My 7 Links

I was asked by esteemed fellow blogger @gourmetraveller to participate in a project called ‘My 7 Links’, which is organized by Tripbase. I haven’t really done a ‘meme’ post before, but thought this particular one would be a nice way to review my last two years of food and wine, re-focusing attention on some highs, some lows, and the unexpected. So, without further adieu, my seven links.

Most Popular Post:
The Fat Duck – A Blumen’ Great Day in Bray  

JELLY OF QUAIL, CREAM OF CRAWFISH: Chicken Liver Parfait, Oak Moss & Truffle Toast (Homage to Alain Chapel) … at The Fat Duck in Bray, UK

I guess it comes as no surprise that my most popular post is a review of one of the UK’s high temples of gastronomy: Heston Blumenthal’s three-star Michelin restaurant, The Fat Duck, which was also awarded ‘Best Restaurant in the World’ by the Restaurant Magazine / San Pellegrino ’50 Best’ awards in 2005, and has been in the top five since 2004. Given that a large portion of my readership still hails from the UK and that Heston Blumenthal has become a very popular figure on TV and in the country’s print media, it makes sense. Happily, it was also one of the better meals I’ve had the pleasure of eating since I started this blog. I also like the chef’s approach towards food and his concept of ‘the meal’, and think he’s one of the more consistent and genuine characters in the higher echelons of chefdom. I therefore have no qualms about the success of this post. 

Most Controversial Post:
Le Gavroche – Unfortunately A Very Mixed Bag

The Signature Cheese Soufflé ... at Le Gavroche, London (photo: goodtoknow.co.uk)

It is unfortunate that my most controversial post came from a restaurant that I so much wanted to like. You see, Michel Roux, Jr. was a new hero of mine at the time, and I desperately wanted to love his food and his restaurant, which I saw as an extension of him. Unfortunately, we did not have a pleasant experience at all – it was certainly not befitting of its dual Michelin-starred status. This was one of my first posts, back in the days when I didn’t take photos, so sorry for the lack of visuals, but this was probably the angriest review I have written (which just goes to show I’m a big softy). The anger wasn’t due to the fact that Mrs. LF annoyingly had a big crush on him (and still does), but rather the bordering-on-rude service we experienced. It put me off ever returning this traditional yet quirky subterranean dining room. The signature cheese soufflé and innovative wine pairings were the only things that mitigated what was generally a very disappointing experience.

Post Whose Success Surprised Me:
The Loft Project with Samuel Miller from noma 

Samuel Miller Plating our First Course … at The Loft Project in East London

I really didn’t expect my post about a supper club in the East End of London to get the attention it did. But I guess The Loft Project is a pretty unique concept, as they do get some of the most interesting young culinary talents from around the world to cook for a few nights for 12 or so lucky guests. It’s not cheap, but for what you end up getting (sometimes 8+ courses with a wine paring included), it can often end up being phenomenal value. Anyway, the meal that Yorkshire man Samuel Miller – who is second only to Rene Redzepi himself in noma’s kitchen – stands out as one of the best dining experiences I’ve had anywhere. It was a wonderful evening in every sense, and for all my senses. The technical reason why I think it got so many views is because there was a television show on one night about noma, and Sam featured prominently in it, so I got a lot of people coming to the post after googling his name alongside the word ‘noma’. As of now, it is my 7th most popular post.

Post That Didn’t Get the Attention it Deserved:
Morgan M. – You Can Go Your Own Way

Oven-roasted Suffolk Red Leg Partridge, Sweet Potato Purée, Poêlée of Grapes and Savoy Cabbage, Liver Croûton, Bread Sauce … at Morgan M. in North London

Maybe it was the signature cheesy title, but I was surprised that my review of Morgan M. – which is one of only two reviews listed on Urbanspoon in nearly two years – did not garner more attention. Although the service was a little uneven, the food was certainly beautiful to look at and tasted very good to boot. I had really wanted to highlight this little gem of a place, which takes advantage of cheaper rent in North London but produces traditional French food with ample flair that competes with many of the more popular (and much more expensive) French restaurants in central London. The natural light during our lunch also allowed for some great pictures, making this one of the prettier posts I have done, IMHO. I was pleased to learn the other day that chef Meunier is, after many years, opening a second restaurant near London’s Smithfield Market.

