karohemd: Gentoo penguins in Antarctica, by me (Hungry)
After a number of friends and fellow food bloggers had only good things to say about it, a visit at The Ledbury had been on the cards for a while so I booked a table for lunch this Saturday. When I arrived at 13:45, the dining room was packed with a lively atmosphere. I had a table overlooking the dining room with the window in my back so I had both plenty of light and a good view of what was going on elsewhere.
The choice of what to eat was obvious: the tasting menu as that would both give me a good selection of Brett Graham's cuisine and had roast grouse, a game bird I had yet to try. As it was daytime, I didn't feel up to taking the flight of wines as well so asked the sommelier to recommend a glass of white (Alabrino) and red (Sequillo) wine that would take me through the menu which worked rather well.

The meal started with an amuse bouche of which I can't remember the details but contained scallop and wasabi among other elements. Really fresh and full of various flavours. Fresh bread was served as well, an excellent sourdough and one with bacon and onions that almost looked like a Chelsea bun. The rest of the menu follows in photos with a short description.

The Ledbury - Green bean, nectarine, hazelnut salad
Green bean, nectarine, hazelnut salad, grated foie gras. Crunchy beans, really strongly flavoured nuts with the nectarines not sweet but mellowing the flavours. The foie on top just melted on your tongue.

The Ledbury - Heritage tomato
Heritage tomatoes with fresh sheep's cheese (in the cigar). I'm not a fan of tomatoes in general but these were really nice as both the dressing and the cheese took off some of the edge.

The Ledbury - Mackerel
Flame-grilled Mackerel with avocado. This was my first highlight of the menu. The fish was soft and flaking, the skin crispy, most likely the best piece of mackerel I've ever had.

The Ledbury - Lobster
Lobster, leek, potato. Needless to say, this was perfect and full of flavour.

The Ledbury - Pork jowl
Next up one of the best pieces of pork I've had: They cook the jowl for 18 hours at 85 degrees with various spices which makes the meat wonderfully soft while preserving its moistness. The skin is then crisped up to make the crackling you see. I was actually presented with the whole cut before I received my portion which I thought was a nice touch.

The Ledbury - Roast grouse
Then, the main event: Roast grouse (breast, leg and the heart on a skewer), beetroot, red chicory and plums. It was my first taste of grouse and I loved it. I actually thought it would be more gamey than it was. Now I know what the fuss is about.

The Ledbury - Olive oil panacotta, damson, raspberry, sweet cicely
This pre-dessert of olive-oil panacotta, damson sorbet and raspberry was the perfect palate-cleanser after the rich meat mains.

The Ledbury - Figs, pistachio, lemon beignet
The first dessert: Figs, pistachio, lemon beignet. Fruity, nice and fresh. I could have eaten a whole box of those beignets...

The Ledbury - Blackberry tart
The last dessert was a smooth and crunchy tart.

To finish I had a cup of fresh mint tea with petit fours, the latter served in a dried cocoa husk on cocoa nibs.
The Ledbury - Mint tea and petit fours The Ledbury - Petit Fours










At that point, I had reached capacity and had to decline the cheese, as inviting as the trolley looked. So, in total an excellent culinary experience with a varied selection of perfectly executed dishes full of harmonising flavours. Service was spot-on, too, friendly and engaging, there when you needed it and left you in peace while you were eating. This obviously didn't come cheap, the tasting menu, two glasses of wine and tea at the end plus 12.5% service came to just under £150, and while I wouldn't call it a bargain I still felt I had received value for money.
karohemd: Gentoo penguins in Antarctica, by me (Hungry)
It had been a while since my last meal at Alimentum (my birthday at the end of March) and I had heard very good things about the new dishes Mark Poynton and his brigade have come up with so I went for a nice lunch on Bank Holiday Tuesday and wonderful it was. The new dishes are fresh and light while still being packed with flavour, some classic, some new and adventurous but always exciting. I had a Chef's tasting menu with matching wines to be able to sample most of the new dishes:

Gougères and popcorn Pea

Proceedings started with fresh gougères and crunchy popcorn and then a bowl of very light and fluffy pea mousse with cottage cheese and crispy Parma ham.

Asparagus

The first starter was asparagus (green and white) salad, hazelnut and truffle. I could have eaten this all day, so light and fresh (and slightly bitter) this was with the crunch of the hazelnut and the earthy slithers of truffle. Brilliant.

Pork

Pork: head (the round slices), cheek (the dark piece on the right), pineapple, acorn and chorizo. The cold ballotine of head reminded me of what is called Pressack in Germany (bits of pig's head cooked in the stomach and usually served as a cold cut). The cheek was braised and so soft you could have eaten it with a spoon. The pieces of pineapple added acidity and sweetness. All quite dark in flavour but not heavy.

Lemon Sole Veronique

Fish is always fantastic at Alimentum and this "Sole Veronique" was no exeption, perfection in a bowl.

Lamb

The main was lamb, rump and belly with broccoli and cous cous. Perfectly cooked meat, the rump soft, the belly crispy and the extras with the beautiful sauce pulling everything together.

Fresh ricotta

Palate cleanser: Fresh ricotta, pineapple and sweet cicely sorbet. Fresh, light, bitter, slightly sweet. Huge smile on my face.

Passionfruit

First dessert: Passionfruit (curd and granita), coffee ice cream and saffron meringue. The coffee might sound a bit strange but it worked really well with the fruitiness and the earthy saffron meringue.

And then, a bit of theatre:
Milk Jam Mousse Milk Jam Mousse

Smoked milk jam mousse, lime, banana and honeycomb. Just glorious, the smoke was really noticeable even minutes later. The dish looks quite substantial but it was really light.

Strawberry

Final dessert: Strawberry (mousse and jelly), apricot sorbet (inside the canneloni) and basil meringue. After the saffron with the passionfruit, the second savoury meringue. Basil goes well with strawberry, anyway, so this was spot on. It's rare that I like meringues as they tend to be too sweet for me but these were both lovely.

Every time I eat at Alimentum, the food is just getting better and their prices are hard to beat considering the quality of cooking. Even after having eaten at Midsummer House, I still maintain this is the best restaurant in Cambridge.
karohemd: Gentoo penguins in Antarctica, by me (Hungry)
Restaurant Sat Bains has been on my "to do list" for a while because his food always sounded and looked interesting when featured on TV, reviews or food blogs. A couple of months ago I mentioned my desire to visit and a friend who lives in Nottingham offered to come along and a roof over the head for the night so I took the offer and booked a table for yesterday.
When we arrived we were shown to comfortable seats in the cosy bar/lounge for our pre-dinner drinks. Sat Bains only offers tasting menus, one with seven and one with ten courses with optional matching "wine packages". We decided on the full experience of ten courses with matching wines and we also chose to share the duck egg, ham and pea dish, with which Sat Bains won the starter in Great British Menu 2007, as an additional starter.
Now I have to admit I have a problem, I simply lack the words to describe what followed. The horseradish amuse bouche in two parts, the "ice cream sandwich" and the pannacotta, were already oozing with a variety of perfectly matched flavours. This theme would continue throughout the menu and quite often change while eating a dish, especially when having a sip of the matching wine. In the case of the main, the flavour of the venison tartare developed black pepper flavours when eaten with the treacle bread (the darker of the two you see below). A few dishes tasted differently to what your brain told you they should taste like, especially the chocolate/olive/balsamic dessert.
After our main we were offered a cheese course which I asked to be served at the end (my German genes, I guess). This was not a traditional cheese board but two prepared cheese dishes, both excellent.
Service throughout was spot on, friendly, unassuming and happy to discuss the dishes. The sommelier's wine pairings were also perfect, enhancing, supporting or even sometimes changing the flavours of the dishes in an entirely pleasant way.
We must have made an impression because we were invited into the kitchen to have a chat with Chef Sat Bains who showed us the surprsingly small kitchen, introduced us to his brigade and talked about the food and his philosophy/approach to cooking. Not only did we get to meet this thoroughly charming and gracious chef but were also served an additional off-menu dessert, a treacle sponge with parsnip and apple. The sponge was quite big but so fluffy and light it was almost not there. With this we had a glass of sparkling sake which was again a wonderful match.
It was only when we left the kitchen that we realised that it was already 11 o'clock meaning we had spent over four and a half hours eating and drinking without really noticing the time passing as we were so involved in the whole experience. It wasn't over yet as coffee and chocolates were still to come which we took again in the lounge going full circle around the restaurant if you will. Called "chocolate log" this was again not what you would expect as you can see in the last photo below. Each shard of chocolate (from white to dark) was flavoured differently, a beautiful end to a wonderful experience.
And now, the photos. Rather tricky as the light wasn't brilliant but I think they give you some idea of what we experienced:

Horseradish amuse bouche Horseradish amuse bouche
Horseradish amuse bouche


White and treacle bread
Bread


Duck egg 65°, peas
Duck egg, ham, peas


Scallop, leek (smoked, charred)
Scallop and leek


Jersey royals, dashi, onion juice, ham
Jersey royals, dashi, onion juice, ham


Duck liver "muesli"
Duck liver "muesli"


