Archives for posts with tag: El Bulli

It’s the little things in life that give me the most pleasure: a smile, a thoughtful touch, a flower in bloom in my garden.

A poppy from my garden

A poppy from my garden

In the restaurant world the equivalent comes under the service banner and in recent weeks there were some touches that really made me stop and think about that. It’s so easy to ruin a great experience and equally easy to make it the best if you have the right attitude to it. As I am working on a new restaurant at the moment it fascinates me to ponder how do you offer the latter each and every time and how do you both recruit and train people to just get it?

A couple of weeks ago I took Dad to a little gastropub I had read about near work: The Plough Inn at Longparish. Chef James Durrant won the prestigious Gastropub Chef of the Year award at this years Top 50 Gastropub Awards and so I fancied trying it, but it was most definitely the service which sealed the deal for me.

We were up against it for time and this did not phase the staff. When my plate of food was going to be ever so slightly late, they deposited a freebie crab salad centre table to make up for it, even though we had barely put our forks in that dish when my ordered plate arrived. But the thing that truly charmed me arrived when the bill came. Yes, there was a lovely plate of home-made fudge, but in addition, to celebrate Father’s Day, they brought a bottle of Tiger beer with a lovely tag just for Dad. How clever. It was so simple and yet so right. It sealed the deal for me and I will most definitely be back.

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Those chefs who have had the experience of time and understand their customers find their own way of exceeding expectations. At Koffmanns the bread comes complete with a little treat to add to the table. Last time I went it was a pissaladiere, but I suspect it is always something that makes the most of what is in the kitchen. And clever Jamie Oliver is never one to miss a customer facing opportunity so he ensures that even whilst queueing for his no-bookings Jamie’s Italian, the line is served with antipasti treats to keep the atmosphere positive. Jamie may be a chef but he is also a great marketer and always one of the people. He gets it so right.

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It is generally the sweets with coffee that are the added extras on a menu. At Restaurant Story they followed the latest trend to serve a mini Tunnock’s teacake, which I am told is also the petit four of choice at Bubbledogs Kitchen Table, Upstairs at the Ten Bells and also the Clove Club. But for the greatest of all, you have to go back to the iconic El Bulli. After our 23 course escapade we could hardly do it justice, but the last menu entry written simply as ‘Chocolate’ was a piece de resistance.

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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.