My first visit to The Cooks Tale (aka The Ambrette) in Canterbury was an absolute delight. Not only were the rather delicious cocktails half price (part of their Thirsty Thursday deal), but the food and service was really good. I’ve eaten at the now closed Margate Ambrette several time so I knew to expect some really good, innovative Anglo-Indian dishes. The food was even better than I remembered. I had the Dosai as a main course and it was fantastic. I regret not being able to finish the huge portion as every mouthful was a treat.
One of my companions ordered Chicken Supreme. The Ambrette’s take on this classic dish was beautifully presented and thoroughly enjoyed.
It was definitely not from the same continent as the version of the dish you typically think off when you see Chicken Supreme on a menu.
My other companion ordered the Lamb Fillet, Lamb Kebab dish and was delighted with the beautifully cooked lamb.
We finished off our meal by sharing a plate of chocolate samosas.
I should also make a special mention of the lovely amuse-bouches. The rather tasty pea soup with hot buttered naan bread and the theatrically presented stuffed popodoms – so good.
We went a la carte but there are also a couple of tasting menus available (including a vegetarian one) which based on the level of cooking I experienced, are likely to be somewhat special.
They also had a pianist playing in the background which was a bit odd at first but we got used to it as he wasn’t loud enough to disrupt our conversation.
This has to be one of the best restaurants in Canterbury, I know it’s top of my list for a return visit.
I made our reservation at Chez Bruce at fairly short notice, so our table was probably one of the worst ones in the room. However I was just glad to have a table as even at Monday lunch time Chez Bruce was close to full.
Yet again they did not put a foot wrong on the service front or with the food. All through the meal we could hear ourselves continually making “mmm” noises, which says it all. The food is seriously good, well balanced complex dishes that look beautiful and taste wonderful.
My raw, cooked and pickled vegetable tartlet with aubergine and tapenade, was amazing – it was so light and the mixture of textures and flavours worked so well. My companion also really enjoyed his Pork Belly with Summer Bean Salad, Chorizo and Salsa Verde.
For main course I had the Plaice with creme fraiche and basil sauce, smoked salmon, pancakes and cucumber – the pancakes especially were really moreish. My companion had the Seabass with prawn tempura, oriental squid and bok choy salad and was really impressed by the flavour of the fish and its distinctive sweet and sour pork crust.
We then moved on to share a cheese plate – the cheese boards in the Nigel Platts-Martins stable of restaurants are too good to miss. We then finished with the Vanilla, Almond and Raspberry tartlet and the Warm Poached Peach and Financier with Pannacotta and Ameretto, along with a couple of glasses of matching dessert wines. Leaving just enough room for a piece of the home made shortbread provided at the end of the meal.
We had a conversation with one of the waiters about Chez Bruces sibling restaurant The Ledbury, which he thought was on the way to its third Michelin Star and if that’s the case, Chez Bruce is well on its way to a second one, as the gap between them is not huge.
Chez Bruce is not just a destination restaurant, it’s a restaurant that makes you want to move to the area. Although in actual fact it’s not that hard to get to, as it’s just 2 minutes walk from Wandsworth Common train station, and there are frequent trains from Victoria with a journey time of 11 minutes.
Quay is considered one of the best restaurants in Sydney, certainly at number 26 in the S.Pellegrino World’s Best Restaurants list, it is the highest placed Australian restaurant. It is also one of only 3 restaurants in Sydney to be deemed worthy of 3 hats in the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide this year. When we arrived, on a wet Sunday night, with a group of friends, our expectations were very high, and we had been saving this visit for a special occasion, my birthday.
Now I have to confess that my experience of the service at Quay may have been extra special, as we had an ace up our sleeves. One of the guests at our table is a wine distributor for some amazing boutique wineries, and we were fortunate that Quay are one of his clients. As a result, we were treated to one of the best tables in the house, with views of both the Opera House and Bridge, fabulous service, and a delicious complimentary bottle of Clover Hill Sparkling from Tasmania, courtesy of Daniel the sommelier. Service all night was exceptional.
The food at Quay was delicious, although we opted for the four course menu, over what the Aussies call the “dego” (short for degustation – how that makes me cringe), primarily because Peter Gilmore’s signature dish, the Guava and Custard apple snow egg, did not feature on the taster menu.
