Best Bites & Superior Sips of 2010

Quite unintentionally iconoclastic in its timing, I am publishing a list of some of the best things I ingested during 2010, now that it’s already 2011. I know, I know…forever behind the times. (The ‘unintentionally’ part – if you happen to care – is because I was stuck in Florida due to the storms in the Northeast of the US and didn’t have access to my laptop with all of my photos and notes).

I have decided against posting favorite meals in favor of the most enjoyable dishes of food and glasses (or bottles) of wine, which gives the added benefit of highlighting some excellent establishments and vintners about which, for some reason or other – call it laziness or busyness – I have yet to post a fuller review.

I have made no distinction between the type of place in which the food was served and have included a few oddballs for the fun of it. I thought maybe it might be easier to digest (pardon the pun) by dividing the list into different parts of the day. I didn’t necessarily have all of the dishes at the specified time of the day (though I mostly did), but assigned them to the mealtime that people would be most likely to consume them.

But without further adieu, Maestro, drum-roll please…

BREAKFAST

Best Eggs Benedict:
The Heathman, Portland, Oregon

Smoked Salmon Eggs Benedict at The Heathman

Well, to come clean, I didn’t actually order this, it was Mrs. LF’s dish. But she swore at the time that “this is the best eggs Benedict I’ve ever had” – no small praise indeed. I tasted it and had to concur – it was pretty darn good, as many things are at The Heathman. Not particularly exciting, but very, very good. I think even Monica, Michel Roux’s sous-chef would have been happy with the perfect hollandaise sauce. :)

Heathman on Urbanspoon

Best Waffle:
Original Pancake House, Boca Raton, Florida

Belgian Waffle with Blueberries at The Original Pancake House

Exceedingly light and perfectly crispy, these were the surprise hit of our recent pilgrimage to one of the bastions of my childhood memories. Their famous apple pancake (which is about the size of a small horse) was still largely as I remember it, but I think my taste buds have moved on a bit since I was 10 years old – it’s pictured below so you can get an idea of what it looks like.

Childhood Memories (But No Award): Apple Pancake at The Original Pancake House

It is delicious, but just a little too sweet for me nowadays. It is still a unique and memorable dish, though.

Best Non-traditional Brunch Dish:
wd~50, NYC

Everything Bagel, Smoked Salmon Threads, Crispy Cream Cheese at wd~50

Out of all of the immensely whimsical and delicious dishes on wd~50’s tasting menu when I visited with Brother LF, this was quite possibly my favorite, in no small part due to the presentation. I mean, it does look like an ‘everything’ bagel, right?…but it’s ice cream, not bread! It tasted like one of the quintessential New York breakfasts of nova, cream cheese and bagel, but in a very grown up and refined way. It was a painstakingly and lovingly created reinterpretation of a piece of Americana – in a word: wonderful. I savored each dainty bite that I took. If I would have had Heston’s Nitro-Scrambled Egg & Bacon Ice Cream from The Fat Duck in 2010, this may have beat out wd~50.

wd-50 on Urbanspoon

Best Macchiato:
Stumptown Coffee Roasters, Portland, Oregon

Macchiato at Stumptown

My favorite place for my daily coffee (when I am near one, that is). I also like Joe the Art of Coffee too, and frequent the one in Grand Central Terminal when I commute into NYC…though the West Village one is much more cozy and you can sit down.

Stumptown Coffee Roasters on Urbanspoon

Joe The Art of Coffee on Urbanspoon

Best Cappuccino:
Café Umbria, Portland, Oregon

Cappuccino at Café Umbria

Father LF swore by it, and I swore it couldn’t be good, but in the end elderly wisdom one out. The foam was perfect and the espresso excellent.

Caffe Umbria on Urbanspoon

Best Mocha:
Kaffeine, London

Sorry, no photo for this one, but Mrs. LF swore it was the best mocha she ever had, and from my wee taste, I thought the balance between sweet and bitter was pretty amazing. I love this London coffee-house too – definitely one of my favorites, and the lunch fare is good too.

Kaffeine on Urbanspoon

ELEVENSES

Best Brownie:
Paul A. Young, London

Classic Brownie from Paul A. Young

I’ve tasted a lot of brownies in my time, but this blows them all out of the water. It is at once indulgent and addictive, and it became an expensive yet highly worthwhile habit of mine (at Mrs. LF’s begging, of course) to buy copious amounts of these rich brownies whenever we (she) had a hankering for them in the few months after we discovered them and before we were leaving London behind  us. If you are in London, or if you visit, try one at Paul’s charming shop in Camden Passage in Islington. If you like brownies, there is a very comprehensive review of some of the better ones on offer in the London area on @mathildecusine‘s blog here.

Paul A Young Fine Chocolates on Urbanspoon

Best Cream Puff:
Beard Papa’s, NYC

Classic Cream Puff from Beard Papas

I had read about these oddball cream puff shops somewhere or other and before realizing that they had a location in London (which closed a few months ago), I found one on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. They do what it says on the tin, so to speak – effortlessly light puff pastry gives way to a lovely cream filling – they are also very addictive, so be careful.

Beard Papa Sweets Cafe on Urbanspoon

LUNCH

Best Sandwich:
Bunk Sandwiches, Portland, Oregon

Pork Belly Cubano at Bunk Sandwiches

This cubano sandwich consisted of pork belly, ham, Swiss cheese, mustard and pickles. Let me just say this: it was not only my best sandwich of 2010, it was the best sandwich I’ve ever had. Mrs. LF concurred. Now, maybe I don’t know all that much about sandwiches, but I know what I know. If you ever go to Portland, go to Bunk and try this if it’s on the menu (which changes daily).

Bunk Sandwiches on Urbanspoon

Best Burger (Two-Way Tie):
Shake Shack, NYC
Café of Love, Mt. Kisco, New York

Cheeseburger at Shake Shack

Now I like a good burger just as much as the next guy, but I don’t eat them all that often…or at least I didn’t until I moved back to the New York area. In any case, I tend to like the more fast-food style burgers, and I prefer my patties smashed, thank you very much. Out of the ones I had this year, my favorite had to be Shake Shack, despite how unoriginal this may be and how many moans I may get from the New York and/or East Coast burgerati. But hey, it was just really good. In fact, I couldn’t fault it in any way. Oh, and by the way, my malted peanut butter shake was off the hook too, using the parlance of our times.

Shake Shack (UWS) on Urbanspoon

Grass-fed Beef Burger with Brie, Apple Butter & Smoked Bacon at Café of Love

Having said all that, every now and again, I get the hankering for one of the constantly-evolving offerings within the ‘gourmet’ burger category at more hoity-toity restaurants. In the not-so hoity-toity but horrendously named restaurant called Café of Love near where I live in Mt. Kisco, New York, they had a burger that I just had to try based on the description. Well, it tasted even better than it sounded on this occasion. The beef itself was excellent and had been perfectly charred on the outside and was nice and pink in the middle. The combination of creamy cheese, apple butter and smoked bacon was genius and the brioche bun was the perfect vessel for this mini heart-attack sandwich. It came with its own flowerpot on the side, which contained really good thin-cut frites that were perfectly salted. I certainly wasn’t expecting it, but this was probably the best burger I had in 2010. Now, maybe they can work on their name?!

Honorable Mention: Cheeseburger at Five Guys

In this category, I would like to make an honorable mention for Five Guys. I had two burgers of theirs before the end of the year and thought they were excellent. Although you can’t specify how you would like it cooked, it comes medium, which seems to work for their burgers. They are very, very good burgers from what I could tell from the two Manhattan outposts I visited. And their fries actually taste like potatoes – no, I mean that. It took me a second to get used to them, because they were clearly from very fresh Midwestern potatoes and prepared with fresh oil: delicious. Just be careful, all you can get there are burgers, hot dogs and fries. Seriously.