Loch Duart salmon, asparagus, asparagus gazpacho
Loch Duart salmon, asparagus gazpacho


"Waldorf" salad
"Waldorf" salad


Roe deer, mushroom, pine, thyme, chocolate
Roe deer, mushroom, pine, thyme, chocolate


"The crossover"
"The crossover"


Sweetcorn, miso, passionfruit
Sweetcorn, miso, passionfruit


Chocolate, coffee, olive oil, balsamic
Chocolate, coffee, olive oil, balsamic


Strawberry and cream
Strawberry and cream


Tamilworth cheese with beetroot Blue goat's cheese
Cheese


"Chocolate Log"
"Chocolate log" and coffee
karohemd: Gentoo penguins in Antarctica, by me (Hungry)
The Pass restaurant is in Sussex and a bit tricky to get to from Cambridge so when I read that Matt would do a "popup" at Cinnamon Kitchen (a few minutes from Liverpool St. station), it sounded like an easy way of sampling his food. After a train and tube journey that took 40 minutes longer than it should have, I arrived at the restaurant in time for the welcome drink (a rather nice Bellini). The meal itself was at the "tandoor bar" in the main restaurant, a long low open kitchen counter with comfortable chairs (not barstools) behind which the chefs worked and were also happy to answer questions and explain what they were doing.

Matt Gillan Lewis Hamblet Matt Gillan

When we arrived the chefs (Matt Gillan, head chef at The Pass, Lewis Hamblet, executive chef at South Lodge and Sarah Payne, junior sous chef) were busy assembling the starter. I ordered a glass each of the recommended wines and after a short introduction to the dish by Matt, the starter was served.

Curried gressingham duck breast, braised leg, blackened onions, pink grapefruit

There were two elements of duck in the dish (Curried gressingham duck breast, braised leg, blackened onions, pink grapefruit), hot slow cooked leg in a parcel and rolled up slices of dark pink breast at room temperature. This might sound slightliy odd but worked perfectly and the additional elements tied everything together adding texture and acidity. The wine, a Pinot Gris, worked well with the dish, even if you would expect a red with duck.

Roasted stone bass, spring onions, chick pea, watercress

The fish dish (Roasted stone bass, spring onions, chick pea, watercress) was next and freshly cooked directly in front of me as were the spring onions. You could see how much are and attention went into cooking the fish and the result was brilliant: Crispy skin and moist, flaky fish with excellent accompaniments.

Main: saddle of lamb, slow cooked belly, lamb fat gnocchi, lemon curd, mushroom

The main event was saddle of lamb, slow cooked belly (sitting underneath the slices of saddle), lamb fat gnocchi, lemon curd, mushroom. The meat had been cooked to medium in a waterbath and was then freshly seared and sliced. The belly had been cooked overnight and then pressed. The gnocchi and mushrooms were freshly fried as well. This dish is actually fighting with the lamb I had at Tuddenham Mill I had earlier this month. The basic idea was the same, a prime and a "cheap" cut of meat with interesting accompaniments but rather different in execution. I loved the contrast of the two cuts of meat, the juicy saddle and the soft and crispy belly (which wasn't greasy at all). The gnocchi were crispy on the outside, soft inside, the mushrooms had great flavour and the lemon curd (as weird as it sounds) tied everything together and provided the acidity that came from the yoghurt in Paul Foster's dish. Genius.

Dessert: vanilla and lime cream, mint gel, cucumber, mango, coconut sorbet

The dessert was vanilla and lime cream (inside the cylinder), mint gel, cucumber, mango, coconut sorbet. Lovely fresh, fruity and not too sweet flavours, some soft, some crunchy with the surprising element being the cucumber balls which had been steeped in a light stock syrup to give it some sweetness. Brilliant.

You can find more photos in this flickr set which will be expanded with a few more shots when I find the time over the next few days.
karohemd: Gentoo penguins in Antarctica, by me (Hungry)
On Saturday I finally had the chance to go back to Tuddenham Mill near Newmarket. My first visit was brilliant but in the evening the lighting is so low you can't really appreciate the prettiness of the food and we only ate a la carte so deciding what to have was really hard. So this time I went for lunch on a bright spring day and had an 8-course (counting extras) tasting menu designed by head chef Paul Foster.
As I was just a bit early I had some excellent elderflower cordial (made on site) in the bar, nibbling on parmesan twists and pork crackling.
Parmesan twists, pork crackling

As you can see, those aren't your regular pork scratchings but it's what's left when you render a piece of crackling fat very slowly indeed so all the fat disappears. Very light and crunchy.
Then I took my seat upstairs and the meal proper started:

Bread and Butter

Freshly baked bread and Lincolnshire Poacher butter.

Watermelon, Feta, fried pumpkin seeds

The amuse bouche was very thin slices of watermelon with feta and fried pumpkin seeds and did its job (exciting the palate) perfectly because of the contrast of sweet/acidity from the melon, the saltiness of the cheese and the crunchy seeds.

Organic salmon 40°C, asparagus, peanut, chickweed

Organic salmon 40°C, asparagus, peanut, chickweed. The fish was just cooked and especially when it's this good quality, that's all it needs. It is soft and retains its natural flavour. The asparagus was equally simply cooked and the peanuts added the crunch it needed.

Slow cooked hen's egg, hake brandade, bacon, watercress Slow cooked hen's egg, hake brandade, bacon, watercress

Slow cooked hen's egg, hake brandade, bacon, watercress. What a way to raise the humble egg to new heights. It sounds quite rich but was surprisingly light. Lovely combination of flavours and a nice crunch of bacon on top.

Duck hearts, rhubarb, celery, wild rice

Duck hearts, rhubarb, celery, wild rice. I'm a huge fan of poultry giblets and offal in general so this was great and one of the few instances I liked celery. The rhubarb was really interesting in this, too. This was one of those dishes that just keeps growing in flavour as you eat it.

Lamb rump and shoulder, yoghurt, fennel, quinoa

The main event was lamb rump and shoulder, yoghurt, fennel, quinoa. The piece of rump was cooked on the spot pink and very flavourful indeed. There was a nice bit of fat on it, too. The piece of shoulder was slow cooked and fell apart at the touch. The braised fennel, quinoa, yoghurt, wild garlic and a leaf I couldn't identify tied everything together beautifully. Very easily one of the best lamb dishes I've had.

Goat's milk, tarragon

Goat's milk, tarragon. After the rich lamb dish, this was the perfect palate cleanser. The milk was set similar to a pannacotta but almost like curd cheese in texture and very light. The granita on top wasn't too strong in tarragon flavour and worked really well.

Bitter chocolate textures, sea buckthorn, hazelnut, mint

The main dessert was bitter chocolate textures, sea buckthorn, hazelnut, mint. There was soft mousse, crumbs and more solid bits of really excellent dark chocolate. The bits on the other side added a really good fruity tang and some texture. Sea buckthorn seems to a controversial ingredient as people seem to either love or hate it, a bit like coriander or marmite. To me it's fruity and tangy (I'm not a huge fan of just sweet desserts) but fellow Cambridge foodie @ythos doesn't like the "aftertaste of month-old corpse". ;)

At this point Chef Paul invited me to have a look around the kitchen where we had a chat about the meal while I had my final dessert, an egg custard tart with butermilk, apple and nutmeg (this is the reason there's no photo as I left my camera at the table). The salted Granny Smith apple brought down the sweetish taste of the tart again. The perfect, light finish to a fantastic meal.

Tucked away in a village outside Newmarket, Paul Foster is really pushing the boat out in terms of flavour. While he does use modern cooking techniques, there are no molecular gimmicks, foams or other nonsense. Paul demonstrates that you don't need luxury ingredients like truffles and foie gras to create a luxury dining experience as long as you treat the ingredients well to bring out the maximum of flavour. It's a bit of a shame this fine restaurant is so far out of the way but it's worth the effort and I encourage everyone to try it. Paul Foster's appearance on Great British Menu on BBC2 this week should help boost awareness, too.
karohemd: Gentoo penguins in Antarctica, by me (Hungry)
For my overnight stay I had more or less randomly picked a hotel just down the road from The Hampshire Hog, a "pub and pantry" I had been wanting to visit for while as I know the owner Ed on twitter and had heard good things about their food. Breakfast wasn't included in my stay so rather than subjecting myself to chain hotel fare, I walked five minutes to the Hog and I'm glad I did. The main room is bright and airy with rough wooden tables and mismatched chairs. When you look at the menu you realise it's a place where you could spend hours having brunch with a variety of dishes but I had lunch coming up at 12:30 and been told to arrive hungry so I only chose a portion of buttermilk pancakes with blueberries, banana and honey butter.

Buttermilk Pancakes, Blueberries, Banana, Honey Butter

The pancakes were crispy on the outside, soft in the middle and the fruit were lovely, too. With it I had a pot of excellent Earl Grey tea (loose leaf, no less, from The Rare Tea Company). As the light was perfect to read by and I didn't have to check out of my hotel before midday, I spent another hour or so with a large glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. A perfect morning.

