Thursday, 11 August 2011

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, Mandarin Oriental Hotel, London, July 2011


Having already been to The Fat Duck, we had high hopes for Heston Blumenthal’s new restaurant, Dinner. Situated in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, the exterior was much more extravagant and boastful than that of the Fat Duck, as was the interior which was situated right next to the main bar area of the hotel. The aim of this restaurant is to take historic English recipes and use modern technology and techniques to bring them back to life. This visit was a treat for my dad from his colleagues SJ and ACR, who organised everything. Several of my dad’s other colleagues were invited and we were all seated in a private dining room, with a view of the main dining area.  




The menu was very simple. The first two courses were set starters whilst there were two options for the main course and dessert. Before eating, the waiter served and explained the wine chosen to compliment each course.  Another waiter would explain how the dish linked to English history.

The first course was roast scallops with cucumber ketchup and borage. The scallops had a subtle flavour, which the ketchup did not overpower. The ketchup itself was intriguing, with a rich green appearance and hints of cucumber surfacing from within the slightly dominant acidic flavour. Despite the beautiful flavours, the dish itself was not at all brilliantly presented, as everything seemed rather slapdash.




The next course was ‘Meat Fruit’. This was a piece of chicken liver parfait, perfectly shaped to resemble a mandarin and then coated in a mandarin gel and served with grilled bread. The presentation, unlike the last dish, was amazing. The parfait looked almost exactly like a mandarin. As for the flavours, the parfait was intensely rich and had fresh bursts of citric flavour emerging from the gel at every bite. The parfait was smooth but not slimy and the gel did not feel too gelatinous or too watery. 





The choices of main course were spiced pigeon with ale and artichokes or roast sea bass with cockle ketchup and leaf chicory. The table was rather divided, but my entire family went for the pigeon. The waiter explained that the pigeon had not only been fed on a special diet to make it less gamey, it had also not flown and had been cooked for a very long time, giving it unparalleled tenderness. The pigeon was indeed unbelievably tender, requiring little force to cut through let alone bite into. The flavours that came through of ale and spices were intense but would have complimented the meat much better if it had retained the gamey flavour. I do prefer my pigeon gamey, but this is not to say that this dish was unspectacular.





The choice of dessert was either the chocolate bar with passion fruit jam and ginger ice cream or the tipsy cake with spit roast pineapple. My mum chose the chocolate bar since it was not alcoholic. The chocolate had a perfect bittersweet balance and the biscuit base complimented the sticky jam and smooth ice cream which both had complimentary flavours. However the tipsy cake was worshipped by those who tried it, including SJ and another of my dad’s colleagues ACR. A ramekin was served on a plate with several slices of slightly darkened pineapple. Whilst the pineapple gave the dish an additional acidic flavour, nothing could compare to the brioche cake, which was revered by those who ate it. The syrup at the bottom was soaked up by the brioche, complimenting the spongy texture and the delightful crunch of the sugar coating on top. The brioche itself had little flavour, but the syrup had a strong treacle flavour and the sugar made it even sweeter. This was an ambrosial dessert. 





We finished the meal with a selection of British cheeses, which was finished only by those who still had the stomach. To end the experience we were given a tiny cup of tea mousse, which was far too sweet. All the same, everyone left satisfied.

RATINGS:
Food Quality 9/10
Presentation 8/10
Ambience 9/10
Service 9/10
Value For Money 8/10

Overall 43/50
Outstanding

Although not quite the theatre of the Fat Duck and with one dish not presented as attractively as it should, this was still a very good experience, with inventive dishes and buzzing atmosphere, even outside of the private room. 

Author - CT (13)

Photos - DT (40) & LT (15)

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 6 August 2011

The Fat Duck, July 2011


At last, the family arrived at The Fat Duck in Bray. Heston Blumenthal’s three Michelin star restaurant is well known in the culinary world for its innovative flavours and presentation, not to mention its coveted place in the top ten restaurants in the world.  The building has a rather modest exterior, but a very colourful interior. The exterior of the building does not bear the name of the restaurant, thus it is easy to walk past it and not notice it. The distinguishing factors are the little hanging sign boasting the restaurant’s emblem, and a small golden plaque reading “Grand Chef Heston Blumenthal”. Though elaborate, the plaque could very easily be missed.



