Thursday, 30 July 2009


I've not, thus far, taken advantage of the fantastic offers available on Toptable at some of Europe's top restaurants. With Margit visiting from Germany this was a prime opportunity to sample one of London's finer dining venues, for a fraction of the usual price!

On the ground floor of Holborn's Renaissance Chancery Court Hotel, Pearl claims to offer a 'sensual dining experience' along with Jun Tanaka's modern french cuisine. The opulent decor hints at a fine attention to detail and I have, for some time, been wanting to eat here.

The Toptable deal entitled us to 3 courses and a cocktail for £37.50, an absolute bargain. We arrived early and took a seat in the bar area, I had an apple martini and Thomas had the caipirinha. Margit had the raspberry non alcoholic option and we were given a nice selection of nuts to nibble on. We pondered why blueberries are called blueberries and not bluecurrants, I just don't know.

The staff to diner ratio was staggeringly in favour of the waiters, they were everywhere and seemed slightly irked when we ordered only glasses of wine rather than by the bottle. The dining room is large and spacious, the acoustics are rather overwhelming, there was a piano player and singer and with few occupied table the sound echoed and somewhat interfered with our conversation.

We ordered and were given some bread (white or brown) I think made on site and served warm. This was very good. Then we were given 2 servings of pre starters and asked for a 3rd, this may seem bold but there are 2 of each and 3 of us, I didn't want to miss out on trying any of them. My companions asked why we were given 2 and the waiter explained it's to minimise waste. Like we would waste anything?

Anyhow, the best of these was the smooth and rich duck pate, topped with fig jelly and a crouton (Thomas' looked more like a pretzel, ha!). Next there was a beef tartare then a fried mushroom risotto ball. I forget what the 4th was exactly, didn't take any notes and can't make it out in this picture. they were all good the first definitely standing out.

We were each given (hooray) an amuse, a cucumber foam sitting on top of a bed of peas, feta and peanuts.

This was delightfully light and airy and tasted purely of cucumber, the peanut and peas underneath added, in turn, a crunchy and fresh note to each mouthful. I detected little, if any, feta which was disappointing as it's my favourite cheese. Still, this did it's job and amused my mouth in anticipation of the starters.

Margit and I had both wanted the pigeon but they had only 1 portion left so I instead ordered the rabbit lasagna (not on the Toptable menu at all so I was in fact rather pleased by this turn of events).

This was served with peas, broad beans, girolles and a pea veloute (which was actually more of a foam). The lasagna was dense and a little stodgy with a rather pellet like bit of rabbit perched on top. The roll of rabbit, nestled up against the tower, was tasty and tender and the addition of the girolles was nice. Tanaka is using seasonal produce, here peas and broad beans well matched with the meat, presented beautifully on a slate but I tend to find foams look messy and add little in terms of taste.

Thomas' starter of the heritage tomatoes with goats cheese mousse was quite exquisite. It was so intensely tomatoey with a huge variety of textures, chilled jelly and smooth cheese with confit tomatoes. There was no sign of the advertised rocket though, instead cress was added as garnish and I tend to find this a bit unexciting.

Margit's smoked pigeon was curiously paired with sweet flavours.

Yet again the dish was visually stunning. The chocolate mousse was smeared prettily across the plate and there was plenty of meat, even a little leg, to the far right.

For main course I went for the Pan fried John Dory. This came with yet more broad beans, in true veloute form this time and marinated courgettes.

The glass bowl was rather grand looking and the veloute was delicious. There was a notable repeat of particularly the vegetable elements in the special menu options, both Margit and I had courgettes (yellow and green) and asparagus and my main used confit tomato as did Thomas' starter. I assume there would be less repetition if ordering from the a la carte menu.

I liked the small tortellini nestled in the veloute with a discernible tomato note. The plate looked summery and light and the small pieces of dory were perfectly cooked.

Thomas' main course of pork cheeks 'pot au feu' with raviolo in this picture resembles a child like visualization of some far away volcanic island, a bit of a mess really but it tasted good. Plenty of vegetables (fields or pathways depending on the colour), borlotti beans (rocks/cliffs), raviolo (obviously the volcano) and a ravigote sauce (muddy rivers, swamps). I'm certain this is not Tanaka's inspiration of course, the use of the glass plate elevated the presentation somewhat. Again the ravigote sauce, which is sightly acidic, was more of a foam than a sauce.

