All reader reviews by Loving Annie

The Gallery @ The Connaught

There is a beautiful sunny, window walled room at the front of the hotel called The Gallery. Huge baskets of orchids are everywhere, and candles are scattered around in profusion on side tables at night.

George greets me with a smile, and ushers me into the room, offering me my choice of tables. There is a moss plant on each in a square pot.

Linen and sheer drapes decorate the windows. There are white tablecloths, and comfortable upholstered chairs. Genuine silverplate silver by Arthur Price is on the tables, and there are silver salt & pepper shakers, as well as a silver pepper grinder.

On a glass tray, there are seven different sealed miniature preserves. Honey, strawberry, raspberry, apricot, gooseberry and orange marmalade, with tiny silver spoons.

A silver basket lined with a napkin holds two delicious, warm and perfectly flaky large, freshly baked croissants.

There is a small glass pitcher of freshly squeezed orange juice, although it doesn't really taste like the orange juice does at home when I cut and squeeze it.

Pats of butter come in a lovely Wedgewood, white cream-and-gold china dish.

The two eggs over easy are perfectly cooked, as is the side of crispy bacon, and the plate is garnished with a pair of cooked cherry tomatoes.

Breakfast each morning is excellent, and the waiter remembers what I like.

I did not have an opportunity to try the hotel for lunch.

The Afternoon tea tray looked quite good.

I did try a Caesar salad one night after dinner elsewhere. Don't. Both the lettuce and the dressing were sub-par.

Sascha, the hostess manager, was very charming on my last night. We were discussing various restaurants, and she suggested that next time I am in town, she may be able to get me a reservation at Petrus for dinner :)

The chef gave me a lovely garnishment tray one evening with every imaginable fixing for some beluga caviar that I had brought in from Fortunm & Mason's, and it generously was on the house.

Loving Annie

Thursday, April 03, 2008
Overall rating 10 stars
Food 10 | Service 10 | Atmosphere 10 | Value for money 10


Hunan

It is a tiny restaurant, with perhaps six tables in the front, and six tables in the back.

Michael greets me, (he is the son of the owner) and kindly offers me a table by the window, although technically they are not open for lunch for another half hour.

Michael Buble's Feeling Good plays in the background, and I DO feel good :)

There are lovely lillies in a glass vase by the bar. Chinese paintings of the Emperor are on the walls, and there are Buddha figurines, dragons and vases on top of a cabinet.

The tablecloths are beige and white. Heavy off-white chopsticks rest on a delicate white china stand.

The lady behind the bar brings me hot tea, which she says is specially blended to go with the food, and does not need sweetening. (being a sugar junkie, I disagree, but do not ask again for sweetener.)

She follows this up with tiny bites of pickled cucumber (delicious), and salted pine nuts.

I watch deliveries being made, as there are hidden steps to a basement on the sidewalk. Crates of brown eggs, beans and fresh vegetables disappear and my stomach growls.

Michael comes over again to ask what I like to eat. There is no menu. Chicken, pork and vegetables, I tell him. Sour, hot and spicy...

Individual servings are brought. As I finish one, within two minutes, another appears.

Minced chicken in lettuce has a very fresh, light taste.

A century old egg is brought with pickled vegetables. The egg is, as expected, gray, almost black. I think it tastes gross, but pat myself on the back for being adventurous enough to try it.

(But after one bite I try to hide it under the vegetables so Michael will not know that I haven't finished it)

Crispy garlic beans are next, and they are wonderful. Spicy smoked chicken is equally good, and Michael comes to check and see if everything is to my liking.

Pork with tofu and shredded vegetables comes next, followed by plum & pork parcels in a sesame crusted wrapper. Everything is fresh and nothing is left over.

Taro chicken arrives, and after I have finished its savory goodness, I am stuffed, and cannot eat another bite.

(although Michael would have brought more had I been able to. No-one leaves his restaurant hungry.)

There are bites of toffee banana, apple and pumpkin for dessert.

I'll be back, and next time bring some friends. This was wonderful food, with attentive service.

Thursday, April 03, 2008
Overall rating 10 stars
Food 10 | Service 10 | Atmosphere 10 | Value for money 10


Pied a Terre

The restaurant is very modern in appearance, with gray leather banquettes and a dark wood trim.

Being early, I am lucky, and they seat me up front, next to the windows of red, gray & clear shattered glass.

There are fashionable recessed halogen lights, but not enough of them to make reading the menu easy.

The serving plate is of speckled clear glass with a wide, curved up silver edge and a handpainted red sunflower on it. Ther are have glass water tumblers, and white linen tablecloths.

Very little English is spoken by the waiters, they mainly speak French.

A small plate of green olives is brought.

There will be an eight course meal tonight, and the menu has a notice that one pound (Two dollars at today's currency translation rates) is added to every bill and given to charity for Action Against Hunger.

There is stamped unsalted butter accompanying a bread basket of 5 choices. I have both the plain and the tomato, both freshly baked, delicous and light.

The amuse bouche consists of 4 bites of ??? I can't understand what the waiter says. They are also presented on a shattered glass plate in the shape of a small, raised rectangle.

a ragout of chick peas begins the meal, followed by avacado carpaccio, carmelized endive salad with watercress gelee, parpadelle pasta with camembert sauce & cucumber balls, and a puff pastry with mushroom & black truffle.

A cheese course is next.

The first dessert is a walnut passion fruit mousse. It is superb, creamy, just sweet enough, lovely. I wanted another...

Then comes a chocolate tart with macadmia nut mousse.

I end the meal with a delicious hot mint tea, and the waiter brings the final treat. 6 tiny bite desserts on a curved shattered glass tray.

