Tag Archives: Lunch

The Butchers Block, Burham – a review…

Well it has been many a year since I have visited this establishment in its previous incarnation as the Toastmasters Inn.

About three months ago it reopened its doors following a major refurbishment and renamed the Butchers Block… a reference to its provenance of being owned by a butchers family.

I have to declare at this point I have a big affection for this place as I spent some of my earlier culinary years at this place and worked alongside the proprietor who was something of a mentor to me and instilled a real passion for cheese if nothing else.

The place has been beautified and decorated in a pleasing way but it is the menu that for me speaks volumes about their aspirations and aims. It is obviously and rightly very meat centric (considering their connections) and features a meat cabinet in the dining areas entrance that displays some really good looking hunks of ageing beef.

The menu highlights for both lunch and dinner are steaks and prime cuts from a T Bone to a Cote de Bouef or Fillet with the classic accompaniments. These all come with a price tag that whilst not eye watering expensive they are not such good value as perhaps lesser known cuts would be. Why not feature a Jacobs Ladder or a bavette. Especially on a lunch menu where a diner wants to eat more quickly as they are time constrained and also price sensitive.

It is a continual debate even in high end restaurants in the big metropolis that you can eat a highly accoladed meal for far better value for lunch than dinner.

The Butchers Block is really missing a trick here and need to rethink the offer. It should be a shop window for what to expect for the more formal dinner service and in particular special occasion diner.

So what did we eat – well we did not fancy a paddle (wooden board) Ploughmans, charcuterie board or fish platter but craved something a little more substantial and the burger whilst tempting had been our menu choice the day before on a visit to Windsor.

So we opted for Fish & Chips a pub classic and then a Steak and Ale Pie – both priced at £12.90 seemed to be the choice of the majority of all the other diners as the Steaks were all prices at double this amount.

A wait of just on one hour from when we had entered the place was our experience before our food arrived. It was not busy and I felt the kitchen was struggling to cope to produce what was pretty basic fare.

Fish & Chips arrived on a wooden board (a modern trend that needs to be discouraged) and was duly sent straight back to be put onto a plate as Mrs HC wanted to eat it off a hot plate!

My Steak & Ale Pie came served in a bowl shaped plate – better than a board but again not my favourite receptacle shape as the cutlery has a tendency to fall into the centre if ever you rest it on the rim! Much was made of the fact the pastry case was short crust and the top was puff pastry and whilst tasty with a well cooked inside filling the gravy boat with extra sauce was much need as it required some extra lubrication, the accompanying  mash and vegetables with it were not so pleasing.

Gritty baby carrots and then sugar snaps were nestled alongside a mash potato that had a stale flavour that was close  to turning.  The pie was I suspect not made in house which for £12.90 was not really good value. I was hungry so ate it and did not fancy an hours wait for a replacement.

Overall I had and expectation that this place would deliver something far better than it did. It could be described as very average and the fact they have access to high quality produce they could execute it all with more flair and imagination.

Service was also lacklustre and in need of polish. There seemed no urgency and classic example of lack of communication between the husband and wife team resulted in us being overcharged for our two small glasses of wine. Quickly rectified when pointed out however the landlord did not seem to posses the social skills to back it all up.  Not a natural front of house so left us feeling it was all a bit amateurish.

It had been many years since I had been in the place and I guess it will now be many more years before I will want to make a return visit… says it all really.

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Slope Off Friday…at Hari’s

Jules Serkin

We are excited to be hosting a special networking luncheon for Kent Businesses – this is the brainchild of Jules Serkin and Andrew Knott who arrange a monthly “Slope Off Friday” at a new venue each month.

Hari’s “Pop Up” is the November venue on Friday November 4th from 2pm (prompt) onward.  We have put together a simple three course lunch menu that will be served to just 14 guests who wish to do a bit of networking in a relaxed and fun way and kick their weekend off with a bang!

Beer Bread

The menu we have devised is as follows and it is competitively priced at £16.50 per person – Water will be provided but you will need to bring your own alcoholic drinks. (Glasses Provided)

Booking can only be made through our dedicated booking page with its “Covert Link”  and if you wish to attend this lunch you will need to request the link via the form below.