The interior of the restaurant was quaint to say the least. The structure of the building looked somewhat aged, contrasted dramatically by the confusing array of modern art displayed on the walls. The restaurant was buzzing with activity, a change from the hushed atmosphere of many other restaurants. The first of the fourteen courses was “Nitro Poached Aperitifs”. The waitress started by pouring liquid nitrogen into a metal pot. As the mist started to flow from the pot, she put in an egg white mixture infused with an alcoholic flavour of your choice; lime vodka, gin and tonic or campari soda. The egg white emerged from the mist as a solid, meringue like substance. The waitress then sprinkled a powder, the flavour of which corresponded to that of your initial choice. As my mother was told to eat it quickly and in one go, the waitress sprayed perfume above her, emphasizing the restaurant’s aim to pleasure every sense. The lime vodka aperitif was beautiful in the mouth. Everything was varied, the bitterness of the vodka and the acidity of the lime, the crunch of the egg white and the coarse powder. Every aspect was complimented greatly by the lingering scent of the perfume. 


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The next course was the “Red Cabbage Gazpacho”. This was more or less a red cabbage consommé, but with a big difference. This was served with a small scoop of pommery grain mustard ice cream. This combination was very intriguing. The Gazpacho closely resembled the colour and flavour of beetroot soup and the ice cream gave the dish a smooth texture as well as a mild mustard flavour.


Red Cabbage Gazpacho


Jelly of Quail, Crayfish Cream, Chicken Liver Parfait, Oak Moss and Truffle Toast is probably the most visually pleasing course of the experience.  The waiter started by placing a small wooden block on the table. This was covered in short green tendrils and on it were four tiny plastic boxes. The waiter explained that truffles are found around and underneath oak trees and so have the same flavours and aromas. Then he introduced the contents of the bowls we were given. The first layer was the chicken liver parfait, second cream of crayfish, third jelly of quail and finally, pea puree. He then gave us each the contents of the little plastic boxes; a minute rectangle of film. He told us to place it on the tip of our tongues to enhance the flavours of the truffle toast. He finished by pouring liquid nitrogen onto the wooden box. As the mist started to cascade down the box, the smoky aroma of the moss drifted with it. The toast tasted subtly smoky as well with hints of butter. The layered substance was perfect. The smooth, gelatinous and creamy textures were harmonious in the mouth, matching the consonance of the rich, fishy and gamey flavours. 


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The next course was the famous “Snail Porridge”. This was not appealing to my mother, who has a strong dislike for snails. The dish appeared green and lumpy, but tasted divine. The snails were not rubbery and were given a brackish flavour by the Iberico ham. It was not exceedingly stodgy, but just enough to keep the porridge texture and consistency. 


Snail's porridge


“Roast Foie Gras” followed. This was served as a small cuboid on top of a thin sheet of braised kombu and also with two wafer thin crab biscuits and a rather stingy amount of barberry puree. The gentle sweet-sour taste of the puree perfectly complimented the smooth, rich foie gras. The biscuits were extremely thin but surprisingly powerful in flavour. 


Roast Foie Gras


Shortly after we finished the beautiful foie gras, our next course arrived. This was the “Mock Turtle Soup”. The waiter first gave us a little bookmark with a passage from ‘Alice In Wonderland’ on it. This passage is of Alice at the Mad Hatter’s tea party. On the back of the bookmark was an explanation of the creation of mock turtle soup, which was made of calf’s head and feet. Then we were given a bowl containing a “Mock Turtle Egg” made from turnip paste and swede puree, enochi mushrooms and tender beef wrapped in an edible skin. We were also given a teacup full of hot water. The waiter told us the story of the Mad Hatter’s tea party. He placed a “gold watch” into each of our cups like the March Hare in the story. He then told us to stir the water. The watch slowly dissolved and the water turned a deep brown. We then poured the ‘tea’ into our bowls and it became the Mock Turtle Soup. The “egg” was smooth and slightly powdery with a subtle honey taste, bolstered by the slightly sweet soup. The mushrooms added variety to the texture and the beef was incredibly tender, requiring next to no effort to bite through. The flavours were very subtle so as not to assault the palate. This was probably the most fun dish.


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The next dish, “Sound of The Sea”, was introduced by four conch shells being placed in front of us. Inside the shells were iPod shuffles. We were then presented with a beautiful dish. This was served on a rectangle of clear glass on top of a box of sand. On the glass was ‘sand’ made from crushed tapioca and fried baby eels. Adjacent to the “sand” was the “sea”, a foam made of vegetable stock and seaweed. On the “sand” were cubes of fish. These were yellowtail, halibut and mackerel. As we ate we were told to listen to the iPod, which continuously played the sound of waves and seagulls. The fish was soft and flaky and the “sea” was bubbly and briny. The coarse, brackish sand meant that each aspect improved the entire synergy of the dish, while the sound of receding waves played gently in our ears. The finishing of the course sparked a debate on whether the shells were real or not. 


