11 posts categorized "How depressing"

15 April 2015

So, the chef can use a tamis

It's been 527 days since I last felt moved to write. Time, but most of all inclination, have meant I basically stopped writing this blog. A poached egg and an avocado have made me return.

I happened upon The Jar Kitchen. The menu looked straightforward, the staff friendly and the room was light and airy.  The promise of poached eggs, avocado on sourdough with a side of smoked salmon was exactly what I needed. I was hoping for something solid but straightforward, front of house and the kitchen looked like they meant business, so I took a punt.

I suppose I should disclose at this point that I have a fetish about avocado on toast and in particular the one served at Prufrock. The avocados are always creamy and plump and served generously over pumpernickel bread or similar. It's doused with olive oil and confidently sprinkled with salt and chili flakes. It is my utopian ideal of Avocado on Toast.

Back to breakfast at Jar. When my food arrived, my heart sank. Instead of chunks of creamy Hass avocado, there was a green puree and the poached eggs were suspiciously translucent. Yes, some smart arse wanted to show he could use a sous vide machine. Simply poaching the eggs was not good enough, what these eggs needed was to be held at blah blah degrees for forty five minutes and then reheated in water. I was told this would make them perfect.

Inevitably it made the yolk gluey and they were cold. I don't know anyone who believes a gluey, cold yolk is a perfect yolk.

The exceptionally nice staff were quick to remove the dish and apologise. I could see that even the kitchen staff were frustrated. Soon enough round two arrived.

It was fine.  The yolks were still gluey because they had been sous-vided again, but at least they were warm. I was starving so I ate rather than moaned.

But my hunger didn't prevent me getting increasingly miffed by my lovely looking plate of food. Unfortunately, I wanted to eat it (see above re starving) rather than frame it. What I wondered, did the kitchen think the original avocado lacked that their pureeing techniques added? It turns they really pushed the culinary envelope by combining avocado, lemon, salt and pepper.  In other words, it was a puree for the sake of a puree. It was not about ingredients. It was about showing that the chef could use a tamis. 

Off the back of that breakfast I've pulled my finger out and backed Jonathan Meades' new book The Plagiarist In the Kitchen.  If you can't be arsed clicking the link, at least watch the video below. It is a bit worthy, but his point is simple and should be remembered by all. There is nothing new in the kitchen, there are tweaks here and there, but rarely is there meaningful innovation.

Last night I bought my first batch of asparagus of the season. It's hackneyed I know for people to venerate the humble sparrows grass (as hackneyed as calling it by another name). But simply steaming those stalks, dressing them with a bit of vinaigrette was utterly delicious. 

Leave the avocado alone, leave the egg alone. They're fine by themselves.  If you don't know how to leave them alone, nick someone else's recipe.

29 April 2013

Lime Wood

To be clear, this isn't a review of Lime Wood’s rooms or the food in its restaurant. This is a review of its service.  

First some context: A kind offer from the in-laws meant that Silverbrowess and I were going to get a break. As any parent of young kids will empathise, a break means the opportunity to catch-up on sleep. I'd tried The Beckford Arms but they were fully booked.  I tried a few other places and in the end the only one with availability was Lime Wood. It does look beautiful and I was intrigued by the restaurant.

When I inquired about the room, I was told they only had a Forest Suite available at an eye wateringly expensive £495 per night.  I noticed that in the booking confirmation there was no mention that the rate included breakfast. Shurely an error?  When I called to check, they confirmed that breakfast wasn't included and never is on weekends.

That is unjustifiable.  As Nicholas Lander and Danny Meyer both emphasise in their respective books The Art of the Restaurateur and Setting the Table, the hospitality industry is about just that, being hospitable and giving an impression of generosity. Charging breakfast in addition to that sort of room rate is mercenary.

Anyway, desperate to get away and not let the opportunity of fobbing off the Silverbrowlettes to willing grandparents, I acquiesced. Foolishly I convinced myself that it would be worth it in the end.

