Archives for category: restaurant

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This weekend I finally escaped London to stay at The Mash Inn, a recently opened modern age inn created by clever restaurateur Nick Mash. He grew up in this area and has proven his worth in the big smoke but in coming back home has created something that really is showing others how it should be done. As a child, I always dreamed of having my own small exclusive place which was truly individual and felt like a unique home from home experience and in all my travels this place has ticked the same boxes that were in my imagination.

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Mr Mash totally renovated what was the Three Horseshoes gutting it all and re-designing it to get it just right. It has the most wonderful tone with cosy nooks in the bar, original old ceilings and contemporary Scandinavian inspired decor.

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He has collaborated with so many hand picked innovative people: Another Country, London Terrariums, L:A Brucket, Rare Tea Company, Neal’s Yard Dairy cheeses and soon to expand with bespoke cabins from that clever team at Out of the Valley. In addition he has designed pieces like chairs himself and worked with local craftsmen to bring his designs to life.

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Add in a dose of reclaimed, upcycled treasure and you have everything you could possible need. Clearly this man has exquisite taste, has done his research and knows his mind. It all adds up to a great customer experience.

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What takes this place into an even better realm for me is the way he has connected that concept with the local land and the food. Looking out of my snowy window you can see the beginnings of the veg patch which will be abundant with goodies as Spring comes. For now, there are pickles and preserves from last season to play with and certainly a desire by the whole team to embrace all that nature is delivering here. Head Chef Jon Parry trained with Tom Aikens and has gone on to great places since then but you can just sense his excitement at getting his hands on this kitchen and a place that supports him to create something really unique and special.

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The kitchen is at the end of the dining room, just as it would be at home and you are positively encouraged to go and chat and enjoy the space. Clearly Mr Mash has brought inspiration from the likes of Ekstedt and Extebarri (see my entry about that here) insisting on open fires and a unique ‘hob’ again designed by him. The logs and flames add to the feeling of the kitchen at the heart and soul of the whole operation.

Chef Jon has boundless energy and bounces from one idea to the next with the quality of produce he has at his fingertips. He is trying everything from viennoiserie to cheese making, preserving to foraging. And his tasting menu, which is very reasonably priced, is a journey through his experiments. Deep fried beef tendon is like a beef version of pork scratching and pops as he brings it to the table. Seasonal purple sprouting broccoli is charred on the griddle and then laced with home made curd cheese. The meal ends with his version of a chocolate bar. Some items are more of a hit than others and I think I would actually opt for a la carte next time, or ideally Sunday lunch, but you can’t knock the enthusiasm.

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My favourite was actually breakfast in bed, brought up to your room by the lovely girls who clearly run everything with charm and professionalism. Each with our own white tray of chosen elements, there is loads to indulge in before getting out and discovering the local area. This morning the car had an inch of snow and driving out of the car park was like driving away from a perfect cocoon. Dragging ourselves away down the M40 and getting closer to the big smoke, you could see the snow melt away and that magical halo disappear with it. By the time we came onto the North Circular, there was no sign of the snow, just the crazy thoughtless London drivers. But they couldn’t take away the atmosphere inside and that was one which I will certainly treasure for a long time.

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It’s been a disappointing few weeks food wise.

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It started with a trip to the much talked about Padella. Anyone and everyone has been talking about it since the duo behind Trullo opened in their Borough Market location. I really enjoyed my Trullo experience so was quite excited by this talk. What’s not to like? Hand made pasta, simple menus, singular concept. The branding and design are lovely – simple. We went on a quiet Sunday and despite the talk of huge queues walked straight to a table. In fact, it was pretty empty which probably didn’t help the experience but it’s all about the pasta, isn’t it?

So the first thing to say is that the Pici cacao e pepe is one of the best dishes you will taste this year. I say taste, because the plate is pretty small and as we were sharing everything it really was a mouthful only of loveliness. The hand crafted, chunky pici is a pasta shape I don’t know and that cheesy, pepper sauce is thick and glossy and salty and yummy. Enough said.

The disappointment was everything else. Burrata that isn’t a patch on my friend M’s creation. Other somewhat average pastas and added to that, a waiter who really was pretty pushy, with no sense of a relaxed Sunday lunch. Thinking back, he probably set the whole tone.

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Fast forward a week and I once again joined the Jones clan for a meal trip to one of our favourites. Pitt Cue Co. has been a tried and tested meal ever since it operated all those years ago from a food truck under the Hungerford Bridge at the Southbank. When it moved to its tiny dungeon location in Soho it had charm and style which is probably why it was packed. The tables were cosy, the sauces in bottles flung on the tables, the cocktails were dirty and the food was lipsmackingly tasty….eaten with your hands and the odd dribble.