My starter of sea pearls was divine, a selection of beautifully crafted seafood dishes presented beautifully on a platter. Mud Crab, Yuzu and Tapioca with silver leaf, Smoked eel, Dashi and Abalone and Sashimi of Tuna were all delicious and left us with the dilemma did one pop a pearl whole into one’s mouth, or did one use a knife and fork to examine the insides and savour it slowly. Needless to say each of us took a different line of attack! In retrospect I believe that we were missing a 5th pearl, the Sea Scallop Sea Pearl. Check out this Peter Gilmore’s video and you’ll see what I mean!
The second fish course of southern squid & rock lobster, lettuce hearts, golden tapioca, lobster velvet, button squash, pea flowers, was a little unmemorable, but the Mr T’s Slow braised pig’s cheek with abalone, palm hearts and an amazing mushroom consommé was mouthwateringly delicious. For my main, I opted for the wagyu beef poached in an oxtail and morel reduction, molé puree, farro & ezekiel crumbs, which was accompanied perfectly by a 2004 Muga Rioja Reserva. Now in case you’re curious, Ezekiel bread is made without flour and is made from sprouted whole grains. It’s the original super food, and what the bible refers to as manna, i.e., mana from heaven. A pretty good description of this dish. Mr T chose the Confit of Suffolk lamb loin, smoked white carrot cream, fennel infused milk curd. This dish featured fennel pollen, although I have to confess I couldn’t really taste the pollen.
Lastly, the famous snow egg…..well never has something that’s so difficult to make, 3 hours and 8 different processes, been polished off so quickly. It was delicious with amazing layers of flavour. I also had a very generous portion of Mr T’s 8 textures of chocolate, which arrived with a hot chocolate sauce in a separate copper handled pot, which when poured on top, melted into the pudding, like a glorious chocolate volcano. Accompanied by a PX, it was sublime. I know I’ll be choosing this dish if I return to Quay.
Overall, fabulous service, great views and divine food, although in the food stakes, this didn’t quite knock Tetsuya off it’s number one spot for me.
We finally got around to trying out Chez Bruce in Wandsworth. So many people had raved about it over the years. In fact it was first recommended to me about 15 years ago when I lived in the area. Isn’t it annoying when other people are right, I really wish I had listened and started eating there then. I might have better fitted into the age group of the clientele too, who are typically 30 somethings.
The food which is often described as Modern British, actually has lots of different influences, French, Italian and Nordic.
To start my companion had the Gravadlax and beetroot club sandwich with herring salade lyonaise and horseradish, which was sublime. It definitely gets his vote for best starter of the year. I had the middle white pork terrine with warm potato salad and sauce gribiche which was also excellent. We accompanied these dishes with a carafe of rather stunning Pouilly Fuisse wine.
For main course my companion had the beautifully moist and tender venison loin with potato rosti and squash puree. A wonderful dish.
My Shetland salmon and scallops with Jerusalem artichoke puree, gnocchi, prosciutto and chaterelles, worked well combining fish and meat flavours beautifully.
As you can tell from all the superlatives I have used so far we really rated this place. It became our post Christmas treat, actually eclipsing Koffmanns, which is saying something.
Chez Bruce is very relaxing and not somewhere you would want to rush, so we extended our meal by having a cheese course matched with a lovely glass of chilled Rasteau 2007, Domaine De Trapadis, before “resting” and continuing on to dessert. For dessert we focused on the lighter dishes. The beautiful poached pear with honey and stem ginger ice cream and the prune and armagnac ice cream, accompanied by a refreshing glass of Muscat d’Asti.
We had no room for coffee and truffles, but did manage to squeeze in a small piece of shortbread, offered at the end of meal. Best shortbread I have ever had, with a hint of caramel, it was quite lovely.
We then asked for the bill, expecting it to be excessive as we had rather indulged ourselves. We were pleasantly surprised at how reasonable it was.
Chez Bruce is a part of Nigel Platts-Martins stable of restaurants. Holding its own against it’s sibling restaurants which include The Square, The Ledbury, La Trompette and The Glasshouse. Nothing jars here (not even the bread), the food, the service levels and the atmosphere seem just right. I certainly won’t be waiting another 15 years to return.
We chose Koffmans as our post Christmas treat. Pierre Koffmann ran the legendary 3 Michelin star La Tante Claire restaurant at The Berkeley until 2003, when he left to ‘go fishing’. He is now very much back on the London food scene, and back at The Berkeley.
Our first impression on entering the restaurant proper was a good one, although the stairs that take you down to the basement dining room, past the small bar area, are an accident waiting to happen.
