Colonel Moseley's Restaurant Reviews 2006 to 2009: a foodie time capsule
What ho! In a bout of tidying up I recently deleted my Foodieblog of restaurant reviews. With typos, other infelicities and all, here they are for the period 2006 to 2009. The eclectic selection of reviews cover:
- Edmunds Fine Dining, Birmingham
- Le Champignon Sauvage, Cheltenham
- The Plaza, Ama Lur and the Hacienda Encanto del Rio, Ibiza
- Mallory Court, Bishops Tachbrook
- The Cross, Kenilworth
- Scotts, Mayfair
- Simpsons, Edgbaston
- The Bistro on the Square, Aberdovey
- The Forest, Dorridge
- The Malt Shovel, Barston
- The Penhelig Arms, Aberdovey
- The Old Butchers, Stow-on-the-Wold
- The Promenade, The Dorchester, Park Lane
- The Ivy, Covent Garden
- The Grill Room, The Dorchester
- Gordon Ramsay at Claridges, London
- The Red Lion at Claverdon
- Liaison, Hall Green, Birmingham
- Lambs of Sheep Street, Stratford-upon-Avon
- The Cross, Kenilworth
SUNDAY, 25 OCTOBER 2009
Edmunds Fine Dining
Emerging blinking into the post-apocalyptic landscape outside Moseley Towers after twelve months hiding in the cellar and making substantial inroads into my stocks of wine, I am confronted by a fiscal wasteland. I see the economy of the West Midlands yet again desolate and ravaged with the highest unemployment rates in the country. The shell-shocked populace wander aimlessly about our High Streets looking for a shop that isn't boarded up or selling things for a pound.
The BBC used to ban apocalyptic post-nuclear TV plays featuring sights such as this on the basis that they would be too disturbing for the viewer and provoke civil unrest. Now it's on Midlands Today every night before the weather forecast direct from a flower show somewhere picturesque such as Shrewsbury. Funny how the weather forecast never comes from Tipton, but I digress...
Retreating from the smoking economic Armageddon to Moseley Towers for tea and a Mr Kipling Country Slice, I asked the Mem what the most responsible reaction to these disastrous times might be; in short what would Clemmie and Winston do?
Always inclined towards a Keynesian view, the Mem advocated doing our bit to prime the pumps of economic regeneration in our fair second city. Echoing the hapless Messrs Brown and Darling it was, she argued, simply the right thing to do.
When I pressed her to explain what this might entail, she suggested going out for a decent meal. She pointed out that we hadn't eaten out for months and couldn't just skulk in the bunker for much longer. In any event, her old school friend Bunty Papadopalous (nee Pargeter) was due over from Skiathos at the end of her taverna's summer season and would be staying with us the following week. Apparently we could hardly expect her to hide in the cellar (even though she would be able to sample several very decent clarets laid down ages ago and now in need of drinking up.)
In short, the Mem wanted to go out for supper and suggested that we make up a jolly party to dine at Edmunds in Brindleysquare in the centre of Birmingham.
For those that don't know the area, Brindleysquare is a relatively newly-developed quarter of offices and restaurants close to the centre of Birmingham bordered by the strip of clubs and pubs of Broad Street, the Repertory Theatre and Symphony Hall and sundry walkways, Cafe Rouges (or it Cafes Rouge?), canals, carparks and the odd gallery.
Despite its good intentions its central square (or perhaps one must say centralsquare to correspond with the jolly alloneworddevice dreamt up upon its conception by the creatives in some Covent Garden PR consultancy) contrives to convey Speer's Hitlerian civic grandeur of the Third Reich on a rainy night rather than the elegant yet people-friendly piazzas of Milan or Florence.
On the appointed Friday evening the Mem, Bunty and I headed in the newly-polished Hillman Minx from Oxford Road for what we hoped would be some top-notch cuisine.
Having been glued most week-day evenings over the last couple of months to Masterchef The Professionals, the Mem and I had absorbed much of the vocabulary of co-judge Michel Roux Junior, culinary legend and the holder of two Michelin stars at Le Gavroche.
The Mem and I have eaten at what some flush City chaps persist in calling Gavvers and hold fond memories of its haut bourgeois fare and particularly our very favourite starter, Souffle Suissesse.
Linguistic patterns soon emerged from Mr Roux. Highest praise was accorded by the adjective top-notch. The correct gooey consistency was often conveyed by unctuous and the standard by which all dishes were judged was whether or not it amounted to fine dining. At Moseley Towers this came at all times to be pronounced fane daning.
Glued to our new Samsung LED flat screen with our coffee after dinner through all the heats of Masterchef, we devised a game keeping score of the use of these favourite gastro-terms. After one particularly unctuous-heavy week the Mem commented "If I ate an After Eight mint every time he used that word I'd be the size of a house now."
"Yes, dear" seemed the safest reply.
Having just returned from unspoiled Skiathos and previously lived between the picturesque villages of Wibble and Dibble on the fringe of the leafy Vale of Vaysey, Bunty was rather taken aback by the landscape we passed through on the way to Brindleyplacerialtoprecinctnpiazza.
In the early evening gloom, our old friend was non-plussed when a heavily medicated pedestrian stepped blithely into the road in front of us and wild-eyed beat his fists on the bonnet of the Hillman Minx. She was further surprised when advised to put her handbag out of sight and that it was necessary to lock all passenger doors, particularly when static at traffic lights. Bunty politely said nothing but clearly felt that the Second City had changed since the days when it was a safe and warm Victorian town of which hard-working Brummies were fond and proud.
After a ten minute queue in gridlocked Broad Street we succeeded in parking on the fourth floor of a charming multi-storey car park and made our way to Edmunds across Centralsquaresponsoredbymitsubishi.
Photographs on its website showed tables laid with white linen and smart chairs outside the restaurant, but sadly there was no question of al fresco dining on a rainy Friday night in October.
Passing through an automatic door, we were greeted pleasantly and awaited our guests in the banquette-cum-lounge next to the entrance. The party was completed when our nephew Egbert Snaffle arrived with his fiancee Minty de Vere and her mother Lettice, who had also struggled with the early evening traffic.
Without delay we were shown to our table at the very centre of the room. We sat at the oblong three facing three in quite low slung and heavy but comfortable chairs. We did feel we were something of an obstacle to convenient access and egress in what was basically a small dining room. The decor was elegantly muted with grey and beige tones and the odd sculpture. The effect was smart yet relaxed. Happily there was no muzac.
One minor practical problem stemmed from the modern light fitting positioned just above where the Mem sat. It comprised three sets of pendulous bulbs, the lowest of which the Mem embarassingly seemed unable to avoid every time she rose to her feet. One wondered if it might play The Bells of St Mary or Eidelveiss, but it seemed content to just swing alarmingly and rattle a little. I'm glad the evening wasn't more formal and that the Mem wasn't wearing her tiara or we could have had a health and safety issue and blacked out half of Birmingham.
On being seated we were provided with nibbles of olives and cheese straws with an excellent fresh guacamole dip. There was just one straw each. Most diners appreciate that hefty overheads have to be met and that tight budgetary control is essential in sustaining a profitable restaurant. In establishments holding themselves out to provide fine dining however, it must surely be a mistake to err on the side of restraint in offering such an inexpensive item that should demonstrate welcome and hospitality and get dinner off to a convivial start. Perhaps portion control shouldn't have any part to play when it comes to cheesy nibbles? This was the first - and sadly the only - straw.
White and brown bread rolls were fresh and warm and replenished on request.
Our orders for food and wine were promptly and efficiently taken. We had all opted to try the tasting menu. Both the advertised tasting menu desserts involving respectively varieties of pineapple and melted Valrhona chocolate were unavailable and we were asked to substitute an alternative from the carte.
We began with the Chef patron - Andy Waters' - Amuse Bouche which was a tomato soup topped with aromatic truffle oil served in a miniature cup and saucer. It was bursting with flavour and more-ish and succeeded in amusing our bouches very well.
With taste buds duly stimulated, most of our table moved on to fresh Cornish crab served with a salmon tartare and a deep fried king prawn. Each element worked beautifully with the others and the dry and crispy batter was well executed. It seemed to be a satisfying yellowish English batter rather than a paler and thinner tempura - and all the better for that.
Egbert opted for a carpaccio of beef with ricotta and parmesan cheese with rocket leaves and sweetened red pepper. He reported it was pleasantly savoury, though unfortunately no sample made its way to my plate. All I can vouch for is that it looked attractive and seemed to be consumed with relish rather quickly.
For me the next course was the highlight of the meal. Seared scallops were served with a mouthwateringly creamy almond, sultana and caper butter sauce. The scallops were perfectly cooked with light orange caramelisation which rendered them even sweeter and the judicious saucing completed a perfect dish. As Mr Roux might say, the sauce was unctuous and the whole dish top notch.
The other half of the table didn't fare too badly with this course either. Everyone enjoyed foie gras served with poached pear and a glossy spiced Muscat sauce. I sampled a morsel of the foie gras which again was cooked to perfection and melted in the mouth. The sauce which featured star annise was again spectacular.
For our main course most of the table opted for free range pork with apples, calvados and a confit of savoy cabbage. The meat was apparently sourced from Jimmy Butler, that affable young pig farmer chap on television - not Jamie Oliver, the other one.
The three cuts of pork were served as three discs each the size of a fifty pence piece across the plate. The range of tastes and textures was marked and the meat was lifted even further by a shiny sauce of great depth. The flavoursome pork was accentuated by the cabbage and black pudding and came with a small copper pan which contained two halved new potatoes, three french beans cut in half and two morsels of carrot.
This dish was delicious and pretty as a picture. The trouble is, the picture in question wasn't just small; it was a miniature, albeit an exquisite one.
I appreciate my views probably do not correspond with Michelin orthodoxy, but even in a tasting menu, should not the main course be the highlight of the meal? Should it not leave one excited, but also satisfied? Ideally the portion should also make it possible to discretely sample each other dishes. The may not be everyone's idea of what's done, but that's what some real lovers of food do: they like to share their interest and compare notes about what they are eating and how it is prepared. This dish demonstrated the obvious skills of an accomplished brigade fully but was more like several canapes than the centre-piece of the meal. It was indeed exquisite but a tad meagre.
The other main course was bamboo-steamed monkfish with buttered clams. I managed to sample some monkfish which was topped with smoked salmon and found it moist and unfussy.
There followed a bon bon of creamy deep fried goat's cheese topped with a sliver of truffle and some honey: both fun and delicious.
The parade of dishes continued with Chef's pre-dessert which was a slim shot glass of refreshing passion fruit jelly with an elegantly tiny dice of fruit salad.
For dessert I found my small chocolate sponge lacking in flavour and moisture. The orange bread and butter pudding was similarly too dry for the Mem's taste, although the orange ice cream was delightful.
We finished with teas and coffees and petit fours and made our way across the square to the multi storey to be charged £8 or so for an evening's parking before again braving Broad Street. The inebriated groups strutting from one bar to another, straying onto the road and queuing in the rain to get into clubs verged on the threatening at times and did not resemble the entertainmant quarter of many European cities today. In the light of this, our guest Bunty quietly wondered how Birmingham might have fared if it had been awarded the Olympics.
We enjoyed our dinner at Edmunds. The surroundings and service were pleasant and the cooking fastidious, accomplished and often brilliant. For me however the odd blind spot such as the size of portions and lack-lustre puddings needed to be addressed for the experience to be entirely top notch.
Edmunds Fine Dining, 6 Central Square, Brindleyplace, Birmingham B1 2JB
Telephone 0121 633 4944 email@example.com
Tasting menu £55
THURSDAY, 18 DECEMBER 2008
Le Champignon Sauvage
A hairy drive in the Hillman Minx down a frantically busy M5 on a December Thursday morning to make a booking for lunch is not to be recommended for those above a certain age. It is not very "festive" and does not help one’s blood pressure, mood or the digestive system.
The M5 on this cold, grey weekday sums up Mr Brown’s Britain very well; it is uncomfortable, uncivilised and fraught with dangers.
“Why do it then?” you might well ask. The answer is the long-held ambition of a 1 ‘o clock booking at the famous Le Champignon Sauvage in Regency Cheltenham.
The restaurant run since 1987 by David and Helen Everitt-Matthias boasts two Michelin stars and a plethora of other accolades ranging from 8/10 rating in the “Good Food Guide” to “Decanter” Restaurant of the Year and 18/20 from the discerning and relatively sane Matthew Fort in “The Guardian”.
After our white-knuckle ride, parking was also challenging experience to a technophobe, requiring registration over the phone and a credit card payment. How anyone manages without tools, that have recently played such a noble part in bringing the world’s financial system to its knees, is unclear to me.
Naturally the “software” didn’t work properly and necessitated a lengthy telephone conversation with the parking authority, sounding nearer to Mumbai than Tetbury. This was probably recorded as “a protracted customer interface with an unresolved outcome”. Eventually, it was agreed that the car could be left parked. This left a nagging worry until our return to the vehicle, and only means of return to an admittedly less salubrious part of the Midlands on a bleak day, that it would be clamped, towed away or at very least have the early Christmas present of a plastic-wrapped ticket left under the windscreen wiper. Thus does tourist centre Cheltenham warmly greet its visitors.
After a wearing start, on we ploughed to the restaurant. By the skin of out teeth we made the deadline of ordering by 1.15 and began to relax with a glass of champagne as we studied the menu next to a jolly Christmas tree in the small reception area. Our order was quickly taken as we nibbled some warm, cheesy bread-y puffs which went well with our fizz. I know reviewers should have firm handle on such things and identify them clearly and concisely but, after the drive and stress of parking, I was preoccupied with my aperitif and the interesting menu – so, “Sorry about that.”
The dining room is a fresh yellow with draped windows and an interesting selection of modern paintings on the walls. Tables are placed well-apart with crisp white linen and comfortable chairs. It is relaxed and ordered but without the cathedral-like reverential air evident in some other “starred” restaurants.
