The best Italian Pinot Noir?

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A pinot noir that knows the limits of its terroir and weather and extracts the best from both.
Not a big one, all power and depth, rather an agile one, all elegance, lightness, nimbleness; not thick burgundy curtains but half open Venetian blinds that allow a glimmer of sunshine in.
Rose immediately, then berries; when drinking what strikes you is the tingling acidity and a hint of gameyiness later on and the love for Mr Alois Lageder and his biodynamic wines that pervades you.
Below 30 pounds.

Kitchin: on top of his game

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Since when we wrote our last post in August we’ve had many good meals, but perhaps none beat the phenomenal game tasting menu had at The Kitchin last Friday.

This is one of the great culinary experiences to be had in the whole of the UK. It represents Scottish produce at its best, treated classically but unpretentiously.

Over time we have come to have high expectations of this restaurant, which we love, and so it can by now hardly surprise us on the upside. Yet this menu did. From the most delicate, buttery roe deer carpaccio with hazelnut dressing, through the elegant game gelatine with partridge and quail eggs, the beautifully finished, intense pithivier, the roasted mallard with a lovely ‘endive tatin’, to the most incredibly full flavoured hare a la Royale (and yet we are used to Master Koffmann’s interpretation, another one that definitely delivers on flavour…), this was a memorable evening, £90 of bliss. (the picture on top shows the hare had on a previous occasion  as a main course).

Kitchin rocks, even when he isn’t there…congratulations to the team!

PS: it was a camera-less night, but at the end you’re given a copy of the menu, which we photographed at home, for you to dig into the details:

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Field (Edinburgh)

quadro(Visited June 2013)

This place is tiny, with tiny tables with a tiny space between them, and it is noisy. The good way of putting it is that it is charming French bistro style. The bad way, that it is tiny and none too comfortable. It depends on your mood.

The bread neither improves nor depresses your mood.

pane

Two starters promised well but they ended up being the best dishes of the meal. A grilled asparagus, poached egg, parmesan crisp and poached shimeji was simple but effective, the asparagus with a pleasantly chargrilled flavour. the poached egg cooked just right, the crisp light and intense (the shimeji were so few that they didn’t add much, but in principle they gave a pleasant acidity). A fresh pea pannacotta, crushed peas and ham hock cromesquis could not be faulted, the cromesqui crisp outside and moist inside, the pannacotta and the peas very very, very, eatable.
Pea pannacotta nad ham hock cromesquis

Pea pannacotta nad ham hock cromesquis
Poached egg and parmesan crisp on asparagus

Poached egg and parmesan crisp on asparagus

The mains were more complex and they failed. A maple glazed duck breast was tough, and the dish was a messy one, with Savoyarde potatoes, a bland duck leg bon bon, and cherries and pistachio that were there just for the name, being in such small quantity (especially the pistachio) that they added nothing to the dish. No jus to speak of.

A hake, while of good quality, was reduced to a rather textureless, mushy consistency: how basic a mistake can this be, steaming a moist chunky fish to death? But this wasn’t the worst of it after all. The piece of fish was floating in an incredible slop of creamed sweetcorn with some chorizo and perfunctory avocado (mostly missing in action), unprepped tomatoes forced by the lava heat to ooze their acidity into the creamy madness. The only saving grace were the chunky chips on the side.

Hake in deranged sweetcorn sauce

Hake in deranged sweetcorn sauce

Duck leg and duck bonbon

Duck leg and duck bonbon

Desserts. A cheesecake of the day was flavoured with coffee and chicory. We learned that this is not the worst combination of flavours, but not the best either, and anyway it was timidly executed, neither sweet nor bitter enough to make an impression. The base was quite thick and more soggy than crumbly.