Homemade Spiced Roasted Butternut Squash Soup served with Hari’s Own Beer Bread

or

Mushrooms on Toast

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Slow Cooked Pork Goulash served with Rice & Vegetables

or

Oven Baked Sea Bass Fillet served with crushed New Potatoes & Vegetables with a herb beurre blanc

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Homemade Apple Crumble with Taywell Ice Cream

or

Winterdale Shaw Cheddar with Homemade Porridge Oat Crackers & Banana Jam

Coffee or Tea Included

Space is limited so please make sure you book early.

Menu Subject to market purchases and ingredient availability.

Please complete the following details and we will then send you a link to book your place.

N.B. DO NOT REQUEST THE LINK IF YOU DO NOT WISH TO BOOK AS SPACES ARE VERY LIMITED

Tapas, Meze, Light Bites… little morsels of loveliness

I have always enjoyed the idea of small plates of food that you can share so that you can sample what a kitchen has to offer and also a great way to share a meal. I have recently sampled a few meals like this in the last month or so. Firstly on a recent hook up with world renowned chocolatier Damian Allsop in Girona Spain we sampled some beautiful tapas in a back street establishment called Restaurant Curcuma. It was right in the city centre and had a modern simple decor but some great tasty and innovative tapas.

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Cod with Sobrassada Sausage
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Turmeric scented Croquetas

Highlight for me were the turmeric (the name of the restaurant) scented croquetas, crispy cased and soft unctuous centres and some steamed cod topped with roasted onions, honey and Sobrassada sausage. Innovative flavours simply presented and reasonably priced.

Then more recently we found ourselves back in the town of Whitstable at one our favourites – the infamous and highly popular Jo Jo’s Restaurant where they specialise in Mediterranean meze, – large sharing boards of assorted well sourced cold meats, cheese and small bowls of Hummus, Tzatziki etc as well as small plates of other ever changing specials and regular favourites. The cod or haddock goujons in a beer batter highlight the fresh fish that are ever so popular.

Crispy Pigs Ears...
Crispy Pigs Ears…

I also quietly ordered one of the blackboard specials of  the day… Crispy Pigs Ears with a Remoulade sauce. This was a very generous portion of crispy crumb coated slivers of porcine goodness that were to put it mildly rapidly devoured by even the youngest of our party ( a 4 year old) with gusto.

All that sharing ensured a very respectable and celebratory lunch was had by all.

Then most recently I was invited to a restaurant in the centre of Canterbury that was not on my radar or I had any idea of its existence. I was joining a friend who had been invited for a lunch at Deesons Restaurant where head chef Ross Barden was keen for us to try their newly launched “British Tapas” dishes in this quintessentially modern British restaurant.

The tapas idea here was both innovative and at time quite unexpected and as a whole worked well with some good skilful thought out dishes but then some not so well executed ones.

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We actually sampled the entire menu and were generally impressed but did feel the kitchen was trying just a shade too hard. Dishes that worked really well and were outstanding were a twice baked “Old Winchester” cheese soufflé with a carrot pureé that needed a little more seasoning and sweetness to cut against the savoury nature of the cheese. The Confit hen’s yolk with buttered leeks and crispy chicken skin soldiers was inspired. The Crispy Haggis with a poached egg and parsnip crisps was also flavoursome but technically the haggis was a tad dry from over frying/baking so needed the soft egg to add liquid!

Cider Braised Beef Shin with apple juice and ginger with mash and cabbage was a wonderful unctuous dish but again lacked in seasoning. The Spring Greens with wholegrain mustard worked beautifully as did the charred broccoli with cheese sauce and flaked almonds whilst  smoked mash potato was less popular than the the plain one – it did need more butter, cream and salt.

In fact the seasoning overall throughout the meal did raise the question did “Chef” smoke as a lot of the dishes seemed under seasoned. This is a common situation in many a kitchen and for me something that was drummed into me in my formative years how important it is to season the food correctly and also taste it.

We also sampled a couple of croquette style dishes that when compared to a “Spanish croquetas” sadly missed the mark. The Smoked Cod Kedgeree was a good idea but the large cake like croquette was just to big and clumsy, a good livid coloured curry mayonnaise was much needed to moisten it.

The Pork and Potato Croquette served with an an apple butter was also oversized and would have been better smaller and perhaps served as a threesome. The apple butter on the tapas version did not pack the same punch that it did when served with the a la carte main course of Pork Tenderloin along with Black Pudding crumb and candied walnuts and a cider jus (to die for)

So overall this was a highly enjoyable delve into how we can equally compete with our continental partners and it can well showcase our own culinary heritage.

