Thursday 29 May 2014

Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester, London

Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester was my first 3 Michelin star experience. Set in Park Lane in the grand Dorchester Hotel where it was evident that the clientele enjoyed the finer things in life. The restaurant is accessed halfway down the long tea room; it felt a bit strange waltzing through the area past people enjoying lunch and afternoon tea to get to the restaurant. The dining room was larger than I expected, even with spaced out tables. The dining room is elegant and impressive, it is dominated by a centerpiece curtain of Swarovski crystals which surrounds a private dining table.

Alain Ducasse is a multiple holder of Michelin Stars, too many to count in fact and his trusted Executive Chef at the Dorchester is Jocelyn Herland who oversaw the restaurant when it achieved 3 Michelin stars in 2010. The standard has remained consistently high which has seen the restaurant keep all of its stars intact to date.

Our original plans were to sample to the lunch menu which priced at £55 for three courses, two glasses of wine and water seemed a snip. However our plans were soon blown out of the water when we were shown the menus. Given that this would likely be a one off visit for the foreseeable future we thought we may as well do it right and opted for the seven course tasting menu at £125 per head.

The first course was dorset crab with a delicate ‘gelée’ and caviar. Served in a shell this was a light start that served more as a palate cleanser as the flavours were subtle. The crab jelly was made with crab meat, shallots, fennel, ginger, coriander, chilli pepper, lemon grass, tomato, egg white put in water and set with jelly leaves of agar agar. 

Prior to the first course we were presented with a mountain of warm cheese Gougères, choux pastry flavoured with paprika, black pepper and emmental cheese. Its a shame that we took so long deciding which menu to order that these had cooled down before we tried them.

The next course was presented in a cookpot with puff pastry around the outer rim of the pot. Inside were spears of green asparagus from Luberon served on a bed of morels chicken stock and shallots, this was topped with Comté Grande Garde cru 2011 cheese and allowed to melt whilst being baked. It was sort of like a posh pie with the morels being particularly enjoyable and mopping up the cheese and sauce with the pastry. Since coming into season it was probably the fifth time I've had asparagus in the last couple of weeks.

Next up was a signature Alain Ducasse dish, ‘Sauté gourmand’ of lobster with truffled chicken quenelles. The native lobster was first poached in a bouillon then cooked in clarified lobster butter and sliced into medallions. Served with poached quenelles of chicken mousse with black Perigord truffle, semi dried pasta made with semolina flour and finished with a homardine sauce and finished with a creamed chicken sauce. This was a dish of luxury and the flavours just worked together with the homardine sauce being the star binding it all, although I would have preferred the lobster to be softer as it carried some bite.

Wild seabass, corgette flower stuffed with basil mousse and confit tomatoes. The accompanying sauce poured at the table was a wonderful bouillabaisse reduction. The courgette and basil mousse cut through the richness of the dish and the fish was superbly cooked as expected.

Farm house veal loin, peas ‘à la française’, served with a veal jus. The veal was recommended to be served medium rare but it was just a touch over for me, with it nearing medium rather than rare. By now I was beginning to flag with the richness of the sauces and struggled to finish the dish. The classic French peas were a good accompaniment with the naturalness shining through, a salty piece of pancetta cut through this to give it balance.

The cheese course was next which I was dreading after the richness of the previous courses. A beautiful arrangement of four French cheeses with condiments was presented, served with a simple salad to refresh the palate, crackers and country bread. From left to right below we had a Valençay goats cheese with bell pepper, camembert served with an apple and cider marmalade, Gruyere Grand Jura (18 months) served with mushrooms, yellow wine and macadamia nuts and Persillé du Malezieu served with poached pear in mostarda di cremona. The portion was rather generous and it took me half an hour to finish!

The dessert course of exotic fruits was a bit odd I thought when first reading through the menu. I wondered why a chocolate or pastry based dessert was not included and now I knew why after the first six courses, it would simply be too much. My chocolate and sweet cravings were met with a medley of sweet snacks before dessert. The highlight for me being the macaroons.

The dessert was billed as exotic fruit contemporary vacherin. Served in an unusual clear cylindrical dish with matching lid the sorbet inside seemed enticing to lighten the heaviness I was feeling. The dessert was made up of a mango jam at the bottom topped with a scoop of mango & passion fruit sorbet and a scoop of pineapple and topped with coconut meringue. A medley of perfectly diced fruits including kiwi, pomegranate and a variety of melon with lemon grace and passion fruit juice was spooned over the top at the table to complete the dessert. The mango and passion fruit sorbet reminded of a Solero from my youth but I think being grown up now I would prefer this to cool me down during hot summer days!

The service as expected in a 3 star restaurant was exemplary, with smooth and impeccable timing. Although as we were one of the last tables to finish and the fact that we took a while on the cheese course the service slowed towards the end. Dishes were served by one member of the team at any one time and not by an army of people which I find particularly annoying. The whole experience overall was very enjoyable and certainly introduced me to French gastronomy in ways I have never experienced before.

Alain Ducasse At The Dorchester on Urbanspoon

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Saturday 24 May 2014

MEATmarket, London

The Meat Liquor burger brand has been on my London to do list for quite a while. I finally got the chance to visit MEATmarket, the covent garden branch a few weeks ago and as an added bonus it was their second birthday which meant half price food all day. Only for those who saw the tweet and wished them a happy birthday though, I nearly forgot and was sternly reminded by a colleague! Visiting straight from work in our suits was probably not the best idea as we watched the messiness of others devouring their burgers whilst we waited for our order. 

