Archives for posts with tag: Blue Hill at Stone Barns
The man himself - Bruno Loubet

The man himself – Bruno Loubet

Bruno Loubet was my first chef crush.

I remember him turning carrots at the BBC Good Food Show many many years ago and I was in awe of someone who could be so passionate about a little orange vegetable. Many years later I was equally enamoured by another carrot loving chef, this time Dan  Barber of Blue Hill. Dan was extolling the virtues of his carrots, grown organically at his Blue Hill restaurant on Stone Barns farm.

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Course number one of our incredible meal at Blue Hill at Stone Barns

These little beauties demonstrate the benefit of great sourcing and respectful farming, which add up to something oh so much better. Our first few courses at that restaurant were all raw, eaten without cutlery and just super super tasty. No carrot has ever tasted sweeter and if you don’t believe me, listen to the podcast and see what Dan has to say.

But back to Bruno, I followed him ever since the food show, trying his various signature recipes and eating at his restaurants until he escaped to Australia. On his return, he went back to classic Loubet land at the Zetter hotel, but it was apparently only a toe in whilst he brought to us his new approach to food which is now well and truly launched at The Grain Store. It is said to have been 2 years in the making and a concept that he has wanted to create for many more years than that.

The overall premise is to respect the vegetable as much as the protein. This is not a vegetarian restaurant and nor would you expect that from a classic French chef, but Bruno certainly redresses the balance and that ticks lots of boxes for me. The decor is funky, the menu interesting and there are great cocktails to match. Partnering up with the equally fabulous Tony Conigliaro is another sign that Bruno has his finger on the current pulse. There is a great cocktail menu including some wonderful non-alcoholic ones. My French Blonde came complete in a brandy glass and was just fabulous.

Grain Store

Overall, I enjoyed the tone of the place. It is open, honest and just a little bit quirky. The designers have had some fun with this one and at times it is a little bit over done but it adds up to something different and I like that. The best bit for me is the kitchen itself which is at the heart of this vast space, with Loubet plonk in the centre conducting the orchestra. He is an imposing host at the centre of the modular pass with nothing separating the kitchen from the seating. It’s almost as if we are sitting in his kitchen somewhere in the country….and that’s hard to create in the middle of Kings Cross.

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Loubet is trying to show us that we don’t have to eat meat to eat a meal. It goes back to the way his family ate and the truth is that most people shouldn’t be eating meat every day. Not only is it not great for you (or your purse) but it’s also not great for the environment. We shouldn’t need to breed the amount of animals that are projected to be needed just to suffice our appetites. Loubet understands this and is leading the way. Clearly people are following and I would recommend you do too.

We are definitely spoilt for choice in London for new restaurants. A new opening is a weekly occurrence. Sadly there are many more failures than successes and my list of potential places to visit gets edited down somewhat frequently. It used to be that I would bound along with fresh enthusiasm but years of disappointment makes me far more cynical these days.

Last year it was Dabbous that caught my eye but I got bored trying to get a table so it is still on the list, but could be there for some time. The reviews can’t all be wrong, so I will get there at some point. Mind you, I also fancied Dach & Sons – a hotdog and cocktails place that opened less than a year ago near me. When I finally found a suitably young & hip companion to take there, it had shut! They put it down to failure to generate the right volume of trade…a sad reality of starting up in this highly competitive city.

This year, I had two front runners on my ever expanding list: Ametsa and Restaurant Story.

Ametsa restaurant

Ametsa appealed because I also have San Sebastian, and of course Arzak, well up on my travel list (I know – all these lists!). So when the mountain and chef mohammed were coming to London it seemed too good to be true. I researched and chased and hung on in the phone queue as is normally required in these circumstances, and secured a table soon after opening. Experience tells me never to go week one as it is generally being bedded in and you can also catch up on the restaurant critics and reviewers before you go. In Ametsa’s case, it kind of dived: pretentious name (Ametsa with Arzak Instruction); the room was over designed with no sense of warmth or reality and the set menu at £105 or £145 with wine just seemed extortionate when you consider what wonderfulness you can get in these frugal days for a quarter of that. My friends and I declined. So it’s on the list, but I would, as Marina O’Loughlin says, rather spend the money on going to San Sebastian.

