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Member Since 16 Mar 2006
Offline Last Active Aug 14 2009 08:14 AM

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Restaurant Martin Wishart

20 September 2006 - 11:54 AM

Spent a long weekend in Edinburgh last week and took the opportunity to drop into Martin Wishart. The restaurant is located about 15 minutes drive away from the city centre, on the shore. It’s a pleasant room done out in greens and browns, but deathly quite when we arrived; we were the youngest diners by a good thirty years.

I’ll have to caveat this review by saying that we ate from the lunch menu, since we’re off to New York in less than 2 weeks and saving for some serious eating.

Having rushed straight from the airport we were late for our table, but FOH made nothing of it and were nothing less than charming throughout. We started with a platter of great canapés – a Roquefort sable topped with Roquefort cream; choux pastry puff filled with béchamel sauce; and a haggis ‘bon-bon’, which in reality was a spherical beignet. All were light and deftly seasoned.

BTW – the bread and butter were fantastic.

There are only 2 choices at each course on the lunch menu, and, Alex having ordered first, I took opposing dishes for the sake of variety.

Pumpkin Veloute with wild mushrooms and poached quails’ eggs

Into the –er months and here comes the pumpkin deluge. This was ok. Decent seasoning, lent depth of sweetness through the use of roasted pumpkin. Eggs were perfectly poached and released their yolks into the main body of the dish. The veloute itself was too grainy – more of a loosened puree than a veloute.

Calves liver, celeriac royal, pommes purees, caper jus

Terrible. All wrong in both conception and execution. First, the execution. Large tranche of liver was horribly overcooked, leaving it dry and tough. Mash was far too tight and dry. Celeriac came in the form of 3 ‘fingers’ atop the liver and added nothing to the dish. Conception: there was nothing but salt here. No sweetness or acidity to stand up to the liver, and the caper jus simply rendered the whole dish a briny mess. I really can’t see where this dish came from.

Plum tart tatin

On the basis of this and the canapés, the pastry chef was performing better than most. A really good dessert – light, crisp pastry indentured with beautifully caramelised plums. Atop this was a spoon of vanilla ice cream which seeped into the tart. I’m a total sucker for hot/cold dessert combinations.

In reality, the opposite half of the menu was better. Alex started with a venison tortellini with cauliflower puree – beautiful puree, ok pasta – I thought it was too thick, but then I have just been reading ‘Heat’. Followed by roast halibut with spaetzle and braised leeks – fish was beautifully cooked, little evidence of advertised mustard sauce.

We had a tour of the kitchen afterwards, and I was stunned. In the context of London kitchens, it was huge. They do 40-50 covers and the kitchen was at least 4 times the size of the Ledbury, which does 90ish. No doubt London chefs would kill for that space. I must admit that it left me even more disappointed with my lunch.

Lunch is priced at £22.50 for 3 courses; ALC is £50 for 3 courses; tasting is £60 for 6 (I think). Easily London 1-star prices, with the quality nowhere near. A shame.

If anyone has recent experience of ALC I’d be interested to hear about it.


15 June 2006 - 02:45 PM

Opened 1st of this month I think, in Camden. Anyone been?



16 May 2006 - 09:40 AM

Some of you may have been reading about this on other fora but I visited last night and thought it would be of interest.

We really liked the room. It’s light and airy, and once you’re sat down it really doesn’t feel like you’re in Soho. As you walk in there is a bar to your right, with place settings for eating there. The main body of the restaurant is around the other side of said bar, meaning that you come back on yourself into the larger space. We had a table for four just at the top end of the bar, looking down into the front space.

Once we’d settled in they offered us hunks of decent bread from a board.

Given the discount we went a little bit nuts. We each ordered 2 starters and a main. My own meal went as follows:

Crisp Braised Pig’s Head, potato puree, caramelized onion and garlic: Probably my favourite dish of the night. The thick slab of meat was meltingly soft, piggy, and gelatinous (in a good way). Had a nice touch of spice, too. Potato puree was good if a little stiff. I very much doubt that there is a more satisfying way to spend £5. Fantastic.