Koffmann’s signature dishes include scallops with squid ink, braised pig’s trotter with morels, and pistachio soufflé with pistachio ice cream. So off course we made sure we ordered them. Indeed the waiter actually made a point of saying ‘and I presume you would like to order the Pigs Trotters’ – maybe the camera on the table gave it away.
We started with a tasty amuse bouche of rabbit paté, followed by a leak terrine with smoked haddock and the aforementioned scallops. Then for main course as well as the trotter stuffed with sweet breads, we had the beef cheeks. Both dishes were served with lovely mashed potatoes and a winter vegetable selection of broccoli, red cabbage and also what I can only describe as a completely superfluous order of french fries. Perhaps they were included to give us something to criticize? Certainly there was nothing much to complain about with the rest of the meal, and it still seems strange to say it, but the vegetables in particular were a standout, so much flavour. The Beef cheeks portion was large, but so light that finishing it was not a problem. Never having tried Pigs Trotters before, Koffmanns was definitely the best place to start. I’m not entirely sure what we expected, but having almost the full pigs leg complete with hoof on the plate was a bit disconcerting, but proved to be delicious. Pork crackling is not a personal favourite, due to earlier experiences where it has been more akin to chewing on a giants toenail. However this was not the case here as it was light, wafer thin and very, very tasty.
For dessert the pistachio soufflé with pistachio ice cream was quite stunning, on a par with the soufflé I tasted at The Ledbury a few weeks ago. The pear and almond tart however was really nothing special, although the pear sorbet that accompanied it was divine (a larger portion would have been nice).
We have always found that asking the Sommelier to match a glass of wine to each course makes the meal more interesting and as the wines by the glass were of a reasonable price (they ranged from £6 to £15) we knew we would not be too horrified by the final bill.
It is also always interesting to see where other chefs choose to eat in their own time. Gary Rhodes for example sat a few tables away from us, tucking into his pistachio soufflé.
Chefs who have worked in Pierre Koffmanns kitchen over the years include Tom Kitchin, Tom Aikens, Eric Chavot, Gordon Ramsay and Marcus Wareing. Having eaten food produced by all of the above, we could certainly see Koffmanns influence.
Lunch at The Ledbury was always going to be an occasion. The food is superb. I simply could not fault any of the dishes I chose from their Sunday Lunch menu. Indeed it was one of these occasions where I really wanted to try nearly all the dishes on the menu. Fortunately I was part of a large enough group to ensure that collectively we were able to order a range of different dishes. There were no dissenting voices at all, everyone loved the food. Only one thing went wrong during the lunch, which impacted on the table next to ours. Water started coming through the ceiling from the room above, I guess a burst pipe due to the cold weather. Nothing much the restaurant could do except, put a bowl on the table, call the plumber and move the guests to another table. However it must have been very embarrassing for the staff, as the guests concerned included Martin Scorsese, Sacha Baron Cohen and Isla Fisher who certainly did not seem to particularly want to draw attention to themselves. Something that is hard to do when you have to stand up to avoid being splashed!
However when the food is this good, you do not let little things like plumbing problems get in the way, so back to the food.
My starter was the Flamed Grilled Mackerel with Smoked Eel, Tokyo Turnips and Celtic Mustard, it was a great choice. The Mackerel had so much flavour, it was really fresh and just melted in my mouth. The portion was quite substantial for a starter, but despite that I could easily have had seconds.
I was also tempted by the Ceviche of Hand Dived Scallops with Seaweed and Herb Dill Kohlrabi and Frozen Horseradish which one of my companions ordered. Visually it did not look as good, but I was told it was delicious, if a little light and summery for a winter menu.
For my main course I choose fish again. The Skate Poached in Brown Butter with Truffle Puree, Cauliflower, Parmesan Gnocchi and Sea Vegetables. This has to be my dish of the year. It was just so moreish. The Skate was perfect and the Parmesan Gnocchi reminded me so much of another favourite, the Gnocchi dish I had at The Foliage.
For dessert I ordered the Brown Sugar Tart with Muscat Grapes and Stem Ginger Ice Cream, which was matched with a surprisingly fruity Pedro Ximenez sherry from Barossa Valley in Australia, it was very different from the Spanish ones I have had in the past. The tart was very light and the ice cream was very subtle. The dessert highlight however had to be the Passion Fruit Souffle with Sauterne Ice cream, which was large enough for us all to try – a perfect Souffle.