Esperante (St Andrews): forgettable

(Visited July 2012)

When bread arrives and it is in full supermarket style, that unmistakable feeling of a looming wasted dinner out pervades you. We are in this upscale golf hotel restaurant and all the cliches about hotel restaurants that we always refuse to be put off by seem about to be unleashed upon us.

 Then you feel a little guilty because  not one but two amuse bouches arrive.

Amouse bouche

And another one 

Mousses, granita, tartare…not bad, not good, you see they are trying, no matter how clumsy the service is, to please you. Pity for the bone in the fish mousse, and for the fact that both amuses feel a little pointless.
Ah, here’s the bread offering, by the way:
Rather horrible bread

this, we have to say, was probably one of the worst breads we have had in quite a long while.Looking around us, the room is pleasant in spite of that hotel restaurant feel, and the table is comfortable. If only that half drunk idiot celebrating something stopped flashing his camera around, especially in our eyes. Cameras are meant to be pointed just at food, doesn’t he know? And please no flash!

A dish of Crab, cucumber, watermelon, basil and vodka 

contained many ingredients and some technique, but it would have been nice instead to have focussed on the main ingredient, which was bland, and overwhelmed by the imperious watermelon.

Another starter of Langoustine, cous cous, pimentos and rose pepper gave us the impression that the chef had completely run out of ideas. This is a dish that can work, perhaps, in a rustic version and with larger quantities, not in the disjointed tiny amounts served here where no ingredient could shine and the cous cous seemed like an afterthought.

The mains were decidedly better, both a Lamb loin, ratatouille, herb crust, sweetbreads, potato, Madeira

and the even longer named Rabbit loin, chicken mousse, Serrano ham, liver and rack, potato fondant, cauliflower, baby mushrooms

Come on, do those microbits of cauliflower really need to feature in the long laundry list of ingredients? This was competent, if unexciting, cooking, with very little sparkle of imagination or flavours (compare e.g. with the far more interesting Rocca Grill nearby).

The desserts, a Carrot cake, walnut caramel, toffee icecream and cream cheese icing and a Blue cheese pannacotta, pear and sweet chilli chutney, honey and cashew icecream, and the petit fours

were probably the best part of the meal. Although, this is not to say much, as the ice creams were all rather bland, the carrot cake being really the only element which made itself noticed.

Service is smiling, but really basic mistakes (cutlery all over the place, distraction) make it look unprofessional. The only professional on the night was the Spanish sommelier. 

Three courses will set you back in the forties. We also note that, strangely, the three course market menu costs more than the same dishes a la carte. Are they testing our arithmetic?

When it pulls it off, and it not always does, the cuisine at Esperante is very straight, school-like Modern British. This is a ceiling they do not seem able to surpass. This means that, unless you use exceptional ingredients or have exceptional culinary flair (like e.g. here), your dishes always run the risk of being a little dull. While we didn’t eat badly, that’s the feeling we come out with, and given the alternatives around, it’s hard to see reasons to drive out to the Fairmont.


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El Molin (Trento): enter a magic world

 (Visited July 2012)

When you enter El Molin, a restructured old mill with a weird architecture and unusual spaces for a restaurant, you already feel you are abandoning reality to enter a different, fairy-like world.

And indeed you’re in for a unique experience, sometimes a great one, not always a perfect one, this place is not about perfection: but a unique one. Gilmozzi is an excellent chef who has has a style – a ‘philosophy’ as many a pompous restaurant website (but not he) would say. He creates  menus that it would be impossible to have anywhere else. And that, it has to be said, sometimes even seem to be out of commercial logic and really meant to fulfill his creative needs more than anything else.

Not that there is anything ‘molecular’ or overly strange going on here. The menu looks in part very straightforward and traditional, but even the traditional dishes will surprise you, sometimes in subtle ways. And tonight we mostly skipped the most adventurous items.

Be assured, for example, that when you see that Char coaled Grigia Alpina (Alpine Gray, a local cow breed) with rhubarb and horseradish is on the menu, it’s not going to be just an anonymous slab of grilled beef. 

