Goodbye London, Hola Barcelona! Day 89 to 94

Goodbye London, Hola Barcelona! Day 89 to 94

Well it’s our last day in London before we fly out, and what better way spend it then packing, packing and a little bit more packing. I take everything out of the suitcases and remembering my Tetris skills start maneuvering clothes, shoes, souvenirs and everything else we overpacked. After three hours I am finished! A sigh of relief as I head downstairs to tell Josh the good news, who has spent his last day watching reruns of shows on the food channel. I join him before we get ready to head out to dinner.

It’s our last night so of course we had to squeeze one more restaurant in. Tonight we dine at Restaurant Story, a one michelin star restaurant near London Bridge. This restaurant is so new it hasn’t even been open a year and the most exciting part is it’s location, inside the middle of the road in an old toilet block. Did I say exciting? I meant interesting! Although after arriving and seeing its transformation my mind immediately wanders back to exciting. Chef Tom Sellers heads the team at Restaurant Story and having worked at Per Se, Tom Aikens and Noma you know his newest venture is sure to please. The food was innovative and beautifully presented, starting with bread and dripping that was set as a candle that melted right in front of us. Restaurant Story was a great experience and I can see this restaurant going very far. As always Josh will write an amazing review of Restaurant Story so stay tuned!

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With our tummies full from the night before it’s time to pack up our bags, say our goodbyes and head to London. Now with cash a little tight it takes two tube rides and a bus to get to the airport, let’s also remember that I hate carrying luggage and the tube has a lot of stairs. I start to winge and I see the vein on Josh’s forehead begin to pulse. I’m sure you can guess that day 90 was highly stressful and not very productive. We arrive in Barcelona, check in to our hotel and get some much needed rest.

The sun is shining in Barcelona. It’s our second visit to this beautiful city so the next few days are spent relaxing, enjoying tapas, walking along the port, eating gelato at the beach and shopping at markets along La Rambla. I even convinced Josh into watching the Magic Fountain of Montjuïc dance to disney.

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If you love culture, great food, buzzing atmospheres and stunning views then you will fall in love with the city of Barcelona. There is so much to see, eat and explore and I can’t wait for my third visit.

Time for some more Spanish culture because in the morning it’s off to San Sebastián.

Jess and Josh

Heading to Hogwarts. No, seriously! Day 88

Heading to Hogwarts. No, seriously! Day 88

So since we’ve been to Harry Potter world in the U.S we have been itching to re watch the movies, re read the books and basically re nerd ourselves in the wonderful world of wizardry and witchcraft. Warner Bros Studios London houses the full movie sets and props for all 8 Harry Potter films; costumes, sets, gadgets, wands. The magic is definitely in the air. Now rather than explain to all of you what we’ve seen we thought we would let you guys do the hard work. This is a post for the fans, seen the movies, read the books, you’ll know what you’re looking at. It’s pretty much our first photo post, let us know what you think!

Hop on your broomsticks.

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Raise your wands wizards.

Josh and Jess

London – The Highlights Reel. Day 72 to 87. Part 3.

London – The Highlights Reel. Day 72 to 87. Part 3.

This is the final chapter of my wandering a in London and I’ve saved the best till last! Is doesn’t include museums, artwork, sculptures or armoury, but showcases some of my favourite London cultural activities. It’s not for everybody but some definite highlights for me.

Leicester Square and a West End Show

Ever since we saw Wicked on Broadway in New York I have been waiting for another show to come along, and where better to see one than West End in London. Getting the tube there are posters for shows everywhere and there was one that always caught our eye. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Josh and I are huge fans of the original movie with Gene Wilder and read the Roahl Dahl book as kids, so what better choice for us.

We head into Leicester Square and try to find last minute tickets. This square is the broadway capital with half price ticketing booths everywhere and lists of shows you would never even know existed. I also spot the multilevel M&Ms store but one look at Josh and I know I’m not allowed in. With Charlie and the Chocolate Factory only starting in the Fall, there are no discounted tickets but we find the best price at the TKTS stand, and score some of the best seats in the house in the royal circle.

7pm and it’s showtime. The show is held at the Royal Drury Theatre on Drury Lane and after a few clever muffin man jokes from Josh we enter and take our seats. This lower balcony allows you to see the entire stage and as it’s raised, there is no obscenely tall man or wide headed lady to obscure your view. A young boy walks on stage, no more than 12 years old, and immediately we are captured by his voice. He is incredible and this is the word to describe the rest of the show. You are sitting in the edge of your seat, singing along to the tunes you are so familiar with and watching the amazingly talented cast re-create your favourite scenes. If you are ever in London or the show comes to your city, it’s a must. Yes there was a few lines dropped by Charlie but the show is only a few months old, and it’s only going to get better with age.

