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Archive for September, 2011

We have recently celebrated five years of marriage. Usually we are on holiday over our anniversary but due to bad weather previously in September we decided to go away a little earlier this year which left us looking for somewhere to celebrate back here in the UK. We needed good value, cheap-ish dining so I made a shortlist of restaurants that had a good value set menu and there is actually quite a few out there. We even set ourselves a budget for once! I threw a few places in that I really would like to eat at, although I really knew where my wife would want to go, hence the title of this post, “it has to be Roux”.

I know there is more than one Roux and we actually went to Roux at The Landau. The set menu offer is three courses, half a bottle of wine, water for the table and coffee and petits fours for £47.50. Added to the fact that last year we had booked afternoon tea in The Langham which we had to cancel due to me being very unwell, then it really was a no brainer.

Roux at the Landau is a joint venture between father and son, Albert Roux & Michel Roux Jr, with their protégée at the helm in the kitchen. The entrance is easily passed and we almost headed for the main hotel entrance before realising we had just passed The Landau. You pass wine cabinets as you enter the restaurant which is decorated with wood panelling, giving you a feeling of a stately home. There is a horse theme running through the restaurant which isn’t obvious at first, you just notice the horses above the doorways, then on the corner of the table-cloth, a horse motif on the salt and pepper cellars. Being lunch, the room is bright and I imagine it has a completely different feel in the evening.

We are made to feel extremely welcome and seated in one of the booth type seats they have, a curved bench to we can sit next to each other and survey the restaurant. The menus are handed to us and like many set menus, there is only a choice of three different dished for each course which for me is no problem. For my wife it becomes a little more difficult and I was worried when I saw that day’s menu. After assuring her that partridge is not too gamey, we both ordered the partridge and foie gras starter. The fact we can both choose a half bottle is very useful also as my wife prefers white and I, red. I choose a Rioja Crianza Vina, 2005 Amezoia and my wife had the Chablis Martin, 2009 Domaine Laroche. The wines do not come in half bottles, these are full bottles and are served from the bottle rather than putting in small decanters.

The starters arrive, the smell is captivating and I dive in. It is a classic combination really, partridge, walnuts, foie gras. It all goes together so well and no flavour is lost. You can taste each individual ingredient. I was quite impressed with the size of the dish as well, a generous amount of partridge with two good sized slices of foie gras. No stingy portions on this set menu.

‘Salade St Hubert’-roast red legged partridge, foie gras and new season’s walnuts

For mains, my wife had chosen the special from the carving trolley, pork belly. We both had our theories about this as the belly was huge. My theory is that they must have used the full belly, both sides of the animal rather than it being cut in half. My wife’s theory is that it must have been a huge pig. This is carved at the table and, as two slices are put on the plate, my wife is asked if she would like another. A further sign of the generous portions. She declines and as we discuss how good the crackling looks, she is given every spare bit they can find (I think someone actually refused crackling – does that really happen?). My wife enjoyed this immensely and had to put aside the veg to finish off the pork.

I had gone for the beef. This is feather beef, braised with junipers and served with pickled red cabbage and garlic spaetsle. The kind of dish I love and at the same time annoys me. I should explain that I think I make a pretty mean red cabbage dish so it annoys me when I keep being served another version that completely blows mine out of the water. The beef was so tender and I make a good go of it. I did find the dish very rich and struggled to finish this so am afraid to say I left a bit on the plate.

Feather blade of beef braised with juniper, pickled red cabbage and roast garlic spaetzle

We have a rest, the room is emptying out as we had booked a 2pm sitting. We can’t help but be nosey at the group of ladies a couple of tables away, especially when the calculator came out to figure out each other’s share. This did take a while and I wouldn’t have mentioned it except for the fact that they were doing this before we were served our desserts and were still sorting it when we left.