Unless you’ve been in the mountainous North East of Italy you’ve never tried this beef (this robust cow is deeply adapted to the local terrain), and even so you are far more likely to have had it at the table of a farmer than in a restaurant (we’ve never seen it in several years of restaurant/trattoria going in Trentino). The beef is intensely flavoured (in itself and thanks to the expert charcoaling, perhaps the real secret of this dish), with a marvelous texture, the crispy horseradish and the rhubarb, ingredients, especially the first, that definitely look to Central and Northern Europe more than to the Mediteranean, providing a gentle, apt accompaniment. This is a dish that not only is good, but that also tells a story, the story of a territory and of culinary influences.

This came after a pasta with local Fontal cheese and truffles from the Lessini mountains, which was OK but surprised us in being more forgettable than the rest of the meal. And a long sequence of breads, butters, nibbles and amuses made with skill and love (notable a potato bread). The pasta just below is an amuse, not the primo:

The breads came first in a nice basket:

… and then just kept coming, in a variety of flavours and cooking styles:

A Krapfen with seaweed mayonnaise, sea lettuce and braised eel

speaks, in flavour and presentation, of the more modernist side of the cuisine. It is elegant and playful, it is rich and light and delicious. 

A very clean dish of

Roe deer loin in extra virgin olive oil with vegetable chips and Moscato sauce

brings back again the primordial pleasure of a great piece of meat simply cooked (pink) with utmost care, yielding the flavours of the wood.

But a dessert called ‘Borderline‘, stark-looking and dense with incredibly tight aromatic and bitter notes REALLY pushed the boat out, too much for more dessert-conservative Woman, but sending Man, who always found very sweet desserts ultimately immature, into Paradise. He would eat this again, and again, and again (oh we can’t quite remember what it was: roots, herbs… gotta go back and find out!).

Woman is more content, very content in fact, with this milk torte, hay and violet. Remarkable: the milk transformed into a sponge soaking up the sauce below, and the ethereally crunchy wafer – delicious!

 And we both still remember with delight the Variation’s of creme brulee, a kind of signature dessert which we’ve had on previous visits and is a lecture in flavour extraction.

Price wise, as we mentioned before, so great is the disparity between the quality and elaboration (and also quantity) of what you eat and what you pay (consider also that we are in Michelin starred venue), that we worry about the economics of this restaurant! Service was very friendly and correct, and the chef often comes out himself to introduce his dishes (to each table).

Chef Gilmozzi may not pull off only perfect dishes, and not all dishes are for all tastes, but he dares and thinks and researches, he creates a magic world in his unique restaurant, an experience that is strange and fascinating precisely because it is so firmly based on the local produce and tradition, where the flavours of the surrounding woods and mountains are assembled and disassembled according to his unlimited fancy. A must go place in Trentino, and the perfect complement to the not distant, more traditional Malga Panna.


Grouse and more at the Peat Inn

(August 2012)

Our second grouse of the season (yes yes, we are fanatics) had a tough act to follow after Koffmann’s

…but it came out with flying colours in being so good and also so different:

Grouse with  peaches & broad beans

The peach and broad beans combination is a dress of Summer and grace for the protagonist, roasted and (as you can see) finished admirably.

Before this there was something of a rather different nature: a Lobster Thermidore, that here at the Peat Inn is (like many other classic dishes) an endless and always new variation on the theme. Have it after a while and you’ll find that a little, or not so little, something has changed, maybe the type of cheese (currently Anster we think), maybe the way it’s cut. Woman declares herself officially addicted.

Addictive Lobster Thermidor
And to finish there is only one way to avoid the temptation of the almost irresistible dessert list: lose your head in the perfume/smell of this large trolley stocked entirely with Scottish cheese (some from not farther than a couple of miles away). Where else in a starred restaurant?
Scottish Cheese Trolley
The Peat Inn is a bit of ‘our local’. Not exactly your cheap corner Inn, but the nearest to home of the great UK restaurants we like best. And for its category and quality, it will make your wallet happy as well as yourselves, when you enter the warm ante-room with the fireplace, greeted by one of the most charming service teams in the world.

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First grouse 2012…

…being in London, at Koffmann’s: where else?

In this year of the glorious thirteenth we were quick off the mark. We enquired whether Koffmann’s was stocked with grouses. They were due on the 15th morning from Scotland, and so there we were, ready for lunch service.

We were served their first two grouses of this season (pity they don’t have a ‘first item sold is free’ policy, like in some old shops in Rome).

It was just spectacular. No, really, spectacular. We don’t know what they do to it to obtain that wonderful texture in the pink roasted breast and legs. By the way, never forget the kitchen brigade beside the great man (who was still in Scotland that day): an applause for execution.