As a pre-starter we were offered a tall shot glass with a warming sweet parsnip veloute topped with curry foam. Breads were excellent and we particularly enjoyed a very short and crumbly miniature pillar box of savoury brioche.
Starters were varied and intriguing. Each dish included an inventive ingredient, combination or technique that is a trademark of this chef and went a long way to explain his stellar reputation. They included a celeriac lasagne of megrim sole with cockles and sea beet and a pressed terrine of kid, ham hock and watercress, beetroot, land-cress and goat’s milk curd.
Rabbit tortelloni was served with turnip and apple puree, radish and apple, whilst a duck trio of cured breast, rillettes and tartare was accompanied by pickled mushrooms. I would have been more that happy with any of the appetisers, but opted for my personal favourite of seared scallops and belly of pork with a broccoli puree and peanuts.
The dish was prettily served on white china and worked well. The scallop was sweetly caramelised and the pork belly unctuous. Meat and shellfish combined and contrasted richly and were lifted and lubricated by the puree.
The Mem needed no persuasion to begin with roasted native lobster with a miso glaze on a risotto of oat groats and onion and orange spiced bread (£6 supplement). As expected, the lobster was adroitly cooked and came to the table with its delicate flavour intact and enhanced by its glaze. The risotto was well-executed and provided a creamy, chalky background which did not distract from the centrepiece of the dish. Similarly the spiced bread served to accentuate rather than upstage the main element.
Both starters demonstrated the inventiveness and deft touch upon which David Everitt-Mathias’s reputation is founded; this was further confirmed by our main courses.
The Champignon Sauvage is known to present well-sourced seasonal ingredients. Before setting out that day, I had commented that I hoped it would be possible to have some venison. I was not disappointed.
My main course of Winchcombe venison fitted my bill exactly. It was described as “with its bolognese, a chervil tuber puree and liquorice root jus.”
I found the dish a tour de force. The locally sourced venison served pink was full of flavour and tender without dissolving through being over-marinated. The dish was celebratory given the very rich accompanying bolognese. The liquorice root jus lifted the dish and avoided it seeming heavy or cloying as did the intriguing chervil tuber puree with the beautifully al dente "shells" adding visual appeal and texture. The dish worked at several levels and was a delight.
For her main course the Mem chose another seasonal dish in roast grey legged partridge with hazelnuts, pickled pear and salsify caramelised in maple syrup. Whilst the partridge was moist and flavoursome, its accompaniments diverted with varied texture, colour and a caramelised sweetness that amplified the flavours at centre stage.
We accompanied our venison and partridge with a Charles Vienot 2001 Gevry Chambertin, which opened well as the meal progressed and proved fair value at £45.
We were delighted with our main courses, but were tempted by others including Cinderford lamb with its gayette, fillet of zander with carrot and star anise puree, compote of duck hearts and green raisins and stone bass with a white bean cream, cep mushrooms and cep gnocchi.
The accolades achieved by David Everitt-Matthias at the Champignon Sauvage include Egon Ronay Dessert Chef of the Year. His range of desserts reflects the same mindset applied in devising the rest of the carte. I chose a muscavado parfait with bergamot cream and mandarin jelly. To steal an adjective from Michael Winner the parfait was "historic", combining subtle flavour with silky smooth texture delightfully. Part of the secret of its success lay in its not being too sweet. That side of things was more than taken care of by the contrasting bergamot cream and the richly acidic mandarin jelly: a very classy play upon jelly 'n cream.
For her pudding, the Mem selected a warm prune cake with pressed apples and wild cherry stone ice cream. She pronounced the cake a delicately prune-flavoured sponge with overtones of madeleine. The rectangular portion of pressed apples almost deconstructed the festive season with its spicy cinnamon edge. The ice cream was a creamy success which fully captured the sometimes elusive flavour of cherry.
Of the other puddings, I was fascinated and tempted by salted chicory root iced mousse, vanilla rice pudding and a rich chocolate sorbet which again seemed to add up a diverse range of ingredients to make even more than the sum of their considerable parts.
We finished a memorable lunch with coffees and elegant petit fours – although where we found room for them I do not know. Our lunch had been a delight, pleasantly and efficiently served in relaxed surroundings. The restaurant had not been particularly full that day, but at the far side of the room was a party of ten or so enjoying their pre-Christmas lunch. Their paper hats were a give-away. It speaks volumes for the efficiency of the staff that this did not impact on service at all. It also appears that Cheltenham diners are quietly civilised and do not impose themselves and intrude on others, even in largish parties
The food lived up to our considerable expectations. Each of our dishes reflected the very considered house style. This was marked by fresh local and seasonal produce. The central ingredient was invariably complemented and accentuated by supporting elements - and never overshadowed. The selection, combination and treatment of ingredients was inventive and well thought-out. These themes, combined with first class technique, produced sophisticated and at times cutting-edge cooking, well worthy of its two Michelin stars. We look forward to returning.
Le Champignon Sauvage Restaurant, 24-26 Suffolk Road, Cheltenham Gloucestershire GL50 2AQ
Tel: 01242 573449 Fax: 01242 254365
A la carte lunch and dinner: two courses £40, three courses £50, four courses (with cheese and dessert) £58.
WEDNESDAY, 2 JULY 2008
Colonel Moseley goes large in Ibiza...again
It was quite a relief when, just after Christmas, the Mem came off the ‘phone following a lengthy conversation with her old friend Brenda Miggins. She reported that her school chum’s gynaecological trials and tribulations continued to baffle the finest brains in Harley Street and that sadly the portals of her dear Braemar in Eastbourne would be closed to even her most loyal patrons for another summer season.
Mercifully liberated from the prospect of Mrs Miggins’ rissoles for yet another year, it was with considerable but carefully disguised glee that I swiftly confirmed our holiday booking. We were returning to the Villa Esplendor at the small Hacienda Encanto del Rio, a short drive from the village of San Carlos on the unspoiled northern side of Ibiza for two weeks in mid-June.
After an uncomfortable two and a quarter hours cattle-class with First Choice we were pleased to land in Ibiza and even happier with the speedy collection of a nippy little VW Polo from Europcar at the airport.
With dizzying speed we headed towards the north of the island past the tight corner of Anita’s Bar in San Carlos and off to our villa just over the road from the beach of Aigua Blanca.
The advantage of leaving home for the airport at the appallingly early hour of 4.30am on a Sunday morning was that we opened the door of our villa at 11.30 am with plenty of time to unpack and enjoy a pleasant lunch by the pool.
Following previous holidays, we had a lengthy list of restaurants to check out including our favourite French-run Plaza in Santa Gertrudis.
This year, changes had been afoot with the central plaza in front of the whitewashed church paved over and pedestrianised. Although not universally popular, I think the change worked making much more room for patrons of the bars to enjoy their drinks and meals al fresco.
The weather in May and June this year had been unusually cool on the island and virtually for the first time we dined inside rather than in the spacious garden at the rear. Our spirits remained un-dampened and we were pleased to find the food as good as ever.
The menu remained short but appealing. Starters ranged from an authentically French fish soup with tuna, white fish and prawns with croutons and rouille, grilled goat’s cheese and salad and a light tempura of sea food and vegetables served with various dipping sauces.
As ever at the Plaza we drank a 2001 Reserva Vicalandia, still at E29.
For mains we focused on a rack of lamb served pink with a honey sauce and rosemary potatoes and succulent fillet of beef on a potato rosti.
As previously, desserts did not quite match the earlier courses but included a crème brulee with red berries and an extraordinary mousse made of the strong local Manchego cheese served with dates and a kind of peanut brittle. The dish was more savoury than sweet and something of an acquired taste.
We also re-visited another old friend in Ama Lur. We were pleased to be remembered and welcomed by the patron and staff.
The establishment was as elegant as ever and we enjoyed complimentary starters of a shot glass of leek and potato soup – in place of the previous gaspacho - and a deep-fried croquette of ham in a creamy sauce.
The menu resembled last year’s with goat’s cheese and fresh scallops outstanding.
Our favourite mains included a succulent rolled leg of lamb with cous cous, hake with clams and entrecote for two served with red peppers and what must be the best chips in Ibiza – crisp on the outside and fluffy within.
Again, desserts did not quite match-up, but we liked the orange soufflé, caramelized pineapple and white chocolate soup with passion fruit.
With Amy Winehouse playing in the background, Ama Lur remained a destination for a discreet special occasion.
By far our biggest and happiest gastronomic discovery on this holiday however was the food served at the Hacienda Encanto del Rio by Jorg Allenbrand ably assisted by his partner Selina Vogel.
Each day began with a dreamy breakfast by the pool. Freshly baked breads, croissant and muffins were accompanied by a range of home-made preserves. As an alternative to cereals, I adored the special muesli with fruits ranging from peach and apple to melon and pineapple.
Most mornings we opted for omelettes made to order with fillings varying from mushroom, asparagus and even avocado to bacon and goat’s cheese. Sipping fruit juice and coffee next to the pool made a very relaxing start to each day – and rather good value at E8 each.
Each evening Jorg prepared a set three course dinner for residents served inside or by the poolside. Prices were very reasonable at about E20 for three courses and E29.50 for the tasting menu.
On Sundays, guests were offered a tapas evening when many the classic tapas dishes were presented with several more. From those on offer I recall boquerones (small white fish in vinegar with parsley), albondigas (spicy meatballs with tomato sauce), goat’s cheese and peppers, Menorcan cheese slices, patatas bravas (spicy fried potato cubes), prawns in garlic, roasted lamb fillet, chickpeas, dorada with leeks and a cream sauce and chicken in sherry sauce. By the time we had enjoyed panna cotta we could hardly move. Each dish had been authentic and appetising and the evening had been relaxing and great fun.
Each Wednesday evening guests were treated to a seven course tasting menu. If my memory serves me right, our first dinner included:
• Hors d’oeuvres of angels on horseback ~ dates wrapped in bacon
• Plump gambas with avocado and a tomato relish
• Chick pea soup laced with a rosemary infused pesto topped by loin of rabbit coated in sesame seeds
• Lamb fillet with an aubergine millefeuille, cous cous and a yoghourt dressing
• Tuna steak with a Pommery mustard dressing
• Goat’s cheese crème brulee with pears in red wine and freshly-baked bread
• And finally a passion fruit panna-cotta
We drank a Bestue red wine (E17) from an interesting and sensibly-priced list and finished dinner with coffee and Jorg’s excellent petit fours. Each course was delicious and perfectly executed and the many elements combined harmoniously.
During our second week we again enjoyed the tasting menu which featured:
• Marinaded salmon on a green salad dressed with a vinaigrette and croutons
• Local gambas fried in garlic oil and served on a creamy asparagus risotto with cherry tomatoes
• Chilled gaspacho - two ways - with tomato cleverly taking one half the glass and cucumber the other in an attractive pattern of red and green
• Roasted quail served on home-made noodles with a sweet sage butter sauce
• Beef fillet in a Pommery mustard sauce with mushrooms, green beans and cheese stuffed new potato
• Light mousse of Manchego cheese served with orange and onion chutney and home made bread. Unlike the version served at the Plaza, this was a savoury cheese course and worked well
• And again finally a New York-style cheesecake of passion fruit with exotic fruits and raspberry coulis.
Both tasting menus demonstrated Jorg’s skills comprehensively. His touch with meat, fish and shellfish was adept and confident and his sauces and seasoning judicious - and just plain delicious.
His desserts including a fine apple tart with vanilla parfait and a perfect chocolate fondant with firm sponge on the outside and gooey chocolate interior put most of the restaurants on the island to shame.
Coupled with Jorg’s cooking were the super table settings and solicitous service of the charming Selina. Together they made quite a team.
We thoroughly enjoyed our stay and meals at the Encanto del Rio and commend it unreservedly!
SUNDAY, 24 FEBRUARY 2008
Colonel Moseley revisits Mallory Court
After our recent return for supper in Kenilworth, it was with some trepidation that we booked for dinner at another old favourite, the Michelin-starred Mallory Court at Bishops Tachbrook.
On arrival we were asked twice who we were and whether we had booked. We were unable to sit in our favourite small drawing room at the rear since it was in use for a private party.
Wondering whether another of those evenings was in store, we sat in the rather congested lounge and ordered glasses of champagne. These arrived quickly with a few canapes in a single line on a piece of grey slate. These weren't quite as delicate or indeed plentiful as previously, but were fine.
We ordered from the a la carte menu, although we were tempted by a main of roast loin and braised leg of rabbit with a meaux mustard sauce on the less expensive table d'hote.
By the time we were called to our table, we had relaxed over the nicely chilled Taittinger and things had quietened down somewhat. One group of guests had departed elsewhere and the large party had gone in to dinner in the lower half of the dining room, which was closed off for the evening. The celebration nearby did not impact on quality or speed of service at all.
I began with lightly curried Torbay crab with lime-marinated scallops - or to be precise one sliced scallop. The dish was elegant, cool and refreshing . The crab with its subtle curry flavour was more-ish and the silky smooth scallop cooked in lime juice like a ceviche was gently delicious. For me it was the perfect cold starter - a hint of summer on a February night.
The Mem was also pleased with her roasted quail with celeriac, bacon and black pudding. The moist quail was almost deconstructed, bringing our its rich flavour which was uplifted by its accompaniments.
After this savoury beginning, we went on to mains of beef and lamb. The Mem's fillet of beef was served with a glossy morel Madeira sauce and crispy braised shoulder. The contrast of textures and flavours worked well.
I enjoyed an assiette of lamb with tapenade jus. The fillet was pink and perfect and the shoulder unctuous and comforting. The dish was attractively Mediterranean with contrasting red tomato, black olives and pale green grey lentils: a mix of spring and autumn tastes on a winter's evening - and none the worse for that.
We drank an excellent 2003 Nuit St Georges (£48) which opened up as the meal progressed. It would have been even better if we had been shown the bottle before dinner to allow for it to be opened in advance and to breathe longer.
