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Posts Tagged ‘Michelin-starred’

lobster and hand-rolled linguine at Murano

You’d think that after my recent disappointment with dinner at Locanda Locatelli that I’d swear off high-end Italian restaurants for a while, but it was my friend L’s birthday, and a celebration was in order. We figured we were due for a revisit to Murano, Angela Hartnett’s flagship restaurant in Mayfair, so off we went.

Despite my having only good memories of both a lunch and dinner at Murano, I haven’t been back in over a year.  The place still feels cozy and plush, and happily, while you’re scanning the menu, Murano still serves fresh-from-the-fryer, truffle-perfumed arancini, great breads and silky charcuterie.  It’s nice when the good things haven’t changed.

In the past, I hadn’t noticed a contrast between the tasting menu offerings and those of the a la carte.  This time around, though, the tasting menu read a lot more Italian with its appealing-sounding scapece, bresaola and vitello/veal courses.  Unfortunately, having arrived for a late seating and having already filled up on snacks at the nearby and excellent Connaught Bar, our group chose the a la carte.  Three courses for £65; four courses for £75.

My starter of lobster linguine (pictured at top) was the highlight of dinner, with generous chunks of juicy, sweet lobster served with gorgeously al dente linguine.  There was chili and garlic kick, smoothed out by the sweet tomato sauce.  This beat Locanda Locatelli’s version by a mile.

sweetbreads with cauliflower puree and smoked maple dressing

A friend’s sweetbreads ticked the silky-meaty box, though the piece I tried didn’t taste much of the smoked maple dressing, which I’d been curious about.  L’s carnaroli leek risotto with braised oxtail had great balance between meat and creamy starch until the last overly-sweet notes of vinegar kicked in.

Middlewhite pork belly, braised cheek and chervil root puree

Not to get too possessive, but “my” pork belly was also outstanding, though lacking in identifiably Italian characteristics.  The braised cheek added texture and meatiness to the lusciously fatty pork belly (with skin crisped to perfection).  If I had to choose only one adjective to describe the best parts of our meal, it’d be silky.  So yes, the pork belly was silky silky silky.

monkfish Meuniere, lardons, squid ink, fregola

Jon’s monkfish Meuniere was the only real clunker I remember from the evening.  The ingredients sounded brilliant on the menu, but nothing really blended in actuality.  A crispy lardon here, a perfectly-battered piece of fish there . . . .

pistachio souffle

Pistachio soufflé, served hot and airy.  Picture perfect and tough not to love, though it was a tad too sugary for me.  The warm bittersweet chocolate helped balance out the sugar, though.

Overall, while we had a few misses this time on the a la carte, Murano remains my fave of the high-end Italian restaurants in London, though admittedly it is the most Frenchified of the Italian restaurants.  (The cheese cart is a wonder).  If you stick with the tasting menu, the place will feel more Italian, though.

Murano’s service was attentive and friendly as ever, though entertainingly a couple of servers must not have noticed I was preggars because they kept pushing the wine (“Oh come on, it’s Friday night! You should have another glass!”).  I guess the spacious table miraculously hid away my enormous self and the servers don’t communicate this sort of thing with each other, but I could have done with less pressure as I was already feeling a little guilty about two large glasses I’d enjoyed.

Murano, 20 Queen Street, W1J 5PP; 0207 495 1127; closest Tube station:  Green Park.

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beef tartare, pickled kohlrabi, black truffle sauce

Last Friday, I celebrated my friend L’s birthday in style with dinner at the Greenhouse, Michelin-starred in Mayfair. It wasn’t our first choice, but we’d struck out at the Ledbury and Marcus Wareing, and although I’d never before heard much about the Greenhouse, because of several strong recs in comments left on this blog, we gave it a go.

The restaurant is located off Hay’s Mews, which is a dark alley made none the cheerier by rain, and if it weren’t Mayfair, I’d have been reluctant to venture down it. Happily, once you turn onto the small garden path that leads you to the restaurant (which appears to be the basement floor of a block of flats), things become much more pleasant.