Camden Passage / Markets

Once again the sun is shining. I check the list for anything that’s outdoors because I know I’m lacking my vitamin D and settle on wandering the Camden Markets.

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Just like all markets a lot of the products are the same from store to store however you can find some great bargains if you persist and keep looking. I managed to get majority of my souvenirs from here. As you wander through the bustling streets and check out the markets and shops you eventually end up at Camden Passage. This is another market but features unique items and the best souvenir store I found, it’s along the left hand side wall, if your in the area I definitely recommend it! Another great aspect of Camden Passage is the food. Wander along the stalls and chefs will so anything to get you to eat, including free samples. You could fill up on samples alone but if you’re in the mood for food, I recommend the bang bang chicken on the corner where the chef may even sing you a song while you wait. Camden markets is the perfect day out in the sun and the best place to go for great affordable souvenirs.

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Changing of the Guard

Buckingham Palace is the epitome of cliché London tourist activities and Changing of the Guard is just the icing on the cake.

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Held every second day around 11am, I mark it on my calendar. Josh has no interest so I embark on the tube alone while he heads to The Ledbury. Now every post that I have read about this says get there early. I arrive at 10am and I know I’m way too late! People are 10 rows deep along the palace gates and I’m one of thousands trying to get a good spot. I settle for the rope and wait. A commotion is occurring just to my left and I look to see the Queen in her jet black car leaving the palace, camera flashes are everywhere and I get pushed and shoved by people wanting a closer look. We then hear the band as it starts to enter. Horses trot in tune, soldiers march and the band continues playing until they enter the palace grounds. It’s quite exciting and I move to try and get a closer look through the gates. After a while I eventually give up, everyone is content in remaining where they are and I’m way too short to see over the top.

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All in all the experience was great and watching the soldiers and band enter is truly fascinating but if you’re ever too late to get a good spot, I suggest to come back another day because you really can’t appreciate the experience without seeing the whole show.

Sherlock Holmes’ House

There isn’t really much to be said about this then the fact that it’s Sherlock Holmes’ House. One of the most famous addresses in London, 221B Baker St! It’s so easy to find and a must if you are a fan, like Josh is.

There is a guard out the front who is more than happy to take a photo with you, some props if your interested and a fairly large museum focused on the life of Sherlock Holmes. Josh and I didn’t feel the need to go into the museum although we did spend some time looking through the store next door that was filled with unique and quirky gifts. My advice, go and grab a photo and when your there, check out The Beatles memorabilia store next door too.

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So that concludes my time in London, I have had some amazing experiences here and have learnt so much about history, art, culture and even architecture. I hope that if you are ever in London that my guide gives you a little bit of insight, an idea or just something to keep you occupied for a while.

Put on your walking shoes.

Jess and Josh

London – The Highlights Reel. Day 72 to 87. Part 2

London – The Highlights Reel. Day 72 to 87. Part 2

So the saga continues. Here is the second installation of my London wanderings and the best part about it is that all of these things can be enjoyed for free. When travelling on a budget, you never have to break the bank with these few tourist attractions.

Sir John Soane Museum

This is one of those off the beaten track museums that people like me love to find, and it’s right in the centre of London. Known for his work as an architect, Sir John Soane tore down and rebuilt three houses in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. This is where the museum stands today. The houses showcase the talent Soane had in his field with every room highlighting a different theme and design. The detail within the panelling, layout and even the staircases is all unique and I have never seen a house quite like it. Antique cupboards and furniture line the walls with knick knacks inside, paintings and portraits fill the walls and piles of other intriguing artefacts are spread on the floor. Soane’s collections are everywhere and each as beautifully crafted as the next. Unfortunately you cannot take photos inside the building so it’s hard for me to show you how alluring this museum is, but you’ll just have to see for yourself.

Interesting fact: Sir John Soane, in his later years, was a professor of architecture and would allow his students to visit his collections and house before and after his lectures. As a result of this, he created an act that states the house would remain open for free to students of architecture for their perusal. It is for this reason that the museum remains open today.

Wallace Collection

Walking in to the Wallace Collection only one word springs to mind. Hoarder. Not one of those crazy cat lady types with clusters of junk sprawled all over the house but a classy, more sophisticated version. It’s utterly incredible. I tag along to one of those free tours I keep telling you about and can’t wait to explore.

