Posts Tagged ‘Notting Hill’

passionfruit souffle with blueberry ice cream at the Ledbury restaurant

passionfruit souffle with blueberry ice cream at the Ledbury restaurant

Today is Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, and I’m fasting. No beverages or food for 24 hours. But at sundown today, it’s back to my piggish ways.

What better way to spend my last food-and-drink-free hours than to write about delicious delicious food? I *must* be delirious.

Jon and I returned to the Ledbury last weekend. We had such an all-around great meal there in August that it took restraint to wait even this long (six weeks) to revisit.

Perhaps inevitably, this time, I was slightly disappointed. To be fair to the Ledbury, high expectations are deadly. And I still think the Ledbury is a great restaurant. But the prices have gone up (the tasting menu is now £70 per person, not £60), and the ingredients used were noticeably budget-conscious. I assume the higher menu prices and seemingly-less-luxe ingredients can be blamed only on rising food costs, but I had hoped that restaurants would do only one or the other. Not both.

The service – such a high point last time – was still swift and accommodating: the sommelier remembered me from our last visit, and one of our servers allowed us to substitute the passionfruit souffle for the chocolate pave course on the tasting menu.

slice of foie gras terrine with mango

slice of foie gras terrine with mango

As for the food, it was all still tasty, but compared to our last tasting menu experience, it seemed skimpy and less creative. Rolls, for example. Something you can take for granted at any moderate-to-nice restaurant. Last time, we got an endless supply of them, and I had to force myself to stop eating all the bacony-cheese ones (they’re like gougeres, but better because there’s bacon). This time, we each got one roll at the start of the meal, and then another towards the end after we asked for more (and even then, our servers said they’d have to ask the kitchen to send more up).

As for the tasting menu, the slice of foie gras terrine was creamy and rich, and the diced mango and cabernet sauce added tang and sweetness, but I’d hoped for a thick slice of roast foie gras like what I remembered from our visit in August. Cold terrine just isn’t the same when you want hot, rich essence of meaty fatness.

roast cod with truffle

roast cod with truffle

Our cod is a better example of the skimpiness. Last time, we dined on moist, luscious, delicate-flavored turbot. This time, we got roast cod. It was likely as good as cod gets – firm but silky – but it’s hard for me to get excited about it. Where’s the special-occasion factor in cod?

partridge served with corn "three ways"

partridge served with corn

Our partridge with corn served three ways also seemed boring. The “corn on the cob” was crisp and sweet, but you know, it’s corn on the cob. And the corn pancake under the partridge was just tough. I guess it was there to soak up the chicken-tasting partridge juices. I admit I’m biased against partridge because I think it really does taste like chicken. And I’m a good enough home cook that chicken isn’t something I want to pay someone else to make for me. I’ll pick a lamb or suckling pig course any day above a partridge one.

Before I sound too “down” on eating at the Ledbury, I should point out the superstar passionfruit souffle. That souffle was so perfect that even if everything at the Ledbury sucked (which it most certainly does not), I’d still go back. The passionfruit (and lemon zest?) added a tanginess that matched the lightness of the souffle’s texture. As souffles are wont to be, it was hot, airy and so fresh that I thought if I didn’t eat it right away, the souffle might float away and disappear. The blueberry ice cream served tableside was an excellent contrasting accompaniment. Every bite of this dessert was sweet and sour, floral and fruity, hot and cold. I haven’t got a sweet tooth, but thanks to the Ledbury, I’ve learned I have a passionfruit souffle tooth.

Overall, I had a good meal this time ’round at the Ledbury. Prices were higher and value-for-money was proportionally lower than last time, but it’s still my favorite high-end restaurant in London. In these uncertain times, though, next time I’ll try the a la carte menu and cut back on the wines. Maybe I’ll go just for passionfruit souffle.

The Ledbury, 127 Ledbury Road, W11 2AQ, 0207 792 9090; Closest tubes: Notting Hill Gate, Westbourne Park, Ladbroke Grove. £70 tasting menu; £40 wine pairings.
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Hereford Road restaurant

Hereford Road restaurant

Regular readers among you have probably noticed I am a Thomas Keller fan. I love his cooking, his OCD perfectionism, and his taste. Years ago, when he lured Mark Furstenberg away from the BreadLine, the DC bakery, I was sad that my lunches at the BreadLine would never be the same, but I also knew that Furstenberg was going to a better place (baker heaven?). And I liked knowing that Thomas Keller appreciated Mark Fursternberg as much as we BreadLine fans did.

Well, a few months ago, the Guardian did this small piece listing Thomas Keller’s favorite restaurants in London and NY. He said about Hereford Road: “[i]t’s entirely free of pretension, has a nice energy and very knowledgable servers.”

