Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Van Zeller

Some of you may remember the BBC show The Restaurant, in which Raymond Blanc, David Moore, and Sarah Willingham put nine couples through their paces, with the winner given the opportunity to go into business with Monsieur Blanc.
Well, David Moore is a very successful restaurateur with two Michelin starred restaurants of his own. Pied a Terre and L'Autre Pied. So he knows quite a bit about the business, and indeed the Michelin workings. So what's the link? Well all that I could gleen was off the back of the menu, "has the backing of David Moore".

In actual fact Mr Moore is new to networking site twitter and was intrumental in us dining here. You see he posted some pics of his recent visit on his page and they reignited my desire to eat here. So yes industry folks, it does pay to market your wares on twitter.

So, the beautiful Harrogate, and down a quiet side street Van Zeller.

As can be seen from the photos, its small but perfectly formed. We think the best seats are in the window and this is where we sat.
The menu's are appealing. A 7 course tasting at £55. A 7 course vegetarian for a bargainous £39.50. The three course carte at £39.50, although this does include an amuse and a pre dessert. Then at lunch they have a " 5 for £25 " which is what Mr Moore ate from and this was also our choice.

Bread was decent, white or granary, and arrived at the table warm.

An amuse bouche came shortly after, Asparagus mousse with parsley root.

The lunch menu has a choice of three, three, three, but the cheese course attracts a supplement of £9.50.
There are a few supplements on the carte but I'm bemused as to why the "Yorkshire Lamb" would attract an extra £5.

Broad Bean Gazpacho, Goats curd was one of the twitter shots that I had seen so it had to be tried.

Pretty as a picture presentation wise, and pretty decent flavour for a cold soup on a not so summery day. The smoked rapeseed oil, mixed herbs and the crunchy flaked almonds all added to the value. What you cannot see is some little pools of Kalamata olive paste which were also in the dish.

Across the table, was the very appealing Pork and Rabbit rillettes


The slash on the plate is Agen prune puree. My wife objects to barley if I suggest it in any meal at home, but the barley and apple vinaigrette disappeared from the plate rather quickly. We both liked this.

The Yorkshire Lamb on the lunch menu was not a prime cut, far from it. Lamb belly from my limited experience is hard to work with, but its dirt cheap. In fact its so cheap a cut, that if you pull a face at your butcher, he will probably throw this at you. My wife knew it would be very fatty so chose the fish option, which she very rarely does.

I'm not going to nit pick over the fattyness, I knew what I was getting, and to put it simply, the dish was great, and we all know what fat means, fl----r.
Essense of Lamb, with a wonderful rich reduction gave it the intensity that I desired. The belly fat had turned to jelly by very slow cooking (braising) then finishing it off in the pan. And yes I ate the lot, but I'm not at all squeamish.
Also on the plate btw is. Creamy polenta with what I though to be dill running through it. Spring cabbage and onions, and radishes. Oh, and I'm sure there is some quinoa riding on top of the lamb disc, to give the sauce a bit of texture.

The Brill from Brixham Market was much enjoyed also. Brandade, Piquillo peppers, chickpeas, kale and white onion puree and quite a decent hunk of fish.

So far, if this is the standard of cooking here. We think it to be very good.

We took an extra dish off the mains, and one that I had seen on David Moores twitter. So it had to be tried out. Tarragon Gnocchi Heirloom carrots, wild garlic, butterbeans, watercress cream.
I'll tell you what. If I was a vegetarian eating here I would be very pleased indeed. This plate of food delivered on all fronts.

Visually appealing, great textures, almost a "meatiness" about the texture of the gnocci. Bags of flavour throughout the plate
Just a very good dish.

Desserts to finish off did not disappoint. We had one of each, and really did not fancy the cheese course.

First though the dinky little pre dessert, Bay leaf custard with an orange granita.

Ever the gent, I gave my wife the choice of dessert knowing that there was not a cat in hells chance of her choosing rhubarb (one of the choices)

Star anise and Vanilla panacotta parkin, melon and mint.

Yep, simple but effective. We both love panacotta. This wobbly little beast slipped down a treat.

