Friday, 28 October 2011

Post number nineteen, 'Hedone' .....simply stunning

I am sure many of you have already heard the story behind Hedone in Chiswick. The new restaurant by chef/patron Mikael Jonsson a self taught, sourcing obsessed foodie who also writes the blog Gastroville .

I had the incredible pleasure of dining there last night and without going into too many eulogies, it blew me away.

The simple, no frills approach to each and every dish, the stunning flavours of the amazing produce on every plate, Hedone provided me with a dining experience I have rarely been lucky enough to enjoy.

It is a stylish room, minimal but tasteful and a touch quirky, I loved the freestyle drawing on the ceiling. There is a four or five course (fifty / sixty pounds respectively) pretty set menu or a tasting menu. We opted for five courses;

First a savoury jammy dodger, cheesey, tasty. Next the freshest most beautiful piece of mackerel I have ever eaten, just simply presented on a slate slab with a little green.

Then onions, with shaved pear and a little citrus/butter sauce....this sounds nothing but the gentle flavour of the onion, with the sweetness of the shaved pear then the sauce, it was sublime. This plate was also one of the prettiest I have ever seen.

Next Crab, white meat, served in a crater compartment of a huge glass bowl, with cauliflower, chive and citrus creme fraiche. Again it was so fresh, the flavour of the cauliflower engaging the crab. Stunning.

Then Turbot, served with a carrot sauce and a pretty pink flower(the name of which escapes me)......amazing visual impact with the white fish, yellow sauce and pink flower. The taste, oh my god the taste was a joy to behold. Soft, rounded, fantastic. The quality of the turbot was immense.

Then the meat course, salt marsh lamb, with ratte potatoes and a little parsley puree.......just so simple but again visually so pleasing, the flavours quite incredible. The lamb was perfectly pink, the potato perfectly 'just' cooked. Normally I feel the need for a sauce with lamb, but this just shows when you have ingredients of such high quality simplicity sings. Just a very light reduction aided the dish. 

The wine list has some excellent choices by the glass; Chablis premier cru for the fish, Barbaresco for the lamb, both superb.

A selection of perfect cheese next with complex, rich Alsace white grand cru. Finally a fine apple tart and another glass of the delightful Alsace.

What a meal.

Hedone is exciting, clever, special and brilliant. The quality of the ingredients beams out from the beautiful dishes that Mikael Jonsson produces. The simplicity is similar to that of 'St John' but this is 'fine dining'. The Sportsman' in Seasalter also came to mind as a comparable establishment food wise.

I have little doubt that Hedone will be the hottest table in town very soon, I for one cannot wait to return.

301-303 high road
Chiswick w4 4hh

tel 0208 747 0377

price - One hundred/one hundred thirty pounds a head with good wine

Monday, 1 August 2011

Post number eighteen, 'The Company shed' West Mersea

I have just returned from a weekend in Essex. I had a lovely time, it really is true that every county in our great country has it's beauty. Yesterday, having some time to kill I decided to go and explore Mersea Island. I knew nothing of the place particularly apart from the fact I have seen West Mersea native oysters on the menu at some great restaurants.

I suspected we might get lucky with lunch so I delved in to the world wide web and came up with what looked like a cracker of a lunch venue, The Company Shed, a shellfish/wet fish shop with ten tables or so where you can eat in. It is owned by the Haward family who have been producing some of the best oysters the UK has to offer since 1792.

You cross to the island via a road/causeway that during high spring tides is liable to flood so one has to watch that. I headed straight for West Mersea where The Company shed is located, as we wound our way down the coast road I was amazed how pretty the buildings and the place looked. The Mersea yacht club had a junior regatta running, the lawn in front of the clubhouse a perfect picture of an English coastal summer; adults enjoying jugs of Pimms on the deep green lawn, kids playing around on the shore and in the water in little Lazer dinghy's.

Driving right to the northern end of Coast road I could see in the distance a black slat board shack with a queue outside, this had to be the Company shed. 

