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

pasta

(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.
ciocco

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)

interior2

(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.

interior

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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The Pompadour (Edinburgh): Grand

(Visited: February 2013)

Once, the train roared through this building, and there is a train space magnificence and grandeur in the lobby of the hotel at whose first floor the Pompadour is found. The room itself, now restored to the glory of before the times smoke (from wealthy humans, not machines) ruined its beautiful wall decorations.

This is the new Scottish venture of the Galvin brothers. They like grand, impressive venues (think Windows and La Chapelle in London), and grand and impressive this is indeed, steeped in Edinburgh history.

Our camera threw tantrums on us in the beginning, refusing to open its eye completely, so we got this type of effect in our first few pictures:

amouse

These amuses (oh who remembers) are designed to strike you and they do.

Beyond that, the food here is pretty straightforward (in a good way) French classical, where bold, assertive flavours well… assert themselves, unencumbered by cerebral flights of fancy, supported by skill and attention to execution. Our only gripe was a constant tendency to overseasoning, with a savoy cabbage garnish that was outright too salty. (Did we send it back? Of course we didn’t. In true British spirit we always soldier on even in the face of adversity).

One signature dish that cannot not loom large in one’s memory is a poulet to share, its breast cooked in a pig’s bladder with a cognac (we think) sauce, a procedure that keeps the meat tender and moist and succulent.

bladder

The chicken carved at your table is always good theatre:

thecut

The ballottine with the other bits, stuffed with goodies including pistachios, was packed with flavour. Nothing to say, a grand dish.

faraonenelpiatto

We were also impressed by a starter of ravioli of rabbit with ricotta, sarriette & artichokes barigoule, the ravioli very lightly made and lavishly stuffed with intensely flavoured rabbit, the ricotta rounding the edges, and a very pleasant acidity throughout the dish coming from the vegetables. Vague associations form in our minds with  Italian ‘cacciatora’ rabbit, except that here a beautiful jus lifted the whole dish to a class level that humble cacciatora may not achieve.

rabbit

Roast Keltic Scallops were very well matched with a cauliflower in a vinagraitte, though the dish was a little heavier and richer than we were imagining. With scallops we find that most of the times less is better than more.

scallops

We considered, we deeply considered the tarte tatin for two. But we postponed it to another visit (there will be one!), and had a masterful banana souffle’ with an elegant rum and raisin parfait

souffle

and a blood orange jelly, white chocolate cream on pistachio sponge and blood orange sorbet which played suavely on the sweet and sour keys.

arancia

Petit four (the macaroons, sure, trite but soooo impressive) provided an apt ending to our dinner.

piccoli4

Prices at the time of dinner (£56 for 3) were very good value in Edinburgh for dining of this quality and in such an elegant environment, and in this location. Mind you, at the time of writing they’ve already creeped up to £58, still good value but at this rate by Christmas it may be the most expensive dinner in Scotland! Service is very professional but also nicely relaxed. It was quiet for a Friday night as it was probably still not well known, and also, perhaps, because of the excessively hushed tones, but this venture has all the hallmarks of a great addition to the handful of gastronomic high points in the city. It has Michelin star written all over it, and we intend to return before the star appears.

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Edinburgh’s Larder Bistro

(Visited: April 2013)

beer

Bread: tastes better than it looks

Bread: tastes better than it looks

With 2 courses at £12 and 3 at £15 for the pre-theater menu we worried about the quality of the ingredients. But we shouldn’t have. In fact, care in sourcing is a strong point of this joint (which is associated with the Slow food movement).

Nothing was fancy, everything was good, prepared with care, with simplicity in a good way, with taste, and with a light hand.

Steamed mussels were enhanced by a clever cider sauce,

Mussels with wild leek and Thistly Cross cider

Mussels with wild leek and Thistly Cross cider

in the same way as a white leek soup (with a strong, perhaps TOO strong, potatoey texture) was transformed by the addition of a little Blue Monday cheese.