My lunch destination was Axis at One Aldwych in Covent Garden. I live in this slightly bizarre world where as a "foodie" on twitter and other social networks I'm in contact not only with other like-minded people but also chefs from around the country. They regularly post menu updates and photos of new dishes and are happy to chat with their followers so I had "known" executive chef Tony Fleming for a while. I even booked my table through him and he promised me an interesting menu after checking for any allergies or dislikes. As I will try everything at least once, I love this sort of arrangement when chefs offer to "cook for me" and I don't necessarily know what I'll be having and the chefs love it when they can exercise their ideas without restriction.

Axis is one of the two restaurants at One Aldwych and situated in the basement but has also its own entrance from street level via a sweeping marble staircase. The dining room is well lit and furnished with tables dressed in white and comfortable chairs. On my table was a personalised printout of my menu entitled "Surf and Turf Tasting" and it looked very exciting indeed. Again I asked the waiter to recommend a couple of glasses of wine to go with the majority of the menu and again his choices were perfect as was service throughout my almost three hour meal.
This was my meal:

Lamb, Lobster, Pea

"Lamb, Lobster, Pea" BBQ style piece of crispy lamb with soft meat and a piece of perfectly cooked lobster tail, brought together by the pea. The antenna, although inedible, was a nice touch.

Scallop, Pork Belly, Prune

"Scallop, Pork Belly, Prune". A soft scallop sitting on a piece of braised pork belly and prune puree. Rather soft and sweet but not overbearingly so and I loved the flavour combination of scallop and pork.

Turbot, Duck, Broccoli

"Turbot, Duck, Broccoli". This combination might sound slightly strange but it worked really well. The turbot was roasted on the bone, the duck cooked dark pink, just how I like it. Some of the best broccoli I've had, too.

Rabbit, Langoustine, Carrot

"Rabbit, Langoustine, Carrot". This was, to my mind, the most inventive dish. The loin meat was wrapped around langoustine which meant it was protected and remained perfectly moist. The other piece was slowly cooked leg meat. The carrot and beet leaves rounded off the dish nicely.

Veal, Crab, Asparagus

"Veal, Crab, Asparagus". The piece of braised rose veal had almost the flavour of beef and fell apart, a truly remarkable piece of meat. It sat on top of the best crab cake I have ever had, it was fresh and light with excellent flavour and flake. The asparagus was tender with a bit of crunch. Lovely.

Gingerbread, Banana, Salt Caramel

"Gingerbread, Banana, Salt Caramel". An excellent gingerbread soufflé, fluffy and light and cooked thoroughly. The piece of banana was crusted with lovely caramel, the ice cream and the salted caramel sauce brought everything together. With that I had a superb Australian dessert wine called Xanadu (the only one I remember, I need to get better at this).

Chef Tony Fleming came out for a chat and gave me a quick tour of the kitchen and the other parts of the hotel. Many thanks to him, his brigade and the front of house staff at Axis for looking after me so well. I walked back to the tube and then to my train to Cambridge a very happy man and didn't need anything else that day, despite clubbing all night and celebrating with friends.
karohemd: Gentoo penguins in Antarctica, by me (Hungry)
I first had a taste of Russell Bateman's food when he provided the main for the Tommy's charity dinner at Alimentum last year and since then I'd been wanting to visit Colette's the restaurant he heads up at The Grove hotel in Watford. After a series of public transport failings (half an hour for a bus, signal failure outside Cambridge), I made it to the hotel just in time for my booking. Kyle (who used to be sommelier at Alimentum) kindly gave me the grand tour of the sprawling building with its various lounges, bars and restaurants, all held in a simple, elegant style. I also had a quick peek into the kitchen before taking my seat in the restaurant. This is also held in mostly white with very low lighting (fellow food bloggers, take heed) and widely spaced tables dressed in white cloths.

I'm going to keep this review relatively short as there is a lot to go through (counting all the extras, I had 16 courses) and let the photos do the talking. In every dish the ingredients were perfectly cooked/prepared, stood out on their own while harmonising wonderfully with the others on the plate and offered an interesting mix of textures, just what you want in a fine meal. The following spectacle of culinary delights took almost four hours. In addition to a glass of champagne with the canapees, I had a different wine with almost every dish (a few were paired with the same wine) so I think it was a total of 12 glasses. Not very big ones but definitely enough to make me very happy by the end.

Colette's - Canapes
Canapees: White ham, pork and mustard, crab, samphire on squid ink biscuit


Colette's - Bread

The bread deserves special mention. Not only is it freshly baked on the premises but it's served in a warm linen sack with hot baking beans in the bottom that will keep the bread warm. The butter and olive oil were superb, too.

Colette's - Pea amuse bouche
A pea based amuse bouche. Lots of clean, fresh flavours.


Colette's - Scallop
Scallop, peanut, radish, lime. If I had to pick a favourite dish, this would be it.


Colette's - Jerusalem Artichokes with Truffles
Jerusalem artichoke, truffle, truffled soldiers


Colette's - Pig's Cheek
Spicy braised pig's cheek, coconut. This was served with knife and fork but could easily have been eaten with a spoon so tender was the meat.


Colette's - Foie Gras
Foie Gras terrine with apple and celeriac


Colette's - Cod
Another fish dish: Cod with heritage carrots


Colette's - Pigeon
8 spice squab, Grove honey, apple


Colette's - Lamb
Salmon cut of lamb leg, Jalfrezi spices, sweetbreads, glazed aubergine


Colette's - Cheese
A small cheese course. just one variety (Colombier) but this had everything I love about cheese, elements of brie, blue and washed rind.


Colette's - Lid Colette's - Palate Cleanser
A palate cleanser: Mango and papaya salsa, yogurt foam, passionfruit


Colette's - Cheesecake
The tiniest slice of cheesecake ever but it was great. I couldn't have eaten a normal slice, anyway.


Colette's - Lemon Parfait
Lemon parfait and little meringues


Colette's - Chocolate
Jivara chocolate, thyme ice cream, Seville orange, black pepper to finish.


There were some petit fours, too but I had to pack up quickly to catch the last train from Watford Junction so didn't get a phot. They were pretty and delicious, like everything else. There are a few more photos on flickr.

Many thanks to the teams front and back of house at Colette's for looking after me so well. I won't forget this meal anytime soon.
karohemd: Gentoo penguins in Antarctica, by me (Hungry)
On Wednesday I attended a special dinner at my "local" restaurant Alimentum where Stuart Smith of Torea Wines in New Zealand introduced their range of wines while Alimentum's chefs had designed a tasting menu matching dishes to those wines.
Before each dish was served, Stuart Smith talked a little about how each variety was grown and made which provided some interesting insight for wine novices like me.

Stuart Smith

Sauvignon Blanc in the glass

Here are the dishes and the accompanying wines:



Salmon, squid and ink

Salmon, squid, squid ink risotto, pink grapefruit and roast salmon broth. The fish was beautifully, just barely cooked and the rest of the ingredients offered good contrasting flavours and textures, all tasting fresh and light. The wine was the 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, light and fresh, yet quite a few things going on there.
Rabbit lasagne, tarragon and mustard puree

Rabbit lasagne, tarragon and mustard purée. Another light and fresh dish with subtle and soft rabbit meat. The purée wasn't as strong as it sounds so well judged. With this we had the 2009 Chardonnay, a bit heavier and deeper than the Sauvignon but still light, another good match.
Spiced duck breast, pastilla of leg, cumin and carrot, pomegranate

Spiced duck breast, pastilla of leg, cumin and carrot purée. The menu also said golden raisins but I had pomegranate seeds. I didn't mind because they worked really well with the soft meat, best piece of duck I've had in quite a while. The wine was the 2010 Pinot Noir, also a good match as it was a little bit spicy but not heavy.
I didn't take a photo of the palate cleanser as it was the pernod foam with fennel that's currently on the tasting menu and a bit hard to take a good photo of.
Baked apple terrine, Granny Smith sorbet, Aspall's cider foam

The dessert was Baked apple terrine, Granny Smith sorbet, Aspall's cider foam. This was another brilliant dish with different textures and temperatures and varying flavours from cinnamony and sweet in the terrine to sharp in the sorbet. With this we had the 2010 Pinot Gris which while a good wine on its own was a bit too sharp with the dessert. Most people at the table agreed but that was just a minor negative point to the whole evening.
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karohemd: Gentoo penguins in Antarctica, by me (Hungry)
A new month means new dishes at Alimentum so I went yesterday to try some of them. I was told a menu had been created for me (things like this happen when you're friends with the chefs on twitter) so I didn't even know in advance what I would get (or choose from a menu) and that it would turn into a 8-course extravaganza.

The canapees came in a funky double bowl:
Canapees: Popcorn and Cheese&Onion Macarons

Alimentum popcorn and Cheese&Onion macarons. Both had an excellent flavour combination of savoury and sweet. I could happily devour a box of those macarons.

