The Mermaid (Ellington, Cambridgeshire)

May 2017

Chef: Nick Marriott

I have to start with an explanation…

OK, this restaurant does not have a Michelin star and you probably haven’t heard of it. I don’t normally review restaurants which don’t fit into those categories in fact *stage whisper* it is actually a pub restaurant. However I am making an exception because well, because it is exceptional.

We decided to eat out of London this month and had heard good things about this place so we went for dinner on Saturday evening. The restaurant, in a quaint little pub in a Cambridgeshire village, has low beams, a wood burner and a series of small, cottage rooms serving as the restaurant. It is everything I imagine a village pub is but never normally find.

We sat by the window to the kitchen, a nice touch, although I couldn’t actually see much of the kitchen not that that really mattered.

To start we had a Birds Nest amuse bouche with salted leek hay and quails eggs. This was great start to the meal as it was delicious. I never normally choose eggs on a menu but I thoroughly enjoyed this dish. The presentation was great and the dish was so flavoursome. Sometimes an amuse bouche can be a tad boring but this was definitely one of the better ones.

For my starter I chose the Kentucky fried pigeon which was also delightful. The pigeon itself was beautifully pink and moist and was accompanied by mushroom duxelle, burnt sweetcorn, charred baby leeks and a very tasty smoked sauce. I can’t say I can remember ever being served sweetcorn in an English restaurant before but it worked with the dish so no complaints.  Mr M had soft shelled crab which was also very good although the lemon and lime leaf puree was strong and maybe the dish did not need quite so much on the plate.

I chose the snail garden for the main and found it to be a very interesting dish. It was beautiful in appearance and very tasty with a lovely mixture of many colours and flavours. The snails themselves were braised and very soft. What a pleasant change to have them not covered in a sauce. The dish was very fresh and light and I was intrigued by the absence of any carbs but I can’t say I missed them. It was served on a bed of garlic yoghurt which was a little rich for me after a while but it didn’t spoil the dish as it was easy to leave it.

Mr M chose venison and for the first time in what seems like an age there was not an ounce of beetroot on the plate. What a pleasant change! The venison was exquisitely cooked and the accompaniments were interesting and tasty. The red cabbage spheres and the crispy kale working particularly well.

I had a pre-dessert of dill ice cream and burnt white chocolate which I very much enjoyed but, alas, had no room for a real dessert.

We moved into the bar for the rest of the evening which has a lovely country feel. They have a decent gin selection here and a well thought-out wine list with very affordable wine by the glass and some interesting wines by the bottle which we enjoy but don’t often see on local restaurant menus such as Primitivo and Malvasia.

I love the feel of this place, combining as it does country pub charm with some excellent food. The dishes were well thought-through, interesting and original. The chef (trained at Paris House, Woburn – see my review dated January 2013) clearly has skill and ingenuity and the bar and waiting staff were very good throughout.

In summary we had a superb evening and came away feeling like we had found a gem of a place nestled in the Cambridgeshire countryside. If you are ever passing (its about 10 minutes from the A1 before you reach Huntingdon) I would definitely recommend stopping for dinner. I hope they continue in the same vain as I am looking forward to returning.

Rating 8/10

The Ninth – 1 Michelin Star

March 2017

Chef: Jun Tanaka

I was intrigued to try this restaurant because the menu looked a little unusual and because I was amazed by the price of their set lunch at three plates for just £25.

The restaurant, an unassuming little place on Charlotte Street, is small and cafe-like. We were early for our reservation and initially sat at the bar for a drink. The general drinks menu is a little limited with nothing especially exciting but the wine menu is perfectly fine and we did enjoy the wine which we tried, particularly a very drinkable and affordable Beaujolais.

I do like the style of this restaurant which is informal and perfect for lunch. This isn’t a fine dining sort of place but it certainly has charm.

The restaurant describes its cuisine as ‘French Mediterranean sharing food’ but I think it is easier if I were to describe it as more akin to high quality tapas. Wanting to experience both menus we chose three dishes from the set lunch menu and then some further dishes from the main menu.