This year I hope to try the Black Label burger at Minetta Tavern, The Breslin‘s lamb burger, and also visit Corner Bistro…all in NYC.

Five Guys Burgers and Fries on Urbanspoon

Best Hot Dog:
Gray’s Papaya, NYC

Hot Dog Duo at Grays Papaya

Okay, so I didn’t eat too many hot dogs, but I was resolutely shocked when these turned out to be so good. A New York institution, and in my humble opinion deservedly so, these are exceptionally good hot dogs…

Recession Special is Still On!

…especially with the ‘Recession Special’ that’s currently on – you can save $1! :)

Gray's Papaya (UWS) on Urbanspoon

Best Pizza:
Dove Vivi, Portland, Oregon

Sausage Classico Pizza from Dove Vivi

After having my first-ever cornmeal-crusted pizza from Otto in London (see review here), I was eager to try the pizzas at their alleged source of inspiration in Portland, Oregon – Oregon being my home state. We actually ordered the pizza to pick-up, although there is a nice little dining room at the restaurant too. We had two varieties, but my favorite by miles was the ‘Sausage Classico’, which was made up of mozzarella, house-made fennel sausage and tomato sauce. These are actually more like pies than pizzas, but the crust is really unique given the cornmeal content. It is light, golden and crispy, and makes for the perfect base to the hearty toppings. I am now getting a taste for this stuff – when will NYC get a similar joint?

Dove Vivi on Urbanspoon

Best Meatball:
Polpetto, London

Duck & Porcini Meatball at Polpetto

When Russell Norman opened up Polpo in London’s Soho a while back, I was a fan from my first visit. The restaurant’s first offspring, though not originally planned to be by its parent, is the tiny and charming box of a dining room called Polpetto…or as I affectionately call it, Mini-P. Anyway, it was the venue for my last fun lunch in London – and my dining companion @BigSpud wrote about it (sort of) here. We mostly had cicchetti and my favorite of the bunch was this stunning meatball, in all its unadorned glory. Deep, rich duck and punchy porcinis mushroom with a robust sauce made this stand out as much in my mind as it did against its little stark white plate.

Polpetto on Urbanspoon

Best Risotto:
Gauthier Soho, London

Wild Garlic Risotto, Chicken Jus Reduction, Mousseron Mushrooms, Parmesan Tuille at Gauthier Soho

Okay, so it’s a French restaurant, but it’s risotto, so hey.

As I said in my preview of Alexis Gauthier’s new restaurant: “Alexis’ risottos were always a big strength at Roussillon, and this was no exception as his new Soho townhouse. The petite mousseron mushrooms worked well; they had quite a fleshy texture and were sort of like a really juicy piece of meat. The risotto itself was textbook – perfectly creamy, with the rice having just the right amount of bite left in it. The reduced chicken jus had a deep and rich flavor, which held the interest on the palate, and the razor-thin parmesan tuille added a nice contrast of sharpness and crunchiness. A really lovely dish.”

Honorable mention must go to an excellent seafood risotto I had at Fifteen Trattoria. You can read more about that here and there is a photo below.

Honorable Mention: Risotto Ai Frutti di Mare’ with Samphire, Chilli, White Wine, Garlic & Bottarga di Muggine at Fifteen Trattoria

Best Terrine:
The Bar Room at The Modern, NYC

Warm Lamb & Goats Cheese Terrine at The Modern

This dish wasn’t mine, but I got a few bites anyway. Besides its rather arresting beauty on the plate, it also tasted d*mn good. The richness of the lamb was cut through by the tangy goats cheese and the toasted pistachios added not only a note of sweetness and a pinch of saltiness, but also a chewy texture which rounded out the dish. The watercress provided a fresh and peppery contrast. It was original – to my mind – and superb.

The Modern on Urbanspoon

Best Steak Tartare:
Terroirs, London

Steak Tartare at Terroirs

Despite some odd sightings of fresh produce by @DouglasBlyde (see here), Terroirs is a haunt of mine, simply because they have consistently delivered me good and unfussy food that is well executed, plus they have a fantastic array of natural wines, many of which have proven to be very good. Anyway, on my last London meal of 2010 with my good Welsh friend, we ordered the steak tartare. The waiter said to order it spicy, so we complied. Thank god we did. It was one of the best versions of this bistrot classic I’ve had. We were both mesmerized. If it’s on the menu, order it.

Terroirs on Urbanspoon

AFTERNOON TEA

Best Afternoon Tea:
Hidden Tea Room, London

Ambience & Cupcakes at The Hidden Tea Room

If you live in London and haven’t been to the Hidden Tea Room, do yourself a favor and book it. Aside from having the best and freshest baked goods you are likely to get at an afternoon tea in London, it is also a lovely underground restaurant experience. There is a rectangular table with jovial strangers who obviously share at least one interest with you (food…or tea, I guess); or if you are particularly delicate in nature, you can go with your friends. In any case, Lady Gray’s scones and cupcakes are excellent and Mrs. LF and I popped our underground restaurant cherry here – so it will always hold a fond memory for us. Oh yeah, and there is an excellent assortment of fresh, diverse and exotic teas.

Other excellent afternoon teas we had in 2010 were had at The Wolseley (somewhat surprisingly), Browns Hotel and Bob Bob Ricard.

DINNER

Best Amuse Bouche:
Aldea, NYC

Kusshi Oysters & Lobster Gazpacho at Aldea

The kick-off to my first meal at George Mendes’ Aldea was as beautiful as it was flavorful. I savoured that rich bisque for as long as I could and soaked up even more of the sea with my oyster. It was an extraordinary beginning to a very good meal. You can see and read more photos of our meal here. I was also happy to see that the team picked up its first Michelin star this year.

Aldea on Urbanspoon

Best Tart:
The Sportsman, Seasalter, UK

New Season Asparagus Tart at The Sportsman

Pretty much everything we had at The Sportsman was excellent, but this was the bite that stood out in my memory as the best of 2010. Full stop.

As I said in my review earlier in the year: “This was basically spring arriving on a plate. It was one of the best and most memorable bites of food I’ve had in the last year. The pastry was spot-on, and the texture, temperature and combination of flavors was exemplary. Asparagus, spring onion, red onion cheese, shredded lettuce – it all came together in the best way possible.” It received a very rare 10 out of 10, and deservedly so.

Best Soup:
Arbutus, London

Curly Kale & Potato Soup at Arbutus

After this enjoyable meal with the London Food Detective, I remarked: “I was quite impressed when my soup was brought out: it was a good portion size and it looked very hearty and appetizing. The soup possessed a lovely soft texture, and the flavor of the fine olive oil that had been used in the broth came through subtly. It also surprisingly had a pleasant, gentle heat which sat in the background of my mouth as I ate it. The dollop of yogurt worked nicely, both subduing the slight spiciness and also serving a textural and temperature purpose that added a slight creaminess and also a touch of coolness to the dish. It was a very memorable soup and I really enjoyed every spoonful.”

Most Creative Use of a Bean in Supporting Role:
Viajante, London

Roasted Broad Bean at Viajante

This was one of the more interesting presentations of a plate (or in fact, slate) of food this year. In my review of the meal, I wrote:

“A roasted broad bean was presented on a small square black slab of slate. Inside the beautifully presented specimen lurked a cream of the peeled beans themselves, which was pierced by three square shards of São Jorge cheese with a thin snake-like link of pea shoots residing on top. On the side, there was a dusting of toasted brioche crumbs. It was a beautiful and dainty looking dish and it tasted very good. The peas themselves were just slightly seasoned, allowing their delicate natural flavor to shine, and they had a lovely soft texture. The cheese brought a nice sharpness to the dish, and I ate it with some of the crumbs which added a pleasant crunchiness. This was a very good second amuse, and further illustrated the inventiveness of the kitchen.”