The amuse bouche was a small bowl of frothy cauliflower veloute, with little bits of pickled cauli at the bottom.
Amuse Bouche: Cauliflower veloute

This style of soup is one of Alimentum's staples and there's a new flavour every month or so. A nice way to get the tastebuds going.

The next dish was smoked haddock with a fried egg and a fluffy potato veloute.
First starter: Haddock and potato veloute, fried egg

Definitely the first highlight in my menu, the different textures made this. Flaky haddock, frothy soup, rich egg and some crispy bits. Oh, and served by the head chef himself. :)

The first meat dish was a duck terrine (smoked leg and foie gras) with sorbe and fig, and liver parfait on toast.
Second starter: duck terrine, sorbe, fig, liver parfait on toast

The only thing that was a bit off for me here was the "BBQ sauce" that was a bit strong for me but that's a personal preference as I'm not a fan of BBQ sauce. Still, with only a little, it was a great addition.

Back to fish: mackerel with a teriyaki glaze with avocado puree, cucumber and radish.
Fish: mackerel, teryiaki glaze, cucumber, radish

Mackerel is one of my favourite fish, you don't need to much to it, only barely cook it and this is what I got here. The glaze wasn't overpowering and the salad was nicely refreshing. The second highlight.

The main act was a duo of beef. Roasted sirloin with carrots and onion ash and in a separate little copper pot a beef cheek ragu and a generous blob of horseradish mash with more onion ash.
Main: beef, carrot, onion ash

Needless to say, the sirloin was perfectly and evenly cooked, deeply flavoured and soft, perfectly matched by the carrot, the jus and the onion ash adding a bit of zing. The ragu had clearly been cooked for a very long time as the meat was reduced to tiny slithers with jus the right amount of sauce. Deep and rich, I was almost tempted to just dig in with the spoon but didn't in the end. While writing this, I remembered I had a rather similar dish at Pollen St. Social last year and thinking back, I prefer Alimentum's version.

By that time, I was thoroughly stuffed but there were two desserts to come:
Luckily, the pre-dessert was very light: a smooth pernod foam, with bits of pineapple at the bottom and fennel crisps stuck in top (yes, this works, very well).
Pre dessert: Pineapple Foam

The only criticism I could find was that it could be a bit more colourful, especially when served in a white bowl.

The final dessert was a slice of Battenburg cake with apricot icecream on one and a cylinder of amaretto foam on the other side.
Dessert: Battenburg cake, apricot ice cream and foam

The apricot things were light but I couldn't finish the cake after that generously poritioned main before. It was, however, very nice indeed and I'm not a big fan of this sort of cake. The natural light from behind me had faded by that point so this photo didn't come out quite as planned.

So yes, another great meal at Alimentum. The restaurant had a little facelift and a window to the kitchen has been added so you can watch the chefs at work. Immediately behind the window is the cold section where desserts and cold elements of other dishes are assembled but you can also see the stoves further in.

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karohemd: Gentoo penguins in Antarctica, by me (Hungry)
Yesterday evening I met up with @milliepaw and @spodlife, two fellow twitter foodies who were kind enough to give me a lift to Tuddenham Mill, a small hotel in Suffolk near Newmarket with an excellent restaurant run by Paul Foster. I've been wanting to eat there for a while, especially since tasting some of Paul's food during the charity dinner at Alimentum last week.

When you arrive in the dark as we did, pretty much the only thing you see is this:
Chimney

Which is a shame, really, as they have beautiful grounds, too. Ever more reason to go back at some point, during daylight hours.

We were shown into the bar where we perused the menus and ordered a cocktail. Amusingly, they'd run out of ingredients for my first two choices (no fresh mint for Mojito, something else missing for The Forager) so I ended up encouraging the barman to come up with something else and he made a brilliant fruity and fresh cocktail incorporating Chase Marmalade vodka for me. :o)
Picking something from the menu was hard but I eventually settled for the mackerel as starter and the fallow deer as main, Sandi picked the pork carpaccio and the jerusalem artichokes and Tim went for the mackerel as well and the wood pigeon.

The dining room is upstairs, has a rather low ceiling with huge exposed beams and half-timber walls. The dark wooden tables are simply laid without cloth. The illumination is quite sparse with a few downlighters in the ceiling and a couple of tealights on the table so food bloggers who want to take photos should bring a camera with a fast lens and high ISO capabilities. Surprisingly, it was rather quiet, there was only one other occupied table. I'd imagine it's busier on weekends or more people need to know about it.

The first food item was an amuse bouche of "mushroom milk" with crunchy bits (I will find out what it was). A lovely start with a rather intense mushroom flavour.
Amuse Bouche


The bread, still hot from the oven:
Bread


The starter:
Mackerel

Mackerel, cooked at 52°C, served with alexander, salted cucumber and sea vegetables. A perfectly fresh, soft and beautifully presented fillet of fish, just warm enough to intensify its natural flavour. The other elements on the plate added nicely balanced sweet, sour and bitter notes, mellowing the richness of the oily fish.

The main:
Denham Estate fallow deer

Denham Estate fallow deer, red onion fondue, pearl barley, pear, Colston Bassett stilton. Game season is in full swing so I couldn't resist having my third piece of venison in only two weeks. Cooked perfectly dark pink throughout, the meat was soft with a lovely but not too strong gamey flavour which worked perfectly with the other elements on the plate. The addition of stilton might sound odd but worked well indeed but my favourite additional element was the slices dry cured meat with a slightly salty kick. I almost wanted to lick the plate afterwards but there was some bread left to make sure nothing went back to the kitchen.

Decision time again, for dessert: While the "bitter chocolate textures" looked alluring and the other choices were interesting, I - as you probably have guessed by now - went for the most intriguing and adventurous choice: Whipped sea buckthorn, beer ice cream, damson jam and crispy rice:
Sea buckthorn

It turned out to be the perfect choice as it was light and refreshing after the first two courses of rich fish and meat. The sea buckthorn tasted fresh and fruity but not sweet with a distinctive flavour, a bit reminiscent of rowan. The beer ice cream was a revelation. It sounds bizarre but it really works. It's not strong but rather leaves you with a real ale aftertaste. Remarkable.

My dining companions were equally oohing and aahing about their choices for all the courses (for dessert, Sandi had the chocolate textures with "rosemary tea" and Tim had the tonka bean ice cream).

With cocktails, wines and tip (no automatic service charge!) our bill came to £60 per person, a perfectly reasonable price for the quality and amount of food consumed. Cosy surroundings and pleasant service rounded off the experience. Tuddenham Mill is a bit out of the way but it's well worth the trip.
Paul Foster and his team produce inspiring dishes with the freshest ingredients, many of which are foraged, using modern techniques to extract the maximum of flavour. It's exciting and feels new despite going back to the roots. I love this development and hope that it will spread.

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karohemd: Gentoo penguins in Antarctica, by me (Hungry)
Last night I met up with a friend and took her to Alimentum in Cambridge to introduce her to the wonders of their kitchen. I had mentioned I was going on twitter and as both chefs follow me, they asked me if we wanted them "to cook for us" (which usually involves a tasting menu with some extra treats and new dishes) and of course I said yes. We were also treated to a different glass of wine with each course which, considering we ended up having ten (11 counting coffee/petit fours), made us rather jolly indeed and Ed poured rather generously, too. :D

And here's what we had:

Butternut squash foam

The amuse bouche was a butternut squash foam with mustard cress. An almost fluffy soup, perfect for the season but very light. With that we had a sweet Sauvignon Blanc.

Beetroot and goat's cheese

The first course was various colours of pickled beetroot with goat's cheese and micro herbs. There were sweet and sour flavours, soft and crunchy textures, all balanced perfectly. The wine was Sauvignon Blanc, Torea Oystercatcher, Marlborough, New Zealand, 2010

Then came a course with two dishes (and a matched wine each) which we shared/swapped:
Wood pigeon

Wood pigeon breast, creamed liver, cep marmalade, seeds. Game and wild mushrooms are a favourite combination so this obviously worked well. The wine with this, a was stunningly oaky and smoky, perfect.
Pork Terrine

Pork terrine, black pudding, bacon and pineapple. The tangy pineapple replacing the usual apple made this for me as it's not as sweet. Needless to say, the flavours and textures harmonised perfectly again. As did the wine, a Old Blocks Reserve Pinotoge, Darling Cellars, Western Cape, South Africa, 2008. (I hope I didn't mix up those two).

We're moving on to seafood and fish:
Salmon, oyster, caviar

Oyster, smoked salmon, caviar, radish, apple. Raw oysters usually leave me cold and I don't get the attraction but in combination with the other elements in this dish I loved it as it, like the caviar added to the flavour. With it, we had an English white wine, a Solera, Fleurfields, Northampton, 2010.

