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

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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

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

Helene Darroze at The Connaught – 2 Michelin Stars

November 2016

Chef: Helene Darroze
I was excited to visit Helen Darroze at the Connaught as it was on my list of restaurants to be visited before the end of 2016. I may as well tell you now that my excitement mainly stemmed from the menu design not the actual menu (I hadn’t looked at that before arriving). If you don’t already know, the menu takes the form of a solitaire board with marbles including a key word corresponding to each dish. The diner them selects whichever marbles they wish including them on the solitaire board to choose their meal. Original and quirky; I had to see if the food was just as interesting.

I like The Connaught as a hotel; I think it is luxurious but relaxed and I enjoy being in the restaurant which is calm and understated. I also enjoy being in the bar (do leave time for a pre-dinner French 75 assuming you like gin and Champagne, which of course you do). Despite telling the bar staff about our reservation for dinner when we arrived we were not told our table was ready meaning we were late to enter the restaurant. The maitre d and other restaurant showed no sign of annoyance however and were perfect in their greeting.

The menu is actually given on a menu card and then, as explained, you indicate the dishes you wish to have using your personal solitaire board. Diners can choose five, seven or nine courses. I chose five because I know that I can’t move after many more courses than that and I wanted to have a cheese course in addition to the main menu. I was glad I did because the food was copious. A fantastic ham slicer is wheeled around the restaurant and before the meal ham is freshly sliced and served with fresh bread. This was delicious and I was immediately pleased with my decision to choose only five courses seeing as I had now eaten, in effect, a lovely pre-dinner ham sandwich (even when very hungry I don’t normally do that). This was followed my more food in the form of an amuse bouche before our selected courses were presented.
The food was all very good indeed. I particularly enjoyed the cep and snail lasagne and the fish was also excellent. Our choices also included the pigeon (a dish for two sharing) which was good but not the highlight of the meal as we had anticipated. I enjoyed my additional cheese course although personally I do prefer to be served from the cheese trolley rather than to be simply presented with a plate cheese .
We chose to have wines paired with our dinner and all the wines were very good and the sommelier knowledgable. All the staff in the restaurant are in fact impeccable.
By the end of the meal we were definitely replete. I couldn’t possibly have eaten anymore and left several of the petit fours. If you know someone who appreciates good food but who moans they leave good restaurants hungry this is the place to take them to fill them up!

In summary this is a very nice restaurant in a very nice hotel. It isn’t my favourite but it is certainly deserving of its two Michelin stars and well worth a visit even if only to play solitaire.

Rating 9/10

Nobu (Berkeley Street)

November 2016

Chef: Mark Edwards

Situated opposite the Mayfair Hotel bar Nobo Berkeley Street is conveniently placed. I also like the decor here, particularly the bar area which is stunning.

The menu is extensive, with many interesting Japanese dishes, however being sushi fans we could not resist the sushi menu. We started with a selection of sashimi and then moved onto sushi, also trying the sea urchin (good taste, strange texture).

The fish was all very good but not outstanding. On another visit I would be interested to try some of the other Japanese dishes.

Unfortunately I don’t like Sake but if you do there is an interesting selection here which the staff are happy to let you sample before choosing. Our cocktails were so-so until Mr M’s final cocktail which was actually unpleasant. Perhaps more importantly the fact that he left it majority of it untouched seemed to go unnoticed by the staff.

In summary we had a pleasent lunch but I wasn’t as impressed as I had hoped. Based on our visit I don’t see them being re-awarded a Michelin star any time soon. Worth returning for dinner? Maybe but somehow I am not in a rush to return.

Rating 5.5/10

Restaurant Gordon Ramsay- 3 Michelin Stars

Chef: Clare Smyth

Situated on Royal Hospital Road, Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, is away from the city centre but I suppose if you have 3 Michelin stars the customers will come to you. Which of course we did.

We had an early lunch reservation, at midday, and actually arrived slightly early. The restaurant however did not open its doors until a few minutes after midday leaving us loitering unfashionable outside along with another couple who also had a midday booking. I do take the view that any restaurant should open its doors fifteen minutes before the time of the first table booking. Once inside however the restaurant is lovely and the staff were fantastic.

The staff were in fact impeccable and we experienced the best service to date. The maitre d was simply excellent. The staff, under his watchful eye, had a curious ability to judge exactly the moment to speak, serve or offer more drinks. The champagne cocktails were of course lovely and the G&Ts were also perfect.

The food was beautiful and delicious and the cheese trolley is stunning. We have never failed to be impressed by Gordon Ramsay’s restaurants and his flagship eatery, perhaps unsurprisingly did not disappoint.

In summary it is clear to see why this restaurant has three Michelin stars. Without doubt it is the best restaurant we have been to. I would thoroughly recommend it but I would perhaps pre warn you that food and service this good don’t come cheap so don’t forget your Amex.

Rating 10/10.