Rhubarb is on all the menus up and down the country, and so it should be, its bang in season. On the drive here I saw a lady picking some from what looked like a very decent harvest. And of course we are in Yorkshire so this offering is perhaps from just down the road from here.

Lime yogurt, Yorkshire rhubarb, granola.

Again whats not to like, especially if you have a sweet tooth and like rhubarb as much as I do. I  liked the addition of granola, for its crunch and fruity distraction. So much so that I will use it next time that I make a dessert.

So thats it really. Some very good cooking using in the main fairly cheap ingredients. Nothing wrong in that on a lunch menu, but I do object to it a bit on an a la carte though.
I really do think though that extracting loads of flavour from cheap cuts sorts the cheffy men from the boys, and there was certainly bags of flavour in these dishes.
We both enjoyed the whole experience here, the service was good, the food was most enjoyable, I think Harrogate has a lot to shout about with a chef this good in residence.

I would have no hesitation in recommending Van Zeller. In fact if we lived within a decent distance we would have eaten the tasting and the carte by now.

Getting back to David Moore.
He already has two michelin starred restaurants under his belt. I wonder how he feels given that the Michelin guide have not yet promoted Tom?

Time will tell perhaps, but to my mind Tom van Zeller on this showing (and off the set lunch menu) is a very good chef indeed, and I would like to eat more of his food. Van Zeller on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Daniel Clifford at The Cube by Electrolux

Well, I'm going to start with a wow, because location wise The Cube is the wow. It is stunning in every sense
The views are amazing and to have a two Michelin starred chef like Daniel Clifford doing the cooking is just icing on the cake. This is without a shadow of doubt the ultimate pop up restaurant.
We arrived about twenty minutes late for the 12 midday start, due to very heavy London traffic no less.

 Finding the "singing lift" up to The Cube itself proved not too difficult. It seemed to raise a smile with those who we asked for directions from. Indeed it does "sing", but we took the stairs on the way down so no repeat there I'm afraid.
A vision in white awaits, including the kitchen right through to the loos. I found out that a dedicated team ferry it deconstructed around Europe and on this occasion it was actually craned into position  and built up on top of The Royal Festival Hall  overlooking the mighty Thames, The London Eye, Big Ben etc, etc. As a point of interest the table can be lifted, by magnets, into the roof area leaving a completely clear floor space for mingling and sipping should it be required.

Before I move on to the food special mention should be made about Electrolux. A company that I knew little about until I read their profile. This mighty company  sell over 40 million products per anum to customers in over 150 countries. Some of the famous names they market are Zanussi and AEG. We used AEG for over twenty years in our domestic kitchen without a problem, so can attest to its quality. On show in the kitchen were a blend of domestic and commercial equipment, including state of the art induction. It is claimed that they supply 50% of the commercial kitchen equipment of all the European Michelin starred chefs.
Before the meal started, Daniel Clifford explained to all sixteen guests the benefits of cooking with induction, and specifically cooking with Electrolux appliances.

Making good use of the fine weather everyone was on the balcony for pre dinner drinks and canapes before being ushered through to the dining area. Daniel and his team were in the kitchen and eager to get the show on the road, so to speak

Speaking to a couple of our fellow diners it appeared that they were glad we were a little late, as they were on their third glass of complimentary champagne, Joseph Perrier Cuvee Royale 2002.


Now then, We have been fortunate to eat Daniel's food quite recently. We made the trip to Cambridge to his wonderful  restaurant Midsummer House to eat his Great British Menu dishes This  included the winning main course dish at the banquet, his stunning Chicken combo. Slow poached Chicken, sweet corn and spinach.

First of the five courses was Crispy Hen's egg, griddled asparagus, asparagus velute.