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This collection is located inside Hertford House on Manchester Square. It is known for being one of the best collections of fine arts including paintings, armoury and furniture and I couldn’t agree more. It has been handed down five generations, each adding their own special pieces until it finally landed in the hands of Sir Richard Wallace.

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Although the armoury and furnishings are exquisite, the European oil paintings spread throughout the house are a definite must see. Pay special attention to the paintings highlighted in the guide, especially “The Laughing Cavalier” which was my favourite because when you look closely he is actually not laughing at all.

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British Museum

From the glass dome ceiling to the exceptional range of artefacts, you can’t help but be in complete awe of this museum. Of all of the museums in London this is the one not to be missed. The collection is so large that I visited twice and still didn’t manage to really see it all.

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The museum offers an array of different free tours throughout the day that highlight different cultural sections of the museum or you can pick up a map that outlines the must see artefacts. I could go on for hours about the history and the intricate detail in the items at the British museum but you really must see them for yourself. If you are travelling around the globe like we are, then my hint is to focus on the artefacts that are significant to the area you are in or places you have not been. At the British Museum I focused on medieval Europe, Africa, Mexico, Ancient Iraq, China and Japan however ancient Rome and Greece are always fantastic to see. Best advice is to just grab a map and head in the direction your drawn too.

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My highlight: seeing the Rosetta Stone and being able to touch the replica.

Fulham Palace

Slightly off the beaten path in South West London you’ll find this little gem. From the 11th century until it was vacated in the late 20th Century it was home to the Bishops of London who mainly used it as a summer home. The house itself features many different design styles and stands today as a Tudor palace with a Victorian style chapel. Walking through the house you see this style replicated in the features within the rooms and through photos placed throughout the house.

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As well as walking through the house you can enjoy some history in the small museum with stories of previous Bishops and how they spent their time here and there is a coffee shop located in the back with some of the best coffee I had in London. If the weather is good (which it was for me) wander through the grounds of Fulham Palace. There are stables and my favourite part, the walled gardens. These gardens are surrounded by a large brick wall and inside you’ll find a glasshouse, vegetables patches and many seats to rest and relax. A perfect day out to wander around and take in some fresh air, away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

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Natural History Museum

I’m not really one for natural history but it’s something Josh is fond of, and with him having a day off I thought I best let him decide where we would go. Although when first walking in to the Natural History Museum I must admit, my jaw dropped a little. Standing in front of us was a replica of the earths core, bright red and orange, with an escalator heading straight into the centre and towards the first exhibit. Ok maybe I got a little excited.

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As we wander through the museum we move from the earths beginning to present day, reading about the development of the earth, animals and humans along the way. This museum is completely interactive and perfect for kids and adults who are children at heart, there was even a robotic T. rex that got Josh pretty excited. After you finish the earths journey you can explore the thousands of species throughout the museum, there are sections showcasing mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and everything else you can think of, including a life size replica of a blue whale hanging from the ceiling.

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But wait, there’s more!

Jess and Josh

Finding home again. My time working and dining @ The Ledbury

Finding home again. My time working and dining @ The Ledbury

Well this is it, the reason why I’m here. It’s been a long year of saving, trip planning and travelling but I am standing outside the number thirteen restaurant in the world. My backpack heavy with my knives, aprons, clogs and notebook. Notting Hill drizzles with rain, a solitary milk truck makes its rounds behind me. The streets are empty at 8am and there is an air of calm about the place. Time to get to work.

So this is a dining review of Brett Graham’s incredible restaurant, The Ledbury, but as I’ve been working here these past few weeks I thought I’d give you a little insight into what actually goes on at one of the best restaurants in the world. This is what started our journey and it has been one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

Rain seeps down the stairs as I head down and introduce myself to the chefs, each of them are furiously prepping violet artichokes, they’ll be on for lunch today with fresh walnuts and grated foie gras. “Grab a peeler.” I’m home. Fish arrives at the back door. Oceanic, bright, caught this morning. Turbot slips past me and onto the fish section where Billy thoroughly inspects the quality. This is The Ledbury if it’s not perfect, it’s not being served. Turbot passes inspection, mackerel on the other hand gets a check from Sous Chef Greg, “yesterdays weren’t that bright, we sent them back.” Today the silver, shining fish stare back almost still live, inspection passed.