Margit's main course which I did not taste was the provencal vegetables. This again benefited from being served on a plate and looked more tidily laid out.

The pithivier (a pie, in top hat form) top left of the picture was the main event, filled with mozzarella. The courgette flowers and red petals added a delicate beauty to the plate. Somewhere there too is aubergine caviar and courgette pesto. Margit was impressed with the multiple layers of flavour.

Our pre dessert was probably my favourite dish of the evening, a lemon and white chocolate posset served in a shot glass topped with a tangy sorbet. I neglected to take a picture in my excitement. For dessert Thomas and Margit both opted for the strawberry trifle which was grandly delivered in a preserving jar and was a huge portion.

There was a long thin biscuit for crunch and a strawberry sorbet. Each layer of the trifle was packed full of flavour yet remained refreshingly unheavy, a perfectly balanced combination.

I had the chocolate tart with ginger and pink grapefruit. I was full by this point so could not finish it. The tart itself was intensely chocolaty, not overly sweet, high in cocoa content and worked wonderfully with the ginger and grapefruit. The only gripe I had was that there was a thick layer of powdered cocoa which was irritating my throat and made me cough with each taste.

The petit fours, which I again did not photograph) were marvellous. The best was a white chocolate fudge sprinkled with hazelnut. I also had the marshmallow which was raspberry flavoured and amazingly pillowy. There was a great variety to choose from, most impressive.

In conclusion, this is astounding value for money, Margit has a double espresso and we had 2 glasses of wine, for all this we paid £50 a head. The one thing I would say it's lacking is impeccable service, there is definite room for improvement here. The venue suits a special occasion, the lavish setting makes for a far above average dining experience and it would be nice if the service could match it.

That said, I wholeheartedly recommend Pearl and shall be scouring the pages of Toptable more regularly in the hope that they can provide offers even a fraction as good as this one.

Renaissance Chancery Court
252 High Holborn

Pearl on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Salad Factory

I've gotten a little bored of Tossed lately, I thought I'd never say that but I have and so I've ventured further afield in search of my lunchtime salad this week. Krista suggested that I try Chopp'd and with a vague recollection of having seen one in Holborn before, I set off in that direction and eventually found Salad Factory.

Unlike Tossed they do not have house salads, it's entirely create your own which threw me a little whilst queueing, what would it be??? With a sense of urgency and being somewhat rushed along by my salad maker I opted for tuna, beetroot, tomato and cucumber. I had wanted avocado but they'd run out. This sounds very dull and it certainly ain't pretty but it was suprisingly good.

It was large, scoops of each ingredient are fairly generous and I was really full afterwards. It's a bit pricier than Tossed and there's a 5p charge for cutlery and paper bags, as well as a £6 minimum card spend so I ended up spending more than I usually would.

Whilst obviously food like this is in no way extraordinary, if, like me, you tend to eat something light for lunch (I prefer to save myself for a bigger dinner most days) then create your own salad bars are a good way to keep things interesting and I'm happy to see more of them popping up around the city.

Salad Factory
74 Chancery Lane

Salad Factory on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

The Hideaway

Cause for celebration - Thomas' exam results are in!! He is now (almost) a Master of Science. Venue, The Hideaway as it is virtually in our front room.

The pizza here is pretty good and their cocktails are great. We started with a bottle of prosecco, there was due cause for celebration after all and each ordered a pizza. On Tuesday nights there's a 2 for £10 offer which is great value. There's a fairly decent selection of toppings.

I had the Giadiniera, new to the menu, with artichoke, pine nuts, pesto, goats cheese and rocket. The flavours were good, I was disappointed with the lack of crispness to the crust, I like the odd burnt bit, think along the lines of Franco Manca, puffy, airy dough. This was a bit flat. Still, the cheese was good and the pesto was the strongest flavour. I do like to have a full covering of rocket on my pizza though, here it was a bit sparse.