Seabass, chickpeas, red pepper and anchovy

While all the food at Alimentum is excellent, I think they have a particular skill with fish. Always cooked perfectly, with crispy skin and soft flesh. This piece of sea bass was no exception, sitting on a savoury mix of chickpeas, red pepper, tomato and anchovy, a bit like a ratatouille. With it we had a red wine, Pinot Noir, Torea Oystercatcher, Marlborough, New Zealand, 2010, which might sound a bit unusual with fish but it went really well with the mediterranean flavours.

Halibut

Roasted halibut, butternut squash, cabbage and pumpkin seeds. I find it hard to describe this without repeating myself in terms of flavour and texture combinations. So good. As was the wine, a rather hefty Trumpeter Chardonnay, Mendoza, Argentina, 2007.

Venison

One of only three meat dishes on our menu was venison loin, potato terrine, sprout leaves, girolles, juniper. Lovely soft meat, a bit more subtle in flavour than the one on Monday, wonderfully warming. There was definitely a hint of Christmas about this but that could just be because that's when my family traditionally cooks venison. The wine was a Malbec ‘Reserve’ Felipe Rutini, Mendoza, Argentina, 2007.

To finish, two desserts, served at the same time as we were running out of time:
Chocolate

Chocolate brownie and mousse (stacked) and blood orange. This brownie would put up a good fight against the ones from Gower Cottage and the added tart blood orange flavours just made my dark choc tastebuds jump.
Blackcurrant

Blackcurrant, apple, vanilla and crumble. (By that time I'd had far too much wine so the focus was completely off. Oops.) More dark fruity delights and textures.
The wines were Elysium Black Muscat, Andrew Quady, California, USA 2009 (what I like to call "alcoholic Ribena") and another surprise, Akashi-Tai Siraume Umeshu, plum Infused sake, Japan
We finished with coffee/mint tea and petit fours (bay leaf ganache and lime marshmellow) and then it was time to set off for the station so my friend could catch her train back to London.
What a treat, I will never get tired of this place.
I'm on a foodie roll at the moment because next week I'm going to Tuddenham Mill with two twitter friends I haven't actually met in real life yet.

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karohemd: Gentoo penguins in Antarctica, by me (Hungry)
Last night I went to my local fine dining restaurant, Alimentum, for a dining event in aid of the charity Tommy's. Head chef Mark Poynton had the idea for the event after one of his chefs lost his baby boy who was born prematurely. The wonders of modern social networking meant a host of chefs from other restaurants, not just locally but from all over the country, were soon on board. In the end, eight courses, each cooked by a different head chef (with the help of all the others and some of their brigade, there were something like 20 chefs in the kitchen) were on offer. Needless to say, the food was stunning, each different, each unique and all cutting edge in terms of usage of ingredients and cooking methods.
Afterwards, there was an auction of such varied items as signed football shirts and a "food tour of Britain" to photographic prints and a set of Chroma knives, with all proceeds going to Tommy's.

The Food

One of the canapes

On arrival we were greeted by prosecco and a selection of Alimentum canapés: Salmon and horseradish cones (see photo), Salt cod Scotch egg, Salt and vinegar allumettes, Smoked eel, lemon and bacon bites and Beetroot and foie gras macarons. The last two were my favourites but all were lovely indeed. Only one photo, as it was a bit tricky juggling a glass, finger food and camera.

Amuse Bouche, James Knappet

The amuse bouche was by James Knappett (recently at Marcus Wareing, now at The Ledbury): Violina pumpkin soup, sorbe, king oyster, ceps, chestnuts, truffle rarebit. This was at the same time fresh from the light ingredients and strong from the mushrooms, an excellent combination. The pumpkin soup brought everything together.

Braddock White, Ben Spalding

The starter was by Roganic's Ben Spalding: Braddock White (egg), pickled roots, ox eye daisy, salt beef. This was similar to the egg dish I had during my first visit at Roganic and a typical example of Ben's style, having all the contrasts you want in a dish: warm and cold, soft and crunchy and beautifully harmonising flavours. It's hard to describe, you have to try it yourself.

Salmon, Paul Foster

Next up, the fish course by Paul Foster from Tuddenham Mill: Organic salmon, mussel soup, pink grapefruit and sea vegetables. A nice slab of gently cured salmon with a quite intense mussel sauce was a great combination but the surprise was the grapefruit. Its bitterness complimented the other ingredients really well while the sea vegetables added crunch. As it's not far away, a visit to the Mill is definitely in order. Incidentally, Lyndon Barrett-Scott, the Mill's general manager helped out in front of house last night.

Langoustine and Joselito ham, Alimentum

Home (surf and) turf now with an Alimentum dish: Roast langoustine, Joselito gran reserve ham, black olive and cauliflower. That seafood and pork go well together was proven by a visit to Alimentum earlier this year and this one was stunning, too. As with the dishes before, a bit of bread was needed to mop up the last bit of flavour from the plate.

Venison, Russell Bateman

The main course by Russell Bateman (Colette's at The Grove): Venison, chervil root, leek, Stilton and pear. This was probably the best piece of venison loin I've had (better than my own, for sure, although that wasn't shabby at all), cooked to the point evenly (sous vide, most likely) with great flavours, with perfectly matched accompaniments. Chervil root was new to me and took the place of the starch, quite similar in texture to a soft roast potato and neutral in taste, i.e. not like chervil leaves. Considering it was part of an 8 course menu, the portion was very generous indeed.

Cheese, Will Holland

Slowing down a bit, it was Will Holland's (La Bécasse) cheese course: Ragstone goat's cheese mousse, pain d'epice, beetroot and fig, liquorice jelly, bramble vinaigrette. As you can see, this wasn't just a couple of wedges of cheese on a plate, this was a proper, intricately put together dish (and one that would work equally well as a starter). Goat's cheese and beetroot are obviously a classic combination but this was something else with the added fruity and crunchy elements.

Fennel brulee, Matt Gillan

The pre-dessert was provided by Matt Gillan (The Pass): Fennel(!) brûleé, raspberry sorbet, lemon curd, raspberry and fennel salad. Yes, indeed, a combination of sweet dessert and rather savoury vegetable and it worked. Nice tangy raspberry sorbet and lemon curd were excellent additions.

Tiramisu (Midsummer House)

For dessert, a work of art by Daniel Clifford (Midsummer House) and Michelle Gillott (former Midsummer House pastry chef who's now running her own business): Simply titled "Tiramisu", this obviously wasn't just layered biscuit fingers, mascarpone, cocoa and coffee but the same ideas in a completely different format, delicately put together with wonderfully contrasting textures. Like me, everybody else on my table was desperately scraping their plate with their spoons to get every last bit of chocolate off. Wonderful.

Almost three hours later, we were well and truly stuffed and the chefs came out to get their just applause:
Mark Poynton, Lawrence Yates, Alimentum Matt Gillan, The Pass; Will Holland, La Becasse Will Holland; James Knappett (now at The Ledbury); Paul Foster Paul Foster, Tuddenham Mill; Russell Batemann, Colette's at the Grove Sommelier Kyle Simmons on the right Daniel Clifford, Midsummer House


The Auction


After mingling and chatting with the chefs in the bar, the second main event of the night kicked off: the auction in aid of Tommy's. There were a number of items on offer: signed football and rugby memorabilia, an iPad 2, a set of Chroma knives, a Cuba print by Jean-Luc Benazet, and a "Food Tour of Britain", dinners and overnight stays at various restaurants around the UK, including a foraging course with Matt Follas (Masterchef Champion 2009) at the Wild Garlic. This was slightly annoying for me as I'd hoped to get my hands on one or two of those but as they were sold as one lot, it was too rich for me (it went for £1,600 IIRC) so I came away with Jean-Luc's print and a signed Tony Christie tshirt+checked shirt combo.
Edit: The total came to a whopping £7150. Well done to everyone involved.

So, an excellent evening with stunning food with all proceeds going to a worthy cause. Events can hardly get better than this.
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karohemd: by LJ user gothindulgence (Default)
After a few stressful weeks, I felt the need to indulge and reward myself so booked a table at Roganic for lunch. I'd been there during opening week but wanted to try out the new menu which is now all head chef Ben Spalding's.
Knowing that eating the full 10 course meal would take several hours, I'd booked a table for 12 and was indeed the only guest for a while. This meant I had a free choice of tables so naturally I picked the one by the window which provided excellent light for photography. I've written about the restaurant in my previous post so straight on to the food:

Squid ink paper amuse bouche

The amuse bouche was crunchy "squid ink paper" with a light and fresh cucumber mouse and various seeds. A lovely bite to tickle the tastebuds.

Bread and butter

The bread and butter. The bread (the new chestnut flatbread, pumpernickel, Irish soda and buttermilk) was just as good as during my first visit and the whipped butter was served on Jellybean, the pebble.

Heirloom tomato

The first course was "Heirloom tomato, poached lamb tongue, dill custard", layered in a bowl. Sandia Chang, the maitre d' who usually served me during this stay, described it as a savoury trifle which was a rather apt description with its various layers of different flavours and textures. The chopped, chewy tongue was at the bottom, then a layer of the soft dill custard and finally a sort of salsa. All very fresh flavours that expanded and chased each other as you chewed/moved the spoonful around in your mouth.

