Posts Tagged ‘one Michelin star’

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
Greenhouse on Urbanspoon

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Cassis port

the port in Cassis, France

Less than an hour’s drive south from Aix-en-Provence is the pretty port town of Cassis, which is *not* famous for creme de cassis but which *does* produce crisp, white Cassis wines.

Cassis beach

Cassis beach

In addition to wandering the town’s pretty lanes, admiring the town beach, and taking a boat tour of the local inlets (les calanques), we had a relaxing lunch at La Petite Cuisine, which is the casual bistro located inside the one-Michelin-starred restaurant, La Villa Madie.

La Villa Madie is a 15-minute walk uphill from Cassis port, and originally, my plan was to try out whatever lunch menu was on offer at the restaurant. However, when we arrived at La Villa Madie, we learned that the formal restaurant doesn’t offer a lunch menu, and instead, there’s a casual bistro upstairs from the restaurant (La Petite Cusine) that offers a 40-euro 3- course lunch. So upstairs we went.

La Villa Madie outdoor terrace

seaside terrace of La Petite Cuisine

La Petite Cuisine was packed, but luckily it was low season and a Friday, so despite having no reservations, the four of us scored a spacious corner table by the window overlooking the sea. Although it was too chilly to sit outside on the terrace overlooking the Mediterranean, the glass doors next to our table were opened so that we could pretend like we were sitting outdoors.

"Le Brick" (pastry stuffed with egg and potato)

"Le Brick" stuffed with potato, tuna and egg

La Petite Cuisine’s 3-course lunch menu is a take-it-or-leave-it deal, which means you don’t get to choose among multiple options for starter, main or dessert, so once you’re at the bistro, you’re stuck unless you’re prepared to walk out of the restaurant.

We started with a “brick” of potato, tuna and runny egg yolk wrapped in pastry. It was tasty and comforting, but effectively it was a high-end Hot Pocket. The only thing about the dish that reflected any skill was the tangy lemon dressing on the mesclun greens. On its own, the salad was too sour, but eaten with the “brick,” the lemony greens lifted the oily, homey hot pocket.

salmon at La Petite Cuisine

pave of salmon

The main course was a pave of salmon, which was silky and luscious, but really, it’s just salmon. The only thing about this dish that I’d have trouble duplicating at home is the extra-crispy skin, and I suspect if I just used a ton of butter, I’d eventually get it done. The jus and cabbage accompanying the salmon were unpleasantly buttery. I never thought I’d meet a buttery dish I didn’t like, but I guess that’s why you should never say never.

La Villa Madie dessert

dessert at La Petite Cuisine

Dessert was a shortbread cookie with some cassis-flavoured cream. Yummy, but nothing spectacular.

Overall, the 40-euro price tag bought us the comfort of the dining room, the stunning Mediterranean views, and the polite, attentive service. Wine helped, too.  I loved the 32-euro bottle of Domaine de Bagnol Cassis wine that our server recommended. With its light floral notes, the wine tasted like sunshine.

For a leisurely lunch, La Petite Cuisine fit the bill. While the bistro’s lunch menu options were uncreative, at least they were well executed. You could find much worse perches from which to while away a sunny afternoon.

La Petite Cuisine, Restaurant La Villa Madie, Anse de Corton, 13260 Cassis, France; +33 (0)4 96 18 00 00.

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Restaurant Pierre Reboul, Aix-en-Provence, France

Restaurant Pierre Reboul, Aix-en-Provence, France

Jon and I just returned to London after a week in Provence. It was nice to get away, but the trip didn’t turn out the way I’d pictured. On the three days of sunshine we had, it was hard to relax because outside our rental house, workmen were chain-sawing the branches off gorgeous plane trees (WHY?). And then we had three days of rain. Not even light, drizzly rain. Full-on gale-force downpour rain. [On the plus side, during one of those rainy days, Jon and I took refuge at the Thermes Sextius Spa, whose treatments were very good, but whose bath facilities weren’t half as nice as those of the Bath Thermae Spa)].

In any case, after two days of exploring Provencal villages in the rain, Jon and I needed a Michelin-pick-me-up. Staying as we were in St. Cannat, there were “only” three Michelin-starred choices: La Table de Ventabren, Le Clos de la Violette, and Pierre Reboul.

I couldn’t get through to anyone at La Table de Ventabren, and Le Clos de la Violette was dinged for being listed in every guidebook about Provence; for being demoted from 2 stars to 1 in 2008; and for having been referred to in a September 2009 Chowhound post as having “sucked.”

So, off to Pierre Reboul. I had misgivings about going there after this July 2009 NYT article described a Pierre Reboul dish of chopped-corn “cocaine” that you eat through a straw, but it still sounded better than going to Le Clos.

And it turned out my skepticism was entirely unfounded. Our meal was great from start to finish. Every server was friendly and helpful, following our lead and generally speaking to us in French. And while I’m not a huge fan of molecular gastronomy (e.g., I didn’t enjoy eating at the Fat Duck), I thought the food at Pierre Reboul was creative and fun while still being something I’d want to eat. In short, I’d love to go back.

Jon and I chose the “mid-priced” 78-euro menu, somewhat insultingly named “Les Amateurs.” (The high-priced “Les Experts” menu is 120 euros a person, and the low-priced “L’Initiation” menu is 47 euros).

Highlights of our evening were the pot au feu, pan-seared foie gras, the filet de pigeon and the chocolat courses. All these dishes stood out for being unusually-presented, delicious and a lot of fun to eat. For example, the pot au feu was served (from left to right in the below photo) with the meat stew in gelatin form; the carmelized onions in a crispy shell and topped with vinegary, crunchy sprouts; the leeks in ice cream form; and the carrots in a foamy puree. Eaten together, the ingredients tasted exactly like pot au feu, and the variety of textures and temperatures elevated the dish from humble to elegant.

deconstructed pot au feu

deconstructed pot au feu

pan-seared foie gras with apple and passionfruit

pan-seared foie gras with apple and passionfruit
Drome pigeon filet with petits pois ice cream and creme brulee

Drome pigeon filet with petits pois ice cream and creme brulee

chocolate ravioli in a spiced coulis, with white chocolate sorbet on the side

chocolate ravioli in a spiced coulis, with white chocolate sorbet on the side

Dishes that were still pretty tasty but didn’t 100% work for me were: the sous-vide salmon (because it’s hard to get excited about salmon, no matter how silky), the Munster profiterole (because the Munster was just too stinky, stiff and cold), and the Granny Smith “ile flottante” (for the meringue bit being too spongy).

sous-vide salmon with grapefruit

sous-vide salmon with grapefruit

Munster profiterole with carrot-cumin sorbet

Munster profiterole with carrot-cumin sorbet

Granny Smith apple fake ile flottante

Granny Smith apple fake ile flottante

A wine pairing for the “Amateurs” menu is 52 euros, and I’d highly recommend it. The pairing choices perfectly heightened and/or complemented the flavors of each course (as they are supposed to do), and the options reflected a refreshing broad-mindedness (especially for a Michelin-starred French resto) with only three of eight pairings hailing from France and one even coming from Canada (!).

The one drawback of our meal was that I wasn’t a fan of the restaurant’s decor, which was too heavy on the pastels. Of course, when the food is this interesting and tasty, the decor is pretty irrelevant. At 78 euros, the Amateurs menu was great value, and next time I’m in Aix, I’d love to try out the 120-euro Les Experts menu.

Restaurant Pierre Reboul, 11 petite rue Saint Jean, 13100 Aix en Provence, +33 (0)4 42 20 58 26

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