As you can see, the animal is resting on a slice of bread that is soaking the sticky, flavour-packed innards and the trademark dark lovely jus, that perfect match for the other potent flavours.

Definitely not baby food. This is food that strikes with force at the heart of your gustatory senses, so be prepared if you haven’t had it before.

A glimpse at the final treats…the dough of this baba’ was remarkable (Man, obviously not content with his La Peche Abusee 2004, would have liked more booze in it though):

 and the same for these superb madeleines, and butter free!!!

Oh come on, you didn’t believe that, did you? Of course they are not butter free. Actually they might define the opposite of butter free. Butter freeness is the one thing you definitely cannot ask at Koffman’s. But culinary bliss is worth a little sacrifice, every now and then.


Malga Panna (Moena, Trento, IT): Pure comfort

(Visited July 2012)

Look ye not for daring culinary innovations here, o traveller, but for the comfort of tradition interpreted in a modern way.

Malga Panna (reviewed last time five years ago here) is in the location of dreams: just abandon yourself to the comfortable embrace of the warm environment, the stupendous mountain views, and the capable professionalism of chef Donei and Maitre d’ /sommelier Michele.

From the impressive breads and herb butter:

to a lovely (and substantial! we’re in the mountains here…) amuse of smoked trout

to a deer tartare, accompanied by watercress, goat cheese and rustic bread, that has true ‘raw power’ in spite of the lesser fattiness compared to beef. And also, what a jolly presentation:

Sometimes the cuisine rises into higher fine dining territory, as in this very balanced, very intense, original, heavenly really, capelli d’angelo (very fine pasta) with hazelnuts, smoked trout and a touch of caviar

a prodigious dish in terms of flavour.

The mains are back to delightful solidity, the protagonists firmly in the center and top class in their category. A wild turbot with chanterelles salad and beetroot

in which not only the fish (what a pity to present it hidden from view), but also the mushrooms and the condiment (an emulsion made with the cooking juices) sang. On a minor negative note, we like everything that is in the plate to be meant to be eaten (with necessary exceptions such as bones..), and for this reason we think turbot should be served skinless. Just saying.

And another stunner, after the pasta: a Lamb from Val di Fiemme (the nearby valley) from a very selected farm, one of those pieces of meat that make you think you’ll never find a better one (an equally and differently good one, yes, like one from Val di Pejo we had here , but not a better one), and generally very nicely cooked too, except one piece which was a little drier than we would have liked:

(the crispy bit on top is an aubergine, and there were ceps – surprisingly just good but not stunning- as a garnish).

We concluded the blissful lunch with a Caramelised millefeuile of toasted hazelnuts with dried apricots sorbet

in which the dried apricot sorbet was for Man the most impressive bit, and a salad of candied strawberries with coffee ice-cream and lemon crisp: a terrific coffee icecream, and the interplay of the various different textures and flavours made it a delight.

The prices are in line with 1* Michelin in the area (say 15-20 euro for a primo and 30 euro for a main), and the mark-ups on wine in the interesting list are very sympathetic to the customer, even for an area in which wine prices are kinder than elsewhere – and monstrously kinder than in London/Edinburgh. Sommelier Michele’s passion and intelligence are for all to read in the list he has constructed (and Man is a happy man…).

The petit four leave a very pleasant memory of a very pleasant lunch in a very pleasant place. Well done Malga Panna.


The Kitchin (Ediburgh): Force of Nature

(Visited: June 2012)

We generally tend to dislike chefs who are too media-savvy… but we’ll make an exception for Tom Kitchin by virtue of a recent stunning lunch at his restaurant. 

Away from media fluffiness, when he commands his kitchen, there’s an admirable substance and power to his cooking style.