That said, it must be noted that Thomas, Rob and Olly each had no complaints about their pizzas. Thomas, as always, ordered the Quattro Carni, chicken, chorizo, salami and parma ham. You really can't complain at £5 each and service here is always efficient and friendly. There's a basement bar and a rear garden, prettily covered by grapevines and fairy lights.

It's high time I venture to Market Row to sample Franco Manca for myself. Fellow bloggers posts are enough to tell me I would love it. For the time being, the best pizza I've ever had remains one I sampled in Tuscany last summer which had ample rocket and beneath was topped simply with cheese and tomato. This is closely followed by Grimaldi's in Brooklyn.

The Hideaway
114 Junction Road

Hideaway on Urbanspoon

Friday, 24 July 2009

Camino - The Art of Good Taste Masterclass

I managed to bag a couple of tickets to the Art of Good Taste Masterclass at Camino this week which is Spanish for path. Ironic really considering you have to venture off the beaten track to find it, King's Cross is not my favourite area of our city to be honest but I was really delighted by this venue. Once we found the place we head inside not knowing entirely what to expect.

Upon arrival we were given a glass of Tio Pepe which was constantly topped up. I've never been a huge fan of sherry, only succumbing to the occasional trifle laced with the stuff but Tio Pepe is great, very dry and served chilled, throughout the evening I learned that it can be consumed alongside most foods unlike a lot of wines.

First up my group visited Lorna Wing's table for some top tips for easy dinner party food. For starters there was a delicious dip of hummus, feta (my fave) coriander and pomegranate seeds. This was delicious and so simple. A brilliant flavour combination, plenty for us to nibble on with a good selection of crackers and breads.

Then there was a Big Tom gazpacho, served as a shot with a Tio Pepe ice cube, genius! Then came a simple interpretation of Pa amb tomaquet. This was a revelation, toasted rustic bread, rubbed with a garlic clove and a halved cherry tomato, finished with a drizzle of good olive oil and some sea salt. Delicious.

Lorna also made some skewers, both veggie (with peppers, artichoke and onion) and meaty ones (chorizo, sundried tomato and olive). I really enjoyed Lorna's presentation, she was full of great ideas. You can see read some more here.

Then we moved onto the wine tasting. The foods are always the highlight for me to be honest and I don't pretend to know anything about wine. I tend to stick to white wines because I'm not a huge fan of the tanic notes of red but the smooth oakiness of the 2006 Rioja Elaboracion Especial from Beronia converted me and this was by far my favourite of all the wines selected by Peter McCrombie.

There was a selection of nibbles here too including tender marinated slices of pork with apple sauce, nicely presented on spoons. There were some great octopus and new potato skewers too, we really were spoiled with the variety and quantities of the snacks.

Next up it was onto Darren Brown (of Shellseeker fame) and a quite dazzling display of fish. There were scallops, oysters and mackeral, all caught that morning off the devonshire coast. This was so fresh and delicious and brilliantly Darren had brought along plenty of scallops for the Camino guys to cook after the demonstrations. You can't get better than fresh shellfish in my opinion, I love Darren's stalls at Borough Market and The Covent Garden Food Market, he also supplies many London restaurants.

We were shown how to fillet the mackerel and then how to shuck oysters, and given one each with shallot and red wine vinegar. They were unbelievably good and the passion and expertise exhibited by Darren about his catch was amazing, I could have listened to him all evening!

Next for us was a presentation by Richard Biggs, owner of Camino, who demonstrated some excellent cocktail making skills accompanied by plates of manchego cheese, olives and a magnificent jamon. I was a little tiddly by this point but I remember being very impressed by the cocktails and the ham was seriously good stuff. For a few hundred pounds one can be yours and will last you around a year. I suppose that depends on how much you eat but it's certainly one of my aims in life to have one of these!

After this we were free to roam and chat, I saw a few familiar faces and made some new acquaintances. There was beer and more of the octopus, some prawns, blue cheese and steak canapes as well as a chance to chat to the experts. I enjoyed the evening immensely and have actually been converted to sherry, well Tio Pepe in any case. Unfortunately I got rather too involved in the festivities and had to trot off home to bed early so I missed out on my goodie bag, drats. This included a discount voucher for Camino but I had such a great time that I shall return nonetheless. Thanks Camino and Tio Pepe for a most enjoyable night.

