Wednesday, 29 August 2012

28-50 Marylebone

28-50 occupies a triangular glass fronted site in a not so busy but fashionable street in Marylebone. As we sat amongst the other diners who numbered  precisely four I did a Mrs Merton and questioned  " What was it that first attracted you to Agnar Sverrisson's 28-50"?
Of course you may recall Mrs Merton asking a similar question to Debbie McGee. "What first attracted you to the millionaire Paul Daniels. Ha ha.
Of course the answer to both is in the question.

28-50 is actually the second Wine workshop opened jointly between dream team business partners Agnar Sverrisson (chef) and highly respected sommelier Xavier Rousset.
I have followed their rise to fame since they left Raymond Blanc's Le Manoir to there move to their restaurant Texture which belatedly  and deservedly (after 2 years) won a Michelin star. I like Sverrisson's style of cooking but Texture has not been on my revisit list for some while. I was very eager to see what food was on offer here and who actually influenced it. 

Now then I am not into wine. I have tried. I have followed the advice of countless sommeliers, and paid a hefty price for it, but mostly I can live without those expensive bottles. My focus has and always will be the food that is on offer. Which of course brings me back to Sverrisson.

I think that it is fair to say that a Sunday lunch visit to a wine bar in Marylebone is going to be a quiet affair and having said that, most of the time that we were there, there were more staff than diners. Still, no problem we don't crave the buzz, the food is more important.

The menu is as you may expect for a "Wine workshop" is short, and in my opinion a bit too short. Five starters, five soups or salads, five mains, a couple of specials, some sharing platters and what read like six quite boring desserts.
So clearly the focus is not on the food. Its the wine which is top dog here. In fact the only nod to Sverrisson on the whole menu is the Icelandic fish stew. I had to ask the question as to who devised the menus and it is not Sverrisson at all but executive chef Paul Walsh, a highly experienced chap who was Clare Smythe's sous chef at Gordon Ramsay's Royal Hospital Road.
So we have a French influenced menu not an Icelandic one.

The interior is rather attractive with its horseshoe shaped bar dominating the place. Plenty of light floods the area. The tables are well spaced and wood is to the fore, not only the tables, chairs, and floor but the scores of empty wine boxes cleverly used as decoration. Down the stairs is a further much smaller dining area featuring a semi open kitchen.

None of the Salads or soups appealed. So on to the Starters, which are both available in small or large versions.

I love bread, and this was decent enough but it was to reach overkill proportions by the time we had finished the meal, as virtually every dish we ate had some on it.

First up was a tasty Aubergine, courgette, peppers combo. (£6.75). No hint of Iceland here , ( the country not the store) This is the South of France on a plate. The courgettes had been char grilled, rolled up and inserted into the aubergine. Texture or crunch to be precise was courtesy of the toasted bread and a smattering of pine nuts. Not bad, not bad at all.

Foie Gras terrine (£7.50) was a bit of a stingy portion. Nothing wrong with the flavour. It was creamy, rich and bold tasting and certainly needed the most welcome rhubarb chutney to cut through the richness. Again bread made an appearance on the plate, as it did with all of the starters.

Originally we had planned to try a couple of Rock Oysters (£1.85) each, but decided instead to try another starter, some Salt Beef brisket (£6.50)
Again the ubiquitous bread made an appearance. The beef had been cut into batons and dressed in a sauce of ? It was fine but we could not get to excited about it. The cournichons were just that cournichons nothing special there.

I was desperate to try the Icelandic fish stew (£14.95) and hoped to see perhaps a bit of flair. What arrived at the table was more of a potato stew, not a fish stew. Where was the salt cod? There was precious little of it. It was a good job too that I like curry, because the unannounced dusting on top could put a few people off. Having said that the bearnaise sauce was good and overall it had decent depth of flavour.

Yet again we have more bread, this time rye, which was very heavy and most certainly not to my taste. The dish was screaming out for greens which I had thankfully ordered as a side dish. So Spring greens and green beans (£3.25) just what the dish needed.