Best Dish Incorporating Goose Eggs & Soldiers (of Toast):
Launceston Place, London

Poached Goose Egg, Somerset Truffle Risotto at Launceston Place

Firstly, apologies for the especially poor photo, but this was taken with my old, archaic and generally not so useful camera. Right at the beginning of 2010, this was nonetheless one of the best dishes I had for sure. My thoughts at the time, which haven’t changed, were: “It was cleverly conceived in terms of the flavors and stylish presentation. Hidden beneath a topping of black Somerset truffles (English truffles…I am learning something new every day) was an unctuous, rich and delicious risotto that was perfect in pretty much every way. I was surprised at how pungent the truffles were and the strong depth of flavor they possessed (I thought English truffles would have been much lighter than their Continental counterparts), and the addition of little toast soldiers was a cute nod to a British breakfast tradition of soft-boiled eggs (the French call it oeuf à la coque).” This was a 10 out of 10 all the way.

Best Vegetarian Dish:
Mathias Dahlgren (Matbaren), Stockholm

Baked Farm Egg from Sanda Farm, Forest Mushrooms, Garlic, Parsley, New Potatoes at Matbaren

I loved my meal at Mathias Dahlgren’s Matbaren and this was the stand-out dish for me of the evening.

As I wrote in my post about the meal: “…for me, it was really all about the mushrooms. They had such a deep, rich flavor and were some of the better ones I can remember tasting. Again, I felt the dish was perfectly balanced, with the soft and creamy new potatoes lending a fairly mellow base (with their crispy counterparts in ‘chip’ format providing both saltiness and crunch), and the garlic and parsley both coming through just enough. I detected the presence of a rich, buttery and unique oil, which I enquired about, and proved to be a bit of a revelation…but more on that later. Oh yes, the egg! You can see below a diagram of why it’s called a 63° egg as illustrated on the menu, and yes, it was very good, yielding a creamy yellow yolk, which added the final textural component to this superb dish. It didn’t look or sound like much, but it sure made up for that in taste!”

Best Scallop Dish:
Morgan M., London

Seared Diver-Caught Scallops, Poêlée of Cèpes, Glazed Pumpkin & Nut Biscuit, Butternut Coullis at Morgan M.

You may recall me saying something along the lines of…“This strikingly presented pair of trios was a wonderful beginning to the meal proper, no? Each scallop had been delicately handled and perfectly seared, revealing a fragrant sweetness that was enhanced by the succulent carrots and the crunchy biscuit below, which provided a good crunch in contrast to the fleshy feel of scallop and carrot. The cèpes themselves were excellent – intense, meaty, not at all overcooked – and might just have been the best thing on the plate. I personally didn’t think the butternut squash coulis added that much to the mushrooms (or the scallops for that matter), but it did create certain visual flair in the plating of the dish and represented autumn strikingly well on the plate.”

Best Raw Seafood Dish:
Sushi of Shiori, London

Raw Scallops with Secret Truffle Paste at Sushi of Shiori

Another memorable London meal took place at Sushi of Shiori, a sushi restaurant that accumulated a scale of press disproportionate to its own modest size (it seats about 12 at most). I dined with @LondonEater (see his reviews here and here), and thoroughly enjoyed the food and the company – my mini-review and photos are here. Aside from having the pre-ordered omakase, we ordered an extra course of truffled scallops. I remember exclaiming that this was an actual explosion of flavor in the mouth (so many times, people just use that term half-heartedly). I don’t know what the chef does to his secret paste, but the tiny amount dotting surface of the raw scallops really does explode in your mouth and somehow complements the sweetness of the scallops perfectly. I loved this, and it is quite affordable at about £2 a pop.

Sushi of Shiori on Urbanspoon

Best Chicken Dish:
wd~50, NY

Cold Fried Chicken, Buttermilk-ricotta, Tabasco, Caviar at wd~50

Okay, so nearly everything I had on the wd~50 tasting menu was pleasurably challenging for my senses – both visually and in terms of taste, texture and temperature – but this dish stood out in particular. This dish brought back so many memories of good fried chicken. It was served slightly cool and was absolutely delicious. My favorite part of it was the heat – those little dollops of orange sauce packed some serious power, and this enlivened the whole dish. Playing off against this was the creaminess of the buttermilk-ricotta cloud, which helped manage the spiciness. But the touch of genius here was the caviar, which added an extra element of saltiness on top of the chicken, cream and Tabasco. It was superb.

Best Duck Dish:
Eleven Madison Park, NYC

Lavender Glazed Duck at Eleven Madison Park

I don’t think anyone would be able to question Chef Humm’s ability to cook a whole bird. The even browning of the skin, its crispiness and the juiciness of the duck were outstanding. The lavender glaze gave it an intriguing and subtle flavor, with peaches and other hidden joys dancing around on my palate. While not quite as exceptional as the Canard de Challans a l’Hibiscus I had at l’Arpège last year – which is to date the best duck dish I’ve ever tasted – this was still pretty fantastic. It was an interesting and not unwelcomed contrast to some of the more modern elements during my first meal at the excellent Eleven Madison Park.

Eleven Madison Park on Urbanspoon

Best Dish Incorporating Frozen Foie Gras:
momofuku ko, NYC

But of course there is no photo due to the restaurant’s no-snapping policy – sorry, but don’t snap at me. The following description will be in my forthcoming review of ko, where I dined with @catty.

Shaved Foie Gras, Lychees, Pine Nut Brittle, Riesling Gélee

This was certainly one of the top dishes of the evening, and I guess it is one of the classic dishes at ko. When I got up the gumption to ask how they made the cool shavings, the chef matter-of-factly said: “We freeze a terrine and the grate it.” Basically, you should have known that, it’s so obvious. Well, I didn’t know 100%, but was glad for the confirmation. Anyway, the foie was shaved like grated cheese over the other components. The sweetness of the lychees and the sweet-yet-tart Riesling Jell-O worked miraculously well with the foie shavings, which melted when they ware placed in your mouth and became a deliciously gooey texture. It was rich yet light at the same time (therein lay the brilliance) and, to me, it tasted more like seared foie gras than a terrine once it had melted in the mouth…maybe due to the texture. The pine nut brittle was OTT too, and everything was complementary. I noted that they had also salted the dish well, which is important to bring out the flavor of foie gras properly. This was a really fun and great dish to eat.

I also immensely enjoyed one of our two foie gras dishes at wd~50, but I couldn’t give Chef Dufresne another award, so he gets an honorable mention. There is, however, a half-decent photo below and a full description here. (And yes, I know it’s not frozen in the process, but hey…).

Honorable Mention: Aerated Foie, Pickled Beet, Mashad Plum, Brioche at wd~50

Best Desserts (Three-Way Tie):
The Loft Project with Samuel Miller from noma, London
Fifteen Trattoria, London
Eastside Inn, London

Malt Parfait, Seabuckthorn & Freeze-dried Strawberry at The Loft Project

This was the most memorable dessert for me of the year. Although not particularly complicated in conception, the fresh combination of flavors was nonetheless dazzling.

Here’s what I said in my review of the amazing evening: “A dark brown rectangular log of malt parfait was dressed with freeze-dried strawberry crystals and micro herbs, with a side smear of havtorn purée (yellow-orange Scandinavian berries, which I believe are also called Seabuckthorn). The parfait itself was so intensely malty it almost had a charred or burnt flavor about it – much different from the sickly sweet ‘malt’ flavors to which most people from the UK or US would be accustomed. But there was a slight underlying sweetness that kept it balanced.  The sweet, acidic and sharp notes of the English mustard colored purée perfectly offset the rich and slightly bitter intensity of the malt, with the dry strawberry granules adding crunch and further bittersweet fruit to the mix. It all worked together perfectly and it was one of the best desserts I’ve had in recent memory.”

Vanilla Pannacotta, Raspberries & Homemade Biscotto at Fifteen Trattoria

Not too long ago I had a simple dessert that the kitchen knocked out of the park, as we say in America. It was the best pannacotta I can remember having and got the fabled 10 out of 10.