Suddenly I’m slapped on the back. “You’re Troy’s boy aren’t ya!” Holy crap it’s Brett Graham. I manage to stutter out a “nice to meet you chef, yeah I worked for Troy.” “You’ll fit right in here than.” He charges through the kitchen checking prep, tasting sauces and ensuring everyone is ready for lunch. I’m on canapés today so I quickly head over and check my section; gruyere mousse, wafer thin tart shells made from brick pastry and dehydrated olives. The fridge is also used for garnish so my drawers are stuffed with black truffles from Wiltshire, foie gras mousse, painstakingly picked wood sorrel, quail eggs wrapped in katafi and other woodland greens.

Service is like watching a well oiled machine, there are chefs that have been here for years, others that have just started. The pace is hectic, dockets fly in for tasting, a la carte, special menus and the food they pump out is something truly special. After I take a quick punishing on canapés trying to keep my damn hands from trembling I get thrown onto starters. Flame grilled mackerel with pickled cucumber, Celtic mustard and shiso. My first real plate at The Ledbury, I am plating at one of the best restaurants in the world, this is incredible. “That swipes not clean enough Josh, we’ll start that one again.” Damn! Well I’m here to learn and the rest go out without a hitch. The pace is addictive, Brett charging forward with the service yelling jobs at all his crew. “Go on two deer Jules!” “Foam this velouté,” “pull plates for curd” this is unbelievable. The team work so well together and the energy is infectious.

Lunch is finished and we scrub every possible surface from top to bottom, prep is pulled. Dinner looms. Brett has something that is truly unique, his ever changing menu allows him to fully utilise the produce that is best at that moment. Nothing is wasted; jowls of pigs are slow cooked to perfect, rich deliciousness, scallop corals are infused in stocks to make sauces, mushroom trimmings become silky purée. It is a wonderful way to cook and has made me think so much about my own cookery and how I want to emulate this style. Now I could talk about working here forever it was such great experience but I think it’s time we get to food.

So here we go.

Jess and I are dressed to impress and look incredibly out of place on the tube bound for Notting Hill. The Ledbury calls, after working here for these past few weeks I just cannot wait to eat. Yes I’ve been tasting as much as I can along the way but it’s nothing compared to experiencing the full dining room, the stunning decor and the wonderful service from our host Darren.

We’re seated and drinks are poured, a little champagne from Brett, thanks chef! We are sitting back and letting chef Greg do our menu for us. So no agonising choices to make, just relax and let the team do what they do best. Our canapés arrive, those little bites I’ve now prepped like a thousand times. Goat’s cheese mousse, spiced brick pastry, dehydrated olives. The goat’s cheese is whipped till light and fluffy and the lightly spiced tart crunches fantastically. A great little bite. Let’s eat.

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Cevice of hand diced scallops with Tokyo turnips, seaweed oil and frozen horseradish. It’s cold here in London but this dish is oddly warming, the creamy scallop and the heat of horseradish tempered by umami rich seaweed seems to warm the cockles. The dining room here is softly lit, stag horn centrepieces and rich copper tones also make the space feel wonderfully warm. The scallop is incredible quality, I helped prize these beauties from their shells, and the little pops of spherified apple freshen up the dish.

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Next a lump of clay is brought to our table, inside, a roasted beetroot. Our waiter cracks through the baked shell and releases earthy aromas throughout the restaurant. For your next course, beetroot baked in clay with smoked eel and dried olives. The dish arrives looking picturesque and smelling fantastic. Deliciously soft beetroot takes an even earthier note from the clay, the smoked eel brings a lovely taste from the water that pairs well with the bitter olives and sweet beets. This dish is fantastic, a great treating of the humble beetroot truly making it sing.

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Quail egg in crisp katafi, cauliflower and truffle. This is a dish that really speaks of The Ledbury, an ingredient they use insanely well is our friend the black truffle. The egg is oozey and soft, diving into the bright white cauliflower purée and covered, and I mean covered, in black truffle. The katafi pastry is fried to crisp golden crunchiness and a little vinaigrette of cep works to balance all that richness. What a dish, simple yet executed perfectly.

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Next boudin of pheasant, chestnut and thyme velouté. Using the pheasant in a boudin is clever as the meat can sometimes dry, here it is mixed with a little fat and gently poached keeping the whole thing moist and delicious. The chestnut and thyme work so well together giving everything a note of the forest, the thyme velouté is frothed lightly over the dish and cuts through rich chestnut and moorish boudin. Jess and I loved this dish, so much more than just pheasant, the food here allows the ingredients to shine. Brett and his team ensure this by only using the highest quality of products and treating them with the respect they deserve.

