Sunday, 25 November 2012

A weekend eating in London (part 5)

Phil Howard - The Square

Our final booking for Sunday evening was originally at another Gordan Ramsey establishment but after watching an episode of the Great British Menu, final banquet (for the 2012 Olympics) we were drawn to the chef Phil Howard who has a 2 Michelin star Restaurant in the heart of Mayfair called The Square. A quick Google search of his restaurant was met with a simultaneous 'Oh Yeah' we were agreed. A swift call the The Square secured us our last meal of the weekend.

There were only a couple of tables occupied when we arrived but as tables filled up so rose the level of chatter and the room filled with a nice vibe.
The square does offer a nine course tasting menu but after braving nine courses last night at Le Gavroche plus all the other meals over the weekend this would be suicidal!

Our A La Carte 3 course meal however turned out to be seven offerings!
This is the biggest thing we’ve learnt eating at high end restaurants, the kitchen sends you plates that are not on the menu. There’s Amuse Bouche’s, pre starter, pre desert and petit fours all added to your original 3 plates.

We started the evening with a couple of cocktails they were seriously good a Bramble for me and a Tom Collins for Rach. I would have been happy to drink them all night but we were here for the food first and foremost.

The food was also amazing even though this is a serious high end restaurant we really felt there was an element of fun in the food we ate here. The staff were also fantastic and we had a good laugh on a couple of occasions with a particular waitress.

Phil Howard at The Square

The Bramble

This is what we ate
Squid ink crackers with Taramasalata,Cone of frois gras and avocado cream,Garlic rice balls.

I often deal with these little chaps on my allotment, I've never eaten one and I'm afraid I wasn't going to start now !
Another Amuse Bouche , Parsley veloute & garlic butter snail

Garlic butter snail

However after knocking back her Tom Collins Rach decided to go for it. Too weary to pop the whole thing in she cut it in half ! BIG MISTAKE !!! I don't think we will ever forget that sight.
Garlic butter snail

The rest of the food I'm glad to say was fantastic as you can see from the pictures.

Scallop from Orkney cooked whole with coco beans, fresh almonds and lemon verbena

A salad of globe artichokes, fresh almonds, grilled cauliflower, cured white park beef with summer truffle & mimolett

Herb crusted saddle of lamb with olive gnocchi, dried tomato's, balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

Roasted cod with cauliflower puree, grilled potatoes, summer truffle pesto
Pre desert - compliments of the chef-Lemon posset, peach pure, cream foam with warm sugared doughnut

Raspberry souffle

Raspberry souffle with Raspberry ripple ice cream

Petit fours - A rainbow of jellied fruits and salted caramels

Saturday, 24 November 2012

A weekend eating in London (part 4)

Gordon Ramsey at Claridge's

I had never eaten so much in my life in one sitting as I did at Le Gavroche last night. Retiring to bed
I was too full to lie down and too tired to stand up this made for a terrible restless and uncomfortable night. My own fault I know!  So it was not surprising I could not face breakfast in the morning. Still full from last night I could barely even fit a coffee in.

Today we had a reservation at Gordon Ramsey’s in Claridge’s for Rach’s birthday lunch.
It began to dawn on me the enormity of what we were doing, who the hell eats like this in an average day? and I began to worry I might not be hungry enough to eat lunch today.

When booking lunch for Sunday afternoon we decided it had to be a traditional roast so the hunt began for a suitable venue. We wanted Tradition and we wanted grand.
Claridge’s fitted the bill perfectly! Claridge’s has a fantastic history.

William and Marianne Claridge first ran a hotel from a single house in 1856 they bought the adjoining five buildings in 1854. Claridge’s opens its doors in 1856.
Its growing reputation soon earned visits from Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.
And fast became a favourite for heads of state and royalty throughout Europe.

After the end of the First World War flappers, bobs and the bright young things of London make Claridge's their place to party and the ballroom echoed to the songs of Gershwin, the sounds of jazz and the steps of the Charleston.

During the Second World War it was used as an exile for many dignitaries. One of the footmen told us the King of Greece had lived here throughout.

During the 50’s the Hollywood era Claridges was visited by the likes of
Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn, Audrey Hepburn, Yul Brynner and Bing Crosby
Spencer Tracy famously said he'd rather go to Claridge's than to heaven when he dies!
Incidentally Katherine Hepburn was asked to use the staff entrance , she was barred from the Lobby for wearing trousers! thank god that dress code does not apply today we wouldn't have got a toe over the threshold!

Fast forward to today it’s still the kind of place the queen will attend a cocktail party.
Talking of cocktails my favourite one in the whole world“The Black pearl “is only served here. I know this because I read about it in a magazine and after seeing the list of ingredients I knew it was the drink for me. In fact my friend Lisa and I drank them every time she visited me a couple of summers ago. They are a real faff to make but totally lovely.
And here was my chance to have one where it was invented. It’s sort of like having a Singapore sling at Raffles I suppose.