In case you didn’t read it, and care to, here’s what I said: “The quality of the pannacotta itself was just mental. It was so creamy, so full of delicate vanilla flavor, and so delightfully wobbly while at the same time retaining its form when shaken or portioned up on our plates. It was the best example of the dessert I can recall. I would have been perfectly happy having that by itself on a drip for a few hours, but it was very well paired with some surprisingly sweet raspberries (not the ‘raspberry compote’ that the menu advertised, by the way) – my hunch is that they were from Secretts, but I didn’t ask – and a really wonderful homemade pistachio-laced biscotto (not the biscotti that were promised on menu). In short, Italian food heaven on a plate.”

Araguani Chocolate & Tonka Bean Ice Cream at Eastside Inn

Unfortunately, I never got to properly review the ‘bistrot’ side of Bjorn Van der Horst’s Eastside Inn before it sadly closed towards the end of 2010. However, I vividly remember the intensity of chocolate that was perfectly paired with a memorable tonka bean ice cream. As always with Bjorn’s food, it was also stunning to look at.

Weirdest Dessert:
(Note: that doesn’t mean it was bad!)
Il Baretto, London

Fried Aubergine, White & Dark Chocolate, Pistachio, Red Berries at Il Baretto

When I had some time to digest the experience (and the dessert), I reflected: “It sounded so strange, we just had to try it. Yes, if you read the caption for the above photo, than you heard it correctly folks, it was an aubergine (eggplant) based dessert! It was certainly very pretty, at least in my estimation. Three discs of fried aubergine had been layered with white chocolate cream between them, and on the very bottom lay a hidden dark chocolate base. Leaning against this delicately balanced brown and white striped trunk was a branch of tart red berries. The whole thing was dusted with pistachio crumbs finished off with a dash of powdered sugar.

At first bite, the taste of aubergine was too prominent for my liking; however, when portioned up with an adequate amount of the white (and darker) chocolate and a berry or two, I could understand the rationale of its creator…it was actually strangely very good. In fact, I found myself liking it more and more and then suddenly, as fast as it had appeared (okay, it didn’t appear *that* fast), it ‘twas gone. I ended up really liking it, and bonus points for using an ingredient I would NEVER associate with dessert.”

LUSCIOUS LIBATIONS

Favorite Gin:
Sacred Spirits, UK

Favorite Vodka:
Chase Distillery, UK

Favorite Martini:
Dukes Bar, London

Martini at Dukes Bar

If you follow this blog, you will know my hands-down favorite martini is at Dukes Bar in London (see here and here), when it is served by the ever-affable and supremely knowledgeable Alessandro Palazzi.

Favorite Restaurant to Order Wine:
Bob Bob Ricard, London

A Glass of Pol Roger Brut Reserve at Bob Bob Ricard

Not only do Leonid and Richard have the now ‘soooo 2010’ Champagne buttons at the booth-seating-only tables at this fabulously individual creation, which could have only resulted from the marriage of Russian and English (business) partners, they also have the lowest mark-ups I’ve come across of some really excellent fine wine. This means you can (better) afford to indulge yourself in a special bottle or glass of wine when going out on the town. And the food is generally very good across the board too. For a peek at their current wine list, click here.

FYI, @gourmetraveller also has an excellent BYO guide for London restaurants here.

Bob Bob Ricard on Urbanspoon

Favorite and/or Most Memorable Wines:

This list is from across the board…glasses and bottles I remember that I particularly enjoyed and/or found memorable. I have probably missed some out, but I hope not. They are listed chronologically and then alphabetically within each vintage.

Sparkling

  • 1999 Pol Roger Blanc de Blanc
  • 2004 Duval-Leroy Champagne Blanc de Chardonnay, Brut
  • NV Charles Heidsieck Champagne, Brut Réserve
  • NV Henriot, Brut Souverain
  • NV Sainsbury’s Blanc de Noir
  • NV Thiénot, Brut
  • NV Vincent Laroppe, Cuvée Alfred Laropp

White

  • 1992 Haut-Brion Blanc
  • 2001 & 2009 Soula Blanc, Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes
  • 2004 Lafon Meursault
  • 2005 Huët Vouvray Sec, Le Mont
  • 2005 Les Plantiers de Haut-Brion
  • 2006 Domaine Leflaive Bourgogne Blanc
  • 2006 Domaine Sylvain Loichet, Ladoix
  • 2006 McHenry Hohnen, 3 Amigos
  • 2007 Casa Lapostolle Chardonnay, Cuvée Alexandre
  • 2007 d’Arenberg, The Hermit Crab
  • 2007 Domaine Gauby Blanc
  • 2007 E. Guigal Condrieu
  • 2007 Felton Road Chardonnay, Block 2
  • 2007 Olivier Leflaive Bourgogne Blanc, Les Sétilles
  • 2007 Sauvignon Blanc, Quarz, Terlano
  • 2008 Benmarl Riesling
  • 2008 Beringer Chardonnay, Private Reserve
  • 2008 Domaine William Fevre Chablis, Champs Royaux
  • 2008 Trimbach Riesling, Reserve
  • 2009 Adair Cayuga White
  • 2009 Arietta “On the White Keys” (Semillon)

Red

  • 1964 Haut-Brion
  • 1985 Haut-Brion
  • 1990 La Mission Haut-Brion
  • 1998 Bahans Haut-Brion
  • 1998 Château Haut-Bailly
  • 1998 Château Pichon-Longuevile Baron
  • 1998 Château Lafite-Rothschild
  • 1998 Poliziano Le Stanze
  • 2000 Château Vieux Chevrol
  • 2001 Château Musar
  • 2001 Château Palmer
  • 2001 Château Pavie
  • 2001 La Chapelle de la Mission Haut-Brion
  • 2005 Montes Carménère, Purple Angel
  • 2006 Domaine La Tourmente, Syrah, Chamoson
  • 2006 Herdade do Arrepiado Velho, Arrepiado
  • 2006 Neyen Syrah, Limited Edition
  • 2007 Ridge Lytton Springs
  • 2007 The Sum, Seventy Five Wine Company, Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 2008 A to Z Wineworks Pinot Noir
  • 2008 Domaine Gramenon, Côtes du Rhône, Sierra du Sud
  • 2008 Monty Waldin Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes
  • 2008 Mullineux Syrah, Swartland
  • 2008 Ponzi Vineyards Pinot Noir, Tavola

Sweet

  • 1999 Château Coutet
  • 2003 Château Rieussec
  • 2006 Inniskillin Vidal Icewine, Gold Reserve
  • 2006 Leduc-Piedimonte, Ice Cider
  • 2007 Ben Ryé Passito di Pantelleria, Donnafugata

In the coming year, I am aiming to develop a better understand of grower-producer Champagnes (i.e. ones that are terroir driven by the people who grow the grapes), deepen my cursory knowledge of some major European wine countries – namely Italy, Spain and Germany – and, of course, get a better handle on the domestic North American wine scene…as well as becoming more familiar with countries such as Chile and Argentina in South America.

#   #   #

So that is the end to a wonderful year of food, wine and friendship shared over the two. Here’s hoping 2011 will be even more exciting and enjoyable. I look forward to sharing with you what I can from the shores of America – or wherever else I may be lucky enough to travel – with an exciting review coming up very soon.

Thanks for putting up with me, and a very Happy New Year.

All the best for 2011!

Morgan M. – You Can Go Your Own Way

Morgan M.
489 Liverpool Road
London N7 8NS
Website
Map
Online Reservations

  • For dinner and Sunday lunch, the 3-course à la carte is £41, the seasonal 6-course tasting menu is £50 and the 6-course vegetarian menu is £45 – wine pairings with the tasting menus are £26.50 or £29.50, excluding dessert wine
  • During the week, a 2-course set lunch is £23.50 and the 3-course is £29.50, with the tasting menus priced at £45 (seasonal) and £39 (vegetarian)
  • For the full set of high-resolution photos, please visit my Flickr set for this meal

I really enjoyed my first meal at Morgan M. The complexity and quality of the cooking was on par with many better-known London restaurants, but was much more affordable and a wholly more personal dining experience. It’s worth making the short trek up Liverpool Road to sample Chef Meunier’s food. Based on my meal, if the front-of-house experience can be smoothed out a bit, and if the kitchen can consistently turn out dishes as good as what we sampled, they certainly deserve consideration from the ever-elusive Michelin man.