A coconut milk pannacotta carried only a hint of coconut flavour, probably mostly coming from the flakes on the outside, but was sitting on top of a good roasted coconut, without which it would have been one of the least memorable desserts ever without tasting bad.

caramel and coffee cheesecake

caramel and coffee cheesecake

coconut milk pannacotta

coconut milk pannacotta

Prices are low (both for the lunch/pre-theater menu at £14.50 for 3 courses, and in the a la carte with mains at around £11-13 and starters at £5-6), but this is reflected in the quality and the setting. Service was smiling and friendly, but that won’t be enough for us to return.

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Two beautiful Cabernet Francs at Koffmann’s and Briciole, with plug


(Visited: July 2013)

The first beauty, Chinon Beaumont Catherine and Pierre Breton 2010, is a classic expression of this grape, medium bodied, floral with herbal notes, a little spicy, and a persistent desire to go on vacation in the Loire. 13% alcohol, biodynamic. We had it at Koffmann’s.

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The second is a very, very different CF: L Bandit Franc, Proprieta’ Sperino 2006. This is from Piedmont, a darker, fuller bodied experience, 14%, with fruit and chocolate, but elegant, not in yer face. Had at Briciole.

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Both wines were a joy. At Koffmann’s you pay at the lower end of the possible London markup range, while at Briciole the mark up is off scale, so outrageously gentle it is, just a touch above what it would cost you retail online. Given that it comes with gorgeous, hearty and expertly executed Italian food like these  tagliolini with pecorino cheese

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or these tagliatelle with a lamb ragout (yes it takes much skill as well as good produce to make a good pasta)

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or like this burrata oozing its heavenly juices

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given all this, and more, we were saying, we strongly urge you, whether or not you are a wine lover, to pay Briciole a visit. Or two. Or more.

And if you are indeed a wine lover you’ll unashamedly cry of happiness.

As for Koffmann’s, we’ve plugged our beloved old (metaphorically of course) man on this blog so many times, and moreover we’ll do it again soon…, that only the most trusting of you are not thinking by now that we are fully paid up advertisers, so we’ll refrain for once…

Lovely Summer lunch at Latium (London)

(Visited: July 2013)

Back again…

For us, Latium is a fixed feature when we are in London. Its immaculate produce and the great,  balanced flavours draw us here again and again. (A previous review is here).

In this latest lunch the games were opened by a mild-flavoured pigeon with Summer truffle that was cooked just right and tender and light and I-want-more-of-this.

pigeon and truffle salad

pigeon and truffle salad

Beside the classic tagliatelle with porcini mushrooms, a dish of swordfish ravioli came with the most ravishing of tomato sauces to accompany the (excellent) fish. Amazing to to find tomatoes of this quality in London. This is a new dish and we think it’s a winner.

Porcini (ceps) tagliatelle

Porcini (ceps) tagliatelle

Swordfish ravioli

Swordfish ravioli

Veal liver was buttery and melting, and the high heat of the cooking extracted the potent offaly flavour beautifully, the peas and broad beans giving that lighter Summery touch in an otherwise pretty strong ensemble.

calf liver with Tropea onions

calf liver with Tropea onions

The duck had made us curious because of a dodgy sounding broad bean and cherry accompaniment with Amarone sauce. But it worked a treat, it really did. The duck cut in the way you see in the photo instead of the more usual slices emphasises the succulence of the animal.

Duck breast with cherries and Amarone sauce


Duck breast with cherries and Amarone sauce

We tried their new pine-nut ice cream (good!) together with the usual favourites chocolate and hazelnut. And the millefeuille dish was lightness itself imbued with Summer fruit flavour – the pastry deserves a special mention.

Pinenuts, hazelnuts and chocolate

Pinenuts, hazelnuts and chocolate

Millefoglie with strawberry sorbet

Millefoglie with strawberry sorbet

At £35.50 for three courses the  quality for money at Latium is completely unmatched by any other Italian restaurant in London. When can we go back?