Note: there was another post, which was somewhat controversial and also barely got any views, to which I would also like to direct your attention. It is an interview with the editor of Tong wine magazine, a publication that brings much-needed diversity to the global conversations taking place about wine. Read it here: Filip Verheyden is TONG – About Wine.

Most Beautiful Post:
The Sportsman – Captivating, Compelling, Complete

Cauliflower Tart … at The Sportsman on the Kent Coast

The food at The Sportsman, a one-Michelin star restaurant that could easily be mistaken for an unremarkable pub on an unremarkable stretch of England’s Kent coastline, is in many ways deceiving. It is presented simply and humbly, and you might not give it too much thought. However, the fact that a good deal of what you are eating comes from within a few mile radius of the restaurant, and that there is considerable technical skill and bounds of flavour packed into each bite, can take you by surprise if you’re not expecting it. One of the two brothers who own the pub is the (mostly self-taught) head chef and the other oversees the front of house. The interior has been honestly restored and locals still do come in for a pint at the bar, even if the bulk of the reservations now come from patrons living further afield. The tasting menu, which is available during the week, is well worth a visit, but requires special booking ahead of time. Although the dishes are certainly not as artistic as many other restaurants I have reviewed, I felt that overall, the images from this post were the most beautiful when taken together as a whole. The light was fantastic on the day, and for the most part, these images received almost no retouching. I hope you enjoy reading and looking at it. 

Post I’m Most Proud of:
noma – Northern Light 

break on through to the other side ... noma in Copenhagen

Not only was I proud of myself for simply finding a way to eat at what has now been ranked as the ‘best restaurant in the world’ for two years running, I was also pleased with the review I wrote. It was very long (hey, what else is new?), but it managed to synthesize my numerous thoughts and emotions about the restaurant and our meal. The food itself is also breathtaking to look at, and while my photos don’t really do it justice, this also made it a visually appealing post to me. Hopefully you feel the same. 

Most Helpful Post:
Lanka – The Perfect Little Place in Primrose Hill

Rum Baba ... at Lanka in London

I don’t know how truly helpful my posts are to readers – after all, I mostly just eat and don’t cook – though I did feel like I was providing a good service to the residents within walking distance of London’s Primrose Hill when I consumed copious calories over a number of visits to a cute little pâtisserie and café run by Japanese chef Masayuki Hara. These multiple visits confirmed that the pastries were generally very technically well made, plus some of them benefited from an injection of Japanese flavor (i.e. green tea features prominently in a few of the treats). They have also gradually expanded the range of food, which is simple but very tasty, and have a good selection of high-quality teas and coffee (they use Monmouth beans, or at least did on my last visit). If you are in the neighborhood, I’ve found it is normally worth the extra calories that a visit entails. The hot chocolate is also good.

I would now like to direct your attention to five great food-related blogs that I follow regularly, all of whom have agreed to do their on ‘My 7 Links’ post in due course. Look out for their reflections on their old chestnuts. The are listed alphabetically…like, duh.

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!

The Sportsman – Captivating, Compelling, Complete

The Sportsman
Faversham Road
Whitstable CT5 4BP
Website
Map
Reservations: +44 (0)1227 273 370

  • Tasting menu at £55/person; à la carte menu: starters from £6-10, mains from £15-22, desserts £7
  • For the full set of high-resolution photos, please visit my Flickr set for this meal

Certainly one of most enjoyable meals I’ve had in the UK in the last few years – if you haven’t been, go!

From two to four, to the red door

It was winter 2009. We had lived, and ate, it up in France over the Christmas period. My wife was pregnant and didn’t feel like going out to rich dinners (in both senses of the word). My ever-present culinary adventurousness was restless. I wanted something special, something not London, but travelling abroad was out of the question. The resounding answer to my (granted, not earth-shattering) predicament came in two words, an article and a noun: The Sportsman.