Deeson’s is a a little gem and I look forward to a return visit as I think if Chef Ross can sort out the issues we encountered he will be a place to watch in amongst the plethora of those  uninspiring tourist eating establishments of Canterbury.

Deeson’s British Restaurant
25-26 Sun Street
Canterbury
Kent
CT1 2HX

A Wong with Hom…

Now that heading sounds a bit weird I know but all will be revealed…

I am for my sins a graduate from what is now Oxford Brookes School of Hospitality Management (Was Oxford Polytechnic in my days!) at Oxford Brookes University.

I am also actively involved with their Alumni Association and get to go to assorted functions and events their Oxford Gastronomica organise throughout the year.

Well recently one of their esteemed ambassadors was in the UK for Chinese New Year and he was hosting a luncheon at A Wong a much lauded and on trend Chinese eaterie in Wilton Street Nr Victoria Station London. Ken Hom was in town and well I needed little persuasion to book my place at a lunch he was hosting at Andrew Wong’s gaffe!

It was quite an intimate affair with some two dozen diners ensconced in the basement bar of this restaurant. An introduction to the proceedings by head of School Donald Sloan was followed by a few words from Chef Patron Andrew Wong who informed us we were lucky to have him there as he wife was scheduled to have her baby that very day but in fact ended up having their baby on Christmas Day!

Any way we settled down to a real feast with firstly some Dim Sum style starters appeared –  Sui Mai and Har Gau as steamed dumplings. Then a plate of crispy prawn filled Wan Tuns and a Mushroom spring roll coated in Vermicelli… very delicate but also very tasty. The steamed dim sum had some great embellishment The Sui Mai with crispy Pork crackling and the Har Gao with some delicate citrus foam.

Then came a whole steamed Dover Sole – zingy fresh and expertly removed from the bone and garnished with the trinity (garlic, ginger & spring onion) Some lusciously pink prawns with a crispy fried garlic and spring onion topping were beautifully sweet tasting – shame it was only one prawn each!

Next came a Crispy Duck course that had some wonderfully novel twists on the standard restaurant serving. A paint brush came standing up in a shot glass ready to paint the steamed pancake with the Hoisin sauce. The normal cucumber and spring onion garnish was added to by small slivers of smoked duck and then some crispy fried pieces of dried bean curd. It was a clever and well thought out addition that gave the whole dish a new flavour dimension and texture.

Once the duck was cleared away we then had a slight pause before rice bowls arrived and then a plethora of main dishes. First a seared beef dish described as Yunnan Seared 40 day aged beef with mint chilli and lemon grass. (It got demolished before I could take a picture!) A masterful combination that had a real zing and freshness to it with quite an after kick to it.

A bowl of Singapore Noodles then arrived along with stir fried market Chinese greens. Then a really unctuous slow braised pork belly with lotus root and then another bowl arrived with Gang Bao Chicken with roasted Peanuts and a good chilli kick and then apparently a classic new years dish of a rice noodle cake with a bean sprouts. This was a real classic of flavour combinations and textures that was soft and chewy – in fact it was a bit of a “Marmite” dish amongst the other diners but I have to say I loved it.

To complete the meal once all was cleared away wooden boards arrived laden with what looked like little white peaches. These were in fact what could be described as one of Mr Wong’s signature dishes.  The recent Jay Rayner review on the establishment describes the dessert as possibly the best current dessert in London at the moment! It was I have to say quite honestly an amazing dessert. A crispy base to the dumpling that had a gorgeous duck egg based custard  hidden inside a soft delicate casing that beautifully oozed out of the bun as you bit into it!

This was a truly magnificent meal to celebrate Chinese New Year and the company of Mr Hom was equally welcome.  I am in awe of Mr Wong and now am keen to go back… I am celebrating a significant birthday this year and am already trying to plan as many return visits as I can.

My long time friend Chef Kam Po But who has guest cooked a couple of times with me is one I want to eat here with as I know he appreciates Andrew Wong’s talents and knows him well. If anyone wants to join me and But as this is very much a must visit establishment! Please just let me know and I will add you to the list! (You will have to pay your own way though!)

You can tell I enjoyed myself and when I finally left at nearly 5;30pm you just now when it has been a great lunch as much as great company!

Gong Hay Fat Choy

Vive la France, Brasserie Zedel…

A little bit of France can be found in the heart of London’s West End… it was a Saturday and I was in town with Mrs HC, her sister and my fussy eater BIL for the VE Day celebrations on Horse Guards Parade – we needed a place to eat before the evening’s festivities.

