Review: La Trompette, Chiswick

It does get difficult reviewing restaurants that are very good but not explosively brilliant. Unless something interesting happened on the way to the restaurant, or there’s something on my mind I’d like to moan about, it’s hard to decide how to make the review interesting. As you’ll have spotted, my reviewing style is not to deliver a detailed dissection of each plate of food with an accompanying photo, I’d rather cover the dishes in brief and pick out a few high- or low- lights to make the case for my conclusions. That’s just how I roll. So I need something else to say beyond a description of the dishes, or you’ll all fall asleep.

My other problem is that I just won’t do florid writing. This bothered me when writing my travel blog as well. I distinctly remember reading another blogger’s description of a journey through rainforest mountains in SE Asia: the view was indescribable, like

discovering Shangri-La, epic vistas of verdant forests clinging impossibly to sky-piercing peaks, etc, etc. When I made the same trip I thought: dense jungle, arresting views, but I’ve seen better. I’m not going to wax euphoric about a plate of food that is just well-cooked, well-presented and very tasty. After all, I’ve eaten some genuinely phenomenal food in my time and I don’t want to give a misleading impression about the “merely very good” by over-enthusing. Likewise I can’t bring myself to throw vitriol at food that was at least fairly edible.

So, at the end of the day, if I have to write about a meal that was jolly good yet not amazing and if there’s nothing else on my mind remotely related to it, then you’re liable to get a fairly beige review. See what you think of this one about a jolly good Saturday lunch at Michelin-starred La Trompette in Chiswick…

My starter of goat cheese panacotta on a sauce vierge led me to wonder why anyone would take the trouble to make goat cheese

panacotta, since a chunk of the raw cheese on the same sauce would have been every bit as good. However, it was good. Maureen had a smashing piece of mackerel neatly accompanied by earthy balsamic beetroot. Across the table the lasagne of braised rabbit with broad beans looked very good and was lauded.

For main I settled on roast chicken supreme with morels and a creamy wild garlic sauce. Goat cheese starter and chicken main? I confess, I’d had several rich meals on the trot and needed some lightness. In the event, the chicken was gorgeous, juicy and packed with taste, and the sauce was a warm, stinky, rich delight in the mouth. The whole dish made me want to pile on an outrageous accent and declare “Zis. Zis eez ze proper French cooking!” Maureen, also feeling over-fed,

picked out the parmesan gnocchi with globe artichokes. Along with the girolles, pea puree and grelot onions there were certainly plenty of strong flavours on the plate but nothing tying them together.

Over dessert we were able to compare the warm ginger cake with pineapple and crème fraiche to the almost identical dessert I had at Medlar the night before. This one was tasty enough, but I declare Medlar the winner.

All in all, a delicious lunch. The restaurant is light, bright and elegantly decked out, the staff deliver pretty much perfect service with a friendly informality. For dinner the three courses will set you back around £40 before wine, so although a wonderful neighbourhood restaurant for Chiswick it’s not quite a bargain find.

Review: Medlar, King’s Road

The guys who run Medlar spent many of their formative years at Chez Bruce and other Nigel Platts-Martin establishments, so if you think that might give you a clue to the kind of meal to expect at Medlar, you’d be exactly right. Think top-notch classic French cuisine without too much fuss and with the odd spot of invention, in a clean and modern dining room with informal yet faultless service.

My starter won me first by scent: the pungent green notes of ravigote sauce as it warmed itself up on my testicles. I had crispy fried lamb’s testicles, a lovely texture like very firm liver and a great medium for the sauce – much like a salsa verde. Maureen’s ceviche of halibut included some lovely slivers of translucent fish, but the word “ceviche” comes with an expectation of punchy citrus and chilli flavours while this was a much more delicate affair. Across the table a tart of duck egg and duck hearts was received with rapture as was a crab ravioli.

For main I enjoyed an assiette of pork three ways, served with a sauce vierge which I found a very delicious idea as it kept the whole plate light and allowed the pork to play its own tunes. Maureen’s lamb rump and sweetbreads was a stickier and richer offerings, with marrowfat peas as an unusual ingredient. It was every bit as delicious as the pork. Our friends enjoyed roast John Dory and a thick fillet steak respectively, the steak served with a bearnaise sauce that I can testify was scrumptious as I pinched quite a lot of it.