Having chosen the tasting menu (£80), L and I settled down to aperitifs and three amuses: (1) Sweet onion and watercress soup, which tasted only of watercress and so could’ve been sweeter and seasoned more; (2) crabmeat wrapped in jicama and topped with salmon roe, which was wonderfully refreshing and colorful; and (3) foie gas mousse wedged in between two lacy butter crisps dyed with squid ink (surf ‘n’ turf!), which was as fatty and rich as the crabmeat was light and refreshing.

Sometime during these preliminaries, we noticed that two portions of butter had been left on our table, but at no point were we offered bread.  We weren’t hungry so we didn’t say anything, but it seemed a big lapse not to have been offered bread, especially because the butters looked so tempting.

My first course of beef tartare (pictured at top) was a nice surprise – more a delicately-dressed beef carpaccio than the lump of mince I’d expected.  The black truffle sauce added a rich, earthy dimension to the light and zingy slices of beef.

mackerel, apple puree

A second course of mackerel was sliced and plated to look like sardines, which was visually entertaining.  The apple puree and crunchy nuts (?) under the mackerel added lightness and texture to the otherwise-meaty fish.

steamed brill, Thai curry, Kabocha pumpkin, crayfish and basil

From the description on the menu, I was sure this course, a steamed fish, would bore me to tears, but the intensity of the Thai curry balanced perfectly the delicate fillet of brill.  The curry sauce was fragrant but light – not thick or too sweet  despite the strong aroma of ginger and coconut.  This fish course is the best I’ve had in ages. 

pan-fried duck foie gras, rhubarb fondant, Chioggia beetroot

I loved the presentation of the foie gras course, mostly because at a quick glance, it looked like suckling pig.  But the filmy “skin” sitting atop the foie gras was an off-putting texture.  It brought to mind the scummy skin that forms on cheap instant chocolate pudding.  I did, however, like how the sweet beetroot complemented the foie – a nice change from all that quince and fig you usually get on the side.

roast pigeon, pomegranate, turnip puree, almond, giblet and pancetta jus

The pigeon didn’t look like much, but it was wonderfully tender and juicy, helped along by the almond, giblet and pancetta jus, no doubt.

snix: chocolate, salted caramel and peanuts

Dessert was a ‘snix,’ which seemed very American what with the combination of peanuts and chocolate.  The peanutty oatmeal biscuit layer of the dessert ‘sandwich’ was too dry and gritty even with the ice cream.  What it should’ve tasted like are the Do-Si-Do’s sold by the Girl Scouts of America.   Luckily the salted caramel ice cream was genius.

The Greenhouse’s wine list was supremely impressive, offering dozens of bottles even from unexpected places like Lebanon and India.  We loved browsing it, though ultimately we asked our sommelier to recommend a full-bodied white for our meal (and she came up with a good one that tasted almost meaty and fell well within our stated price range).

Overall, I had a wonderful time at the Greenhouse – much better than my dinner last month at two-starred Hibiscus.  Although I hated our table at the Greenhouse (right next to the doors to the kitchen and within view of the till), the pacing of our dinner at the Greenhouse was perfect (a little under four hours).  At Hibiscus, we shoveled down just as many courses in 2.5 hours, which wasn’t particularly relaxing.

I think the cooking at Hibiscus is more exciting than what I experienced at the Greenhouse (e.g., I’m still dreaming of that truffle-egg yolk-potato ravioli at Hibiscus), but the cooking at the Greenhouse was consistently well done (particular shout out to the sauces, which were all distinct and well matched to what was on the plate).  At these prices, though, it’s only partly about the food, and I loved taking my time at the Greenhouse.

With aperitifs, a £70 bottle of wine and bottled water, we paid £146  each.

The Greenhouse, 27a Hay’s Mews, W1J 5N; +44 (0)20 7499 3331; closest tube station: Green Park
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Hibiscus egg amuse

Two weeks ago, Jon and I revisited Hibiscus to celebrate my birthday.  (We were last there in December 2007, soon after Hibiscus arrived in London, and I was reminded of how long it had been since our last visit when I read Tamarind & Thyme’s rave review of her lunch there in December 2009.).