This year it clearly had some investment and they unveiled their new snazzy site which has moved to the city. That alone should have set our alarm bells going. It was clearly going to be a different experience. The restaurant itself is a lesson in industrial chic. The bar area talks about home brewed tipples and has high bar seating for walk ins. The open kitchen boasts a huge American-made bespoke grill and their blackboard menu showcases a chalk drawing of their signature mangalitsa pig. But the team have been very open about shunning all the old favourites upon which their reputation was built. Gone is the pulled pork, the pickle back, the enamelware crockery, the BBQ sauces on the table. They see this as a more grown up offering which steps away from the US BBQ theme that they started from and which has been much copied over the years. Why?

In leaving their roots, they have become much like many other places with no real lead. What a shame. It feels like they have gone from leaders to followers. In one article, co-founder Jamie Berger talked about the limited space in Soho which meant limited storage and the issues of running out of things. The irony of all this is that when we got there the restaurant had run out of all the pork on the mains menu. On a bleak Monday evening all they could offer us was the feather blade, the lamb special and the full fish selection. No ribs (a destination dish if ever there was one) , no pulled pork (obviously) and absolutely no cuts of the signature beast unless you count the cold fatty ham. For those who never knew what they were missing, I am sure they will leave satisfied. For the rest …. you will have to reminisce and pray there is the odd rib left for when you get there.

And much like the Padella experience, the disappointment was made so much worse by an aggressive Aussie waitress who obviously had no time for our reminiscing and no respect for the Jones’ commitment to this brand for all those years. Her speed and dismissive service just made me nervous.

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And so to last night. I had the dubious task of recommending a place to meet my New York foodie friends who were over for a couple of days only. I have previously written of their incredible wedding last year which showcased their favourite foods and culminated in a dessert spread from the fab Dominique Ansel. So the pressure was on. I decided to plump for a tried and tested chef…. Nuno Mendes. Taberna do Mercado harks back to his Portuguese roots and once again has been well written up by the many bloggers and writers whose job it is to critique these places.

Maybe it was the fact it was a bank holiday and so very quiet (how come they could only squeeze us in for an 8.45 booking when the place was three quarters empty?) or perhaps once again the annoying waitress whose only criteria for recommending things was the price tag. But once again the food underwhelmed. Surely authentic food that draws from homely childhood cooking would be hot, tasty, embracing. Sadly it was too much style over substance. Some dishes were nice: the mussels, the pork sandwich, the clever olive oil sponge cake. But I wanted so much more than nice. Hey ho.

This morning, I was in my own kitchen. I chopped up some sweet juicy Isle of Wight seasonal tomatoes, drizzled with good olive oil, a dribble of sherry vinegar, and added a good pinch of salt. Then I mixed in a bit of shallot, feta and basil chiffonade. Set atop a toasted piece of sourdough toast it captured the fresh, vibrant flavours that only perfect, matching ingredients can and has set me up for the day. Forget these fancy restaurants. I am staying put for a while.

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As a long standing food retail obsessive I am always looking at what is out there, what I think of it and what the next big thing will be. I have an active imagination which means that I am constantly looking to see what’s going on and piecing together bits of what I have seen into my fantasy place which would be cutting edge and innovative.

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In its time, Bills Food and Produce Store was that new place that everyone wanted to see and understand. Founded in 2001 by Bill Collison it was the second iteration of his original green grocer in Lewes, East Sussex. The original store was washed away in the floods of 2000 and as with all these stories, out of such a disaster came the silver lining as he re-established the business with the addition of a cafe. It was a clever model as he was able to add value to the raw produce by making delicious dishes and yet he had all the visual glamour that fresh fruit and veg offer, especially when handled by a talented team. Bill’s sister-in-law Tania Webb encouraged the evolution of the concept bringing her restaurant experience and a woman’s touch to the proceedings and paired with a good chef who understood the value of simple good food, history was made.

Over the years they stuck to their values: serve really good food, make sure every customer has a good time and go that bit further to make sure Bill’s is always somewhere people want to come back to….and they did!

Today Bill’s has been taken over by that talented corporate machine that is Richard Caring and don’t you know it. The individual charm has been rolled out to a formula and whilst it is better than some on the high street it does not have that individual entrepreneurial feel or charm any more. Bill has gone on to write a book, create Bill’s branded items and is still involved in the roll out of the brand but it is Tania and her creativity that brought me back to that Brighton area this weekend.

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Tania merged her love of good food, interest in design, expertise in the industry, kitchen designing partner and fellow food lover/co-worker at Bills, Louise Carter, together and in Summer 2013 Cafe Marmalade was born. She is one clever lady who may downplay the objectives of opening such a place but there is no doubt that her savvy approach has meant a roaring trade and a successful business.

What I liked was the fact that those original values that they set out at Bill’s were ingrained in the offer. Good food, great service, go that bit further.