So on to desserts. Okay, I do feel the menu let’s itself down a little here as the choice is cheeses, selection of ice cream and sorbet and a tiramisu. Actually scratch that, I DID think it let itself down. I now think that the cheeses would have been pretty spectacular cheeses, after all this is a Roux establishment and then it’s unlike to be just any old ice cream or sorbet. But to be honest there is only one thing that is needed on the dessert menu, the tiramisu, more specifically, a spiced fig tiramisu. You may not be a desert person, you may be stuffed after the first two courses, as we were, you may be considering cheese or just skipping onto coffee. Don’t. If you go to Roux and this dessert is on the menu, order it. Savour it. Take it home and….. sorry, getting carried away here. It is quite simply outstanding. I, Simon the savoury fan, hereby claims that this tiramisu is the best dessert I have had all year. Note I don’t go as far to say ever as that crown goes to Le Gavroche (yes I know it’s a Roux thing).

Spiced fig ‘tiramisu’ with mascarpone sorbet

Why is this dessert so good? First it’s not overly sweet. Second, I love figs and the spice is not overpowering. Third, it’s so light you could eat a dozen plates and not be full. The way it’s served is great. You get a slice of the cake, a sponge base with the figs, the lighter than air mascarpone, dusting of chocolate. Then each element is served in another way, slices of spiced fig, chocolate sticks and an excellent mascarpone sorbet. The dessert chef at Roux needs applauding, he is added to the list of six chefs that have got me to finish off a dessert. If you’re wondering that list is Michel Roux Jr, Francesco Mazzei, the Dessert Chef at Café a Vin, Tristan Welch and I think probably it was Matt that was on at my local restaurant, Mustard. Not bad company to be in.

In case you were still unsure, I really liked the dessert. So there we sit, stuffed, wanting more dessert and my wife asking where I’m taking her for champagne. We didn’t have coffee and actually were never asked but to be honest, we didn’t want it so I think the staff were that good they knew we wouldn’t have any. We had a lovely chat with Vito who I assume was Maître d’ or is the restaurant manager. At this point every table was paying up so we had time to chat with the staff. We also had several staff come up and wish us a happy anniversary. Now I’m not sure if I mentioned it when booking, I can’t remember mentioning it but I did mention it on twitter and I assume that The Langham picked up on it there. We may not have had coffee but we did have the very nice petits fours which you can see for yourselves how they arrived. No comment was made of it being a special day until this point so it was a complete surprise to us.

We have to thank the staff at Roux for a great meal and making us feel so welcome. I always say that this kind of restaurant shows it class by the way it treats it’s diners, whether you are on the set lunch or buying the most expensive wine and food on the menu, you are all made to feel special.

For reservatons:

www.thelandau.com

+44 (0)20 7965 0165

reservations@rouxatthelandau.com

Location:

The Langham, London
1c Portland Place, Regent Street
London W1B 1JA

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It’s strange as I sit to write my latest post that I have no journey to tell you about, no wanders through the streets of London and dealing with commuters. The reason? It just so happens that this post is about a local bistro and amazingly my first post about it. Amazing as I eat here more often than anywhere else. The place I’m talking about is called Mustard, a small bistro in Chelmsford town centre, just slightly away from the main row of bars, cafés and restaurants. Gladly well away from the younger end of town. So it was just a short bus ride this time rather than the usual trek into London.

As I said, I’ve eaten at Mustard many times now and have chosen now to tell you all about it as the latest night there was for their third birthday. Their third birthday, when did that happen? I find it hard to remember a time Mustard wasn’t there. That’s how this place makes you feel. It’s part of Chelmsford, part of our lives. The food is Great British fayre, local produce where possible, the atmosphere is friendly and relaxed. So friendly at times you can distract the staff and even other customers as you get carried away with conversation. It always makes for a good night out. I noticed since our first time at Mustard that there are a lot of regulars. That’s always a good sign as people don’t normally suffer bad food regularly. It’s something that, as a diner, puts you at ease, knowing people want to come back time and time again.

And so onto the actual birthday night. A special menu had been put together with a selection of old favourites and new dishes from the very new Chef, in fact he only started that week. This was another reason we had been wanting to get to Mustard again. It was a set menu allowing you to choose 2 or 3 courses for £18 and £23 and with generous portions, this is great value. We are greeted in the usual friendly manner, shown to our table and offered a free glass of prosecco to toast Mustard’s birthday. I should have got the name of that prosecco though as it was particularly good.