From the set menu we had king prawn macaroni, marinated mussels with chorizo, and chargrilled lamb, crisp breast and couscous salad. The mussels were nice but not exceptional. The other two dishes were however, very good. The prawn macaroni was wonderfully rich and flavoursome whilst the lamb was absolutely divine; some of the best I have had. I was amazed at the flavour of the crisp breast which worked perfectly with the rest of the lamb which was tender and succulent. The couscous was nice enough… as interesting as couscous ever is.

From the main menu we chose the freshly baked pitta, oxtail croquettes, crispy pigs trotter and the razor clam ceviche. All the dishes were good but the razor clam ceviche stood out, being very fresh and flavoursome, with perfectly balanced flavours. I also very much enjoyed the oxtail croquettes especially the wasabi green sauce which they were served with which complimented them so well.

All the dishes are designed for sharing and we enjoyed this style of eating as we frequently, half-surreptitiously, pass forkfuls of food to each other, even in the most formal of restaurants. This certainly makes for an enjoyable meal but it only suites a relaxed sort of meal probably only with fellow diners who you already know.

The service is fine but not exceptional (expect to pour your own water) and some of the restaurant looks a little tired.

In summary I do like this restaurant, and two of the dishes stood out as being exceptional. The restaurant does not feel like a Michelin starred restaurant so don’t expect fine dining but I would recommend it as a great value place to visit for lunch or an informal supper.

Rating: 7/10

Mere – Monica Galetti

March 2017

Chef: Monica Galetti

Monica Galleti’s long awaited restaurant, Mere, opened on Monday and as I was dining in town on Tuesday evening it was the obvious choice.

Situated on Charlotte Street the restaurant is larger than I expected with a bar on the ground floor and the restaurant at basement level. I enjoyed the blue velvet decor in the bar and of course had to try the Mere house cocktail which I enjoyed.

The restaurant feels very light and modern with lots of glass and some interesting art. We sat at the front of the restaurant which is the full height of the two floors.

To start we had an amuse bouche in which pear was the dominant element, it was a little sweet for me but not unpleasant.

I then chose the scollops which were delicious. The black curry they were served with had the perfect level of heat and I enjoyed the crispy rice sprinkled on top which added an interesting texture. Mr M choose the octopus which was flavoured with chorizo and was also delicious.

For my main I chose the beef and was not disappointed as it was excellent. The meat itself was faultless in quality and in the way it was cooked. The accompanying ox cheek, caramelised onion and little Yorkshire-pudding-like dumplings were great partners to the meat. One the best courses I have had this year (water-deer at The Ledbury is the other contender for top spot). Mr M chose squab which was also perfectly cooked and which he was very happy with.

Throughout the meal the service was excellent. We asked the sommelier for wine suggestions by the glass and the wines we tried were good although not outstanding. We did have a very nice post dinner sweet red wine.

We were very impressed with all the food we tried. There are clearly French, but also many other, influences in the food which makes a pleasant change from classic French. These diverse influences make for an interesting and rather eclectic mixture of flavours in the dishes.

In summary we had an excellent meal and the service was perfect. I would certainly recommend a visit and I’m sure it won’t be long before Mere has a Michelin star.

Rating: 9/10

Seven Park Place (St James Hotel) – 1 Michelin Star

March 2017

Chef: William Drabble

Tucked down a side street leading off Saint James’s Street is the St James Hotel where William Drabble’s Seven Park Place resides. The decor in the restaurant is rather quirky to my mind with a mixture of classic Art Deco and bold patterned wallpaper decorated by pictures. Elsewhere the hotel’s deeply coloured wood panelling makes it feel warm and cosy, not oppressive and dark.Some old London clubs retain an unpleasant antiquated atmosphere, but that is not so here.

To start I chose mackerel which was very good with a small amount of the accompanying pickle and crunchy croutons which added a welcome texture. The pickled vegetables certainly complimented the mackerel however the flavour was very strong and I didn’t need as much pickle as was served.

We paired wine and the white served with the mackerel was excellent. A lovely glass of Ortega from Biddenden Vineyards, Kent. I was very impressed by the flavour which was tropical and surprisingly powerful and was a good match for the highly flavoured dish.

For my main I chose skate. The dish was very classic: skate cooked in butter, with caters, spinach and crushed potatoes. It was delicious. Simple really can be delightful when cooked to perfection as this was. The wine, another white, this time French was also enjoyable.

Mr M chose ox cheek, which was served with heritage carrots. Again I would describe the dish as very classic in style and very well cooked. He too enjoyed the wine paired.