I’d had a horrible day at work and was tempted to cancel our 9 pm reservation.  But if you cancel at the last minute, you pay a hefty £75 per person fee, which is understandable, but painful when you’re so exhausted.

So I dragged myself there, and things got off to a bad start when Jon and I were wedged between two tables of men talking dealspeak.  Despite my best effort to tune them out, words like “clawback”  and “leverage” kept intruding, and I started to feel quite sorry for myself.

A delicious amuse of Moroccan-spiced-froth-in-an-eggshell came and went, as did hot puffs of cheese gougeres.  I hardly paid attention, because I couldn’t believe I’d been wedged in Dealmaker Hell.  The hazards of eating at a 2-Michelin-starred resto on a Thursday, perhaps.

So I did something I’ve never done before:  I asked to be moved.  Our servers didn’t ask why – they just moved us.   Our new table was an oasis of calm.  Much better.

scallop with a tart gelee

Jon and I had the tasting menu.  If I had to generalize, I’d say the courses at the start were more creative and “ooh ahhh” than the ones towards the end, but from start to finish, we had a delicious meal.  My initial feeling that I had been coerced by the high cancellation fee into eating an exhaustingly-long meal was quickly replaced by the joy that a well-run restaurant with a creative, talented chef brings.

Our scallop starter with a starchy puree and refreshingly tart gelee had us wondering in awe how anyone (i.e., the chef) can think to combine such startling flavors.  Because it was my birthday, I just sat back and enjoyed the ride, so if you’re looking for precise ingredient descriptions, stop reading now.

poached egg black truffle raviolo

One dish that still stands out, even two weeks later, was a raviolo stuffed with a poached egg, potato puree and studded with black truffle.  First, the technical wizardry . . . how do you get an egg yolk into a raviolo without the whole thing spilling out?  (My photo shows the yolk after I’d poked open my raviolo).  Second, the flavors – potato, egg yolk and black truffle – an understandably-classic combo.  The pungent black truffle’s flavors are absorbed into the yolk and potato puree.  Comforting flavors in an elegant package.  Brilliant.

black bream stuffed with cepes

foie gras

duck breast with black pudding and red cabbage puree

If pressed to identify a weak link, I’d single out the duck course, because the duck breast had a few tough-to-chew bits.  You know, the kind you chew for a while and then end up trying to gracefully spit out because it just won’t go down.  It was an odd problem to have a 2-starred place, which is the only reason I remember it.

apple celeriac chestnut parfait

Pre-dessert, an apple gelee, celeriac and chestnut parfait  was interesting but not anything I’d ever crave.  The chestnut layer was too starchy for the parfait to be refreshing.

parsnip tart with pear sauce and vanilla ice cream with smoked caramel

Desert was tasty and playful and ended our dinner on a high note:  a parsnip tart that looked just like a tarte au citron, but instead was wonderfully sweet and salty.   The smoked caramel-vanilla ice cream was a dreamy accompaniment.

The dinner tasting menu at Hibiscus is £90, so with a modest wine, coffee and service, our tab totaled about £280.  Definitely a special occasion-kind-of-place, and at these prices and after such an inauspicious start, it’s a wonder that Jon and I left the restaurant feeling happy and relaxed.  Thank God we’d moved tables with no fuss.  I was glad we’d revisited, and we’d be glad to go back.

Hibiscus, 29 Maddox Street, W1S 2PA; 0207 629 2999; closest tube station:  Oxford Circus
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Kai (Chinese) Restaurant in Mayfair

Kai (Chinese) Restaurant in Mayfair

Last week, I had dinner with Londonelicious and Gourmet Chick. Our choice of venue was Kai, a Chinese restaurant that was awarded a Michelin star earlier this year, which raised both its profile as well as diners’ expectations. (For a more complete view on our dinner at Kai, you’ll want to read Londonelicious’s post and Gourmet Chick’s post. They both did a much finer job than I did of comparing and contrasting our views. Next time, I’ll know to step aside and let them do the writing)!