Pleasingly, our meal ended with bang rather than a whimper with dessert of blood orange souffles with warm chocolate mousse, chocolate sorbet and spiced blood orange segments. The lofty souffles were of a perfect texture. This pudding was no anticlimax and brought an excellent dinner to an enjoyably dramatic conclusion.
After cappucinos and petits fours we agreed that this happy evening had restored our faith in Warwickshire restaurants.
Mallory Court, Harbury Lane, Leamington sa Warwickshire CV33 9QB
Tel: 01926 330214 Fax: 01926 451714 e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
A la carte three courses: £55 inclusive of VAT
MONDAY, 21 JANUARY 2008
Colonel Moseley revisits The Cross at Kenilworth
After our initial visit and review of the successful gastro-pub, the Cross at Kenilworth, we returned several times and found the standard consistently high for lunch and dinner.
Last Friday we booked an early table for supper at 7.00. As happened on our previous few visits, we were allocated a small table for two immediately next to the opening to the kitchen area - rather warm and noisy.
Our drinks order was taken promptly. We opted for a glass of champagne. What arrived was remarkably unfizzy and on hearing the pleasant pop of a champagne cork shortly after we had been served our drinks, we guessed that we had received the rather flat remains of the previous bottle. In future when I see so few bubbles in a glass anywhere I will flag it up and ask for a replacement.
To begin I ordered my favourite scallops classically served with cauliflower puree and black pudding. They arrived on an oblong dish having slipped to one end in transit and appeared to be cowering forlornly together in a sadly disorganised group. The scallops and their accompaniments seemed of high quality but unfortunately the centre or core of each was worryingly cold.
The Mem began with goats' cheese on an shallot tarte tatin. The idea seemed fine but the tarte was presented with five or six whole shallots with the grilled goats' cheese resting on-top .The dish was no doubt executed as intended, but the strong predominance of shallots was not to the Mem's taste.
Our main problem came with our main courses. Previously we had particularly enjoyed their excellent rib-eye steak served with all the trimmings. This was no longer on the menu and we substituted a rump steak with fries, egg, mushrooms and onion rings and both ordered our steak, medium. On arrival, the steaks were bloody and we asked for them to be cooked to medium. On their return they were still rare and rather tough but we did the English thing and tried to eat them. The chips and onion rings were coarse and not particularly pleasant. We found our side order of rocket salad with parmesan cloyingly sweet.
When the waiter asked if we had enjoyed our mains, we explained the problem with the undercooked steak and it was suggested that this might have had something to do with sending it back which left us bemused and on which we did not comment.
The Mem enjoyed her sticky toffee pudding and ice cream whilst I had a cappuccino to conclude the meal.
We put this visit down to experience from the unfizzy fizz to the chilly scallops and rare and chewy rump. No reduction was offered in the £75 bill and we paid in full, even leaving a respectable tip since we did not want to penalise the waiting staff. Saddest of all, when we left we almost felt as if this disappointing evening was our fault. We will not trouble them again.
TUESDAY, 30 OCTOBER 2007
Colonel Moseley reviews Scott's
Our recent weekend in London reflected two of our greatest pleasures. On Friday evening we enjoyed a performance of Parade at the Donmar Warehouse in Convent Garden (http//: colonelmoseleysstageblog.blogspot.com) and then popped around the corner for a late supper at the Ivy. The food and ambience at the Ivy were excellent with the scallops as good as ever, although I am sad to report the disappearance from the menu of my particular favourite, calves’ liver.
On Saturday we dined at Scott’s in Mount Street in the heart of Mayfair.
John Scott originally set up an oyster warehouse in Haymarket in 1851. His establishment soon evolved into a popular seafood restaurant and oyster bar. James Bond author, Ian Fleming was a regular of Scott’s in its glamorous heyday in the 1950’s and 1960’s and reputedly discovered the dry martini there – shaken not stirred.
In 1968, Scott’s relocated to Mount Street and in 2005 was acquired by Caprice Holdings - joining The Ivy, J. Sheekey’s, Daphne’s, Bambou and Le Caprice.
Since its re-launch, Scott’s has been universally well-reviewed. Matthew Norman called it “beguilingly good”. The Mem and I very much looked forward to our visit with our nephew Egbert and his fiancée, Minty – the de Vere’s oldest girl.
Scott’s is impressive from the outside with its red brick frontage and smart doorman. Inside one can tell immediately where the millions reputedly spent on refurbishment have gone.
The restaurant lives up to its billing of being part stage set , part Edwardian ocean liner and part gallery. Centre stage is a large and lavish oyster bar. Modish art bedecks the walls.
Arriving twenty minutes or so before our booked time we chose to sit on the smart chrome stools at the bar for a chat and a spot of people-watching over a glass of Theophile Roeder house champagne and a bowl of nuts and upmarket pork scratchings.
I admired the display of crustacea and made a mental note to return one lunch-time for a glass or two of chilled white and a pint of winkles.
From our vantage point we could watch the phalanx managers in their smart dark suits greet the punters and generally direct operations.
The clientele was that usual Saturday night Mayfair mixture of bridges and tunnels folks up for a good night out and louche chaps in Armani whose eyes are never still, accompanied by improbably pneumatic young ladies.
In my youth places like this were frequented by of City or military types up in town with their young nieces. For all I know, the lovelies of today may be aroma-therapists or personal trainers, but their role as trophy and the underlying economics seem about the same.
After a pleasant interlude at the bar, we were shown our table in the room at the rear- rather central and close to the kitchen door for my taste, but otherwise satisfactory.
The extensive menu is not unlike the Ivy with an obvious emphasis on crustacia and fish.
Egbert and I began with oysters – Speciales de Claire Premier Cru. They were served on ice with a good supply of lemon halves bound in muslin with shallots in red vinegar and Tabasco. They were perfectly fresh and delicious.
The Mem started with griddled scallops with pumpkin, chilli and hazelnuts. Again the scallops were in excellent condition and not overcooked. The sweetness of the pumpkin combined well with the slightly caramelised scallops, the punch of the chilli and texture of the hazelnuts.
Minty was also delighted with her potted shrimps which were served plated.
The wine list at Scott's offers something for most tastes and – to be fair – most pockets. I admired a Puligny Montrachet at £110, but soon settled on a Premier Cru Chablis Montmains “Vieille Vignes” Domain Race 2004 at £54. Though probably un-fashionable, I enjoyed its combination of silky, buttery fruitiness. One isn’t always in the mood for tart, grassy sauvignons.
For her main course the Mem chose a 16 oz Dover sole simply grilled. Pleasingly, the dish was brought to the table for inspection when cooked and then taken way to be expertly filleted. It was accompanied by side orders of new potatoes and spinach.
Minty stuck with shellfish and ordered an elegant scampi provencale with fennel pilaff. Egbert enjoyed a meaty fillet of monkfish with Latin accompaniments of white beans, chorizo and padron peppers.
I couldn’t resist a main course portion of the Mem’s starter of scallops and was also very happy with the balance with the sweet pumpkin and hazelnut.
For dessert the Mem had a plain Bramley apple pie with custard. She pronounced it pleasant - without setting the world alight. The rest of us fared better with a delicious tart of figs on puff pastry served with Mascarpone cream.
We rounded off a pleasant meal with coffees and liqueurs.
Scott’s had lived up to its reputation as part of the Caprice group in serving high quality comfort food in sumptuous surroundings.
Service had been slick and prompt. Our waiter had been efficient but had an impatient air of someone not having a good night. It’s unfortunate how that communicates itself to ordinary customers and noticeable how that doesn’t often seem to happen to professional reviewers. That aside, Scott’s is a good destination for a special evening out. It is clearly already yet another successful member of an extremely successful group.
Scott’s, 20 Mount Street, Mayfair, London W1K 2HE
Tel: 0207 7495 7309
Simpsons in Edgbaston
Every few years the Mem decides it’s time for a reunion with her friends from school. Arrangements were made for lunch with chums Bunty Pargeter and Pandora La Gueriniere at Simpsons in leafy Edgbaston.
Strictly speaking, Bunty is now Mrs. Popadopolous following her marriage to Costas on the island of Skiathos. After many years running of a popular livery yard on the fringe of the picturesque Vale of Vaysey, Bunty now owns a busy bar lapped by the warm Aegean.
Pandora has forged a glittering career in international dressage and is chef d’equipe of a rising team in the Middle East. According to a full-page profile in Dressage Monthly, Pandora has put the kur into Kurdistan, introduced passage to India and invented the Khyber half-pass. Despite her chic name and celebrity lifestyle however, the Mem still thinks of Pandora as she was at school, plain old Phyllis Stackpole.
We convened for lunch on a damp autumn day between fashionable Harborne and Birmingham city centre. Since 2004, Simpsons has been housed in an impressive white-stuccoed early Victorian villa typical of the Calthorpe Estate.
We just about managed to park the Hillman Minx on the driveway at the front, although we felt like poor relations amidst so many smart Jaguars and Mercedes.
We were pleasantly greeted and offered seats in the lounge for pre-lunch drinks. We chose to go straight to our table at the rear of the premises overlooking the terrace and attractive gardens. Linen, glass ware and cutlery were immaculate.
We began with kir royals whilst we looked though the menu and enjoyed delicious canapés including tiny salmon roulades, warm miniature potato cakes and sweet and sour crab beignets – which Pandora enthusiastically affirmed were to die for.
The wine list was stellar reflecting Simpson’s Michelin award. Wines were listed from France, Italy and Spain to the Americas and Antipodes and offered something exceptional for most tastes - if not all pockets. Resisting some truly spectacular white Bergundies, I opted for a crisp Gavi de Gavi at £35 which suited lunchtime. The wine was well-chilled and served.
Our guests and I began with a king prawn and spring onion risotto with ginger foam. This was the perfect lunch dish served on smart white china. The prawns retained their colour and texture as did the spring onions with a hint of lemon grass. The sauce permeating the risotto was deep and more-ish and the dish balanced an array of complementary flavours: a great success.
The Mem began with a seasonal pumpkin soup served on blue cheese, smoked bacon and spinach. She was more than happy with her choice and also praised the delicate palette of tastes.
For our main course we all chose rump of Aberdeen Beef with haggis, garlic and parsley butter. The effect was not unlike a black pepper sauce, but more subtle and savoury. The rump was served with chips but to call them just chips was to undersell them somewhat. These Michelin starred chips had a dry crisp skin and fluffy - almost sweet - interior and were about as far away from the version sold at the local chippie as one could imagine.
As an alternative, the menu offered fillet of Brixham plaice with scallop ravioli, mange tout and herring caviar cream. Appealing though this was, we all enjoyed our upmarket steak and chips.
Before dessert we were served a complimentary pre-pudding from the chef in the form of elegantly spherical cinnamon doughnuts with fig jam and hazelnuts which were tasty and fun.
For dessert the ladies went, in Proustian mode, for a warm madeleine with plum compote and cinnamon ice cream.Chocaholic as ever, I preferred my Vallhrona chocolate mousse and coffee granite with crème chantilly and crispy rice – an interesting mix of flavour and textures. Puddings were served on concave frosted glass squares or, in my case, a rectangle.
We finished with a range of excellent coffees and petit fours before wandering out blinking and replete into the milky sunshine of the autumn afternoon.
Our lunch had been delightful. Surroundings were pristine and the service solicitous and efficient. The range of dishes on offer had been appealing and execution was adroit and accomplished. At £20 for three courses, lunch represented very good value and I look forward to sampling the extensive carte for dinner.
In its brochure Simpsons is called the finest dining rooms in Birmingham. I see no reason to differ.
Written in October 2007
Simpsons, 20, Highfield Road, Edgbaston, Birmingham B15 3DU
Tel: 0121 454 3434 http://www.simpsonsrestaurant.co.uk/
The Bistro on the Square in Aberdovey
After our pleasant visit to Aberdovey last year, the Mem and I were delighted to accept another invitation this September.
We were again to join my nephew Egbert Snaffle and his lovely fiancee Minty De Vere for the weekend at the De Vere’s holiday home Treflan House overlooking the estuary.
To thank our hosts we took them as our guests for supper on Saturday evening in the Bistro on the Square, a stone’s-throw from the front.
We had been encouraged to book by a favourable review by the reliable Charles Campion in which he called the Bistro a friendly old-fashioned restaurant in a world increasingly dominated by gastro-pubs. He commented that the menu stemmed from local ingredients such as fresh fish and Welsh lamb and the standard of cooking is “surprisingly high”. I wasn’t sure how much the word “surprisingly” said about the Bistro, the reputation of Welsh cooking or the presumptions of metropolitan critics, but decided it was appropriate to book and form our own view.
The Bistro has a charming look of Allo, Allo facing a small square with a very Welsh, Methodist chapel nearby. Its front is whitewashed with cheerful green paintwork and colourful troughs and hanging baskets of fuchsias and geraniums. A sign in the window says it is fully booked until well into the evening.
The interior is welcoming and homely but quite dark and warm with a low-ish ceiling.
We were seated opposite a large table occupied by a local family group of adults and children celebrating a birthday. The Bistro is relaxed and child-friendly.
On being seated, we were given bread rolls and green and black olives to nibble and our drinks order was taken promptly. We chose the most expensive white wine on the list, a Chablis premier Cru at £23.50. It was served properly chilled and was the perfect choice for a summer’s evening – soft, smooth and buttery (so much so that we had another bottle).
Unusually, the Mem and I selected the same starter of a tartlet of crisp short pastry filled with smoked haddock in a creamy sauce served on a bed of fresh asparagus. This worked well in sharpening the appetite and could only have been improved by making the sauce even thicker.
Egbert was also pleased with his Thai fishcakes with a chilli plum sauce. Minty began with one of the evening’s specials of home –made liver pate with warm Melba toast. She enjoyed the dish but was rather over-faced by the size of portion which gave the rest of us a chance to sample it. We agreed it was pleasant and appetizing although it lacked punch by way of depth of flavour.
Other starters included twice-baked spinach soufflé, bruschetta of goat’s cheese with Parma ham and sweet peppers, egg linguine, Mediterranean vegetable salad with potted prawns and salmon served on celeriac remoulade.