Restaurant Story

Restaurant Story is at the other Dabbous-end of the new restaurant scale. Tom Sellers is one of those new chefs, like Ollie Dabbous, who has risen through the teachings of great chefs and restaurants. In Tom’s case, he worked with Tom Aikens and Adam Byatt here in the UK as well as at Noma and Per Se abroad. Not a bad resume for a boy from Nottingham who started out aged 16 as a pot wash in a pub. Now aged 26 he has opened his first stand alone restaurant in an old Bermondsey toilet block, near Tower Bridge. I followed chef Tom on Twitter and subscribed to his website to try and get in on the table bookings, knowing how these things go. Even though subscribers were allowed to ring a day in advance of the official opening for bookings, it still took me 4 hours to get through. Still, a table was booked and this weekend we embarked on the tale.

restaurant story

I fear that when a place has the kind of hype that this one does, it can only fail to deliver and the concept was already feeling a little over-worked culminating in their request for you to bring a book to the place. Thankfully all remnants of the toilet block are well and truly gone and the designers have taken the whole Story idea into all elements with leather bound banisters, a bespoke bookcase for said books and an old copy of a Dickens classic centre table when you arrive.  My fear of pretension was only accentuated when our rather over-keen waiter announced as we sat down: “welcome …I hope you are ready to have the best meal of your life”. Hmm. These guys needed a chill pill.

Thankfully the skill of a good chef can’t be put down and the meal was interesting and enjoyable. There have been reviews on a poor and overpriced wine list, but my Spanish friend Pilar found a lovely Galician white which was reasonable and the perfect accompaniment to the first six of our ten course taster. And the food was really well made. There were ingredients and flavours which I have never had which seemed to nod to the Noma influence and there were dishes that I really loved.

The signature beef dripping candle

The signature beef dripping candle

Right up there was the rye bread served with the now well documented beef dripping candle but more importantly with a beautiful sharp/sweet side of perfectly cut veal tongue chunks, with celery, spring onion and jellied cubes of chicken consomme which we demolished. We also loved the pre dinner snack of polenta coated rabbit croquettes with the most wonderful depth of tarragon.

crispy cod skin appetiser

crispy cod skin pre dinner amuse bouche

More pre dinner tasters: radish with seaweed butter and stuffed nasturtium flower

more pre dinner tasters: radish with seaweed butter and stuffed nasturtium flower

the lovely rabbit croquettes

the lovely rabbit croquettes

Burnt onions in gin, apple and thyme jus

burnt onions in gin, apple and thyme jus

Scallop ceviche with cucumber balls, some covered in dill ash

scallop ‘ceviche’ with cucumber balls, some covered in dill ash, horseradish cream and nasturtium leaves

Mackerel with mermaid's hair (seaweed) and slices of almost raw strawberry

mackerel with mermaid’s hair (seaweed) and slices of almost raw strawberry

Buttery buttery mash with asparagus, grass and coal emulsion

buttery buttery mash with asparagus, grass and coal emulsion

sweet rich beetroot and raspberry with a subtle horseradish snow

sweet rich beetroot and raspberry with a subtle horseradish snow

My least favourite lamb with wild garlic, salad leaves and sheep yogurt

my least favourite lamb with wild garlic, salad leaves and sheep yogurt

Finally the desserts. ‘Lemon’ really was a celebration of this wonderful citrus and an overwhelming favourite of the table. Tea infused prunes with lovage ice cream was interesting and the signature three bear’s porridge … well we loved the serving dishes, got confused because the too salty, too sweet and just right on the card didn’t match the order served but generally would have preferred something more classically desserty. I always feel cheated if there isn’t something with chocolate or caramel in my desserts.

our favourite 'lemon'

our favourite ‘lemon’

Earl Grey infused prunes with lovage ice cream and milk skin

Earl Grey infused prunes with lovage ice cream and milk skin

three bear's porridge: too salty, too sweet and just right (actually I preferred the too sweet, but hey ho)

three bear’s porridge: too salty, too sweet and just right (actually I preferred the too sweet, but hey ho)

Overall we enjoyed, savoured and at times kind of wondered about some things but we were all glad we went. There is no doubt that each plate, carefully chosen in its own right, was truly beautiful and really well made.