So I’ve been there twice in the past two months. And no lie, the restaurant is a simple, sleek space with “a nice energy and very knowledgable servers.” None of the mains cost more than £14, and the wine list is comprised of well-priced, tasty bottles, many of which are available by the carafe (cheers, by the way, to Arbutus and Wild Honey for getting that trend going).

crab toast at Hereford Road

crab toast at Hereford Road

The thing is, the food was a mixed bag both times I went. I’d say appetizers were generally more interesting and tasty than the mains, but you have to love offal to get excited about the menu. My crab toast, for example, was comprised of the creamy innards of crab, not the sweet white meaty bits you more normally get. I liked it at first, for its rich seafoodiness, but I kept wondering exactly which bits I was eating, and my imagination ruined the taste. I love liver, but can I love the intestines, heart and the who-knows-what of a crab?

Jon reported the fatty richness of his deep-fried calf’s brain was appealing, but much as I love deep-fried food, I couldn’t muster the same enthusiasm. I have my limits when it comes to offal, I guess.

Main courses were, both times I went, much less creative than the appetizers, and not in a “safe but tasty” way, but more in a “eh” way.

Lamb dishes both times I’ve visited were good, but nothing special, and one time, my friend’s pigeon was incredibly tough, so he left it pretty untouched on his plate. As sad as the pigeon tasted, however, I loved that our server noticed his uneaten pigeon and offered another main course or a dessert on the house. When we declined both options, she just took the charge off our bill (we didn’t even have to ask), which was an act of graciousness I’ve yet to see anywhere in the UK.

plum ice cream at Hereford Road

plum ice cream at Hereford Road

Sides of new potatoes and cabbage, by the way, are excellent, as you’d expect when you combine farm-fresh ingredients with thick, sweet butter. Simple desserts like our plum ice cream are unusual and taste like a lot of care went into them. But are potatoes, cabbage and ice cream good reasons for me to schlepp from Angel to Notting Hill? Not really.

So I’d guess that the people who leave Hereford Road the happiest are offal lovers. And you know, after reading Michael Ruhlman’s Soul of a Chef (which details Thomas Keller’s genius perfectionism), I understand now that Thomas Keller is an offal man. Which in turn explains his love for Hereford Road. Me, I guess I’m not as big an offal fan as I thought I was.

Most appetizers cost £7, and most mains were £13. With a few carafes of wine, both times, my tab came to about £35 a person. The restaurant is a cozy, buzzy spot where offal lovers leave happy, but otherwise, it’s a nice neighborhood place and not a destination.

Hereford Road, 3 Hereford Road, W2 4AB, 0207 727 1144; closest tube stations: Bayswater and Notting Hill Gate
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Salad of spring vegetables with wild shoots, warm quail egg and truffle at the Ledbury

Salad of spring vegetables with wild shoots, warm quail egg and truffle

A friend was telling me about his recent dinner at Thomas Keller’s Per Se restaurant, and our conversation reminded me that my dinner there in June 2004 remains the best restaurant meal of my life. Everything came together that night – my dining companions, the food, the wine, the mood in the resto, and the warm, friendly, confident service.

It’s been ages since I’ve encountered service at expensive restos that’s that super-attentive, knowledgeable and still welcoming. The few Michelin-starred places I’ve tried since moving to Europe have come with service that, while attentive and discreet, subscribes to a distant, chilly, almost master-servant school of thought. I suppose it might be very American to want service that cracks the formality a bit and creates the illusion that servers are happy to have you as their guest.

Well, last night, Jon and I ate at the Ledbury in Notting Hill, and we *loved* the service. Everyone at the front of the house was professional and warm – very human. The food, while very very good, tasted even better explained by servers who understood what they were serving and who seemed happy and proud to help you, the diner, enjoy what you were eating. Tap water was no problem; a sub for a course on the tasting menu, also no problem. Everything was no problem. I loved that.

Our friends, Jill and Emmet, had been singing the Ledbury’s praises for months, so I’m embarrassed it took us so long to get over there.

The Ledbury has a Michelin star, so no surprise that our tasting menu (£60 per person without wine pairings; £98 per person with – and the wine pairings were great, by the way) was studded with three or four amuses bouches. They were all simple but tasty and generally came in custard form.

My favorite bits of our eight-course meal were the foie gras (god, I love that molten center – it’s like marbled meat melting in your mouth), the luscious turbot, the intense vegetable flavors and soft-boiled quail egg in the “salad” starter (see photo at top), and the salsify-and-ham beignet served with our suckling pig.

For those of you curious for details about the type of food served at the Ledbury, below are my eh quality photos (taken on a phone camera because I lost my point-and-shoot a few weeks ago):

Grilled mackerel with mackerel tartare in cucumber gelee at the Ledbury

Grilled mackerel with mackerel tartare in cucumber gelee


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Cadogan Square Gardens, London, UK

This past weekend, I engaged in the annual London ritual of peeking into wealthy private gardens during London Open Garden Squares weekend. Hidden away throughout London are dozens of private gardens. The gardens are patches of green (well, some are much larger than patches) that generally are accessed only by those whose homes line the perimeter. You might hear someone talk about having a key to a private garden in breathless tones – it’s just that exciting when you’ve got one!