Our lunch was booked for 12.30 and I was seriously worried but I was going to go even if I could only manage soup! But somewhere between stepping off the tube to a couple of streets away I felt that little hunger pang. I was so relived I punched the air with delight!!

Stepping into Claridge's has that real WOW factor it's just stunning and I can see why it's jokingly referred to as the extension of Buckingham palace.

Being slightly early we were shown to the Fumoir bar. A visually stunning bar lovely 30s interior dark rich colours, vintage photographs of Marlene Dietrich and Coco Chanel line the panelled walls. This bar is so beautiful I wished it to be early evening. I could just see myself sitting here drinking my beloved Black Pearl cocktail.
Fumoir Bar, Claridges
The birthday girl
 Gordon Ramsey's dining room at Claridges

Watermelon breezer cocktail

English garden peas & broad beans, Dorset organic goat's curd and roasted hazelnuts
Sauteed chicken livers with toasted brioche, wild mushroom and fried egg

Roast beef with Yorkshire pud
Lemon tart with creme fraiche
Birthday plate

Truffles & marshmallow
Meeting the head chef

During our meal the manager came over for a chat and to wish rach a happy birthday. He then Instructed us not to leave without seeing him as he had a surprise for us. 
We had manage to convince ourselves Gordon was cooking today and we were being introduced to him.

After we paid our bill we were summonsed to follow him, OMG were we right we were walking towards the kitchens, with every diner turning to look at us it was slightly embarrassing.
As it happens Mr Ramsey was not there but we were introduced to the head chef who's name neither of us can remember (sadly) as he was brilliant with us, managing to show us how everything comes together and still shouting the orders from the pass he took time to chat with us and pose for a photograph. This was an amazing experience and a definite highlight of the day.

View from Chefs table in Gordon Ramsey's kitchen at Claridge's

I never did get to order my Black pearl but a visit this November will visit the bar at Claridges to put that right! after all this is unfinished business.


50ml Zubrowka Bisson Grass Vodka
4 Fresh Blackberries
4 Fresh Blueberries
10ml Chambord
10ml Creme deCassis
25ml Pink Grapefruit Juice
Fresh Lime Juice
Muddle the blackberries, blueberries and vodka with a bar spoon in a cocktail shaker. Add the lime juice, Chambord, Cassis and pink grapefruit juice. Shake well with ice. Strain and pour contents into a short glass with ice. Garnish with a couple of blackberries and enjoy!

Friday, 23 November 2012

A weekend eating in London (part3)

Le Gavroche

Reading an old Observer article from 2002 there was a quote from Albert Roux that stated Before Le Gavroche there was, well, not very much really: no great landmark restaurants in London, no competitive community of chefs and, frankly, very little in the way of great food. 'Most people who ate in restaurants went to hotels'.

Brothers Albert and Michel Roux are viewed as the godfathers of modern restaurant cuisine in the UK. They put Britain on the culinary map; raised standards across the board through their ground-breaking Michelin-starred restaurants.

1974 Le Gavroche became the first Michelin-starred restaurant in the UK.
In 1977 it achieved a second star and in 1982 it became the first UK restaurant to hold three Michelin stars. Then subsequently lost a star in 1993.

No gastronomic tour of London would have been complete without visiting here,
So I was thrilled I managed to bag a reservation. Three months in advance and I still couldn't get a table before 10.30pm! .

The menu exceptionnel was what we were after. A nine course tasting menu with accompanying wines weighing in at £360.00 with added 12.5% gratuity bringing the total to a whopping £405.00 !!  "A-hem" not so bad if you say it fast!
Lasting well over 3 hours this would have taken us well over the stroke of midnight and into birthday land comfortably.

We wanted it and we wanted it bad ! like Gollum wants the ring we wants the precious  exceptionnel...... But disappointment was to be had as last order for menu exceptionnel 10pm! And our table was 10.30. Oh no! Disaster!!!!!! We miss it by 1/2 hour!
The only thing I could do explained the receptionist was ring each week to see if there had been a cancellation? Which I did but to no avail....but I had a plan, a simple plan and it worked ;0)

Le Gavroche is very different to most restaurants we have visited as you enter it via a small bar upstairs, the actual restaurant is in the basement.
From the outside the restaurant is quite understated, just a simple black door with Le Gavroche lit up in the transom light above. You are made very welcome the minute you step behind that door. Smoothly checked in, coat taken then shown into the small said but cosy bar.

Le Gavroche
We sat down on one of the plush couches and given the menu to peruse and ordered some cocktails.
Your order is taken from here so your not actually sitting at the table trying not to knock the wine glasses over with the menu, this I liked.
We were also brought some lovely canapés to nibble on.