Braddock White duck egg

Braddock White duck egg, puff ball mushroom, barley flakes, samphire and marjoram oil. As with most dishes at Roganic, this was a delightul combination of textures: the warm soft egg, the crunchy mushroom and samphire and the crispy barley.

Then, an early highlight, not only culinary but also theatrically: Cured and smoked River Tweed trout, sweet and sour peppers, and crab apple:
Cured and smoked River Tweed trout Cured and smoked River Tweed trout Cured and smoked River Tweed trout

This was the most remarkable piece of fish I'd ever had. It was so soft it literally melted in my mouth, sweet and beautifully flavoured. The accompaniments suited it perfectly. What a delight.

Pork belly and smoked eel croquettes

Pork belly and smoked eel croquettes, black mustard, sea purslane and fresh corn was another taste revelation. The combination of pork belly and eel, both usually rather fatty, was rich but surpisingly not greasy at all. The sweetcorn was lovely (I really seem to be warming to it)

Stone baked prawn

Stone baked prawn, purple sprouting broccoli, pickled elderberries and loganberry oil. Charmingly, the prawn was at first presented to me raw on a large pepple before it was taken to the kitchen to be cooked (I sadly didn't take the chance to take a photo). Excellent combination with the tart fruit.

Royal Kidney potatoes

Royal Kidney potatoes cooked in chicken fat, snow peas, goat's curd and clam juice. The successor to the most stunning potatoes I've ever had, this was equally wonderful but completely different because it was served with liquid accompaniments.

Skate belly and king scallop

The stunners just kept on coming with this Skate belly and king scallop dish, served with young leek and caramelised cauliflower. The seafood wonderfully caramelised while cooked to perfection, this was another hearty dish.

Cumrian rose veal

Closely followed by the main, Cumbrian rose veal cooked in buttermilk then roasted, cobnuts, cabbage and mead sauce. Superb meat with excellent accompaniments. Another winner.

Bilberries

The first dessert: Bilberries (stewed and whole), dried caramel, natural yoghurt and iced lemon thyme. Lovely tart fruit with the powdery caramel not being sweet at all. This was a perfect palate cleanser after the earlier rich dishes.

White chocolate sorbet

The second dessert was a White chocolate sorbet with rapeseed, Herman plum and meadowsweet granita. Sweet granita, crunchy seeds (up until then I hadn't known you could actually eat rapeseed rather than just use them for oil) and tart plum. Perfect.

Bay leaf milkshake, shortbread

Bay leaf milkshake, shortbread. This was another surprise as the bay worked really well.

Skipping the cheese this time, I finished with a cup of hot chocolate, accompanied by the tiniest cupcake ever:
Mini cupcake, hot chocolate


The stunning food and the friendly, relaxed and chatty service made the three hours and 20 minutes I spent at the restaurant fly by in no time. Having eaten so well, I didn't actually need another meal that day and only brunch the next.

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karohemd: Gentoo penguins in Antarctica, by me (Hungry)
I'd heard good things about Jason Atherton's first restaurant so decided to book a table for lunch there. Both bar and restaurant are elegant with a rather posh feel. The main restaurant room is bright and airy with a high ceiling, generously spaced tables, with the "dessert bar" on the opposite short side from where you can watch the chefs do their thing at pass and the kitchen through a huge glass window with an automatic sliding door for the serving staff.
Service was good, friendly and informative but almost in complete contrast to the lively staff at Roganic, it felt a bit stiff and impersonal. The food, however, was excellent. The choices on the set lunch menu didn't really excite me (one disadvantage of having had a rather unusual and extraordinary dinner the night before) so I went for a la carte.
I have to apologise for the quality of the photos, I only had my phone on me as I was going to a concert later in the evening where I couldn't have taken my big camera.

Pollen Street Social - Quail
The starter was pieces of quail, roasted pink with crispy skin on an intense "mushroom ketchup". An excellent way to start.

Pollen Street Social - Braised ox cheek and sirloin
For main, I had braised ox cheek and sirloin, with carrots and one the smoothest mashed potatoes I ever had (with a hint of horseradish that could have been a bit stronger for me). The generous lump of cheek fell apart when touched and was very flavourful, aided by the strong sauce. Another excellent, solid dish. With it I had a glass of a lovely Italian red.

As I was finishing my wine, Jason Atherton wandered past, stopped at my table, introduced himself and asked me what I thought of the food and we had a brief chat about food and cooking.

I then moved on to the dessert bar, where you sit on stools and can watch the pastry chefs as they prepare your dishes. I was sitting on the far end so had a good view of the kitchen:

Pollen Street Social - The Pass
While I was perusing the menu, I was served a scoop of fantastically light and fresh lime sorbet which wiped away the lingering richness of my main. Everything on the menu looked exciting but I went for "PBJ" in the end and I didn't regret it.
Pollen Street Social - PBJ
The dish consisted of various peanut (parfait, powder) and cherry elements (rich sorbet, coulis and "linguini") with a drizzle of vanilla syrup. This was a lot of fun and a great contrast of crunch, softness, tartness and sweetness. A perfect end to a nice meal.

On the way to the toilets, I walked past the caged wine stores and there's even a window with hanging meat next to what I assumed was the prep kitchen.

As I left, the purpose of the little key I'd been given became apparent. Behind the reception counter is a wall of small post boxes which contained a branded bag with two teacakes and a bag of tea to take home. I nibbled the cakes later on but I still have the bag as I don't really drink tea.

Overall, the food was excellent but the atmosphere was a bit too stiff for my liking. The prices of the food are acceptable for central London but I thought they took the mickey a bit with the wine. A 175ml glass of Malbec for £14 sounds a bit steep to me. I would definitely recommend it for the food as the standard of cooking is excellent.

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karohemd: Gentoo penguins in Antarctica, by me (Hungry)
When I heard of Roganic opening I canceled my original dinner booking on Friday and booked a table there instead. I had heard and read very exciting things about Simon Rogan's food at L'Enclume so when I learned he was opening a (temporary but relatively long-term of two years) restaurant in London I saw my chance to sample his food without having to trek to the Lake District and phoned to book a table and managed to get one of the last ones.
The restaurant on Blandford St. (about 150 yards up the road from L'Autre Pied so in excellent company) has an unassuming, green front, so much so that I walked right past it the first time. The restaurant itself is rather small (only 25 covers) with a front room and a small extension in the back with skylights. There are only placemats on the dark brown tables, which gives the place a nicely casual atmosphere. If there is one thing I can't stand in fine dining restaurants it's stiff white tablecloths with equally stiff waiting staff. At Roganic, the first are absent and the latter are anything but stiff. I received a very friendly welcome was shown to my table in the back overlooking the rest of the restaurant (which is great, some places put lone diners in a corner somewhere) and given the menu and wine list.
Now, here's the thing about Roganic: There is only one choice for dinner, the ten(!) course tasting menu (at least currently, I believe some other options are planned and lunch is either five or the full ten courses and there are vegetarian options for each). Helpfully, they left the menu on the table which was handy when trying to remember what exactly it was I was currently eating.
The equally friendly and helpful sommelier recommended a glass of nice white wine for me (which I can't remember now, must remember to take photos of bottle labels but the second glass was a Roter Veltliner) and then the first treat appeared, a "chickpea and rosemary wafer":

Amuse bouche: Chickpea and Rosemary Wafer

This was a fun, light and crunchy bite that already hinted at what was to come.
Then, the bread and butter arrived, both made fresh and in-house, and the purpose of the large pebble on the table became clear: It's not for decoration but serves as plate for the scrumptious, fluffy unsalted butter. Genius, just like the bread: the pumpernickel is so unlike in texture to any other I've eaten. While the dark, malty flavour is typical, the textre is light and almost fluffy with a crisp crust. The other two (potato and sage?) are equally excellent. I think I could happily eat just bread and butter and call it a meal.

Bread and butter

The first actual menu course was Broad bean and hyssop, fresh curds and beetroot. Here was where the list of of the many things I'd never eaten before that evening started: hyssop (the thin stalks with yellow leaves). It's light and sllightly bitter, almost reminding me of chicory, and provided the crunch needed as contrast to the soft beetroot foam and curds. Light and fresh, this dish woke up your tastebuds.

Broad bean and hyssop, fresh curds and beetroot

The first stunner of the evening arrived next: Scarlet ball turnip baked in salt, smoked yolk, sea vegetables and wild mustard. The star of this dish wasn't the crunchy turnip but the smoked yolk. This was cooked in the waterbath so set at the same consistency all the way through, soft but not runny, with a wonderful flavour. With the added crunch from the turnip, the green sea veg and slight kick from the mustard sauce, every bite filled your mouth with flavour that kept kicking in. Truly remarkable.

