Review: The Loch & The Tyne, Old Windsor

Mother

Mother

The signature dish at The Loch & The Tyne, Adam Handling’s big rambling dining pub in Old Windsor, is a starter called ‘Mother’. It’s a splendidly savoury dish of thin slices of baked celeriac formed into a package around a creamy-gooey interior that includes the warm earthy flavour of truffle, the odd zing of apple and the unexpected sticky dollop of date. The whole thing works very well, although I would have loved the celeriac to be a tiny bit more soft and yielding.

Mains were a bit more pub-driven, although always executed with a lot of class and a twist (you’d hope so at £30+). I went with the steak, and it was a beautifully full-flavoured bit of rib eye with a top crust of butter with gently warming chillies diced finely into it. Very nice too. Top-drawer chunky chips and an excellent peppercorn sauce. Maureen’s duck breast was an absolute wallop of flavour, all coming from the duck itself and how well it had been charred and

Tarte tatin

Tarte tatin

cooked to a perfect rosy hue. This was dish of the day. Can’t fault the boulanger potatoes either, although the chips here were king. One tiny duff note: we ordered a side of charred hispi cabbage with anchovy. The anchovy was done as a cream sauce, soaked into the cabbage. I am here to report that anchovy and cream is yucky.

Brilliant palate cleanser of rhubard sorbet with custard whipped cream. And then a truly scrumptious tarte tatin. In contravention of the current trend for wafer-thin slicing this one was made with big hearty chunks of pink lady apple. It worked. The pastry was crisp with stickiness.

All this is great, but you’ll be putting down £60 each for three courses before drinks. Putting The Loch & The Tyne in a strange place where it’s more expensive than any pub dinner has a right to be, but not really into serious fine dining territory. For me it’s a bit expensive, but I doubt the good folk of Windsor and Ascot really notice.

Duck

Duck

Review: Evelyn’s Table, Soho

Evelyn's Table

Evelyn’s Table

We snuck into Evelyn’s Table just a month before they won their first Michelin star, so it’s quite possible that the price of the menu has already gone up a tad! But it was a great menu, and a bargain when we ate, so I’m willing to bet it’s still well worth the price of admission.

Evelyn’s Table is a twee little room below a pub in Soho, with counter dining at the open kitchen for 12 guests. It’s really very snug and if you like to sprawl semi-conscious in a comfortably upholstered chair while the wine pairing eases you into a pleasant post-prandial stupor… then this isn’t for you.

Scallop

Scallop

We had quite a sociable evening with friends, so I’m in the embarrassing position of not being able to go into much detail on the dishes. The dog ate my notes, sorta thing. But this blog actually exists as much for me to remember where I want to return to as anything else, so I need to write down this: I would very happily return to Evelyn’s Table, they cooked up a bewitching menu of inventive dishes that put the mmmMMMMmmm into mmmMMMMmmmodern British cooking.

The scallop, carrot and cardamom was a sublime combination, just enough sweetness to lift the scallop without going too sweet. The roast sea bass was even better, bone marrow and a dark Roscoff onion broth making for a startlingly savoury/umami accompaniment to the fish. The main course was quail, and it was a blindingly well roasted bird, three different pieces served to us, with turnip to accompany and a bright orange clementine puree that I loved. The main pud was a spiralised apple tart tatin, elevated above its brethren by the addition of yuzu. The floral-citrus hit of the yuzu bounced off the sticky-caramel apple very beautifully.

So, yeah. Go, go, go… as soon as the hype subsides enough for you to find a table!

Quail in the pan

Quail in the pan

Review: Benares, Mayfair

Malabar scallop

Malabar scallop

Benares was the first ever true Indian fine dining restaurant I tried, maybe 14 years ago. I remember being knocked out by the elegance of the cooking while a symphony of spices were gradually building to a mighty crescendo on my palate. I’ve had a lot of fine Indian food since then but I’ve always had a soft spot for Benares, even though it apparently went off the boil for a while. Well, I’ve been back and all the elegance and spice is still there.

It’s a modern dining room on flashy Berkeley Square, sculpted walls and lots of black shiny surfaces with the occasional splash of primary colours. I must admit the service felt more business-like than personal, but really nothing to complain about.

Dry ice oyster

Dry ice oyster

So what can I tell you about the food? Well, the “street snack” was so-so, but then it’s actually quite refreshing that Benares is a properly grown-up menu and doesn’t feel the need to feed us gussied-up Mumbai street food like every-other Indian tasting menu. Much better was a truffle, chestnut and chicken broth with real warmth.

The oyster and sea bream got dry ice poured all over it, which was a bit worryingly retro, but I needn’t have worried: the scallop backed in a fierce and heart-warming malabar sauce was absolutely splendid. I’d have happily eaten five. Instead I ate a piece of beautifully tandoori’d halibut with plenty of firm, bouncy texture still inside the fish and a lovely red char outside. The moilee sauce, one of my favourites, was tangy and sweet.