White leek soup with garlic and Blue Monday cheese

White leek soup with garlic and Blue Monday cheese

For mains, a duck with barley and cabbage was simplicity itself, but when the duck is good and competently cooked, the sauce is light and tasty and the vegetables are good quality, what more can you want at these prices?

Braised Gartmorn Farm duck leg with barley and cabbage

Braised Gartmorn Farm duck leg with barley and cabbage

From the culinary viewpoint, the most interesting dish of the night was a wild garlic and Yukon Gold potato cake with a poached duck egg and cabbage. It was the opposite of stodgy, the duck egg just perfectly cooked adding that touch of lusciousness when broken and running down the cake…

Wild garlic and Yukon gold potato cake with poached duck egg

Wild garlic and Yukon gold potato cake with poached duck egg

Perfectly flowing duck egg

Perfectly flowing duck egg

The ice-cream selection was limited on the night, just green tea ice cream. Man loves it but Woman doesn’t care for it, so the conclusion was obvious: we went for cheeses. One can choose a single type out of three, and we opted for a Brie and a Blue Monday: both were good and in good conditions, but the Blue Monday was served at the right temperature while the Brie was a tad too cold. Also lovely were the accompanying rhubarb chutney and oatmeal biscuits (one again, lightly made).

Blue Monday and Morangie Brie with oatcakes and Rhubarb chutney

Blue Monday and Morangie Brie with oatcakes and Rhubarb chutney

Tap water is spontaneously provided. Service is super-nice and friendly even if not too well briefed on the food. Probably the Chef should communicate more with the front of house…

A return visit is due for the full a la carte menu (which offers also some of the low-cost menu dishes, sometimes with additional ingredients).

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Mazi (London): modern Greek, returnable

(Visited February 2013)

We cross London to Notting Hill on a sunny Sunday lunchtime. We are the first to enter the bright and airy dining room:

interior

interior

We had done our research, and were really looking forward to trying a few dishes but oh, disappointment strikes when we realise that there is only a ‘brunch’ menu, meaning there’s only what they call the ‘jar’ starters (unsurprisingly, these are starters served in a jar) and some other starter-sized dishes, with no proper mains. It would have been nice to be told at the time of booking.

Normally this is exactly the kind of thing that propels us into a rage, but for us is by now age more than rage, and we’re mellowing down. Plus they begin by bringing us a very nice, refreshing basil drink. Ok, we are here now, let’s enjoy this.

To pick us up, it seems the only alternative is to start ordering almost the whole menu, carefully avoiding anything with the remotest of connections with breakfast, which we had had already. So, a raid of the jar section is in order:

A few jars

A few jars

Those above are only a subset of what we got, with a gorgeous Beetroot, goat cheese and grape reduction hidden from view. After the excellent jars the mood definitely turns up, and although the meat pie is somewhat rough and on the wrong side of light

totally rustic!

totally rustic!

the crostini with onion jam are packed full with flavours:

crostini
Portion sizes are substantial, so in the end we were far from starving.

The sun is now smiling on our table, too, so surely we won’t let the desserts pass us unchallenged: the rice pudding with fresh vanilla and lemon is pretty close to what you expect

Rice Pudding

Rice Pudding

while the Sweet Bougatza with custard, cinnamon and milk chocolate is more of a (definitely pleasant) surprise:

Sweet cinnamon bougatza

Sweet cinnamon bougatza

though admittedley the milk chocolate could have accepted substantially more chocolate.

When we visited the place had been open for only a few weeks, and we were told the brunch idea was an ‘experiment’, and that they will soon offer also the regular menu alongside the brunch one: please check if they’ve kept their word.

Closing an eye on the temperature of the (pre-prepared) cold dishes being too low, the quality was very good, a modern take on many Greek classic, with for example an authentic, not coloured and not oversalted tarama, vibrant aubergine and courgette and broad bean puree’ dishes, and general care in seasoning, as well as an eye for presentation.

Service was good and very kind if not too informative (except by the enthusiastic French co-owner), and the room even if full wasn’t all that noisy (the night before we’d been at Tapas Brindisa and THAT is noisy!). Prices are quite good for London and for the quality.

One feels like going back for the mains, but also fears the jars and starters are in fact the best to be had at Mazi.