Scarlet ball turnip baked in salt, smoked yolk, sea vegetables and wild mustard

The first non-vegetarian dish was next: Seawater cured mackerel, orache, broccoli and warm elderflower honey. What can I say? A perfectly cooked piece of fish with crackling skin, complimented by all things around it, not least the elderflower honey (collected in Regent's Park or so I was told). I'm not a big fan of honey and definitely not in savoury dishes but this was great, almost tart and provided the balance needed. Orache was another sea veg I hadn't eaten before, putting the count at four, as I'm sure there were at least two in the previous dish (more if you count the specific variety of turnip). Another stunner, definitely.

Seawater cured mackerel, orache, broccoli and warm elderflower honey

On to the meat: Shredded ox tongue, pickles and sourdough paper. The warm, deeply meaty flavoured tongue was not really shredded but ground into a very fine paté, the crunchy "paper" was like exceedingly thin toast and the pickled veg were in light and crunchy contrast to the soft tongue. Genius.

Shredded ox tongue, pickles and sourdough paper

Back to seafood with Flaky crab and mallow cream, young squid and cucumber. With its freshness and subtle flavours, this was the perfect palate cleanser after the rich ox tongue. Wonderful. New things count: 5 (mallow, another sea veg).

Flaky crab and mallow cream, young squid and cucumber

Another vegetarian dish next and this one was a killer: Heritage potatoes in onion ashes, lovage and wood sorrel. Despite sounding relatively simple, this was full of flavour, warm, strong potatoes, smoky oniony powder and crunchy herbs. So so good. Best potaotoes ever. No doubt.

Heritage potatoes, in onion ashes, lovage and wood sorrel

Back to fish, described as "the first main": Roasted brill, chicken salt, surf clams and rainbow chard. The stunner here was the emulsion which wrapped the fish in a meaty film while leaving the flavour of the fish and clams intact. I have no idea how this works but it does and it was another favourite.

Roasted brill, chicken salt, surf clams and rainbow chard

Meat again for the last main: Cumbrian hogget, artichokes and chenopodiums, putting the new things count to 7 (hogget - from a sheep older than lamb but younger than mutton - and chenopodiums. The meat is slow braised for over 20 hours and comes apart touched. Lovely, strong flavour, with the accompaniments providing balance in texture and lightness. Very yummy.

Cumbrian hogget, artichokes and chenopodiums

When the plate was cleared away I was offered an extra cheese course which I accepted but asked to be served at the very end as early cheese isn't my thing and my request was happily accepted.
So, the desserts, starting with Sweet cicely with strawberry, buttermilk and verbena which was sweet indeed but also tart and "green" so wonderfully balanced. Lovely. New things count at 9 (cicely and verbena).

Sweet cicely with strawberry, buttermilk and verbena

The last dish on the menu was Warmed spiced bread, salted almonds, buckthorn curd, smoked clotted cream. Crunchy, crumbly and warm bread, fruity buckthorn and soft cream. In a word, scrumptious. New things count: 10 (buckthorn, at least something I'd heard about when Nathan Outlaw cooked with it on Great British Menu a couple of years ago).

Warmed spiced bread, salted almonds, buckthorn curd, smoked clotted cream

It wasn't over yet, though because something else came along: Cherry Soda and Marshmallow. Very tart blitzed up cherries and a soft, sweet marshmallow. On their own they would have been too strong but combining a bite of marshmallow and a sip of the soda was perfect. This put another huge smile on my face and I asked for a spoon as I didn't want to leave anything behind, just as I often used a bit of bread to mop up the juices on the plate.

Cherry Soda and Marshmallow

Finally, the cheese. There was a great choice on offer, all British and most types represented, including the mighty Stinking Bishop. A generous helping, too, it's rare you get that much to choose. Another star here was the gooseberry chutney which was just awesome. I suggested they should put it in jars and sell it, I would certainly buy one.

So, this was it, almost three and a half hours after taking my seat I had had 13 courses and a truly remarkable experience, both in terms of food and service. All the people serving me were friendly, gracious, very knowledgable about the food they were serving and happy to answer any questions. They were also clearly delighted seeing me enjoying myself so much. I wasn't the only one to enjoy it, either. There was a rather lively table of four in my room who chatted away between courses but when the food arrived they were just as stunned as I was and ate in complete silence after a few excited initial remarks like "This is the best broad bean I've ever eaten!" which underlines exactly what the food at Roganic is about. The dishes aren't just one main, expensive ingredient with a few accompaniments but all the elements shine equally.

None of my descriptions can do it justice and you have to try it for yourself. It's not just me who thinks that, all the reviews I've read so far contain similar remarks. Steve Groves, Masterchef Professional winner last year and sous chef at Roux Parliament Square said on twitter "Food this good hurts my head.", Daniel Clifford, two-star chef at Midsummer House said "what a real gem in London" (he was there when I left, with Kenny Atkinson who were in London because they appeard on Saturday Kitchen the morning after). High praise from high class chefs indeed and they are probably the most difficult people to please.
If you want to visit, be quick because this is going to be a very busy place indeed. Even more so than now that not that many people know about it. Also, I was lucky to get a table during the "soft opening" with a nice discount deducted from the final bill. When it is running at full pace, the 10 course menu will set you back for £80 and the five course lunch menu for £40. With two glasses of wine, the extra cheese course and 12.5% service, my bill ran to £90 which I was very happy to pay.

On my way back from the gents' (two glasses of wine and a bottle of water had taken their toll) I walked past the open kitchen door and had a brief chat with Simon Rogan, thanking him for the wonderful food.

I left with a huge smile on my face and a spring in my step, despite being rather full. The individual portions are small but 13 courses do add up and the bread is just too yummy not to constantly nibble on (and will be replenished throughout the evening). I didn't even need breakfast the next day.

So, Roganic offers food that is out of this world (while being locally sourced) and impeccable service, too. I felt very welcome from the moment I walked in until I was shown out afterwards, without being overwhelmed. It is really hard to believe they had only been open for a week when I was there.

(short URL linking to this post)
karohemd: Gentoo penguins in Antarctica, by me (Hungry)
Another one, I hear you cry? Well, yes, thanks for asking but I had to because I was recommended a dessert I didn't want to miss before it came off the menu.
This time I had a tasting menu:

Alimentum - Mushroom veloute with Coffee

The amuse bouche, a mushroom velouté with, wait for it, coffee. We had this when we were there for my birthday and I remember something interesting flavour wise but couldn't put my finger on it, now I know. This is one of those combinations that, when you read it, shouldn't really work but it does.

Alimentum - Asparagus, Goat's Cheese Ice Cream

The first dish was a combination of raw and cooked white and green asparagus with goats' cheese ice cream (savoury). All very fresh in flavour and there were great contrasts of warm and cold, crunchy and soft. I really like white asparagus now. :)

Alimentum - Quail

Then, a ballotine and terrine of quail with savoy cabbage and truffle. The flavours in this were rather subtle (not a bad thing!) and the textures varied. There were soft bits, chewy bits and crunchy bits.

Alimentum - Langoustine, Pork Belly, Cauliflower

Moving along, a seafood/pork combination in the shape of a slice of pork belly so soft you could separate with a spoon, topped with langoustine, topped with avruga, sitting in a cauliflower veloute, garnished with thin slices of cauliflower. One could think that the strong meaty flavour of the pork would overpower the subtleness of the langoustine but that wasn't the case at all, they complimented each other nicely. The avruga provided little pops of salt and the smooth cauliflower veloute a warm coating for everything. Dancing tastebuds.

Alimentum - Lamb Three Ways

The main: lamb three ways (rump, breast and sweetbreads) with courgette and sundried tomato couscous. Each part was cooked differently, providing different textures. The rolled breast was crispy, the rump slow cooked and the sweetbreads seared. My tastebuds were dancing propably even more here.

Alimentum - Strawberry, Elderflower, Lime

The Grand Finale: A dessert of strawberries, elderflower curd and lime. This dessert was the main reason I had gone back so quickly after last month's visit because I didn't want to miss it and it came highly recommended by a number of people whose tastebuds I trust and they weren't lying. Again, it was the combination of flavours and textures that made it: the fresh fruitiness of the strawberries (fresh and icecream), the sweetness of the elderflower curd and the zingy and crunchy lime.

Another part of the experience was the "flight" of wines, one glass with every course and this is where I fail as I can't remember them all but each one of them was a perfect match with the dish. What I do remember was the '98(!) Chardonnay with the langoustine course, a Chianti Classico with the lamb and a Coteaux du Layon with the dessert. This (and a glass of champagne to start) had been quite an amount of alcohol so I politely declined the kind offer of spirits as another measure would have sent me straight to sleep at the cinema.

Huge thanks for the invitation go to head chef Mark and brigade for the food and sommelier Kyle for the wines as well as the rest of the Front of House team for looking after me. Good service (polite and attentive without being overbearing) is just as important as good food at a restaurant and Alimentum has all of that.
Every time I go there I think they won't be able to top my experience the following time but they always do.
karohemd: Gentoo penguins in Antarctica, by me (Hungry)
I was a bit early so I ordered a nice cocktail while I was waitin for my dining companion to arrive:

Apple Martini
Apple Martini (not too sweet, fruity, lovely)


Then, the food:
The pre-starter was an off-the-menu asparagus velouté served with a spoon of beurre noisette powder. Wonderful asparagus flavour that really got the tastebuds going (which is the whole point of a dish like that).