Sound of the sea

The next dish was the “Salmon Poached In A Liquorice Gel” served with artichokes, vanilla mayonnaise, golden trout roe and a sprinkling of grapefruit pulp. The salmon’s texture was incredible due to the thin gelatinous coating, which offered hints of aniseed and the vanilla mayonnaise just gave the dish a subtle honey flavour. The artichokes varied the texture a little with its layered crunch and the grapefruit gave the dish that little sharpness. The dish was wonderful, although it seemed rather pedestrian compared to the sensory experience of the previous dish. 


Salmon poached in a liquorice gel

Next came “Lamb With Cucumber” with onion and dill fluid gel. This came as a main dish as well as a wooden box on top of which was a small cup of consommé and some meat cubes as well as some crackling. The lamb was beautifully coloured and had very subtle flavours. The consommé was very flavoursome and the meat cubes and crackling were a nice addition, both adding variety in the texture department.


Lamb with cucumber




At last we came to the end of the savoury dishes and onto the palate cleanser, the “Hot And Iced Tea”. This came in a small glass served on a clear glass plate. The sensation was extraordinary. Somehow the sweet, slightly citric drink was both hot and cold. The fact that the two temperatures stayed separate even in the mouth was incredible and the liquid was not too viscous.


Hot and iced tea

The sweet dishes began with “Macerated Strawberries” with an olive oil biscuit, chamomile and coriander jelly and ice cream cornet. The ice cream was nicely textured and the cone was perfectly crunchy and not too sweet. The little white chocolate chequered sheet I found went well with the grainy, buttery biscuit. The strawberries were arranged in a size spectrum and were very sweet. 


Macerated strawberries


Next came “The BFG” or Black Forest Gateau. This was an upright cuboid of dark chocolate cake served with kirsch ice cream. As the waiter sprayed kirsch perfume around our table, we started to eat. The gateau had several layers, which made its texture heavenly. The alcoholic sweet-sour cherries perfectly complimented the aggressive bittersweet flavour of the gateau, whilst the smooth, cold, alcoholic ice cream just gave the dish more booze. This was the best dish of the entire experience.


The 'BFG"

There was an optional cheese course, which we declined.

The penultimate dish was “Whisk(e)y Wine Gums”. This was presented to us as a picture frame, in which was a map of Scotland and a tiny fragment of America. Stuck to the map were five gums in the shape of bottles. These were a deep amber colour, but the shade varied since each one was made from a different whiskey. As the gums melted in our mouths, the fiery flavour of the alcohol in each one was different from the last, the alcohol getting slightly stronger every time.



The last dish of the day was “Like A Kid In A Sweet Shop”. We were each given a little sweet bag and a menu. Before we could eat our way through the bag, the menu tickled our olfactory senses with its soft scent of boiled sweets. The contents of the bag were as follows:

Aerated Chocolate, Mandarin Jelly.  This was a dome of delicate, bubbly chocolate with a citric jelly base. Magnificent texture and contrast of flavours.

Coconut Baccy, Coconut Infused with an Aroma of Black Cavendish Tobacco.  The thin strips of coconut were very flavoursome and came in what looked like an old-fashioned tobacco pouch.

Apple Pie Caramel, with an Edible Wrapper: The sweet and sour apple flavour along with the chewy caramel texture went perfectly well together. Not to forget the ingenious edible wrapper.

The Queen Of Hearts.  Came in an envelope with an edible red seal. This was a rectangle of white chocolate which encased a berry compote. Printed on both sides of  the chocolate was the Queen of Hearts, making it look exactly like a playing card. The best in the bag.





Coconu baccy
 

The sweet bag was a great way to end the four-hour experience. At last the family departed from The Fat Duck, very happy with what they had tasted, smelt, heard, seen and felt.

RATINGS:
Food Quality 10/10
Presentation 10/10
Ambience 9/10
Service 10/10
Value For Money 9/10

Overall 48/50
Outstanding

The Fat Duck certainly deserves its three Michelin stars. Its inventive ways of cooking and presenting food has surpassed most if not all other restaurants in the world. The restaurant was very lively so you do not feel as if the volume of your conversation is restricted to a whisper. Though the price is steep, it is worth it for the entire experience. 


Author - CT (13)

Photography - DT

The Fat Duck on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 21 May 2011

The Great House, Lavenham, Suffolk 30th April 2011


We visited The Great House Restaurant the day after eating at Maison Bleue. The restaurant is situated in the tiny village of Lavenham where most of the buildings have been around for six hundred years. The Great House is a hotel as well as a restaurant.