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Another great combination arrives, halibut with pumpkin, crispy ginger and mandarin. The fish is roasted beautifully, the pumpkin appears in a few forms; a soft froth bubbling in and around the fish like the lapping of ocean waves, some roasted spheres and a purée mixed with the tart mandarin. Fish cookery at its finest, it is light, delicate and flakes apart at the lightest touch. The ginger and mandarin brought an almost asiatic vibe to this dish that was refreshing after what can only be described as incredibly modern contemporary british food. Brett being a fellow Aussie is more then used to the melting pot of cultures within cuisine and here is a great example of his own interpretations.

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Jess and I have debated and argued over this next dish, we cannot decide if it was our favourite amongst so many other amazing courses. Celeriac baked in juniper ash with hazelnuts, lardo and roasting juices. I can only begin to describe the taste of this course. The ash gave a smokey floral taste to the celeriacs somewhat bitter flesh. Lardo and hazelnuts brought the luxury to an almost peasant dish. To use an ingredient so simply and create something so divine is the mark of true talent, I loved this dish. I cleared my plate and was eyeing of Jess’s like a crazed maniac, lucky our next course arrived and I fell in love all over again.

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Roast breast of pigeon with Victoria plums, red vegetables and leaves. Brett and his team cook everything fantastically but their standout performances come to game, it is something Brett and I have in common, we both love cooking and eating game. This dish was a wonderful, succulent breast of wood pigeon aged in hay before being roasted to perfection. Plums being a lovely partner to game with beets and wilted red leaves bringing everything to earth. A little dot of foie gras mousse gave another level of creamy decadence. Game birds have such amazing flavour and yet they don’t seem to be utilised as much back home, here they stand up proud.

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Now for some meat, and I mean probably some of the best quality beef I have ever eaten, no it’s not wagyu, I find that the flavours of great beef tend to be found in grass fed, well aged cuts. Fillet of belted Galloway with crisp potato, smoked marrow and burnt onion. This meat tasted of true beef, now I sometimes think fillet, being an under-utilised muscle can lack flavour, here the ageing process and the addition of smoked marrow made the grass and umami flavours explode. Sweet onions, a sauce of juniper and a purée of parsley combined in meaty harmony. I cannot rave enough about the level of skill the chefs have here, their cookery is what makes them one of the best restaurants in the world and the food showcases their talents.

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Stomachs filling it is time for the sweet finish, we begin with a pre dessert of sea buckthorn curd, meringue and mandarin granita. So refreshing, sea buckthorn is a tart little berry found along English shorelines, the sour balanced by sweet meringue and light fluffy mandarin. Following the beef this course completely cleansed the palate and readied us for desserts.

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Speaking of desserts what follows is an onslaught of wonderful calories, thank heavens the queen of desserts is here with me or I would have struggled. First another little pre dessert taste, fig leaf ice cream, salted caramel and beignets filled with fig jam. Wow, the fig leaf ice cream tastes vividly green, wild and herbaceous. The caramel is dark and salty bringing great toffee notes playing with the ice cream. Finally who doesn’t love doughnuts, light and puffed, filled with an intense fig jam. This taste was finished in about four mouthfuls.

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Next a banana and chocolate malt tartlet. Simply presented yet beautifully complex in texture. Crisp, short, chocolate pastry is filled with caramelised banana, banana ice cream and topped with a seriously dark, decadent chocolate espuma. Finished with some malt crumbs this dish brought new force to choc banana. The pastry was like a whisper, the mousse like a cloud. A lovely dessert of textures and tastes.

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As if the chocolate wasn’t rich enough, brown sugar tart with poached grapes and stem ginger ice cream proves to nearly push me over the edge. However the insanely buttery tart is cut down by the cleansing ginger, a great flavour combination made better by the knowledge of just how much work goes into this dish. The perfect timing of the tart in order to set it with that sexy wobble, the agonising chore of peeling grapes and so many other elements that make up this pastry prima ballerina.

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We have reached the end. The end of our dinner and the end of my time at The Ledbury, we head down to the kitchen to say goodbye to the guys, we’ve been here for hours and the chefs are deep into the scrub. It’s strange but although I was only here working for a short time I feel like I bonded with the team and they each taught me so much, about food, about becoming a chef and about myself. The entire team at The Ledbury is so dedicated to achieving perfection that it truly infects each and every person who walks through the doors. It shows on their plates, it shows in their fantastic floor staff, every detail is taken care of because giving anything less is just not an option. An inspiring place to work and I still can’t thank the guys enough for letting a starter like me become a part of their team.