Having read and heard about many tales of exceedingly special meals at what, on the face of it, is a simple pub on the rugged seaside near Canterbury from the food bloggers I regularly follow, I decided to book a meal there in April. It would be a special occasion for the two of us. However, it became even more special when we decided it would be more fun to experience this little journey with some good friends of a similar disposition – so we invited @mathildecuisine and @dewilded, who gladly accepted despite the fact that it seemed cause a significant family rift as they had to cancel a long-standing date with their parents. At least they have their priorities straight. ;-)

I will not regale you with a detailed history of The Sportsman as somehow it has done the unthinkable in a very short period of time: it is well-known to most UK foodies and a surprising number of international ones, a good deal of whom have made the Seasalter sojourn to experience it for themselves.

The potted history is that English brothers Stephen and Phil Harris took over The Sportsman, a local pub in Seasalter, in 1999. Since then, they have transformed it, not only in looks (scroll down for a few pictures of the lovely country pub interior) but also in terms of the food and drink being served. This was enough for them to gain a coveted Michelin star for their establishment, which they still hold. Many people I have spoken to think it is the best culinary day out one can have in the UK – high praise indeed, and expectations to match.

Our limousine for the afternoon

As my wife was not up for the rather long drive to the coast, we decided to all take the train, which worked out brilliantly – it also meant I could drink as I pleased – and we ended up arriving bang on schedule. We flagged down our limo driver (hehe) and were surprised at his choice of carriage. At least the windows were large. :)

The Seasalter beach

The Sportsman occupies a rather interesting stretch of UK coastline – some might call it desolate and lonely, others may call it inspiring. I think it’s fair to say that you might be disappointed if you came from afar for picturesque sandy beaches, because it ain’t a stereotypically beautiful beach. The restaurant is the only large structure in the area, and behind it lies a small garden plot, in which they grow some of their own fruit and vegetables when they are in season (it was fairly empty on our visit), beyond which there are a number of caravans parked in a random mish-mash of colors and sizes.

Man’s best friend was also happy to be there

As we had arrived a little early, we decided to refresh ourselves with a walk along the seaside before sitting down for our lunch. We weren’t the only ones who were happy to be there on this unseasonably sunny day. :)

We hit the post & headed back

We decided to stop at the sand and headed back to the restaurant to begin the meal – we were anxiously hungry.

We entered

As you can see, it really does look like a simple pub from the outside – we weren’t sure what the inside would hold in store for us.

Luckily, we had booked

I think this sign is probably up nearly all the time, but it did make us chuckle a little bit. One nice thing is that, given the majority of their customers come from out-of-town, they do still maintain a bar where locals can frequent (and did during our lunch), and they definitely have not disconnected themselves from the local community.

Through the red door

I loved the rugged old red front door, so had to take a photo, naturally.

We made ourselves at home

We had a great table in the corner of the front dining room, which afforded us a nice view of the whole dining space and also the bar. As you can see, there is a lovely wood-panelled floor, which is original, and the rest of the pub exudes warmth and light (though the especially sunny day we were blessed with probably did help). The tables are very large and well spaced out, and the chairs are comfortable. You can tell that they really care about giving their customers a good overall experience as they could surely pack in many more tables, which would likely sacrifice the calm and relaxed atmosphere of the place that we found to be perfect.

We made our selves even more at home

Any place serving Pol Roger Brut Réserve by the glass is a good spot in my book, and of course I insisted we all had a glass (well, Mrs. LF had a little sip of mine).

Difficult decisions out of the way, we settled in for the long haul

As this was a rather special occasion – heck, it was @dewilded’s birthday – we opted for some of the nicer wines on offer: a white Châteauneuf-du-Pape and a bottle of 2001 Château Palmer. It is worth nothing that the mark-up (or lack thereof) of the Château Palmer. They apparently got an extremely good deal off of their wine merchants (Berry Bros. & Rudd) on this wine and were actually selling below what I believe the normal retail price would be (it cost £79.95 in the restaurant), so our wallets and taste buds were successfully tempted to the Left Bank.

Tasting for England (via France, Turkey & America)

As I said, I certainly had very high expectations for this meal – after all @foodsnob had said it was probably the place to eat in the UK right now, pretty significant praise – which is not always a good thing, as you can get easily disappointed.

I have to point out that the restaurant had been exceedingly flexible and kind in letting us have the tasting menu (we did ask about this pretty far in advance), even though it was a weekend and they normally only serve it during the week.