At first, we saw nothing familiar about the interior of the restaurant. However, it slowly dawned on us that The Great House shared some similarities with Maison Bleue. Both restaurants have very similar abstract paintings on its walls.  Both restaurants also had very similar flowers on its tables. My brother then pointed out that The Great House served the same bread as Maison Bleue. Our waiter then explained that the same company runs both The Great House and Maison Bleue. The staff at The Great House was a lot friendlier than those at Maison Bleue though.

For starters, my mum went for the tuna and mackerel sushi with olive oil, lemon juice and sesame seeds. It was a very delicate dish and the fish was not overpowered by the lemon flavour. My brother had a ballotine of foie gras marinated with Port and served with grilled brioche. My brother thought the flavours complimented each other well and the presentation of the dish was exceptional. I had saddle of rabbit for my starter, which I enjoyed immensely. My dad’s choice of carpaccio of veal with lemon juice and Parmesan cheese was inspired. The meat was incredibly thin and just melted in the mouth. We were all impressed by the quality of the starters.






For main course, I had rack of English lamb with rosemary sauce. The meat was beautifully cooked but the rosemary sauce was perhaps just a tad too subtle. The rest of my family had the venison with red wine, mustard and cranberry sauce. The venison was by far the star of the show.  It was cooked to perfection and packed a strong flavour. 




For dessert, my mum opted for a selection of Suffolk cheeses from the cheeseboard. All the cheeses she chose were very strong in flavour and aroma. I am not one to judge cheese, as I have a dislike for the strong ones, but my brother and dad both agreed that these cheeses were very good. I had an apple tarte tatin with caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream. The tarte was gorgeous. The apples weren’t too sharp, but had enough tang to balance the sticky caramel sauce. The ice cream gave it a bit more moisture. My dad and brother both had the orange tian, which was a shortbread biscuit topped with marmalade and fresh orange segments. Both thought it was a good dessert, although my brother more so than my dad. All the desserts came with small sugar-crafted objects, which my dad thought were a bit too sharp and uncomfortable to eat. 





RATINGS

Food quality 8/10
Service 8/10
Ambience 8/10
Presentation 8/10
Value for money 8/10

OVERALL 40/50
Great

An overall better experience than Maison Bleue, with friendlier staff, better food and better value for money. The waiters and waitresses coped brilliantly with the annoying wooden beam hanging from the low roof, and the manager, who was amiable and amusing, charmed us. We would definitely go again in the future.

Author - CT (13)

Photography - LT (15) and DT (40) 

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Maison Bleue Restaurant, 29th April 2011


Maison Bleue is situated on a quiet street in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk. The restaurant is French (as you might have guessed from its name) and it is quite easily distinguishable from its neighbouring buildings by the small blue awning above its front door. The interior was more modern than most of the surrounding buildings with no wooden beams protruding from the walls and ceiling.

The service was efficient rather than outstanding.   We did not have to wait long for our starters. My dad insisted on trying the fish soup, which was on the a la carte rather than the set menu. He had expected something similar to seafood chowder and was therefore somewhat disappointed to find that it was not so. The soup was presented with cheese, croutons and some sort of mayonnaise on the side. The flavours were very ordinary and none of the sides really made much of an impact. My brother had opted for a tuna carpaccio with soy sauce, ginger and wasabi, which sounded a lot like sashimi. The soy sauce flavour stood out but there was no point in which the wasabi could be tasted. This dish though was very well presented.  My swordfish was rather untidy and was a tad over seasoned. The soft fish complimented the crunch of the vegetables well. My mum had mackerel on a bed of courgettes, shallots and coriander.  The mackerel was competently cooked and Mum declared that she enjoyed her starter.







For main course, I had roasted Dingley Dell pork, which came with leek, mash and purple carrot. The pork was well cooked, although it lacked a bit of flavour. My brother had sea trout with homemade egg tagliatelle and sorrel sauce, which he enjoyed. My dad ordered the gilt head bream with olive tapenade. It was a flavoursome dish with the fish being cooked precisely. My mum had grey mullet marinated with lemon and thyme and served with a pesto dressing. She said it was cooked well and the tang of the lemon balanced the fish flavours perfectly. There was a clear improvement from the starters. 






Dessert was probably the best course of the night. My mum had a strawberry tart, which was served strangely as a shortbread biscuit. The shortbread was divinely textured, and was not too sugary. My brother’s dessert was a chocolate cylinder with ginger mousse and a chocolate-based biscuit. He found it rather average, as he would have liked to have tasted a stronger ginger flavour. My dad and I both went for the lemon and rhubarb tart. This was an outstanding dessert with the rhubarb coulis balancing the sweet and sharp flavours incredibly well. The consistency was just right with the top lemon layer being luxuriously smooth.





