something not actually done in spite of going there four times!) and as a special ocasion was lovely to be able to treat all of us to everything we wanted. There was indeed some lovely new things had on this occasion and it continues to simply be one of the most special places I know of in its design. On the other side of the scale, unfortunately, was a slightly disappointing visit to L’Etranger in South Ken which, although holds some quirky elements, I simply felt was in need of an entire upgrade. Otherwise, another pleasant steady stream of little treats interspersed through a relatively quiet month.
Christmas is always a tight schedule and very often you can’t squeeze in very much. Aside from having some awesome home cooked and family made occasions I also undertook a C9 (Clear 9 day) diet which utterly cleansed the system and brought about a 4.9kg weight loss in 9 days. This paved the way for the break which was always going to be heavy on the treats. The absolute food highlight of the month was walking around London with my very old associate, Mr Bainbridge during his short stay in London from working abroad; the planning for this day commenced in July to guarantee things in place. We started in Dishoom for one of the best and simplest breakfasts I’ve had in a very long while (just leaves one Dishoom in London left now). From there a fernat branca and espresso in Bar Italia was followed by a black velvet in Sweetings, a half duck in HKK (still the best Peking duck in London, possibly the country), a picnic in the bar at City Social and an afternoon home brewed pint in Duck & Rice. Afternoon grazing was done via bar snacks at Chiltern Firehouse (still some of the best I have ever had) and from there to the main event of having a hot dog at Bubbledogs (effectively as an amuse bouche) prior to the grand supper through the curtains at Kitchen Table at Bubbledogs. This concluded what I can only describe as a day of total nectar in every way and was one of the highlights of the whole year.
Aside from this grand day, earlier in the month I managed to get back to Umu on its promotion to 2 stars to see how things may have changed and was relieved that it was not a wasted journey; the service I have to say was exceptionally high. I also needed to thank two work colleagues for their hard work helping me with a major project and couldn’t have been more happy to take them to Paris House as is just down the road from current work digs and was a genuine pleasure to dine there for a second time and speak to the head chef again – his buerre noisette butter is now etched in my mind as a power house. On a similar note, so are the ham croquettes that I had a Social Wine & Tapas which I was seriously pleased to get to after spending time there and is simply a lovely place. A revisit to The Narrow was also done this time trying every single bar snack option on the table in one go (brilliant to do and go off piste for causal filling) and a holiday treat of going to Florence for the first weekend of the break where some very good pizza was most certainly enjoyed. Oh, and a final pass by 2 Michelin starred Marcus again for one last tour of London before the New Year. So that’s all I could sqeeze in for December; actually on re-examining that was a fairly good month…(!).
November was a little bit on the slow side for me as a weight gain (mainly from montotony of Staff work and little phys) caused me to cut a downward spiral in its tracks in a bit of an extreme way but undertaking a C9 detox for 9 days with aloe vera gels, shakes and 600 calories for 7 days after a 2 day starvation opening. It was quite surprising how doable it was when seeing the results every other day and with the help of my awesome physical training instructor Will Mclay, I managed to lose 4.9kg in the 9 days and set myself up to getting back in to more physical activity in the build up to Christmas which, let’s face it can pile on quite a lot through simply not being able to stop. What this experience did finally allow me to do was treat myself to the newly promoted (to 2 Michelin stars) Umu which I have been meaning to do since September and was great to get back after 4 years. This was the highlight of the month and in terms of purity of ingredients and skill was frankly top grade and almost a privilege to enjoy but with a supporting Mayfair price tag to accompany the experience. Other places that I managed to enjoy during November included a long overdue revisit to Kitchen W8 which, was absolutely lovely and a total upgrade to the previous experience and another visit to Amaya, almost purely because of their wonderful coconut chicken.