3 Varnisher's Yard
The Regent Quarter
King's Cross, N1

Camino on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Boo in Kent - The Chaser

The Kid's birthday lunch at The Chaser was on a Sunday, among the things they do very well is a traditional roast dinner with all the trimmings, the others all opted for this, 2 chicken, 1 beef and I had a summer lamb stew.

Growing up in Kent certainly contributed to my love of hearty home cooked food and there is a plethora of country pubs serving exactly that. The Chaser in a tiny village called Shipbourne has always been one of my favourites and many a Sunday afternoon has been whiled away inside these cosy 4 walls. There's a large garden and a covered terrace as well as a more formal dining area and the bar, complete with log fire. Something for everyone and any weather eventuality. It's a beautifully picturesque setting with an old church to the rear and a vast common opposite and the rain even held off for us.

Having once again tackled transport issues, at one point forcibly abandoning Nibs at London Victoria due to the unhelpfulness and idiocy of a National Rail employee, we convened at one of our old haunts and enjoyed some very decent Kentish pub grub.

The roast dinners were up to scratch, the Kid got a birthday Yorkshire pudding on the house with her roast chicken. There was a good variety of veg and we ordered sides of cauliflower cheese and dauphinoise potatoes, a Chaser classic, I thought this time it didn't taste particularly garlicky but the others disagreed and it was certainly very creamy.

I had the summer vegetable lamb stew which was an rather strange beast.

It had courgettes, green beans, new potatoes and a tomatoey sauce. This was served with some chunky bread. It was fine but some of the lamb wasn't particularly tender, slightly tough and gristly. I should have had a roast.

I wasn't tempted by dessert, I usually like the butterscotch tart but it wasn't on the menu. Kid had the champagne jelly with summer fruits which looked rather nice despite a minor collapse. It had plenty of berries and passion fruit seeds but was very sweet, I think they'd slightly overdone the sugar in the jelly itself.

Noyl had the sticky toffee pudding with honeycomb ice cream, a no brainer as the latter is her favourite flavour and it certainly didn't disappoint. I love the generousity of the servings here. We each had a try of the puddings, the sponge was light and springy and the sauce was wickedly sticky and delicious.

There was one weird thing, the waitress was super efficient in a slightly neurotic kind of way, like she's been wound up and let loose. We had a bottle of the house white which was fine but the glasses we were given varied in size, I found that odd. But rustic is the key here, there's little to grumble about, I love it and heartily recommend a visit if you're in the area. The menu changes daily and there are plenty of specials. They are also open for breakfast now on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, I'm keen to check that out.

The Chaser Inn
Stumble Hill, Shipbourne
TN11 9PE

Monday, 20 July 2009


One delightful Sunday evening Nibs and I wondered along South Bank looking to grab a bite to eat before we watched a film at the BFI. There's a vast array of options but I am always somewhat disappointed by the eateries on South Bank. I once had a decidedly average meal at Canteen, I'm not a fan of Ping Pong, Wagamama is boring and I associate Giraffe and Eat with lunches rather than dinner.

We ended up at Strada where I've eaten before and not been hugely offended. Stupidly we did not have a 2-for-1 voucher, always annoying when you remember these kinds of things mid meal. We were also a little strapped for time, having pre booked tickets to see Far From Heaven (a birthday present from Nibs.)

Nibs had the parma pizza. This looked and smelled brilliant, on my last visit, probably about a year ago I had a pizza and was very pleased with it. Pizza is something I am very keen to eat more of in London, I'm yet to try Franco Manca mainly out of laziness and the fact they're closed at weekends but I'm pretty sure Strada would not feature highly on anyone's top London pizzerias. The good thing about them here is that they are large. This beat Nibs.

I had the Tegamaccio, Puglia Fish Stew which promised mussels, clams, squid, prawns and red mullet in a wine and herb tomato sauce. I was disappointed with the measly portion of fish and the quality of what there was. There was 1 large prawn at the centre of the dish, this was the highlight. The sauce was very winey, quite good actually, the accompanying ciabatta tasted burnt and was soggy, might have been nice served on a side plate. I also got a side salad of rocket and Parmesan. This poor unfortunate bowl of leaves was put at the pass under the lamps and had to wait for the mains to be ready, it duly wilted and was a shadow of its former self by the time it made its way to the table. The stew was tepid, not sure if this was intended or not.