It is exactly that, a slightly ramshackle shed by the sea. I went in and enquired how long a table for two would be(there are no bookings), an hour they said. Our name was chalked up on the board and we wondered down the road for a pint in the sunshine to pass the time. NB I tried two superb local ales yesterday, Captain Bob's from Maldon and Island Yo boy from the Mersea Island Brewery.

Returning in an hour the polite and efficient staff informed us they were just clearing our table, this doesn't take long in the Company shed, vinyl table clothes are simply washed down and in we went.

The place was packed, each brightly coloured table equipped with a big roll of kitchen paper, sea salt, pepper, tabasco and malt vinegar. It was an exciting, very social scene that oozed 'bon ami'. Friends/families, couples with their own bottles of wine and bread(you are encouraged to byo here) getting stuck into fantastic seafood.

You order at the bar, we went for a seafood platter, native lobster, grilled salted garlic prawns and half a dozen Gigas rock oysters.  The highlights of the platter were the native crab and lobster, both kept in tanks at the back of the shack so super fresh. There were also prawns, large and small, fantastic green shelled mussels. The Gigas rocks were really very good, the best rock oyster I have eaten actually. Sadly we were out of season and missed the house speciality, West Mersea natives oysters.

Everything was delicious.

I went to the counter to pay our bill and nearly collapsed when all I was required to hand over was £23, the Gigas rock oysters an incredible 75 pence each. What amazing value. At this point I decided to take away some more oysters, mussels and prawns. We sat for the rest of the afternoon on a wall by the sea watching the boats go by grazing on the briney seafood delights, sipping cider. It was bliss.

If you are a shellfish fan, an Oyster fan in particular then this is a must visit place. There is a very deep rooted Oyster culture in West Mersea and from this has sprung The Company Shed. It is earthy, eccentric, hugely charming and amazing value.

I cannot wait to go back after September 1st, take a bottle or two of sancerre and fill up on west Mersea natives.

four out of five stars

The Company Shed
29 Coast Road, 
West Mersea, 
CO5 8PA.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Post number seventeen, 'My stay at the St John Hotel'

My love of all things 'Nose to tail' has never faltered. Since my first visit to Smithfield HQ in late '94 when I was astounded by the brilliant, raw, stylish simplicity of the food and the space I have revisited and generally watched with interest the development of brand 'St John'. I am a vehement disciple.

I was therefore 'chomping' at the bit to get down to the new Hotel. This visit was postponed several times due to building delays but I finally got my chance the other week to eat dinner there, sleep and eat breakfast the next morning.

I arrived about 7pm, the location is quirky for a St John establishment, literally off Leicester square, a very commercialised setting/environment. Check in was delightful assisted charmingly by Michelle; I scurried up to the room and I suppose first impressions were rather disappointing. The room was quite small and the bathroom was actually part of the room, maybe I was expecting a touch more for the three hundred and twenty pounds cost. I had a good nose around the room checking out the bits and was all very proper and the finishings of everything were of a very high standard. Penhaligans toiletries, great mini bar and of course the most amazing room service menu I have ever seen, if you like St John that is. The pegs that adorn the walls in smithfield are cleverly used as a feature throughout the hotel, I liked that. I headed downstairs to the bar thinking this is all very exciting and that the room albeit a little small room was quite cool.

The bar itself is hidden away down at one end of a long, rather austere room. The layout of the building clearly determined this but it seems rather cut off, if, like me you take a seat at the opposite end. There was one other couple sharing a drink together and it all felt rather uneasy and somewhat lacking in a bit in atmosphere. No matter it was all very intriguing.

Downstairs for dinner then, what a contrast to the bar up stairs, it was buzzing. We sat near the front of the room, kitchen end. It is a similar space to St John bread and wine but obviously a bit more modern, a wee bit smaller too; Beautiful wooden floor, steel kitchen bar and wine racks, classic St John dark wood tables and chairs, pristine white table cloths, peugeot salt and pepper mills, perfect.