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Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester (London): finesse

(Visited January 2013)

Here, finesse is as abundant as the stars,  finesse in conception and execution, though if one observed that these dishes are sometimes unspectacular, one would be capturing another truth. Nobody can accuse Ducasse of ever taking you by storm. At least in the savoury department, sweets tell a different story.

The nibbles (excellent gougeres), the amuse bouche and the starters were the savories that made an impression.

In the amuse, a royale of foie gras went very well with raisins and cauliflower, all exactly balanced. A starter of crab in two ways (cold/warm) was complex and refined, while a purely vegetarian, maybe even vegan, dish of vegetables in various cookings was pretty to see, meticulously prepared and delightful to eat, only held down by the quality of vegetables that was good, for sure, let’s say even very good, but not as spectacular as one would probably find at Ducasse’s places on the Continent.

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The mains, a wild sea bass and a halibut, consisted of small pieces of the fish fillet with one vegetable and excellent jus (chicken for the seabass, meaty for the halibut), simply and precisely presented.

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Fundamentally, there weren’t great motives of interest in these dishes, textural or otherwise except a pang of pepper, nor great complexity. In this type of relatively plain dish excellence depends on standout produce but this, while good, wasn’t near the best fish we’ve tried and it didn’t sing. For our taste, it was also a little overcooked.

What was truly spectacular was the patisserie. In the petit fours, the macaroons and pralines were masterful and the baba’ au rum was perhaps the best we’ve ever tried, also in virtue of the theatre of letting you choose among six rums, but especially because of its unreal lightness.

IMG_2042

And a pear with chestnuts repeated the theme of extreme lightness married to great concentration of flavour. Structurally, it was a bit like a deconstructed Mont Blanc. Quite phenomenal.

Shock news: espresso was also very good: what a rarity.

The front room can be ugly or beautiful for the beholder. For us it is pleasant, tables are amply spaced, light is abundant, at least in the sector we were in. Service is incredibly unstuffy for a classical French place and extremely attentive, a real asset of this restaurant.

Prices are high of course but very much in line considering where you are, the three stars, the brand name, and what you eat (£5 for coffee seems too much though).

We put three pics just to show that it wasn’t a dream. We’re too lazy right now to put them all up, yet unwilling to delay this post any further.

Stay tuned…

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Hadrian’s Brasserie (Edinburgh)

(Visited January 2013)

Lunch here on a January weekday, the room is very quiet, very bright, the menu looks appealing, a promising combination.

Interior

Interior

bread selection

bread selection

A celeriac soup is decent but plain-plain. Textural variations or any interest whatsoever have deserted this dish. And what are these? Oh well: there is a textural variation after all, but not of the welcome sort: some stringy bits from the celeriac have been left in. All this at a price 25% higher than what you can have, for the same or better quality, in any simple brasserie that isn’t attached to a luxury hotel.

Celeriac Soup, Truffle Oil, Chives

Celeriac Soup, Truffle Oil, Chives

A main of grilled pork with lentils is good in flavour and texture. Pity then for another textural variation: the lentils contain stones. Who knows, if we were from the US we might sue, but we aren’t and we don’t.

Pork Loin, Cabbage and Spicy Lentils

Pork Loin, Cabbage and Spicy Lentils

Service was kind but also of the kind that serves pork with the words ‘Here’s your chicken’. There was in general a complete unawareness of food and establishment.

Everyhting at Hadrian’s shouted ‘I can do better than this’, I’m not the distracted and amateurish place you are seeing.  But this is what it looked on this visit, and there’s too much going on in Edinburgh to even think of going back.

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Kyloe at the Rutland (Edinburgh): steaks anyone?

(Visited January 2013)

We were wondering whether there is an equivalent of Ondine for meat and beef in Edinburgh. While repeat visits will be needed for confirmation (life is tough), we may almost have found one.

Airy interior with cow images and cow skins everywhere

Interior
Interior

our server suitably enthusiastic and well drilled, a view on the west end of Princes Street, the seats comfortable, this is the kind of place were it’s easy and quick to settle in and  relax. The only reason for being slightly nervous for us is that we appear to be the oldest in the room, but this is strangely becoming less rare as time goes by. Funny that.