Was it memorable? It wasn’t in the league of Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Koffmann’s, Pot Luck Club or Bazaar at the SLS, but it was a lovely evening and a restaurant that I am sure will grow and grow as it matures.

PIGS

Pigs are very intelligent, clean, social animals with a wonderful sense of smell, which is why they are great truffle hunters. So we should love them for that reason alone. Oh, and they also taste great!

As a nice Jewish girl, I am not sure it is legal to have such a penchant for pig, but what can a girl do? It is definitely the meat of the moment having showcased its best sides through Jamie’s shoulder of pork recipe, the trend a few years ago for pork belly, the whole scratchings fashion and latterly, barbecued ribs a la Pitt Cue co.

Tea towels from Ham

Tea towels from Ham

This Christmas, my presents and cards will also have a piggy feel thanks to the wonderful Jo at Ham who is manufacturing beautiful piggy based things for the kitchen here in Britain.

The Pig Sign

This week, I finally managed to get down to the New Forest to have lunch at The Pig hotel, which has been on my list for some time now. Created by successful hotelier Robin Hutson, this reasonably priced, 26 room hotel is the latest incarnation from the Lime Wood Group. Mr Hutson is a bit of an inspiration in the hotel world. He created the Hotel du Vin chain which reinvented the town hotel and now he has applied his immense talent to the country hotel. The beauty of The Pig is the walled garden, which is central to the concept and really does define the identity of the place. By bringing the food into the heart of the hotel, The Pig has partnered two key elements required to satisfy even the most discerning lodger.

The walled garden treats

The walled garden treats

Cavolo Nero is such a wonderful veg

Cavolo Nero is such a wonderful veg

The Pig menu is created from within a 25 mile radius with chef, forager and gardener working well together to create wonderful British garden food. Everything was presented with a nod to garden, from the first seating in the Victorian conservatory to the presentation of the menu and table complete with herb pots. But the most exciting part was the menu itself. It was creative and interesting and the food generally delivered in the same vein. This wasn’t exciting cutting edge food and some of the flavour was not as intense as I would have expected, but we had a great time and a thoroughly enjoyable, good value meal.

The Victorian conservatory houses the restaurant

The Victorian conservatory houses the restaurant

The Pig hotelThe whole experience reminded me of two other places I have written about before in Top of the World and The Promised Land.

The Stone Barn that houses Blue Hill

The Stone Barn that houses Blue Hill

The first is Blue Hill at Stone Barns, home of the brilliant chef, Dan Barber in New York. This is the best overall meal experience I have ever had. It began with a tour of the farm and ended with a 28 course meal that blew my mind. The first 10 course were vegetarian and the first 12 course were eaten without cutlery!

What the team at Blue Hill don’t know about veggies is not worth knowing. It was the Driven by Flavour podcast that first introduced me to chef Barber, changing my whole outlook on vegetables, and was the only reason I went to Blue Hill in the first place. If you ever get the chance, go there, take the farm tour, see what it is these guys do with every single element of meat and veg and just bathe in the glory of these ultra talented passionate people. Ask about the charcoal, go and see the pigs and make the most of the incredible knowledgable passionate staff who will tell you everything you need to know about the meal. Each table gets something slightly different as the chef creates dishes from what is available so go for it…we did! The Blue Hill clan are genuinely changing the world with their revelations and delivering incredible food at the same time. This is the premier league of garden centric restaurants and it doesn’t get much better than this.