The food was fabulous; we all started with a couple of native oysters, only ever natives are served at St John. They were perfect, a delicious taste of the sea. Next for me sweetbreads with butter beans & wild garlic; pleasingly caramelised glands with a gorgeously giving, light interior.....the fragrance given by the herbs and further nuttiness of the butter beans made it a dish to behold.
Other starters around table were the pigs head terrine, impressive looking langoustines with the superb St John mayonnaise(for me St John's condiments/sauces/dressings are simply the best I taste, aioli, mayonnaise, ketchup, tartare sauce, vinaigrette, mustard or anchovy salad dressings, green sauce all serious, properly made examples). A top drawer Alsace white was excellent with our starters.

Main courses were beans and bacon, a sharing dish of unctuous joy, a strongly dressed watercress salad the perfect companion. Suckling pig loin, Rump of beef, roast potatoes, burgundy, the table was a happy place. This dining room is definitely more hectic than it's two relations but it is chinatown and in a way I liked the slightly frantic buzz.

To finish, at St John one must have desserts, it is the finest desert menu in the land, Sundae and ginger cake were shared. Both brilliant, the Sundae was sort of deconstructed, it looked so pretty and tasted equally good. The ginger cake was sticky, spicy, sweet and purposeful.

Time for the bill, which definitely seemed slightly higher than Smithfield and SJ B & Wine, but for the fantastic meal I was more than happy. To do it properly, three courses and good wine, St John Hotel restaurant is one hundred pounds a head, to be honest that seems a benchmark figure in good London restaurants nowadays. 

After dinner drink was next up, sadly with the experience pre dinner the bar upstairs didn't feel like an option; we tried to get into the garish 'w' hotel that sits in front of the St John hotel but we didn't pass muster on the door, Dean street town house provided a most agreeable solution. 

Returning back to the hotel I couldn't resist anther peep in the bar on the way up to our room, still empty, another drink seemed in order. Sipsmiths Gin and tonic, Campari and white wine, ooof we were on a roll by this point. We stood at the bar and happily engaged with the staff. There seemed to be a general consensus the bar needed some tweaking.

Bed! After initial crashing and burning I was awoken by the collection of bins or bottles outside(rather unfortunate the bin positioning by the restaurant but again space dictates)and also by the brightness in the room. The white venetians do little to prevent daylight/sunlight streaming through, maybe some black out would be in order behind the venetians. Ablutions in the open plan bathroom take place in front of the person who is with you in the room(if anyone is). This is fine for acquainted couples but no doubt slightly more awkward for ones in the early throws of courtship. Everything in the room oozed quality, the bath fittings, robes, towels, mats all branded with the synonymous pig.

Feeling slightly rough my heart and head was steadied by the thought of breakfast, I had high hopes. Into the ship like centre staircase, down in the lift, into the dining room, it was a much more sedate scene in the morning. Papers on hand, a few couples dotted around including Trevor Gulliver (Fergus was in the night before for dinner, they both keep a very watchful eye on front end proceedings) the menu is short and as always with St John, although classical in someways, often shy away from the obvious so no full english here. Instead smoked haddock, potato & egg, devilled kidneys on toast, ham, egg and fried bread provided the cooked options. I had Ham, egg & fried bread, it was very good, perfectly fried deep golden eggs, griddled succulent ham and just right fried bread. Corinne has the devilled kidneys, a generous amount nestling on the slab of sourdough, also perfect. Tea was good, we had ordered the 'buns', a kind of cross between a danish pastry and a croissant, very good, rich and buttery, a bit too much with our cooked breakfast. No matter they were wrapped and we took away to have for afternoon tea.

The bill for breakfast fifty pounds...again slightly pricey but I enjoyed every moment.

So around 11am we checked out, a fair degree worse off in the pocket but very happy to have spent a night with St John. I will be back for breakfast, Lunch and dinner no doubt. The restaurant offers a fresh, updated St John dining experience in the west end, I am sure the menu's will expand as time goes on, already there are exciting additions to the breakfast and dinner menu's. The bar needs something(maybe just more people or bar stools) and the rooms themselves possibly don't offer great value for money but they are unique and I'm sure there will be no shortage of takers. The service from beginning to end was first class. I really enjoyed seeing the St John philosophy adapted into a new entity such as a works.