Main courses ranged from fillet of pork and best end of Welsh lamb, breast of Gressingham duck and guinea fowl to a variety of fresh fish.
The Mem and Minty chose fillet steak served with slightly anaemic dauphinoise potatoes and a side of roasted root vegetables.
Egbert enjoyed a special off the blackboard of sea bass which was moist and flavoursome.
For my main course I ordered Zrazy Nelson, a house speciality consisting of medallions of fillet steak quickly griddled and served with a creamy sauce of mushrooms and tomato topped with onion rings and a side order of fries. I found the dish more-ish and can understand why it is remains popular at the Bistro.
After her large starter Minty could only mange an expresso whilst the Mem enjoyed her ginger and black pepper pudding with coffee sauce and vanilla ice cream. Egbert despatched his tiramisu and I also made short work of my warm treacle and whiskey tart and Cranaghan made of cream honey whiskey and oats.
We enjoyed our evening at the Bistro on the Square. Service was efficient and courteous and the atmosphere pleasant. The menu offered something for most tastes including various daily specials. Prices for food and wine were reasonable with starters and puddings between £5 and £6 and mains mostly between £11 and £13.The Mem and I agreed how nice it would be to have such a family restaurant offering well-prepared local ingredients just around the corner from home. Praise really doesn’t come much higher.
Written in September 2007
Bistro on the Square Aberdovey Gwynedd LL35 0EL
Tel: 01654 767448
Colonel Moseley Abroad: The Colonel and the Mem Go Large in Ibiza
What ho! The Mem and I normally spend a fortnight each summer at The Braemar in Eastbourne with our dear friend Brenda Miggins. This year our plans were torpedoed when Mrs Miggins was incommoded by what the Mem delicately explained was a ladies’ op, but declined to clarify further.
Confronted with a blank canvass, we seized the chance to renew our acquaintance with the Med and decided to find out what had changed in Spain post-Franco. Moseley’s ever-so slightly bohemian edge has lead some to consider it the Birmingham Balearic; accordingly, we agreed to give Ibiza a try.
Ibiza has had an unfair press. It has become journalistic shorthand for depraved, sun-burned yobs living on lager, full Englishes and ecstasy.
That version of Ibiza may be available, but beyond parts of San Antonio towards the middle and north, exists a different island.
In the countryside, quiet roads pass though sleepy hamlets such as San Mateo and San Agnes past fields of red earth and lines of olive trees with sheep and goats grazing.The wet spring meant that the landscape was not grey and dusty but surprisingly green with verges and fields profuse with poppies and wild flowers.
We took a villa beyond the whitewashed village of San Carlos – famed for its hippy hangout, Anita’s Bar - on the way to the beach at Agua Blanca.
We relaxed with books and the odd glass, enjoyed the countryside and pretty beaches and visited places ranging from busy Ibiza Town and Santa Eulalia to laid-back villages in the interior.
Most days we stopped somewhere like Bar Costa in Santa Gertrudis with its hams hanging from the ceiling and superb tapas and tostadas. We drank coffee or freshly-squeezed orange juice on the shady pavement reading the papers and watching the world go by – even more relaxing than the Cross.
Not being quite up to foam parties or all-nighters at Pacha or Space, our main diversion each evening was dinner.
Our favourite restaurants included Ama Lur which serves Basque and Spanish dishes in quite a formal setting. The décor is elegant and relaxing with Ella Fitzgerald playing and pleasant and solicitous staff.
We enjoyed starters of prawn ravioli in a deep lobster sauce, grilled goat’s cheese with rocket and chilled, summery gazpacho. Our main courses were unctuous slow-cooked lamb with minted cous cous and an inventive confit of rabbit. Desserts included hot orange souffle, fine apple tart on a crisp pastry base and caramelised pineapple with pineapple foam and ice cream.
With its accomplished cooking and stellar wine list Ama Lur is expensive, but worth it for a special evening.
A slightly less costly destination was El Pato, a few kilometres in the direction of Ibiza Town. Its location is unpromising, next to a small commercial estate and its sister establishments – a bistro and interior décor store. It is however a pleasant place to eat with a charming pool next to the terrace with rushes and a population of frogs sitting on the lily pads.
This German-run restaurant has a wide range of dishes with specials changing each day. Our meal began with an assiette of Asian starters including Thai soup, tiny spring rolls with dipping sauces, seared tuna and sashimi. I followed with a breast of duck with cassis sauce whilst the Mem opted for stir-fry lobster with asparagus. For dessert we liked the unusual coconut crème brulee with Canarian banana ice cream. Again, service was efficient and courteous and the diverse clientele made for interesting people-watching.
Our favourite destination was the French–run La Plaza in Santa Gertrudis, near to the whitewashed church.
On the evening of our visit the village was celebrating the first communion of a group of youngsters. Scores of locals processed behind the priest carrying an ornate cross under a canopy held aloft by six men. The censor swung and the local silver band followed playing sacred music. The girls looked demure in long white dresses carrying flower baskets whilst the boys wore smart white suits. It was a touching family occasion and demonstrated that his was a living community rather than just a cardboard tourist centre.
After the procession we dined in the canopied garden. It’s always fun to eat al fresco. We enjoyed more-ish starters of coquilles St Jacques and spinach ravioli with goat’s cheese in a tomato sauce. Main courses featured rack of lamb with dauphinoise potatoes and fillet of beef in a truffle sauce. Puddings included a warm chocolate fondant and iced nougat parfait with Cognac cream.
On the wine front, we fell in love with the local Vicalanda rioja which went well with most dishes. We liked it so much that we ordered it wherever possible (at about Euro 29).
We also enjoyed visits to the trendy L’Elephant in San Rafael with its view from the terrace of Ibiza Town and the Cascades at the five star Hacienda at Na Xamena near Port San Miguel: it’s a long drive up the hillside to the hotel but stunning sea view when, and if, you make it.
There’s much more to Ibiza than you might imagine. The Mem and I enjoyed discovering the unspoiled villages, pretty countryside and beaches and agreeable restaurants. I suspect that next year we may miss out on The Braemar and Mrs Miggins’ cream of tomato soup and rissoles. Pip, pip!
Written in June 2007
Ama Lur, Ctra. de San Miguel, Km. 2300 Tel 971 31 45 54
El Pato, Ctra. San Miguel, Km 0.5 Reg. Sta. Eulalia Tel 971 19 13 40
La Plaza, Plaza de la Iglesia, Sta. Gertudis Tel 971 19 70 75
* a version of this article also appeared in Birmingham 13
Mallory Court at Bishops Tachbrook
The Mem and I wanted to dine somewhere special to mark our anniversary. We decided on Mallory Court, a country house hotel and restaurant at Bishops Tachbrook, just outside Leamington Spa.
Mallory Court was built in 1916 and has the look of Lutyens with mellow stonework in ten or so acres of well-tended grounds with flower beds, croquet lawn and herb and vegetable gardens.
After the creation of additional bedrooms, the establishment has recently been further expanded by a new conference wing, including a brasserie, standing to the left of the entrance drive.
I was interested to find out whether the expansion has made the hotel corporate or whether it retains a country house feel.
I admit that I have always been a fan of the old Mallory Court. In its earlier ownership it contrived to have a luxurious air, combining tasteful décor and ambience with high standards of cuisine and service.
I recall the charming note on the menus to the effect that gratuities were neither requested nor expected. It always struck me as impeccable and we often made reservations for Christmas lunch and special family celebrations.
On this evening, arriving at 7.30 for dinner booked at 8.00, we requested our pre-dinner drinks in the smaller rear drawing room overlooking the terrace and gardens.
The room had recently been redecorated and refurnished. The previous striking red wallpaper had been replaced by something more subdued.
Various familiar items of furniture, including wooden corner cupboard, log basket and studded leather armchair had been moved elsewhere and replaced by six large bright settees, which effectively provided the room with three seating areas for six.
There was now no space for the central table with the magnificent arrangement of fresh flowers that always previously graced the room (and contributed to the country house smell of wood-smoke, furniture wax and cut orchids). It was now comfortable and pleasant enough with logs still burning in the open hearth, but was more Trust House Forte, Great Barr than country house.
On arrival, our drinks order was taken promptly and we were given menus. We opted for celebratory kir royales with the house champagne. These were served with canapés including goat’s cheese savoury pastry, salmon roulade and tiny lamb and pepper skewer.
The a la carte menu offered a choice of five or six first and main courses and desserts for £55.
Under the direction of Head Chef, Simon Haigh, the brigade at Mallory Court has retained its Michelin star for the fifth consecutive year in 2007.
The wood-panelled dining room, with its heavy curtains, retained its former charm. Service, on being seated, was as formal and attentive as ever.
To begin, I chose roasted scallops with duck heart, curried lentils and cauliflower. This was presented on a leaf shaped glass dish and looked elegant and appealing. The scallops were sweet, slightly caramelised and succulent.
The Mem selected Torbay crab in an inventive tuna ravioli and savoury soused mouli with the centre-piece of an oyster in its shell. Again, the look of the dish was sophisticated and interesting. The crab, tuna and oyster were fresh and delicious.
Other fishy starters included a bisque of shellfish, crab tortellini with pernod cream and ossobuco of monkfish with oxtail faggot and pearl barley risotto. There was also a roulade of quail with black pudding and celeriac remoulade and a ballotine of foie gras, smoked duck breast and rhubarb. The Mem agreed, we could have enjoyed any of these first courses.
The wine list at Mallory Court is extensive, without being a tome. The new world is well represented as is the old with some impressive Bergundies and Bordeaux. An upmarket Cloudy Bay sauvignon blanc was on offer at an alarming £80.
We found the maitre d’ pleasant and helpful in choosing wine and opted for his recommendation of an Australian red at £40, which had impressed at a recent tasting. This full-bodied Turkey Flat from the Barossa Valley was redolent of red fruit, chocolate and black pepper with a slight chalky edge. It opened up as the meal progressed. We were pleased with our selection.
After a promising start, our meal really took flight with the main courses. The two fish mains that evening were line-caught sea bass with shrimp and cod tortellini and vanilla potatoes and pan-fried red mullet with spinach and parmesan cannelloni and a fish cream sauce. There was also breast of Gressingham duck with creamed sweetcorn and crispy duck confit.
The Mem chose a duo of beef fillet with braised blade in a morel madeira sauce. The contrast between the more homely slow-braised blade and the tender fillet made the dish. Each form of beef melted in the mouth and complimented the other. The sauce also accentuated the wintery flavours.
My main course also reflected Simon Haigh’s penchant for contrasting comfort food with top- notch restaurant fare. In this case, he served the tenderest medium rare loin of venison on top of long-braised pork belly, sandwiching rich red cabbage. The pork was unctuous and lifted by subtle seasoning with a Chinese edge and a peppery port sauce. The dish demonstrated the delicate flavour combinations and slick presentation that must have impressed the Michelin inspectors.
Both main courses were complimented by our Australian red.
Desserts are another strength at Mallory and we knew from past visits that we would probably opt for the hot soufflé.
On this evening, we were tempted by the baked desserts: a crème brulee, black pepper vanilla poached rhubarb with ginger and advocaat ice cream and also lemon cream with cherries and blackcurrant sorbet. We also flirted with the roasted options: a dark chocolate pastilla, banana parfait and roasted bananas or roasted pear with caramel sauce, pain perdu and pear sorbet.
Resisting these distractions, we succumbed to the prune and armagnac soufflé. The soufflé protruded magnificently above the sides of its large white ramekin. It had risen as required and was light, fluffy and full of prune and brandy flavour. It was accompanied by heavenly prune and armagnac ice cream and a glass bottle with a wired top containing a sinful cream and apple concoction.
To our surprise, we were also served an excellent dessert wine with the compliments of the management to celebrate our anniversary: a touching gesture.
We followed dinner with coffee and petits fours in front of the fire in the drawing room. Other diners, ranging between family parties of five and seven celebrating birthdays and couples, appeared to have had an equally enjoyable meal.
The food and service at Mallory Court had been exemplary and our evening had been thoroughly enjoyable, amounting to a special occasion.
Returning to Mallory Court brought to mind our last stay at Chewton Glen. We found Chewton Glen well-run with splendid leisure and spa facilities, accommodation and restaurant. For me, however it did have a corporate edge and too many suits to be fun.
Mallory Court similarly operates on an increasingly large stage. Nowadays, it is more than a country house hotel and restaurant. It hosts conferences, wedding fairs and weddings and promotional gatherings on a grand scale. It is now a sizeable hotel and conference centre and boasts a superb, Michelin-starred restaurant. As it is inevitably obliged by the realities of modern economics to grow more corporate, I hope it continues to retain the personal charm and standards of service that have made it one of our favourite places.
Written in February 2007
Mallory Court, Harbury Lane, Leamington Spa, Warwickshire CV35 9QB
Tel: 01926 330214 Fax: 01926 451714
The Forest in Dorridge
Our nephew, Egbert, the Mem’s sister Bunty’s oldest boy, had called at Moseley Towers with his young lady, Minty with some good news. He had proposed and the delightful Minty, the de Vere’s youngest, had accepted.
We could look forward to the merger of the Snaffle and de Vere clans during the early summer. The date would depend upon the availability of St Brenda’s in Snitterton Parva which has seen the hatching, matching and despatching of generations of Snaffles.
Caught up in the joy of the moment, the Mem decided we should treat the engaged couple to an impromptu dinner to mark the occasion. For a change, we opted for somewhere new to us, The Forest in Dorridge, a fifteen minute drive away.
The Forest, according to some notes on the menu, “was built in 1870, when the train station opposite was opened and has traded as a hotel ever since”. Call me old fashioned (or worse), but I have always assumed stations are for trains; the context usually avoids confusion with those “of the Cross” or for buses. I also enjoy the sound of “an hotel” but nowadays, Fowler only conjures Pauline and Albert Square and not grammatical correctness, so I shall hold my tongue.