Yet my favourite course was the last. An individual parkin served with roast pineapple, walnuts and a blob of crème fraiche. The warmly gingery parkin was divine; while not a moist cake, it was of such a carefully light texture that it ate deliciously without needing any of the accompaniments. They were delicious too, but the cake was enlightening. By contrast Maureen’s banoffee tartlet seemed strangely at odds with the rest of our meal. Apart from the use of a filo pastry case, it was in all other regards a banoffee pie. Nice enough, but something to enjoy after

steak or lasagne at a comfy country pub, surely?

Throughout the meal service was informal but excellent. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves at their work. I noticed that the staff weren’t asked to wear any particular uniform, a good touch to enhance the relaxed atmosphere.

You couldn’t fail to enjoy a meal at Medlar; the cooking is exceptional, the service brilliant and given their postcode it isn’t exorbitant. I can’t rave much beyond that: it lives comfortably in a stable of other London restaurants all delivering top-notch classic French cooking with enough modern ingredients to keep us interested. Within that stable Medlar is one of the thoroughbreds.

Review: The Felin Fach Griffin, Brecon

We saw an otter while kayaking on the River Wye, just downstream from the little town of Hay-on-Wye. This was the high point of our weekend treat on the river which began with a good supper and a cosy night’s sleep at the Felin Fach Griffin, near Brecon. Which isn’t to say that our stay at the Griffin wasn’t also a high point, it’s just that otters are a particular passion with us and to see one in broad daylight on an English river is rarer than spotting chicken fajitas on the menu at Le Gavroche.

Those interested in otters and wildlife could check out my blog from our year of travelling around the world in search of wildlife, during which we saw six species of otter and brought our tally up to eleven of the world’s thirteen species. Those more interested in a good meal in the shadow of the Brecon Beacons should read on instead…

For my starter I opted for little wild mushroom risotto fritters, delicious with plenty of gooeyness still in the risotto in spite of their deep-frying and accompanied with roast and pureed turnip of all things. It was a very original and tasty dish. Maureen had a plate of wild boar salami (from the nearby Black Mountain Smokery) and goat curd with an apple and sage pesto. As a demonstration of culinary technique this was just an assembly of ingredients, but the salami and curds were individually delicious and in combination orgasmic.

Maureen’s duck main was well cooked as was the oniony risotto beneath but the dish as a whole felt quite heavy and lacked any particular element that sang. Hearty, I’d call it. My pork was a deliciously toothsome piece, with a pungent garlic mash and a good “bouguignon” gravy of mushrooms, bacon and pickled onions. I’d have gone for

slightly less robustly pickled onions myself, but it was a very good plate of food. My pudding of passion fruit mousse was a delicious mess of textures with a very light and accomplished mousse as the core, while Maureen’s chocolate torte was lovely.

All in all, a really accomplished pub dinner. We stayed the night and I can report the rooms comfy and restful with top quality tea things; just like their sister pub, The Gurnard’s Head in Cornwall. As a place to stay while exploring the Welsh borders, I wouldn’t hesitate to point you at the Griffin. Food-wise, it’s jolly good but probably not quite exciting enough to be a destination in its own right.

Review: The Mail Room, Ludlow (Part 2)

Well, I said I’d go back and give them another shot. It’s a good month later, and to cut to the chase the story is just the same: good dining room, friendly service, hit-and-miss food. Looks like chef got a big box of pea shoots in his organic food box this week too, as we had them on pretty much every dish. Don’t believe me? Check the photos.

I’m not actually a natural born critic. Having met and liked the owners, and seeing the potential, I really want to spend this review trying to suggest things they might fix because I do hope that The Mail Room succeeds and thrives. But that would be stupendously pompous of me, with absolutely no qualification to advise on food beyond having eaten out at a lot of good restaurants. Perhaps I have nothing to worry about: they were full on a rainy Thursday night. We came with my parents, who were happy to join in the assessment of the food, although that did prevent me from offering any serious comment when the owner came by to ask whether our meal had been good.