My wife's dish was billed simply as Lamb shoulder grilled (£15.50). I liked the look and smell of this. The lamb had been braised and then crisped in the oven. It sat on a bed of Borlotti beans, and a vibrant Chantenay carrot, peas, and broad bean mixture. Again really simple food but tasty. The lamb in particular we both enjoyed.

None of the desserts interested us. Ice cream selection, Fresh fruit salad, Creme brulee, Lemon tart, Chocolate tart. Come on you can do better than that. In fact you need to do, on desserts especially, if you want customers to be tempted to part with their hard earned cash.

Its fair to say 28-50 did not really do it for us. Truth be told I was expecting more. Everything is just so safe and predictable and quite frankly a bit boring. You will certainly get a big taste of Rousset's input here, and Walsh's, but certainly not Sverrisson's. You will have to go to Texture for that, and that did disappoint because that was the main reason that I wanted to dine here.

So that just about sums it up for us. Been there, seen it, done it. A good neighbourhood wine bar with decent food but certainly not worth a special trip from across town.

Square Meal 28-50 Wine Workshop & Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Monday, 13 August 2012


 Racine has been open for exactly a decade. Chef Henry Harris was cooking at Harvey Nichols on the Fifth Floor for about the same length of time, when he decided that it was about time that he started his own restaurant. Prior to that he cooked for, and alongside Simon Hopkinson. First at Hilaire, and then at Bibendum. We have eaten HH's food at Harvey Nicks a number of times, and also at Bibendum too. However, prior to today we have only ever  eaten at Racine just the once. 
Our decision to make such a belated return journey was through twitter. I read that they were expecting a delivery of grouse on Monday 13th, the day after the Grouse season officially started, and that fact inspired me enough to take another look at the menu. Of course our visit was to be a couple of days too early for the grouse that I so desired, but the menu read very well and appealing enough to make that return  visit.

The interior really has an authentic feel of French bistro, and classic French food is what is on offer. Dark woods dominate and crisp white tablecloths give a feel of formality. Mirrors are in abundance helping to reflect the light around the room.

The menu was varied and tempting, with lots of French classics. Pricing is especially keen considering its prime property location. Classic starters were Charcuterie, snails, Calves brains, foie gras, etc, etc. Mains, from a choice of ten, were priced between £16.50 and £28.50 (filet au poivre)  and included, Barbary duck, Lamb chops, Limousin Veal, Tete de Veau, Calves liver, etc, etc.

Of particular interest this lunch visit was the exceptionally good value Prix fixe menu which is also available early evening. A steal at £15.50 for two, or £17.75 for three courses. There is also a "specials" list of temptations. So much choice indeed.

Bread was good, as good a baguette as you would get anywhere. The French butter too was impressive.

My Salade paysanne was exactly what I desired as a starter for a sunny lunchtime. Confit rabbit, heart and  liver. Zingy crunchy bitter endive (in this case chicory) with a most welcome mustard mayonnaise. Moist, texturally interesting and good flavour from the rabbit. A satisfying plate of food.

Another pleasant dish was my wife's Grilled aubergine, herbs, smoke cods roe. The herbs were some distinctive parsley and mint. Crunchy baguette crouton added another dimension. The charred aubergine was delicious and I detected a lemon hit running through the dish.

 My Sardines were fresh on the day from Dorset. Again for me just the right dish for a late summer lunch.
  So. Very fresh grilled sardines, some aubergine, courgette and char grilled potato halves, The tomato puree added taste, moisture, and visual appeal. Simple but effective.

The other main course was my wife's first choice. Braised Veal with lemon. The cut of veal was explained as being the rib cap, which had been rolled and braised. In the very tasty soup was some Toulouse sausage, peas, and tomato cubes. My wife liked the dish, but the cut was a little too fatty for her taste. I thought it had very good depth of flavour but the meat was slightly stringy and again overly fatty. However, having said that it did not put me off , as most of the flavour came from the fat element of this cut of meat. Besides which, you could argue the dish is what it is, and not a prime cut of meat.