After a promising, fresh and vegetable-dense amuse…

…it will be hard to forget the sumptuously greasy, both moist and crisp, deep-flavoured pig’s head that forms a pair with the langoustine tail in one of Kitchin’s signature dishes (including a picturesquely vertical and shadow-casting crispy pig’s ear):

A truly majestic lobster a la plancha (special of the day) with an ever so fine cuttlefish garnish and a fantastic condiment made us think it would be hard to have a better lobster (only a Thermidore had at the Peat Inn is a match in our memory):

In a starter of scallops and asparagus, what lovely, lovely ingredients, what a graceful presentation: 

And a stuffed rabbit with crispy legs and the kidneys in ragout on the side, again, featured a rich harmony of flavours and texture:

A previously weaker point in our (very) modest opinion were the desserts. Now we are left without gripes, as even those are excellent. Here is a delicious and supremely airy oat and cherry souffle’ (inclusive of a well-made ice-cream), care of the dedicated pastry chefs:

The previously uncomfortable chairs have been replaced by comfortable upholstered ones, with other improvements to the furnishing: larger tables, new curtains etc. Also gone is the bread trolley (last year’s innovation, but apparently they decided they have too many trolleys in the room). Talking of bread, if one really nitpicks, well the crust could have been better: on the day, probably due to the horrible weather and high humidity, the bought-in bread lacked the perfect crust we remembered from a previous visit. We wish one day they will accompany their splendid dishes with the splendid home made bread we’re sure they’re capable of.

We had the coffee and (very good) petit fours while slouching on the comfortable sofa of the bar area at the entrance:

Prices are high, true, but in line with Edinburgh Michelin starred dining. Look at the £200 mark for three courses for two with acceptable wine.
Given the very positive words we’re using, just remember that unlike some fellow bloggers we are always paying customers…

Kitchin is a force of nature in the kitchen. Dishes of great power and clarity encapsulate minute attention not only to flavours but also to textures. His direct, muscular style, so different from that of his starred (and also excellent) Leith Neighbour Martin Wishart, reminds us a bit of the great Koffmann, albeit with more elaborate dishes than in Koffmann’s current bistro style. A great restaurant with a chef at the heights of its powers; we’re so happy for the positive tweaks, and we’ll definitely return. 


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Alyn Williams at the Westbury (London):enigmatic

(Visited Feb 2012)

This place begins with a lie: it insists on describing itself as being located in Bond Street, while it isn’t. Resign yourselves guys, you are not in Bond street, we are not in Bond street, you at least are near it and Conduit Street where you really are is prestigious enough in our book 🙂

Everything in the newly refurbished room oozes luxury. Windowless, square, hushed luxury, to be precise. Personally we are phased by neither windowlessness nor squaredness nor hushedness, but some might get that slightly claustrophobic feeling of being in one of those joyless temples of gastronomy whose sole function is to allow the adoration of the chef (now who used this phrase already?) rather than to please the customer.

Well, some nibbles of Fourme d’Ambert gougeres as well as the bread threaten to immediately enrol us among the worshippers: they are wonderful. The gougeres have an extraordinary texture, at the same time airy and substantial, with an intense cheesy flavour. 

And the bread is made really, really well (a potato sourdough, a Guinness and star anise one, and a crispy flatbread similar to ‘cartamusica’ perhaps in appearance, though in fact totally different).

With such a spectacular beginning perhaps we set our expectations too high.

Yes, a Langoustine/fennel custard skin/cider apple/chestnut/smoked eel starter was very fresh and aromatic, the sweet flavour of the large langoustines matched by the more robust eel. But we felt it was served far too cold, especially the already rather timid bisque. A waiter assured us in very decisive fashion that this is how Chef wants it. We are perplexed. 

Chef is, by the way, but you probably have guessed it already, Alyn Williams of Marcus Wareing restaurant fame, somebody with such an eminent pedigree that we hesitate to proffer our ignorant criticisms. Yet we are the customers and the supposedly ultimate goal of his existence: so we will persist.

A Veal sweetbread/artichokes/celery/sherry is lonely, but cooked to perfection, with an amazing texture, nicely supported by the sherry, a real feat of cooking unachievable by mere mortals. So why is the artichoke puree merely nice and a little tame? The circle of vegetables around the lonely sweetbread is pretty, and prissy.

Grilled brill/squid ink/ricotta/cuttlefish/Puntarella/smoked lardo is finely cooked with a nice charcoal note, however (and we are beginning to notice there is always a however) the diced cuttlefish while pretty is unexpectededly a little rubbery, and its ink, salty (we guess, it was cooked by a different, less gifted hand than the god who produced the sweetbread). A nice, imperfect, good, unspectacular dish.

In the other main of Salisbury plain Venison/barley malt/acorn/choucroute/mandarin the sliced venison was excellent, with deep flavour and sous-vided to nice elastic tenderness. The microbits of mandarin seemed a little pointless in the grand scheme of things, but we don’t doubt there was a deep cheffy reason for their presence, as well as for all the other ingredients small and large, among which we found the krauts, sorry, choucroute which sounds far more refined, very pleasant. 