Not just any given Sunday

So I’ve moved to the US. I’ve been here two months and I’m still posting from my backlog of London meals. Because of my penchant for being anal, I am trying to write about all of the memorable meals I had during my last few weeks in London…before posting about anything I’ve had so far in the US. Clinging to the past? Maybe. There are three UK meals left that I’d like to write about – all of which took place in my last week in the country.

But first, something else, although also from the UK. You see, I had the opportunity to swing by London en route to Sweden a few weeks ago. I only had one Sunday, so I was determined to make the most of it. It turned out pretty much all of the places I wanted to have lunch at were closed on Sundays, except for one little place which had always intrigued, yet continually eluded, me. It was the mysterious Morgan ‘M’. It’s not really that mysterious after all, as when you google ‘Morgan M’ the chef’s name, Morgan Meunier, comes up in the restaurant’s site’s metadata…but I digress.

It turned out Mr. Meunier’s gaff was open and, even better, they had a table for me. So I had my plan:

  • Lunch at Mr. M with Ms. P
  • A leisurely, and it turned out much-needed, walk to Paul A. Young’s shop in Camden Passage to pick up supplies for my better half (they make the best brownies either of us have ever tasted, amongst other wonderful and imaginative chocolate concoctions – visit if you haven’t)
  • A long stroll into town to have cocktails with some foodie friends at one of my favorite London haunts, Bob Bob Ricard
  • And finally, a short walk to dinner with the non-foodblogger, food tweeter @jezmd at the newly opened Les Deux Salons (it had only been open a week when we visited), which has quite a pedigree, and then fly out to Sweden the next day

But you probably want to read about my review of the restaurant. This is a food blog after all, not a review of my travel itinerary. So, without further adieu…

On the outskirts of Paradise

Opening to critical acclaim in 2003, French chef Morgan Meunier has been going strong at his small haute cuisine restaurant in the somewhat unlikely location at the top of Liverpool Road in North(ish) London.

Meunier was formerly head chef at the Admiralty, and prior to that cooked at the Michelin-starred Monsieur Max in Twickenham. He has been going strong since 2003 with mostly positive reviews, yet without much publicity, so I was definitely interested to see what this Frenchman had up his sleeve.

We cabbed it to the restaurant from (real) North London and arrived on time for our table.

Formerly a corner pub, now home to modern French restaurant Morgan M.

If I had not seen a picture of the restaurant’s facade beforehand, I could have easily confused its corner location for a pleasant local pub, which it in fact used to be prior to its conversion to the present fine dining restaurant.

Well spaced tables and tasteful decor define the charming little room

However, once you step inside, everything changes. Meunier has succeeded in producing a lovely setting within the somewhat awkward space. The colors are warm, soft and comforting; the tables well spaced; the mood refined yet not too stuffy. Apparently the artwork which adorns the walls (and is on the cover of the menu) is painted by the chef himself.

Our table for two lay at the end of the side that was sans windows

The restaurant was about half-full and we were given one of the larger tables for two near the back of the restaurant along the wood-panelled wall.

Our places were set, and our appetites whet(ted)

A pretty decorative place setting was there to greet us as we sat down, and I slowly began to notice the attention to detail throughout our environs. The green pattern on the plate matched the scarves of the waitresses, and similar green accents were present throughout…on the wall, on the chairs’ upholstery, on the menu, and so on. Although teetering on the edge of obsessiveness, it was all tastefully done.

But what to order...

Our menus were soon presented and we concerned ourselves with the not so easy task of deciding what to eat. ‘Not so easy’ because, firstly, the dishes all had very complicated descriptions – not a bad thing in itself as it all sounded delicious and there were certainly some interesting combinations – and secondly, we weren’t sure how much we wanted to eat.

Choices, choices, choices...

Therefore, we hand the quandary of à la carte or choosing one of the two set menus (seasonal and vegetarian). In the end, we decided we weren’t hungry enough to take on either of the tasting menus which sounded a bit too ambitious given the rest of the day’s plans.

Meritorious Mastication

As we sat chatting, eagerly awaiting our first dishes, we decided we really liked it in here – it had a nice air about it.

Initial offerings

After our orders had been placed, we were greeted with an inviting tray of homemade bread.

Baguette

My choice of baguette was perfectly nice, with crisp and flakey crust and was even better with the high-quality salted butter, which came on its own silver pedestal. A quick note about the bread: strangely enough, this was the only time we were offered bread throughout the entire meal, even though we ate our single pieces of doughy goodness very quickly after receiving them. This certainly wasn’t a bad thing for our waistlines, but I found it very odd, as with some other of the front-of-house experience (more on that later).

Amuse Bouche: Turnip Cream & Trompettes

The amuse bouche was simple yet delicious. It immediately displayed the kitchen’s ability to handle vegetables as the cream effectively drew out the rich taste of turnip on the palate. The trompette mushrooms nestled within were also clearly expressed as a complementary secondary flavor. There were deep flavors going on here and I was interested to see what was to come next. 7/10.

Starter 1: Seared Diver-Caught Scallops, Poêlée of Cèpes, Glazed Pumpkin & Nut Biscuit, Butternut Coulis

This strikingly presented pair of trios was a wonderful beginning to the meal proper, no?

Starter 1: Diver-Caught Scallops Detail – Seared to Perfection

Each scallop had been delicately handled and perfectly seared, revealing a fragrant sweetness that was enhanced by the succulent carrots and the crunchy biscuit below, which provided a good crunch in contrast to the fleshy feel of scallop and carrot.

Starter 1: Cèpe Detail – The Best Things Often Come in Small Packages

The cèpes themselves were excellent – intense, meaty, not at all overcooked – and might just have been the best thing on the plate. I personally didn’t think the butternut squash coulis added that much to the mushrooms (or the scallops for that matter), but it did create certain visual flair in the plating of the dish and represented autumn strikingly well on the plate. 8/10.

My starter was paired with the Sauvignon suggested on the tasting menu (Paul Buisse, Sauvignon Touraine, Cuvée Prestige, 2008) and was very good. But what we found very odd was the awkwardness in communicating with our waitress in trying to select a few glasses of wine to go with our meal. As all of the dishes we had ordered were included in the Autumn tasting menu, and therefore had suggested wine pairings, she simply told us to order those wines. When we tried to politely ask why (and maybe try to get her to recommend an alternative), she couldn’t really express any reason and just pointed at the menu, saying that this is what they recommend. We found this to be a substantial shortcoming for a restaurant whose food certainly seemed to be sophisticated, and we were pretty frustrated with the whole experience in this regard.

Starter 2: Cream of Puy Lentils with a Parsley Coulis, Garlic Beignet

My dining partner enjoyed her starter, which was straight-forward and let the lentils speak for themselves, so to speak. I was graciously offered a spoonful and thought it was very good, though not particularly memorable – the beignet was a nice addition, though. I did enjoy the visual aspect, and likened it to a little island of golden sand replete with its own green forest, floating on top of autumn-colored seas.

Main Course 1: Seared Fillet of John Dory, Jerusalem Artichoke Soubise, Poêlée of Swiss Chard, Girolle Cappuccino

I also loved the presentation of my fillet of John Dory. The skin of the fish was nice and crisp, and the fish was well cooked, though ever so slightly too firm for my liking (and I am being finicky here…we’re talking maybe 10-15 seconds too long). What stood out again here was the deep flavors present in the vegetable components of the dish. The creamy Jerusalem artichoke was an excellent marriage with the slightly buttery fish, and there was an extra layer of luxury provided by the light foam of girolles that was poured on one side. Despite its visual impact on the plate, the taste of the chard did not overpower the fish and was a clever addition for the texture it lent the dish. The mushrooms on the side were also full of flavor and I thought the dish was well thought out and executed pretty precisely. 7/10.

