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

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.

Outlaw at The Capital – 1 Michelin Star

January 2017

Chef: Tom Brown/ Nathan Outlaw

Not far from Hyde Park and just round the corner from Harrods nestles The Capital Hotel. The hotel itself is nice enough, if a little dated. I would say I prefer the decor of the bar to that of the restaurant.

We opted for the set lunch menu and I started with cured salmon. The salmon was beautiful in colour and the fish itself was good however but I didn’t feel that the yogurt dressing which it was served with complimented the fish (just my personal taste?) I was also disappointed that I could not detect the whisky notes on the salmon as mentioned on the menu.

Mr M chose lamb strumpet to start which he very much enjoyed and which I was also impressed with. The strumpet was served with ‘Preserved Herring & Mint’ a flavour combination which I was surprised to find was delicious with the soft lamb.

My main, the hake, was also delicious. The roast chicken and mushroom dressing was another revelation – I had not expected roast chicken to compliment hake so perfectly. I was equally impressed when I tried Mr M’s blade of beef which was soft and succulent.

For dessert I couldn’t resist the treacle tart which was also very nice.

The service was pleasant although not faultless (they forgot to bring water to the table when requested) and when fellow diners were seated next to us mid-meal we felt the tables were a little too close together.

Overall I enjoyed lunch at The Capital and I think it was a steal at just £33 a head. As a fish lover I always enjoy a menu where fish is king and of course the fish was all well cooked.

In summary this is a great place to visit for lunch particularly if you are a lover of fish. What I really enjoyed here were the surprising flavour combinations (excluding yogurt with salmon). It is always pleasing to try new flavour combinations that work so perfectly; the chef is clearly very skilled. I would definitely recommend a visit and at such a good price I can’t see why you wouldn’t.

Rating 7.5/10

The Ledbury – 2 Michelin Stars

January 2017

Chef: Brett Graham

The Ledbury is quite simply the best restaurant I have been to. Better even than the 3 Michelin Starred restaurants I have visited. Admittedly Restaurant Gordon Ramsey was difficult to beat, but having considered this at length I have decided that it has now been knocked of its number one spot. Sorry Gordon.

The building is light and airy and makes for a lovely lunch setting although no doubt it is just as nice for dinner. The staff who were excellent were attentive but not over bearing. For perhaps the first time the maître d actually seemed to understand my husband’s aversion to the taste of diary products and catered for us perfectly.

We tried the lunch menu and the food was simply spectacular. This is beautiful food and what makes this the best of restaurants is that the food, which is stunning in presentation, really does taste as good as it looks. All four courses were interesting and well put-together and preserved the excellent taste which can sometimes be lost in the pursuit of art-like presentation.

The highlight of the food was definitely the Chinese water deer; eaten with the smoked bone marrow it was served with was spectacular and at least equal to the deer served at Paris House (1 Michelin Starred restaurant situated in Woburn deer park, reviewed January 2013).

Not only was the food faultless the wine was excellent too. We had wine paired to our lunch and felt that the sommelier was impressive and knowledgeable and that every wine was well chosen. I particularly enjoyed the sweet wine served with my dessert – delicious.

In summary I think I can be very concise in my summing up: you have to go here.

Rating 10/10

Club Gascon – 1 Michelin Star

September 2016

Chef: Pascal Aussignac

Oh what a lovely place! The restaurant is quite unassuming from the outside. Inside you are transported to France and the sort of cosy restaurant you might hope to find on a trip across the Channel.

We started with cocktails and I can recommend their French 75. We were dining in the evening and had the five course taster, paired with wines. Impressed by the choice of wines, I later researched one or two and they were inexpensive but they were excellently paired which is surely the sign of a good sommelier . The sommelier certainly seemed to know her wines although her strong French accent meant we had to confer afterwards to establish what she had told us. Still that isn’t a criticism – this is a French restaurant after all and I can never remember anything a sommelier tells me anyway so this just added to the, already abundant, charm.

Now to the food…what a delight.

The fact that two of Mr M’s favourite courses were the amuse bouche of tomato tartare (he is a reluctant consumer of vegetables of any sort) and the dessert (he really just eats meat given the choice) indicates the quality of the chef. Other highlights were a delicate rose veal tartare and a course of red mullet. The food here is really excellent, and better than I had hoped. I can’t stress enough just how lovely our meal was.