A pre-dessert of Crème Catalan/pear granita/pine sugar does not work in our opinion, too much contrast between the two main components, and the pine fails to shine (ask this guy for how to extract flavour from pine, we still remember his aromatic and balsamic pannacottas after years!).

Turning to desserts, Banana/Lapsang tea/Coconut/saffron/condensed milk had a very delicate Lapsang flavour, we’d have expected it to be more assertive. It was a very good and beautiful dessert, and well crafted, yet lacking a killer punch.

The other dessert is a sumptuously vertical Walnut whip, with an icecream that isn’t too convincing for us, while the ‘mousse’, let’s say, of the main element and its base jump at you from the plate.

Truffles follow as petit fours. Now these delivered the (PX) killer punch!

The (overstaffed) service, which struck us as slightly stiff in the beginning, is in fact composed of good chums; they just have a French style, poor guys :). All very competent, except a young and clueless waitress who, when asked about the cooking of a venison, spent about ten seconds muttering ‘the venison…the venison…let me think…’ and then struck by a sudden inspiration came out with: ‘I think it’s finished sous vide’. Now that’s an idea. She promised to ask somebody but she never did. It was clear that she didn’t give a toss about the dishes and we think that for this reason she should not be allowed to go near the customers.

Three courses are (for now) £45, with the option of a fully vegetarian one, and there are tasting menus at £55. So, price-wise, Alyn Williams is a clear winner on most competition at this (high) level.

Yet there is some skimping on some ingredient amounts, we feel, which may partially detract from the fullness of the experience, and explain our strange feelings about our lunch. We ask ourselves: did we like everything? And the answer is yes. Not one poor dish (and by poor we mean Michelin-star standard poor). Was anything banal? You’re joking. The level of technique and inventiveness here is high indeed.

And were we well-treated? Extremely.

But what was truly memorable? Honestly, only the nibbles, notably the gougeres and the petit fours, and the sweetbread. All the rest was clever, ingenious and very cleanly presented. The desserts especially, but everything really, showed exquisite technique. But for us most flavours were simply too polite. Even the temperatures were too timid. So, admirable, yes; memorable, no, at least for us and least on this occasion. Perhaps what we missed here was the directness and clarity we found for example at Petrus, a recently visited restaurant of similar class that also delivers highly accomplished cuisine. Anyway, we definitely feel we should return to try other appealing dishes by Alyn Williams (his menu is a pleasure to read), and also to get to the bottom of why such well-crafted creations failed to elicit screams of pleasure from us. Sometimes it happens that one only ‘gets’ it the second time, especially when the cooking is as subtle as this, and let’s not exclude the very real possibility that we are a bit slow of understanding.


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Rocca Grill (St Andrews, Fife): pleasant surprise

(Visited 1st February 2012)

A few years back we reviewed the Rusacks restaurant. Restaurants being far more ephemeral creatures than hotels, now in the same premises we find, with the Rusacks hotel more or less unchanged, a revamped restaurant, with different name, management team, and chef. Let’s check if it was a change for good.

There is an Italian theme in the menu of which we are of course deeply suspicious (we’ll soon see an example of a disastrous marriage between Scotland and Italy at another venue). We confess that last Summer we desisted from booking here, frightened to death by some potentially lethal pasta items we spotted on the menu.

But introductory breadsticks and olives are of good quality and we personally are more pleased with that than with butter.

We begin to relax.


Surprisingly there is no olive oil cup, unlike in 99% of italian restaurants in the UK, but as  a matter of fact the olive oil cup is seen far less often, if ever, in Italy: so its absence is in fact a sign of authenticity.

A Cullen Skink

is very classy, look, a million miles away from the basic versions (which we still like, mind you!). It features, beside the compulsory smoked haddock, a tortellino of excellent making (hey, after the breadsticks, and the bread which we didn’t mention but was also good, now this – could it be that they have somebody clever at working with flour?), buttered leeks and potato cappuccino. Creamy and delicious, only marred by the fact that the leeks had been salted by somebody who had gone berserk in the kitchen.