The John Dory was paired with the suggested Sancerre (there seemed to be no other option! :)), which was okay as far as Sancerres go, but certainly not one to write home about.

Main Course 2: Oven-roasted Suffolk Red Leg Partridge, Sweet Potato Purée, Poêlée of Grapes and Savoy Cabbage, Liver Croûton, Bread Sauce

My dining companion much enjoyed her gamey main course. The meat was initially brought out a tad too pink for her liking (I am no game expert, but think it was probably fine except one particular spot which did seem too reddish to my untrained eyes), and it was sent back. It reappeared a few minutes later, as beautiful as it had been the first time around.

Main Course 2: The View from Behind

She really liked the dish, although felt that the portion size was very large, especially given the quantity of rich liver on the plate, which she loved but couldn’t finish. I had a few bites and thought it was a very tasty dish (I agreed it was very rich) that had been elegantly presented – it was a nice snapshot of the autumn season on the plate.

Pre-Dessert: Rice Pudding, Mango Sorbet & Orange Tuille

The pre-dessert was both beautiful and satisfying. It consisted of a central core of rice pudding that had been wrapped by a caramelized orange tuille, topped with mango sorbet, standing at attention in a pond of mango syrup. The tuille itself was good and, while not the best I’ve ever had, it performed its function of providing crunchiness. The rice pudding itself was a little too cold (maybe due to proximity to the sorbet?) and got slightly lost in the strong fruity flavors, but I must say that the combination worked well and it was a pretty delicious few bites that simultaneously stimulated and cleaned the palate. 7/10.

Dessert 1: Apple and Lime Soufflé & Coulis, Granny Smith Sorbet

As readers of this blog may recall, I am not the biggest fan of dessert soufflés, but I liked the refreshing sound of this one, and figured that since their seemed to be some serious precision going on in this French-led kitchen, I may as well give it a whirl.

I can happily say that I wasn’t disappointed; to the contrary, I loved my dessert. It was presented in textbook perfection, with good height, and was extremely light and fluffy. The waitress poked a hole in the top with her spoon and poured in some of the bright green coulis and we were off.

Dessert 1: Soufflé Detail

The soufflé itself was to my liking and not overly eggy or chewy (i.e. not the texture of scrambled eggs) – and as I said before, it was exceedingly light. The crisp and zingy flavors of apple and lime were an excellent match and I really enjoyed the overall effect, although I think they could have poured a little less of the liquid into the center as it was on the verge of overpowering the delicate soufflé.

The accompanying sorbet was Granny Smith herself frozen in a cryogenic state and was again nice and crisp, with the sorbet not being overly watery. The beautifully presented apple crisp was a nice touch, too. I thought this was a really accomplished traditional dessert, especially given that the cards were stacked against it given my personal biases. 9/10.

Dessert 2: Warm Red Wine & Fig Soup, Roasted Fig

My friend immensely enjoyed her dessert too, which she ordered without the accompanying Pain d’Epice ice cream due to dietary restrictions. I had a bite and agreed that it was wonderful. It was the kind of dessert I could imagine enjoying on a brisk night in a log cabin high up in the Alps (we can dream, right…), and the red wine soup displayed a perfect balance between sweetness, acidity and spice. I am sure it would have gone perfectly with the ice cream, and I was slightly disappointed not to be able try it – but hey, it wasn’t my dessert after all!

Déjà vu?

After we had finished desserts, our table was once again dressed with a decorative plate in-keeping with the design scheme – although this time it was petit

Petit Fours

…presumably because it was making way for the seven fours. :) The narrow silver tray of dainty treats was both generous and tasty. I ended up ‘having’ to eat most of them as my companion was completely stuffed by this point – I know, poor old me.

Petit Fours: Chocolate Truffle and Financier Detail

The financiers were particularly good (perfectly cooked with the right consistency), as were the nougat and the dark chocolate truffle (with the chef’s signature on it, as with most things in the restaurant).

Petit Fours: Lemon Tartelette Detail

The real stand-out here, though, was certainly the miniature lemon tart. It was perfection in a single bite. I wish I could have had a full-sized one to take home with me! These were much better than your average petit four offerings. 8/10.

Single Espresso

I finished this excellent meal off with a very good single espresso. Or so I thought…

An ice cream cone for the road

It seemed the kitchen had other ideas, as we were given one final parting gift, a miniature ice cream cone! It was a nice touch :)

The omnipresent signature of the chef

The overall damage was fairly reasonable given the quality the food, totalling £150 for two à la carte menus, with a supplement for the scallops, three glasses of wine and service.

Dial M for Meticulous

I really enjoyed the food and ambience at Morgan M. His complicated yet clean modern dishes were generally a delight on the palate and stunning to look at. It is evident that this is a very personal restaurant where the chef is attempting to project his personality and vision throughout each element of the dining experience. I would imagine that the precise execution of the dishes is pretty consistent as Meunier himself is normally there cooking each day.

This M. is not as secretive as Ian Fleming’s...he came out and greeted each guest after their meal

He makes a point of greeting each table after they’ve finished their meal – it’s not just something he does for visiting critics or bloggers who identify themselves through their photographing of the food. While this can be a slightly awkward experience – for example, what if you have something not particularly nice to say? – it is a nice gesture and confirms that you are not eating in a ‘celebrity’ chef restaurant, but in a chef’s chef restaurant.

An easy comparison could be made with Alexis Gauthier, another somewhat iconoclastic Frenchman who held fort in the slightly odd location in Pimlico at Roussillon for many years. He too has an amazing ability to bring out the best from vegetables and gained quite a reputation for his careful and refined cooking, holding a Michelin star from 2000 while at Roussillon. He focuses on timely British produce and his menu changed with the seasons, and once he broke out on his own, he never went back to the establishment – almost eschewing the central London celebrity chef gang in favor of his own unique culinary expression. He has now moved in closer to town (Soho, see review here) but is still very much an independent spirit and operator. The parallels are obvious to see.

Whether or not Morgan M.’s location is strange or not is sort of beside the point, as his food is certainly worth seeking out. Possibly in part because of the location and the small size of the premises, he is able to offer very substantial a la carte and tasting menus at very reasonable prices (none are over £50) compared to other French fine dining affairs in the center of town.

The only thing that let us down was the awkward and uneven service provided by our waitresses. While they were warm and tried to be professional, we were not offered a refill of bread, the whole ordering of wine experience was very odd indeed, we waited for them on many occasions and not the other way around (especially when trying to get the bill), they almost gave my bag to another party who departed before us, and so on and so forth. I hope that this was merely a one-off, but who knows.

What I would say is that, if the front-of-house experience had been smoother and if the food was turned out consistently as good as what we sampled, the restaurant is certainly as deserving of a Michelin star. But that is another matter altogether, with many deserving London chefs still waiting for their fabled macaron to arrive.

Oh, and if you’re wondering about the second subtitle, the restaurant resides across the street from ‘Paradise Park’ – no joke.

Rating

Ambience: 7/10

Service: 5/10

Food: 7.5/10

Wine: I barely got a chance to peruse the wine list, but noted it was French-dominated and seemed to have some interesting and good value options.

For more about my rating scale, click here.