Slow Cooked Shoulder of Lamb ‘boulangère’, lamb sweetbreads, spiced dates, radish leaves: very nice. Alternating thin layers of potato and soft lamb topped with and encircled by the sweetbreads. My only criticism was that the boulangère was a hair too ‘potatoey’ for my tastes. It could have done with a touch more seasoning between the layers but texturally it was good. Sweetbreads were tasty little mouthfuls.

Probably a bad choice in the scheme of my meal but I couldn’t resist a main course of Pied at Pacquets (tripe parcels and trotters), soufflé potatoes: 2 quenelles of minced trotter alongside the 2 tripe parcels, with the potatoes arriving in a small dish alongside. The latter were akin to inflated crisps – round, crisp saucers of potato straight out of the hot oil. The crispness was welcome since the rest of the dish is rich, and moist. The trotter was redolent of the earlier braised head in its soft texture and meaty sweetness, hence my concerns about ordering these dishes in succession. Tripe parcels were relatively small in size (thank god) but big on taste: stocky and spicy, a sort of porcine oxtail.

Needless to say all plates were wiped clean by the consistent bread.

I also tried the following over the course of the evening. I won’t go into too much detail since I’m sure Andy Fenn will have his own comments.

Chicken oysters, macaroni, broad beans, lemon thyme and hazelnuts: I got a mouthful of this and I have to say it was pretty good. I thought perhaps there was too much nuttiness, but great texture on the oysters and the lemon thyme provided a welcome citrus note in the context of my own meal.

Squid and mackerel burger, BBQ sauce, vine cherry tomatoes: By far the weakest dish we had and a little out of place on this menu. There was plenty of fish in a rather pale patty, which had been laced with some oriental spice (I think a little ginger/coriander/spring onion), but otherwise it was a little bland. Needless to say it suffered by following upon the richer pork and lamb dishes.

Roast Rabbit, shoulder cottage pie, hispi cabbage, mustard sauce: again, very tasty. Cottage pie arrived in a little dish on the side, and was fantastic – probably the best element. I’ll let Andy give you his own thoughts on this.

Elwy Valley rump of lamb, tortellini of goats cheese, artichokes, tomato: very generous portion of bright pink meat skirted by a line of fat. This was actually one of the lighter dishes we had and benefited from the tart sweetness of the tomato.

We also ordered a couple of the mango desserts, which were good, but when Alphonso mangoes are around it’s hard not to put together something pretty tasty.

Overall, very impressed. For opening night, everything ran smoothly – even more impressive given our table’s slightly awkward ordering. The great selection of wines by the carafe gives you a chance to get a decent taste of a number of wines over the course of a meal, and will win them many friends. We had a relaxed, tasty meal, which even at full price would have been highly reasonable (the 3 dishes I had, at full whack, would weight in around £26). I’ll definitely be back. The full menu is as follows:

Soupe au pistou with Provençal olive oil 5.50
Warm cod brandade, young squid, sea purslane, parsley cromesqui 6.95
Crisp braised pigs head, potato purée, caramelized onion and garlic 5.00
Chicken sot-l'y-laisse (oysters), macaroni, broad beans, lemon thyme and hazelnuts 6.50
Slow cooked shoulder of lamb 'boulangère', lamb sweetbreads, spiced dates, radish leaves 7.50
Squid and mackerel burger 'a la plancha', barbecue sauce, vine cherry tomatoes 9.50
Salad of Jersey Royals, watercress, spring onions and goats curd 7.50
Smoked eel, pressed beetroot, horseradish cream, young leaves 10.50
English asparagus, soft boiled egg, vinaigrette, Parmesan 7.95