Our other starter was a Seared red mullet with dived scallops

where very good, very fresh mullet and scallops were almost overpowered by a strong vanilla puree, while the roasted fennel and the crisp salsify were apt accompaniment (and for Man, they would have been enough in the dish). The mullet and scallops were cooked well, the latter ever so slightly under, while the foam, as so often is the case, served in our opinion only to instill the doubt that a snail had crossed the plate.

This was a rather flavour-busy dish for a starter, a theme that returns with our main: a Poached and roasted corn fed chicken

precisely cooked to succulence and softness, whose wings had been stuffed to attain a sort of boudin blanc effect (to give you the idea). A long series of lovely items, apart from the thematic corn, smoked pumpkin gnocchi (not really gnocchi but still good), white beans, chorizo (the fine chopping a nice touch),  and even a tempura, were all screaming for attention in this dish, but they ultimately managed to avoid cacophony: they stayed together and play as a team, helped by a very very well made (gastrique) sauce based on sherry vinegar.

Less stunning but still more than satisfactory was the other main from the grill,

a 28 days ribeye, whose depth of flavour wasn’t memorable, but which was accompanied by a delicious tangy Bernaise (you could choose between a few sauces). The potatoes (interestingly, arranged exactly as in our previous visit of a few years ago) were too soggy for Man but OK for Woman, the tomatoes with oregano bringing a nice Mediterranean touch.

For the desserts we take advice from the Maitre d’ who, we learned, was previously a pastry chef who worked in excellent restaurants, including our favourite in Fife. So, secure with such a guide, we go for a crunchy lemon cream 


and a Dark chocolate ganache

which, both, prepared the palate by pleasing the eye first. But the palate they did please too! This is serious patisserie work. Beautiful variety of textures, strong, assertive flavours, a touch of playfulness (see the banana-like slices of parfait) and, importantly, a certain lighteness of hand. Yes, banana and chocolate, not an innovation, but with the right balance as on this occasion, boy is it good!

Service was not under pressure (only two tables) but both the Maitre d’ and the waiter were impressive and very professional, informed, efficient. It was not too cheap at £133 but look at the ingredients, and we had a £49 bottle of Tuscan Pinot Noir, Pomino Rosso by Marchesi di Frescobaldi (big mistake, not worth the price in our view). Moreover, there was also the option of a very good value looking Winter menu at £22 or £25 for two or three courses respectively.

A pleasant surprise, this Rocca Grill. There is thought, effort and ability in those dishes, both pastry and savoury ones. The Italian touches, far from being the disaster we feared, added that original twist.  We believe in the virtue of simplification: its application would help some of the dishes to get to the point in a straighter and more effective way…but even so, they were never less than good, and sometimes excellent. A return is due within the year. This is assuming we can find a table among the million golfers who can walk straight in from the Old Course, which is just in front of the dining room.


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Drovers (near Forfar, Angus): a little gem

 (visited January 2012)

A walk in beautiful Angus…

Looking for a second home…


Tempted to shoot our lunch ourselves…


Those pheasants only saved by our spotting a proper Inn…

 (by the way, the weather is always like this in Scotland). The interior is warm, metaphorically and literally with a live fireplace. 

The bread felt homemade and was fresh, but there is only so much you can get out of this type of bread, and as you know these two hardened Italians are tough to impress on the bread front… 

But a starter of Seared Orkney scallops, sauce vierge and crispy punchetta (i.e. the punchy pancetta we love), as well as a Crab, smoked salmon, prawn salad with rosemary crostini immediately win us over with the absolute excellence of the produce. 

Oh dear oh dear, we wonder why so often we find ourselves in stiff, expensive restaurants eating mediocre, not really fresh, produce, when there exist simple, inexpensive places like this where true flavours so gallantly assault your senses. The scallops and the crab especially, really bursting with the sea, but also the chunky salmon which, while not wild, impressed for the quality both of the meat and of the smoking. The scallops were cooked well even if not uniformly on the outside, and rested on the lovely, tangy sauce, perfectly seasoned. The crostini accompanying the crab did not really taste of rosemary (yet again those evanescent herb flavours that chefs find so difficult to capture in the finished dish), yet served a meaningful textural function.

Only a madman would expect to eat bad beef in Angus, but this sirloin, once again, was superior

The cooking was very good even if not superlative, and the seasoning was also very good though you need to like pepper, and anyway there’s no arguing with such a deeply flavoured piece of beef (the supplier deserves to be named: Kennedy butchers of Forfar) – one almost feels like saying: who cares about the rest! But no, we appreciated a certain lightness of hand in preparing this dish, nicely displayed in the clear flavours of the wine jus and the potato rosti and the vegetables coming from their garden and the farm up the road.