In deciding how to describe Kai, I’ve been thinking over whether it’s fair to demand inventiveness from a one-Michelin-starred restaurant. More specifically: was it enough that Kai cooked classic Chinese dishes very well? Am I holding a one-Michelin-starred Chinese restaurant up to a higher standard than I would, say, a one-starred Modern British restaurant? Of course, in bellyaching like this, I’m assuming there’s consistency in the way Michelin rates restaurants, which is an iffy assumption (compare the ho-hum Arbutus to the never-lets-you-down Ledbury, for example).

Fair or not, I’ve decided that while the majority of Kai’s dishes were delicious, very few of them were worth the high price tag.

As one of our starters, we ordered the “nest of Imperial jewels” (£13), which was chicken pan-fried with mustard greens and served in lettuce leaves. Sadly, the chicken was bland and brought bad back memories of “chicken lettuce wraps” at PF Changs, the Cheesecake Factory of Chinese restaurants (where the chicken always came in perfect cubes, bringing to mind an industrial processor rather than a highly-skilled knife wielder).

wasabi prawns (photo courtesy of Gourmet Chick)

wasabi prawns (£21) (photo courtesy of Gourmet Chick)

A favorite of all three of us, the wasabi prawns were a great mix of flavours and textures: crispy, sweet and spicy; crunchy and gooey. The spice from the wasabi was an inventive touch that left me thinking the £21 price tag was worth it. This dish was served at Taste of London, and after trying these prawns there, Londonelicious was understandably hooked on going to Kai (so I guess TofL does bring some business to restaurants).

half portion of crispy duck (£31)

half portion of crispy duck (£31)

In contrast, the half portion of crispy duck, while good, wasn’t £31 good. After all, it’s just duck confit shredded up and served with pancakes. For a Michelin-starred restaurant, Kai could’ve done something interesting with the wraps or the sauce, though in fairness, the crispy duck was listed in the section of the menu labeled “classic starters,” so perhaps we shouldn’t have expected anything more. Londonelicious shared the same view, though she did appreciate the homemade pancakes, and Gourmet Chick rightly noted that the tableside serving ritual was gracefully done.

prawn-stuffed aubergine in a clay pot

prawn-stuffed aubergine in a clay pot (£20)

Still, even with dishes outside of the “classics” section, Kai played it all straight. The prawn-stuffed aubergines and sauteed kai lan (£12) were tasty but no tastier than at, say, the mid-priced, attractive and high-quality Pearl Liang.

scallops and asparagus in XO sauce (£24)

scallops and asparagus in XO sauce (£24)

And the scallops and asparagus in XO sauce was a bit sub-par for using not-especially sweet scallops. Both Londonelicious and Gourmet Chick noted the extreme spiciness of the scallops, but they have must have each accidentally eaten a chili (or somehow I got all the pieces without chili), because I thought this dish was a bit bland.

roasted pork belly at Kai (£19) - my fave main course of the night

roasted pork belly with mint (£19) - my fave main course of the night

In addition to the wasabi prawns, the other star of the night was the pork belly with mint. It was both delicious and not a typical preparation. All three of us loved the crackly skin and the complementary flavors of the julienned apple and mint that accompanied the pork. Londonelicious found the portion a bit paltry, but given how fatty this dish was, I thought it was the right serving size.

almond jelly with fruits

almond jelly with fruits (£8)

Desserts, always the Achilles heel of Chinese restaurants high and low, included an almond jelly, which in Taiwan is served ice-cold at street markets for about a $1 ladle. Kai’s quivering room-temperature version, while visually pretty, wasn’t anything to be excited about. Londonelicious also rightly pointed out that it seemed a bit out of season now that it’s chilly outside.

mango cake (£9)

mango cake (£9)

Mango cake with coconut froth was much loved by both Londonelicious and Gourmet Chick, but I thought it tasted too little of mangoes and too much of a molasses-type sweetener. Just good, but not great.