Anyway, for one weekend every year, the gardens are open to the general public for a mere £7.50 a person. A few of the gardens even host wine tastings, though the one Jon and I happened upon at Stanley Crescent Gardens (not to be confused with Stanley Gardens, of course) wasn’t really a tasting as much as it was a French guy with a few bottles of Loire Valley white served in thimble-sized plastic cups. The meagreness of the offerings is alright, though – you’re not going for the booze (I can hear the Brit objecting: au contraire!).

I visited Cadogan Place Gardens and Cadogan Square Gardens on Saturday with my friend, Jill. Seeing as how those two gardens are just off Sloane Street, of course we did some pre-shopping in preparation for the summer sales (yes, July is just around the corner). The former was large and sectioned into three parts – a formal gardens, a tennis court area, and a children’s playground, and the latter was smaller and more charming with just a pretty bit of statuary in the middle, a mere one tennis court, and benches all around for relaxing and chating (see photo at top of post).

Stanley Gardens, Notting Hill, London

A group of us then spent the evening picnicking in Stanley Gardens in Notting Hill, to which Jill has access (see photo above for a view of Jill’s building from the garden). There were all these neighborhood kids playing with tents and giant plastic tunnels, and now that I think about, I suppose it’s an ideal setup to have a large gated garden when you have kids. But it’s no less exciting for adults to be able to hang out in the same garden. Actually, park is a more accurate word.

Stanley Crescent Gardens, Notting Hill, London

A few of the gardens, like Stanley Crescent Gardens in Notting Hill, are cozy and well-loved by a select group of 150 dues-paying homeowners (photo above), and then other gardens welcome members who don’t necessarily own homes abutting the garden.

Ladbroke Square Gardens, Notting Hill, London

Ladbroke Square Gardens, for example, is enormous enough that it’s more like a private park that you can join. In other words, no need to live right on the Gardens in order to have the privilege of paying for the upkeep of the Gardens. Originally, the Gardens were built in 1837 as a horse track, but apparently the soil was too muddy, so then the racetrack became a really large communal garden. It’s just that big.

I suppose it’s a little weird to spend your weekend gawking at private gardens, but maybe the UK is rubbing off on me. It seems perfectly normal in the UK to see how the other half lives (see, e.g., the popularity of visitng English Heritage homes of noble families), or if you can’t admit that you’re in it for the voyeurism, you can tell yourself that you’re really going to look at the beauty of the plantings and greenery.

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Tex Mex Tapas Bar in Notting Hill

Despite the rain and the gloom today (as well as the suspension of services on the ever-frustrating Circle Line), Jon and I traveled west to visit our friends and have dinner in Notting Hill, where neither our friends nor we live.

So, then, why the schlepp to Notting Hill?  Well, it just so happens that our friends have a discovery on their hands.

The Tequila Tex Mex Tapas Bar (19 Notting Hill Gate) sets off all kinds of warning bells to stay away.Interior of Tequila Tex Mex

First, what does Tex Mex have to do with tapas? Second, what’s with the flashing multi-colored Christmas lights and cheesy sombrero-strewn decor? Third, why does the menu offer (in addition to quesadillas and assorted tapas dishes) couscous?

Sometimes, though, you have to throw caution to the wind, ignore all the warning signs, and go with the flow. At the Tequila Tex Mex Tapas Bar, our servers were friendly and attentive, the decor took on a friendly, warm glow, and the food was fresh and flavorful.

It’s true that tex-mex food is nothing fancy (this place is a far cry from the “real” Mexican food that Green and Red aspires to), but then again, we’ve been burned enough times by bad tex-mex that to eat something well-prepared and simple is something to crow about.

We started with barbecued ribs, which were sweet and spicy and eminently chompable, though if it were up to me, I’d cook them just a little bit longer to reach falling-off-the-bone status. Serious Nachos at the Tequila Tex Mex

A monster-high pile of layered cheese, braised beef, sour cream, chili peppers and crispy, you-can-taste-the-corn nachos made for a serious appetizer. Undeterred by the size of said dish, the four of us polished everything off in about ten minutes.

Honestly, we could (should) have stopped eating after the nachos, but the siren call of the enchiladas lured us in for more. The four of us shared an order of beef enchiladas and another of chicken enchiladas. The flour tortillas were soft and chewy; the fillings were braised and savory; the sides of rice and beans was home-made-and-fresh-tasting.All this tasty food and our tab was about £15 a person (though keep in mind it was not a drinking night). We will definitely be back, and cheers to Cathy and Bobby on a restaurant well found.

14 March 2007 Update: I went back for dinner and drinks, and the service was still friendly, but slow and disorganized. My friend Jill and I had to ask repeatedly for basics like water and the bill, which was annoying. I think the drop in service compared to my last visit was because the owner wasn’t around. The margaritas were large, but too sticky from the margarita mix, and the “regular” nacho appetizer was made of cheese-flavored Doritos. Not at all like the “grande” nachos I’d a few weeks ago with Cathy and Bobby. The enchiladas and burrito were still good, so I’d say this trip was a mixed bag.

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