Having our inquisitive and greedy heads on we simply could not resist sharing a "Summer lunch special" of Duck confit, Puy lentils, green salad and a glass of wine (£16.50)
Of course this dish really epitomises French cuisine at its best. I nearly did not choose this because it is a dish that I make at home but I wanted to eat Harris's version, as I knew it would be better than mine, and it was. One of the other "specials " was A pair of slip soles, lemon oil, chives, and Amalfi lemon. Tempting. In fact very tempting, but not this time. Perhaps next?

Even without the extra main course portion size is more than adequate, indeed it is generous even for those with a large appetite.

To finish the meal on the Prix fixe menu there was a simple choice of sorbets, cheese, or raspberry coupe, and we decided to share the latter.
So Raspberry coupe. As simple as you like, fresh raspberries, whipped cream, ice cream, tiny meringues, raspberry puree and a trickle of ?

With the meal we enjoyed a very pleasant bottle of Picpoul de Pinet, Coteaux de Languedoc 2011 (£24).

As it would happen, and again thanks to twitter, HH recommended this to another one of his customers so we just had to try it out ourselves, and guess what? It was spot on.

For a Saturday lunch, it was comforting to see Monsieur Harris was in the kitchen.  A lot of head chefs tend to skip Saturday lunch and return for the busy evening service.  He popped out of his kitchen to greet a couple of diners, who no doubt looked like they were happy regulars.

So to sum up then.
We enjoyed Racine very much. It delivered what we wanted on the day. Honest, big, butch flavoured French food from a chef who clearly enjoys putting a smile on peoples faces.
Service was friendly, relaxed, but slightly off kilter at times. We had three different servers during the visit and a couple of minor slips occurred. Overall though this did little to dent the experience.

If you crave classic French cuisine, served in an atmospheric setting, in a posh part of town, with decidedly un posh pricing.
Go here.

 Racine on Urbanspoon Square Meal

Friday, 3 August 2012

Peter and Jonray Sanchez-Iglesias at The Cube

Peter and Jonray Sanchez-Iglesias are appearing next week at The Cube and I was fortunate enough to be invited to a preview of what would perhaps be on offer at that time.
I have for sometime wanted to visit their restaurant Casamia in Bristol, but for one reason or another never quite got around to it. They appeared on television courtesy of Gordon Ramsay's F Word and indeed won the Best Independent restaurant award. I really liked the look of what they were doing and felt a visit was in order. Still from what you will see their cuisine is easily transportable to London but I shall still make that trip to Bristol.

So let the journey begin.

For those not familiar with The Cube, please let me explain. For those of you who are please sing or hum or whatever.

The Cube is a fabulous vehicle for Electrolux to showcase there move into the domestic cooking market. All of the appliances in The Cube are from their domestic range. This transportable pod, for want of a better description is currently residing atop of The Royal Festival Hall surely one of the most spectacular spots in central London. Prior to this it has graced buildings in some of Europe's famous Cities.
 Electrolux currently supply half of all of the Michelin starred chefs in Europe with appliances, so what better link than only to have a bevy of Michelin starred chefs to do the cooking at The Cube.

Our visit coincided with the London 2012 Ladies bike race so Central London was gridlocked. Thankfully we arrived slightly late but greatly looking forward to the meal and another ride up to floor 6 in the singing lift but it did not work. Well the lift itself worked but the audio did not.

We were greeted by the lovely Josephine and taken up onto the balcony for a welcoming glass ( and more) of  Joseph Perrier Curvee Royale 2002.
Service as always was impeccable and Christan Zucca immediately made everyone feel at home.
Canapes were offered with a teaser " Any idea what is in them?" I got cheese, although the wrong one. Tomatoes. There were actually three types, yellow, green and red. Plus an easy guess which was cucumber.
The topping is actually a Buffalo Mozzarella mousse flecked with black olives and Parmesan.

Mozzarella and Tomatoes.

Whilst everyone enjoyed their champers the Sanchez brothers Peter (left) and Jonray were busy in the small but perfectly formed kitchen. They had two helpers which was easily sufficient for the sixteen guests.