Kai’s service was friendly and chatty, which I liked, and the women servers looked super stylish in their Shanghai-Tang-looking purple-and-green outfits. The décor was high-end circa 1980s lounge style, and for what it’s worth, there didn’t appear to be any Chinese diners there that night. (No doubt that if Kai had the sexy decor of, say, Hakkasan, it’d be much easier to overlook what Gourmet Chick called Kai’s lack of Wow Factor).

Our tab came to £95 a person, which was higher-than-normal because we started with £20 glasses of champers and ended with dessert wines, and lower-than-normal because we stuck with the less-expensive dishes on the menu and lucked out with a great value wine rec from the sommelier.

Overall, I enjoyed my experience at Kai, but I didn’t think our meal was a good value. I’m much more likely to first revisit, say, Hakkasan, before I go back to Kai, mostly because you can’t beat the Wow Factor at Hakkasan.

Kai, 65 South Audley Street, W1K 2QU; 0207 493 8988; closest tube stations: Green Park, Bond Street.
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San Marzano tomatoes and burrata at Murano restaurant in Mayfair

San Marzano tomatoes and burrata at Murano restaurant in Mayfair

Last December, I tried Murano’s £25 lunch menu, which was outstanding value. I knew I’d be back, but as a testament to how slow I am to put words into action, I didn’t return until just last week. In the meantime, Murano picked up a Michelin star in January this year, and I can see why. Dinner at Murano was delicious and high quality (a bit like eating at the Ledbury, but with more formal service).

Murano offers two menus at dinner: a three-course a la carte menu for £55, and an eight-course tasting menu for £75. Encouraged by the same lovely freebies that I remembered from my £25 lunch – the fragrant white-truffle arancini, the melt-in-your-mouth coppa – Jon and I chose the tasting menu, which, interestingly enough, offers two options for most of the courses.

grilled foie gras with sweet and sour tomatoes

grilled foie gras with sweet and sour tomatoes

Apparently I was lying when I claimed to be foie gras‘d out after a week in the Loire Valley:  the instant I saw grilled foie gras among the tasting menu options, it was a no-brainer. One of these days, I’ll try cooking foie gras at home, but for now, I remain in awe of how one grills it. It’s got to be like grilling butter, no? I mean, how do you keep it from melting on the grill? In any event, Murano’s grilled foie was silky, creamy-meaty, and beautifully complemented by the intensely-sweet tomatoes, which had a caramelized flavor despite not showing any signs of having been caramelized. Quite a mystery but delight of a dish.

swiss chard and Sairass ricotta tortelli

swiss chard and Sairass ricotta tortelli

rocket and pecorino risotto

rocket and pecorino risotto

Generally, I’m rarely interested in pastas or risottos in high-end restaurants, but both dishes at Murano were intense and cheesy in a way that I could never duplicate at home (probably bc I’m not heavy-handed enough with the butter), and I loved them both. (Jon and I each ordered different ones and then did the old switcheroo so we each ended up eating a half portion).

pan-fried seabass with garden peas

pan-fried seabass with garden peas

I didn’t get too excited about the fish course, which was cooked just past raw and just shy of tough. In other words, it was cooked just right. But still, I find fish to be nothing special unless it’s sushi or I’m sitting by a large body of water while eating it.

herb salad with apples and cider vinaigrette

herb salad with apples and cider vinaigrette

Herb salads. Indulge me in a pet peeve rant: I know it’s intended as a palate cleanser, but what was wrong with the good ol’ sorbet? When I eat an herb salad, I feel like I’m eating an ingredient, rather than a meal.

