All reader reviews by Kate
At the outset, I have to say that if it had not been for the maitre d', this review would have been full of superlative praise about the quality of the food, which is in general excellent. There were also high points in the service, most notably the sommelier, who was knowledgeable, patient, and interested in trying to make sure that what he recommended worked with what we had ordered. The problem is that our experience last Friday night goes to show that one really low point, even in an overall experience that is above average, can have you leaving the restaurant never wanting to come back.
I would support the comments made by other reviewers that the service can be a little too prompt and efficient....I am afraid I never think it is appropriate to put a course down on a table for two when one person is not at the table, particularly in a restaurant with a Michelin star where part of the experience should be the theatre of serving the dish and plating the sauces etc. A plea to the waiting staff...please think about what you would want if you were out to dinner...this is not rocket science. Ironically the second set of dishes then took so long to come out that a waiter came out and apologised profusely for the delay! In general there are too many people moving randomly around the floor, and a disconcerting number of different people who appear at your table throughout the evening to perform various functions. Despite this, we struggled to get our water glasses filled more than once, although the wine flowed freely.
On the very positive side, the food was generally creative and thoroughly enjoyable, as I would expect from Jason Atherton. Several dishes were outstanding, with one of the best being a Cornish lamb and tongue, served with a mutton Shepherd's pie and mint jelly. The lamb was perfectly cooked, and the flavours well balanced. The other dish in this set, a Suffolk pork cheek and belly was simply glorious, (without a doubt the best pork belly I have ever eaten) and was presented with a crunchy spiral of perfectly seasoned and crunchy crackling. The earlier fish dishes were worth their wait, with the highlight being the 'Scottish breakfast' which included a tiny glass of smoky kedgeree, with a quail's egg on the top, which lent a gloriously creamy texture when eaten. The patisserie chef should be congratulated for swaying me by the perfection executed in his chocolate delice, which had molten fudge inside a mousse of a texture I could only aspire to in the kitchen. For someone like me who hates chocolate desserts, I had to admit that my other half had chosen well, as my rice pudding was good, but lacked the extra spark I would have expected from the Maze kitchen. Braised octopus was less successful; though the dish had excellent depth of flavour, the texture verged on the tough.
So that is the positive....as you can see, generally a very good food experience. Trouble was, the dish of red mullet, served with garlic puree and braised cuttlefish with a rabbit bolognese was a disaster. The individual parts were fine, but the garlic puree had been tossed with what appeared to be strips of cuttlefish, and had been burned. We didn't eat it and left it on the plate....as anyone who cooks will know, the flavour of burned garlic is a very unpleasant taint. When we pointed this out to the maitre d' who cleared the plates, noting that it was a very minor criticism, he apologised, then returned about 3 minutes later to tell us that he had discussed this with the chef, and that we were wrong. We were told that we did not know what we were tasting, and that the garlic had not been burned. He had tasted the garlic puree in the kitchen, and it was definitely not burned. He had not tasted ours, but he didn't need to, as we were just flat out wrong. In very condescending tones, he explained that the cuttlefish was cooked on a char-grill, and that the purpose of that is apparently to add a charred flavour to the food....that is what we were tasting, he informed us. We terminated the conversation as quickly as we can....it remains beyond me what would possess a senior member of waiting staff in a top end restaurant to have an argument with a customer over a £10 dish, and what's more to have the sheer arrogance to assume that the customer does not know what they are tasting. Having been cooking at a high level for close to 30 years, I found his assumptions extraordinary. We found the whole experience embarrassing and insulting, and unfortunately it tainted what would otherwise have been a great meal.
Would we go again? Probably not, all things considered, even though the food and wine were good. We had a far better experience, for a similar price, at the Square a few months ago, and felt far less rushed throughout. There is no question that Jason Atherton is a gifted chef, and I really like the tapas style plates that you are able to share, but overall it just has a slight mass-production feel about it, and I have to wonder whether this is a Ramsay influence. In any event, someone needs to tell the maitre d' that it is simply not worth arguing with a customer over a £10 plate of food, even if you think they are talking rubbish. But then again, maybe Maze is happy to manage without repeat custom.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Food 8 | Service 6 | Atmosphere 6 | Value for money 7
We've been meaning to go to the Hawksmoor for ages, given its proximity to our work and solid reputation for delivering a great steak. I wish I could say that it had lived up to our expectation, but in the end, a total lack of attention to (or interest in) the details, let the experience down badly.