*Note: I have dined at Morgan M. once, and it was for lunch*

Morgan M on Urbanspoon

Gauthier Soho – Alexis Goes to Town

Gauthier Soho
21 Romilly Street
London W1D 5AF
Website
Map
Online Reservations

  • Three, four & five-course menus at £27, £36 & £45 per person, or 12-course tasting menu (with a completely vegetarian option) for £70 per person
  • The full set of higher-resolution photos can be found on my Flickr account

Alexis Gauthier, the 1 Michelin star French chef, has moved from Roussillon in Pimlico to a townhouse in the heart of Soho. From a preview meal I had during the restaurant's soft opening, it appears that he may have found a winning formula. The menu format is clever and good value, the environs are cosy and inviting. And the food continues to be precisely cooked with subtle and delicate flavors, while at the same time carrying the chef’s particular flair. Gauthier Soho looks set to become a welcome addition to the growing cadre of enjoyable restaurants that have graced Soho over the last couple of years.

Trading places

There was a rumor circulating earlier this year that French chef Alexis Gauthier, then chef and proprietor of Roussillon, a 1 Michelin star restaurant in London’s Pimlico, was looking to do something different. Having broken ground by creating one of the capital’s first purely vegetarian tasting menus – that actually held interest and tasted great throughout – and then keeping standards consistently high for a number of years, possibly he felt it was time for a new challenge, to take the road less travelled. Having had the pleasure of dining at Roussillon on a few occasions, I was generally impressed – everything from the service, to the subtly prepared food, through to the elegant little dining room demonstrated that Gauthier wanted his customers to come away having had a wonderful overall experience. And I think most people did.

It turns out the rumors were true, and although Gauthier still retains a small shareholding in Roussillon, he has now taken over the townhouse at 21 Romilly Street in Soho, which was home to Irish chef Richard Corrigan’s Lindsay House before he moved on himself to open Corrigan’s Mayfair. I was lucky enough to dine at the new restaurant, which is matter-of-factly called Gauthier Soho, this week during the ‘soft opening’, and it opens for business on Monday the 17th of May. As such, the meal was complimentary and diners were asked to leave any token amount of money they felt like leaving as well as filling out detailed comment cards.

Making a house a home

I was dining with a foodie friend, and we both arrived promptly for our early dinner. The ebony and ivory facade looked subtle and classy, and we were glad to see that the design of the interior rooms had also been well thought out, especially given the constraints that an old townhouse could potentially create for a restaurant attempting to inhabit it.

Gauthier Soho’s Exterior

The four-story townhouse that the restaurant occupies is made up of a ground floor dining room with about 18 covers, a first floor dining room with approximately 24 covers, a third floor with two private rooms (one caters for up to 16, the other for up to six), and a fourth floor which houses the administrative offices. The kitchen resides in the basement and there is a temperature-controlled open wine cellar just behind the ground floor dining room (more on that later).

The Ground Floor Dining Room

The downstairs dining room is pleasantly formal and has a calming effect. In fact, you’d barely know you were in bustling Soho as inside the cool colors and soft lighting put you at ease straight away. There are lovely original features such as the fireplace and also beautiful arrangements of fresh flowers. We felt as if we were sitting in someone’s very posh residential dining room, so although it was formal, it was not at all too stiff.

Modern Rose Bath & Lantern Table Arrangement

The tables themselves are well spaced, allowing for private conversation, and nearly all of the two-person tables were arranged in the 10 o’clock / 2 o’clock format (which I much prefer), with only two tables having chairs positioned directly facing each other. The other thing I liked about the dining room was that there was no music. This is a pet peeve as I usually find the background music in restaurants either pointless or just plain grating. The tables themselves also had some nice modern details, with a red rose bathing in a spherical bowl and a cone-shaped translucent glass lantern.

A delicate & subtle hand

The menus were delivered and well explained to us. On the main menu, diners have the choice of three, four or five courses, and each course has four different options (with a few more possibilities thrown in at dessert time). These are priced at £27, £36 and £45 respectively and all include an amuse bouche, a pre-dessert and bottomless purified still and sparkling water. One interesting feature is that you can mix and match any of the dishes to form your desired three, four or five course meal (i.e. you could have two of the first plates, one of the third and a cheese plate while other members of your party could do something completely different). There is also a 12-course tasting menu priced at £70, which is also available in pure vegetarian format. Gauthier has always been a big proponent of utilizing the best British produce that is in season, and if you haven’t tried his vegetarian degustation menu before, it is really worth doing so. I think the menu is priced sensibly given the caliber of Gauthier’s cooking and the setting of the restaurant, and I love the fact that they have included the water free of charge as this can often be a not insignificant cost over the course of a meal in a fine dining restaurant.

Some of the staff have been brought with him from Roussillon, including the excellent sommelier Roberto della Pietra, who provided very good suggestions for the wine that accompanied our meal. Our waiter was pleasantly animated and professional, and once he realized I had eaten at Roussillon a few times, he went down to the kitchen and came back with a few suggestions from the chef that were not on the menu – so of course we weren’t going to say no.

Amuse Bouche: Chickpea Beignet with Whole Grain Mustard Dipping Sauce & Langoustine and Basil Toast

With our courses ordered, some amuse bouches were brought to the table. The chickpea beignets have been carried over from Roussillon. They are sinfully good, especially with a touch of the mustard dipping sauce, which is quite spicy, so don’t have too much. The little langoustine and basil numbers were pleasant enough, although a tad dry for me, with the langoustine not quite coming through strongly enough.

Assorted Freshly Baked Breads & Butter from Normandy

After the amuse bouches, a very attractive tray of freshly baked breads were brought out for us to choose from. The assortment included traditional French baguettes and a range of rolls, including black olive, tomato, bacon and wild garlic with a parmesan infused crust. We tried four of them and they were all excellent and constantly replenished, always arriving slightly warm and just out of the oven. The butters, one of which was slightly salted and the other unsalted, are both sourced from Normandy and were also of the highest quality.

Premier Plat A: Poached Duck Egg, Green Pea Velouté

My dining companion’s first course had stunning fresh pea flavor (very sweet) and a lovely runny duck’s egg in the center. I thought it was delicious, based on the one spoonful I was able to steal from her. :)

Premier Plat B: Lobster & Pigeon de Bresse

My first course was not on the menu as Alexis suggested something ‘special’ for us to taste from the kitchen. It was made up of slightly cooled lobster (which was feather soft and deliciously sweet), Pigeon de Bresse (which was perfectly pink and full of flavor), two types of salad leaves (one buttery soft and one crunchy) and a lovely little red sauce which was excellent when eaten in tandem with the pigeon. This posh ‘surf and turf’ was a great start to the meal.

Mousseron Mushrooms from Northern France

Our waiter also said that instead of having the risotto that was on the menu, Alexis would like to put a little twist on it by adding some mousseron mushrooms to the dish. I had never heard of them before, so the waiter brought out a silver bowl full of the little fungi to show to us.

Deuxième Plat: Wild Garlic Risotto, Chicken Jus Reduction, Mousseron Mushrooms, Parmesan Tuille

Alexis’ risottos were always a big strength at Roussillon, and this was no exception. The petit mousseron mushrooms worked well; they had quite a fleshy texture and were sort of like a really juicy piece of meat. The risotto itself was textbook – perfectly creamy, with the rice having just the right amount of bite left in it. The reduced chicken jus had a deep and rich flavor, which held the interest on the palate, and the razor-thin parmesan tuille added a nice contrast of sharpness and crunchiness. A really lovely dish.

Troisième Plat A: Smoked Salted Wild Sea Bass, White Asparagus, Melba Toast & Cèpes Mushrooms

My dining companion raved about this dish and thoroughly enjoyed every bite. I got a tiny taster, and also thought it was excellent. The fish had been handled with the utmost care and emerged on the plate with skin still glistening from the oven. It was delicious when taken with a small piece of the white asparagus which had been wrapped in the melba toast, which added a bit of crunch and saltiness. It was a really accomplished little fish dish.