Quartet of Amuse Bouches

Mrs. LF couldn’t stomach that much food, so just opted for a main course. We were all pleasantly surprised and impressed when we saw that they had prepared four sets of amuses for us, even though Mrs. LF wasn’t having the tasting menu – a nice touch.

Pork Scratchings with Apple-Mustard Dipping Sauce

The pork scratchings were unlike any I’ve had before. By this, I mean that they were sensational. Exceedingly light and crispy on the outside and (some were) meltingly fatty on the inside, the pork flavor was not at all overpowering and they were simply divine when dipped in the apple-mustard sauce. I guess this may be due to the fact that the pigs are literally reared next door. A real winner. 10/10.

Rock Oyster with Bramley Apple Juice & Seasalter Ham

As I am still a novice with oysters, I left it to @dewilded to comment on this beautifully presented dish, which I much enjoyed: “As far as I can remember, I loved the additional saltiness of the ham (Seasalter as it was) and how it married to that of the actual salty side of the oyster. The added texture of the ham to the oyster was a nice contrast to what oysters usually are as well, even though I remember these oysters to be quite meaty.” I would agree and also thought that the apple juice added a little hint of sweetness and also some acidity, though it wasn’t the overriding flavour I remember about the dish. 8/10.

Herring with Cream Cheese, Apple Jelly & Irish Soda Bread

Next up was another scrumptious morsel. The pickled herring was as good as or better than those I’ve had in Scandinavia, and paired well with the sweet and sharp apple and just-sweet homemade soda bread. I didn’t feel that the cream cheese added or detracted too much from this little skewer of joy, though I suppose it lent a more interesting textural experience in the mouth. 9/10.

Cauliflower Tart

The fourth nibble in this opening quartet was a little bite of vegetal perfection. The pastry shell was the correct thickness – crisp and light – and the cauliflower was amazingly fresh and crunchy, complemented by their homemade ricotta cheese and what I believe was a purée of onion. It was a good sign, as so many places in the UK simply don’t get pastry right in my experience. 9/10.

Baked Rock Oyster with Jersey Cream & Rhubarb Granita

For one reason or another, this dish seemed to elude most of our taste buds’ memories. I remember that I liked it but didn’t love it, and that the components did work rather well together – I just didn’t think it was a show-stopper. You can see @gourmetraveller’s review for her take on the dish.

A plain-looking but dynamic duo

After the cooked oyster, we were presented with a simple yet dynamic duo focusing on a singular ingredient – asparagus which had just come into season. It was presented on a different slab of stone, and I felt it was beautifully Spartan in appearance.

New Season Asparagus Tart

This was basically spring arriving on a plate. I felt the real star here was the beautiful little tartlette. It was one of the best and most memorable bites of food I’ve had in the last year. The pastry was again 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. 10/10.

New Season Asparagus Soup

The chilled asparagus soup also tasted distinctly of fresh asparagus and was expertly seasoned; I enjoyed it a lot. 8/10.

Homemade Foccacia, Sourdough & Soda Bread

The bread was interestingly served after the aforementioned dishes. I had been forewarned to leave room for The Sportman’s homemade bread board, especially the focaccia. I have to say that all three of the breads on offer (sourdough, Irish soda bread and the focaccia) were probably some of the best I’ve had in a restaurant at the UK. I was particularly partial to the soda bread (which wasn’t too sweet, as I find many versions to be) and the chewy-crusted sourdough, though the focaccia was also excellent. 8/10.

Home-churned Butter (Plain and with Peppers)

Both of butters served were excellent, though Mrs. LF and I were both partial to the very gentle heat in the peppered one. 8/10.

Crab Risotto

This is a classic Sportsman dish, and many critics and bloggers have gone on about it. While I did like it a lot, I found it to be a little bit of a let-down. It certainly had an intenseness and depth of sweet, rich, fresh crab flavor, and the rice had been cooked properly (retaining that slight bite). I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but possibly because it was the first substantial portion of food we’d been served, I simply lost interest after the fourth or fifth bite due to the fact that all the preceding dishes had been more varied as there were merely bitefulls (save for the asparagus soup)? It was excellent, but not my personal favorite, again possibly due to the sequencing of the meal, and it isn’t one of the things that sticks in my mind regarding the meal a few months later. 8/10.