Complimentary aubergine dip and bread are both pleasant and fresh

Aubergine dip and bread

Aubergine dip and bread

We had the ribeye and their trio of perhaps lesser known or less appreciated cuts (feather, onglet and bavette). We were worried about the feather as we’d always had meat from the blade long cooked, but it was in fact very tender as well as of course flavoursome. The onglet was the most interesting piece, with a gamey/offally flavour which we love, while the bavette was slightly more tenacious, still a small cost to pay for its intense flavour.

Steak board: Bavette, Onglet and Marinated Feather Steak.

Steak board: Bavette, Onglet and Marinated Feather Steak.

Eating the ribeye after these ‘strong’ cuts, it tasted  even more buttery and suavely melting than usual for this cut…or maybe it was just really top quality. And good execution (medium rare as asked), honour to the kitchen.

Ribeye

Ribeye

The beef (all pedigree Aberdeen) comes with a little green salad and tomato, but if you want more veggies you can order sides for very little. We did so,

Roasted root vegetables and cabbage with bacon

Roasted root vegetables and cabbage with bacon

and as we like vegetables we also had a very decent and colourful starter of organic beetroots:

Roasted beetroot salad and goat cheese quenelles

Roasted beetroot salad and goat cheese quenelles

The only small gripes today were however veg-related: the not perfectly clean greens and the condiments of the beetroots and the veggies which weren’t at the very high level of the rest and for us were too greasy and rich.

Prices are fair: beef costs and top beef costs more (from memory it was £26 for a 300g ribeye and £19 for the dynamic trio of similar weight), sides are £2.50 and the generous bread with the aubergine sauce is also £2.50. Service as we said was extremely sweet and well drilled. Though, and we know the young manager on duty will hate us for saying this, he looked a bit of a spare part today, never approaching the customer (at least us).

On this experience this seems a tightly run place doing straight things and doing them well. We want to go back and increase our cholesterol levels with other beef cuts, and also try the healthier produce they also have (oysters, mussles, game…), as well as the pastry section, which on the basis of the complimentary airy and very short shortbreads looks promising indeed:

Very short shortbreads

Very short shortbreads

Oh, and the espresso was one of the best we’ve had in te UK of late – and you know we don’t say such things lightly. Just look at it:

espresso

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Helene Darroze (London): Haute cuisine with a few lows

(Visited December 2012)

The feel of the room is so elegant, luxurious that service seems to go out of its way, very out of its way, maybe too out of its way, to be friendly and chummy, lest some customers are intimidated. Man is very disappointed to have changed for once, in order to comply with the dress code, the jeans he always wears for a more or less civilised pair of trousers, when in the room there are not only jeans but even hoods…

We had been at Darroze always for the great value lunch menu (two of them reported here and here). This time we try a la carte (£80 for three courses at the time of writing), where we’ve spotted some interesting ways to burn money on expensive extra treats. As we shall see, some money will be better burnt than other, but some will also magically re-emerge from the ashes…

Bread is a pleasure to eat and the selection is varied:

breads

breads

A rustic amuse of top notch Bayonne (that would be South West) ham, the only potential French competitor for Italian hams :), with well made, light focaccia like bread

Ham and focaccia

Ham and focaccia

is followed by a stunner of ‘foie gras creme brulee ‘ topped by peanut foam

Foie gras creme brulee with peanut foam

Foie gras creme brulee with peanut foam

What a great combination, the peanut foam dense and substantial, a contrast of temperatures, a contrast of textures, if only the caramel disk had been lighter and less hard to break this would have been a perfect dish.