I had been a few times to Brasserie Zedel, a mammoth basement restaurant at the back of the Café Royal a stones throw from Piccadilly Circus right in the heart of the West End. We had booked a table for 2:30pm as we wanted to leisurely kill a few hours before we had to sit outside for the musical and retrospective extravaganza being filmed for airing later that evening.

You enter the establishment via the café with its street tables and bustling atmosphere within. There is a staircase that delivers you down or a pair of efficient lifts (for the less energetic or in-firmed) that bring you to a lobby area with cloakroom.

Zedel-Brasserie-highres (8)Leading off from this there is a dimly lit “American Bar” with white jacketed bar staff,  of an evening “The Crazy Coqs” a night club/live cabaret venue and then a vast open door way leads you into the brasserie, resplendent with gilt and ornate columns with a real bright and airy buzz to it. In fact both Mrs HC and SIL immediately cooed appreciatively for the look and clever lighting making you think it was all naturally lit.

We were efficiently shown to our table to the right of the entrance deposited with true Gallic charm and flourish. Menus on large printed A3 sheets were proffered and we relaxed with our swiftly ordered and delivered pre luncheon drinks. As we all perused the menu the fussy BIL was relieved to find a good choice of classics he could partake of… for some strange reason they had even given him the English version of the menu whilst the rest of us drooled over everything from the classic set menu of the day to fresh oysters or classic Alsacienne Choucroute!

It seems an enormous choice but is very cleverly constructed of some classic combinations and real comfort food. Our choices made we settled down to soak up the atmosphere… It was buzzing with virtually every table full of guests eating at various stages and the waiting staff in white starched aprons bustling with laden trays to their waiting stations… pure poetry.

IMG_7367We had opted for a mix of dishes from the smooth chicken liver parfait to a French Onion soup with gratinated cheese crust and a coarse terrine “en croute”.  All were swiftly delivered and consumed with much passion! The main courses chosen ranged from a crispy Duck Confit leg on a bed of cabbage and bacon, to classic Bœuf Bourguignon, a truly unctuous beef in red wine stew with a creamy mashed potato. I myself stuck to a perfectly cooked (medium rare) Onglet Beef Steak served with a little bucket of fries and a rich shallot & red wine jus. Fantastic.

Wine flowed, beers for the BIL slipped down with ease and we continued to soak up the atmosphere. It was made even more authentic by the arrival at about 3:30pm of a large group of diners all dressed up to the nines in their best 1940’s garb… one even looked the spitting image of the “Queen Mother” Queen Mumin her sky blue tailored suit and perfectly set hair do. The Gents in their Oxford Bags or Military uniforms, the ladies with their well groomed hair, pencil lined stockings and sensible shoes and pheasant feathered hats all added to the VE Day look… we felt totally transported to a bygone time and were amazed at the efforts made! They really did turn heads!

Now feeling pretty replete we opted for a few of the desserts, Mrs HC loves a Lemon Tart so plumped for that and duly announced it was totally awesome and ranked as one of the best… SIL went for IMG_7371the Crème Brûlée which she also declared as near as perfect… I went for the “chocolate” Gateau Praline that had Mrs HC in true to form  continually diving into as well as her own. The BIL abstained and continued to sip yet another French beer.

Lunch had been a resounding success and some two and half hours later we surfaced to daylight and a stroll back down to Horse Guards parade to take up our positions to watch that evenings entertainment…

On a day of oft raw emotions we had managed for a few hours to transport ourselves to the centre of Paris and a genuine brasserie culture but also back in time to the mid 1940’s – what more could you wish for!

Brasserie Zedel 20 Sherwood Street, London W1F 7ED

Over Sexed, Overpaid and Over Here…

Well I certainly cannot vouch for the first two of this infamous statement –  but the third one is pretty accurate when it comes to describing Jeff Kipp the chef patron of a cute little eaterie in Saltwood Green near Hythe. The Saltwood is his baby.

Jeff hails from the “Windy City” across the pond and spent time working with Charlie Trotter a much respected and alas now departed cook. He arrived in Saltwood Green having worked in some pucker establishments in London town and London’s loss is now this sleepy village’s gain on the outskirts of Hythe.

