Thursday, January 29, 2009

Kensington Place, London

201 – 209 Kensington Church Road
London W8 7LX

Kensington Place is in the same restaurant group as Skylon on the South Bank that I visited a couple of weeks back.

They offer a set price menu of either £16.50 for two courses or £19.50 for three courses. We decided that we would go for three courses and I started with Mushroom Tortellini, Butternut Squash Foam and Lentil and Truffle Vinaigrette. The dish consisted of a single tortellini on a bed of lentils. It was presented very prettily and tasted gorgeous, especially the lentils and the vinaigrettte.

For main course I had Black Trompette Mushroom Risotto, Caramelised Baby Onions, Balsamic and Parmesan. The risotto on its own was nice, however the balsamic onions gave the flavour a really nice “sweet and sour” twist.

For dessert, the crème brulee rule came into play. I had Hibiscus Crème Brulee and Green Apple Sorbet. The sugar was still melted and not crunchy as I like it. The custard was nice and of a good consistency. The sorbet had a really fresh flavour but I'm not sure it really went with the brulee.

The service was excellent and the value for money at £19.50 for three courses is superb. If you're in the Notting Hill Gate area, then give it a try.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Garden, Oxford

The Gardeners Arms,
Plantation Road,
Oxford OX2 6JE Map

The Garden at the Gardeners Arms is tucked away in part of Oxford that is called Jericho. It is well worth digging out as The Garden is a vegetarian pub/restaurant and as well as good food, it also has some fine beers.

Essentially it is a pub that serves vegetarian and vegan food. The menu is quite extensive, offering such dishes as Spicy Moroccan mince, beans and aubergine, Vegetable Balti Madras as well as burgers and wraps.

I'd gone there with a mate that lives nearby and we shared a tapas plate as a starter. This consisted of sun-dried tomatoes, olives, aubergine, pickles, roasted pepper, chillies, roasted tomatoes, hummus and a pitta. It was all very tasty and, with an extra pitta, made a perfect sharing plate for two.

For a main course I decided to try one of the burgers and ordered it with all the toppings (except tomato), emmental cheese, mustard and burger relish. The burger was one of the soya-type burgers and was quite firm and "meaty" and the salad toppings were fresh and crisp. The only disappointment was that it was served with standard shop bought "fries". If it had been served with homemade hand-cut chips it would've been perfect.

The chips aside, it's well worth the detour to find the Garden. As a pub it was friendly and the ales were good and for a veggie or vegan the selection and quality of food was excellent.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Dashwood, Kirtlington

South Green,
Heyford Road,
Oxon OX5 3HJ Map

Recently I was working near Bicester, in Oxfordshire and the firm put me up in a hotel called the Dashwood, a few miles away. I was going to be staying for a couple of nights and I noticed that their restaurant had only a single veggie dish on their menu. Would it be possible, I enquired, that as I was staying a couple of days that they could do something different for me on the second night.

I was told that it shouldn't be a problem and I had the vegetarian dish for that night - a risotto - which was very nice. The next night, they remembered my request and, once seated, I was asked whether I liked blue cheese. I said I did and they delivered a plate of field mushrooms stuffed with a very tasty blue cheese accompanied with pine nuts. Fairly simple, but very tasty and it was very nice to be given this level of service.

But the story doesn't end there.

A couple of weeks later I was back again, this time for just a single night. When I was checking in, the manager came over and said that, as they knew it was me, they had put a vegetarian dish on the specials board for that night. What a result!

I enquired about their general policy, and they said that if they are notified in advance they are happy to cater for any dietary restrictions which is great. The rest of the hotel is excellent too, the rooms are very spacious and clean and the prices are very reasonable. If you're looking for somewhere to stay in the Oxford area, you could do worse then check out the Dashwood.

Skylon, London

Southbank Centre
Belvedere Road
London SE1 8XX Map

Our visit to Skylon was our second Toptable freebie. The offer meant that we could have two courses from a set menu for nothing, not bad when all I had to do this was to eat at other fabulous restaurants!

Skylon is in the Southbank Centre and overlooks the Thames. We were seated in the Grill right by one of the huge windows and had a wonderful view across to Embankment. It was quite dark in the restaurant (hence the bad photo) but I guess if it wasn't you wouldn't be able to see out as well.