I nearly always go for one of the seafood starters as they’re so good so for once I actually bucked the trend and went for the Ham Hock Terrine with home made piccalilli, elderflower jelly, seasonal baby vegetables and toasted olive bread. It’s an old Mustard favourite and my wife has had it several times, each time commenting that she thought I would have it. So tonight was the night to find out what I’d been missing. I’d been missing a great tasting piece of pork goodness, a bit of mustard in there, seasoned well and a very light homemade piccalilli. Why have I not had this before? I hope it appears on the menu again.

My wife had the scallops. Yes it was like we had swapped places for the night. She tells me it was delicious and I would have liked it and I secretly contemplate asking for it as a dessert.

We both went for the same main, lamb shanks with spiced red cabbage, champ, and lamb jus. I mean how could we not have this? Just the mention of lamb shanks and I start salivating. I don’t think I have actually ever had a bad lamb shank. Not to say they are easy to do, it’s more that it seems to be something everyone has their own recipe for and to be honest, if I’m not somewhere I know that does great food, I won’t order a lamb shank anyway. It doesn’t fail to please, it’s up there with one of the best lamb shank dishes, a mustard mash, lamb juice, fall off the bone lamb. Was so good I cooked lamb shanks on the following Sunday for dinner.

Stuffed now, we drink our wine, have a chat with the owner, Richard about the last three years, the jazz band starts up and a real party atmosphere starts up. The band is really good, I’m not much of a jazz fan and as they done their own versions of a few Sinatra classics my wife looks on as I start to sing quietly.

We eventually submit to ordering dessert as my wife had already chosen hers before we ordered starters and fear I may be presented with divorces paper on the basis of mental cruelty for depriving her of chocolate. So one mint chocolate cheesecake it is for my wife. I am told it is amazing and have been told that by others too. It is a mainstay of the Mustard menu and a firm favourite by the sounds of it. I have tried a bit before, risking having my hand broken as I tried to take a bit from my wife’s plate. I’m not enough of a dessert person to comment really, it just isn’t for me.

You are reading a blog written by a man who more often has cheese or orders another starter. I did order a dessert though as there was a Bailey’s Crème Brulee. We did have a slight issue here as I didn’t think it had been made well. The top wasn’t crispy and the custard hadn’t really set. Chef came out, the new Chef John Jacobs, and he completely agreed. I have to add here that it wasn’t inedible, just wasn’t quite right, tasted nice but me being fussy, added to the not being a dessert person thing, I couldn’t eat it. I noticed that others ordered this dish and were very happy with it. Oh no, have I become a fussy eater????

However, I have to say the slight issue with the Brulee should not put anyone off. It hasn’t put me off as it’s the whole package you have to look at. Everything else was brilliant, great lamb shanks, a blinding ham hock and very good wine. Now when you consider that not only was I charged for the just two courses, my wife was also only charged for two courses, it shows how well Mustard deal with any hiccups. We didn’t ask for that, it was just done. A lesson a lot of other restaurants could learn. It was a great night and made all the better that the owner, Richard Adams, was able to dine with the customers rather than serving for once. Mustard is more than a place to eat, it’s a good friend who always brings a smile to your face when you visit.

We will eat at Mustard again and again and actually are already booked up for Christmas Day and we really can’t wait So if you’re in Chelmsford, passing by or want to make a trip, look up Mustard, nice light meals for lunch and good hearty seasonal food if you want something more. Oh and I should mention the bar downstairs, serving a well chosen selection of wines & spirits, including our favourite Gin, Sipsmith’s (yes we requested that), and a good selection of beers including local beer from The Brentwood Brewing Co.