I came across Jeff slightly by accident having been introduced by a chef acquaintance and a few weeks ago I met him when I was helping Jules Serkin on her weekly radio show called Scoff Quaff that is broadcast from just down the road towards Dymchurch! It was a lively programme… you can listen again here

Why I waited so long for an excuse I do not know but I found myself there for a luncheon with my good lady and an old friend (he is definitely older than me – he he sorry Mario!)  We had drooled over the menu on line and were looking forward to sampling the small but well balanced menu. Lunch is a simpler affair whilst dinner has a little bit more involved and complex dishes.

We settled into our luncheon with a celebratory welcome drink – a chilled glass of Prosecco that also contained some Kentish hop syrup – it went down rather well and certainly got the party started!

To get us going we chose a couple of their homemade breads – a soft American style pretzel served with a little ramekin of rarebit and then a Corn Bread with a dollop of tomato relish and goats curd… both were very good.

Having perused the menu my wife decided to go for one of the little plates for her main course… namely a smoked fish cake. Me and my considerably older friend decided to share a plate of Jeff’s Home-made gnocchi flavoured with wild garlic that was on the menu… I had taken Jeff a big bag of freshly foraged wild garlic and a large bunch of wild garlic flowers. These then duly appeared on the resultant starter and very pretty they looked too!

The little pillows of gnocchi had also been lightly fried to give them a slightly crunchy texture… it was an accomplished dish.

Mario chose as his main course a pan seared fillet of sea trout with petit pois, pea shoots, samphire and Jersey royals with a punchy tartare sauce… spring time personified on the plate with beautiful succulent sea trout perfectly cooked.  I went for roasted shoulder of Romney Marsh lamb served with a romesco (red pepper, almond and olive oil) infused mashed potato plus grilled Mediterranean vegetables and a Salsa Verde/Gremolata sauce. The meat was lovely, cooked slightly pink it had a lovely sweet flavour that married well with the earthy mash and the vibrant herby green sauce. Overall another well accomplished dish.

We then decided to partake in a few of the puddings on offer… Mario went savoury with what was described as Stilton crumble with apple & rhubarb… it was a de-constructed affair of apple slices, rhubarb with apple foam little pieces of crumbled Stilton of great provenance and taste… garnished with assorted young shoots it looked a pretty picture on the plate.

My better half chose the home-made Cheesecake with orange and cardamom – it had good oaty biscuit base topped with a vanilla cheesecake glazed with an orange jelly. It was however my dessert that garnered the most compliments. A chocolate tart with a malted milk ice cream and a malted caramel. This was pure luxury and the simple de-constructed presentation made it even more enjoyable (the pastry biscuit base was perfectly buttery and crisp)

Well Jeff has won us over and we are now planning a return visit (hopefully a dinner) it was worthy of the seventy mile plus round trip for us and a perfect way to complete my birthday celebrations.

I do hope Jeff remains over here and well the first two statements in the title will not be an issue either.(Just kidding Jeff)

Go and try it, it’s well worth it!

Saltwood on the Green, The Green, Saltwood, Hythe, Kent CT21 4PS

Little Social…. a review

It was with a great deal of excitement that I was to meet up with an old friend for lunch at Jason Atherton’s latest central London venture.“Little Social” especially as I had what I would class as my best meal of the year in 2012 at his Michelin starred eatery “Pollen Street Social.”

Well it was a bitingly cold (April) day as I sauntered up Regent Street past the “Hollister Store” with it’s giggling teens and scantily clad, blond haired and blue eyed doormen cheerily welcoming the shoppers. I arrived outside what was an unassuming front door to this new restaurant (it only opened in mid March) just across the road from Pollen Street Social to be warmly greeted by the Polish hostess with impeccable English ubiquitously we discussed the weather!

Seated in what can be best described as a narrow room with a French brasserie feel with red leather banquette booths, black and white photos and old facsimiles of French posters. My first request for a warming coffee was promptly dealt with as I awaited the arrival of my friend. The menu is in two parts – starting with a great value set price prix fixe menu with 2 or 3 courses and then an A la Carte menu of French inspired classics including some specials displayed on blackboards.

What was so appealing to me was how good the waiting staff were. They are like their counterparts across the road professional in their approach but also like the name indicates really social with their guests. They show skills in this area that in my mind should be studied by every budding member of front of house teams on how to do it properly!