Smoked Wigeon, Pear & Mustard

Next up was a really enjoyable little dish. Wigeons are a wintering migratory bird in the UK (there are scarcely any permanent residents, but about 250k stop in the UK – mostly on the coastland – during the winter) and the ones at The Sportsman come from literally just down the beach, from what I understand. It was smoked and nearly raw, and had a very gamey (yet not unpleasant) flavor, which was expertly complemented with the sweet pear and creamy and slightly sharp mustard. I enjoyed the novelty of eating something I’d never had (and never knew existed) before as well, similar to when I first had smoked puffin with blueberries in Iceland! :) 9/10.

Seasalter Ham Cured in June 2008

The local ham arrived with a little card explaining where the ham came from, how it had been cured and where the inspiration was drawn from. I wholeheartedly applaud the team for breaking new ground and trying to make their own cured ham. For me, however, it was simply too salty and didn’t have the depth of flavor that I have tasted in Spanish and Italian versions. I thought the proportion of fat was about right, and a few bites were enjoyable, but after more than that, I became very thirsty and not interested any longer. 6/10.

Brill Braised in 'Old Meursault' with Smoked Pork

The fish course was possibly my favourite dish. Well, the seafood part of it was. The perfectly cooked line-caught brill and unbelievably good creamy yet light sauce were the perfect pair – I truly loved them together. The pork was also perfectly nice, and well cooked, although I didn’t think it added too much to the dish, aside from a chewy texture. I ate the pork separately as the fish and sauce combination was more my cup of tea, so to speak. I can still taste that sauce, it was exceptional. 9/10 (It was a 10/10 dish for me if they would have left out the pork).

2007 Châteauneuf-du-Pape (Blanc), Domaine du Vieux Lazaret

Just a quick note about the first wine. At first whiff and taste, I was a little let down. It initially seemed very muted to me and didn’t offer up much on the palate. It did grow on me, however, and seemed to evolve in the glass a lot. As promised by Phil, it was very versatile in terms of going with the variety of dishes we had selected it to accompany. So, in the end, I had to admit it had been a good selection, but it is not a wine I think I would return to unless there was a very uninspiring wine list on hand.

Roast Ribeye (Served Pink) & Braised Shin of Local Angus Beef with Red Wine Sauce & Watercress Purée

Mrs. LF opted for the beef for her main course. She recalls that “the meat was extremely tender and well-cooked. While the ribeye had the characteristic stringy and fatty bits, it was a very good cut of beef, and the shin was also delicious. But what was amazing about this dish was the sauce. It was rich and had a real depth of flavor, but wasn’t overly heavy (like the one I had at the Pierre Koffman pop-up in Selfridges, for example) and was easily digestible. It also had a plummy flavor to it and was slightly sweet, so it possessed that sweet and sour tinge which I tend to like. The sauce really made the dish.

“The potatoes were also nice, especially when split open and used as a vessel to mop up that divine sauce. The watercress puree was a pretty little green blob that dotted to the top of the plate, and I guess it was just another option for introducing a bit of green vegetables to the dish, and I preferred it to having a few bright green English peas dotted around the side – it was a bit more refined and the cress flavor came through well.” 8/10.

Breaded Breast of Lamb

The breast of lamb was wrapped in a fried breaded crust and there was scarcely a trace of grease. It reminded me of a lamb breast dish I had at Hereford Road in London (the second time ever I’d tried lamb breast, an under-used part of the sheep), except The Sportsman’s dish was better. The ratio of bread to meat was just right, and the quite strong flavor of the lamb breast shone through but was then cut down to size by the fried crumbs and perfectly enhanced by the mint dipping sauce. An excellent dish. 8/10.

Roast Rack of Monkshill Farm Lamb with Braised Pork & Broccoli

The roast rack of lamb was simply presented and refreshingly unadorned. It was cooked beautifully and it had fantastic flavor. It was something you don’t get very often in a kitchen with such a pedigree, a simple dish with very few ingredients executed well enough to allow the natural taste of ‘what it is’ to come through, to paraphrase Curnonsky. 8/10.