Goodbyes are said and we finish off upstairs with petit four, a juniper flavoured biscuit with caramelised cream, apple jellies and eucalyptus chocolates. The final bites to what has been an inspiring meal and the end of an amazing experience. When in London this would be my number one recommendation because the place is truly awesome. Brett and his team create something special every service and will continue to drive the food of London in new directions. Get yourself through these doors.

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Tell Brett and the guys we said hi!

Josh and Jess

Dined November 2013
The Ledbury
127 Ledbury Road London, England
http://www.theledbury.com

Cookery with class. Dining @ Restaurant Gordon Ramsay

Cookery with class. Dining @ Restaurant Gordon Ramsay

Well you’ve seen him screaming at terrified chefs, hurling abuse at dismal restaurateurs and throwing the occasional plate of food into the ground. This is Gordon Ramsay, or so the media would have you believe. If his flagship restaurant, run by the incredibly talented Clare Smyth, says anything of Ramsay’s true nature then it describes him as humble, extremely dedicated and possessing an eye for detail that makes this restaurant the longest holder of three Michelin stars in all of London. This is Restaurant Gordon Ramsay.

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We arrive in beautiful Chelsea to a slightly damp evening, quickly forgotten as we are ushered into the stunning dining room on Royal Hospital Road. Gold and silver glitter amongst the tables. The diners themselves seem to glitter, Katy Perry sits in a corner table with John Mayer causing Jess’s jaw to drop. Celebrity spotting is definitely not what we’re here for however. This is about food.

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Menus arrive and we decide to change pace a little and thought we would eat a la carte. Yes I know it’s not the usual tasting menu straight up but we have a tonne of eating to do here in London and want to be under 300 kilo when we return home. With decisions made and Champagne in hand we relax and let Clare and her team work their magic. Snacks weave their way towards us, a perfectly oozing quail scotch egg is crunchy and creamy whilst a truffle steamed bun sits like a little cloud on the plate.

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As quick as they arrive they disappear and we are presented with a little treat from the kitchen. A cannelloni of leek stuffed with porcini in a velouté of chestnut. Incredible. The soft, sweet leek with slippery, earthy porcini melts into the richness that comes only from wonderful chestnut. This is understated simplicity, the quality of the ingredient, the skill of cookery. It takes a good chef to use ingredients well, it takes a great one to let the ingredients speak for themselves. This was a decadent way to begin the proceedings and left us both wanting more.

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First course arrives, for Jess a Ramsay classic. Having seen the recipe for this in his famous 3* cookbook I was keen to see the dish itself. Ravioli of lobster, langoustine and salmon poached in a light bisque with oscietra caviar and sorrel velouté. It arrives looking like a perfect dome, black caviar adding an extra layer of lux to what proved to be meticulously cooked seafood served with the lightly citric sorrel velouté. This is classic cookery, though foams, gels and airs are incredible it is not everyday one gets to experience food like this. This is cooking at its finest.

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For me I of course see offal on the menu and dive right in. Yes I’m a chef and these are the tasty bits I love to eat. Forgive me vegos. Sautéed foie gras with roasted veal sweetbreads, carrots, almonds and Cabernet Sauvignon vinegar. Wow, meaty, creamy, sweet, savoury. This dish sang off the plate. The foie is pan roasted and melts like butter, the sweetbreads are fried in nutty brown butter and the vinegar brings the acid to cut down all that delicious fat! This starter had guts, well it had offal, ok a poor joke I apologise, but it is the only way I can describe it. A flavour explosion that had me gobbling mouthfuls and wanting to lick the plate. 3 Michelin stars wouldn’t mind would they?

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Still savouring the fantastic starters and keeping Jess from staring at Katy Perry for too long, main course arrives. Well actually only part of it arrives, my Cornish turbot cooked en papillotte is opened in front of us, the smell is a heavenly scent of ocean, seaweed and butter. Ok I’m salivating, get that fish on a plate lets go. Cornish turbot baked on the bone with seaweed, palourde clams, coco beans and fennel. This is probably one of the best fish dishes I have ever eaten! Yes that is saying a lot and I don’t care, this dish is amazing. The turbot takes on all of the umami flavours from the seaweed, the fennel brings in a lovely liquorice note and the beans are creamy and moorish. I dream of cooking fish this perfectly, the turbot peels away from itself in delicate white flakes, this is the fish they serve in heaven.