Daniel cooked this dish recently on BBC Saturday Kitchen. The hens egg has been poached and wrapped in potato strings made with a special turning device to produce a spaghetti type string to encase the egg, which is then deep fried. Chef believes in local wherever possible, and is firmly of the opinion that Cambridgeshire Asparagus is some of the best available. Around the rim of the plate is black onion powder. To achieve this, the onion is burnt in a pan then dried overnight in the oven to take all of the moisture out. It is then ground down to dust to what you see on the plate.
Accompanying wine Castro Valdez Albarino, Adegas Castro Brey, Rias Baixas 2011

Next up was Sauteed Scallop, apple, truffle and celeriac.

Boy was this a big scallop, it was a monster. The largest that I have ever seen and all the way from Scotland.

The jelly is made from the juice from an apple tree from Daniel's garden. The caramel on the plate is made with apple juice too, something he has been working on whilst at the Cube using a centrifuge and induction. To the right is a celeriac and truffle puree. Some truffle was grated on the plate table side by the chef. A truly wonderful dish with the prime ingredient to the fore.
Chosen wine was, Vermintino Monica di Sardenga Santa Maria la Palma, 2010

Perhaps my favourite meat next, Roast Quail, summer peas, sauteed girolles, wild garlic oil.

A big bang of aroma when it hit the table.

The quail is poached in champagne, a pea puree adds sweetness, there is a bed of spinach, a 24 hour confit leg wrapped in potato and fried for a crispy texture, beefy girolles ,oh and a lovely jus.

The chosen wine was Brackens Order Pinot Noir, Central Otago, New Zealand 2008.

Daniel Clifford explained all of his dishes in full as they were served. This gave an insight to the thought process behind them, plus of course the cooking techniques involved. Daniel also encouraged everyone to get involved by being able to visit the kitchen at any time to interact with the chefs and feel free to ask any questions that they wished.
Of some surprise a number of us (me included) were asked by Daniel personally to help plate up the next course. Its all a bit of fun really, but initially I found it a bit nerve wracking as I got the first bit of mine wrong. Everything went smoothly after that and we all sat down to eat the resulting plate of food.
A fun thing to try once in a while.

Slow Roast rump of Lamb, courgette, tomato, basil and Olde York cheese.

Again, wonderful aroma from the plate.Smokey char grilled courgette and sweet tomato. Both perfect accompaniments to the full flavoured sweet lamb. Also on the plate, under the lamb was the cubed Olde York cheese.
The accompanying wine was Chateau Moulinet, Pomerol 2007

Most appropriately the dessert looked like a cloud had floated in from outside and landed on top of the pineapple. It was in fact candy floss. Daniel had brought his candy floss machine from Midsummer House.

Caramelised Pineapple, pineapple sorbet, pineapple candy floss, indeed it was an homage to pineapple.

Thankfully we both like pineapple and by the look of the clean plates around the table so did everyone else. So no problem there.
The dessert wine was, Moscato d'Asti Piasa San Mouritzio 2011.

Tea or coffee was included along with a chocoholic dream selection as follows. Memory loss here I'm afraid. I recall pistachio and bay leaf that's all

So, I think  that I can speak for everyone, or at the very least those people who were in close proximity to us. Every single one that I spoke to absolutely enjoyed the event. It was special on many levels. Eye in the sky location. Top chef with top notch food. A great bunch of fun loving people to interact with, and indeed Daniel Clifford encouraged everyone to interact with him and his staff.
Service was impeccable, totally first class. attentive and caring, others in this industry should take note.

Further details on the other chefs and how to book The Cube are here

The Cube by Electrolux

Disclosure. I was invited to review The Cube by Electrolux.

Square Meal Cube on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 16 June 2012


We were more than glad to make the trip to Restaurant Alimentum in Cambridge, to attend a very special event. A Dingley Dell Flying Visit. This was a six course extravaganza to celebrate everything Pork. What made this special, was pork with a difference. It was happy pork, or at least the pigs who supplied the meat were happy pigs. Dingly Dell Pork from Suffolk is recognised for its top quality, and is used by not only Alimentum chef / proprietor Mark Poynton but other top chefs including Michelin starred Jason Atherton at his Pollen Street Social restaurant. Plus each and every course this evening was also prepared by a different chef(s)

We arrived at six for a pork inspired (yes) pre dinner cocktail mixed by Joe Tivey from 12a Members Club in Cambridge. Various cuts and prepared dishes were presented to show full use of the animal

A short film to show off the terrain of the farm animals was offered. Not only did this reveal the truly free range nature of the pigs environment but amazingly showed Mark, the owner of Dingly Dell treating his stock as pets. Dingly Dell is also Freedom Food approved

Next was a butchery class from Master butcher Tom Robert's who dissected the carcase with precision.