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Castle Terrace (Edinburgh)

(Visited: June 2013)

This in a way is the ‘offspring’ of the Kitchin, and while it bears a family resemblance in some dishes, as we shall see it definitely has a character of its own. And what a character…

Although this time we went for lunch, they were kind enough to recite to us the special seasonal dishes generally available in the evening only. We had to have three of them: as there was no menu and we’re insufficiently sad to take notes, we have to go by memory: apologies for the vagueness and imprecision of some descriptions.

The amouse bouche consists of two offerings: a layered vegetable cream, this time with carrots, then a coriander foam, and a dust of cumin:

Cream of carrots with coriander foam and cumin dust

Cream of carrots with coriander foam and cumin dust

followed by a ravishing trio: a salt cod raviolo, a mini hamburger, and a spectacular Ceasar salad of Beck-esque memory (like Heinz Beck’s fagottelli carbonara, where the carbonara makes the explosive filling, here the parmesan is liquified inside the green “salad”: wonderful!)

what a trio!

what a trio!

And now  the food proper. First off, a tartare of mackerel and one of salmon:

salmon tartare

salmon tartare

Mackerel tartare

Mackerel tartare

Classy, precise, powerful stuff, with many layers of flavours and great attention to textures (a feature we’ve noted, and appreciated, in Chef Dominc Jack’s style), where the natural succulence of the fish is not covered but enhanced by all the minute things that go on around it.

Then a lovely terrine of roe deer from Saltoun Estate, served with pear, prune and port.
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Just look at it and you see the technique. For the flavour, you have to trust us: it was as good as the technique.

And look at the work in the first seasonal special, crab meat lovingly rolled in thin avocado slices:

Crab and avocado

Crab and avocado

to which the mango imparted a beguiling sweet note.

For mains, a roe deer with celeriac and a pithivier reached stunningly deep into the meanders of flavour, the exemplary jus lifting this complex homage to game:

Roe deer

Roe deer

And then perhaps the superstar in a meal of stars: her majesty the lobster

Lobster a la plancha with squid, asparagus, peas and green beans

Lobster a la plancha with squid, asparagus, peas and green beans

Sure, we had tried this dish (or a close relative) at the Kitchin, but it never ceases to amaze us. The splendid ingredients (beside the lobster, squid, asparagus, peas, green beans) are there, undisguised and beautiful, just so very perfectly cooked (probably first boiled and then grilled). One of those apparently simple dishes that in fact only a very accomplished chef can obtain, and that one could go on eating forever. The £45 it cost us seems a lot but was entirely justified.

Desserts were a fitting conclusion. A raspberry souffle’ served with a raspberry compote, both extremely intense, and the obligatory icecream, good and improvable (hard to please bothersome Italians with icecream – by the way, we forgot to say that bread, that other bugbear of ours, is good). And a delicious strawberry cheesecake, with layers of strawberry gelatine alternating with different flavoured layers, from the spongy strawberry one at the top to the crowdie cheese one at the bottom.

layered cheesecake

layered cheesecake

Raspberry souffle

Raspberry souffle

Service is strikingly well drilled, with a team of sleek young waiters ready to answer with ease any question on the dishes and their components. The chef here clearly makes an effort to make FOH and kitchen interact, and the manager manages his crew very well.

The room is nice, modern and rather understated, but it can be noisy, both because of the structure (many reflecting surfaces) and of loud tables. Regrettably, this restaurant doesn’t merely attract quiet old farts like us. If you are like us and want to concentrate on food and conversation, lunch is better than dinner. Prices are high but what we said for the lobster applies generally: they are totally justified for food of this quality. Though sadly we do find mark up on wines sufficiently outrageous to give them a miss.