Salt beef 'pot au feu', spring vegetables, green sauce 13.50
Pied et pacquets (tripe parcels and trotters), soufflé potatoes 10.50
Roast Hereford beef rib, fat chips, shallot sauce (for 2 persons) TBC
Roast rabbit, shoulder cottage pie, Hispi cabbage, mustard sauce 13.95
Breast of veal lacquered with spices, butternut squash, cavolo nero 14.00
Poached and roasted chicken, tarragon gnocchi, garlic leaves, lemon and bacon 12.50
Elwy valley rump of lamb, tortellini of goats cheese, artichokes, tomato, Taggiascha olives 14.50
Fillet of pollack, spring greens, slow roasted onions, anchovy and rosemary 13.50
Sea bream, risotto of sea lettuce and cockles, light juice 12.00
Young Dover sole, field mushrooms 14.50 TBC
Puff pastry pithivier 13.00

Floating island with pink praline, custard 4.50
Vanilla crème brûlée, Breton biscuits, langue de chat 5.00
Classic cheesecake with strawberries, strawberry caramel 5.00
Warm chocolate soup, caramelized brioche, pecan nuts 5.00
Alphonso mango, empress rice, sorbet 6.00
Selection of ice cream and sorbets 4.50
Seasonal cheese served with a small salad 2.50 (per cheese)

Royal Hospital Road

02 April 2006 - 09:22 PM

Since there has been little movement on this place for a while, It thought I'd give my 2 cents. I’ll forgo any comments about the room and the service, since these have been adequately covered previously. To the food…

Thursday was my first visit to RHR. We booked a month in advanced. We trained hard, slogging through 1 and 2 star spots to prepare ourselves for Gordon’s golden goose. I took the day off work. This should have been big. This should have been something. This could have been a contender. I digress. We agonised: lunch or prestige menu? Heads or tails? Despite the flippancy of our coin toss, it was time to get serious.

An amuse bouche of pumpkin and parmesan soup arrived with a cute spoon-shaped biscuit. The soup was, well, pumpkin and parmesan soup – no more, no less. A swirl of truffle oil. A smattering of soggy mushrooms. Truffled butter.

I forwent the long-standing mosaique of foie gras for a pressed terrine of pig’s trotter and ham hock. The terrine was moist and delicate, with the smoky backdrop of pork. The ubiquitous streaks of which Andy spoke were hollandaise and balsamic vinegar reductions, both of which were sharp enough to lend structure to the softness of the terrine. The accompanying croque was unremarkable, for two reasons. Firstly, the yolk was a little bland, not the liquid sunshine I was expecting. Secondly, a slice of unadvertised black truffle was rubbery and virtually tasteless.

I also sampled the foie gras, which I felt was unsuccessful. I see the point – the hoi sin accompaniment taking the place of the usual sweetness in a foie preparation. But the whole slab was slick and wet, glistening to the extent that I thought it might slide off the plate into our companion’s lap. I like my foie gras served with relative simplicity. As Keller says, the great thing about foie gras is that it’s foie gras. If it’s good, then there should be no messing around: ‘your job is to try to make it show what it really is’. Here, the foie gras was given no chance to shine.

I swapped out again here in order to try the signature dish of langoustine ravioli. Technically faultless, I felt it lacked a little punch. The centre of the ravioli was almost too delicate – the texture of the crustaceans was there, but I wanted to taste the sweetness of their shells and the clean saltiness of the sea. Casing was textbook – perfectly al dente. Lobster bisque was reduced to the extent that I almost had to peel it off the plate, a recurring theme. Perhaps a result of too much time at the pass? Nonetheless, this had the intensity of flavour missing from the ravioli itself.

Next was fillet of turbot with tagliatelle, coriander and citrus veloute. The outstanding dish of the afternoon, and the only one that added up to more than the sum of its parts. Turbot was moist, delicate, and punchy at the same time, the surface of the slick, bright flesh burnished to the colour of buttered toast. Atop this rested a few crunchy juliennes of mange tout. The base of the dish was a coil of coriander tagliatelle and sweet strands of carrot. The pasta resisted the tooth and was lightly fragranced with coriander. Veloute, poured at the table, elevated the dish: smooth in texture, sharp in taste, and lingering with candied citrus fruit, it harmonised the disparate tones of the dish.