I declined dessert in preference for the cheese board and was not disappointed. The selection of cheeses (all English but very French in style) was interesting and varied. The five I chose were delicious and complimented well by the port recommended by the sommelier.

Overall our visit was very enjoyable. The hotel and restaurant has a relaxed atmosphere and the service was of a very high standard. Seven Park Place has just nine tables which creates a very cosy, personal atmosphere and attentive staff.

In summary Seven Park Place is not the venue to discover a daring new flavour combination or something to challenge your gastronomic boundaries however this is the restaurant to enjoy some perfectly prepared classics and some more than decent wine which sometimes is exactly what is needed.

Rating 8/10

Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester- 3 Michelin Stars

February 2017

Chef: Alain Ducasse

I had high hopes for lunch at the Dorchester.

It began well- the hotel is itself is of course a lovely setting and the cocktails were very good. I tried Her Majesty’s cup (served from a teapot) and Clover Leaf, both were nice but Clover Leaf was really lovely.

There are some little touches here which you find in the good London hotels but wouldn’t find in a standalone restaurant like having staff to open the restaurant doors for you as you enter from the lobby and I do like my clutch bag to have its own little seat at the table so that is all good. The décor is ok but not to my taste. Not that that really matters what matters is the actual taste….

We started with some lovely breads and then opted for the lunch-hour menu. The amuse bouche was great too; tasty and beautiful in colour containing, unsurprisingly, a beetroot sauce (unsurprising because I don’t believe I have eaten a meal in London not incorporating beetroot since 2015). The starter of eel however was distinctly grey and vaguely unappealing to look at and the promised eel was hardly distinguishable. Not unpleasant but certainly nothing special. One of my companions had the poached egg with celeriac which they praised. The wine paired, a white, was fairly flavourless.

For the main I opted for pasta with lobster. That was certainly more appealing in look and taste than the starter and was much more flavoursome. The wine paired, another white, was OK and having tried both the reds on offer, both of which I disliked, I decided it was the best of the four on offer. There are just four ‘paired wines’ on offer with the lunch-hour menu regardless of what you choose from the menu which I am not sure is really ‘pairing’ the wine.

The petit fours were very tasty. Dessert was pleasant but again not particularly note-worthy. Having been disappointed in the sommelier’s wine chose I opted for my own choice of dessert wine from the menu (Austrian) which was lovely and somewhat made up for the earlier wine-induced disappointment.

I do offer a caveat to this review; I realise we had the lunch-hour menu so the menu is more limited than when dining in the evening or ordering from a la Carte. However this restaurant has 3 Michelin Stars and I expected more from them. There was nothing bad about our meal but equally there was also nothing particularly exciting or exceptional about it.

In summary I will offer some advice: if you want excellent food and impeccable service go to Restaurant Gordon Ramsey instead, if you want ‘the taste of France’ which The Dorchester promise on their website go to Club Gascon instead, if you want to dine splendidly in a good hotel visit The Connaught and if you want a meal to blow you away go to The Ledbury. Oh and if you still fancy The Dorcester don’t opt for the lunch hour menu.

Rating 6/10.

La Chapelle – 1 Michelin Star

January 2017
Chef: Chris and Jeff Galvin
This was my first visit to one of the Galvin brothers restaurants. The restaurant is lovely, I like the decor which is romantic despite the size of the restaurant which must be one of the largest Michelin starred restaurant I have been too. We decided to try the Menu du Chef having heard about how good value it is.

The menu is certainly inexpensive at £34.50 for three courses however the choices on offer did feel a little lacking; we felt the menu was just a selection of the cheapest dishes. To start we had soup which was very tasty including as it did some very nice mash potato at its centre. Sounds a bit strange but it was very good. For the main I considered the gnocchi or liver and bacon. I decided on the liver which was nice and was accompanied by more lovely, buttery mash potato.

The staff were very pleasant and we also enjoyed the wine which the sommelier suggested.

In summary the food was certainly very nice but I wouldn’t particularly recommend this menu; it did feel that we were having the cheap option. Instead I would suggest choosing from the a la carte. As the food and service were both good I look forward to visiting other Galvin brothers restaurants such as Galvin at Windows soon.

Rating: 7/10