Archives for posts with tag: Koffmanns

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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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.