We entered The Forest via a large bar area with wooden floors, conventional pub furniture plus sofas in the modern fashion. It was busy with a convivial buzz and quite smoky at 8.00 that evening.
At the risk of being a kill-joy, I do look forward to the restriction on smoking in public places.
We went though to the restaurant at the rear. Only a curtain separated it from the bar and when we were first seated the smoke was evident. The waiter was accommodating when we asked for a table further away in the far corner of the room next to the window.
Our drinks order was taken immediately. This is a good thing. We opted for cheery flutes of celebratory Duval rose house champagne (£6.50) with which to toast the impending nuptials.
We were immersed in conversation enjoying our fizz and it took the waiter three efforts before we were all ready to order. We weren’t being unduly slow and felt a tad rushed.
The menu included attractive lunch and light meal sections. For dinner it offered eight starters and puddings and ten or so mains with a range of side orders.
The wine list was reasonably varied with more from new world than the old. From the two bin ends on offer we couldn’t resist a Louis Jadot Puligny Montrachet 2000 at £29.50. We asked the waiter if he recommended it and, with refreshing honesty, he admitted no-one else had ever ordered it. As it turned out, it was light and mellow but without any real depth.
This was one of the few occasions when we all agreed the wine was just too cold when brought to the table. It was much more palatable when removed from its chilled container for a few minutes.
We also erred on the side of extravagance with our choice of red, another 2000 Louis Jadot Gevrey-Chambertain. Unfortunately the cork was broken on extraction but eventually removed with no harm done. This also proved satisfactory without being stunning.
The best part of our dinner turned out to be our starters. The Mem and Egbert thoroughly enjoyed their salmon and prawn cake topped with a poached egg and hollandaise sauce (£6). This was tasty comfort food par excellence and an auspicious beginning.
Minty also liked her vodka and beetroot cured salmon (£6) which was an unusual take on a conventional smoked salmon starter.
I had no problem at all in making in-roads into my tiger prawn and avocado salad which was also in cake form; it managed to be savoury and refreshing and was further lifted by a parmesan crisp.
Other starters included Forest mushroom soup with gnocchi and mascarpone, home cured “bresola”, chicken liver parfait, moules mariniere and beetroot tomato and parmesan tart.
For mains, Egbert and I selected roasted local Umberslade pheasant with hash brown, braised cabbage and juniper (£15.50). The pheasant was pink and tender but a little bland. The jus in which it was served was delicious.
The ladies both chose Aberdeenshire rump beef with horseradish croquette, wild mushrooms and glazed onions (£15). Ordered medium the beef came closer to rare but was of good quality and flavour and enhanced by it’s accompaniments.
We shared side orders of hand-cut chips and char grilled pumpkin with pine nuts and balsamic (£2.50), which were pleasing.
The Gevrey Chambertain went well with both main courses.
Other main courses included fillet of lamb with minted borlotti beans, halibut, mixed fish grill, sea bass, John Dory, whole wild duck and an open ravioli of butternut squash with baby vegetables, ranging between £11 and £18.50.
To be honest the puddings were an anti-climax. Minty, Egbert and I found the vanilla and fig brulee disappointing: the brulee was too custardy with no real sign of vanilla whilst the layer of figs was watery.
The Mem’s cranberry steamed sponge pudding was surprisingly small and dense.
We finished with good teas and a cappuccino.
On the menu the proprietors refer to their vision of creating a neighbourhood restaurant with good quality food and service. The range of dishes and wines is appealing and most of the cooking is assured with only the odd discordant note. Service is pleasant and energetic but at times a little gauche.
We had an enjoyable celebratory evening and wish The Forest success in achieving its laudable vision.
Written in December 2006
The Forest, Station Approach, Dorridge B93 8JA
Tel: 01564 772120
http://www.forest-hotel.com/ info @forest-hotel.com
Monday-Saturday 12.00 – 2.20 pm 6.30 -10.00pm Sunday 12.00 – 3.00pm
Optional 10% service charge shared equally between the team
The Malt Shovel at Barston
Every few months the Mem and I meet up with our old friend Bunty Pargeter for lunch and a chinwag. The Mem and Bunty were together at Rodean many moons ago and enjoy catching up with each other’s news and, as they put it, “all the goss”.
Bunty has for many years run Lazy Pastures, a livery yard in the leafy Vale of Vaysey and either we drive to her neck of the woods or vice versa.
This time it was to be in our patch and we nominated the Malt Shovel at Barston, which (quite rightly) calls itself “a country pub and restaurant”.
We ate in the bar where bookings aren’t taken. We arrived at 12.30 and had no problem in securing a pleasant table overlooking the garden at the rear.
We all agreed a bottle of the house champagne would hit the spot and enjoyed it throughout the meal.
The winter bar menu was already up and running in early October. It featured eight or so starters and main courses with four others available as either, five puddings, various side orders and five further starters and mains as “specials of the day”. We were spoiled for choice.
To begin, Bunty and I adored our seared scallops on sweet potato puree with carrot crisps (£7.95). The three scallops were fresh and succulent with a sweet caramelised edge that matched the delicious puree perfectly. We agreed it was the perfect starter.
The Mem chose her favourite Malt Shovel dish of salmon fishcakes on wilted spinach with free range poached egg and chive hollandaise. This was another winner. The fishcake was moist and full of flavour and uplifted by the well-executed hollandaise. The runny poached egg on top elevated the dish to true comfort food: a cheery lunchtime classic.
Other starters included toasted crumpet with wild mushrooms and gorgonzola, potato gnocchi on tomato ragout, red onion and goats cheese open tart, Moroccan spiced pork on citrus cous cous and marinated black bean chicken (ranging between £5.95 and £6.50).
The specials starters included seared tuna, breaded whitebait, smoked haddock and salmon on toast and mussel and prawn chowder.
The dishes to be taken in starter or main course portions were asparagus and pecorino ravioli, blackened chicken and smoked bacon Caesar salad plus an all-time savoury favourite of mine, lamb kidneys, bacon and field mushrooms on toast.
For main courses the Mem and Bunty both opted for a slow-braised shoulder of lamb served on a parsnip rosti with a papardelle of English leeks (£15.95). This melted in the mouth and had a satisfying autumnal feel.
I couldn’t resist Gressingham duck breast served on braised red cabbage –to which I am addicted- with potato fondant with juniper jus (£14.95). The duck was pink comme il faut and the cabbage was unctuous and sweet – although I did get a little more than I bargained for when I bit into what appeared to be a large piece of star anise. The potato was not quite as fondant as I would have liked and perhaps creamed potato would have been an improvement, but did not wreck the dish.
The list of mains must have had something to please everyone, including Aberdeen Angus seared liver on creamed swede, pancetta and baby onion jus, Worcestershire free range chicken, Scottish rib eye steak on field mushrooms and fillet of beef with a herb and peppercorn crust, buttered spinach and white truffle oil.
The specials had some outstanding fish such as seared sea bass on pistachio butter linguine, grilled hake on open lasagne, roast cod on butterbean mash and pan-fried sea bream on wild mushroom risotto.
Most of the mains ranged between £15.95 to £16.95, not exactly cheap but featuring quality ingredients handled with skill and flair.
Like good Rodean girls the Mem and Bunty managed dessert. The panettone bread and butter pudding with white chocolate was not excessively heavy. It was served with a vanilla crème anglaise that was subtle and delicate. The dark chocolate mousse with hazelnut crust was sophisticated and set off beautifully by a coconut sorbet.
Other puddings at £5.50 were imaginative and enough to tempt the most jaded of palates; they included a warm stack of Kirsch blinis with plum and apricot chutney and Carmelita ice cream, honey cheesecake with a walnut base and Merlot marinated strawberrries and an Amaretto crème caramel with passion fruit coulis.
We all enjoyed our lunch; they know what they’re doing at the Malt Shovel. Service is pleasant and efficient. The atmosphere is convivial without being hectic and background music is not too intrusive. The menu is diverse and appealing with an outstanding range of fish dishes. Local ingredients are used wherever possible. In an area with several excellent gastro pub restaurants you would be hard pressed to find higher standards than at the Malt Shovel at Barston.
Written in October 2006
The Malt Shovel at Barston, Barston Lane, Barston,Solihull,
West Midlands B92 0JP
Telephone/Fax : 01675 443223
The Penhelig Arms in Aberdovey
Recently the Mem and I were telling some friends about a pleasant weekend we had enjoyed in Aberdovey on the Welsh coast. We grew more confused as they responded with talk of the heat, sand, dress code and flying with Emirates. It was only when they mentioned riding camels that we realised they thought we had been to Abu Dhabi: strange but true!
Anyway, just before we bade farewell to the long hot summer of 2006 (or was it the “long, long hot summer” or perhaps just “long-ish”? No, it was definitely “long”, so as you were.) Where was I? Oh, yes….just before the end of September then, the Mem and I edged the Hillman Minx out of Moseley Towers, pointed west and made our way along the M6 Toll and M54 over the border into Wales and then via Welshpool and Machynlleth to Aberdovey or “Aberdyfi” as they say in these parts.
In doing so we encountered thunderstorms, bi-lingual road signs, disputes over map-reading and convoys of caravans, but like a mini Lord of the Rings overcame every trial and eventually triumphantly caught sight of the sea and a metaphorical haul of Oscars at the Academy Awards.
We had an invitation from our nephew Egbert and his fiancé Minty to join them for the weekend at the de Vere family weekend retreat above Aberdovey, which in terms of charm is to neighbouring caravan-strewn Towyn as sedate Hove is to raffish Brighton, but much more so.
You may recall Egbert is the oldest of the Snaffle boys, the offspring of the Mem’s widowed sister Bunty. Minty is the youngest of the de Vere girls and has been betrothed to lucky young Egbert for six months now.
Treflan House has been the de Vere family holiday home and bolt-hole for several generations and the Mem and I spent a very convivial weekend there. It was a perfect base for walks on the beach and glorious countryside, a spot of golf, general intake of fresh air and relaxation.
To thank our young hosts for their hospitality we took them on Saturday evening to the Penhelig Arms which enjoys a prime location on Aberdovey’s sea front.
The Penhelig Arms is highly thought of locally and a booking is essential at most times of year. Its restaurant is well-reviewed in the various guides and was named UK wine pub of the year by the Good Pub Guide in 2006 and 9th in the Top 100 UK Restaurant wine lists by Neville Blech.
So we arrived at 7.30 with high expectations and sat in the bar for pre-dinner drinks and perusal of the menu.
The wine list was an interesting read and offered something for most palates, both new and old world. Personal favourites such as Cloudy Bay chardonnay and sauvignon blanc featured with a fair mark-up. This list alone was enough to make one want to return. Help was on hand with the recommendation of a reasonably priced white wine to accompany dinner.
The front of house staff were pleasant and welcoming although a family group sitting nearby pointedly switched from English to Welsh as soon as we incomers came in. Chatting happily, we enjoyed our pre-dinner drinks whilst looking through the Bwydlen y nos/Evening menu which stated that who was cooking that night and confirmed Dim ysmygu/No smoking.
On this Saturday evening, the dining room was full and busy. Décor was muted in the modern manner but lifted by many paintings by local artists.
To begin the Mem chose grilled Pantysgawn goat’s cheese with roast peppers and a Mediterranean vegetable chutney. She found the cheese savoury without being too strong and lifted by both accompaniments: a more-ish starter.
Minty's chicken liver parfait with apple and cider chutney was served with melba toast. Again, this was appetising without being too heavy. The parfait was silky smooth and rich but not cloying.
Both Egbert and I pushed the boat out and each enjoyed six Rossmore oysters served on ice (at a £2.50 supplement). The oysters were fresh and tasted of the sea. They were simply accompanied by lemon and bottled tabasco. I would also have liked some chopped shallots in red wine vinegar too, but this did not detract from my enjoyment.
Other starters on an appropriately fish-dominated list included roast pepper and garlic soup, pan fried salmon and sweet potato fishcake, fillets of mullet, dressed crab salad and sardines grilled with dill and lemongrass.
The main courses included a good mix of meat and fish. Minty and I felt like steak and notwithstanding a £6 supplement chose chargrilled Welsh Black fillet served with béarnaise sauce and fries. The steak was of good quality and flavour and cooked as ordered – in my case, medium and bloodily rare for Minty.
From an impressive offering of fish, Egbert chose pan-fried Scottish halibut with a prawn veloute. The halibut was fresh, firm and simply cooked leaving the flavour to speak for itself. The veloute was light and did not distract from the fish.
The Mem has had a weakness for hake after falling for “merluza” in Spain and enjoyed her fillet of Cornish hake grilled with a light and colourful accompaniment of Moroccan spices, peppers and lime.
The only reservation about the main course was the accompanying small panache of rather dull vegetables, which was at odds with the high quality of the fish. Perhaps it was just a busy night.
Other fish dishes included seared scallops and crevettes and whole black sea bream (both at a £6 supplement), roast loin of cod, chargrilled tuna and fried haddock in batter.
Carnivorous options included pan fried pork, the “Pen” burger made from Welsh Black rump steak, lamb’s liver and roast rack of local lamb (esgairgyfela Aberdyfi).
The Moseley’s, Snaffles and De Veres have notoriously healthy appetites and, as ever, we all managed puddings/pwdins. Selecting tarts with locally made vanilla ice-cream, Egbert and I had no difficulty in finding room for treacle, whilst the Mem enjoyed a sharpish caramelised lemon.
We accompanied pudding with a delightful Essencia Orange Muscat from California which tasted deliciously of apricots and bittersweet orange marmalade.
Minty wanted to try the selection of cheeses served with celery, fruit chutney and biscuits (at a supplement of £3.50). These included Cropwell Bishop Stilton, Gorwydd Caerphilly, Ragstone (a goat’s scheese), Pont Gar blue (a soft organic in the style of brie) and Stinking Bishop (as in Wallace & Grommit); a tasty, well-presented and interesting selection.
At the end of an enjoyable evening we tottered back to Treflan House after a good dinner, well-served in pleasant surroundings.