Halibut moilee

Halibut moilee

Oh, but then the tandoori muntjac. This was hands-down the best piece of venison all year, in fact for many years. Tender, slightly iron-y, cube of meat with a great set of spiky/warming spices on the outside. And that wasn’t even the best main, because the baby poussin tikka masala was even better. Sharp, sour, fiery, sweet gravy on the nicely charred meat, an absolutely knock-out daal and fine pilau rice. An absolutely unabashed British curry classic but so greatly elevated by just top-drawer cooking, plating and balancing of spices.

The rasmalai pud was good, the crispy pastry rose with dabs of pink goo were even better, and I really enjoyed the crystallised fig leaf even if it got completely stuck in my teeth. The menu is £120 before drinks and we had a great value bottle of Gewurtztraminer (well, you have to really). I think it’s spot-on and if you want to know what can be done at the top end of Indian cooking then Benares is for you.

Melt in the mouth pastry

Melt in the mouth pastry

Review: Ogino, Beverley

Ogino

Ogino

When we reported back to friends about our meal at Ogino, a Japanese restaurant in Beverley, they reflected that after a few grim experiences they have basically given up on trying Japanese restaurants outside of major cities. And I must admit I can also think of three really poor examples without much effort. Four, now.

So yeah. Beverley is a really handsome old market town in East Yorkshire and I’d recommend a wander round its old centre to anyone. I couldn’t recommend Ogino though. In spite of the snazzy ceiling decoration.

Duck

Duck

We started with one of their speciality sushi rolls. This was a thug of a roll, each slice way too large to eat in a mouthful. Stuffed with blue crab, salmon and tuna with tempura crumb sprinkled on top it would have been a nice combo if not so overwhelming. Perfectly nice sushi rice, just too much of it.

My main course was smoked duck with a red wine and paprika sauce. Putting a glass cover on a roast duck breast and squirting some smoke underneath before service doesn’t make it a smoked duck breast, and sure enough once the smoke had blown away there wasn’t any flavour left. The sauce was a vaguely sweet brown goo. The duck was okay but hardly melt-in-the-mouth. It had a slightly odd taste that I would have associated with boiled meat if it hadn’t clearly still been pink. Too long on a warming plate? Dunno.

Sushi roll

Sushi roll

Funnily enough, Maureen’s seared tuna had the same sort of taste. And a very odd texture, sort of like spam. It also had almost zero actual searing on the surface, just a grey outside and pinkish middle. The tuna was served on a bed of noodles with a bit of soy sauce; I guess this was the “soy and red shiso reduction”?

By far the best dish on the table was the accompaniment of kimchi fried rice. But you know, I defy anyone to f*ck up kimchi fried rice! So that’s not saying a lot. At £35 each for two courses before drinks, Ogino needed to be a whole lot better. Their ambition is waaaay beyond their actual ability.

Tunah

Tunah

Review: Joro, Sheffield

Joro

Joro

I don’t usually go for wine pairings with a tasting menu. I find it ends up being too much booze and I can’t really pay attention to the later courses, often leaving the restaurant feeling a bit dyspeptic to boot. Now and again we make an exception and I’m very glad we did at Joro. It’s a ten course tasting menu and we had no less than ten drink pairings. Ten! With sake, vermouth and cider mixed in alongside a wide range of wines. The sommelier was deeply well informed, passionate about his stuff and easy to chat with. In some ways this absolutely made the whole meal.

But then again, it would have been a great menu even without the drinks. Joro is very much Nordic via Japan, with plenty of British produce. The restaurant is in converted shipping containers that sit fairly lonely on the side of a big road. You get the impression that someone hoped to spark a revitalisation of the whole area and it hasn’t quite happened. It’s an odd spot, but once you are through the door it is dark and comfortably welcoming inside, smart open kitchen and comfortable seating.

Kombu ice cream

Kombu ice cream

Right in the middle of the menu we had a good early candidate for my dish of the year. Perfectly cooked langoustine buried in a pile of vivid orange and massively spice-warming Thai red curry foam. Underneath, a sticky rice puree that added a clean and nutty taste to balance the power. This was knock-out cooking.

Of course, pretty much everything that came before and after was splendid. Chunks of aged hamachi and turnip in a pool of fish bone oil. Chawanmushi custard with onion broth and tiny apple cubes to add zing. Beautiful piece of lamb with a pickled dulse gel and a stonking wild garlic raita. Kombu ice cream! There’s a special savoury seaside flavour to kelp, but who knew it worked well as ice cream? This was all stunning stuff. The trout with beurre blanc was about the only thing I could say “meh” to, and that’s really only by comparison; it would be a top dish on most lesser menus!

At £85 for ten courses, Joro is just superb value for the sheer invention and quality. Go to Sheffield! Find the shipping containers! Have the flippin’ wine pairing even if you don’t usually!

Lamb

Lamb