Thursday, 26 July 2012

Pierre Victoire has Aged

This use to be the French bistro in my student days; the classic Steak & Frites, melting candle wax on wine bottles and live music by the pianist in the evening… Then I got distracted by the constant stream of restaurants popping up in the neighbourhood, Mister and I hadn’t been back for a good while. On a chilly Monday afternoon, we revisited as a group of five.

Little has changed since, still the cosy little spot with worn down wooden tables, unassuming wall lamps and paintings up for sale. The menu, however, is now printed to replace the artistic, yet illegible squiggle.

Traditional Escargot style grilled Mussels in garlic, parsley and pernod butter with bread crumbs
Not as good as real escargot obviously, but not too far off the mark either. Unlike the chewy textures and earthen flavours of snails, these mussels were soft and squidgy with a faint hint of ocean sweetness. Couldn’t go wrong with the generous dosage of garlic and herb. Quite a clever little starter.

Smoke Salmon and Prawn Timbale with fresh horseradish crème fraiche, mizuna salad, sundried tomato coulis
Crazy amount of springy little prawns wrapped in mildly smoky salmon. A very familiar combination well made.

Classic Beef Bourguignon with creamy potato mash and shallots confit
Brother went for this traditional stew. I tend to avoid these dishes when eating out, because I don’t think an astoundingly fabulous stew exists, though they rarely go disastrously wrong. Perhaps the most outstanding one has been the Venison Stew in the tasting menu at Cambio de Tercio; the two spoonfuls actually left me wanting for more.

Roast Honey Duck with dauphinoise potatoes, steamed ginger bak choi and creamy green peppercorn jus
The two slabs of duck breast were cooked to a perfect pink, topped with honey glazed skin where the layer of fat had melted away. The dauphinoise potatoes were beautifully done with paper-thin layers and modest splashes of cream to rein in its weightiness; it almost resembled a slice of light puff pastry. Ginger and peppercorn fragrant were both gentle to blend with the honey, adding more dimensions to the flavours. My personal favourite of the lot.

Steak & Frites Chargrilled Entrecote with frites, herb and garlic butter & petit salad
The old good steak and fries we once loved. The key was the herb and garlic butter; together with the steak just off the scorching grill, it gave off the richest, bovine aroma. The steak used to be better, though, probably too thin at the edge. I asked for medium-rare, ended up with a done edge, a medium inner rim and a crimson centre. It was too heavily entangled with gristly tendons I gave up in the end. Had it always been like this?

Twice Roasted crispy Belly of Pork with mustard mash, kabanos sausages, sauerkraut and apple gravy
Do excuse the presentation; it does look a little like it’s been regurgitated. The meaty pork melted in mouth and exploded with piggy goodness, gently lifted by the sweetness in the gravy. The skin was super crunchy at first, but got more leathery as the dish cooled. It could do with slightly leaner pork belly or a bit of trimming, however, one of the strips was 70% lard, 20% meat and 10% skin. For the sake of Dad’s arteries, we urged him to stop after the second slice.

Chargrilled Homemade Beef Burger with relish, salad leaves, red onion & mustard mayo and hand cut chips
I asked for medium, it arrived done. A fist-size patty cooked to death is difficult to stomach, so Mum left most of it untouched. We didn’t send it back because she was 90% full after the starter anyway.

Pierre Victoire used to tick all the boxes a few years ago, today it ticked about half. Has it always been like this? Even the famous steak and frites has slipped its standards… Regardless, PV was once a special spot during our greener days, I’d come back, though perhaps not too frequently, just to check it’s doing okay.

5 Dean Street
Tel: 0207 287 4582

Pierre Victoire on Urbanspoon

You may also like: Spuntino, Galvin Bistrot de Luxe, Koya

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Opera Tavern - Cool Class

To cheer up our non-existent summer mid-week, I booked for the Hurly Burly Show; a bit of semi-burlesque, more fun than sexy kind of entertainment. And Opera Tavern is so handily located next to the theatre. I had an interest in this tapas bar a while back when it first opened, but then I was almost going through a Spanish restaurant per week. 

Opera Tavern looked like a pub at first glance, must have been the dim lights, mirrors at the bar and general crowdedness. Upon a closer look, the ground floor is slick; bronze sculptures of black pig foot on the door handle and the bronze pig leg draught handle. We were seated at bar where the staff were churning glass after glass of sexy looking cocktails.

Crispy Iberico Pigs Ears 
The Chinese slow cook pigs ears in dark soy marinade until the bones and cartilage soften to a crunchy brittleness with a glutinous layer. This crispy version was distinctively different; more hard than brittle, but nothing teeth-chipping. Like all savoury deep-fried snacks, addictive and great to nibble with drinks. Just think it might be even better had it been slow-cooked first before deep-frying...