What can go wrong with Alba truffle? Well, we are not sure as we’re always going to be ecstatic with their perfume (costing a £30 supplement) in this dish of Jerusalem artichokes with Lardo di Colonnata, Parmigiano Reggiano cappuccino, and confit egg yolk:

Jerusalem artichokes, confit egg yolk , lardo di colonnata and Alba truffle

Jerusalem artichokes, confit egg yolk , lardo di colonnata and Alba truffle

However, amidst the vapors of olfactory delight we spot a rather too low temperature of service, a dominance of sweetness, and a presence of the Lardo di Colonnata which is just perfunctory (one wonders how intensively Colonnata pigs must be raised to fill with their Lardo all of Italy and most of the world).

As a dish, aside from the truffle, we liked better the other starter, a delightful and delightfully cooked (rare) pigeon, accompanied by the finest of fine ravioli filled with all the explosive power of offal, and all in a Puy lentil soup that attained a no-holds-barred depth of flavour.

Offal ravioli and wood pigeon

Offal ravioli and wood pigeon

This was close to perfection. A pity then that the Dover sole (£8 supplement) and especially the accompanying calamari were overcooked in this dish

Dover sole

Dover sole

We don’t expect to eat rubbery calamari in a 2* restaurant. Well, actually we do, as we’ve encountered this problem before at Darroze. The bright side is that we’ll appreciate even more the superfresh grilled calamari we’ll find in some humble trattorias and tavernas on the Mediterranean coast (e.g. here or here). Aside from the execution, this is a cute, original dish full of finesse, but that for us personally fails to stir much emotion, the sole hidden visually and flavourwise, pushed aside instead of being helped centrestage: the mariniere of spinach and shiso leaves, the seaweed butter, the lemongrass cappuccino, the clams (in meaningless quantity), the pieds de mouton, felt a little confused and made the sole moan: what am I doing here? We should say, a Dover sole Grenoblaise style had at Koffmann’s a couple of days later provided an unfortunate (for Darroze) benchmark for the delight Dover sole can be.

In the other main, this admittedly giant, but definitely lonely, Scottish scallop

Tandoori scallop

Tandoori scallop

had been roasted with Tandoori spices to nice and very controlled effect, the prettily turned vegetables dancing joyously around it, the velvety carrot and citrous mousseline providing that sweet-acidic dimension, and the jus adding yet further complexity. A very accomplished dish of subtle rather than in -yer-face flavours. But we deserved a couple of scallops in a main, no?

After a pleasant and suitably acidic pre-dessert of vanilla cream with passion fruit granite and praline, we enter the marvellous world of desserts at Darroze. Silence please:

Steamed pistachio sponge with grapefruit

Steamed pistachio sponge with grapefruit

Pistachio cream

Pistachio cream

Carupano chocolate ganache, Gianduia biscuit and galangal creamCarupano chocolate ganache, Gianduia biscuit and galangal cream

The pistachio dessert had it all, an array of textures, intensity and balance of flavours concentrated in a disarming apparent simplicity, precision of execution.

The chocolate ganache… ah, the chocolate ganache: just beautiful. Sad it could not go on forever, with the intense hazelnuts of the gianduia separated from the ganache on top by a crunchy tiny sliver of chocolate “crust”, and a different textured bottom layer: we could  live on the thing (well, Woman could).

The generous and excellent petit fours are still there, as are the complimentary caneles. They might improve on the coffee.

Service today was not good, not good at all, for reasons that it would be just tedious to dwell on. We don’t know if it was because of our stony faces in certain moments or for other reasons, but the bill arrived with a significant discount (no Dover sole supplement, no truffle supplement). Normally, unless this kind of treat was a ‘reward’ for very regular custom, we’d protest, but you know what? This time we just took it. Man had suffered too much both having to wear his only pair of proper trousers AND ALSO having to waive his arms to get some water while risking dehydration… (Dramatise? Us? Naaah).

Here at Darroze we seem to always have the same type of experience, suitably scaled in quality according to the price of the menu: some unevenness, some absolute pinnacles, a sense that the meat dishes and the desserts tend to be the way for the kitchen to really come into its own, the love for ‘Les Landes’ mixed with Mediterranean and exotic influences and ingredients, a sense of generosity and comfort, absurdly variable service. You can feel very well indeed here, you may return on a whim at some point, you may not ache to return immediately.

Hélène Darroze at the Connaught on Urbanspoon

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