The thing I like at Strada is the bread they do in baskets, a pizza base with toppings of cheese or pesto. I wasn't hungry enough to have this. I felt the stew was a rip off at £15. Don't know why but I seem to be ordering a lot of stews lately, silly perhaps considering it's summer.

So, I'm remain at somewhat of a loss as to where is best to eat on South Bank, perhaps it's worth venturing further afield? I'm still keen to try out the Anchor and Hope.

South Bank

Strada on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Happy Birthday Kid!

Like most people I am partial to a cupcake. For my birthday I was so pleased with Noy's gift of The Hummingbird Bakery cookbook and luckily it's my sisters birthday today, perfect opportunity to make my first batch of Hummingbird cupcakes.

My usual tried and tested cupcake recipe is from Nigella's 'How to Eat' and I admit to being slightly wary, at first, of the prospect of this change. People love my cupcakes. I needn't have worried for the Hummingbird sponge is light and airy and the frosting (vanilla butter icing) was smooth and fluffy. I can't wait to get stuck in and make some more varieties, the pumpkin, the marshmallow and the green tea particularly appeal to me.

The only gripes I had were that the sponge stuck slightly to the cases, this is irritating, though was better the next day and could be partly due to the quality of the cases themselves. Also, the recipe leaves little mixture for licking the bowl, one could always make less cakes though, there really does need to be a bit leftover in my opinion! It's all part of the fun.

Makes 16

For the sponge:
120g plain flour
140g caster sugar
40g unsalted butter
1 egg
100ml whole milk
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
a pinch of salt
1/4 tsp vanilla

Blend the dry ingredients with the butter, I used an electric hand mixer on the lowest speed and made quite a mess. Mix until sand like in texture.
Add half of the milk, blend again.
Break up the egg with the remainder of the milk, add the vanilla essence and add this slowly to the flour and butter mix and whisk until smooth.
Spoon into the cases and bake for 15-18 mins at 170 degrees in a pre heated oven.

For the frosting
150g icing sugar
60g unsalted butter
25ml whole milk
3 drops of vanilla extract

Sift the icing sugar, combine thoroughly with the butter and add the milk and vanilla in 2 equal amounts. Whisk the mixture until smooth, they recommend at least 5 mins.

Allow the cakes to cool completely before icing.

A couple of notes - The specimens in the bakery are made using American sized cases, I used the smaller versions that are most commonly available here and adjusted the cooking time slightly. Also our oven is a bugger and is significantly hotter on the left side so I cooked these in batches of 8 leaving the other 4 places of the tray empty. All ingredients should be at room temperature.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

The Hinds Head

Following a heady lunch across the road, we went for a little walk around the village of Bray, very little it was too and we soon found ourselves sitting in the traditionally charming environs of The Hind's Head.

This establishment, like The Fat Duck, also run under the Blumenthal umbrella, provided a suitable home for us for the rest of the day. Contrary to what the url might suggest this is not, in fact, a Hotel, rather 'the perfect pub' serving exceptionally good quality pub grub.

We rested up for the afternoon following an eventful lunch, I tried out the gin and tonics for size whilst Thomas said the beer was one of the best he's had in terms of pipes and barrels etc. It was only kronenberg but it tasted better here than elsewhere, apparently.

We got peckish again at about 7pm and decided we might as well stay for dinner, I was keen to try out the triple cooked chips and did exactly that. I must say they are the very best chips I've ever eaten, this Saturday he explained how they achieve the crispiness on Saturday Kitchen. They are seriously good and, like with most things he makes, Heston's attention to detail and dedication to getting the most out of ingredients is all worth it in the end when the resulting food is as good as this.

Apologies for the poor quality picture, I blame it on the Bombay Sapphire.

I wasn't exactly hungry after all that food at lunch and so went for the crab with watercress and toast. This was very nice, the crab was well seasoned and was served very cold which I really like when it comes to crab. I was slightly disappointed to bite into a large fragment of shell at one point, otherwise I had no complaints.

Also pictured is an iceberg salad which was nicely crisp and I liked the mustard seed dressing. Thomas ordered the t-bone steak which at £27 was rather pricey.