Mini Iberico Pork and Foie Gras Burger 

The signature dish I heard. I haven’t been much of a slider fan, probably because it’s too much of a teaser; what good does a lip-smacking burger do when it only lasts 2 bites? And this slider was exactly like that. The ball of pork patty was highly addictive; crispy and ultra smoky on the outside, medium-cooked with a creamy, juicy centre; the nutty, meaty flavours were explosive.

Foie gras was probably too subtle and too little to be detected, but it genuinely didn’t matter. The fried onions and smoky pork ball was already a winning combination.

Chargrilled Quail with Squid, Ink Mash, Chorizo Oil and Migas 
For such a small bird, there was quite a bit of meat. There was no doubt about the quail; gently charred skin with spring-chicken-thigh-like muscles. It was the first time I had the pairing of quail and squid, they worked quite well together, equally delicate but holding strongly onto their characteristics. The silky squid deep-fried in the thin batter almost felt like an imitation of the bird. 

The ink mash was pleasantly amusing, I was half expecting sesame paste just by looking at the shining paste.

Grilled Iberico Presa with Capers, Shallots and Lemon 
Presa is the cut attached to the shoulder at the head of the loin, with good marbling on a high quality piece of meat. This was slow cooked to baby food tenderness, oozing with pork juices and diffused away in mouth to meaty essence. The sauce was rich, perhaps too rich it was at the risk of masking the true flavours of such gorgeous pork. I wouldn’t go as far as saying the sauce ruined it, but perhaps something lighter would have been even better.

Sautéed Asparagus and Wild Mushroom with Slow Cooked Duck Egg Yolk, Aged Balsamic and Hazelnut Migas 
Our waiter gave us the thumbs-up when we ordered this, because it was apparently the last day of the asparagus season.

Hmm... it’s still asparagus. I’m not sure about this one, I like everything on the plate, yet they didn’t quite gel together. Maybe it was the balsamic, perhaps a slightly sweeter reduction would be softer on my palate... I don’t know. It didn’t tick all my boxes.

Classic Tortilla 
LondonEater took some evil photos at Donostia, one of which was a tortilla with egg yolk leaking out of the pile of shredded potatoes, neatly wrapped in the omelette. I knew I wasn’t going to get that here, but still I couldn’t resist the urge.

And Opera Tavern’s version didn’t disappoint. Perhaps not pouring with yolk, but the tortilla had a gooey, custardy centre, rich in eggy flavours. Can’t complain.

I enjoyed Opera Tavern; the food had a touch of sophistication without being snobby. The recipes were modern, but nothing overly complicated. I think this goes half way between Tendido Cero and Jose; it didn't have the daring passion of the former, but nowhere as pure and simple as the latter. Opera Tavern was cooly sexy.

The Hurly Burly Show was a good laugh; some hilarious dances, not so much grace or artistic, just light burlesque, heavily comical. 

23 Catherine Street
Tel: 0207 836 3680

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Opera Tavern on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Rhodes W1 Restaurant - James Bond Encounter

Rhodes never caught my attention, because “British cuisine with a French influence” reads “not good enough to be French, but I’m trying” to me. There are people you don’t warm to. But given my last Michelin entry was Dinner by Heston, and I feel like putting a dress on, Rhodes W1 was readily available on a Saturday night.

It didn’t feel too glamorous at the Great Cumberland hotel, but the restaurant hidden inside the Brasserie was much more like it with chandeliers and antique French furniture. We went for the tasting menu, a glass of young Morgon and an older recommendation from Saint Emilion by the Sommelier.

Croque monsieur with smoked haddock; Puff pastry with Lancashire hard cheese
The small puff balls were pumped full with gooey warm melted cheese that bursted like lava in mouth. The toast-bites were made up of succulent smoked fish with an ultra crispy shell. These teasers resembled the 2-min action scenes in a James Bond movie, the ones that often end with an explosion before Bond coolly walks into a swanky hotel unscathed, followed by the title; we knew we’re in a good ride.

Amuse Bouche - BLT
It was the deconstruction of the ordinary BLT: tomato jelly, lettuce foam and avocado mousse with bacon confetti. Refreshing.

Asparagus. Cauliflower puree
Presentation was stunning and that was the forte of the dish. The plate was busy with a drop of this, a dollop of that and a drizzle of another, but bottom line it was two sticks of asparagus tips and half a white asparagus. It was nice, especially with the extra fragrance from the toasted nuts, just nothing ground-breaking.

Mackerel tartare. Cornish crab, nasturtium, celery and buttermilk

I know there isn’t much on the plate, but the flavours were powerful in these small pebbles. The cube of crab meat was fresh with sweet juices, with an added coolness from the diced celery. 

Needless to say I’m a massive fan of mackerel. This reminded me of the luscious mackerel tartare lunch I had at Sketch, which I thought had more finesse in this dish with the contribution of shellfish bisque. Rhodes’s version was nonetheless very enjoyable, just perhaps less memorable.

The naked crouton felt out of place, too.