Troisième Plat B: Red Mullet & Baby Squids, Fennel & Confit Tomatoes

My own fish course was less successful. The red mullet itself had also been cooked faultlessly and was presented beautifully. The squid was also nicely treated, being soft and not at all rubbery. My first reaction was that it tasted sort of like a ‘deconstructed bouillabaisse‘, not a bad thing in and of itself, but it somehow wasn’t the same without the rest of the stew. I then figured out when you ate everything together (including the celery, which still had a bit of crunch left in it, and the confit tomato), it then ‘worked’. But if you just had the fish with the squid and/or sauce it wasn’t quite as complete. I enjoyed it overall but not as much as the seabass.

2009 Borgo Sasso, Sicilia Bianco

The white wine that Roberto recommended (2009 Borgo Sasso, Sicilia Bianco) was perfect for our first three courses. It was particularly fragrant, but was neutral enough to go with the various dishes. It grew on me throughout the evening. It had a very good structure and a nice soft mouthfeel. It was fruity enough, with a touch of spice, and did evolve quite a bit as it sat in the glass – very enjoyable overall.

Quatrième Plat A: Angus Beef & Black Olives, Bone Marrow, Shallots & Swiss Chard (Plus a Side of Morels)

My friend’s Angus beef dish was excellent. The meat had been cooked superbly and was just a smidgen more than rare. The flavor and texture of the beef was spectacular, and surprisingly (to me at least) the sharp and salty olive flavor actually worked with the beef, when taken in small doses. The kitchen had suggested a side of morels to go with the beef, but my friend and I both agreed that they were too rich and didn’t really suit the dish, which was better off as it came originally, though we did appreciate tasting the delicious mushrooms in any case.

Bone Marrow Anyone?

The side of bone marrow was served open-faced and still in the bone on a gold-edged little plate and rested in a bed of sea salt (my heart fluttered for an instant as I thought back to St John’s benchmark version). It tasted good, although I wasn’t exactly sure how you were supposed to combine it with the dish as it was also very rich and another mushy texture. I just ate a bit of it on its own and also spread a bit on my baguette. It may have had a tad too much salt sprinkled on top for me.

Quatrième Plat B: Sweetbreads & Morels, Lettuce & Veal Jus

My meat course was also well executed. It was a very rich dish – but hey, what did I expect? The sweetbreads were cooked beautifully, balanced perfectly between being still just moist while at the same time having a firm enough texture. The veal jus was very rich, and complemented the sweetbreads well. I am a lover of morels and these didn’t disappoint. Everything worked together in concert here, although I was finally starting to get full at this point. :)

2008 Cuvée des Drilles, Domaine d'Escausses

The red wine recommend by Roberto to go with my main course of sweetbreads was the 2008 Cuvée des Drilles, Domaine d’Escausses. It hails from the Southwest of France and is made up of 3 grapes: Duras (80%), Iron Servadou (10%) and Gamay (10%). There was a lot going on in this wine, especially on the nose, with the Gamay lending a particular fragrance, despite being such a small part of the overall mix. It had a nice gentle spice and some good red fruit, and to my surprise it went really well with the rich sweetbreads dish (I should have trusted Mr. della Pietra!).

The Dessert Menu – Ooh La La

Whereas the first four courses had been printed on the main menu, the dessert options were listed on a separate little menu and included a range of sweets and a selection of cheeses. We had a difficult time making our minds up, but our deliberation turned out to pay dividends.

Pre-Dessert Palate Cleanser: Strawberries & Basil Granita

Before the main desserts arrived, we were presented with a dainty little palate cleanser. Sure, strawberry and basil is a classic combination, but it was carried out very successfully here. Sweet strawberry mixed with crushed, basil-infused ice. ‘Nuff said. :)

Cinquième Plat A: Raspberry Millefeuille, Red Fruits Sorbet

My friend loved her dessert. I had a bite too (of course…) and thought that the pastry was nice and light and that the raspberries were perfectly sweet and tart. The sorbet was good, but not amazing. We both thought it was a very pretty and satisfying dessert.

Cinquième Plat B: Golden Louis XV, Dark Chocolate & Pralin

This is another Gauthier classic which has been transported from Roussillon to Gauthier Soho, and thank goodness – it’s divine. It begins with a base of chewy hazelnut meringue, then there is a layer of what I believe is white chocolate and hazelnut croquante, then there is a rich chocolate mousse and then some exceedingly good plain chocolate is melted around the outer layer, providing a luscious consistency. Finally, this regal dessert is crowned with edible gold leaf. It is a downright naughty dessert, and I enjoyed every bite!

Petit Fours: Shortbread, Chocolate Truffles, Financier

Even though we elected not to have tea or coffee, we were still provided with petit fours. All of them were very good. The financier was one of the better I’ve had and the homemade shortbread was first-class, as were the rich and not overly buttery or overly sweet truffles.

The last laugh

My friend and I decided to have a look around the rest of the townhouse and spent a bit of time in the cellar with Roberto. Just as at Roussillon, the wine list is at Gauthier Soho is excellent, with over two-thirds sourced from France and about one-third emanating from the Southwest, Roussillon, Languedoc, Jura and Savoie regions – the list is full of unusual wines from interesting producers and tends to complement Gauthier’s style of cooking. He explained that all of the wines available on the restaurant’s wine list were also available for retail sale directly from the cellar (sans the mark-up), which has all of Gauthier Soho’s wines on display. This is a great innovation, and one which I have seen at only a few higher-end restaurants, as if a customer tastes a wine that they love, they don’t have to go through the hassle of trying to source it but can instead just pick up a bottle, a half-case or a case from the restaurant directly at a competitive price. Roberto also said that they will be able to arrange delivery, and can also create mixed half-cases and cases by special arrangement.

As we returned to our table, everyone in the dining room seemed a bit more jolly and animated than before. They informed me that I had left my camera on the chair and should be more careful in looking after it in the future. Then one gentleman proceeded to ask me if I was a restaurant critic and we got on the subject of blogging, which they seemed to find interesting. It was only after my friend and I arrived at our next destination (we went to Milk & Honey’s Red Room for a nightcap), that we saw what the other diners had done.

The Other Guests Certainly Enjoyed Themselves!

Yes, they had taken funny photos of themselves with my camera – we nearly spit out our drinks with laughter when we saw these hilarious photos.

A promising start

We had a very enjoyable meal at Gauthier Soho, and it’s almost hard to believe that they had only been open for four days when we dined there. Things ran remarkably smoothly all things considered. The only niggles were that a few of the newly recruited staff members were still finding their feet and a few appeared slightly nervous (but I suppose this is to be expected), and we had a rather long wait between our third and fourth courses as the restaurant was then fully booked. I recall saying to my dining companion that although the menu format is somewhat of a triumph for the diner, it must be an absolute nightmare for the kitchen as you are free to order any combination of the three, four or five courses that you wish.

As the above commentary suggests, the food was on the whole very enjoyable and precisely executed. To me, Gauthier’s strength is his delicate handling of primary ingredients (i.e. fish and meat are nearly always cooked flawlessly, and he is a master of presenting vegetables in a new light) and his subtle and sometimes unusual flavor combinations, which often lend a certain Mediterranean streak to what is otherwise quite traditional Southern French cuisine. Strangely enough, we only had one course which was totally vegetarian on this occasion (the green pea velouté), but there were lots of veggie options on offer throughout the main menu. Gauthier Soho seems to have created a very pleasant backdrop to showcase Alexis’ refined cuisine, and from what I could tell on this preview visit, he might look to experiment a little more in this new venue, both in terms of the format of the menu and the composition of his dishes – but the cooking and experience remains much the same as it was at Roussillon.

His decision to move house to Soho is a telling one, as for me, this is where a lot of the most exciting, fun and enjoyable new openings have sprung up in the last few years. I truly hope he also finds Soho to be a good home for his kitchen and his team, and the opening of Gauthier Soho is certainly another welcome addition to the growing stable of diverse and desirable dining destinations in the neighbourhood.

*Note: I have dined at Gauthier Soho once and, as it was for dinner during their ‘soft opening’, the meal was complementary.*

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