Monday, 21 December 2009

Maze

Dinner at Maze was a mixed bag. A few dishes were extraordinarily well conceived and a joy to eat whilst some were disappointing and the atmosphere was a tad stuffy.

The concept, as you'll probably know, is multiple small dishes, this does mean no amuse or pre starter which I find disappointing. Jason Atherton's kitchen has been praised in most reports I've read most claiming the desserts to be the winning course, yet I found this to be untrue.


I began with the smoked mackerel tartare which was stunningly plated up but lacked something, there were lots of components but it failed to excite, perhaps the dish was a little too cold, dulling down the flavour somewhat. Thomas too felt his starter of marinated white beets was a bit boring and over priced, at £10 for what was really a very small amount of food.

Things picked up as we moved onto our second selections from the 'cold and warm' section of the a la carte menu. The warm Scottish breakfast was my favourite course of the night with a smoked haddock risotto topped with egg and bacon and a piece of cured salmon with horseradish snow. This was both pretty and flavoursome, Thomas had food envy tucking into his scallop dish, a meagre 3 of them, outshone entirely by my breakfast.


Moving onto the meat and fish dishes and I was in no doubt about what to order, the pork cheek and belly. This was served with pureed potato, crispy onion rings and some kale. The rich jus and fruity apple sauce were perfect accompaniments and the meat was so tender and succulent with just the right amount of fat. Another faultless dish. Thomas again preferred my choice feeling a bit hard done by with his halibut which was fine but unremarkable.


The pork was another triumphant dish full of umami flavours, a case of excellent quality ingredients cooked perfectly, Atherton proving himself deserving of his Michelin star with such dishes.

My final savoury dish was the ox tongue and cheek served with ginger carrots and horseradish pomme puree. Both of my mains came with a side of pomme puree, I began to feel rather full up by this point but the purees were exceptional and somehow, I manged to find some room! The dark treacle like sauce on the ox cheek was brilliant, the meat so tender, falling apart with the merest of touches. I was less keen on the tongue which sat at the base of the dish and was far tougher than the cheek. Thomas said the same of his lamb tongue, but was much happier with his salt marsh mutton shepherd's pie, finally a dish well chosen for him!


Onto desserts and this time I think Thomas definitely chose the finer of the 2, his rice pudding with blackberries was pure creamy, velvety loveliness whilst my peanut butter and cherry jam sandwich tasted a bit plastic, Thomas disagreed and we hastily swapped. The peanut butter and jam dish looked the nicest but I'm a sucker for a good rice pudding.


We sampled an array of beverages, bloody mary's, peach bellinis, Gew├╝rztraminer, Holzweg, Andr├ę Scherer, Alsace 2008, which was intensely fruity and alarmingly easy to drink and coffees to sober us up.


This being a Michelin starred restaurant, you might expect a few little quality extras, the standard of the petit fours was high, served on a little slate, some fudge and fruit pastille type sweeties however, the bread was a complete disappointment and as the first impression the diner is given of the food you would think such an establishment would make more of this opportunity to impress.

As I began by saying, this was really a roller coaster of a meal. Extreme highs and lows and not too much in the middle. I much preferred the savoury offerings whilst most sing the praises of the desserts at Maze and I must agree that the idea of trying many smaller sized dishes is smart, it liberates the diner somewhat by not limiting choices to one of each course. That said I thought the room was very noisy and the vibe was a bit formal for my liking, tables are pretty close together in the restaurant section, with much more room being reserved for the bar, the layout of the room could have been better devised.

Maze
15 Grosvenor Sq, Mayfair
7.5/10

Maze on Urbanspoon

And finally, a big thank you to Benj who was unable to make it to London meaning we had a £150 meal voucher to spend!

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Eagle Bar

So, I've just read this and realised I have a burger post to write up, I've been yearning to go to Byron since they opened their new Soho branch a couple of weeks ago, unfortunately this is not a Byron post, I still haven't made it. I've said it before and I'll say it again, I'm a fan of Hawksmoor when it comes to burgers in London. Many sneer at it's hefty £15 price tag but I think it worth every penny.

The same cannot be said for the burgers at Eagle Bar, the American style bar and diner on Rathbone Place, Fitzrovia. Mistake number one (admittedly mine) was ordering a chicken burger. The meat was so dry it was actually difficult to swallow. The bun, nothing notable, I barely remember it. There was about 1/16 of a gherkin sliced on the plate, stingy or what? I did however like the fat chips.


Those who opted for Mexican burger were pleasantly surprised by how hot it was, the jalepenos were fiery. They market themselves as a party venue here so I think the food is not their main concern. The service was slightly aloof but the waiter did join in with our rendition of Happy Birthday to Tim, albeit from a distance.