The hotel asked me if I'd be eating with them on the Friday and Saturday nights. As this was going to be a weekend of sloth, yes I would be. And when would sir like a table. Well, it's a month away so sir doesn't know exactly what time he wants to eat, but don't worry we can sort that out nearer the time. Ah, no we can't sir as the restaurant gets busy.  I'm sure it does, but we're staying with you so surely you can accommodate us. Oh no we can't. *Battered and wearied* Ok fine, we'll have a table for 8pm. Perfect, we'll organise one for as close as possible to 8pm.

I should have paid more attention to that closing line.  I received an email informing me that my tables were booked for 8.15pm and 9.15pm.  Yes, an hour and a quarter after the time I requested. Now thoroughly exasperated I pointed out the small difference in time and through the goodness of their hearts, they were able to change the 9.15pm reservation to one at 7.30pm. Only 45 minutes earlier than requested.  The generosity, the munificence.

I despair of this kind of service. The sheer arrogance to charge such iniquitous prices and make clear you couldn't care less about the customer is staggering.  I know Meyer and Lander were writing about restaurants and restaurateurs rather than hotels, but I think the premise is the same: the quality of the product matters greatly, but the quality of service and hospitality matter much more.  On the basis of my experience, Lime Wood doesn't do hospitality.

Which is why I was delighted to cancel my reservation.  A room became available at The Beckford Arms, where I had a wonderful weekend at a fraction of the price, with fantastic service and good food.  I took particular pleasure whilst at the Beckford to read Marina O'Loughlin's review of her meal at Lime Wood's restaurant. As the review and a subsequent twitter exchange made clear, she also experienced the hotel's own brand of service and hospitality. The idiots even chose to retweet her review. As I said, arrogance.

Lime Wood, Beaulieu Road, Lyndhurst, Hampshire, SO43 7FZ, UK
Tel: +44 (0)23 8028 7177

17 August 2006

Squeamishly Starbucks

I have never liked Starbucks.  It's not the global domination thing, it's the insipid coffee and the  baked goods that always seem to be stale.

Silverbrowess loves Starbucks.  She can't get enough of their tall caramel frappuccinos or skinny decaf vanilla lattes.  I like my coffee to taste of caffeine.  I want a decent kick of coffee, which for some reason Starbucks eschews.  I don't want it tasting of all that other crap they love to add-in.

If there's any truth to this video, it seems those other flavours might just be crap.

A warning to the viewer, the video is a bit grim.

10 March 2006

The dangers of democracy

Don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating autocratic rule, I'm just questioning whether democracy is all it's cracked-up to be.  With the vote comes responsibility and it seems that some of those currently enfranchised are not living up to their end of the bargain.  Or, it could be that the wrong people are enfranchised.  Proof of this can be seen from a poll conducted by a website called View London.  The poll is intended to list the best and worst places in London and 3,500 dimwits were entrusted to express their opinion and vote.  Talk about irresponsible.

According to the clearly chavtastic bunch who voted, London's five best restaurants are:

  1. Oxo Tower
  2. Hakkasan
  3. Nobu
  4. Asia de Cuba
  5. Maze

Squaremeal notes that although you can have a great meal at the Oxo Tower, service has occasionally been described as "unbelievably poor".  Hardens quotes one reader who describes it as "A waste of the best restaurant views in London", whilst another argues the food is "cynical rubbish".  I appreciate these are but a few views, but ones I wholly buy into it. Not all of these restaurants are dogs, Hakkasan and Maze stand out as particularly noteworthy, but they are a long way from the best restaurants in London.  They do not have the best food, the best value for money, the best service or the best ambience.  At a stretch, one might argue that Oxo Tower has the best views, Hakkasan has the best basement and Nobu has the best broom-cupboard.

To me this list does not constitute the five best restaurants in London.  Rather, it is the five restaurants which are mentioned most frequently if you ask a Heat-reading-Chantelle-aspiring-brain-dead nincompoop, where they are most likely to see some minor celebrity who they can shag and then sell the story to one of the red-tops.

This does of course raise the question of what I think are the five best London restaurants.  As yet, I haven't eaten at all of London's restaurants so would find it hard to judge.  I'm doing my best to work through them however.