I opted for the Dead Hippie with beef patties, dead hippie sauce, lettuce, pickles and minced onion. As I unwrapped the burger the cheese was glistening and bun was sliding off both at the top and bottom, I thought about the impending dry cleaning bill for a split second before diving in. My first thoughts were that it was a nicer version of a Big Mac, especially the dead hippie sauce. The patties were cooked just short of medium and met the beefiness test which I like, there's nothing more disappointing than eating a beef patty which is bland. It was satisfying enough but I was expecting more given the hype.

My colleague chose the red chili cheeseburger with beef patties, cheese, beef chilli, onions, mustard and jalapenos, this was devoured with gusto and was met with a seal of approval.

We ordered sides of bingo wings in hot sauce with a blue cheese dip and chili cheese fries topped with a mountain of cheese an inch thick, beef chili, jalapenos. This was certainly a once in a while splurge given the amount of cheese and I soon hit the food wall.

The place was rammed during our visit, probably due to the half price offer, but queues are normal at the flagship Meat Liquor I am told. For fast food this is as sinful and convenient as it gets.

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Friday 23 May 2014

Kitchenette, Manchester

Mud Crab are the guys behind Kitchenette on Oxford Road in the former Fellicini site opposite the Palace theatre.  From the outside its not much to look at with its dilapidated appearance but we were surprised how big it was inside. The menu is a bit wacky to read with sections dotted all over the large sheet, a bit different but I suppose it fits the theme of the restaurant.

We ordered a selection of dishes to share. Mr Nom is always a bit greedy ordering way too much which had me worried about my poor waistline! Chilli crab tacos with mango and avocado salsa kicked off the meal with a good start.

A sticky pork & Asian shredded salad was light and tasty with the sticky soy dressing but I wished the pork was less jerky-like. The use of fried lotus was also different.

From the hirata buns section we ordered a filling of chargrilled skirt steak with a ABC kecap manis glaze. The generous portion of skirt steak was tender and we could have happily devoured it by itself. The hirata buns were fluffy served with house kimchi pickle but were a little thick and heavy, they needed to be more fluffy and light as advertised. 

Each portion of food so far seemed like a main in itself and this continued with the duck & sweet potato hash with a deep fried egg. We ordered the smaller size but even this seemed huge and packed full of duck! 

Despite my protestation Mr Nom also decided to a side portion of mac & cheese which he happily polished off by himself as I was stuffed but also secretly saving a small ounce of space for dessert. I chose the yuzu meringue pie to share and this was tangy and sharp as expected, the marshmallows were lovely but slightly too toasted. 

The fusion elements at Kitchenette daring and different to anything in Manchester that we have tried, and with main meal sizes for small plate prices it seemed rather good value for money.

Kitchenette on Urbanspoon

Wednesday 21 May 2014

The Dairy, London

I chose The Dairy as the first restaurant of my recent birthday weekend in London, because one birthday meal is just not enough! Situated in SW4 in Clapham which is somewhat out the way of the action of central London but within an easy half an hour tube ride. It amazes me that Londoners in general seem to share a common trait which is that travelling even to the next postcode is a mammoth effort! The Dairy is literally a minute from Clapham Common underground station and features a bar area with a narrow dining room.

Whilst deciding whether to order as many dishes from the menu as possible which was split between snacks, garden, sea, land and sweet or the 7 course tasting menu we were presented with an amuse of potato. Not the most exciting as I had seen blogs with crispy oysters but the hot from the oven sourdough bread that followed with smoked bone marrow more than made up for it.

We settled on the a la carte as we were informed that we could order the eel from the tasting menu as a separate dish as they had plentiful supply that evening. The first snack was chicken liver mousse, rhubarb, fresh apple. A light mousse jazzed up by the rhubarb and apple.

Squid, fresh fennel, red pepper tea, probably the only disappointment of the night. Small strips of squid with a red pepper tea that just didn't agree with me.

Roof top carrots, goats cheese, oat granola, buttermilk. The carrots were fresh and prepared in different ways which made them interesting. The goats cheese and buttermilk were a little rich.

Smoked hanger steak tartare, soft yolk, butternut squash. The lightly smoked steak was joyful but we felt the butternut squash added a sweetness which wasn't needed.

Galician octopus, tomato, fried bread, roof top herbs. Probably the least fancy looking dish of the night but the octopus was superb.

Applewood smoked eel, swiss chard, bonito butter. The eel was smoked to perfection and just right,  the dish of the night!

Chicken oyster, crispy skin, wild mushrooms, English asparagus. This ran the eel dish close for being my favourite if only it wasn't so salty. The chicken skin is a guilty pleasure and the chicken oyster was so moist. Coupled with the oyster mushrooms and asparagus this made for an excellent dish. Its not often that we order chicken dishes but this was an exception.

Lake District lamb rump, broccoli, anchovy, capers. Not as impressive as the chicken dish but the broccoli with the well judged pink lamb worked nicely together.

Salted caramel, cacao, malted barley ice cream. Mrs Nom had called up the restaurant beforehand and this was a nice surprise. We were very full by this point and struggled to fit anymore in so decided to share this, a good sweet end to the meal followed by some light petit fours.

Petit fours, hibiscus doughnut, shortbread, sour apple jelly

If only the neighbourhood restaurants around me back at home were this good, I would never have to venture to town! An enjoyable meal and it felt like we ate our way through the whole menu at a reasonable price with the dishes ranging from £5-£10.

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