L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon – 13 – 15 West Street, London

June 2, 2007

Robuchon

After a period living in Paris, where Guy Savoy’s little place La Butte Chaillot became our local canteen, it’s fair to say that we’ve always been looking for a replacement. After lunch on a rainy Saturday at Joel Robuchon, I think we may have cracked it.

I would have thought, after the initial hype, that l’Atelier would be packed out. Errrm. No. Aside from a French couple at the bar and a party of Asian diners on the corner of the bar, nobody else. And that is not necessarily a bad thing. Because of the bar concept, it didn’t feel like an empty room (and to be fair, a few more trickled in a bit later). I suspect that this absence of people may be down to the negative view taken by the broadsheets. Harumph!

So what makes l’Atelier worthy of local canteen status – particularly after every broadsheet reviewer has panned the place? Start with the lunch choices – The oeuf cocotte, and oh! the frogs legs in tempura (wow!) and the foie gras and beef burger (!!) but the real success, the true culinary litmus test, was the mashed potatoes.

Do you remember when Mirabelle used to be somewhere that you would actually eat without fear of being shipped off to an OAP home with the rest of the diners? Do you remember the classic pomme puree that they made that was a creamy emulsion of butter and carbo happiness? *sigh* for those days back again, but now, the boys at Robuchon are here to save us with (I don’t want to over hype this, but) the MOST AMAZING combo of butter, cream, and carbs ever. E.V.E.R.

Desert was a bit of a let down for the combination of mint ice cream and a fondant – great fondant, mediocre mintiness. The Saint Aubin on the wine list at £60 was actually value for money. The service was charming. The chef on duty (Udo Moreau if we read his jacket correctly) is, ahem, hot, and deserves to be on the stage in that kitchen for the diners’ pleasure.

Lunch for two on a rainy Saturday afternoon, incl wine and service – £219.38. Mashed Potatoes – Priceless… Ignore the naysayers, sit at the bar, and eat well.

Happy Eating!


St Alban – Lower Regent Street, London

April 24, 2007

4 – 12 Lower Regent StreetSt Alban
London, SW1
Tel: +44 20 7499 8558

Well, well, a new place in town, and *yawn* is it ever so boring.

First, let’s talk food – some squid on a bed of wilted rocket, the squid having been charred thus leaving a rather unappetising layer of soot on the bottom of your plate. It’s hard to look hip when your napkin looks like its been used by a transvestite prom queen for drying her eyes after a major mascara destroying crying fit. Good points for squid? Well, it’s squid right? It’s kind of hard to mess up squid.

For a main course, it was the risotto primavera. Hmmm. Allow me to sidetrack here for a moment. Do you remember your first “wow, what an amazing risotto” experience? For me, I think it was probably the first time I had the risotto primavera at Finzi’s on Boulevard Haussmann. You probably have your own place. For all of us, this is a unique moment in time.

Meanwhile, back at St Alban’s, the risotto primavera was just, well, it was just risotto primavera. No “wow!”, no “shazzaaaam”, it was just some rice, gently cooked, with a few sad sprigs of asparagus on top. By this point, I was ready to head home, so when the dessert menu came, it remained closed on the table, no coffee thanks, just let me outta here.

Some commentators have noted that St Alban’s has an excellent wait staff. I’d have to say that was probably true, considering that these poor folk have to make up for the food that they serve. And their general coping mechanism seems to be trying to be almost invisible. This is a good thing. They are unobtrusive and efficient. Thankfully.

This is a restaurant that will not make it past the Michelin inspectors. They will hand out a fork and a half and that will be it. The Gault Millau people will shrug and say “dix”. The eurovision voters will say “deux points” and certainly not “douze”.


Flying Hell – TAP Portuguese Airlines

April 22, 2007

TAP logo Although this will doubtless distress one of my loyal readers, if not more, it is official that TAP Portuguese Airlines must be the worst managed airline in Europe. Sure, sure, there are probably those of you who think that JAT Jugoslav airways gives TAP a run for its money, but for consistently bad service, TAP has to come out on top.

It must start at the checkin at Lisbon airport. Good luck to anyone who can find the right check in desk. And then when you ask why there is only one person checking in for everyone in all classes to London, you get an hirsute grunt and a boarding pass (eventually). The sole redeeming feature of flying through Lisbon has to be the pasteis de nata that are on offer at the TAP lounge.

Having made it through the pure evil that is the checkin procedure, the comedy really starts at Lisbon when you try to get to the gate. Never mind that there is usually only one person at passport control, this is normal. No, the real fun is when you get to the gate. A typical joke by TAP staff is to have only one person to check passports, tear the ticket, insert the seat number into the computer, and then give your boarding stub back to you. Cue queues. Cut to the 7 other TAP personnel who are “supervising”Lazy lazy I tried to fit all of them into this quick blackberry shot, but no luck – there were just too many of them spectating.

Ah, but the fun is not over! Because having gone through the gate, let’s say Gate 23, you find yourself on a bus which zooms you all around the airport to deliver you to the back of the plane at Gate 24. A normal airline might simply have parked the plane at Gate 23, but where would be the fun in that? And then, you finally make it to your seat, 5F, to find that someone is already there, with a boarding card for seat 5F as well. Do you trust these people to fly you anywhere? Not me, thanks.