Mustard can be found at 37 New London Road, Chelmsford, Essex

Website: www.mustardbistro.co.uk

Twitter: Follow the Bistro @mustardbistro or follow their new chef, John Jacobs @jjatmustard

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Over the last year I have been lucky enough to cook with some great chefs in some great kitchens, experiencing something new every time and the adventures don’t seem to be letting up. I casually mentioned my love of venison to Chef Mickael Weiss a few weeks ago. Mickael is Head Chef of Coq D’Argent. I asked if Mickael would have venison on the menu on the 12th September so I could pop in and have venison for my birthday. The reply was, yes if I come and prep it. I thought about that for a moment, a very short moment and then had the wait of having to speak to work (and my Wife) to arrange a day off so I could actually say yes.

So it was arranged and I found myself heading to London on my Birthday. I add, it was cold, wet, and early and it was my Birthday. It crossed my mind for a nanosecond that this was mental, getting up earlier than I would for work, in the rain on my birthday then I remembered why I was doing it. 80kg of venison was waiting for me, from here on in called “The Beast”.

The Beast

I arrive at One Poultry, find the entrance which I know I have walked past several times. I go to the top floor and for the first time that morning I suddenly feel nervous. I mean, I’m not a butcher, I’m not a chef. What if I completely stuff this up? I have no idea what I’m doing but luckily Mickael knew that. He introduces himself, we have some very good coffee, everyone apart from Mickael keeps calling me Sir. We have a walk round the restaurant, bar and patio. This is a great place, top floor with some amazing views of London and two balconies over the streets below where I had special access as the garden area is closed at the moment.

I change, I look like a chef a bit more now with jacket and apron and I’m introduced to The Beast. We somehow move it onto the bench, unwrap it and Mickael explains the various parts of the animal and how to find where to cut. We start by getting it into manageable portions. Mickael takes off one leg to demonstrate and then hands the knife to me to have a go. I do an okay job, not cutting as close to the bone as Mickael but not bad for a first ever attempt.

This is the basic process, cut it into the joints before trimming and prepping further. Mickael saws through the ribs on one side, that will be venison spare ribs. We cut the rest of the animal in half down the center and take off the rump and remaining legs. We now have cuts for steaks, loin chops, the fillets, and further cuts for braising, mincing and stewing. It is now that I find that Mickael has no defined plans for The Beast, it’s thought out while it is being cut up. Chefs come over and look, giving ideas and some of the cuts are taken away for lunch service.

I let the professional do this part.

That’s it, done. It took about 2 hours to get through everything and the kitchen is buzzing as they get closer to service. I’m shown a bit more of the building, down in the basement where more prep happens, storing what is left of The Beast in the fridge, handing some of it over to be marinated and vacuum packed for slow cooking. We head back up and I’m placed at the pass with Mickael as I watch the magic happen. It’s moments like this that you really start to appreciate the food that arrives on your plate.

The finished venison dish, first special of the week.

I think I tasted most of the dishes that went out during lunch, grouse, beef fillet, pork, octopus (72 hour cooked octopus), chicken, lamb and of course The Beast. By the way, if you dine at Coq D’Argent with the current menu, try the pork jowl in homey with watermelon or the foie gras & rabbit terrine or go with a friend and order both and share. Mains, the lamb, no the beef, hang on the venison, actually the pork, octopus and chorizo. I have an idea, have the eight course tasting menu £48 a head, has to be done. Don’t forget to have the tomato and basil salad on the side, I lost count of how many different tomatoes they had.

Seared peppered tuna.

So how good is this place? Put it this way. I don’t like apricots, lavender or violet. Mickael had me eating and enjoying all three. I even got to try some whisky and Sipsmith’s Sloe Gin (and you all should know from a previous post how much I love Sipsmith). The sun even came out just as we were finishing up to make the views even better. So I leave, full of knowledge, a full stomach and a beaming smile. I love days like this, so glad I’m not a chef because I know I couldn’t do it. I do feel very fortunate though to be allowed in now and then to see how it works, learn something new and hopefully then impress my family and friends with some great meals.

The Voilet dessert.

So ask me if I intend to dine at Coq D’Argent. I don’t  even need to answer that. Thank you Mickael, it was a great day and thank you to the whole team at Coq D’Argent for such a warm welcome. I hope to see you all again soon.

You can follow Mickael on twitter @weissmickael or the restaurant @CoqdArgent1

Restaurant website www.coqdargent.co.uk

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