2001 Château Palmer

The Château Palmer was still quite young but it was certainly very interesting to taste such a famous house’s wine for the first time – and a nice celebratory wine for @dewilded’s birthday. While it was still hadn’t developed the secondary flavors of a fully matured Bordeaux, it exhibited good black fruit and a note of spice, with tannins that were fairly supple. I think it would benefit from a number of years of ageing still, but the wine showed a lot of promise and did go well with the meaty members of our meal. As noted above, it was very good value and, come to think of it, all of the wine there was very well priced and they had a really good little selection available.

Blood Orange Ice Lolly with Cake-milk

The first up of the sweets on offer were ice lollies, daintily presented in little white cups. The red of the blood orange went nicely with the yellow-orange ‘cake-milk’ and the flavors melded almost as well, though not quite perfectly for me. The blood orange lolly itself was excellent on its own, and I loved the Sanguinello / Tarocco acidic bite, which is milder, sweeter and richer than grapefruit. The ‘cake-milk’ was pretty much exactly what it sounds like, except more the texture of cream…that tasted strangely of sweet full-fat milk. They did go together, and I guess it was almost a posh rendition of the Orange Julius, but I’m not sure they were the perfect partners. Enjoyable and fun though, nonetheless. 7/10.

Homemade Birthday Cake for @dewilded

As it was @dewilded’s birthday celebration, @mathildecuisine had pre-arranged for a cake to be served at the end of our lunch. What we didn’t know was that this was the first cake Stephen had attempted at The Sportsman. Well, let me tell you, the guy not also cooks fantastically, but his cake was also marvellous. It looked very heavy, but it was in reality extremely light and the texture was perfect. Hell, Mrs. LF even ate her whole (and very large slice), and she doesn’t normally like this kind of cake, so that’s saying something.

A not-so-little slice of joy

It was also yet another very kind gesture from the kitchen. And, just like the amuses, they also served Mrs. LF each of the dessert items on the tasting menu even though she only ordered one main course herself. That’s how you treat customers if you want to come back again and again. 8/10.

Violet Ice Cream

We were also given small dishes of violet ice cream, which was very good and indeed tasted of violets, but in a very subtle and nice way. 7/10.

Tea & Coffee

We relaxed and reflected on our meal over some fresh mint tea, which was very nice, while @dewilded opted for a more hearty coffee.

Tray of Petit Fours

The petit fours weren’t actually all that petit, but I wasn’t complaining! :) The word ‘generous’ again sprang to mind.

Rhubarb Sorbet

The rhubarb sorbet was very pleasant, showing off the sweet and tart nature of the stalks, and enhancing it with a bit of creaminess on the top for balance. 7/10.

Homemade Shortbread

The homemade shortbread was also very good, and there ain’t much more to say about that. 7/10.

Cheese Ice Cream with Pear Purée, Meringue & Ginger Cake Crumbs

The ice cream did exhibit the rich and ever so slightly sour creaminess of cream cheese which went very nicely with the sweet pear, into which it was slightly submerged. There were little bits of interesting crunch provided by the meringue and ginger cake crumbs, which added a nice nuance to the dish. This was my favorite out of the final trio of desserts. 9/10.

Worth travelling for

I do have a tendency to go on a bit, don’t I. (Notice that was a rhetorical question). Well, in summary, the food at The Sportsman was consistently at a very high level. Nearly all of it was locally sourced (from what I could tell); it had a real identity; and passion was infused into each bite. Once inside, you could not ask for a more comfortable and pretence-less country pub, and everything feels just right. Phil is an affable, knowledgeable, engaging, confident, humble and chilled out host and the natural light – when present – is soft and makes for a truly magical ambience. It is priced very fairly, especially by London or major metropolis standards, and is unique.

If you live in London or are visiting the UK, definitely try to get there.If possible, I would certainly opt for a weekday lunch in order to sample the tasting menu and to allow for digestion and relaxation for the rest of the day. But I would feel pretty confident in saying that any meal had at The Sportsman would be an enjoyable one. I hope more places like begin sprouting up around the UK very soon. This is what a restaurant is meant to be.

Rating

Ambience: 9/10

Service: 8/10

Food: 8/10

Wine: as mentioned above, while there is a relatively small selection (whites listed on one blackboard, reds on another), it is interesting enough and generally very fairly priced.

For more about my rating scale, click here.

*Note: I have dined at The Sportsman once, and it was for lunch.*

Sportsman on Urbanspoon