As a start, it has a typical steakhouse feel, notable by the excess of all-male tables, as is usually only seen in the City at lunchtime. Clearly the prospect of a large slab of meat is enough to bring them out in the evenings as well. The room is low ceilinged, with a noisy, clubby feel. The acoustics are rubbish, but then you don't go to a steak house for an intimate meal, so no real complaints.
We started at the bar, where a cocktail waiter showed little or no interest in getting anyone drinks, which is a shame, becayuse the cocktail menu is extensive and interesting, and when the drinks did arrive, they lived up to their hype. Fortunately, the waiter was so disinterested that he also forgot to charge us for the drinks, which we elected not to point out when we got the bill, considering it compensation for the generally disappointing experience that followed.
We skipped starters, which was a mixed blessing, given it then took almost 40 minutes for any food to arrive at the table (after a wait of 20minutes at the bar for the table, and another 20minutes to have our order taken). If we had ordered them, we may have been less ravenous when the food arrived, but still there at 2am! It is however taking the piss to leave a table completely without bread, nibbles or any sort of sustenance, or explanation, for that long.
We chose to share the only piece of porterhouse they had left. At 850g, that sounded enormous. It would have sounded less so if they had told us that around 400g of that would be bone (which is understood) and massive chunks of fat, an inch think in the majority of its length. Also unfair when you are charging by the 100g weight. Charge more, and cut off the excess fat. This just looks like you are trying to rip your customer off.
The tables are far too small, and by the time you have glasses for water and wine, a bottle and a candle, there is no room for any food. We ended up with the wine bottle and candle on adjacent shelves, and side orders on an adjacent table.
However, to move to the good side. The steak, when it finally arrived, was cooked perfectly rare as ordered. It was also tasty, and the sauces were outstanding. A tangy ketchup and peppercorn sauce were excellent, and the horseradish also perfect. The chef had unfortunately slightly burned the butter when making the bearnaise, giving it a slightly nutty flavour, which was not unpleasant, though not technically perfect. The creamed greens were delightful, well seasoned and not too creamy, and the beans had just thr right amount of crunch. The chips were good quality, though the aluminium beakers in which they are served are a bit pretentious, but at least keep the chips crisp until you finish them. Unfortunately, because the kitchen staff don't actually cut the porterhouse for two so it can be easily served, as would be done in any good American steak house, the process of getting any edible meat shared between two plates (after removing the swathe of fat) was an absolute mission. By the time we had accomplished that, onto cold plates, all the side orders, and the steak were almost stone cold. This was a shame, given the food was really pretty good....had it been at the appropriate temperature, the food would probably have scored a 9.
The wine list is good, with a broad selection of big reds from a range of regions, with enough information to help with choice. We had a glass of a very good NZ pinot, followed by a solid, if tannic sangiovese. On the whole the list is pretty expensive, but not outrageously so. We didn't look at the whites....you're probably in the wrong place looking at whites in a steak house, but I imagine there was also a reasonable range. Our waitress (when we could actually attract her attention) was pleasant, and knew enough about the wine to assist with recommendations. Otherwise, the service was pretty poor. Very pleasant when available, but not very available. All waiting staff looked pretty unenthused about being there, though not on the same scale as the chap behind the bar.
Overall, a reasonable, but far from stellar experience. Service rubbish, and not cheap, but I guess it did what it said on the tin....an almost great steak, and good quality sides, with a chunky red wine from a good selection. However, if I compare it with Peter Luger in New York (where the staff also cultivate the disinterested approach), the Hawksmoor wasn't even in the same league. There, admittedly with a better exchange rate than currently, we ate a perfect, hot steak (cut in the kitchen by a chef with a much sharper knife), to be served onto hot plates, with perfect sides, for half the money. If the Hawksmoor took care of the little details, it could be right up there. Until they do, we won't be rushing back.