Gressingham duck breast, carrot puree and white asparagus

Gressingham duck breast, carrot puree and white asparagus

roasted Cornish lamb served with neck bolognese and grilled courgettes

roasted Cornish lamb served with neck bolognese and grilled courgettes

Things were back on track with the meat courses. Duck was tender and sliced paper-thin. It really did melt in your mouth. Jon’s lamb was similarly luscious. There are moments when you’re sure you could never be a vegetarian, and this was one of them.

pistachio souffle served with warm chocolate sauce and macaron

pistachio souffle served with warm chocolate sauce and macaron

Feeling quite full after tiers of fun-flavored, jewel-like ice creams were served, I didn’t think we’d make it through dessert. But never underestimate the power of a *perfectly*-baked pistachio souffle. Just digging into the pillowy top was a treat, and I was so impatient to dig in that it was hard to let our server first pour liquid chocolate into it. The interior was yielding and moist without being liquidy. Brilliant. And is there a more perfect flavor marriage than that of pistachio and chocolate? I think not. The macaron was a nice visual accompaniment, but tough and crunchy (and altogether forgettable).

Service at Murano was friendly and attentive. The dining room is small and discreetly luxe. Factor in the tasty, easy-t0-love food, and it’s no surprise Murano earned its first Michelin star so soon after opening. I won’t be surprised to see it earn a second.

Murano Restaurant, 22 Queen Stret, W1J 5PR; 0207 592 1222; closest tube station: Green Park

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strawberry soup a Le Rendez-vous des Pecheurs in Blois, France

strawberry soup at Le Rendez-vous des Pecheurs in Blois, France

I spent weeks scouring French and English-language newspapers and sites, trying to find good recs on where to eat while cycling in the Loire Valley. Most sources were outdated (i.e., more than three years old). Chowhound, SlowTrav, eGullet, Lonely Planet, google blog searches . . . all my usual on-line sources let me down, and our (admittedly few) Parisian friends were not much help when it came to the Loire Valley.

So, on-line food tips being a wash, Jon and I kicked it old school and relied heavily on our Michelin Green and Red Guides, as well as on B&B recs. In the hopes of making some future Loire Valley eater’s life a bit easier, I include below a few blurbs on our six days’ of eating in the Loire. This is the first of two posts, with the other one coming on Monday.

CHARTRES

foie gras 1 at Le Madrigal in Chartres, France

foie gras 1 at Le Madrigal in Chartres, France

Not quite in the Loire Valley, Chartres was the first stop on our trip because, having indulged a few years ago in the guilty pleasure that is Kate Mosse’s Labyrinth, I wanted to see Chartres cathedral. LeFooding.com had an appealing description of Brasserie Le Madrigal, which also happened to be in our hotel, so we gave it a try. (Incidentally, the cathedral was cool, but so were the giant plastic rabbits in the Place des Epars).

If you ignore the occasional tour group dining in the place, Le Madrigal’s open-air courtyard is a pleasant space for a well-executed romp through bistro basics. Baguettes were crackly; butter was creamy. Great sourcing of those items – as in most of France – and a sign that we wouldn’t be starving as we headed into central France. My slice of foie gras terrine (the first of what was to be many) had a good, meaty flavor, but you could still see where multiple lobes had been fused together and it was served straight from the fridge, so it was a bit too hard at first.

Jon and I stuck with a classic entrecote with Bearnaise and were rewarded for our conservative ordering: the steak was charred on the outside and saignant (medium-rare) on the inside. We should’ve skipped the 6.50-euro cheese course when we learned it would be a brie (after all, we were entering chevre country, so what’s with the brie?), but overall, a good-quality meal at a reasonable price. Starters were 6-7 euros; mains were 17-20 euros. Still, it’s in a hotel, so maybe look around old Chartres if you want more atmosphere.

Brasserie Le Madrigal, Hôtel Le Grand Monarque, 22, r. des Épars, 28000 CHARTRES; +33 2.37.18.15.07

BLOIS

foie gras 2 at Le Rendez-vous des Pecheurs in Blois, France

foie gras 2 at Le Rendez-vous des Pecheurs in Blois, France

Despite having a Michelin star, Le Rendez-vous des Pecheurs was small, quiet, and except for us, filled with native French speakers (which was great). Although there are several good-sounding resto options in Blois, none of them were open on Monday night except Le Rendez-vous des Pecheurs.