The Penhelig Arms offers a wide selection of excellent wines and dishes using good quality ingredients, sourced as locally as possible. We can well understand why it is so popular and successful.
Written in September 2006
The Penhelig Arms, Aberdovey
Telephone: 01654 767215 Fax: 01654 767690
The Old Butchers in Stow-on- the-Wold
I have to admit that we were both finding Moseley Towers a tad stifling in the record heat this July. In view of this, we were delighted to accept an invitation from the Mem’s sister Bunty for a long weekend at the Titterton family home in Snitterton in verdant Warwickshire.
It would be pleasant to potter about the shady gardens and down the odd Pimms whilst the girls caught up on all the gossip – or whatever it is they rattle on about.
So, with me in my best linen jacket and Panama and the Mem, a vision floating in chiffon, we pointed the Hillman Minx post haste in the direction cool and leafy Arden.
Friday and Saturday passed very pleasantly and the Mem and I proposed to take our hostess to lunch on Sunday by way of thank–you. Having read some good reviews, we thought we would cross the county line towards Gloucestershire and the Cotswolds and try The Old Butchers in Stow-on-the-Wold.
A table for five was booked for Sunday at 1.15p.m. The Moseley party would comprise the Mem and myself, sister Bunty, her only son Egbert and his vivacious fiancée, Minty de Vere.
We had always been on good terms with the de Vere’s and had known their youngest, Minty since she was a tot. With a famously good hunting seat and the formidable de Vere child-bearing hips, we all felt Minty was the perfect match for Egbert. Everyone agreed she was a good sort and would be a positive addition to the family.
Our journey through the Sunday drivers pottering around the Cotswolds was slow but uneventful, including the usual crawl through traffic lights before entering Stow-on-the-Wold. The neat centre with its yellow-stone buildings was full of tourist coaches and many visitors from the Far East. On a sunny day pubs and cafes seemed to be doing a roaring trade.
As rather given away by its name, The Old Butchers was exactly that. There is a smallish frontage to Park Street with tables and umbrellas outside which were fully occupied during our visit.
We were shown to a table at the rear of the restaurant with cushions on benches on the wall on two sides. This afforded a good view of the room and helped people watching and was convenient for the loos.
The decor was fresh with a tiled floor and muted painted walls lifted by various food-themed posters, prints and pictures. There were huge white lilies on the bar. Music played unobtrusively in the background – so inoffensive was it that afterwards none of our party could remember what it was.
Our drinks order was taken quickly. This is a very good thing. We thanked our hostess by starting off with a nicely chilled bottle of Veuve Cliquot NV (£45), which gave the meal a celebratory edge.
The menu is fairly short – also in a good way - offering a choice of eight or so starters, mains and puddings. We were told that everything was cooked to order and certainly no ping of a microwave was ever heard.
The wine list is impressive and offers something for most palates, including reasonably priced house wines by the glass or bottle.
To begin we selected a Cote du Rhone Viognier Vidal Fleury 2004. At £23.50, this was fair value and did not disappoint. Our chosen red was a Chateau De Gaillat Graves 2000 which accompanied our main courses perfectly and again was not unreasonably priced at £26.
To start the Mem and Egbert ordered duck confit with onion marmalade, which they declared superb with crispy skin and moist, flavoursome flesh. Bunty toyed with a globe artichoke simply presented with a small bowl of vinaigrette. This was a light and summery way to start the meal and suited her perfectly.
Young Minty surprised us by opting for a rather robust pork rillette served in a largish quenelle with pickles and mustard. It tasted of pork – as it should - and was lifted by its accompaniments. She was a little over-faced by the portion. Paradoxically this might have been helped by the addition of Melba toast or bread to eat with the dish.
For the first time, I chanced my arm and ordered steak tartar. It was traditionally constructed, but already had the raw egg yolk incorporated. It was served in a saucer shape topped with chopped onion and anchovies. I was thrilled with my daring choice. It was moist and savoury with a tang of tabasco and cool without being chilled. It made an excellent starter on a warm Sunday.
Other appetisers included potato and foie gras soup, grilled chicken Caesar salad and prosciuttio crudo with Italian melon. Unfortunately the spinach and scallop salad was very popular; supplies had run out by the time we arrived.
Starters were priced between £6.00 and £7.50 and main courses between £11.50 and £13.00. These included seabass, plaice, pork chop, breast of duck and saffron and courgette risotto.
For mains sister–in-law Bunty and I followed the host’s recommendation and went for roast sirloin of beef with Yorkshire pudding. The beef was medium rare but was a quality product, full of flavour and served in delicious gravy. The Yorkshire was large and fluffy and wasn’t just air and crunch as in some restaurants. This was served with a small side dish of carrots, cabbage and roast potatoes, all of which were good.
The Mem and Minty chose calves liver with aged balsamic and sage. This was sweet and tender and thankfully not overcooked. It was served with creamed potatoes and wilted spinach. Egbert enjoyed a slow cooked lamb shank served with red wine and sultanas and a kind of quince jelly. The lamb fell from the bone. This was the kind of comfort food Egbert adores and Minty will need to master.
Merry and unashamed we all wanted dessert which we accompanied with an excellent bottle of De-Bortoli VAT 5 Botrytis Semillon 2002 (£13.50). Bunty and I adored our panna cotta with raspberries, lifted by a splash of grappa. The consistency was just right, beautifully speckled with vanilla seeds.
Chocoholic as ever, the Mem found room for a warm chocolate and polenta cake and was pleasantly surprised by its lightness. Minty had no difficulty in accommodating a raspberry-based Eton mess, whilst Egbert also coped admirably with a simple affogato of vanilla ice cream drenched with an authentic expresso.
After coffees and teas we tottered out blinking into the sunshine disgracefully, some time after 4.00.
We had all enjoyed our visit to the Old Butchers. It is Australian-run and all the better for it - being relaxed, unfussy and pleasant yet professional and good value. The range of dishes and wines is admirable and the cooking accomplished. There is an emphasis on robust flavours and letting good ingredients speak for themselves. The Mem and I wish it was closer to home.
Written on 31 July 2006
The Old Butchers, Park Street, Stow-on-the-Wold, Gloucestershire GL54 1AQ
Telephone: 01451 831700
Tea in the Promenade at The Dorchester
I know I quoted A.A.Gill recently and – after the next paragraph - will try not to do it again.
Despite the case that might be put for several other worthies, anyone interested in the craft of food criticism has to admit that when it comes to opining on victuals, Mr Gill is the head honcho, big cheese or, as they say at Arsenal, le grand saucission.
Even when he’s wrong, which happens occasionally, he has the grace to do it amusingly.
A case in point is an aside in his critique of the sub-Brigadoon makeover of the Grill Room. On his way though The Dorchester on a mission to search and destroy the camp décor of the Grill, he took a side swipe at the innocently by-standing Promenade. He designated it a “lobby…still a dingy archipelago of artificially enhanced sofas and pot plants, with one of the pianists that makes you want to proclaim a fatwa on musical theatre” featuring a “lazy left-hand rendition of Bess, You Is My Woman Now played to a semi comatose, jet lagged family of Kuwaitis come for the new kidney”.
Apart from forever summing up a large part of the clientele of The Dorchester with uncanny accuracy, Mr Gill on this occasion sold the Promenade a tad short. My ten points of difference or praise to put the record straight are:
1. The Promenade is quite attractive with pillars, gilding and quality furnishings. It may not be to everyone’s taste, but “dingy lobby” it ‘aint.
2.The pianist is very accomplished and anything but lazy. During our tea he stopped no less than three times to play happy birthday to guests with evident enthusiasm. It may not be cool, but it made some customers' day - which is what should count.
3.The sofas and chairs are smart and extremely comfortable.
4.The pot plants are perfectly presentable
5.The staff are charming and helpful.
6.Afternoon tea is a real treat, well-served and with quality ingredients, including an excellent range of teas.
7.Scones are fresh and light and the fancy cakes are exactly that.
8.The rhubarb jam served with the scones is memorably good.
9.Tea is served on pristine Limoges china, which adds to enjoyment.
10. Unlike other teas in some of London’s leading hotels, the Promenade is generous in offering “seconds” of sandwiches and cakes and topping-up tea. Guests are treated as adults to be shown hospitality rather than as ravening hordes to be fleeced and seen off the premises
As far as the Mem and I are concerned the Promenade, its staff and pianist deserve high praise - even if many of the customers are jet-lagged and waiting for the kidney.
Written in July 2006
“Life doesn’t get much better than this” I said to the Mem as we sat in the taxi on the short journey from the theatre to the restaurant.
We had just enjoyed Judi Dench give a master class in comedy in “Hay Fever” at the Haymarket and were now off for supper at The Ivy.
We started going to the Ivy many years ago, long before celebrity culture or the Beckhams were born. We were first attracted by its theatrical mystique and the ghost of all those after-rehearsals lunches for Noel Coward and his entourage.
We also enjoyed the food and lively, bohemian atmosphere. Nowadays it has glamour and theatricality in spades and the food is still splendid.
On this Wednesday night we arrived before our table was free and sat in the small bar area for ten minutes or so enjoying a flute of Theophile champagne.
We were then shown to our table in the centre of the room. We understand that the left hand side on entry has most cachet and higher celebrity count and were pleased just to be seated and to enjoy the happy ambiance for the rest of the evening.
In some ways, the menu at the Ivy is a hymn in praise of comfort food. There is something to please even the most jaded.
It is split into eleven or so sections covering hors d’oeuvres, soups, shellfish, egg, pasta and rice, fish, roasts and grills and entrees. Vegetables, potatoes and salads, cheese and savouries, desserts and puddings and coffees and teas bring up the rear.
On sitting down, a further drinks order was taken and we ordered a premier cru Chablis from 2003 at £44.50.
From the hors d’oeuvres we could have dishes such as steak tartare, mixed sashimi or tempura-fried squid (between £7.00 and £11.75). Even more luxuriously there was sevruga or beluga caviar (from £45 to £160) or sautéed foie gras (£15.75).
Late on a warm evening, we chose our starters from the shellfish section, which offered a range of lobster, oyster and prawn dishes. The Mem opted for dressed Dorset crab with celeriac remoulade, which was the epitome of cool freshness and flavour. I was very pleased with my three Orkney scallops served in their shells with garlic and parsley. The scallops were purest white and sweet and one of the most pleasurable dishes for years. The chablis went very well with both crab and scallops.
Our main courses came from the roast and grills section which contained dishes ranging from the Ivy Hamburger with dill pickle and club sauce ( £9.75) up to the Castle Mey rib steak (£26.50) and roast Poulet des Landes with Madeira jus and dauphin potato for two persons (£38.50).
Here the Mem chose her favourite Ivy dish of grilled calf’s liver served on buttery mash with crispy bacon and sage jus (£17.50). She found the liver tender and flavoursome and the bacon so thin and crisp it melted in the mouth.
I couldn’t resist the slow roasted organic pork belly (£14.75) which was presented on fresh peas, orange and smoked bacon. Pork nowadays is so often a bland, cotton-wool, flavour-free zone, but this actually tasted of something.
We shared side orders of creamed spinach and parmesan fried courgette flowers and tomato relish. Both went beautifully with the liver and pork and disappeared all too quickly.
For dessert, I loved my vanilla roasted peaches (£6.50) which were served with amaretto ice cream, whilst the Mem enjoyed gooseberry pie with clotted cream. The pastry on her pie was crisp and light and really made the dish.
From the first bite to the last, our supper at the Ivy was delightful. The place has its own convivial buzz and the service is prompt and helpful. It is a fabulous place for people-watching, whether celebrity or not.
The discretionary service charge of 12.5%, added automatically to the bill seems in order. My only negative is the slightly anachronistic £2 per head cover charge still levied.
As we left well after midnight we noted drivers waiting in Bentley turbos parked along the narrow road and a huddle of four or five expectant photographers on the pavement opposite. I couldn’t resist asking the doorman who they were waiting for. He explained that Jennifer Ellison, formerly of Brookside and Hell’s Kitchen and currently appearing in Chicago, was about to leave. When I looked a bit non-plussed he commented “Well, it sells papers” and bade us good night. A very good night it was, too.
Written in July 2006
The Ivy, 1, West Street, London WC2H 9NQ
Telephone: 020 7836 4751 Fax: 020 7240 9333
The Grill Room at The Dorchester
I’m never frightened to admit I’m a fan. Once an actress has really captured my imagination, I enjoy following her from one role to the next. For me, the sublime Judi Dench wins by short head over feisty Julie Waters and the captivating Joanna Lumley.
As a bit of a foodie, I’m much the same with food writers. Each Saturday morning, the first thing I turn to is Giles Coren’s column in the Times magazine, followed by Jan Moir in the Telegraph.
On Sundays, it’s A.A.Gill in the Style section of the Times followed by Michael Winner on the back of the News Review.
Although, I’m a fan I do have a mind of my own and don’t blindly accept the critic’s verdicts as tablets of stone.
The Mem and I are long-time fans of the Grill Room at the Dorchester. We always considered it one of the dining rooms in London with its lofty gilded ceiling and hangings and furnishings that transported one to a castle in Spain.
Complimenting the impressive décor was a great kitchen and excellent service of the old school, both charming and competent.
No one could deny that the carte at the Grill was expensive, but the daily set lunch was a well-kept secret and a bargain. For £23 it included a choice of three starters, mains and desserts - and featured a lot of trolleys.
The bread trolley was excellent and the stilton bread “historic”.
We always opted for beef served from the trolley.
Dessert also came from a many-tiered trolley, which was truly a thing of almost baroque beauty. Ignoring the sumptuous jellies and flans, we invariably selected the incomparable crème brulee, accompanied by a few Scottish raspberries and a splash of cream. It all combined to make the perfect lunch.
It was with great sadness – no, more like depression - that on Sunday mornings in Moseley Towers, we read Michael Winner’s several accounts of the deterioration in standards at our beloved Grill.