Anything negative? Well I thought the loos were a bit grim. I know, I know… one isn’t dining in there but still it is the sort of thing I do notice. However the restaurant is undergoing a revamp in early-2017 and is due to open again at the end of February I imagine that criticism will no longer apply. Once it does re-open I can see this place getting a second Michelin star.

In summary this is a wonderful place, one of my favourites, and  inexpensive for the quality of the food and wine which are superb. I look forward to visiting again following the re-launch.

Rating 10/10.

 

 

Dinner by Heston – 3 Michelin Stars

January 2016

Chef: Heston Blumenthal

Spoiler alert…Oh the disappointment!

This restaurant has been on the must-visit list for a while. It is certainly one of the most famous restaurants in the capital, even the non-foodies know of this one and with three Michelin stars it certainly should be one of the best in the country.

The restaurant is in the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park; a lovely setting with great views over the park. The restaurant decor is pleasant with high ceilings and do I like the modern glass wine cellar and the floor to ceiling glass walls allow a good view of the kitchen.

The concept of the restaurant is a exploration of gastronomic history so the menus are inspired by dishes from throughout time. We visited Dinner for lunch. The midday meal is what my grandparents called dinner so I think it isn’t as much of a misnomer as it seems.

Bread was served. Presumably a long lost old English recipe but to our mind the word would be stale. I, a long way from an expert baker, have made sour-dough bread without a pinch of modern or added yeast and a fresh loaf is always delicious so why this wasn’t I find difficult to understand.

No amuse bouche appeared so on to the starter. This seemed the perfect opportunity to try something new so we both chose the pigs ears. The presentation was uninspiring (a ragu mixture on toast) and whilst the taste was interesting the texture was unpleasantly gelatinous. Fair enough, maybe that is what pigs ears are like but although we both like trying new dishes it is rare for neither of us to finish a dish and this went half-eaten on both sides of the table.

The mains were an improvement. I chose fish and my companion chose chicken. Both dishes were good (I purposely use an unimaginative word here because that is really all they were). We enjoyed both dishes but they were a long way from exceptional.

I do like the little snippets of history that the menu includes and the concept of the restaurant is certainly an interesting one. I appreciate that these dishes are taken from history and so are a little unusual and maybe not the same as the cuisine we usually eat but to my mind the whole point was that, yes they are old recipes but the chef would use his experience to take those antiquated dishes and made them something exceptional and delicious.

This restaurant as a long string of accolades and I struggle to understand why. Maybe we were there on an off day? (I suggest off-days are not possible in 3 Starred Michelin restaurants). Maybe the hype of this restaurant blinded the critics? Or maybe it just isn’t for us? Whatever it was, I don’t want to return.

Unfortunately the prosaic words used throughout my review sum our meal up. If you like visiting the ‘best’ restaurants then this is of course a must try but if you just want one exceptional meal, say for a special occasion, this would not be on my list of recommendations.

Rating 3/10.

Tamarind – 1 Michelin Star

July 2015

Chef: Peter Joseph

This is the first Indian restaurant with a Michelin star which I have visited and this seemed a good choice it being, as their website tells me, one of the first Indian restaurants in the world to be awarded a Michelin star.

The style of the restaurant is cosy and the decor is a pleasing mixture of gold decoration and clean, crisp black and white tables and chairs.

I chose the Papdi Chaat to start which I did enjoy but the ratio of yoghurt to the accompaniments seemed too much and I found it a little on the rich side to be perfect. Mr M had Pudhina lamb cutlets which we flavoursome and well cooked.

For the main we both chose Murgh Tikka Masala. I can’t remember the last time I ordered a Tikka Masala but this seemed like the place that would do it best. The meat was very good and was, like the lamb, very well cooked being soft and succulent. The curry was also very enjoyable.

For dessert I chose Shrikhand, again well made.

In summary we had a good meal. I felt that the ingredients were high quality and the food was all well cooked. I wasn’t completely enamoured by this place however and I actually feel that I have had better Indian meals in other non-Michelin starred restaurants. I don’t have any criticism of the restaurant but I struggle to muster more than a rather muted praise for it. Good but not outstanding.

Rating: 6/10