All of us plumped for the fillet of Angus beef with braised cheeks and Barolo sauce. Another signature dish, I was eager for it to justify its long-standing inclusion on the menu prestige. The pictures you see (later, I hope) are of my beef, which I ordered blue, and felt was a hair overdone, but no more. The flesh was tasty enough, but would have been unremarkable in the absence of a bed of treacle-sweet confit onions muddled with spinach. Braised cheeks were as rich and soft as expected, but their fragrance had been overplayed by too much star anise. Mash was, well, mash. This accompanying tower carried a lid of further unadvertised slices of black truffle, as redundant as those thrown in with the terrine. As with the veloute, stocky gravy was poured at the table, spiced with Barolo.

At this stage Andy and I opted for cheese in place of a pre-dessert of crème brulee. Cheeses were from Premier Cheese. Our server was excellent – knowledgeable, and with decent recommendations. Although, when I quizzed her about the age of the Comte, she informed me that ‘you can’t really say’. It’s true, you can’t say if you don’t know.

Our palate cleansing first dessert was chanterais melon with fromage frais and mint, served in a champagne flute with a cute glass straw. This was a Ronseal dish – it did exactly what it said on the tin, and was all the better for it. The essence of melon was there; the taste of the sun.

My excitement was piqued by the offer of tarte tatin as an alternative dessert, to be shared amongst 3 of us. It was served with the requisite theatre, entering on a trolley and sliced at the table. The moment of slicing sowed the seeds of suspicion – the pastry crumbled too easily and hunks of fruit dismounted from their base. In addition we each received a scoop of vanilla ice cream peppered with black dust. As I’ve said before, I’m a sucker for hot and cold combinations in desserts, so this appealed to me. But the tart was simply disappointing. Chunks of apple lacked caramelisation and texture, and the pastry collapsed, dry and chalky. Vanilla ice cream was ok, but missing a depth of vanilla flavour.

By this time the staff were beginning to iron the tablecloths for dinner service, so we moved to the seating area to take coffee. White chocolate and strawberry balls were quite moreish, though I was more turned on by the light discs of chocolate laced with passion fruit from L’Artisan.

My overriding emotion since last Thursday’s visit has been disappointment. Almost everything we ate worked, but none of it worked miracles. Service was impeccable, ingredients amongst the very best, and technique largely flawless. But it wasn’t enough; it didn’t come together in the symphony I was expecting. Perhaps I didn’t have a right to such expectations – but I was £100 lighter when I left, without wine. I know that Ramsay’s cuisine is not about fireworks. What it is about, as I gather, is hitting the target, bang on, without exception, every single time. It’s about consistency, technique, delicacy. When these fail, what remains?

As I write I realise that I am in danger of opening up a discussion many of you have already had (on other fora) on the subjectivities of the restaurant experience. Whilst I followed that thread closely (more as an English graduate than anything else), I failed to relate it to my own experience until Thursday. Did I want too much from RHR? Why was my meal at the Ledbury the next day so much better? Was it because it didn’t have to carry the huge weight of expectation nurtured by branding, Michelin, et al? In comparing RHR to The Fat Duck, my only other 3* experience, am I being unfair?

That said, when I step back, these things in mind, I still believe the meal should have been better than it was. At the least, everything should have been technically spot-on. This is a menu prestige that the kitchen has been fine-tuning for years; this should have been 7 courses of pure Ramsay. Is it the case that his cuisine doesn’t lend itself well to a tasting menu format?

I can't help but compare this to Tom Aikens: it isn’t always on the money, but I still want to go back there more than anywhere else in London right now. I feel little compulsion to return to RHR. I didn’t want Ramsay’s cooking to be something else, to be like someone else’s, to be crazy or innovative. I just wanted it to be Ramsay, all present and correct. It wasn’t.