Similar feelings for a Roast rump of lamb

where, while the lamb was perhaps  not so quite so spectacular as the beef (still, very good), it was cooked well (pink) and the creamy mash was again classily light. Quite lovely also the herb crusting of the lamb, the savoy cabbage with bacon very assertive. And just look at the sauce. Good stuff.

We had a cheese dish

A French Brie, an Isle of Mull cheddar, and the favourite of the chef (so the charming waitress says), and ours too, a Blue Monday Very well made chutney and oatcakes, and an interesting touch: frozen grapes which eventually defeated our initial skepticism. The only blemish was that the cheeses were a touch too cold (oh yes, the grapes were frozen, for added texture we were told).

The other dessert, Valrhona chocolate torte with raspberry sorbet

summarises the style of cooking here: great produce prepared simply, well within the comfort zone of the chef, but with great care (nice sponge under the chocolate) and effectiveness. This may not be haute cuisine but it is very far beyond your standard inn cooking, and when you get such beautiful, pure, explosive chocolate and raspberry flavours, it is great eating indeed! 

Oh, and two truffles to finish:

Everything about this inn is charming. The building was redeveloped a couple of years ago with obvious intelligence and care. The restaurant section where we were (there is also a pub section) has as we said a live fireplace, beautiful views on the countryside, and is furnished and decorated in a sleekly rustic style. 


The young waitress was competent and pleasant. In its genre (i.e. simple but refined rustic) Drovers elevates itself high, contemplating from far above the sea of mediocrity of pubs and inns (we’ll soon see a London example), to reach the peaks of that category. It is also very sweet value for money. With a £33 Cote du Rhone (the cellar is very interesting and very, very well priced, with markups below 100% on retail and sometimes well below) and two coffees, the cost of our three course meal exceeded £100 just because we had some of the most expensive items on the menu. It is possible to eat, and probably as well as we did, for much less. You have to drive a bit to reach it, but on the other hand  stretching your limbs in the lovely countryside around, before or after, or both, is one the most pleasant activities imaginable.


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Petrus (London): high class cooking

(Visited 30/12/2011)

We squeezed into the 2.30 lunch slot, which became 2.40, waiting and munching pop-corns (paprika, lemon, original yet not sure it’s such a cool idea) on the comfortable sofa at the entrance, entranced by the monumental cylindrical temperature controlled wine storage unit, around which the restaurant seems to revolve. It is an impressive room, with widely and rationally spaced tables, ideal for hosting an impressive meal. Did the lunch live up to it?

Well, the amuse immediately sets the tone and raises expectations of a not ordinary afternoon.

The Jerusalem artichoke mousse ever so velvety, in harmony with the exuberant truffle, and in harmonious contrast with some acidic capers below, all this lovingly engulfing a soft beef carpaccio. Not an ordinary amuse; Mark Askew (exec chef) and Sean Burbidge (head chef) are clearly dead serious about excellence.

We order, as one of the starters, a pheasant cooked three ways. But instead of that, this is what shows up:

Pan-fried sea scallops with celeriac, Granny Smith apple and truffle

This was a fabulous combination of sharp, earthy, sweet and umami flavours that  only a clumsy execution could spoil. But the execution was as good as one can hope for, the first of a series of dishes where the cooking, as well as the seasoning, was chillingly precise.

There remains the small matter that we haven’t ordered this dish. The person who took our order without writing it down had buckled under the pressure (room packed, last table orders). Well, ok, this is the way they do it, surely it feels more classy without a notepad, but Woman is on the verge of tears, oh the promising pheasant three ways… but the staff comes graciously in support of distressed Woman: of course we could have this, too, with their compliments and apologies three ways:

 Windsor Estate pheasant three ways with shaved chestnuts and cider consommé

The three ways of the pheasant are a raviolo, a ballotine and a fatty piece of leg. You can probably see how good, multidimensional, succulent the meat was (do you remember those dry horrors of some home-, or even restaurant-, cooked pheasant?), to say nothing of the delicious chestnut shavings. But what propelled this dish skywards was the humble consomme’, with its beguiling sweet-sour undertone.