On account of this we put off our usual summer visit, not wanting to tarnish happy memories.This feeling of foreboding was compounded by A.A.Gill’s review of what he described as “the shrieking horror of the newly done-over Grill Room”. This very funny piece concluded that the Grill had, with great panache, been transformed into the most laughably hideous dining room in London, probably Europe, the globe, the galaxy, history, eternity, ever…including Stow on the Wold.
We arrived in London earlier than anticipated and felt like lunch. At such short notice we were unable to obtain a table at The Wolseley- notwithstanding their much-vaunted policy of holding tables back to be released each day.
Holding our breath, we tentatively asked the pleasant grey-suited young lady standing at a lectern outside the Grill Room if they had a table and were seated immediately. We were warmly greeted by staff familiar to us from previous visits and placed centrally with a good view of half the restaurant.
The room seemed to have more subdued lighting than before and the new design by Thierry Despont certainly majored on things Scottish with tartan carpet, chair covers and banquettes and large bright red buttoned velvet settee backs against the principal walls, which were painted in a kind of ochre.
The room’s most striking feature, however, was a series of extremely large murals of lads and lassies being ebullient and Scottish, swathed in yard upon yard of billowing tartan and the odd bonnet and feather. They all seemed very pleased with themselves and, to be honest, the overall effect was a tad unsettling and not exactly an aid to digestion.
The esteemed Mr Gill referred to the "whole glorious catastrophe" variously as "Prestwick airport" , "Brigadoon hell" and “Cally camp”. He was about right.
Trying to ignore the jaw-dropping impact of the décor, we scanned the menu. The a la carte still offered mouth-watering dishes at eye-watering prices.
Appetisers included oak smoked wild Scottish salmon (£18), seared scallops with squid risotto and grilled asparagus (£18.50) and Denham estate venison burger with quail’s egg, griottine cherries, shallot puree and port (£16.50).
Main courses were mostly between £23 and £30 and included roast sea bass fillet, Dover sole, seared tuna and rack of new season lamb.
Being on a fixed income nowadays, we were very pleased to find the menu of the day intact.We drank excellent chardonnay spritzers and bottled water and were offered an interesting range of breads. We were delighted to be able to choose our old favourite, stilton bread. It was still historic, even without a trolley.
To begin, the Mem chose a tart fine of sardines with avocado, tomato and basil. The base was light and crisp. The sardines were fresh, plump and tasty and the accompaniments lifted the dish into a very more-ish starter.I began with what was described as a coarse country terrine. It wasn’t as rustic as it sounds, being quite smooth. It was served with onion marmalade and a large hunk of toasted brioche. This was a fair portion and a delicious way to begin my meal.
The other starter on offer was gazpacho with lemon oil, which would have been suitable on such a warm summer’s day.
Main courses included thinly sliced rump of veal with onion puree, white beans and summer truffles and grilled sea bream with cockles, spaghetti, white wine, chilli and garlic, both of which sounded tempting.
For old time’s sake, however, we couldn’t resist the Angus beef from the trolley. It was offered medium-to-well or rare-to-medium and was accompanied by enormous Yorkshire pudding, gravy, carrots and roast potatoes. Mustards and horse radish sauce came in three ramekins on a plate.
The generous portions of beef were cheerfully carved at the table and were as good as on previous occasions, although the carrots were on the hard side of al dente.
After a happy walk down memory lane with our roast beef, we learned to live without the sweet trolley and chose tarts from the menu: one of Vahlrona chocolate and the other of apple on a crisp pastry base. Both were delicious, if falling short of the legendary crème brulee and raspberries of yore.
We left the Grill Room with mixed feelings. The staff were as attentive and welcoming as ever and the cooking and presentation were still refined and clever.
The menu of the day remained good value and we had enjoyed our meal, all the more for its spontaneity.
We realise sadly however that it is probably no longer economic for establishments like the Grill Room to carry such a large staff as before with each grade demarcated by lounge suit, tail coat or white or dark waiter’s jacket. With such things we now expect to lose marvellous anachronisms like the bread and sweet trolleys.
What really did get under our skins was the sheer folly of scrapping the grand and beautiful old Grill Room and substituting something so entirely ersatz and irrelevant. The new décor is distracting and rather silly. The Grill Room, its staff and long-standing customers deserved better.
Written in July 2006
The Grill Room, The Dorchester, Park Lane, London W1A 2HJ
Telephone 0207 629 8888
Lunch menu of the day:two course £25; three course £27.50
Gordon Ramsay at Claridges - twice
The Mem and I are of a generation for whom coming up to Town meant staying at Claridge's. In our day there was a “Season” and there were “Dances”, held for young people of a similar background to dance and meet their future spouses.
It has always been so central and convenient for shops, theatres and restaurants.Today, Claridge's is more than the favoured base for those venturing up from the country or darkest provinces.
As well as being the epitome of five stars, I gather from newspapers and magazines it is now fashionable or “cool”.The Mem tells me that it is frequented by stylish luminaries such as Madonna and Kate Moss.
Be that as it may, we like Claridge's because it is smart and a cut-above - starting from its art deco foyer and glamorous black and white tiled lobby. They always prompt the Mem to remark in a very Sunset Boulevard-ish kind of way about needing “tiles to tango” and to bustle off coquettishly towards the restaurant.
Unfortunately on the occasion of our visit this week – on one of the hottest evenings in July – Claridge's was not exactly the epitome of cool.
As we entered the hotel, it seemed its usual chic self. The lounge leading to the restaurant, however, set a very different tone. It resembled the club class lounge of Dubai airport during an air traffic controllers' strike. Although the pianist tinkled Gershwin as usual, the room was seemed over-warm and stuffed with ladies in headscarves and plump children leaning over small tables devouring plates of club sandwiches, whilst surrounded by brimming shopping bags.
The feel of this room is usually sparse, cool and elegant. It encourages one to linger over a glass of pink champagne and nibbles before dinner. Tonight, however, it was just the opposite. One hurried through in the hope that things might be more comfortable in the restaurant.
Previous visits had taught us not even to think of asking to be seated beyond the lounge in the small bar area serving the restaurant. As ever, there were several empty tables, but each had a “Reserved” sign. None of these tables appeared to become occupied at any point during the evening, but this is a mysterious apartheid that we have never deciphered and have ceased to worry over.
Once we had checked in with the maitre d’, things started to look up. We were shown across the busy restaurant to a table for two on the wall opposite the entrance. This afforded a view of most of the room so important for people-watching.
Over an aperitif of chilled rose champagne, we conjectured that the larger round tables were occupied by teams of lawyers and accountants celebrating deals or bonuses. The odd table- for-two comprised Japanese merchant bankers with a taste for expensive claret headhunting female analysts or other talent. There was evidently some deal making and a lot of schmoozing on expenses. We felt like the only diners paying for ourselves out of taxed income.
On previous visits to Gordon Ramsay at Claridge's, we have opted for the menu prestige, which enables one to sample a range of signature dishes. Currently this includes a ballotine of foie gras marinated in Beaume de Venise, roasted sea scallops and, for mains, a choice of steamed line-caught sea bass or best end of new season Oxfordshire lamb followed by banana and coconut bavarois and peanut butter parfait with milk mousse.
Tempted though we were by this cornucopia, the evening was far too hot for such excess and we confined ourselves to the a la carte menu…not that this proved to be any hardship.
Our helpful waiter confirmed that Claridge's was experiencing problems with the air conditioning that evening. I confess that I did find it necessary to loosen my tie a little.We enjoyed the complimentary dips served in tiny mini saucepans.
Then, to start the meal we both opted for the chilled Charentais melon soup with tiger prawns and basil vinaigrette, a version of which begins the menu prestige. The soup was colourful, cooling and delicious and the prawns succulent and subtly dressed. It made a perfect start to a summer dinner.
Other starters included combos of braised Gloucester pork belly and langoustines and carpaccio and marinated blue fin tuna. There was also marinated sea bass, Cromer crab salad, bouillon of smoked ham and a risotto of spring truffles.
We found all the main courses appealing. In addition to the items on the menu prestige, there was steamed fillet and roasted cheek of monkfish, lemon sole and black bream with clam provencale.
For carnivores there was Gressingham duck, port roasted pigeon and pork cheeks cooked in honey and cloves.
The Mem chose braised Cornish turbot with Oscietra caviar, sautéed iceberg lettuce, root vegetables and a coriander veloute. This came with a £12 supplement. As might be expected, the kitchen had done justice to the king of fishes. The turbot was meaty yet delicate and enhanced even further by the quenelle of caviar and silky smooth saucing.
I rarely choose chicken when dining out, but on a hot summer’s evening felt like the famous Label anglais chicken en vessie, which had been poached in its own juices. This was served on a citrus braised endive with sautéed potatoes and a Grand Marnier jus. This dish really hit the spot with the chicken full of flavour as I had hoped, lifted even further by the citric sweet and sour of the endive; it really worked for me.
Throughout the meal we found the service slick and professional. Dishes were described fully but not too fulsomely and served with deftness and flair.
For desert, the Mem chose a lime leaf crème brulee with a salad of blackberries and eau de vie sorbet. We questioned whether three blackberries constituted a “salad”, but the dish was pleasant and undemanding. When my spoon cut into my Vahlrona chocolate and hazelnut fondant, the glossy chocolate sauce oozed out very satisfyingly and merged with the delicious accompaniment of feuillante and milk ice cream. The Moseleys do like a good pudding.
We decided against coffees, but enjoyed ice cream and chocolate petit fours which concluded the meal.
It was slightly unfortunate to miss out on the stellar menu prestige, but the carte certainly did not disappoint. With its impeccable cooking and stylish service, Gordon Ramsay at Claridge's is ideal for a special occasion.
One further incident springs to mind. The day before leaving Moseley Towers for London, we received a telephone call to confirm details of our booking.
I’m sure we all agree that this is good practice for both the restaurant and customer. The only discordant note, however was a reminder at the end of the call that dress was required to be smart and that sports clothing was not allowed.
As you might imagine I’m a suit and tie man and the Mem is a vision in chiffon and pearls on such occasions. I had no intention of turning up in my swimming togs, nor did the Mem propose to revisit her netball skirt and blouse. Given the ineffective air conditioning and sweltering heat at Claridge's that evening, perhaps we would have been more comfortable if we had!
Postscript: The Mem and I have just returned from another foray to London, this time to celebrate my birthday and again dined at Gordon Ramsay at Claridges. On this evening the air conditioning seemed to be working well!
We had booked a table for two for 8.45 on a Saturday evening in late September. Arriving early, we enjoyed an aperitif in the fumoir and then moved to the less smoky bar area immediately outside the restaurant.
On time, we were shown to the same table for two on the far wall with an excellent view of the room, perfect for people-watching.
Feeling much more comfortable than last time, we opted for the Menu Prestige which offered six courses.
The meal began well with a delicate bouillon of smoked ham hock with autumn vegatables and a single pease pudding tortelli.
This was followed by a ballotine of foie gras marinated in white port with pickled mushrooms served with a properly warm toasted brioche. The ballotine was silky smooth and savoury and was given an unusual background edge by the white port.
A single roasted sea scallop was sliced into three and served with a sprinkling of nicely dressed carrot, pine nuts and capers. This was fresh take on the dish with the caramelised sweetness of the scallop balanced interestingly by the capers and tangy dressing.
Although the menu featured alternative main courses of steamed line caught sea bass or roast breast of Gressingham duck, we opted for the evening's "special" of roast fillet of venison served with a chocolate sauce.
The chef recommended the venison medium rare and that's how we ordered it. The dish was a complete triumph with the venison a darkish pink and melting in the mouth enhanced by a literally mouthwatering sauce and perfectly executed and balanced acompaniments of wild mushrooms, beetroot and fondant-like potaotoes. To steal a phrase, this dish was double historic.
Puddings included a zingy and refreshing white peach and champagne soup with raspberry sorbet served in a shot glass followed by a super smooth blackberry parfait with a sinful mascarpone ice cream.
Staff, including the helpful somelier, were attentive and pleasant throughout and thoroughly slick and professional.
The evening was made even more interesting by the presence of Gordon Ramsay in his chef's whites visiting the dining room to talk to various customers.
The menu prestige may have been costly but was perfectly conceived, executed and delivered; it made this evening a special occasion too.
Written in July and September 2006
Gordon Ramsay at Claridge's, Brook Street, London W1 2JQ
Telephone: 020 7499 0099 Fax: 020 7592 1213
Menu Prestige Six courses £75
A La Carte Three courses £65
Discretionary 12.5% service charge
The Red Lion at Claverdon
What ho readers! It was a drizzly May morning at Moseley Towers and, over our mid-morning coffee and Mr Kipling bakewell slice, the Mem and I decided we needed perking up.
A few weeks ago we had enjoyed lunch at the refurbished Cross in Kenilworth and promised ourselves then that we would sample the delights of its newly opened sister gastro-pub, The Red Lion at Claverdon. Today seemed opportune to indulge ourselves.
Having booked on the telephone, we pointed the Hillman Minx towards Henley-in-Arden and then turned left through verdant Warwickshire to leafy Claverdon.
We arrived in good time for lunch at the appointed hour of 12.30 and deposited the Minx in the spacious car park.
Once inside, we were shown to our table, given menus and asked for a drinks order. I do like it when the order is taken early and the drinks are served promptly. We could sip our house champagne, nibble fresh onion bread dipped in olive oil and balsamic vinegar and relax whilst looking through the extensive menu.
The dishes on offer here were diverse and imaginative with something to tempt most palates.
The décor at The Red Lion was not unlike The Cross, with wooden floors, framed prints and silhouettes on the walls and the signature grey paint in evidence.
The room was less spacious and tables were much closer together than at its sister establishment and initially the bass line of the piped music was a tad obtrusive. When the place filled up, however, the sound was absorbed more and was less noticeable.
Starters included roast local goat’s cheese, fig tart with a lemon vinaigrette, a gratin of pan-fried mushrooms, chicken liver pate and Moroccan barbeque lamb with hummus and feta salad.
The Mem enjoyed a salad of Salcombe crab with crème fraiche. This comprised a largish quenelle of crab and a delicate circle of leaves and was a light and refreshing beginning to the meal.