It did, however, come with some bone marrow sauce which was rich in umami flavour and was absolutely delicious over the steak or with a chip dunked into it. This came with the triple cooked chips for this price at least.

Expensive for a pub we thought but also certainly better food than most pubs around. It could perhaps be considered overkill to visit both Blumenthal eateries in Bray on the same day but I was impressed with both and after the brilliant meal at lunch it seemed a shame to head straight home on such a beautiful day. And, as they say, you can't have too much of a good thing.

The Hind's Head
High St

Hinds Head on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 5 July 2009


I've heard mixed review about Terroirs but I like the concept and have wanted to visit for some time. Finally getting round to it this weekend when Thomas and I found ourselves in central London unusually early for a Saturday after a preview screening in Leicester Square. Perfect opportunity for an impromptu lunch.

We hadn't booked so ate at the bar, we were overwhelmed by the stifling temperature as soon as we entered the place, and it wasn't even particularly hot outside. We were both slightly hungover too so it really got to us and despite our close proximity to a fan it was pretty unbearable and we hurried through the meal because of it. Not exactly the 'fun and stimulating' environment they are claiming to provide on their website.

We were given mineral water for free because of the heat, the least they could do and feeling slightly worse for wear we wisely steered clear of booze.

As for the food, I was keen to try the duck rillettes, I liked the flavour and it's great value at £5 for 2 generous servings. Thomas liked it less the more he ate but I thought it was nicely seasoned, meaty and satisfying. It was rustically presented on a small wooden board with a little ramekin of capers and silverskin pickled onions.

The bread is really very good too, excellent value again, lots of it for only £1.50 and there's a bottle of olive oil on each table to pour at your own leisure, it tasted nutty and fruity.

Next we got the Cantabrian anchovies which came with shallots, unsalted butter and some toasted bread. I liked this a lot, the stack of anchovies looked like an octopus! They were superior anchovies and were strong and tasty. Perfect with the crunch of the toast and the subtle sharpness of the shallot. Great sourcing of ingredients, but not really an example of fine cooking, this requires little skill to assemble.

There was a lot of butter, with the anchovies and a pot with each of the two bread servings, we left most of it, all unsalted. I really don't see much point in unsalted butter in anything other than baking, Thomas mentioned that in Germany they have only unsalted and he prefers this. I'm usually disappointed when there's no salt in it or salt for you to add yourself yet I see that here for example the purity of the other flavours is of the essence and the butter is merely for moistening purposes.

The last dish we got was the clams with vermouth and aioli. To be honest I wasn't overly impressed with this for several reasons. There was no discernible vermouth in the sauce, it was basically just fat. They were swimming in olive oil. It really tasted of little else. There was something green in there and sprinkled over the top, this added no flavour and I can't even identify what it is, I think probably parsley.

The clams themselves were nice but it puzzles me when aioli or similar is splodged on top of a dish like this. The majority of it remained on the shells, surely serving it separately would be better? There were also a couple that were closed, 1 that was smashed with fragments of shell lying in the bowl and one was slightly open and on further inspection was filled with black goo, quite vile. I would have liked these to have been removed before serving.

I found the staff to be fairly attentive, however once I had ordered the waitress left before Thomas had a chance to pick something, we had to grab another waiter to ask for the anchovies. The place really filled up while we were there and I can see the appeal of this kind of dining. It reminded me of Barrafina which as it happens, was our venue that very evening for dinner. I prefer the food there and perhaps we missed the point somewhat by not having any wine but I felt my stomach was well and truly lined in preparation for the Gay Pride festivities in Soho. I work just around the corner now I've moved office, I'll probably be back for dinner at some point, I urge you to visit in a cooler month.

5 William IV St

Terroirs on Urbanspoon

Friday, 3 July 2009

The Fat Duck

As a birthday present Thomas took me for lunch at Heston Blumenthal's three Michellin star restaurant in Bray. On one of the hottest days of the year we set off from London Paddington eager to see whether the food at one of the world's best eateries really would blow us away. I cannot justly explain how excited I was.