My friend duly arrived and as we settled down and made our choices off the very reasonably priced prix fixe menu we were deep in conversation as the restaurant began to fill up. I went with what was termed “Country Pate” served with baby cornichons, salad and a great big stone jar with a stunning Pommery grain mustard. The friend chose the marinated salmon that was served with leaves of little gem lettuce and a garnish of cucumber and radish. It was a real picture on the plate and she cooed satisfyingly all through its consumption!

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Main course choices could have been Lincolnshire Sausages, Mash, Greens with an Onion Gravy or Dorade (Fish) but we both, as it was so chilling and cold out on the streets went for the comfort dish of Lamb Shank with a Haricot ragout and Basil Dressing.

As we tucked into this dish our conversation then was abruptly halted as all of sudden the fire alarm went off. Nobody moves,  nobody flinched all were too engrossed in enjoying their food. Staff rushed about, the ringing continued and my friend then let it be known she had been awoken that very morning by her own home fire alarm at the ungodly hour of 4:30am and had struggled to switch it off! Staff kept popping back to check we were all OK.

Some fifteen minutes later with ringing in our ears we were invited to decamp from our table across the road to PSS and to partake in our puddings there. Staff were so apologetic and could not have been better. We were settled into our new table in a busy restaurant, so we then partook of our dessert and coffee here.

My friend was relieved somewhat not to have that continued ringing in her ears as she wears aids in both and had had to remove them so then duly popped them back in and our conversation resumed.  This was something of a first for the friend of having two separate restaurant venues for a lunch whilst for me it was bit like being back on my inspection routine as we tucked into firstly a little pre dessert nibble brought to the table an apple espuma topped with a crumble crumb.

Dessert just for me was a Lemon & White Chocolate Ganache served with a carrot cake crumb and Basil Ash Meringue that was just the perfect light finish after the richness of the lamb shank.

Then with our coffees we were treated to a rather gorgeous selection of petit fours that ranged from little macaroons of delight to a selection of our local food hero Damian Allsop chocolates.

When it came to pay we had to settle one bill at PSS then walk across the road to settle the other bill in LS. My friend who settled the bills then texted me later “Does today mean you owe me not one but two lunches, I paid 2 bills after all!” – I did offer but I guess all that ringing noise in her ears must have addled her brain… !

I’m certainly not complaining and now trying to work out when I can go back and I would have to say it is well worth it with all the bells and whistles as well!

Little Social – 5 Pollen Street London – 020 7870 3730

Bread Street Kitchen, London…. a review

Well this place had been on my radar for awhile and I was keen to go with a client of my day job who had invited me to lunch. The client is shortly to open his own place not dissimilar in style albeit a bit smaller.

Well it is firstly in an area of London that I am not overly familiar with as venturing into the city quarters is something I do not do too often. As I arrived I was slightly early so had a quick wander around the other shops and eateries in the complex.. it was a revelation as  there was certainly much to offer.

My client’s text informed me he was awaiting my arrival at the bar and a glass of something bubbly was awaiting me… be churlish of me not get my skates on then. Bread Street Kitchen is a property that has been the development of Gordon Ramsey Holdings… not my favourite chef patron but I guess one has to admire his achievements.

It is a cavernous place with a real noisy buzz. In fact that for me is one of it’s drawbacks. The noise was incessant and added to this the background music was too loud and only added to it. The urban chic decor of open to view ducting and the use of many angle poised lamps and sections of banquette seating tries to break up the large space. An open to view kitchen with chefs beavering away all adds to the somewhat frenetic atmosphere…

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Whenever one eats out there is much to be learnt, both good and bad. I garnered much from this visit. The menu firstly is well laid out with a good array of dishes that seemed to showcase no one particular style but provide a little something for all. It was however not totally seasonal.

We chose our respective starters of a pressed Goosenargh chicken and foie gras terrine that came served with an onion chutney and a brioche roll. Presentation was simple and constrained with no fussy garnishing… something I am all in favour of.. My starter was the potted salt beef with grain mustard, piccalilli and buckwheat crackers.

This was a very clever dish when you looked at it more in depth… considering the place could possibly do some 300 plus covers over a lunchtime period you need some dishes that are quick and easy to prepare and then just assemble.

This was one such dish… the salted beef had been shredded and when mixed with some grain mustard mayonnaise, just enough to bind it all and then placed in a ring mould to make it neater and then a dollop of piccalilli on the plate with some crisp buckwheat biscuits flavoured with caraway seeds finished it all off. All component parts bought together quickly and I am sure if all “en place” efficiently.