Friday, April 03, 2009
Food 7 | Service 5 | Atmosphere 5 | Value for money 5
We ate here as a party of five on Saturday night for a landmark birthday, taking advantage of the excellent 50% off food offer for an online booking, which made the meal sensational value, as well as what turned out to be a truly lovely experience.
The menu was creative and varied, with the descriptions of dishes being detailed enough to make the mouth water while avoiding the pretentious over-elaboration of ingredients and techniques that has become ubiquitous in many London restaurants. While waiting, we were presented with an amuse of a slightly too salty , though tasty artichoke and celery soup, followed by a range of excellent bread clearly made on site.
A starter of crab tortellini was of surprisingly generous proportions, with near perfect pasta surrounding a succulent, delicate crab filling, whose flavour was brought out by the shallot confit, though the crab foam (as is often the case) was probably unnecessary. I was reliably informed that the poached turbot, mussel and razor clam provencale, ratte potato and bouillabaisse was absolutely superb, and it was certainly beautifully presented, as were all the dishes throughout the meal. A third starter of partridge gribiche came with a moist breast wrapped in streaky bacon, and served with a clever tartare type sauce, and a leg en croute. While it looked fabulous, and the breast was stunning, the pastry encased leg was tricky to eat, and slightly unsatisfying. All up though, it was an extremely tasty dish.
The mains were also good all round. The Scottish beef three ways was almost flawless, and consisted of a substantial piece of beautfully tender, though also tasty meat, served with an oxtail canneloni and smoked and caramelised foie gras. This dish showed a chef with an excellent palate, and each part complimented the other two. Just brilliant, and I was told the lamb was also up to par. My fish of the day was a halibut fillet served with a selection of vegetables and asparagus, and was pleasant but fairly unchallenging. There was nothing wrong with it, but it didn't have the flair of the other dishes, and tended toward the bland.
Desserts also went down well, with a melt in the mouth pear tarte fine with espresso icecream and creme brulee both being hits, though the chestnut bavarois with biscotti icecream sounded better than it tasted. Again, there was nothing wrong with it, but it needed something extra to give it a bit of a lift.
The wine list is a decent size, well though out and not over priced. We chose a Vasse Felix Semillon Sauvignon and a 2004 Red burgundy from Givry, both in the mid £30 range, which were a good match with the range of food we ordered. The sommelier was helpful and unpretentious when asked for advice. The restaurant is a pleasant space, though if I have a criticism it is that it is lit such that it is almost too dark to see the beautifully presented food (or to read the menus). The service was possibly on the overly attentive side, although not intrusive, though this level of attention is sort of to be expected when you are eating pre-theatre and are among a small handful of customers. By the time we left the restaurant was full, and the staff appeared to be coping admirably. With the discount the meal was sensational value, but would have been well worthwhile even without. We will definitely be back again.
Monday, November 12, 2007
Food 9 | Service 8 | Atmosphere 8 | Value for money 9
The Bacchus experience started well, with a slick online booking system on the restarant's (very chic) website which confirmed a reservation immediately. Despite the fact that we had to delay the booking at short notice, the staff were unfazed, and, as they appeared to do throughout the night, took it in their stride, with the service all round being some of the best I have experienced anywhere recently.
Somewhat surprisingly on a Friday night, the restaurant was not full, but there were enough people in the dining space to create a nice buzz, and the semi open kitchen and the elements of the decor reminiscent of the pub it once was lend a cozy feel which contrasts cleverly with the cutting edge of the dining experience.
From the time we arrived, the meal was an absolute pleasure. Orders for drinks were taken promptly as we perused the menu, and we enjoyed an amuse bouche of a beetroot canneloni with mustard cress, olive and balsamic vinegar, and some tiny cheese and thyme breads. Both were an exciting teaser of what was to follow. We opted for the six course tasting menu with matching wines, absurdly good value at £40 for food, and £30 for the wine. We felt the full nine courses would be stretching our appetites a little too far, though this too is exceptional value at £60. As it turned out, the waiter, overhearing that it was one of the party's birthday, and her disappointment at one of the courses not being included in the six selection, brought out the extra course as a surprise. This generosity and willingness to go the extra mile on service was evident throughout.