The other starter we had ordered is

Pan-fried fillet of red mullet with clams, coriander gnocchi and a lemongrass sauce

Sorry to be repetitive guys, but the cooking of this fish was spot on, light crispness on soft moist meat. All components here truly work harmoniously together to raise the whole higher, congratulations, chef(s), as this is truly a great little dish. Can we just say, though, that the claims were rather pointless, in number, size, taste and function? Remove, remove! (and perhaps have more of the wonderful gnocchi).

The main of

Loin of Highland venison with braised shin, carrot purée and juniper sauce

is sumptuous, the succulent loin in the slightly crispy outside, the classical juniper accompaniment made into a ravishing sauce, the braised and wrapped shin telling yet a different story of texture and taste. Look at it: such a neat looking dish enclosing such a world of gustatory experience.

And then the bird:

Highland Red-leg partridge with pancetta, ceps and chestnuts, roasting jus  

Presented cleanly in slices, the wrapping of the pancetta here really gives wings to the taste of the meat. What is striking is the soft and moist texture, obtained by sous-videingfollowed by quick panfrying, another exemplary display of meticulous cooking. The velvety jus builds the layering of flavours, the vegetables do not merely play second fiddle, and the final pretty textural touch is what felt like barley inserted in the slices of meat.

Lovely sides of Dauphinoise potatoes and multicoloured carrots were also brought to the table.

By now we are almost alone in the room, there is a general air of demobilisation. The service becomes noticeably less sharp, even if always kind. Some restaurants have live jazz, here they have live ironing

But we still want our desserts.

The Chocolate sphere with milk ice cream and honeycomb

is chocolate to the n-th power – the photograph has been taken after the perfectly formed and light chocolate sphere had buckled under the hot melting chocolate poured on it. A little piece of pleasant theatre for a dessert that aims, and succeeds, to knock you down. This was high class comfort food, interesting in flavours and textures: technically speaking, pure gooey pleasure!


Frozen yoghurt with wild heather honey, roasted fig, walnuts and red wine syrup

which was refined and intriguing in conception, the various components playing intricate games with each other, but perhaps did not work so spectacularly in terms of taste, especially because the roast fig (end of December?) simply could not (and did not) deliver. More for the intellect than for the glutton.

Another little piece of theatre with the unusual petit fours, small vanilla and Armgnac icecreams in a white chocolate coating, served in “steaming ice”.

And more: chocolate coated almonds and two varieties of mint chocolates.

They really take chocolate seriously around here…

Oh, if only they took coffee as seriously as chocolate! Here we are, at the end of a remarkable meal, sipping poor filter coffee. Why, why, why? We ‘remonstrate’ with a surviving waiter (few humans are by now in the room, among them however we think we spotted Mark Askew running around, a good sign EDIT: or maybe not: we understand that Mark Askew has now left Petrus!), appealing to his Italianness. He insists on making us an espresso, and we don’t dare tell him that the results are not enthralling either. Please, somebody do something about this.

The service varied in quality during the meal (due to the late time some personnel disappeared). Particularly comical was our attempt to enquire with a newly arrived young sommelier about the cooking of the partridge. ‘Is it cooked sous-vide? ‘. ‘Yes it’s very sweet, nice isn’t it’. ‘No, we mean, is it cooked in a water bath?’. ‘Water bath?’. ‘No matter, yes it was very good’. The other waitress also had no idea, but she kindly asked in the kitchen. So it’s not a ‘total’ service, in the sense that not everybody is au fait with the dishes. And let’s face it, watching the ironing service performed in front of you is not top class stuff as the food (and no, it was not our first choice to get a table at 2:30 pm). But the attitude and procedures they have, the kindness of the individual waiters even when obviously tired and no doubt desperately wanting, but not showing to want, that we would just leave them alone, the generosity and smoothness with which they dealt with the wrong order, were admirable.

 This was our last meal out for 2011 and, apart from the sour coffee note, it ranks with the very best. The dishes here are intricate and at the same time clean and coolly logical, flavours orderly working as a team and not against each other. This is impressive modern fine cuisine, executed spotlessly and with perfect judgement. There is a certain clinical air about the dishes, a certain lack of aggression that some perhaps might not find exciting; but as far as we are concerned, on the palate judgement we were blown away by the harmony of it all. The dishes here please you rather than challenge you. We’ll settle for that. We anticipate this will soon be a 2* restaurant. Three courses (using top class produce) are £65, which is very fair for Mayfair.


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