Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Nose to tail eating: St. John Hotel

Fergus Henderson’s nose to tail cooking philosophy summarises quintessential great British cooking. Most excitingly, he now deserves a big congratulations for receiving the surprising first Michelin star for St John Hotel in Soho this month. The menu that consists of hearts, livers, trotter, marrow and kidney is likely to be stomach turning for some, but for me the exciting use of offal was the draw card.

The best way to do a St John meal is in a big group of non-fussy eaters and share a bit of everything. We ordered a veritable feast for five.

Devilled Pig's Skin and Smoked Cod's Roe was incredible, crispy yet melted on your tongue, salty with a little heat from the paprika. The saltiness of the smoked cod roe complemented this perfectly, but could easily stand as a strong dish on its own.

Another highlight was the Snails, Duck Heart and Lovage. I was surprised when my English born dad who we were dining with shied away from the duck heart claiming it reminded him of English boarding school offal. Luckily that didn't deter us more adventurous foodies who dove right in. The dish was an interesting concoction of garlic and soft textures from the heart and snails, definitely worth a visit.

Unfortunately, the Rabbit and Borlotti Beans was a disappointment. The rabbit was under-cooked, making it chewy and difficult to separate from the bone. The Chicken and Trotter Pie for Two (or more like a family of four) is definitely worth splurging for. The pastry was crisp and buttery, with a creamy gelatinous filling.

Desserts at St John are outstanding. Based on our friendly and informative waitress’s recommendation we ordered the Baked Cheesecake with Fig, Honeycomb Ice Cream and a serve of 6 Madeleines to ‘take home’. I’m going to take a big stand and say this is may be the best cheesecake I have ever eaten. It cannot even be described, but oh my, the baked goats cheese with sweet fig syrup is not something you are going to want to share, I'm salivating just writing about it. Equally, the Madeleines were crispy on the outside, warm, soft and fluffy inside, and moorish as hell. Needless to say, they didn't make it home.

St. John Hotel on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Foraged and found, a little bit of Noma in London: North Road

In the same year Noma prestigiously reaffirms its number one restaurant in the world rating, London's very own Danish invasion, North Road is awarded a Michelin star less then 18 months after opening.

Christoffer Hruskova, who has recently moved on from North Road took much inspiration from Noma. North Road's decor is simple and post modern in it's scandanivian design, paired with the unique and adventurous Nordic style of cooking using a myriad of unusual and foraged ingredients.

Having not experienced much in the way of haut scandanivian cuisine I praise North Road if only for it's welcomed and thorough introduction to a style of food I won't experience anywhere short of a trip to Copenhagen.

Each course on the tasting menu was interesting, ingenious and intriguing with lots of raw textures, natural sweeteners and curious smoked and salted flavours.

Our three orderves compliments of the chef were each a work of art on a plate, preparing us for what was to come. Smoked potato filled with fish protein mayonnaise, marinaded quails eggs and pork scratchings to remind us of North Road's British influences. Each of the three mouthfuls were perfect with fierce flavours.

First on the tastings menu was deliciously fresh raw Doeset crab served natural and dressed with apple vinegar. Scottish Lumpfish roe with buttermilk snow, onions and burnt chicken skin. This dish was perhaps the only thing I didn't like about the meal, the buttermilk snow over chilled the dish and added an unsettling texture to the roe, and I personally found the burnt chicken skin bitter. I look at this dish as a brave addition to the menu as its certainly not to everyone's taste.

The heavily smoked native Dorset lobster with raw wild and cultivated vegetables packed a rich, strong smokey flavour. The fresh and smooth melting texture of the lobster was compliemnted perfectly by the crunch of the raw vegetables. This dish was devine and I think I would re-visit North Road just for it. The asparagus three ways with wild garlic and a salted pheasant egg yolk was technically impressive. When pierced the runny egg yolk that had been perfectly detached from it's white mixed with the garlic and pine dressing to create a thick and creamy sauce. To the eye this was one of the more simple dishes, yet one of my favorites.

We were starting to feel like this meal would go on forever, and were more than happy for it to. After a change in wine to accompany a heavier meat we were served the lamb and sweetbreads topped with sea kale. The dish was uncomplicated, resting on the strength of the perfectly cooked lamb.

Each of our four desserts were ingenious. Barley, pine, malt, hay and sea moss were infused together to create concoctions including an edible rock and cotton candy tree with edible soil.

Hruskova took the simplest of flavours and added ingredients you never even thought edible and created flavours unlike any other in a contemporary, delicious and truly memorable meal.

North Road on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Brasserie Zedel: a pleasant surprise in Piccadilly

Brasserie Zedel seems refreshingly out of place in Piccadilly Circus among the chain restaurants and tourist traps. Zedel however is neither. The recently opened brasserie is grandeur in scale and style, yet incredibly affordable which makes you wonder if it will last.

The menu is extensive, offering close to everything you could want from a French brasserie. The dishes are authentic and extremely reasonably priced; the Prix Fixe is astonishingly priced at £11.25 for three courses. I favoured the a la carte menu, realising three courses wouldn't cost me much more then £20. The fish soup (£4.25) was incredible; thick, meaty and flavorsome. Salmon tartare was tasty and what it lacked in excitement was redeemed by the price-tag (£6.50).

Steak Haché, Sauce au Poivre et Frites . . . . £7.50

Perhaps best value on the menu is the steak haché with peppercorn sauce, and frites. How this is priced at a mere £7.50 I will never know. The chopped steak is perfectly cooked on the pinker side of medium rare.

Café gourmand (£3.50) saw two delicious bites of French patisserie sweetness and plunger coffee end the meal. Perfect.

Brasserie Zedel has already become my go-to restaurant in London. Having visited twice in a few short weeks knowing I wouldn't leave begrudging my bill and I would thoroughly enjoy what I ate. Zedel simply makes me question menu prices generally. I have recently eaten far less exciting and bland meals and paid four times the price. You can’t seem to get anything more than a burger and fries for £20 in London at the moment. Let’s hope we’re seeing the start of a new trend and other restaurateurs follow suit.

Concombre à la Crème - Prix Fixe 3 courses - £11.25

Tartare de Saumon . . . . . £6.50

Soupe de Poisson et sa Rouille . . £4.25

Choucroute Alsacienne . . . . . . . £11.95

Café gourmand . . . . . . . £3.50

Brasserie Zedel on Urbanspoon