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Utterly distracted by my fish course I almost miss a taste of Jess’s Cotswold lamb,
autumn vegetable “Navarin,” best end, braised shank, confit breast and shoulder. If I’d have waited a few seconds more I probably would have missed out because Jess sure looks like she is enjoying it. The lamb is blushing pink, the braise unctuous and sticky and the confit as it should be, rich! There is a tonne of technique going on in this dish. This is not lamb and vegetables, it is so much more. This is treating the lamb with the respect it deserves and serving as much of it as possible. A feast of meat cooked to perfection.

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Now in all honesty I could sit back feeling content for hours, actually I could probably have one more bite of fish, but we must go forth into the world of pastry. Our palates are cleansed with a refreshing mix of goats milk yoghurt and a passion fruit, mango concoction. Then dessert menus arrive. The part Jess has been waiting for, Katy Perry seems like a distant memory now. Dessert time.

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For once I went for richness, I know I’m not always the dessert lover but I am an insatiable lover of chocolate, especially chocolate and orange. So for me it is smoked chocolate cigar with blood orange and cardamom ice cream. Don’t be fooled by the effeminate looking plate the photo shows you, this was a dessert straight from a dark place, the rich rich chocolate barely giving room to the tart blood orange. Cardamom is a wonderful spice note with chocolate and here only made the chocolate taste even darker, it was a wonderful take on the classic flavours of chocolate and orange.

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It was nice to eat a la carte for a change. We seem to have become so used to tasting menus it was lovely to eat different dishes and chat about what we love. Dining. Service here is immaculate, sharply dressed waiters are friendly, down to earth and happy to chat about the food and their experiences in the restaurant. You could chat with Jean Claude and hear every story from within these walls. We sit back to some petit four of strawberry ice cream dipped in white chocolate, heavenly little bites that round out our meal with some silky smooth coffees. We head into the kitchen for a quick chat with the lovely Clare and a look around the powerhouse of this amazing restaurant. Clare is so humble and chats about how much she still loves cooking and working for Gordon. Maybe he’s a big teddy bear after all??

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Time for us to mosey out, avoiding the paparazzi on the way we farewell what has been an incredible experience of fine dining excellence. Make the time to get here, make the reservation, do whatever it takes. This is classic cooking at its best and needs to be appreciated, Clare and her fantastic team will ensure an amazing evening.

This is definitely not Hell’s Kitchen.

Josh & Jess

Dined October 2013
Restaurant Gordon Ramsay
68 Royal Hospital Road London, England
http://www.gordonramsay.com/royalhospitalroad

An exercise in excellence. Dining @ Tom Aikens

An exercise in excellence. Dining @ Tom Aikens

London streets roar with city life. The tube is flooded with folks eager to get home after a long day, the weather is…bleak. However it is London, the ever grey sky looms overhead with the constant threat of rain but we persevere and it’s going to take a lot more than a little wet weather to keep Jess and I from our next destination. Restaurant Tom Aikens.

We walk into the busy restaurant and are quickly seated, it is of course tasting menu for us no doubt and we are both keen to get started. Tom offers a seven course taster and with the decision made snacks arrive on cue. Rillette, quail egg with truffle, puffed pork skin, the treats are almost overwhelming. We of course demolish these bites and get ready to move on to our next courses.

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However standing between us is a mountain of bread! It is not like me to mention bread but the bread here is something else. Brioche, sourdough, porcini rye, it has everything. Paired with butter, oh glorious butter. This butter was flavoured with cheese and bacon, and another with mushroom. Can things possibly get any better. Usually I don’t want to fill up on bread but here, just tuck me into a corner with the remainder of the basket and I’ll be happy. No seriously.

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In between mouthfuls of rolls our first course arrives. Crab, coriander, horseradish snow, coconut, crab vinaigrette. A light starter pairing freshly picked crab meat with the icy bite of horseradish. Coriander and coconut gave an almost green curry feel to the dish without taking away from the lovely oceanic flavour of the crab. A light start but with plenty of flavour to get us ready for everything that was to come.

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Rabbit, rabbit boudin, sorrel, nasturtiums. This was a rabbit dish like nothing I’ve had before. The rabbit is delicate in flavour, lightly poached and served cool. The boudin gives great depth to the dish while sorrel ice and fresh nasturtiums provide acidity and freshness. It was an interesting dish to eat, as if the rabbit had tumbled into the flower garden. A nice design rather then the usual braised rabbit with sticky game jus.