December 15 is going to be a bit of a hard routine! In order to accommodate the onslaught I will be extreme dieting in between treats which, will include a visit to Florence and clearly pizza and a Michelin starred venue will have to be done to see how some of the best pasta available can be done. Above the wonderful family meals, I also have firm and definite appointment with my associate Mr Bainbridge, where we will embark on an historic journey through London on 23 Dec 15 and attempt to squeeze in 5 restaurants for grazing throughout the table incuding HKK, City Social and Kitchen Table at Bubbledogs amongst those in the mix, to cater for a very finite window of being able to. Marcus will also be revisited and I greatly look forward to all for all reasons and will detail the events in detail….and the probable effect on the waistline but also psychological uplift at the same time. Have an superb Christmas wherever you are spending it and thanks again for reading this rather belated update(!).
In the last month I have been delighted and enjoyed a lovely and diverse collection of different places. October 15 for me included trying the last two newly promoted 1 Michelin starred venues for 2016 (Lyles in Shoreditch and Portland just north of Oxford Circus) – both of these had their own tap sparkling water (filtered tap watered with CO2 injected on the premises) which I think is a very nice touch as I honestly believe people still feel intmidated or reluctant asking for tap water and not going for bottled when the question is asked (and is very rarely included in the initial question by restaurants which means it is laced with emotional blackmail). Both these newly promoted venues were very nice in their own ways, Lyles being more of a here and now option looking like a cafe and Portland the same but slightly more up market and with slightly more empassioned service. I was very happy to try the long established, 1 Michelin starred Northcote (Lancs) to share and celebrate a special occasion and this was about as good as a Sunday lunch can get in an opulent hotel setting. As a balancing act it was nice to try non-Michelin starrred venues naurally and another visit to The Duck and Rice (Soho) which proved how nice this option is just for bar snacks by the fire and was great to finally experiment Franco Manca (Tottenham Court Road) which was long over due, proving that the dough itself was almost more of a highlight than the actual toppings on the pizza. But the real star of the show was the venue that held two of them at Michelin level and not just for this reason – it really was an absolute triumph to enjoy Michael Wignall’s The Latymer at Pennyhill Park. This was only my second visit but first since its promotion to two stars and brought high, high feelings of happiness. A truly lovely visit that is one of the highlights of the year so far.
September 15 was a significant month in the dining calendar as all the newly awarded Michelin entries were announced for the UK. Four new promotions to 1 Michelin star for London were announced with a promotion to 2 Michelin star (for Umu) and a direct entrant to 2 Michelin star as well (Araki). As I would like to keep the track record up as quickly as possible, I had a lucky passing through London during the week to allow a lunch at one of the four newly promoted 1 starred venues (Bonhams) which was handy as they only do lunch and breakfast with only one sitting for dinner on a Thursday which is a set tasting menu. Based on how fresh the dishes were on my lunch here, I believe this option on a Thursday at Bonhams would be a definite catch, even if it has a different feel for a restaurant. I also managed to squeeze in a visit to the newly promoted Dining Room at The Goring which, all in all was a very pleasant experience and makes the already lovely venue even more special with its shiny, new Michelin star. A very pleasant revisit to Outlaws at The Capital was undertaken, proving it has one of the best set menus in London as well as a revisit to HKK which, in spite of having a very good Peking duck at Novikov in Mayfair, proved that HKK does still have, in my opinion, the monopoly on the greatest Peking duck available in London. Two younger brother restaurants were also visited: Marcus Wareing’s The Gilbert Scott just by St Pancras station which was a grand looking venue with the nicest pig’s head dish I have ever had, and Gordon Ramsay’s Bread Street Kitchen. The latter visit showed me just how massive Bread St Kitchen is and how clever the environment will appeal to city slickers at lunch just as much as people wanting to drop in somewhere as a stylish option that is not too over the top with comforting dishes.