Plenty has been said about Bacchus's sous vide style of cooking, and the clever use the chef makes of flavours and textures, along the lines of that offered at much greater cost (and less ease of booking) at the Fat Duck. The July menu really demonstrated the chef's creativity and willingness to push the boat out to challenge conventional use of ingredients. As you may expect, in any challenging set of dishes, there were some absolute triumphs, along with some less successful combinations, but even these were enjoyable, and every dish provided plenty of discussion at the table, much of which the waiting staff were pleased to contribute to, all showing a wealth of knowledge about the menu and the reasoning behind the dishes.
The menu started with a skate and avocado roll with caramel, curry crumble and passionfruit. I loved this, but one of my fellow diners felt the sweet flavours were not quite balanced with the savoury elements of the dish. In fact, if there was to be one criticism of the meal, it would be a slight tendency to overemphasise the sweet in the dishes, sometimes at the cost of smothering excellent savoury elements, and that a couple would have benefitted from a judicious balancing of salt and/or sour, there being a noticeable absence of any citrus in the menu.
We followed with our 'bonus' dish, thanks to our delightful Canadian waiter, who is clearly passionate about the food. This was a crab 'mousse' served on Tobiko ravioli, shitake and a green herbal broth. This was one of the triumphs, the crab working beautifully in both taste and texture with the earthy shitake mushrooms. The presentation of this dish, as with every plate, was a work of art, but in a functional way that facilitated, rather than detracted from the eating. The next was Paradise prawns, served with an inspired iced coconut, seared pineapple and a green olive sofrito. Here the balance of salt and sweet was better, though we thought the dish would have been lifted to supreme level by a little more kick. None of the three of us especially enjoyed the Iberico ham gelee that followed, me because I am not a huge fan of ham in any form, but the waiter insisted that the other diners had loved it. A monkfish filet with fennel compote, toasted oats, ajo blanco and piquillo was excellent, and followed by what I thought was one of the standout dishes on the menu, an exquisite veal breast that melted in the mouth with soy milk, crunchy baby carrots, giner ale and Szechuan peppercorns. What can I say....I could have eaten this six times! Finally, the dessert was an absolutely flawless, melt in the mouth chocolate fondant, served with mangosteen (why?) and hazelnut, white chocolate and cocoa powders. I am no normally a dessert person, but this was incredible, and served with an outstanding 2004 sauternes.
The food was matched with a very interesting and varied set of wines, both old world and new, chosen carefully, and all of which worked well with their matched dishes. The waiting staff generously topped up wines (already substantial tasting serves) if they were low when the food was served, which was an unexpected but much appreciated bonus, though I did leave rather more wobbly on my feet than I had anticipated as a result.
Again, I am stunned this restaurant was not full, which is presumably because of its location in Hoxton. I will most certainly be back, when the menu changes to August, and then September, as I cannot think of another place in London where I can experience food this good, from a chef this creative and prepared to challenge himself and his audience, at these sort of prices. Trouble is, I'll then not be able to get a table as easily, which would be a great shame.
Saturday, July 21, 2007
Food 8 | Service 10 | Atmosphere 8 | Value for money 9
Almost flawless......actually, it was......
Ottolenghi hasn't had a review for a while, which I suspect is more because it is easier to fire up to write a bad review than a good one. However, when the entire experience is this good on every level, it seems a crime not to endow it with praise well due....
Being a passionate reader of Yotam Ottolenghi's recipes in the Guardian Weekend, we stopped past on a whim on a Wednesday night. I accept this is not a time when the staff or the kichen are under significant pressure; nonetheless, the experience was faultless. Enthusiastic staff seated us immediately, with no sulky penalty wait to punish us for failing to book. The chairs are comfortable, despite the restaurant space's leaning towards minimalist lines in decor. Here, it works, as the space is small, so it makes efficient use of what it has.
Orders were taken promptly for drinks, from a small but varied wine list, which is well priced, and offers both new and old world options. We chose a very pleasant Argentinian Chardonnay...nothing special, but worked with the food we ordered. The waitress, who was otherwise fantastic, had no idea why there was a 4 year old fairly ordinary NZ sauv blanc on the wine list, which made two of us. This was however, an extrenely minor blip in an overall triumph.