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A scallop shell is whisked in front of us. Baked scallop, grains and bread consommé. Wow. This dish was utterly incredible, the scallop had a rich, roasted flavour that, combined with the decadent clear stock was utterly moorish. The grains had a porridge like consistency that made for soaking up sauce and consuming each flavour packed bite a treat. Suddenly we are completely sucked into Tom’s world and cannot wait to see what he will treat us with next.

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The next treat arrives in the form of house made ricotta, green olive juice, honey jelly, pine nuts. The ricotta comes fresh and in sheets, the pine nut in the form of sorbet and the honey jelled so lightly that they almost dissolve on the tongue. A vegetarian dish with bones, this dish had great structure and texture without being over complicated. The ricotta was fresh with a slight sourness, the green olive juice is slightly bitter but very fruity and the pine nut gave in to the rich creamy mouthfeel that all good cheese dishes should have. This dish was a surprise after the scallop but gave a pleasant change on the palette before we moved into the main performance of our degustation.

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Open with a bang. Halibut, salt baked celeriac, chicken wing meat, truffle butter. This is a fish dish. Aikens writes books on fish cookery and dishes like this show why. Perfectly cooked halibut pairs with earthy celeriac and mounds of black truffle. This is fish that stands up as a main course, I think people’s predisposition to dislike fish is due to the notion that it tastes fishy. Wrong, good fish, fresh fish tastes of meat. Bright, oceanic but with a richness that stands up to any meat course. This was a fantastic dish. The celeriac added deep, roasted notes along with our earthy friend mister tuber melanosporum, that’s truffle in other words. All of these flavours pushed the fish into another realm, and it was a delight to destroy.

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Now for the main event. The tasting menu says piglet or grouse. Our fantastic waiter seems to know us so well and of course brings both. Piglet belly, braised and roasted, baked aubergine, smoked apple. A dish filled with classic flavours, roasted pork with crackle that snaps underneath the fork, the smokey apple and the creamy aubergine. A roast dinner in a new form, the pork is of ridiculous quality and tastes as though it dined on only the finest. The smoked apple brings sweetness and of course the smoke that gives a flavour reminiscent of Carolina BBQ with the cream of the aubergine bringing everything together. Jess and I fight to get forkfuls.

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Now for a taste of the woodland. Allenheads Grouse, grouse sausage, barley, blackberry. Another classic pairing of game bird and berry. This dish tasted of the woods, the blackberry brings a forest note cuddled up alongside the games richness that is perfectly cooked grouse. The sausage is bold and full flavoured with the barley bringing great toasty notes. The stomach is filling but I know that dessert still calls.

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Once again we are agonised by choice, chocolate or pistachio. We have great waiters who are happy to decide for us. Why not have both. Ok! Pistachio, parfait, pistachio cake, pistachio praline. The many textures of snackable, oily, delightful pistachio. The cake is soft and crumbly, the parfait rich and creamy and the praline snaps deliciously. Gorgeously green this dessert brought this humble little nut to new heights and the dish was devoured in but a few mouthfuls.

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I can see Jess’s eyes bulging at the remaining dessert. Chocolate & violet, violet sorbet, cocoa crumbs, honeycomb, crystallised violets. Dessert is about texture and this dish had plenty, cake, cookies, crumbs, sorbets, mousse. Every bite was intricate and exciting, violet is such an under-utilised flavour and brings sweetness, floral aroma and just overall depth to a dish. I love violet in dessert and here it is paired with decadent chocolate. I had to wrestle the plate from my beautiful fiancé just to get a taste.

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With stomachs filled we settle back, then our wonderful waiter says “fancy seeing tom?” Well after dining like that we have to meet the magician in charge, so we head down to the basement to see the engine room. A quick handshake with the maestro and we leave the boys to their busy scrub and remaining pastry orders. Our table is now flooded with petit four, lucky we saved room. The chocolate box is full of delicious treats, green olive lollipops, black truffle ice cream, berry meringues, lemon tarts the treats seem endless and Jess and I must try them all.

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So with stomachs filled to bursting point we waddle out of the restaurant. Tom Aikens is creating food with a new voice, it is original, interesting and most importantly delicious. If you’re in London step off the dreary streets and step into Toms world.

Be sure to ask for more bread.

Josh and Jess

Dined November 2013
Tom Aikens Restaurant
43 Elystan St Chelsea, London, England
http://www.tomaikens.co.uk