The train ride was awful, all too often on travels and culinary adventures I find I am scuppered by the inevitable failures of our nations transport networks. Once we arrived we breathed a breath of fresh air, literally fresh, it was such a beautiful day to get out of the city. Bray is a picture perfect little village with thatched roofed cottages galore, the perfect back drop for the much celebrated second best dining experience in the world.

When we arrived (early naturally!) we had a drink at The Hind's Head, a gin and tonic for me and a beer for Thomas. The pub (also run by Blumenthal) was great but today it was obviously all about the restaurant, we were seated in a window seat, shortly before 1pm and the fun began.

The small room, separated by a fireplace, is cosy, intimate and alive with activity, a gaggle of waiting staff flit around, all constantly aware of where they are needed and working in harmony. The service is excellent. We were offered water as soon as we sat down, opting for still (I don't think it's acceptable to ask for tap at a place like The Fat Duck, I certainly wasns't brave enough anyway).

June 30th was the final day that the à la carte menu was offered, July onwards it is tasting menu only. Having read the hilarious and somewhat shocking insider reports here from a fellow blogger we had already decided to order à la carte.

I challenge anyone to find the will power to decline the offer of the champagne cart. I certainly could not as it was wheeled over and we each had a glass of the Brut Reserve Taittinger which was amazingly smooth and drinkable. I've had this before but I swear it tasted better here! We were given some green olives to nibble on whilst perusing the menus.

Hefty as they are - it took us a while to get through them, the wine one in particular is a weighty leather bound beast. We selected a french Bordeaux which was fancily decanted into a bizarre looking glass pouring vessel, it was fragrant and full bodied, and we were regularly topped up throughout the meal.

Each course had 4 options to choose from, the maitre'd insisted we order all courses at once (I thought this was a bit odd, it's nice to consider your sweet after you've eaten the savoury courses, I suppose they require lengthy construction). In any case, to start I went for the crab biscuit with foie gras, seaweed and rhubarb. Each course was explained in detail by the waiter, so I knew that the star of this dish would be the fois gras, not the crab.

Before we got our starters though there were 2 of the tasting menu courses delivered to us which were spectacular. First up was the amuse bouche of red cabbage gazpacho served with a quenelle of pommery grain mustard ice cream.

This was a vibrant little red pool served in a large bowl with a small dip in the centre (this picture is all bowl, not all table!). The gazpacho was tasty and fragrant, they chefs have managed to retain the purity of both colour and taste of the red cabbage with none of the unpleasant odour that you usually get with the vegetable. There was a bed of finely diced shallot on which the pommery ice cream sat. This made me laugh. Blumenthal's signature dish being his savoury ice creams, I was sad to be missing out on the egg and bacon ice cream on the tasting menu. This was interesting in texture due to the seeds and certainly excited my tastebuds, I couldn't wait for the next installment.

We were offered bread on a regular basis but I was disappointed with the lack of variety. There was only white or brown in the basket however they were certainly livened up by the excellent welsh butter, slabs of both salted and non and the bread they do have (not made here I believe) is good quality. I had a few slices of brown.

Next came the rather explosive and slightly ridiculous jelly of quail with langoustine cream. This was presented in a white egg shaped bowl in which all that was visible was the cream and a dollop of chicken liver parfait but beneath which lurked the jelly and a layer of pea puree. The waiter instructed us to eat a sliver of paper (much like those wrigley fresh things that used to be free with magazines) which tasted of oak. As we allowed these to dissolve on our tongues he poured a liquid from a little kettle over the tray of grass which produced and a cloud of smoke that dramatically descended over the table in puffs. I'd conveniently failed to notice any of our fellow diners being served this course and so it came as a complete shock to me.

I was so excited that I actually neglected to take a picture of the dish, there was the egg and a small slice of truffle toast, with 3 teeny slices of radish and a little leaf on top. You can just about make out the eggs in the pic and a wooden board upon which the toast was served. The combination of the peas, the jelly, the parfait and the cream was the most 'alive' with flavour spoonful of food I have ever tasted.

Time for the starters, I thought Thomas' lasagne of langoustine with pig’s trotter and truffle was the nicest by far and handily he liked mine so we swapped after the first few mouthfuls. I liked the flavours of the crab toasts and fois gras, it was especially interesting when eaten with a piece of the rhubarb but because the fois gras had been roasted the texture was not as smooth as I would have liked. I'm picking holes here really but I wanted to get my hands on the lasagne!