Price wise, this is not cheap, a burger and side of fries will set you back £11, for £4 more head on over to Commercial St, at lunchtime mind, and try one of Hawksmoor's offerings.

Eagle is a place best enjoyed as a bar if you ask me, (the barman knew a surprising amount about dark rum, one of my companions being a big fan, even offering a free sample or two) but don't bother eating there, it's all been done before, go to Byron instead. Or, email In'N'Out as @chrispople suggests and play the waiting game.

Eagle Bar
3 Rathbone Place
4/10

My experience here may or may not be slightly marred by the memory of destroying a camera the day after I was given it at this place on a previous visit.

Eagle Bar Diner on Urbanspoon

Monday, 7 December 2009

Mennula

My anticipation at the thought of dining at Mennula was by far the highlight of the experience, what actually transpired was far less enjoyable than the run up to eating at the new Sicilian restaurant on the site of Gennaro Contaldo's former great Passione on Charlotte Street.

From start to finish there was one blunder after another beginning with my two online reservation requests being completely ignored. I had more success on the telephone managing to book a table for two during second service on Friday night.

We arrived to find there would be a wait, the previous diners had not yet departed, a pain but okay, we could wait. The annoying thing was, the premises is so tiny that we were asked to wait outside, in the rain, with two fellow diners who were in the same boat. Two glasses of prosecco on the house eased the pain and within 10 minutes we were seated.


Mennula, Sicillian for Almond, are generous with their appetizers. We were served a platter of roasted almonds, delicious, arancini which I found rather disappointingly flavourless, and large plump green olives. The selection of bread, rolls and sticks were fine, a nice olive oil for dipping, but I found the rolls a little dry.

Having ordered the calamari con salsa di potate to start, I was most surprised to receive the artichoke salad. Pretty as it looked it was not what I had ordered. This was whisked away, along with Thomas' carpaccio, which thankfully as a cold starter did not spoil as they hastily prepared the squid.


When it arrived, it was simply presented and well cooked. A large piece served alongside a whole small beast with some delicious roasted peppers and olive paste. The potato sauce was very interesting, perfectly seasoned so as to be a mild but tasty accompaniment to the main event the squid.

Thomas' carpaccio was generously sprinkled with capers and parmesan and was beautifully tender. The lemon sauce providing a nice edge to the dish. Both starters were declared a success. We opted for red wine, the Syrah – Sangiovese -Mannara, Sicilia 2008, which we'd ordered a carafe of but were presented with a bottle, already opened. We decided we were happy to drink a little more having tasted it.


We were both pretty hungry after long days at work, neither of us had chance for lunch and so decided to order antipasti, pasta and secondi courses, three each. This had not posed a problem when placing our order yet when done with our starters what was delivered next were the main courses, the pasta had been skipped entirely. This was rectified, the mains were taken away and the pasta dishes followed swiftly. Mine was remarkably good. What's not to love about perfectly cooked lobster linguine? The lobster meat was sweet and succulent, the pasta al dente and the dish was faultless, the classic tomato and basil sauce reminding me why I had been so excited about eating here.


Thomas' next dish was the potato gnocci with almond and pesto. This was also magnificently done, the dumplings were full of flavour and meltingly soft. The quality of these dishes made it all the more disappointing when we were given the very same main courses we had sent back half an hour earlier and both dishes were obviously ruined.

My pork dish, belly served with polenta, cabbage and apple had dried out entirely. It was almost inedible, each mouthful required a lengthy chew. The crackling had become soggy. That said, the sides were good, the polenta, cabbage and sauce remained intact.


Another casualty was Thomas' fillet of beef which was heinously overcooked after the lengthy rest it was unwittingly given. Presentation here was also lacking, the plate visible beneath the smudge of celeriac mash leaving it look decidedly messy.

Better results with the desserts, there were no hitches at all with the delivery of the tiramisu and the Sicilian cannoli with ewes ricotta. Both desserts were exceptionally tasty, others have raved in the past week about the cannoli marking this dessert as their must try dish.

We asked for the bill and were again disappointed by an element of the service when our bottle of wine was removed with 1/2 the bottle undrunk. We asked for it back and the waiter stated he would ask whether it was possible to return it to us. It was returned and I made certain to take it with me when we left which they frowned upon but I was past caring.

Chef Santino Busciglio's 'passion and down to earth philisophy' are clear, he happily mingled with diners asking for their comments and I think his approach is refreshingly relaxed and friendly. Aside from the many service related errors, there were some high points and much of what we sampled was seriously good but the experience was quite frankly catastrophic and means I shall not be returning any time soon.

Mennula
10 Charlotte Street
W1T 2LT

7.5/10 (for food, not service obv)

Mennula on Urbanspoon