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I think the whole tone of the place is established through its relaxed and homely approach. The design is rustic and eclectic, you could almost say unfinished. But it is a style no less.

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Simple things like shelves of raw produce and jams, stacks of well thumbed cookery books propping up the product displays and baking trays put straight out on display without touching up the overflowing browned bits of cheesy sauce all add to the feel. But more than that the staff are just great. Young, enthusiastic, engaging, smiley, chatty and above all attentive, they strike just the right tone under the watchful eye of the owners themselves who are there, in site, just bringing their concept to life every single day they operate.

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The flair with which they present everything is absolutely theirs. You feel their interest in food throughout the offer and as the day progresses, the counter moves along with new items added at differing times of the day as they are finished off in the tiny open plan kitchen. Breakfast evolves into lunch and then giant platters of scones or cake stands of friands come in to signal tea. And whilst the food is not going to win any Michelin stars, it is homely, tasty, generous, great value and just how you wish you could cook at home.

If you are even vaguely in the area I heartily recommend it and then take a long walk along the beach – you will need to walk off your over indulgence after falling for all the fab food they offer.

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This weekend I finally found myself visiting Bageriet, a small Swedish bakery on Rose Street, Covent Garden which is run by a pastry chef that I previously worked with and a place that has been on my list for over two years now!

Daniel Karlsson was born in Sweden and won many accolades during his training and early years before coming to London and starting his career with the team at Ottolenghi. After some time there he joined my current employer, Melrose and Morgan and really expanded their range with his skill and expertise. Daniel is that rare thing in the food world…. a beautiful, calm, talented and industrious pastry chef. Now you would think this is not such a rare thing but believe me, as someone who is trying to find just such a person to be in that role at the moment. The lesser spotted pastry chef who wants to work the crazy hours, retain that sense of calm and beauty as well as creativity is hard to come by.

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I remember my early years at Melrose and Morgan, turning up one Sunday to get ahead with a Christmas project thinking that there was no one around to disturb me. I arrived to the sounds of classical music soaring through the air and was immediately offered breakfast from Daniel: a bowl of hot porridge and caramelised apples with the perfect balance of spices to bring out the flavour and sweetness. I left him to his Christmas baking and some 7 hours later, he quietly ascended the stairs to the office armed with a small tray bearing a simple slice of salted caramel chocolate tart because Daniel knew that this was a favourite flavour of mine, so he knocked it up after he had finished the Christmas cakes and brought it up with a cup of tea. What more need I say?

When he left to do his own thing, I wanted to help as much as possible just because people like him should be nurtured. I supported him in getting his stunning giant gingerbread houses into the department stores managing to use my contacts to get him in front of Harrods with no agenda other than to support this fabulous chef but sadly the management there couldn’t see beyond the meeting to understand just how valuable Daniel was and his seasonal creations did not make it to their shop floor. It was a big mistake in my opinion as they would have sold loads…. and differentiated their offer from all the other department stores in London. But it was not to be…more, I fear, because of my presence than Daniel himself.

Background pics from Bageriet website

Background pics from Bageriet website

Daniel subsequently asked me to write some copy for his website which I gladly did. I asked him where it all started and he said it was with his Grandma back in Sweden, and all those memories of being a child in the kitchen, as these pictures from his website show.

I was reminded of this conversation whilst I watched Chef’s Table – a Netflix series that L&B recommended and worth looking up if you are interested in chefs and their inspiration. The series covers 6 chefs and their story. Each is different but there is no doubt that their drive and passion for food generally comes from their upbringing and either their mother’s or grandmother’s influence (no pressure all you parents out there!). Massimo Bottura remembers running away from his siblings and hiding under the kitchen table where Nonna was making pasta, giving him a unique perspective above his head of that process which must have driven him to look at food from a different angle and create what is now the best food in the world (his restaurant is currently number 2 in the San Pelligrino world’s top restaurant list). Ben Shewry was inspired by both parents who lived off the land killing their own meat and growing their own produce. Niki Nakayama was compelled to prove herself to her Mum as an equally deserving child in a more traditional world where the son is seen as the rightful heir to the family business of food and parental backing.

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Dan Barber’s mother died when he was four so it was his father’s interest in good food that rubbed off on him, but it was his Grandmother’s farm that really stuck and now that farm is not only the name of his multi award winning restaurant but the farm itself also supplies and inspires his whole food ethos. It was these latter two in the series that we particularly enjoyed.

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I was lucky enough to enjoy a meal at Blue Hill at Stone Barns with the aforementioned L&B some years ago and it didn’t disappoint. In fact for me, Dan Barber is challenging all the right issues and was before his time in understanding the source to plate story. His team are there with him too – from the concierge who took us round the farm to the waiting staff who talked us through the meal, it was an all round experience that I would recommend.