Thomas was happy with the exchange and loved the fois gras. I thought it was a generous chunk sandwiched between the toasts and it looked pretty. The lasagne was my winner though, weighing in with an £8 supplement. The langoustine were meaty and juicy and together with the pig's trotter sauce, again the taste really blew me away. Shavings of truffle were an added extravagance and this was a prime example of what you're paying for here, fine ingredients and molecular gastronomy.

So, I had only 2 mouthfuls (Thomas had eaten more than half of his) but what I had was really very special, delicate pasta sheets and a rich and thick meaty sauce in which to coat it.

For my main course I went for the duo of pot roasted pork loin and braised belly pork. This was sublime. The belly especially was meltingly soft and chewy, the perfect consistency, and this discs of loin were tender and full of flavour. The accompaniment with this dish was truffled gratin of pearled spelt which came in a small copper pot and was gloriously rich in flavour with a deep caramel colour. This was seriously good and the perfect enhancer for the pork. Again, Thomas preferred my choice and declared the pork belly one of the best things he's ever eaten but for me it was all about the spelt!

Shortly before the lamb main course came out Thomas was given a palate cleanser of ice filtered lamb jelly to prepare his tastebuds. The lamb itself was amazingly tender and served with some onion and thyme gel and a hotpot of lamb neck and sweetbread.

Again this was a faultless dish, the fluid gel provided a sweetness which offset the saltiness of the other ingredients. Another incredible combination exemplifing the abilities of the team of chefs to challenge traditional methods of preparation and cooking to deliver truly astonishing flavours.

Onto dessert, for me the macerated strawberries with black olive and leather puree and pistachio scrambled egg. It was the latter that which swayed my decision, I adore the flavour of pistachio. Here it's seen at the back in the egg shaped bowl.

This was really beautiful, each part adding something exquisite like the coriander seeds on top of each strawberry. Interestingly the waiter grated cheese over the strawberries in front of me which to my surprise worked very well. The strawberry wafer in the ice cream too was just perfect, there is such attention to detail. The pistachio egg was divine, my favourite part with raw pistachios on the top. It was smooth, warm and an ideal round off to the meal.

Thomas gave not a second thought to his choice of dessert, hailing from Bavaria he went for the B.F.G, black forest gateau. This was formed into a perfect stack and tasted pretty boozy, plenty of kirsch. There was also some kirsch ice cream and a small plastic atomizer to impart the smell of the black forest. This was sprayed liberally over Thomas' plate and in the air around us. Again, this was a nice touch, it can be seen here behind the plate.

At this point we thought espressos might be a good idea. The china in which they were served was beautiful. We were served a hot and iced tea, I think before the dessert but don't recall exactly, which was half and half in temperature, brilliantly the hot side went to the left of the mouth and the cold to the right, this was a great sensation. Following coffee I caught sight of the cheese trolley and we ordered cheese to share.

There were around 40 to choose from, I selected (clockwise from top) a camembert, a strong goatscheese and a welsh caerphilly and we had a good variety of crackers. The goatscheese was the best of the 3 and I was overwhelmed by the choice. I'd often prefer to have cheese instead of a dessert, but both is obviously the desirable option!

As a final treat the delectable petit fours, mandarin aerated chocolate (like an aero, good, but neither Thomas nor me are fans of orangey chocolate), and the violet and rose tartlets, were a triumph. Pretty and dealt with in one mouthful, I liked the rose tartlets the best, the pastry was so delicate, these were a perfect end to a wondeful meal.

Obviously I am unaccustomed to eating at such places and hence have little to compare it to but I would definitely visit again (for a special occasion naturally, this was a birthday meal after all, thank you Thomas) and I am keen to try the tasting menu. Everything we ate was incredible and more than lived up to my expectations. With Heston opening a restaurant here in London at the Mandarin Oriental in 2010, I'm sure he still has many ideas and tricks with which to wow and excite diners for some time yet. The Fat Duck will be left in the capable hands of Ashley Palmer-Watts, currently group executive chef.

The Fat Duck
High St Bray

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