August 15 had a reasonable sprinkling of visits but with some extreme highlights at the same time. Top of the list for these highlights were getting round to completing all the 2 Michelin starred venues of the UK with a very pleasant visit to Cornwall and Nathan Outlaw’s flagship Restaurant in Port Isaac. This was understandably highly pleasant and the quality of the seafood was of the highest order I have had, but with a relatively high price tag for what you gain on the tasting menu to go along with it. However, I discovered a new sauce, which was almost worth the trip alone. It was a very pleasant trip to gain another Michelin starred gastro pub experience, which was done at The Treby Arms; a homely and charming pub with some quality cooking and glad to have done. It was great to see the new Yauatcha City, located in Broadgate Circle and the lasting impression I had here was the huge size of the venue and the original view that it came with. Equally nice was trying Angela Hartnet’s Café Murano (in St James’) which was casual, fun and with some lovely moments including a starter and a bar snack that I would go back for in a shot if I was passing by and has made me wish to try the second Café in Covent Garden when next in the area. A proper revisit to Chiltern Firehouse brought about the best snack foods I have had ever had in any bar and refueled my desire to get back there again but for the lunch or evening menu to complete the set. But the truly outstanding food occasion this month (and which will be a very difficult one to top this year) was my second and a la carte experience at Le Champignon Sauvage. This was undoubtedly the most consistently superb food I have had in a very long time and confirmed its standing in my eyes as a true national culinary gem in the top three restaurants in the whole of the UK.
July 15 started in possibly one of the nicest ways it could do with a sunshine visit to Midsummer House and this really was a marathon of excellence and a lovely return visit. I managed to try another Côte Brasserie this time in Bury St Edmunds (charming little place I hadn’t been to before) which was a straight forward pleasure to do and incredibly good value. I finally managed to get to The Punch Bowl in Cumbria again and this time actually keep the photos from this visit and was probably the most impressive food I have seen them do. Very welcome return visits were done to Quilon, Tamarind and Arbutus, the latter two being long overdue repeat visits and all being lovely 1 Michelin starred experiences – Arbutus was a definite knotch up from the first visit which was already a fond memory and Tamarind showed superb value for money and filling as a pre-theatre set menu. My last month’s visit was a first-time experience and it was an impressive and highly refined one at Paris House in Befordshire. This really was a lovely find and the sort of venue where taking your other half will gain numerous points(!).
June 15 started in possibly one of the nicest ways it could do, especially after the extraordinary and surreal twitter episode exposed to at the end of May, so it was lovely getting back to the highest end of dining experiences and gastonomy one can at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay to celebrate my Birthday and Mum & Dad’s anniversary together, placed in the books many weeks prior. This was a lovely return to everything good about enjoying gastronomy and a restaurant experience. This was frankly dining of the highest calibre for all reasons and was simply wonderful to have for such an occasion. The rest of the month was a mix of all sorts of great tasting experiences. I finally managed to try what turned out to be the best doughnuts I have ever had at Borough market at the Bread Ahead bakery stall, a revisit to Tredwell’s to finally do their breakfast as well visits to two Dishoom’s as the first was that good – Dishoom King’s Cross and Dishoom Shoreditch. The King’s Cross branch made their way recently in to the top 100 restaurants in the UK at the recent awards, as did Manchester House which I also coincidentally visited with friends last month as well as the other true highlight. This was a lovely tasting menu with maximum punch of fun and flavour so I was very pleased to have finally done this. Another catch up with a friend in Notttingham led me to French Living in the city centre which was an absolute pleasure to come by – understated charm and lovely cooking. And to continue new experiences I was also very pleased to finally swing by The Joint and meet the man behind it all there as well as a very nice bonus and that will not be the last time I go there in my life that is for sure! So a good month with quite a lot of variation and lovely experiences all round.
This was a busy month and I managed to gain some much awaited ticks in the boxes. Firstly, I managed to get to Sketch (at the Lecture Room) for the first time since its promotion to 2* status (thereby completing all newly promoted Michelin starred venues in London as well as all existing ones) and as opposed to the previous set menu experience, this time went for the all out signature tasting menu which was indeed an privileged show in itself. Getting to Chiltern Firehouse for breakfast on my day off was one of the most wonderful mornings I have had in quite some time and on arrival was immediately confirmed as a special place. One of the best Saturday afternoons had on record as well was diving in to Amaya for another visit which was a lovely uplift from my first time there. It was also very good to log some new, non-michelin starred restaurants such as Hawksmoor (in order to compare with Goodman), Elephant Royale overlooking Greenwich on the Thames, Bryn Williams’ Odette’s in Primrose Hill which I have also been meaning to do for a long while, The Big Easy as a fun, casual option to do on a Fri evening and a visit to Duck and Waffle.