One little part of the garden at Babylonstoren

One little part of the garden at Babylonstoren

The other place that puts a garden at the heart of its hotel and restaurant is Babylonstoren in the Winelands, near Cape Town. The menu and cooking here was not as exciting as Blue Hill, but in terms of design and gardens, this wins hands down. My ‘room’ was actually a cottage which I could quite happily have lived in forever and every single part of the hotel embraced the surrounding grounds. Room service had touches of herbs, you were positively encouraged to go pick your own and cook in your room and the staff even let me go cook the morning breads for breakfast. This is a piece of heaven and a must if you are in the area.

My herby fruity breakfast bread baked alongside the Babylonstoren chef who cooks for Babel restaurant

My herby fruity breakfast bread baked alongside the Babylonstoren chef who cooks for Babel restaurant

Garden centric restaurants and hotels rule and I hope that The Pig is one of many that follow in this country.

The new list of the top 50 restaurants in the world was released yesterday and really there were no surprises.

Organised by Restaurant magazine and judged by 800 industry specialists, this list is not only the most anticipated, but the most lucrative of lists to head up as a restaurant. For many years El Bulli topped the bill and now Noma has taken over as the one to beat.

Whilst I haven’t been to many on there, I am told that getting on this list makes a big difference to the bookings. Once you have made it here you are guaranteed full tables and thus commercial success for your restaurant. So I always try and see who it is that makes the list and what I can conclude about the restaurant world as a result.

Obviously I look at the UK first and was delighted to see Heston’s Dinner charge into 9th spot as the highest new entry, with the Fat Duck falling back out of the top ten to number 13 (lucky for some!). There is no doubt that the Fat Duck experience is one that I shall remember for a long time but the truth is that the Dinner meal was much easier to relish. The food was outstanding and yes, you absolutely have to have the Meat Fruit, but I suggest you half and half with someone having the Rice & Flesh.

Meat Fruit: stunning

I am also kicking myself for not forcing my friends to join me at The Ledbury before it achieved the highest climber award rising 20 spots to number 14. Now it will be impossible to get a table. Ever since the team fought off the onslaught of unruly rebels during the London riots, I have had a desire to support the Ledbury lot.

In terms of other observations much is the same as last year with USA, France and Spain dominating. The US now boast eight restaurants in the top 50 just beating the French who have 7, although it must be said that France do not have any listed in the top 10. The contenders to the US for top ten position goes to Spain and that is no surprise to me. This is my top choice for places to eat and I was especially glad to see Elena Arzak awarded world’s best female chef after her Dad got the lifetime achievement award in 2011. Incidentally this went to Thomas Keller this year. His record speaks for itself.

Other observations are the continued presence of the South American countries with Brazil, Mexico and Peru in the top 50 along with a spotlight on Peru for the Regional spotlight article. On the other hand Finland, South Africa and Russia all fell out of the top 50. I am particularly sad about South Africa as a big supporter of theirs, although I was pleased for The Test Kitchen which came in at number 74 and is fully deserved (see my earlier blog for more details).

A drizzly day couldn't dampen our spirits at Stone Barns farm

It is incredible what these Blue Hill guys are doing with the good old vegetable.

I also want to make special mention of Blue Hill at Stone Barns which is at number 77. We went there at the end of last year and it was possibly the best meal I have ever had. I think it was the overall experience that makes me say that. Robert the concierge was our charming host touring us through the drizzle around the farm for a couple of hours. We were mesmerised by the whole operation. Nothing was left to chance with vegetable varieties being developed with amazing integrity and passion. I have never before been taken through the ins and outs of the composting system or indeed the charcoal process before a meal but having done that, we really appreciated the whole meal on a much broader level. Never has a raw vegetable tasted so good and never has a table been so well served.

Course one of 27 having chosen the 12 course menu! Never has a carrot tasted so good

The top restaurant list is indeed fascinating and a chance to fantasise about where I might like to eat this year. But the truth is that this sort of food is such a special treat that it is a rare thing for me to be able to indulge in. I still desire a trip to Spain and the Asador Etxebarri food. Maybe this year I can pull it off.

In the meantime, let me know what you think and where you want to go. I am always up for a great meal.