We like the ‘technique with a mission’ style of Castle Terrace. There is (almost) nothing vapid or superfluous in those dishes, which retain a basic heartiness and full flavouredness. The comparison with the Kitchin cannot be avoided….If we have to put it coarsely, it feels a bit more ‘haute cuisine’ here, with a penchant for its intricacies and complexities, and a bit more ‘raw energy’ at the Kitchin, where the superb cooking skill is more hidden, and where there’s more of a preference for simplicity and for the ‘from nature to plate’ approach, as evidenced already at the amuse bouche stage (raw vegetables at the Kitchin). Both fantastic restaurants in different ways. Both with the finest executions of the finest examples of what nature has to offer. We have to confess that  we eat at least as well, and sometimes better, in these places (and at the Peat Inn) than in several multistarred venues (recent experiences at Ducasse and Bottura spring to mind…). If the Michelin star system wasn’t what it is, Scotland would glow with many more stars. A pity for the professionals, perhaps, but not too bad a situation for us customers :)

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The Ship on the Shore (Leith, Edinburgh): Seafood! Seafood!

Interior

Interior

(Visited: June 2013)

Leith, the shore/harbour part of Edinburgh, glows with the light of two Michelin starred destinations (The Kitchin and Martin Wishart). But there is so much more to life than ‘fayne dining’…

We have a soft spot for seafood (we have a soft spot for many food things, come to think of it), and we wanted to sample this pub a few steps down from Martin Wishart which specialises just on that.

We have in our sight the monster size ‘Royale’ cold seafood platter, which comes with the house champagne option (the lovely NV Ruinart) thrown in at such a bargain price that it would be silly to resist.

So we don’t resist.

amouse bouche!

amouse bouche!

Note the glasses…and the amuse bouche :)

As we said, enormity is the name of the game: eight oysters, numerous mussels, large portions of cured salmon and poached (also smoked) salmon, smoked cod, smoked haddock, whole dressed crab (with two extra claws), small and large scallops (coral in), and of course the usual crustaceans, lobster and Dublin bay prawns, all accompanied by thick-cut chips, a salad and three sauces: a Thai-style one, an onion vinaigrette and a very, very nice home-made tartare.

platterpieno

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It was a feast. It took us well over an hour to finish it. Seafood at its freshest and its best, in this genre. Undoubtedly certain items would be best eaten warm (e.g. scallops), but within the logic of a cold platter one could hardly ask for better or for more. Immaculate freshness (oh, that crab!), excellent quality (oh, the plumpness of those mussles!), nice preparation. The smoking of the salmon and other items was strong, peculiar and pleasant. Mr. Crab was dressed with some class (only the white, something we would not expect in a pub). The only minor fault was the cooking of the lobster, which was a wee hard.

chunky chips

chunky chips

salad

salad

This is simple fare, not haute cuisine, but when you think of the combination of quality and (stonking) value for money, you cannot not put this pub at the top of any foodie’s address list. The platter comes at £90 and would be enough for three, and the house champagne (a NV Ruinart) is basically given away at retail cost since it only costs you £35 when you have it with the platter (it comes at £50 on its own). And pricing is very good anyway: some of the competitors in Edinburgh have the Ruinart at £70 at the time of writing.

We liked it so much that we were tempted to go back for more just a couple of weeks later. We were not disappointed…

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Osteria Francescana (Modena): a la carte return not so good

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(Visited: June 2013)

So it happened that last time, stunned by the Classici menu, we thought it was Italian cuisine at its best, yet this time, several dishes chosen a la carte, while obviously very good (with one exception), were not remotely as convincing as the accolades and the prices (and the pompous webpage…) would warrant.

There were problems in execution: both in a mullet and in a monkfish we found bones. Especially in the monkfish this is inexcusable in a 3* restaurant.

monkfish

monkfish

And, we honestly were not convinced by either the flavours or the ideas in some other dishes. For example, we did not understand the point of enveloping a prawn in a casing so thin that it was virtually undetectable: highly skilled work, but zero in terms of contribution to flavour or texture.

Scampi

Scampi

Nor did we get the point of naming a dish ‘sardines and scampi’ and presenting you with a mullet with squid ink… Sorry, we don’t find this funny.