Next we both went for what is described on the menu as Wood Stone dishes. These are dishes that are finished or cooked with a wood fired oven.. very much a cooking process in vogue and up to the minute! A pork collar described as mustard glazed was melt in the mouth with an unctuous sauce and creamy smooth mound of mashed potato. It was well balanced and the smoke flavoured bacon of the pork was very good.

My choice was the braised neck of lamb, garnished with some polenta chips and a drizzle of gremolata. Again melt in the mouth tender meat was well balanced with the crispy polenta chips that had a lovely hint of cheese and rosemary. Overall a well constructed dish…

Extras with this were Minted Jersey Royals, now out of season, Spring Greens with anchovies and lemon was fresh and zingy and then a bowl of coleslaw with red onion brought it all together. To complete the meal we then shared a chocolate tart with a ball of salted caramel ice cream and some crumbled honeycomb… sublime and perfectly executed…

So all in all could not fault the food (apart from some less than seasonal ingredients) but it was however the service for me that let it down and failed to deliver the total package. Much effort is put into the place – it is rumoured the place cost £3 million to open and it exudes class but for me it falls short in delivering the right level of service to match it all.

When I arrived the welcome was OK nothing more than that… it could have been allot more engaging. Bar service was OK, the service at our table was average and no check backs made and wine service was also not much cop, a wine waiter that spoke limited and difficult to understand English and along with the high level of decibel background noise was not overall particularly conducive.

This lack of attention to detail in service meant we were left wanting and no attempt to up-sell and then on departure apart from a young waitress who had not even served us there was no acknowledgement of our departure and nobody of seniority on hand to check we had been looked after well. In fact I felt we had been just another bunch of customers who did not matter.

This may sound harsh but the place is frenetic and staffing levels possibly insufficient or structured well and correctly trained to ensure the right level of service is delivered. It is possible just see my review for Pollen Street Social. The clients place opens soon and I am sure you will see a review here… I am sure they will have learnt lessons from this as much as I have.

Cheers

Hari Covert

Pollen Street Social….a review

Well it seems like I have been doing a fair bit of eating out recently and well the visit to Pollen Street Social the Mayfair eatery that is owned and operated by British chef Jason Atherton was the result of my winning a competition run by Love the Garden web site and my Leek Terrine recipe.

So how do we spend the prize of £200 in restaurant vouchers – Well we decided to head to this place and with Mrs HC have a no expense spared lunch. I have to declare I did go back in last November with some chef friends and we had an amazing if slightly more alcohol fuelled lunch that was to put it mildly “awesome”.

This time with Mrs HC it was slightly more sedate but nonetheless an equally memorable and accomplished gastronomic event. I would like to state now the booking process was well handled…not always the case… we gave them plenty of warning and two days beforehand they called to confirm we still wanted our table. We then duly turned up at the requested time and Mrs HC in her electric buggy was handled with efficient aplomb, concern and professionalism  for her comfort.

Settled straight to our table we relaxed with a couple of aperitif’s that started to make Mrs HC and myself on our empty stomachs just a little squiffy! With some lovely fresh bread and then nibbles of some large marinated green olives and a über smooth puree of salt cod we settled down to peruse the menu.

We were spoilt for choice and could not decide… always a good sign. The set priced menu at £25.50 for three course seems a bargain. I had discussed this with a foodie friend who has been many times told me that Jason often uses this menu to trial out new dishes for the main menu and tweak his ideas. We cogitated, decided and then changed our minds as we saw plates of food wander past on their way to other tables!

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As we supped the aperitif’s and then finally made our decision Mrs HC went with a set priced menu choice, to start she chose the scallop with cauliflower cheese puree and dill oil. I went for the Cornish Crab Vinaigrette, Nashi Pear, cauliflower and a sweet ‘n’ sour dressing and peanut powder.

We relaxed and surveyed the room with its simple modern decor, noise levels began to rise as the place filled up and I have to say this is the one criticism I have of it all. It can get quite noisy and it made hearing what the waiting staff tried to communicate with you when they delivered your food or took an order a little hard to hear.