Breads were slow to arrive but good, with unusual flavours of curry and cranberry on offer. In different rolls, I hasten to add. My starter of char-grilled haloumi was a bit heavy on the charring, tasting uncomfortably like that bit of veg that drops between the slats on the barbecue but you rescue anyway. Otherwise a simple and nicely balanced plate with a gooey chilli jam and a scatter of broad beans. Maureen’s crab tian was odd in temperature; the tian still almost fridge cold while the Thai style broth was warm. And if it’s a crab tian, why was it stuffed with crayfish tails? More of a shame was the lack of any flavour or punch in the broth whatsoever, a reminder of the lack of seasoning last outing. On a positive note, my mum had the ravioli this time and declared it good (I noticed more than one ravioli on the plate this time) while a hearty mushroom soup was also liked.

For main course I had ox-tail, properly cooked and served with some sticky salsify, possibly braised in red wine. This was a nice looking plate of decent food, just like my pork from last time. And just like last time, Maureen picked the duffer. Claggy was the only adjective for that risotto. I would rather use it for plastering walls than eating. The rice was still grainy, and I might argue with the title of “wild mushroom” risotto as we could only find domestic mushrooms and could only taste a heavy splash of truffle oil. The tempura asparagus on top was okay, but needed seasoning. My mum enjoyed the

pork dish I enjoyed last time, so consistency there, and my dad enjoyed half a Cornish lobster although he also found fault with the risotto lurking beneath.

So there we go. I didn’t feel like writing this, as I was looking forward to cancelling my last review with a turn-around, but having said I would go back it’d be cowardly to duck it. I do itch to focus on the better dishes, but how can I recommend a place if it’s down to luck whether you enjoy your dinner or merely endure it? I must come back to the pea shoots. Pea shoots scattered on three starters and all main courses (only the soup was spared). That’s not a carefully considered element of a plate, that’s a garnish. Garnishes belong on pub food. I suspect The Mail Room’s chef is stretching himself beyond his comfort zone, which is laudable but only if you consistently succeed. I’ve no plans to return.

Pot roast cauliflower

This is yet another recipe inspired by our lunch at Noma in Copenhagen, although this time it’s probably a more direct translation as I found an article online in which Jay Rayner gets to cook with Rene Redzepi and they make the very same pot roast cauliflower that we enjoyed as one of our twenty courses at lunch. In my interpretation I do away with the pine branches, juniper sprigs and yoghurt whey and go with more comfy flavours of garlic, thyme, anchovy and crème fraiche.

Really, this knocks any other cauliflower dishes into a cocked hat. Sure, that’s a strong boast. Don’t scoff at that boast until you’ve tried it yourself. Oh, and feel free to skip the anchovies if they aren’t your thing.

Pot roast cauliflower

1 cauliflower head
75g butter
2 cloves garlic
4 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf
3 preserved anchovies
1 tbsp crème fraiche
  1. Trim the cauliflower head of all its leaves and cut the stalk close to the bottom florets
  2. Get a casserole on a medium-high heat, and once hot add the butter, garlic cloves (peeled and squashed), bay leaf and thyme. The butter will immediately start to brown.
  3. Dip the cauliflower florets in the butter, then up-end it and put the whole cauliflower head in the pot, stalk downwards. Stick the lid on and turn the heat down to fairly low.
  4. After about 15-20 minutes, turn the cauliflower head over. The stalk end should now have some nutty brown colour (and flavour!), so now the florets on top can colour too.
  5. After another 15 minutes check the cauliflower – when it is cooked right through so a knife slips in easily then you can turn off the heat and take it out of the pot
  6. Add the chopped anchovies to the butter and juices in the pot, stir until they dissolve, then add the crème fraiche and stir the sauce together. Strain it through a sieve to get rid of the bits of herb and garlic.
  7. Cut the head in half (for 2 people) or into quarters (as a side portion for 4) and serve with the sauce drizzled over. You won’t be disappointed
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