Sardines with prawns/red mullets with squid ink

Sardines with prawns/red mullets with squid ink

Also, the prawn had a weird and not so pleasant taste and texture: we suspect something, and they were rather evasive (the staff, not the prawns) when asked for the provenance (it’s very strange for this to happen in this type of venue where they normally shout the origin of the produce from the rooftop).
Up to desserts, the best dish had been a starter of culatello – not saying much for the culinary value added…

culatello

culatello

Until we came to pre-desserts and desserts, where once again we experienced the Osteria as we knew it: stunning flavours and ideas, rooted in the Italian tradition. The ‘think pink’ predessert (with beetroots and strawberry), a chocolate and vignola cherry dessert, and a sweet/salty revisitation of Bottura’s famous five-cheese savoury dish were all breathtaking.
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Gorgeous pear and parmesan

Gorgeous pear and parmesan

Service was again a pleasant and well-oiled machine. Bottura did the usual round of the room, but the restaurant might perhaps benefit if he spent more time checking the dishes.

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Michael Neave’s Kitchen and Whisky Bar (Edinburgh)

The bar area upstairs

The bar area upstairs

Downstairs dining room

Downstairs dining room

Visited: April 2013

We will focus on the food and not on the whisky…funnily enough we’re very very hazy about that latter part…

But we do remember well that there’s pretty classical cuisine, with a personal touch, in this hidden little restaurant near the castle.

Of two three course meals, only one dish was decidedly disappointing: ravioli of crab and crayfish which were poorly filled and especially were marred by a lame, watery sauce (we think with peppers – it was advertised as a bisque but it was nothing like).

Crab and crayfish ravioli

Crab and crayfish ravioli

watery bisque

watery bisque

There is a bit of a problem in the sauce department, because also the one accompanying a very nice and perfectly cooked roe deer lacked the depth and intensity to make the dish multidimensional: it was simply good meat, not a great dish (nice carrot puree, though).

Roe deer

Roe deer

But another main of duck breast with orange, caraway, sweet potato and a vegetable ‘pancake’ (it had the texture of giant gnocchi) was on a different level, the sauce integrating with and lifting the excellent duck marvelously. This was a Michelin star level dish.

Roasted duck breast with  orange and caraway sauce, sweet potato and courgette pancake

Roasted duck breast with orange and caraway sauce, sweet potato and courgette pancake

It was preceded by a good starter, scallops (queen, good and precisely cooked) with a celeriac puree and black pudding.

West Coast scallops, black pudding, celeriac puree and caviar butter

West Coast scallops, black pudding, celeriac puree and caviar butter

With the desserts we ended on a high: both a pear tarte tatin with whisky marmalade icecream and a Hazelnut and cranberry caramel tart with Cherry sauce were lovely, non-banal, mixing deeply sweet and sour notes (especially the icecream), and showing finesse of execution in the tarts.

Pear Tarte Tatin with whisky marmalade ice cream

Pear Tarte Tatin

Hazelnut and cranberry caramel tarte and cherry sauce

Hazelnut and cranberry tart

Lovely petit fours as well.

petit fours

petit fours

There was no amuse bouche.

Service is efficient, kind, but perhaps it could be better drilled on the food. The room aims to be sharp and cutting edge, but to us it felt not enough of it and just a bit cold. Prices are kind on the wallet, given the quality (2 three courses with a bottle of very drinkable bubbly at £38 came to £100 before tip). The wine list too offers some well-priced options.

All in all, a good, easygoing dinner with the dishes of a capable chef who may still have ample margin for improvement (he’s very young!). We’re not at the level of accomplishment found, for example and at a similar price point, at the Mulroy. One to try again, but in a while.

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The Mulroy (Edinburgh)

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(Visited: May 2013)

We pass by this basement while walking around Edinburgh’s West End. The menu looks interesting, the name looks interesting, and they offer a lunch or pre-theatre two course menu at £16.50: how not give it a go?

The interior would merit a review on its own.