The set menu was pretty good and we decided to go for starters and mains, then pay for dessert if we were still hungry.

I started with an Endive, Walnut and Stilton salad. There was plenty of stilton which was dotted around the outside of the plate and it was really creamy. Together with the endives, walnuts and the dressing it made for a really nice dish.

My wife ordered the Tomato Soup. From the very first sip she was raving about the flavour saying it had a flavour similar to a Thai Tom Yum soup, which she loves. I had a taste and it was really good, nice and tomatoey (if that's a word) with a hint of exotic spice.

For main course I chose one of my favourites, Melanzana Parmigiana. It was good, not too oily and the aubergines were quite tender. My wife had Salmon Fishcakes which she enjoyed.

I decided to go for a dessert and had a Fig Vanilla Brulee. This wasn't really a brulee in the way I undersand it as it was a "dome" of custard in the centre of the plate with a gentle sprinkling of sugar on the very peak of the dome. This was then surounded by a few figs. It was nice, but it didn't conform enough to a creme brulee to be added to the list.

The service was excellent - prompt and friendly - and my wife was so impressed that she's going back next week with some business collegues.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Gaztronomy Top Ten - 2008

It's the end of another year and time for me to put together a list of the favourites from all the places I visited during 2008. I didn't manage to get to everywhere that I wanted, but did make it to some really amazing places.

Choosing a favourite from the top three wasn't easy as they are all such fabulous places and the food in all of them is amazing, but in the end I plumped for the French Laundry as the location and occasion made it extra special.

1. French Laundry
Spending the afternoon of our Wedding Anniversary in the best restaurant in America was something special. The food was spectacular and the service just perfect.

2. Fat Duck
Heston Blumenthal's menu was an experience not to be forgotten. Each course was a surprise and an education in how mixing taste with our other senses can create a completely new food experience.

3. Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons
It was another perfect meal at Le Manoir. The food was superb, as was the service.

4. Caldesi in Campagna
This was my favourite Italian meal this year. The food was wonderful and it was great to be invited into the kitchen to meet Giancarlo and Gregorio.

5. Café Spice Namaste
I had a couple of really good meals here in 2008 and attended a cookery course where I met one of my veggie cookery heroes. The food is tasty and imaginative and, of course, Cyrus is just a really nice chap.

6. Thackerays
I've been to Thackeray's a couple of times this year and the food is superb. But, c'mon guys, sort out the service and you might get your Michelin Star back!

7. Drunken Duck
In the middle of the Lake District is this gem. The food is great and they even have their own brewery!

8. Benares
The best dessert I had all year!

9. Jamie's Italian
I love Carluccio's, but Jamie's Italian has pipped it to the post this year. The food was delightful and very reasonably priced.

10. Food for Friends
For a veggie Sunday lunch, there is no place better!

Woodlands, Marylebone

77 Marylebone Lane,
London W1u 2PS Map

Woodlands South Indian vegetarian restaurant is tucked away in Marylebone Lane and looks deceptively small from the outside. Once inside, the restaurant opens out into a large, spacious and well decorated area with well laid out tables.

I popped in one lunchtime and had the Delhi Royal Thali and a Cobra (well you have to, don't you..?) The thali consisted of chappatis, paneer sabsi, Dahivada (an Indian donut in yoghurt) , channa, korma, dal, pillau rice, and a dessert.

The paneer dish was really nice, but the top prize has to go to the channa which was really good. The chick peas were nice and tender and the gravy had a wonderful taste - spicy, but not too spicy. The dal had a bit of a kick to it, which was nice as I usually find them a bit bland. The Dahivida was tasty and was perfect to take away any excess spice or to clear the palate as I hopped back and forth between the dishes. The dessert, which was a sort of coconutty thing, finished it all off nicely.

For lunch, this was the perfect dish - the selection was great and the amounts were just enough to fill you up without leaving you bloated and in danger of falling asleep at your desk in the afternoon. The welcome was friendly and the service was good and very prompt, which is just what you need at this time of the day.

If you're around Oxford Street any time and have a hankering for a curry, then I recommend you make a short detour and give Woodlands a go. You won't regret it.