Wanting to be able to see the 10:30 pm “son et lumiere” show at Blois castle (if you haven’t experienced a son et lumiere, you should. They’re a cross between fireworks and a grade-school film strip), we chose the 49-euro seasonal menu rather than the 69-euro tasting menu.

The menu was ambitious and the food was good. I was relieved, because I never know if a Michelin-starred place is going to be resting on its laurels or tired, etc. But Rendez-vous des Pecheurs is still gunning (for a second star), I suspect. The menu was heavy on seafood and refreshing sorbets. Solid summer entries.

That said, the generous, silken slab of pan-seared foie gras alone went far to justify the 49-euro price tag. The service was smooth and polite, and the food was interesting but still regional enough that we felt we were in the Loire (as opposed to those Michelin-starred places that could be anywhere in the world). With an excellent Cheverny white for 40 euros, our tab totaled 138 euros. Worth a visit if you’re in Blois. (Note that the other Michelin-starred place in Blois, L’Orangerie du Chateau, looked like bus tour hell with its enormous size and location across the street from Blois chateau. I know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but still . . . ).

Le Rendez-vous des Pecheurs, 27 rue Foix, 41000 Blois; +33 2.54.74.67.48.

BRACIEUX

foie gras 4 at Le Rendez-vous des Gourmets in Bracieux, France

foie gras 3 at Le Rendez-vous des Gourmets in Bracieux, France

Bracieux is a tiny town, similar to many towns we cycled through in the Loire Valley. There’s a main street and a town square with a hotel de ville and not much else. If you believe in competition bringing out the best in businesses (as I do – tres Americaine, je sais), you’ll expect the worst in Bracieux. For example, our hotel, Hotel du Cygne, was by far the worst place we stayed during our trip. Still, the town is handily located if you’re cycling from Chambord to Cheverny with a stop in between at Villesavin.

Given the town’s small size, we were lucky that Bracieux offered a one-Michelin-starred restaurant, Restaurant le Relais de Bracieux. Alas, Le Relais is closed on Tuesdays, which was the one night we were around. But the chef-owner, Bernard Robin, graciously recommended that we try the Rendez-vous des Gourmets down the street, run by one of his former chefs.

Rendez-vous des Gourmets is a Michelin bib gourmand (good value) and has a back garden, which was relaxing on a warm, July evening. It took 15 minutes, though, before we could flag someone down and ask for menus. And then another 40 minutes for us to place an order. The service was just overwhelmed. Good thing we were on holiday.

As became familiar to us in the Loire, there were four or five prix fixe menus to choose from. Jon and I chose a middle-of-the-road Menu du Gourmet Allege at 29 euros a person, which includes a starter, a main, a cheese, a dessert, and several amuses. A lot of food for 29 euros, no?

After a few forgettable haddock-mayo and goose rillette-based amuses, I attacked Jon’s very large and tasty slice of foie gras terrine. Again, it had come straight ouf of the fridge, so I waited a while until it was more easily spreadable. A mussel-and-cream soup (which appeared on several menus in the Loire), was the best version we had on our trip.

Roasted quail (caille) and hanger steak with shallot sauce (onglet a l’echalotte) were juicy, huge, and delish, especially with buttery, fragrant girolles. The cheese course was unnecessary but irresistible. Nutty, aged chevre, I salute you!

And because we’d cycled 30 km (20 miles) that day, we each polished off a red-berry gratin hot out of the oven. With wine, we paid 83 euros total for a generous quantity of food, as we found was the way in the region. Rendez-vous des Gourmets is a charming restaurant and worth a stop if you’re touring nearby Chambord or Villesavin. But be prepared for a slow, long meal.

Rendez-vous des Gourmets ; 20, rue Roger Brun, 41250 BRACIEUX. +33 2.54.46.03.87.

And that’s it for now. In my next and last post on the Loire, I’ll summarise our eating in Contres, Chaumont-sur-Loire and two nights in Amboise. Bon weekend!