RATINGS
Food Quality 7/10
Presentation 7/10
Ambience 8/10
Service 7/10
Value for money 7/10

OVERALL 36/50
Good

Despite being slightly let down by the starters, the overall experience was certainly not bad by any standards and I would definitely go back if the lemon and rhubarb tart was still on the menu.


Author - CT (13)

Photography - LT (15) and DT (40)

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Dego Italian Restaurant (Saturday, 9th April 2011)


As some of my mum’s relatives were staying with us, my dad pounced on the opportunity to use his tastecard, which allows him to get discounts in participating restaurants. Most of the restaurants that take part in this are places that need more publicity and advertisement. We last used our tastecard at Original Tangines, a restaurant that we were extremely disappointed with. We were expecting more from Dego, an Italian restaurant on Great Portland Street, London.

The restaurant has two floors.  The ground level floor is a wine bar and the underground floor a restaurant. The dark walls of the restaurant are decorated with some random paintings.  The room itself was rather small with a cocktail bar at one end of it. Several bulbs shielded by red tinted lampshades lit the room, whilst the speakers played a monotonous drumbeat. This atmosphere gave the room a somewhat promiscuous air to say the least. As we ordered our meals, it was evident that there was a slight language barrier between us and the waitresses, who did not seem to fully comprehend what we were saying and spoke with a very heavy accent. 

My dad, my brother, my cousin’s boyfriend ( C ) and I all went for the beef tartare to start. This was prepared at our table and was a very delicate process. The beef was not too sharp, something many people get wrong when preparing tartare. The meat retained most of its natural sweetness and the spices added were just recognisable. I personally thought it needed more pepper but my dad and brother disagreed. My mum started with pea and red mullet soup. I had a little of it and was surprised. The pea flavour was very strong but not too sweet, and the fish was flaky, although there was not much of it. The cocktails were also very good both in flavour and presentation. The virgin raspberry mojitos that my brother and I chose were sweet, sharp and had a subtle mint flavour, which was very refreshing.




Amuse bouche of salmon and asparagus

Preparing steak tartare

Steak tartare

Pea and red mullet soup

We were worried at how big the primi piattis would be, as we have experienced gargantuan pasta dishes previously. The waitress told us that they were quite big, as well as gesturing with her hands how big they were, and so we decided to order just one pasta dish to share between my dad and my brother. Strangely, the amount of pasta was very small. The dish was pasta with duck ragu, which was very average. I had a smooth potato and leek soup with scallops. The soup was smooth and saporous. The leeks were a bit on the chewy side.  However, the scallops were very well cooked (although there was not enough of it) and had a crystalline crust. C and my mum had pasta with rabbit ragu. Although my mum liked it, C thought it was over seasoned.

Potato and leek soup with scallops

Ravioli

Pasta with duck ragu

Pasta with rabbit ragu

For secondi piatti, my dad chose the paper steamed sea bass. The fish was fresh and cooked to perfection. The accompanying beans were very good as well and my dad thoroughly enjoyed the dish.  My brother and I had both chosen confit duck with rocket salad and a grapefruit dressing. The dish probably should have been called rocket salad with confit duck, as the former was much more abundant than the latter on the plate. The duck was lacking in nearly everything. The skin was very buttery, which I did not find to my taste. The meat fell off the bone nicely, but it was very unpleasant in the mouth as it had a grainy texture. The whole dish could have been a bit more brackish and the salad needed much more dressing to match its abundance. 

Confit duck

Paper steamed sea bass

For desserts, my mum chose a chocolate and caramel meringue in ginger sauce. Although it was described as a meringue, it was more of a crème. However, the ginger sauce complimented the honeyed flavours of the chocolate and caramel. My dad and brother had rose parfait with real rose petals. This arrived at the table with an entire rose settled horizontally on the plate. My dad was revolted by the flavours and left me with the rest. Since it tasted very much like rose Turkish delight, I thoroughly enjoyed it. My brother and I also enjoyed the rose petals, which my dad could not understand either. My aunt had a beautifully presented traditional crumbly cake. 


Chocolate and caramel meringue in ginger sauce

Crumbly cake

Rose parfait

RATINGS
Food quality 7/10
Presentation 7/10
Ambience 7/10
Service 7/10
Value for money 7/10

OVERALL
35/50
Good
Though the food was by no means ambrosial, it was certainly above average. Service was not bad but there is room for improvement. Presentation was varied, with some dishes appearing extravagant and others looking drab. An above average meal but it is unlikely that we will become regular customers. 


Reviewer - CT (age 12)

Photography - DT

Dego' Restaurant and wine bar on Urbanspoon