I am usually churlish with my praise about restaurants, as I generally feel I can do better, and with better ingredients at home. Not so here. The dishes are tapas style, in that they are starter size, and you are encouraged to order three per person for a full meal. This encourages sharing, which is what food is all about, and is a strong selling point for Ottolenghi.
We chose a range of dishes; seared marinated tuna wrapped in nori and served with a wasabi cream sauce was absolutely superb, though the one minor flaw was a Puy lentil salad with roasted tomatoes and cauliflower which was probably great earlier in the day, but tasted slightly wilted. I feel churlish complaining, as this was only noticeable because the rest was almost impossible to criticise.
From the kitchen we chose a lamp rump - marinated, grilled and served with mint, feta and flat parsley salad....mind-blowingly good; a marinated octopus served with a tomato/garlic dip of some sort (I failed to take the menu to refresh my memory), and a heavenly grilled lemon sole with skordalia. Given skordalia (a potato and garlic dip) is usually bland and mealy in this country, this was a real surprise. We were left grinning from ear to ear by the five dishes we chose.
I would be remiss not to mention that the service matched the food. Both waitresses who served us were utterly delightful, knowledgeable about the food, and clearly enthusiastic, which they had both sampled. Both had worked there upwards of a year, which is testimony to a great employer, and explains the success of the restaurant. The business model is brilliant - they manage the most appetising window display of cakes and tea from early morning, run into the best salads in London at lunch, and the above for dinner. This model relies on a great chef, great staff and great produce, which Ottolenghi clearly have in spades. At £60 for two including a bottle of wine, this was also great value for what we got. Get down there as soon (and as often) as you can!
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
Food 10 | Service 10 | Atmosphere 9 | Value for money 9
We ate here recently with frineds on the spur of the moment one Friday evening. It was around half 9 and we did not have a booking, but despite this, the staff were more than happy to seat us at the bar, and offer us the next available table. Given this is the time several tables were finishing their meal, this showed a welcome pragmatism from the staff that is often sadly lacking - waiting staff seemingly wanting to punish potential paying customers for failing to plan ahead.
From the start the experience was delightful. While waiting at the bar, we enjoyed the complimentary excellent olives and smoked almonds, and once shown to our table with our drinks, we were immediately offered several types of bread. Being a bit of a carb fiend, I could have happily sustained myself on this, as it was offered repeatedly during the meal, and its quality was outstanding; however, I decided this would be slightly poor form, and agreed to peruse the menu. I have to note at this point, that, unlike here, too many restaurants try to extract vast amounts of extra cash out of clientele for things like bread and side dishes - I always wish they would incorporate this into the price of their dishes, rather than leaving you with an unpleasant surprise when the bill arrives.
The menu, as has been noted in previous reviews, is quite wide ranging, and the set menu showed a degree of imagination and creativity often missing from these, which forces diners to the more expensive a la carte options. Again, an example of the generosity of spirit evident here. One of the four of us chose from this menu, so we got the chance to sample both.
The food, to be honest, was a bit hit and miss. The hits were absolutely outstanding, most noticeably in two superb fish dishes - a starter of sea bream and a main of salmon. An excellent lamb loin was also beautifully cooked and presented. Less successful, and chosen by three of us, was a spicy squid soup which sounded amazing, but appeared as a small bowl of tomato gloop tasting strongly of seafood, but with its components unidentifiable. It wasn't bad, just disappointing, and did not fit the description that had set our mouths watering. Desserts were similarly mixed, with a rhubarb creme brulee having shades of a school pudding, but tasting pleasant enough, so presentation was partly forgiven.
The wine list is excellent, with a range of new and old world offerings, many from older vintages, in a good spread of price brackets. A true surprise was a superb bottle (their last) of the Mt Horrocks 1998 shiraz, selected with knowledgeable advice from an enthusastic and unpretentious sommelier.
The meal wasn't cheap, at £60/head for two courses each (with shared dessert) and one and a half bottles of wine, but it was, on the whole good value, for a very enjoyable experience, made top notch by excellent service, and the sense of inherent generosity that came from the complimentary bread and nibbles.
We'll definitely be back....though we might even have the good manners to book next time ;)
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
Food 7 | Service 9 | Atmosphere 8 | Value for money 7