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A unique room that reflects the personality of the owner (and his antique expert wife – and we don’t mean his wife is antique) and stands out amid the many formulaic rooms that litter the restaurant scene. Every detail oozes care and originality, from the furniture, to the decor, to the beautiful Sheffield cutlery.

Quaint cutlery

Quaint cutlery

It feels like being a guest in the graceful house of a wealthy friend with good taste. Not a bad friend to have, thinking of it…

Tap water comes with sliced lemon and lime, made-in-house bread (two varieties, walnuts and black olives) is rustic, pretty good, with a good crust

Walnut bread, black olive bread

Walnut bread, black olive bread

butter is lightly imprinted with a thistle and served too cold.

Homage to Scotland?

Homage to Scotland?

Overall things are looking on the up. But for £16.50 we are trying to rein in our expectations. We now know we really shouldn’t have.

The Lamb and wild mushroom pie with the thinly sliced pig trotters is a lush, rich dish, though the ‘pie’ enclosing the meat is a bit too heavy for us. Luckily a hint of asparagus and a chutney lightens and balances the dish considerably. The pig trotter ‘carpaccio’ is lovely.

Border spring lamb and wild mushroom pie, pig trotter carpaccio, quail egg, asparagus salad, lemon chutney

Border spring lamb and wild mushroom pie, pig trotter carpaccio, quail egg, asparagus salad, lemon chutney

However the other starter of Rabbit rillette with chicory, pickled cucumber tartare and walnut vinaigrette, and with a ‘fugasse’ (a type of Provencale bread) on the side, is a show stopper:  sweetness, acidity, intensity, balance, a well thought out and well executed dish. Gosh, this is going to be a good lunch!

Confit French rabbit “rillettes”, onion and thyme “provencale” fougasse, chicory salad, pickled cucumber tartar, walnut viaigrette

Confit French rabbit “rillettes”, onion and thyme “provencale” fougasse, chicory salad, pickled cucumber tartar, walnut viaigrette

The mains were a beef shin and a braised pig cheek. The latter

Braised Border pork cheek and venison sausage, crushed broccoli, tarragon pomme dauphine, wild garlic sauce

Braised Border pork cheek and venison sausage, crushed broccoli, tarragon pomme dauphine, wild garlic sauce

was glorious in the moisture of its fat yet not heavy, just look at the colour of that meat to see that there’s somebody who can cook at the stoves, with inter-species fraternity provided by a tasty venison sausage. We lingered with gusto on the potato ‘dauphine’ with herbs, and the broccoli, and the dark, well made jus.

The shin

Border beef shin, aubergine puree, oregano and polenta croquette, spring carrot, anchovy and black olive sauce

Border beef shin, aubergine puree, oregano and polenta croquette, spring carrot, anchovy and black olive sauce

was also supremely tender and moist, the sauce just lacking a bit of depth in our opinion, but a croquette with polenta and oregano was so lovely that it could have been the central ingredient itself! The aubergine puree’ and spring carrots were not intruders in the long list of ingredients, rather discreet and welcome participants.

We resist the temptations that the dessert list offers, we don’t even look at the cheeses, and jump to the coffee. A good filter coffee, served in fine bone china, of course, coming with a nice coconut bon bon, an acceptable madeleine, a meringue and a pretty intense chocolate ganache.

Coffee and petit fours

Coffee and petit fours

Our four dishes were all packed skill and care, all frighteningly dense with ingredients and flavours, but all superbly well balanced. And for a ‘petit’ menu, at these prices, all this was incredibly generous. Probably more a cue to draw you back, and a successful one at that, than a profit making scheme.

Service on the day was by a pleasantly upbeat, courteous, efficient waiter, and by the owner himself, Clemens Hoss-Estenfeld, judging from the surname obviously coming from a Scottish mining family: a man of charm, discretion, politeness and enthusiasm spilling out as soon as you break the ice.

Of course we had to go back for the full menu…stay tuned!

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