Amouse Bouche: Asparagus Veloute

For starter I had the skate, which was served with morel mushrooms and crispy white asparagus. I've had a lifelong dislike of white asparagus as I only remember it as the tasteless, slimy floppy things from a jar that were served at extended family dinner parties and supposed to be this awesome treat, so I'm glad I loved these crispy bits. The skate was perfectly cooked (as was to be expected) and the earthy, strongly flavoured mushrooms worked really with it.

Starter: Skate

My companion had the goat's cheese with beetroot which she loved:

Starter: Goat's Cheese

We had the same main: Stone Bass, potato pressé, peas, salsa verde, lemon. A perfectly cooked, flaky fillet of fish with excellent accompaniments and yes, I even liked the peas, so another big success for Alimentum's kitchen brigade headed by Mark Poynton.

Main: Stone Bass

For dessert I had a passion fruit parfait (soft, very fruity, no pips) with coffee sorbet and tiny saffron meringues. Again one of those dishes in which the main elements would have been too strong individually but together they were perfectly balanced.

Dessert: Passion Fruit Parfait

My companion's dessert were the variations of strawberry:
Dessert: Strawberry

With that she had the most amazing vodka: Chase Marmalade which tasted just like it sounds. Wonderful.
We obviously couldn't stop there and ended the evening with a selection of cheeses, of which the most unusual and interesting was a soft, washed rind cheese called Soumaintrain which was served on a spoon. Delightful.
The petits fours served with coffee were a dark chocolate one with lime and a white chocolate one coated in very tart apricot crumbs which completely counteracted the sickly sweetness (on my palate) of the white chocolate.
Another stunning meal at Alimentum, good value for money (as fine dining goes) and good service, too.
karohemd: Gentoo penguins in Antarctica, by me (Hungry)
So last night was the foodie night of my life (and one that's unlikely to be repeated). I went to the Kai We Care charity dinner in aid of the victims of the New Zealand earthquakes. Thought up and organised by Mat Follas, Masterchef 2009 winner and owner/head chef of The Wild Garlic. By the power of twitter and other social networking alone, he managed to recruit a brigade of top chefs (five with Michelin stars, all of them with various awards), suppliers and FOH staff who all gave their time and wares for free to stage a 9-course dinner for 200(!) people. Considering they only had four weeks and the event went on with barely a glitch, that was an amazing achievement.
So far, they managed to raise £60,000 (tickets and auction) with most likely more to come.

At £150 a ticket, this wasn't exactly cheap but where can you get a 9-course dinner with matching wines with each course cooked by a group of top chefs? Nowhere. You'd pay at least that much for a normal tasting menu at a high class restaurant in London and then you'd get only one chef. As I was looking for a birthday treat to myself, this was perfect and I wasn't disappointed.

At the reception at the rather splendid venue of 1 Moorgate Place there was kiwi champagne (which I actually liked!) and canapees: cured salmon/cucumber "fruit pastilles" (sweet/savoury, very fresh), port and Spenwood pencil (also nice) and the highlight, Pork crackling toffee apple (basically a ball of apple coated in a crunchy but not too sweet crumb, fantastic). No photos of these because the reception was cramped and it would have been a bit awkward. I'll pass on links to the official photos when they're out.

Then into the main hall with large, round tables, seating 9 people each. On my table were a group of Irish people (who all knew Dave Ahern) and a couple from Essex. Was quite a friendly table.

Kai We Care - Pre starter Kai We Care - Starter Kai We Care - Fish Kai We Care - Main Kai We Care - Pre-Dessert Kai We Care - Dessert


Food and wine: )

There was also entertainment in the form of a Maori dance group who performed a variety of dances and songs, very interesting and also amusing.

Throughout the evening the auction was held and raised a huge amount of money, with most lots going for well over a grand, some for multiples. I held my own for a while on the bid on the tasting menu for four with wines at Alimentum but it got too rich for me quite quickly. I think it went for 750 or 800 at the end.

By the time I had finished the petit fours, it was already well past 11 so I said good-bye and made my way back to Kings Cross where my train was already waiting. I was finally home at about 1:40.

It was a stunning evening and a great success for a worthwhile cause. Would go again in a heartbeat. Being in the presence of so many high class chefs, who all seemed to be really nice people and not as stuck up as you'd expect them to be, was fantastic.
I'm glad I'd taken the 50mm f1.4 because the light was very dim so I still had to set the D700 to ISO3200 for the food shots. Therefore, the DOF is a bit too shallow but I have to live with that. I hope Richard Budd had a proper setup somewhere.
ETA: Richard Budd's superb photos are here (mostly food and chefs/kitchen and performers) and even more photos by Philippa Edge here.
karohemd: Gentoo penguins in Antarctica, by me (Hungry)
So, tonight's the night and quite possibly the highlight in my culinary adventures so far: I'm going to Kai We Care, a charity dinner in aid of the earthquake victims of New Zealand. It's a 7-course menu, cooked by a brigade of fine dining chefs, many of whom are Michelin starred. Mark Poynton, Chef Patron of Alimentum will be cooking the main (the 48-hour lamb). The rest of the menu looks amazing, too.

It's not cheap but for a good cause and it's pretty much a unique event with so many different high class chefs cooking (usually about two per course). A perfect late birthday treat for myself. :o)
Another unique aspect is how the event was organised, almost exclusively via social networking (twitter and facebook), from finding the chefs to sourcing ingredients, drinks and other supplies and the venue (which looks grand indeed).

I might even bid for an item or two in the auction but most of the wallets there will probably be larger than mine.
karohemd: Gentoo penguins in Antarctica, by me (Hungry)
Alimentum is a fine dining restaurant in Cambridge which I visited this evening as a birthday treat. I'd been several times and enjoyed every meal but tonight certainly was the best.
My companions and I decided on the tasting menu (finally, I'd been waiting for one) incl. the "flight of wines", i.e. a different glass of wine with each of the seven courses. A section through Alimentum's kitchen, a bit of everything and every bit as awesome as the other, tastefully and beautifully presented. We had (copied from the menu I took home):

Potato
(soup) with haddock, quail egg, avruga
Instead of the Sauvignon blanc on the menu we had a Muscadet
This was warm, soft and rich yet light. The little bits of avruga popped little spurts of salt in your mouth when you bit on them. The wine was clean and crisp, with a hint of cucumber.

Pork
Shoulder, belly, hock, pineapple, pickled onion
Pinot Grigio, Bolzano, Santa Magdalena, 2008, Italy
Squares of a whole range of textures on a rectangular plate. The first piece tasted like a high class version of head cheese. The fat of the belly melted on your tongue while the crackling was a crunchy delight.
What an awesome PG to go with it. Really deep without being too strong.

Stone Bass
Nigella seeds, spiced carrot, coriander
Vouvray, Auguste Bonhomme, 2007, Loire valley, France
A small fillet of perfectly cooked fish with a nigella seed crust on wilted spinach, a smear of carrot purree, two dollops of coriander sauce, as well as a little heap of red lentils and pickled carrot. This sounds like a lot of different ingredients but they all worked together wonderfully.
Another awesome wine. After tonight, I'm really warming to white wines.

Sirloin of Beef
Fricasee of snails and mushrooms, "Bordelaise" sauce
Chateau La Verrierie, Bastide, Côtes du Luberon, France, 2006
Rich beef cooked medium rare, complimented by the deep and woody flavours of the sauce and fricassee
The wine was one of if not the best red I've ever had, perfect.

Cheese
IIRC, a goat's cheese from Dorset, a really mature Scottish Cheddar, Normandy Camembert and a blue cheese
Mâcon - Serrières, Domaine De Monterrain 2007, Bourgogne, France
Excellent variety, but I would have wanted a red smear cheese (like a pont l'eveque, reblochon or similar) as well.

Banana
Parfait, caramel, lime, rum
(wine not on my copy of the menu and I can't remember what it was
One of my companions isn't a big fan of banana and she was blown away by it, that's how good it was. Again a carousel of contrasting yet harmonising flavours.

Passion fruit
White chocolate mousse, passion fruit sorbet
Beerenauslese cuvee, Alois Kracher, 2007, Austria
My turn to utterly love two things I'm usually not a big fan of: white chocolate and sweet wine. The sweetness of the chocolate was counteracted by the sharp sorbet. The wine was fruity but not cloying as most sweet wines are to me.

Coffee/tea with a piece each of chocolate fudge and salted caramel
This took us just over three hours to eat, and that without hardly any waiting time between courses. :)

I am really stupid and didn't take a photo of each course because I was just too fascinated by what was in front of me (and I didn't like using flash). I'm really getting old. Then again, the light is so dim you'd need a nice flash/softbox setup to take proper shots or at least a remotely triggered, diffused speedlight.
Here are three )

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