One of the unusual niceties about ordering a meal here is they only pass the menu with prices on to the paying guest so your dining companion can choose whatever they like without feeling they should choose the cheapest option.

Now for my simple trick, and it was this! we purposely turned up 1 hour earlier than expected and mentioned to the manager we would we would love to experience the full tasting menu and could we be considered for this if a table became available before the last order for it?.

It worked!! and what felt felt like minutes later we were taken downstairs to our table.
Walking down those stairs from a very quiet bar into a restaurant buzzing with chatter and laughter was a fantastic feeling as we were slightly worried it might be deathly quiet. The sort of place you might hear a pin drop because everyone is on their best behaviour. It was not like that at all quite the opposite. 

The restaurant has a very cosy feel, dimly lit, very opulent surroundings to enjoy our feast. 
We were more than thrilled with our little table for two in a far corner of the room snug and really cosy just the way we like to dine. I believe one of the key factors here is comfort and as we were here for the long haul this was crucial.

Our neighbours seated next to us we discovered were two fellow Liverpudlians they had Just finished the menu exceptionnel and were raving about it, this added to our excitement and we chatted like old friends until they left.


We were like a pair of owls wide eyed and heads spinning round looking to see if the next dish out of the kitchen was the first of our Nine. When our first course did arrive it was the legendary, I say legendary because it's one of the most talked about dishes to ever come out of the kitchen of Le Gavroche.

Ladies and Gentlemen I give you the Soufflé Suissesse, Cheese Soufflé Cooked on Double Cream. A dish so rich I feared for my arteries as I was eating it. But as instructed by our fellow scousers we tried each mouthful with a sip from the accompanying Dry Amontillado "Los Arcos" (Sherry) and it worked a treat cutting through the rich cream my arteries thanking me for it.

Forgive photo quality here as don't like to use flash in restaurants.

2nd Course:
Marinated Var Salmon with Lemon and Vodka Jelly.

With matching wine
VouvraySec "La Dilettante" 2010.

I have to admit we are both not fans of Salmon but as this was a small piece, it was easily  dealt with. No disrespect to Mr Roux jr you can't help what you don't like.

3rd Course
Stone Bass and Pastilla, Scented with Arabian Spices Fennel, Red Rice and Meat Jus.

With matched wine.
Chateau Roubine "Terre de Croix" Semillon 2009

This wine I adored and have been trying to find it ever since.

I eventually contacted the Sommelier Mr David Galetti @haveagrapetime who helped me source it from a company called Eminent Wines @EminentWines these guys are seriously helpful.

4th Course.
Grilled Scallops with a Clam Minestrone.

Matched wine.
Pouilly Fume 2010.


5th Course.
Black Pudding, Crumbed Egg, Crackling Asparagus Salad and Spicy Tomato Chutney.

Matched wine.
Côte-de-Nuits Villages 2006.


6th Course.
Grilled Fillet of Scottish Beef, Wild Mushrooms Red Wine Shallot Sauce.

Matched wine.
Le Soula Rouge 2004.

By now we were starting to get full, this beef nearly finished me off ! the glasses of wine were starting to mount up too ! any minute now I was tempted to use them as glass Harmonicas and strike up my own happy birthday tune! but thought better of it after all we were on our best behaviour !

7th Course.
Selection of French and British Farmhouse Cheeses.

Matched wine.
Esprit de Chevalier 2006.
The sight of this Cheese trolley nearly had me shooing them away but a little voice inside me told me to man up !!  



8th Course.
Crispy Layers of Pastry, Raspberries and Praline Flavoured Chocolate.

Matched wine.
Côteaux du Layon Saint Lambert 2010.
Ok by now this was starting to turn into an episode of Man verses food. But I'm glad to say on this day MAN WON!

9th Course.
Café et Petits Fours.
If you have ever seen the Monty Python film the meaning of life then you will remember the sceene where after eating a feast of several courses and proclaiming "I can't eat another thing!"
The smooth Matire d' offers him wafer thin mint . In our case the Petit fours. then runs for cover as the diner explodes!! well that was us!  


One of the funniest things we will never forget was there was a particular waitress serving our wine, each time she poured a glass she told us where the wine had come from what the aroma or bouquet was, finish etc... all in perfect english but with a heavy french accent.
We were one of the last people to leave and she asked us if we had had a good time to which we replyed we had.... After a couple of minutes delay it hit us she had spoken to us in a London accent !!  we laughed all the way back to the hotel.

Mr Roux your two stars are well deserved but if ever a Michelin inspector happens to come across this Blog could you please give Le Gavroche it's third star back !
One for the excellent food, One for the impecable service and the third for the pure theatre Thank you.