I opted for pan-fried scallops from the daily specials. Three plump and sweet scallops were served with braised lettuce, confit tomato and crisp bacon. I usually choose scallops to begin if available and wasn’t disappointed on this occasion – although it was the most expensive at £7.95.
Other starters from the specials included grilled sardines, goujons of sole, seared smoked salmon and crispy chicken skewers with peanut, white radish and carrot.
We were similarly spoiled for choice as regards the nine main courses. One could opt for Tandoori roasted chicken breast, slow braised lamb shank, Gloucester Old spot pork, free range veal escalope and battered Cornish haddock.
Vegetarian options included a warm salad of wood roasted vegetables and chick pea, red lentil and vegetable lasagne.
The Mem and I both stuck to the main menu this time. My half Gressingham duck with tamarind glaze had a slightly Chinese edge and was served with stir fry bok choi, pickled cucumber and roasted new potatoes. The duck came as a leg and pinkish thick sliced breast; it was delicious.
The Mem pushed the boat out and chose a 16oz. Aberdeen Angus rump steak served with roast vine tomatoes, fresh onion rings and home-made chips served in a paper cornet. The steak resembled a thick and very large rib eye and was served medium as requested. The Mem enjoyed her steak although she found 16 ounces probably too much for lunch!
We shared a side dish of rocket, parmesan and red onion salad in which the parmesan was particularly more-ish.
The day’s specials were also tempting, including pan fried sea bass, roast cod, roasted calamari, whole lemon sole and seared red marsala swordfish. The accompaniments ranged from bocconchini mozzarella, garlic flageolet beans and grilled asparagus and beets to mustard-fried wild mushrooms.
Rather than choose from the list which contained a mix of French and new world wines, we drank another glass of house champagne with our main courses (at £4.75) ; it was cold, dry, fizzy and a great mood enhancer on a gloomy Wednesday.
The self indulgence continued with excellent puddings from a list that included chocolate cheese cake, blackberry and mascarpone mousse, cardamom and mango panacotta and blueberry crème fraiche brulee.
The Mem enjoyed a cinnamon and rhubarb brioche with honey crème anglaise. This “upmarket custard” was delightful with visible black specks of vanilla.
I finished the meal happily with glazed lime tart with honey and ginger ice cream.
We were both cheered up by our lunch and considered it a treat. Service was cheerful and attentive. We noticed that a high chair was promptly brought for a baby at a nearby table without any fuss.
Prices corresponded with the better quality country pub restaurants in the area with starters mainly between £5 and £6.50, mains £13 to £16.50 and sweets mostly at £4.95.
I think the Red Lion will be very popular for al fresco meals. Outside the rear of the restaurant are many tables and sun umbrellas and a stunning view over rolling Warwickshire countryside. The new incarnation of this pub restaurant should be a great success.
Written: 17 May 2006
The Red Lion at ClaverdonStation Road, Claverdon, Near Warwick CV35 8PE
Reservations: 01926 842291
The Gourmet evening at Liaison
What ho, readers! This evening the Mem and I left the trusty old Hillman Minx in its garage at Moseley Towers and invested in a taxi for the relatively short distance from Oxford Road to Liaison in Hall Green.
As ever on Gourmet nights, the restaurant was full and the absence of cars on the limited parking space outside seemed to show that other diners had the same idea.
When we arrived at 8.30 or so the place was fairly buzzing and the hubbub of animated conversation didn’t seem to diminish through the evening.
We began with a glass of excellent house champagne whilst we admired the special menu and decided on our main courses. We later moved on to a crisp Sancerre from the varied wine list.
We began with an appetiser of chilled gazspacho with a bloody Mary crème fraiche. This was refreshing and really stimulated the taste buds; it was perfect for a sultry evening, although it might have been even more interesting with a little more punch – chilli or a little more vodka, perhaps.
Our second course was a skate wing and potato terrine with caper risotto and carrot and orange oil. The terrine had subtle flavours as did the creamy risotto and the whole was lifted by the occasional tang of capers and the unusual and gently citric oil, which also added colour to an otherwise beige plate.
Again one's mind again turned to how the dish might be lifted if one was more inclined towards stronger flavours; suggestions included the substitution of sweet potato for potato - assuming it had the body to support the delicate skate.
Our soup course was cockie leekie with a splash of colour from snipped chives. It was comfort food – a very upmarket version of Jewish penicillin with delicious chicken and a depth of flavour from the underlying stock. The Mem - a great aficionado of soup – declared this perfect.
Before our main course was a very interesting alternative to the usual elderflower or raspberry sorbet, which always seem a little too sweet. Tonight we were served gin’n’tonic sorbet with juniper berry syrup. This was a great success – the epitome of G & T in a chilled shot glass - which was pleasing to eat and cleansed the palate: an unqualified success.
For main course, I chose saddle of wild rabbit wrapped in Parma ham served with bruised baby gems and a honey mustard sauce. This was a delicate dish with the boned and rolled rabbit lifted by the savoury ham. I particularly enjoyed the baby gem lettuce, which had a slightly Chinese edge – probably due to the addition of five spice. The combination was lifted even further by the honey mustard sauce, which brought all the elements together.
The Mem selected tournedos of salmon with foie gras and vanilla and celeriac mash. The salmon was moist and full of flavour. The foie gras made an interesting, if not obviously harmonious, contrast.
Jan Moir of the Telegraph today called vanilla mash "modish"; I don't know about that, but vanilla and celeriac mash certainly did go well with salmon.
It’s always fun for a couple to choose alternative main courses and each to sample both. Tonight the rabbit prevailed.
The “cheese course” was an unusual feta and grape mousse served with a balsamic dressing. Again this was appropriate; it was light and fresh and avoided being too heavy late on in the meal.
The dessert was a summer pudding served with a red berry sorbet accompanied by a crème anglaise, separately served in individual sauce boats. This was an apt end to the meal and was well judged - neither too sweet nor too tart. We accompanied it with a glass of Vouvray, recommended by Ank, which was a revelation – a sophisticated pudding wine which was not at all cloying or over-sweet and with a delicate, slightly floral edge.
To finish we managed coffees and petit fours before our taxi arrived.
The evening had been fun in a convivial atmosphere. As ever, the welcome from Ank van der Tuin and her team had been pleasant and, on a busy night, service had been efficient.
The menu was varied and thoughtful with the clever touches that one has come to expect from Chef Patron, Patricia Plunkett and which have earned Liaison so many admirers.
Liaison Restaurant, 1558 Stratford Road, Hall Green, Birmingham B28 9HA
Telephone: 0121 733 7336 Fax 0121 733 1677
Gourmet dinner on 5th May 2006 £39.50 per head
*this article has appeared in Birmingham 13
Lambs of Sheep Street, Stratford Upon Avon
As I may have mentioned, the Mem hails from a proud Warwickshire family, the Tittertons of Snitterton.
Letty and Bunty Titterton were quite the leaders of the younger county set in the years between the wars, before I snapped Letty up and we sailed off to wedded bliss with the Regiment in Poona.
Shortly after her sister was hitched, Bunty married Peabody Snaffle, a local farmer. They had a son, Egbert and lived reasonably happily until Peabody’s fatal heart attack, just after the Germans' winning goal against England in Leon in 1970.
Over the years the Titterton girls remained close. They speak on the ‘phone every day and meet regularly.
This time it was our turn to travel, so we deposited the overnight case in the back of the Hillman Minx and popped over to Snitterton Hall for the weekend.
On the first evening, we thought it would be civil to repay our hosts' hospitality by taking them to dinner at Lambs in nearby Stratford.
Lambs of Sheep Street; now there’s a coincidence.
Our party comprised the Mem, Bunty, Egbert and myself.
We were welcomed cordially and given a round table for four in pole position by the front entrance.
The establishment is deceptively large with only a few tables on the ground floor but many more upstairs.
The menu offered seven or so starters, main courses and puddings with specials chalked up on a blackboard. We were given crisp bread and tapenade as an appetiser and white and brown bread.
We chose a very palatable rioja, Valdelamillo, from a varied and reasonably-priced list.To begin the Mem and the chaps went for a special: seared scallops with a small asparagus tart and beurre blanc. This was delicious and we wished the portion had been even larger.
Other starters included king prawns, crispy duck and watercress, salmon, red mullet and carpaccio of beef; some could be taken as main courses. Hoping to leave room for dessert, Bunty opted for a tomato juice.
Main courses included saddle of lamb, calve's liver, sea bass, cod and halibut. Bunty and I chose grilled rib-eye steak with hand cut chips and peppercorn sauce. The rib-eye was rare but of good quality and flavoursome. The sauce was a tad piquant, but we could have substituted the béarnaise which was served with the fillet.
The Mem enjoyed her fillet steak with rosti potato, Portobello mushroom and vine tomatoes.
Although remaining carnivorous, Egbert departed from steak by ordering roast duck breast with croquette potatoes, savoy cabbage and cassis sauce. The duck was served pink, but not too rare, and was lifted by the cassis sauce.
No-one could resist dessert. Both sisters opted for sticky toffee pudding with vanilla ice cream which was calorific comfort food.
I liked the Eton Mess of meringue and cream with banana rather than the usual strawberries and Egbert quietly polished off his crème brulee.
Decaffeinated cappuccinos were accompanied with little chocolates and made a pleasing finale.
We all enjoyed our meal and the convivial atmosphere. Background music was pleasant rather than irritating and service was efficient and accommodating.
It all added up to a relaxed way to start the weekend. Prices were not unreasonable with starters ranging from £4.50 to £7.50, mains mostly between £15.00 and £18.00 and puddings mainly at £5.95. All the customers seemed to leave smiling, which is a good sign. We too left smiling and look forward to returning to Lambs.
Written: 29 August 2006
Lambs of Sheep Street, Stratford Upon Avon CV37 6EF
Telephone number 01789 292554
The Cross at Kenilworth
T.S Elliot once wrote “April is the cruellest month”. I’m not sure why; compared to February it seems quite benign. It may have had something symbolic to do with Easter and all that, but it’s not something I’m going to ‘phone a friend about.
Whatever the deep psychological motivation, the Mem and I thought we needed cheering up and decided on a spot of lunch out.We duly dusted off the Hillman Minx and set off through leafy Warwickshire towards Kenilworth.
Gastronomically, Kenilworth has always been worth a visit - what with Simpsons before its newer and grander incarnation in Edgbaston and the classic French, Le Bosquet.
For lunch today however, we wanted to sample the fare at a gastro-pub, a breed of eaterie that seems to be flourishing in the county.
The frontage of The Cross, feet from New Street, is unprepossessing, but then again so is the Fat Duck at Bray, which hasn’t done Mr Blumenthal any harm.
There is ample parking to the rear and the entrance is from the car park. Don’t make our mistake and assume the entrance is at the front, find out it’s not and then have to walk sheepishly back pretending one had just been admiring the signage. It doesn’t look cool.
Once inside, we sat in the pleasant bar area for a glass of excellent house champagne. There is nothing more pleasurably extravagant than a glass of fizz before an illicit week-day lunch.
The décor is fresh, bright and neutral with prints and the odd plant; music plays discreetly in the background.
There is a menu of fourteen or so starters, some of which can be taken as main course and six or so mains, side orders of vegetables and salads and puddings. This is supplemented by daily specials with three or four more starters and main courses – mainly fish.
We were served fresh walnut bread, brasserie fashion, but given side plates on request.
I felt unusually fishy and opted for two of the specials – scallops classically served on cauliflower puree and black pudding and roast cod with sweet potato with wild mushrooms. Both dishes were delicious. The scallops sweet and not overcooked and the cod was meaty and complimented perfectly by the sweet potatoes, which were my dish of the day.
The Mem enjoyed a starter of roast field mushrooms on focaccia with melted Fontana cheese followed by calves liver, potato puree, spinach and pancetta. The liver was served medium without consultation, but was moist and full of flavour.
We couldn’t resist puddings and opted for chocolate brioche bread and butter pudding and a Baileys and vanilla cheesecake, both of which were light and a pleasant end to the meal.
The atmosphere at the Cross was relaxed and cheerful as was the prompt and helpful service.
Lunch was not cheap with starters mostly ranging between £4.50 to £6.50 and mains £14 to £16, but quality of ingredients, cooking, and presentation were first class.
The wine list was varied and reasonably priced, with some good new world wines.
As we drove back to Moseley Towers, the Mem and I were pleased with our lunch at the Cross and resolved to return to Arden to try its newly-opened sister gastro-pub, The Red Lion at Claverdon . Bon appetit!
Written: 25 April 2006
The Cross at Kenilworth, 16, New Street, Kenilworth, Warwickshire CV8 2EZ.
Reservations: 01926 853 840
Colonel Moseley on Restaurants
What ho!I had been planning to share with you my thoughts on political correctness, but last night over tiffin at Moseley Towers the Mem vetoed the idea and suggested that I confine myself to what she called "less combustible topics" - whatever that means.
So, not wanting to risk a court martial for insubordination, here are my current top ten gripes and objects of loathing and derision about retaurants:
1. Leaving open the gratuity section on the credit card slip after a hefty service charge has already been added,
2. The automatic addition of a "discretionary 15% service charge" - which isn't really discretionary,
3. Parents who dismally fail to control children in restaurants,
4. Waiters who come up to your table every five minutes pointlessly inquiring "If everything is alright?",
5. Waiters who pour too much wine, too often - just to increase sales,
6. Sommeliers who patronise or intimidate you into ordering a more expensive wine than you intend or can afford,
7. Restaurants requiring credit card details with a booking,
8. Front of house staff who keep you waiting for a table unnecessarily long after the booked time,
9. Front of housde staff who allocate a table next to the lavatories/waiter's station/kitchen door and only smile at you if they think you are Sienna Miller, Madonna or Jude Law, and
10. Chain smokers
Bon appetit! Pip, Pip!
* a version of this piece first appeared in Birmingham 13 - before smoking was prohibited in restaurants