Canapes by "A passion to Inspire" students James Drury and Rachel Speak were handed around. My favourite was the scotch egg.

Another cocktail and a glass of champagne were proffered and this set the scene for this amazing value for money event that was on offer for the remainder of the evening. 
First course was by talented chef Eric Snaith from Titchwell Manor .  

Crispy Pigs head, garden vegetable salad and almond.
A wine package was included in the price. the choice here was, St Mont Blanc, Andre Daguin, Rhone Valley, France, NV

Bread was made on the premises and of good quality, as was the butter.

Next course from another highly rated chef  Russell Bateman, from restaurant, Colettes at The Grove

Pork belly, carrots, liquorice, sweet cicely and lemon verbena.

The wine chosen with this course was Pinot Gris, Domaine Materne Haegelin, Alsace, France. 2010

Ross Pike and Madeline Bonvini-Hamel from The British Larder, Suffolk next. Their featured dish was simply named,

Ham, Egg, and Cheek.

The wine choice was, Toscana Bianco IGT, I, Veroni, Tuscany, Italy, 2011

Chef / Proprietor Alimentum, Mark Poynton's dish next.

Hay Smoked pork loin, turnip, apple, and jack by the hedge.

Wine was a very pleasant Pinot Noir, Huaquen Reserve, Curico, Chile, 2009

Chocolatier, Michelle Gillot's pork inspired dish was up next, and do you know what it worked
Peanut, strawberry and crispy shoulder.

For the dessert course the sommelier chose Coteaux Du layon, Vielles Vignes, Loire Valley, France, 2009

 Well, event's like this one do not come around too often, although it has to be said that Alimentum seem to be regularly holding special events celebrating one product or another. It's just a shame we are so far away to try out  more of them.
One thing that shone through above all else was how passionate about food all of the amazing people that we spoke to on the night displayed. Some of them like us had travelled from afar, others were lucky to live local, but one thing is for sure. We all had a very good time.

I have not commented to any extent on the food but needless to say all of it was very good. I will not put forward a "best dish" because all of the chef's produced top dishes and I would not like to single out anyone because we enjoyed it all. Furthermore all of the chefs  mingled and chatted with their customers, more like friends than providers.

My apologies if I have missed anything or anyone out, we had such a good time that I consumed quite a lot more alcohol than I would normally do resulting in a poor memory.
We made many new friends on the night. A lot of them we shall communicate with on twitter and hope to meet up with them again in the not too distant future. Here are a few of our new friends.

Mark from Dingly Dell Pork, and master butcher Tom Robert's from Direct Meats of Suffolk.

Top chef from Alimentum. Mark Poynton.

Do look out for any Dingly Dell events. You can follow them on twitter. Also pay attention to Alimentum's upcoming events they really are special indeed.
Alimentum on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Le Champignon Sauvage

I'm not really sure where to start this review, as my last two visits here have not been too pleasant.

Ah well, I had best start at the beginning then.

David Everitt- Mathias and his wife Helen have been running this highly respected restaurant for what seems an age. During that time they have achieved stardom from the Michelin guide with two stars no less. A rarefied achievement indeed. It is also widely noted that Mr EM has never missed a service at his restaurant. A fact that I am unable to verify. Having said that though, if that is the case, consistency should certainly be to the fore. Which has not always been the case in my experience. We have had some truly wonderful meals here and some not so good.

We used to be regular diners here, A two hundred mile, round trip journey twice a year for quite a number of years and then ?......... Well, I happened to comment on a fish dish that was not to my taste and Madam blanked me for the rest of the evening, even choosing not to say goodnight after we waited for a good fifteen minutes. This, after much much previous praise on our other visits did not go down well at all. So we were reluctant to return.