UPDATE: It appears that Londonist are equally perplexed by these results.

Eating badly in the States

I've just got back from a trip to the States.  Ninety per cent of the food I ate was awful.  I'm not saying all food in the States is awful, just that which I ate.  I take a considerable amount of responsibility for that, I fed myself far too much trash because work was frantic and it was the nearest thing to hand so ended up being shoved down the gob.

I went to one or two supposedly decent restaurants and wasn't impressed, that was especially the case with Maestro at the Ritz Carlton at Tysons Corner, just outside of Washington DC.  To me it felt like the chef was trying way too hard to get noticed and it didn't really work.  My starter of mozzarella and tomato was very oddly presented on one long plate with three bowls sunk into it.  In each bowl was one part of the dish: the mozzarella, the tomato and a salsa verde.  The cheese wasn't great, the olive oil drenching it was tasteless and the tomatoes were nothing to write home about.  I can't remember anything about the salsa.  The main dish of sea bass with mushrooms served three ways was fine, but unnecessarily finicky.  The mashed potato served in a mini-copper sauce pan was good, but chef was aping Robuchon and it didn't work.  He needed to use way more butter in that mash.  My dessert of strawberries was good enough - although, strawberries in March, what was I thinking? 

One real surprise and delight was Dunkin' Donuts coffee.  I had read on Opinionated About (registration required) that Dunkin' Donuts had good coffee.  I was sceptical, but noticed an outlet at the airport yesterday and decided to try it out.  It was excellent.  The coffee was smooth, with a good kick.  Not the burned jet fuel you're often served or the insipid brown-water from Starbucks.  For the record, I had eaten so much rubbish (processed cheese, chocolate, fizzy drinks, crisps, pretzels etc etc) I couldn't face a donut.  So it was just one coffee to go.  Although those glazed donuts were tempting.

I feel sluggish and weighed down (more so than normally) by saturated fats. The combination of jet-lag, loads of work and general exhaustion is a nightmare when it comes to eating well. What I should have been having was fruit and veg, what I ended up eating was M&M's and Coke. I really need to go on a diet.

06 January 2006

The end of the 2nd Ave Deli?

One of the dictums I try to live by, is to make the most of opportunities as they present themselves, in particular with regard to food and doubly so with regard to good kosher food.  I am thus gutted to discover the 2nd Avenue Deli has shut it's doors.  Possibly only temporarily (please let it be so) but potentially, for good.

I was standing outside the restaurant last October at about 3pm, it was drizzling.  I'd only just eaten my lunch of rather good pizza and really wasn't hungry, especially for one of their enormous sandwiches.  I turned on my heels, crossed the road and sat in a trendy cafe drinking an espresso and watching the world go by.  I couldn't escape the niggling feeling I had made a bad mistake and that I was being foolish missing out on this opportunity to sample some fine food.  It would seem that I was.

There has been a lot of musing on what the end of this institution means, but I feel we have to turn to Jackie Mason, another institution, for real, entirely un-politically correct, analysis of this latest blow to the New York culinary scene.

"It's almost like wiping out Carnegie Hall...A sandwich to a Jew is just as important as a country to a Gentile."

02 November 2005

Goodbye Cinnamon Club?

It would seem that all is not well in Westminster.

According to reports on CatererSearch.com (the website of Caterer & Hotelkeeper magazine) there is a major restructuring going on at The Cinnamon Club.  Part of this includes the dreaded "roll-out of the brand".  In other words, open up Cinammon Clubs everywhere, dilute the quality and end-up as yet another concept restaurant (think TGI Friday set in Delhi).

However CS.com misses out on one crucial fact that is reported in tonight's Evening Standard.  Iqbal Wahhab, the founder of the Cinnamon Club has left the group.  He is quoted in the Evening Standard as saying that he is still a shareholder in the Cinnamon Club but is focussed on developing Roast.  According to the article the group has run-up debts of £1m.

If the Cinnamon Club goes tits-up as a result of this restructuring, it is a sad day for decent restaurants in London.  But it does raise the question of what on earth was going on, to cause such significant problems.