Little did we all know that apart from the feast that awaited, we were also in for a visual treat as the boys had really gone to town on the theatrics too. What followed was more akin to the fantastic presentation that the chefs displayed in BBC Great British Menu, and in my opinion took the meal to another level.

Ashton Court Picnic.

To get the show on the road each guest was presented with a picnic hamper. Needless to say this provoked deep joy and everyone was eager to peek inside to see what treasure lay in wait.
Jonray explained that the idea of the picnic was from boyhood memories. Of extra interest a special soundtrack was played throughout. Not of music but the different sounds of perhaps a park scene with children playing in the background. The overwhelming feel was one of frivolity and enjoyment.

So inside, we have Potato Salad, Quiche Lorraine, Coronation chicken, scotch egg.
A really fun way to start and believe me there was a big smile on everyone's face.

Accompanying wine Domaine Gavoty Rose. Cotes de Provence 2011.

Guests were very relaxed and in great spirits and we were all looking forward to the next course which was a Cucumber Chilled Soup, frozen horseradish.

This dish was inspired by the boys father's Andalucian roots. Based on Gazpacho which they ate regularly the modern twist to this classic is the "heat" from the horseradish against the cold of the cucumber based soup.

Wine served  Hunters Riesling, Marlborough, New Zealand 2011.

We could all see the plating up, and the beauty of this small intimate type of dinner party is that everyone is encouraged to interact with the staff and chefs and visit the kitchen whenever they wish. The chefs were extremely chatty and approachable, happy to explain ingredients and /or technique.

Everyone was baffled as to how the next course would be presented. Clearly it involved pebbles, but would some of them be edible?

The wooden platter was placed in front of us. On it was an array of pebbles, a jar of tartar sauce and a cone of scrumps. Last but not least was a spray capsule , which turned out to be malt vinegar.

 So Seaside Memories.
 Slow cooked Pollock, mushy peas, scrumps, tartar sauce.

Scrumps according to my understanding are something that are withered, shrivelled or dried up. In this context I assume scrumps are the little bits of left over batter and chips bits that are presumed of little value in a chip shop, but are arguable the tastiest bits on offer.

The main event was a beautiful piece of fish to complete the Fish and Chip memory. It was explained that the scrums were to be scattered over the fish and to spray the vinegar to give you the full fish and chip experience.

Accompanying wine Colli Martani Grechetto, Antonelli, Montefalco, Umbria, Italy 2011.

 Throughout the meal guests visited the kitchen to chat and ask the chefs questions. The meal was well paced allowing time to interact with other guests. Standing room only was available kitchen side and many people took advantage of this.

The final savoury course was Roast duck, summer carrots, fennel. This presented well and it ate as good as it looked. The duck was impressive. Succulent and top tasting. We both like fennel and it paired well with not only the duck but the carrots too. Some fragrant duck jus was spooned over. This was topped with crispy roast duck skin.

Wine course was Sancerre Rouge, Domaine Laloue 2010

There was a welcome break before the dessert allowing people to mingle, and  perhaps stretch their legs and talk with the chefs.
The dessert when it arrived table side was fairly simple but the presentation was theatrical to say the least.

Raspberry and rose sundae, was put in front of guests then liquid nitrogen was poured into receptacles  in the middle of the table to create an eerie cloud of mist that spread the entire breadth and width of the table.
A large glass jar of hundreds and thousands was available for guests to sprinkle over the dessert.

Wine served was Hukupapa dessert Riesling, Hunter's, Marlborough, New Zealand 2009.

 Finally the meal coming to an end some tasty chocolate crisps were offered with either tea or coffee.

So very few venues have the wow that The Cube has. This was a fabulous event enhanced by the staff, the chefs, and of course the food, and last but not least the theatrical element that elevated a special event to an amazing event. If you get the chance this really is a one off experience to try. Perhaps a once in a lifetime for most.
Having sampled Peter and Jonray's food we are looking forward to visiting Casamia in Bristol to try the tasting menu, because on this showing it promises some very special food indeed

So there you have it. A highly memorable meal for a number of reason's

Finally a few more photos for you to peruse over, and details of The Cube here

Cube on Urbanspoon Square Meal