Yes. Time is a great healer. We are six years on, and genuinely looking forward to eating here again, As I have stated we have had some very good food here.

When I booked the table I asked for 1 or 1.30. I was offered 12.30. We arrived at 12.15 but were locked out. I knocked. No reply. We browsed the menu in the glass case and lo and behold they don't open until 12.30? Eventually at 12.25 the door opened.

The initial greeting seemed pleasant enough from one of the servers, the other one looked a bit sullen and unfriendly. Helen was in the background.

The room is exactly as it was six years ago, formal, with brightly coloured summery prints covering the walls. The lighting however is poor and needs attention. The tables on the far wall, away from the windows  are too dark. I think that I would struggle to see the food at  its best. As the only diners, we were seated in the far right hand corner away from the entrance door, next to a venetian blind covered window which did not let an awful lot of light in to the room. Given a choice, this table would have been no where near the top of my list.

Food wise things started off fine. A couple of tasty blue cheese and walnut cookies, and rye bread, horseradish cream and ? Well I could not understand what our Eastern European server said, and that was to be a regular occurrence throughout the meal, as one of our other servers was Polish.
This meant that I had to ask repeatedly for both servers to state again what they were saying. Inevitably this led to frustration and the service descended into a poor state with very frosty, unfriendly attitude from both of them. It has to be said that there was no feeling of warmth from the moment that we arrived. Not good at all for anyone in the hospitality industry.

I only had to ask a couple of times what was in this little appetiser. Parsley? panna cotta  white onion puree and bacon foam. This was extremely nice. Different layers and textures. Good.

The set lunch menu that I chose from had only one course that we both liked the look of, Cinderford Lamb Fillet. So my wife chose from the carte which was a lot more appealing.

Cannelloni of Kid, roasted onion puree, peas and wilted lettuce. (from the carte)

 Not my dish, but I/we have eaten it before, in one form or another. I don't think its ever been off the menu. Yes, I enjoyed it back then and enjoyed what I tasted this time. My wife cleared her plate.

My dish next from the lunch menu (two courses £26 three courses £32)
Seared Cod cheeks, smoked eel, pear, horseradish and potato salad.

Well. What can I say about this dish except massive fail. If this had of been on GBM the judges would have ripped it apart. Cod? The cheeks had the texture of overcooked chicken. I raise my hat to KFC.
Apart from the texture they failed miserably on the flavour front. A bit of moisture in them would not have gone a miss too.

Note the dry stringy nature of the beasts in the photo.

Bread was a game of two halves as well. Some delicious bacon brioche and some rubbery seed crusted white that was below standard at this level. We did not try the granary.

At this point I was beginning to get annoyed with the face pulling antics of our server especially when I asked her to hold the bread basket so that I could take a photograph. I was starting to regret our return visit.

From the carte (two courses £48. Three courses £59) my wife went for the Winchcombe Venison, morels, smoked almonds, wild garlic pesto. nasturtium millet.

In the main my wife enjoyed this dish except that that the venison was "slightly" chewy. My taste from the smaller piece to the rear of the photo made me think that my wife was being far too kind.

My main course next up. Cinderford Lamb Fillet, bolognaise of shank, carrot cream, heritage carrots.

A hunky plate of food which reminded me very slightly of a dish that we ate at Pollen Street Social earlier this year. This was not as good though.The fail on this plate was a large chunk of minced flank that had not been broken up, so it did not take on any of the rather nice sauce.  Having said that perhaps I would have enjoyed this more if the service had not grated on me so much.

By this time there were six other tables of two in the restaurant, everything was hushed and low key with little or no atmosphere.

We skipped dessert, unusually so for us. Truth be told I could not wait to get the bill and get back home. We waited five minutes and in the end made the journey to the desk to get the bill and to pay. This helped speed things up.

Naturally, there are those who love this place, and so did we, for many years, but?

Would we ever go back?

Did not Charles Dickens famously state? " Never say never"



EVER. Square Meal Le Champignon Sauvage on Urbanspoon