Having already had a fairly alcoholic aperitif we decided to go with a selection of wines by the glass with our chosen dishes and an affable and helpful sommelier arrived at the table and directed us to try some of the wide range of wines they serve by the glass. Mrs HC wanted to stick to a rose so this duly ordered I asked for guidance on the white with my crab dish and was directed to a Faustine, Comte Abbatucci, Ajaccio, Corsica  served from a Magnum bottle this light and fragrant nosed wine perfectly complimented my light delicate starter that was a work of art in both presentation and flavour combinations. Light fresh crab was sandwiched between wafer thin slices of Nashi pear and then garnished with sweet and sour marinated slices of cauliflower and a crisp dusting of peanut added another flavour dimension and texture. A great start and set me up rather well.

Mrs HC was also delighted by her scallop dish served with a flavour packed cauliflower puree and a large chunk of confit cauliflower that was flavoured with dill and some little dribbles of bright green dill oil. She quickly polished it all off and then announced for some one who is not overly keen on cauliflower she rather enjoyed that dish! Women eh…

Next we moved onto our main course dishes. Mrs HC had chosen Roasted Cornish Cod that was on the Set Menu and was to have it served with Olive oil potatoes, lemon conserve and orange grenobloise garnish. I had chosen to go with a rack of salt marsh lamb a bit of braised shoulder, creamed and spiced aubergine and a savory & black olive reduction sauce giving the whole dish a real Mediterranean feel to it.

Mrs HC was in her element with some supremely fresh cod perfectly cooked and the tangy garnish complimented the meaty textured fish perfectly and she polished if off with relish and I hardly got a taste (what I did was mighty fine)

My lamb came as requested medium rare and was an equal triumph of culinary skill and balanced flavours. The aubergine puree had a delicious flavour of roasted cumin a whole roasted baby artichoke provided both visual, textural and Mediterranean flavour to the dish and melt in the mouth lamb was perfect with the salty reduced sauce. All in all another well accomplished dish that was appreciated enjoyed and savoured! The wine choice this time by the sommelier was a  Vin de Pays d’Oc ‘Le Petit Merle aux Alouettes’, Domaine Alain Chabanon a delightful Merlot Grenache mix that went perfectly with the Lamb dish. I was therefore in seventh heaven and mellowing well!

Tables as I have said quite close together and a certain camaraderie seems to develop over your food as you covet what your neighbour is eating  as you look on with awe as something new is delivered. I had seen and impressive cheese board appear at the table next to us as we ate our mains and I had managed to persuade Mrs HC to partake of this dairy fest before we headed onto our desserts… so as we sat back and relaxed we discussed how impressed we had been so far and how this meal was rating in our top ten! It was ranking pretty high.

So our charming waitress then bought the groaning cheese board… I wish I could tell you what was on offer but it was by this time rather noisy and I struggled to hear properly all the names of the cheeses. They ranged from a selection of goats cheeses rolled in wood ash to a rather unctuous looking Epoisse to a Cheddar style cheese we were told was called Lincolnshire Poacher and a Cashel Blue from Ireland. Our selection of three were duly delivered along with some rather tasty Beer and Apple Chutney and a Spicy Piccalilli. The cheeses were top-notch and even Mrs HC enjoyed them something she is not normally known to do!

So we then perused the dessert menu and Mrs HC promptly chose an intriguingly named PBJ that was a Parfait of Cherry, a cherry jam and creamed rice puffs. I got a minuscule spoonful that tasted OK to me and was promptly told I could not try any more!

I chose the Bitter Chocolate Pave with Orange ice cream and some poached kumquat’s. A classic combination that went rather well with the sommelier chosen wine. Chocolate is hard to marry to a wine but he suggested an Ice Cider, Leduc-Piedimonte, Quebec, Canada that I have to say was a revelation and worked rather well especially with the pre desert that was delivered to us. A small glass filled with a pineapple granite topped with a lychee foam and coulis of passion fruit. Mrs HC declared it to be heavenly it certainly was a very good palate cleanser and much admired.

So with a final flourish we partook of an espresso and breakfast tea served with some rather yummy financier’s cakes and a little box was bought to the table and as draws were pulled open to reveal white chocolate coated almonds and hazelnut pralines and an assortment of flavoured macaroons.

This was an amazing meal and we will rate this as one of our very best… total bill came to just under our £200 allowance… we had supped and dined as much as we had wanted and as we left the place we made sure the man himself was well aware we had been blown away as we had a guard of honour of his kitchen staff and kitchen porters clearing down from the lunch service as we had to leave by the kitchen entrance(the only way by Mrs HC’s electric buggy)… the best way to arrive and leave I have to say!

Cheers

Hari Covert