The Year in Review 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 The Square. I know, I know, it sounds as though I go on about the Square at any opportunity. However, there are few places in London that can match up to it. Whether it was the Truffle Menu or the quality lunch three-courser, or even a normal dinner with friends, the Square delivers every time, without fail. And it’s not just the food, but the whole service from arrival to “Good-bye” which is professional and spot-on.

The runner-up for 2006 is Pied a Terre on Charlotte Street. Despite the cramped surroundings, few have impressed as much as P-A-T for the excellence of their interpretation of Modern French. With a few more outings planned there for 2007, P-A-T has a good chance to move up.

The second runner-up for 2006 is The Capital Restaurant. With a new maitre d’, some new service, and excellent (ie. not huge) portions, The Capital has won over my heart, particularly as a refuge after shopping at Harrod’s.

Also rans for 2006 include:

-The whole Gordon Ramsay stable (excluding Hospital Road) for their food obsession at the cost of service, especially:
o Maze – for its completely hopeless Hungarian sommelier and chucking us out during a fire alarm, but even more so for sending on the bill later for the whole meal including the undelivered courses. Cheeky
o Angela Hartnett – for its complete lack of tact and miserable, miserable service
– The Library at Sketch – a beautiful room, if a bit Alice in Wonderland, a professional service (well done), but food that was just beyond me.
– Nobu – isn’t this looking tired these days?
– Hakkasan – for always offering the ever popular “table for 2 at 11.30 pm”
– The Ritz – for more incompetent service
– And the rest – who whilst loved or unloved were there this year, including Smiths of Smithfield Top Floor (hunky antipodean service and yummy beef), Teca (for a nice Italian that then went downhill after their maitre d’ left), Yauatcha (for the best quality/price ratio in town), Anchor & Hope (for the most over-hyped tripe in town), Zafferano (for becoming too big following the expansion), and Locanda Locatelli (for comedy Italian service which tends to drop something every time I go).

Elsewhere

The Elsewhere Category for 2006 has included some foodie outings in Paris, the Southwest of France, Cape Town (and environs), Kenya and Tanzania, with minor contributions from India, the Middle East, and in-flight.

The criticism (generally from London food journalists) about the lack of innovation in French kitchens is hopefully boring you as much as it is me. I suspect that these poor journos have ended up in the various dull restaurants as exist everywhere, as if we should compare the food innovation in London to what goes on at the Savoy Grill (sorry Marcus).

France is alive with innovation mixed with a respect for methods and ingredients and is witnessed in every corner of France these days. Is there anything as wonderful as sitting on the restaurant terrace in the southwest of France, as the sun sets on the Dordogne valley, the honey coloured failing light reflected off the vines below? No, I didn’t think so.

Winners this year in France include:

Le Vieux Logis – Tremolat. Approximately 30 km from Bergerac, Le Vieux Logis is simply paradise in the summer. With tables placed in the garden under the manicured lime trees which provide shade, lunch consisted this year of a tapas menu of innumerable small courses, complemented by a miraculous rosé from the region. Service was excellent, food fantastic (mmm… boudin noir!), and our three hour repas still only ran to EUR 50 per person.

Runners up in France include:

L’Imaginaire – Terrasson-Lavilledieu – With an excellent menu degustation of lobster, l’Imaginaire won us over for being able to get out seven courses of Michelin starred food in less than an hour and a half (for those of us already pressed for time for a wedding). 32 degree heat and a cold lobster bisque is simply heaven.

La Tour des Vents – Monbazillac – traditional French kitchen with a view to die for. An honest, no, yummy local red from Bergerac complemented the home cooked perfection that has earned this spot three fourchettes from Michelin.

In the Hors de France category, earning an honourable mention: Le Quartier Francais in Franschhoek, South Africa. An innovative menu of local produce including organic lamb terrine, duck confit, and much, much more. Worth a stop on your wine tour, without a doubt.

Wine 2006

Our wine merchant has kept us jolly this year with a number of good selections. In particular:

Givry 2005 Michel Sarrazin – was the house red for the year. Many cases of this Givry have come and gone and we enjoyed each of them. While it’s time to move on to find the next house wine for 2007, we thank Michel for his excellent drinking wine.

Meursault – JP Fichet – Jean Philippe Fichet’s meursaults come from various corners of his cultivations and result in unique variations. We’ve been drinking Les Chevalieres (2003) and Le Tesson (2004) this year. But we’ve just received the 2005 shipment from the selections made after tasting from vrac in November last year. The Bourgognes Veilles Vignes is the scoop of the year for 2007.

Rose – Ch. de Saint Baillon – aka “Sunny-B” to its friends. Oh, the cases and cases of this that was drunk this summer. Sunny B comes from the Cotes de Provence and is pure sunshine in a bottle (without the usual hangover effect of most nasty rose wine). Every BBQ should have a few of these as ours certainly did.

Home Cooking 2006

To round off all of the food and wine from outside, a few highlights from this year’s home cooked pleasures:

– Chou Farci – a beautiful stuffed cabbage using pork forcemeat was a pleasure for all early in 2006;
– Gressingham Duck- – from our butcher on Flask Walk, done both simply roasted and with a honey glaze were a delight;
– Lentilles Saucisse avec Confit – Tatie came during the summer and fed us properly with a beautiful meal of lentils with sausage and duck confit (that mamie had prepared herself);
– Thanksgiving Dinner – although this year without sweet potato pie with marshmallows on top after last year’s funny faces from the French contingent. 22 people were over for a traditional Thanksgiving including a 9kg Turkey (from Allen’s of Mayfair), homemade cranberry sauce, and all the fixings. Together with the Ch. Ormes des Pez ’99 magnums, a real treat for us;
– J’s Pork Belly – we still think it was shoulder, but she says it was belly. Wherever it came from, the crackling was heaven and the sandwiches the next day divine;
– JM’s Lobster Pot Pie – for Christmas dinner we went non-traditional and had Lobster’s from Browns of St John’s Wood in for a Lobster Pot Pie – a fabulous change (and well done again to JM for a great dinner!).

2007 looks to be an interesting year shaping up, with a lot more travel than 2006 and hopefully more adventures to report. I also hope to get the hang of this whole ‘food photography’ thing to make this blog a bit more interesting. Thanks for reading and bon appetit!

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One Response to The Year in Review 2006

  1. Trig says:

    I think that the next few years will really sort things out in this country. You are right – too much complacency, too little creativity and not enough focus on the customer. I’m about to leave the country to train in Europe and I hope that things have really changed by the time I get back.

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