Pan fried seabass. Orange puree, seared fennel and bittersweet lemon
This must be, I don’t know, the eighth post that I say I don’t like bass? Isn’t it odd how a fish I dislike so much keeps coming up on things that I have eaten? How about I just stop freaking ordering it? Can’t help it. It’s on every bloody tasting menu.

That said, it’s cooked to utmost perfection; slightly undercooked for that silky texture, retaining that rich layer of fish oil under the skin, coupled with wafer-like crispy skin. The bitter lemon blob seems to be the trend with white fish at the moment; I find it a bit of an overkill.

Roast squab pigeon. Caramelised pear, walnut and chicory
Ah at last, something meaty. I was so glad to see red meat I almost clapped. The two pieces of breast were fabulously raw, holding onto the metallic undertone of its bloodiness, balanced by the glazed sugary pear slices.

Pre-dessert - Sangria 

I was pretty full and was ready to give this unappetising and downright ugly mousse a miss. I can’t think of any natural foods that come in such colour, except for a massive melted bubble gum.

It didn’t taste as bad as it looked. It was essentially sangria mousse on orange ice; quite strong on alcohol.

Apricot, sorbet and pistachio
Much better than the Sangria, at least the colours of apricot and pistachio look better together. Sorry I don’t remember the white lump in the middle, but I do recall small pistachio slices being super buttery. I think I liked it.

I think the meal was exactly like a Bond movie; great punchy, explosive start with the canapés and amuse, then it gets a bit chatty and quiet with the asparagus as Bond and M do a recap of the opening scene. The mackerel tartare is when the first bond girl comes on screen, followed by the second bond girl (bass), who is probably the more classic model-type girl. Then the meat of the film, where Bond screws up somewhere, finds out someone (usually the hotter girl) is betraying him. The apricot dessert is the bunch of shooting and punching at the grand finale, which is rarely memorable and usually repetitive.

Things were predictable; none of the recipes had much of a wow factor. Yet nothing went wrong, just like Agent 007 never dies in his films. But hey, I still watch the Bond series.

Great Cumberland Place
Tel: 0207 616 5930

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Square Meal

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Forget the Burger. Just the Lobster.

Even though lobster ranks pretty high on my seafood list, I have been skeptical about Burger & Lobster. Don't get too offended, I just didn't think the British knows what to do with a lobster. Big Easy (it's technically American, I know) was so bad I felt guilty for such a worthless death of a lobster. But Ana T wanted me to check it out - I was on it.

It was an hour's wait wandering on the streets of nothingness, waiting for their callback, plus another 25mins at the bar waiting for my table. Three options: £20 for a lobster, a lobster roll or a burger, all served with fries and salad, almost fast food-like. Despite its simplicity, the decor was rather plush, you wouldn't expect less around the Green Park area.

I went in thinking I'd getting the lobster roll. You must have heard about it too, the toasted airy brioche stuffed silly with muscular lobster meat, moistened gently with mayo, topped with a hunky claw with clear butter on the side... Just downright irresistible, right? So I started fantasising the legendary lobster roll as I sipped on my aperitif at the bar... Then I saw it. And there was no way I'd go for it!

The roll was palm-size. My palm size. Cut into 4 mouthfuls. Yes maybe they almost crammed an entire lobster into the bun, but I could probably down it in 3 bites. Even with my duchess-style dining etiquette on display, taking smallest possible bites one could imagine, it'd be gone in 5 mins. Can you imagine how much of a torture the rest of the meal would be, watching James whip out chunks after chunks of lobster meat from one claw after the other?

Whole lobster
So we both went one whole lobster each, steamed and finished with gentle grilling. Great choice. We were instantly hit by the scent of seafood; I could smell freshness.

The sheer excitement of forking this muscular, succulent, bouncy hunk of meat from the fat lobster biceps. Speechless. We knew it was fresh because a) the biggest lobster 3-tier tank in the UK is in the basement holding f-loads of live Canadian lobsters; b) the meat doesn't shred or mush. Full marks on texture.

And it tasted beautifully fresh, oozing with sweetness. And if the subtle flavours of lobster doesn't do it for you, then the garlicky herby clear butter on the side would do the job. It was perfect.

The satisfaction of devouring an entire lobster by myself was overwhelming. James paid £16 for an eggs royale lunch at the Med Kitchen the other day, er, why not throw in a couple more quid for a whole freaking lobster?! Stunning value. Oh yes, they serve burgers too - nowhere near the top league players apparently. I guess I'll NEVER find out.

There are more extravagant options, like lobsters around 7kg going for £90 each. I saw the waiter brought out one and it was an alien. Not sure if it was a good idea considering how tricky it'd be to cook to perfection.

B&L is so clever, and so simply brilliant. Totally worth the wait. 
They are opening another one in Soho in July; heard they plan to take bookings too... Watch this space.

Burger & Lobster
29 Clarges Street
Tel: 0207 409 1699

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Burger & Lobster on Urbanspoon

Square Meal