Tantris – Munich

April 22, 2007

Johann Fichte Str 7
Munich
Tel: +49 89 36 19 59 0
http://www.tantris.de

Tantris

Step back in the year 1973 at Munich’s leading restaurant, Tantris. I am positive that if you could take a photograph of the Sunday lunch crowd at Tantris that you could keep a crowd of gallery goers enthralled for hours. It’s the pure Germanity of it all. The men with multiple ear piercings and ponytails. The women with various augmentations. The mustaches – oh the mustaches. It’s so very hard to concentrate on food with the kalediscope of horrors going on around you.

But what wonderful food it is at Tantris. The Sunday lunch menu is four course (kein options, bitte) and for us consisted of a soup with asparagus and scallops, two mains based on pork (always the culturally sensitive meat choice), and a fabulous rhubarb and cream medley of desserts. The wine pairings were stunning with much of the wine coming from Rheinland-Pfalz and the service was top notch. This is doubtless the recipe which has earned them 19 Gault Millau points and 2 Michelin stars.

Highly recommended when you find yourself in the warm embrace of Munich.

Happy Eating!


Nobu – Berkeley Street

April 22, 2007

First my apologies for not posting for some time. To say that life has been hectic would be an understatement – but more on the world of moving in London, frisking at Heathrow, and mediocre BA breakfast fry-ups in later posts.

During our “moving house” moments, we decided to check into a room on Park Lane and being part of the temporary Mayfair set, what else to do but drop into Nobu for dinner. With the Metropolitan branch fully booked out for eternity (at least for those of us who make our reservations about 6 minutes in advance), we headed over to Nobu Berkeley Street where our concierge had spoken with the charming maitre d’, Luca, to squeeze us in.

Berkeley Street is noticeably different from the Metropolitan venue for the downstairs lounge feeling which the Met’s cramped bar area could never match. With its foliage based design theme, we were a bit surprised to find the uber-cheap laminate flooring on the way in. It said much more “flat for sharers in Kilburn” than “Michelin capable sushi joint”. But oh well, upstairs for dinner.

The menu is what you expect from Nobu, so the yellowfin with jalapeno that is a joy was there. Plus the cherry blossom sake (chilled) which goes down a treat. (Is 500 ml of sake too much for two people?). The black cod was succulent as ever, but the pure joy is the O-Toru sashimi.

An interesting crowd as always, particularly the French rocker-wannabes at the table next to ours who had the entire menu translated and explained to them in French before popping downstairs to the lounge for their pre-dinner clope. And the obligatory trustafarians next to the junior hedge fund analyst and his wafer thin date. But all of these seem to melt away with the presentation of the chocolate bento box for dessert.

While £250 for two people is definitely on the chunky side for some raw fish, it is only an occasional luxury, and one definitely to be repeated.

Happy Eating!


The Year in Review 2006

December 31, 2006

Having just compiled a list with the Frog on the various culinary experiences of 2006, I’m happy to bring you the first Year in Review for 2006, a rollicking ride through the food and wine of the year.

London

London is definitely a gastronomical hotspot with astronomical prices. I’m not phased by the prices (particularly when I’m not paying and preferably when I get the “date menu” sans prix). But despite the English fascination with what goes on in the kitchen, witnessed by “Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmare,” “Hell’s Kitchen,” and a whole host of other behind the scenes kitchen porn replete with expletives, the degree of foodie navel gazing has caused restaurant managers and owners to forget that the diner is actually in the dining room.

By the time that chefs get into the kitchens in restaurants where I actually want to eat, I expect them to be able to make a decent mirepoix, cook scallops without turning them to rubber, and avoid sending me chargrilled confections. I expect them to be able to use their art to improve the flavours that go together. What I also expect, and what has been lost, is the ability then to transport this from the kitchen domain to my table in a manner which is elegant, correct, polite, and informed.

Perhaps the draw of places like Joel Robuchon’s various Ateliers is that they have cut out much of the incompetent and transient waitstaff. Rather than move the diners into the kitchen, it might be an idea for restauranteurs to adopt the French approach. Here, as in so many things, the French seem to have it right, with the service being predictable, knowledgeable, and professional. Being a waiter, much as being a sommelier, is (or at least, should be) a profession, instead of merely a stint between pulling pints at the Outback Bar and catching the next LOT flight to Szczecin where a year’s worth of tips will be used to buy pierogi for granny.

With this in mind, the winner, in my mind, of the 2006 award for most consistent quality and excellence has to go to Read the rest of this entry »


Copper Chimney – Bombay

December 10, 2006

gateway If you find yourself in Mumbai/Bombay/Whatever, you will doubtless be overwhelmed by the food. Naturally, your hosts will take you to places that seem to include large quantities of mediocre hotel buffets. Do not be discouraged. Because if you’re good, very good, perhaps they will order in for you from Copper Chimney (the Worli branch) or even let you go there.

I have to admit to being a bit of a fanatic when it comes to Indian food. I can eat keema muttar with the best of them, a bit of aloo gobi never goes amiss, and the paneer makhani is always welcome. But if I could eat Copper Chimney every day, I suspect I could become vegetarian.

It’s the sauce, or the gravy, if you prefer. Copper Chimney is famous for its sauces. And the warm orangey/red perfection that is their paneer makhani is heaven.

I’m told the real place to go for food in Bombay is to Indigo. So, next trip out, I’ll try to get some more foodie insight.


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