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Maze restaurant interior (lifted from the Grosvenor Marriott site)

Maze restaurant interior (lifted from the Grosvenor Marriott site)

A month ago, Jon and I had dinner at Maze. Because it was Jon’s choice, I didn’t get a say in the matter, or else I’m pretty sure I would’ve nixed the suggestion (though hindsight is 20/20, I know).

First, although Maze has its own entrance off of Grosvenor Square (and wow, the US Embassy in London really *is* as ugly as everyone says it is), it’s also connected to a Marriott Hotel. And I have a major bias against restaurants located in chain hotels, especially mid-range hotels.

Second, upon stepping into the dining room, we couldn’t miss the glass case displaying owner Gordon Ramsay’s cookbooks. Classy.

Third, and most substantively, the service we had at Maze ruined our quiet evening out. “Indifferent” would be the charitable description of our server.

I don’t want or need fawning armies of servers. But at a 1-Michelin star restaurant, I want someone to hand me the menu, not put it on the table and shove it towards me. I want someone who graciously accepts that I don’t want bottled water, instead of making a show of taking away the “fancy” water glasses (presumably reserved for rarefied water that comes out of a glass bottle) and replacing them with other, different (presumably lesser) glasses filled with tap water. Or how about this – a server who aks me if I’m ready to order, instead of sidling up to my table, shifting all weight to one leg (classic teenager-slouch style) and asking me “you OK now?” The only thing missing from the tableau was some gum snapping.

I should’ve just walked out then. It’s a Wednesday night. I’m tired. I just want a quiet dinner with my husband. I don’t need to feel uncool and unwanted. And definitely not at these prices.

Looking back, I can see why service was sloppy at Maze. Jon and I were seated at a table surrounded by multiple groups of what appeared to be work colleagues (perhaps traveling together and staying at the Marriott hotel). If I were there having drinks and nibbles with coworkers, I’d probably care a lot less about servers pushing menus towards me and talking to me in casual-teen-lingo when taking my order

For the sake of argument, let’s assume I was in such a bad mood that it was inevitable I’d be annoyed with the service. Well, the food didn’t exactly improve things. I’m usually pretty tolerant of high prices and so-so service as long as the food delivers.

But at Maze, the high prices for small portions of occasionally-gimmicky food left me seriously (*very* seriously) wondering how this place has a Michelin star. Our experience at Maze was nowhere near the meals we’ve had at, for example, the Ledbury or Hibiscus (where, by the way, the servers are helpful and gracious without being overly-formal).

assiette of sandwiches at Maze Restaurant

assiette of sandwiches at Maze Restaurant (photo courtesy of Ribose Reflections)

Maze’s chef, James Atherton, gets a lot of press for his “assiette of sandwiches,” for example, and the BLT in the martini glass would be charming if food-in-a-martini glass didn’t seem so distinctly trendy (circa 1990s), and if I thought drinking lettuce soup with bacon bits was worth £9. To be fair, there was a sliver of buttery ham-and-cheese sandwich (the croque monsieur), too.

lamb chop at Maze Restaurant

lamb chop at Maze Restaurant (photo courtesy of Ribose Reflections)

Above, you’ll find a photo of the lamb chop dish we ordered (photos courtesy of this blogger) to illustrate the plate sizes at Maze. It’s no exaggeration to say you’re supposed to order at least four plates per person to make a meal at Maze, so while the menu prices (£9-13 a plate) don’t look high, your bill tallies up quickly if you’re at Maze for anything other than a quick snack.

The food wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t memorable. When you factor in our disgruntled server (whose pouting would be more at home at a McDonald’s than at a Gordon Ramsay resto in Mayfair), you’re left wondering why anyone goes to Maze. I’d go back for drinks with coworkers if they were staying at the attached Marriott, or maybe I’d go again if I had to get my passport renewed at the nearby US Embassy. But outside of those two unlikely scenarios, no thanks.

Maze Restaurant, 10-13 Grosvenor Square, W1K 6JP, 0207 107 0000; closest tube station: Bond Street
Maze on Urbanspoon

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