Long live the pig!

restaurant five out of five stars

rooms three out of five stars

St. John Hotel

 1 Leicester St, London, WC2H 7BL

+44 (0) 203 301 8069  -

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Post number sixteen, # MEATEASY 'junk food extraordinaire'

I had tasted a meatwagon cheeseburger twice before my visit to the #meateasy, I thought each time it was the most satisfying, brilliant, sloppy, hot, salty, peppery, greasy, burger I have ever eaten, a triumph.

One other factor that had fascinated me about the meatwagon was it's almost cult like the 'towpath' festival in Islington on a freezing day last year I witnessed trendy young things bopping and slopping with burgers and beer by a big army tank, with a DJ of a driver, firing pumping tunes not bullets from the top. This gathering was prompted by in all probability a lone tweet the day before. There were other great street food stalls that day but the real draw was the meatwagon. When Yianni and the truck ventured south west to the @shipwandsworth burgers were sold out in a matter of a couple of hours, one sensed a phenomenon.

It was therefore with sadness and disbelief I greeted the news of the dastardly theft of the meatwagon. The thought of some dirty rotten scoundrels depriving us Londoners of the joy of some proper burger, street-food joy was almost too much to bare.

Thankfully you cannot keep good people down; Yianni, the creator of the meatwagon, and Scott, the man responsible for hosting many meatwagon evenings in conjunction with his pubs, got their heads together and came up with the idea of a #meateasy. 

SE14 was to be the lucky postcode, a space above a rather decrepid  pub,the goldsmiths tavern was to be the venue. 

The tweeting then began, '#meateasy' plastered all over the twitter universe from noon till night day after day creating an almost insatiable desire to get down there and experience it for myself. The opportunity arose the other week to make the sortie to deepest south east London in the esteemed company of @mcmoop and @drapersarms and it was some experience.

The first thought that went through my mind as we marched around the back of the goldsmiths following the chalkboard signage was, god this is clever. Up the stairs, straight ahead a door, with the words written, 'You've made it, well done, not this door, that one' with an arrow pointing left. Pushing the correct door open we walked into another world, it could have been a scene from, 'from dusk till dawn', dark, frantic and cool, country western music bellowing out, yehaaaaa! there was an underground feel, you felt you have arrived somewhere special.

To the right of the room a cocktail bar, trendy guys, some in pork pie hats, shaking trendy cocktails and dispensing in jam jars. After one or two of these great cocktails you are certainly in the mood and whatever wait there is, like the meatwagon everything is grilled to order, time becomes you friend not enemy.

The chalkboard menu unerringly tantalises your burger cravings until your time comes. There are more options than the wagon, we ordered a selection of the best bits; philly cheese steak, chilli cheese fries, chilli burger, dead hippy(a take on a big mac/in-n-out double), bacon cheeseburger, slaw,  chilli cheese dog, mac & cheese...ooof....then.....our moment arrived;

Paper plate, after paper plate descended on our table with a couple of rolls of giant paper roll to mop up. Silence prevailed....... everything was so fresh, hot and damn good. We began frantically slicing the assortment of burgers and dogs in half so we could all try everything (apart from the dead hippy, that disappeared in seconds flat, @mcmoop saw to that). Growls of satisfaction ensued.

To experience the brilliant heart of the #meateasy for me the classic cheeseburger takes some beating, you get the taste of the loosely ground well aged, super seasoned beef so well, but I adored the spicy chilli burger and the heavenly chilli dog, a beefy smokey beast of a sausage smothered in a great meaty, punchy chilli and cheese. In fact it was all memorable. 

There are many good 'posh' burgers to be tried across London town but there are virtually no great proper high grade and well made 'junk food' style burgers to be had anywhere bar this place. Or at least to my knowledge that is. Couple that with an eclectic, electric atmosphere, you could call it something of a sensation.

The meateasy is something new, fresh and brilliant. Surely eight weeks above the goldmiths tavern in se14 is just the start of it's life.

burger heaven, five out of five stars. for details