The presentation at Pied a Terre is lovely, but on the whole, the food was tasteless - I would not eat here again, despite its Michelin 2 star rating.

Thursday, April 03, 2008
Overall rating 6 stars
Food 5 | Service 7 | Atmosphere 7 | Value for money 5


Racine

Windows face a busy street close to Harrod's department store. The long room has a wood floor, brown leather banquettes with mirors above them, soft yellow paint on the walls, and recessed halogen lights.

There are short double tablecloths, and the chairs and leather & wood.

Plain flatware and glasses and salt shaker. This is a place where the food matters and the decor is plain.

It is lunch-time on a Friday afternoon. The place fills up quickly, clearly with regulars, as the somewhat older, well-dressed couples are greeted by name.

Delicious french bread comes with a gold foil wrapped round of butter from Echire, France.

I have a wonderful spicy steak tartare, with small bottles of green and red tabasco provided if I want to kick it up yet another notch.

This is followed by an excellent cucumber salad garnished with minched chives, and dressed with a light vinaigrette.

These are filling enough that I decline to order an entree, although I wisely have enough room left for dessert, or pudding, as it is called here.

Creme caramel melts in my mouth, light and perfectly flavored.

I choose to finish with hot jasmine pearl tea, and it steeps in a glass pot. Tea is always leaves here, not a bag, which is a charming additional attention to detail.

The food was quite good. I want to go back another time and try more.

Thursday, April 03, 2008
Overall rating 10 stars
Food 10 | Service 10 | Atmosphere 10 | Value for money 10


The Square

It is an early Friday evening, just 6:30 p.m., and I get to the restaurant a few minutes before they are ready to seat guests.

A smiling blonde hostess offers a chair opposite the wooden bar, and brings me something to drink while I wait.

It is a modern yet soothing space, with a fresh spray of orchids and pussy willows reflected in the mirror. Cream colored faux-stone flooring inlaid with black marble is underfoot.

The dining room has perhaps twenty generously sized tables, nicely spaced apart. There is a dark herringbone wood floor, and the room will be fashionably noisy later on as well-heeled couples drift in to fill the space.

Recessed halogen lights provide light and leave a feeling of pristine space. They subtly set off cream colored side walls hung with abstract modern paintings, interspersed with dramatic framed beveled mirrors on the back wall.

Gilt silk curtains and sheer shades are by the windows. Decorated half screens cleverly block the sight of the cars passing by, while allowing a demure peek at the building across the street.

The heavy, floor length, gray, square pleated tablecloths are topped by white linen. Wooden upholstered armchairs are more comfortable than they look.

Pink rosebuds in a vase are discreetly placed on each table. The pepper grinder and salt shaker are polished silver. The 'charger' plate has a beautifully decorated modern design on it, flanked by Christofle silverware.

The serving staff is dressed formally in black, wearing ties, and they all seem to have french accents, which may be a prerequisite for a Michelin 2 star restaurant in town.

The sommelier shakes his head in polite dismay as I decline wine, and brings a bottle of Speyside Glenlivet still natural mineral water to the table.

Large rounds of both unsalted and salted butter are brought on glass teardrop shaped dishes. From among four types of warm freshly baked bread that are offered, I choose walnut-raisin (sweet enough to have at breakfast)and a sourdough baguette. Both are light in texture, a nice intimation of things to come.

An amuse bouche is brought, five cunningly shaped, delicious, light, just crunchy enough, morsels of intriguing flavors I cannot identify.

As usual, I am a finicky eater. I have called ahead and begged the Master Chef, Philip Howard, to indulge me. He graciously complies, and we agree on a tasting meal . Let the pleasure begin :)

Each course is brought on a silver platter, a lovely formal presentation of the goodness to follow.

(It is actually beyond good. Read on, and I must warn you that you will be drooling before you are through.)

The first course is white asparagus veloute with cauliflower.

The second course is Scottish smoked salmon offset by tiny potato rounds garnished with chives. The plainness of the potato is a perfect offset for the delicate saltiness of the fish.

The third course is large, fresh green asparagus tips, lightly garnished with Parmesan and watercress, and accompanied by a lightly poached egg cunningly set in a delicate pastry shell. The rich flavor of the egg is an excellent offset against the cool vegetable.

(At this point, I already want to marry the chef, but the waiter regretfully informs me that he already has a wife.)

The fourth course is a garden salad. A tiny, fresh mound of leek hearts, charlotte potatoes, swisschard, artichokes with pickled beetroot, microherbs and dandelion. I squeeze the juice of a half of a lemon over it, and am in heaven.

The fifth course is a single, large poached rock oyster holding in its shell a light curry veloute, coriander, mousseline, and a pomegranate, caper and raisin dressing.

The sixth course is hand rolled farfalle pasta with an emulsion of winter vegetables (cauliflower, onion and green beans) garnished with Parmesan in an amazingly delicious butter sauce.

Once again, the blend of flavors and textures are exquisite. I shamelessly use the rest of my baguette to soak up some of the sauce.

Someone approaches the table, and my hand tightens on my fork, ready to poke anyone who dares to touch the plate. Mine, I think, too delicious, unwilling to give up a single bite to an overly ready busboy. Instead, it is another party of three diners -their hands are safe :)

Steaming hot, fresh mint leaf tea arrives, leaves steeping in the now familiar glass pot. A light golden sugar is in a frosted glass bowl.

The first of a series of desserts is brought.

Vanilla yogurt like none I've ever had (no aftertaste) is layered in a shot glass with rhubarb compote and blood orange foam. Incredibly light, the sour mixes perfectly with the sweet. A donut hole, dusted lightly with cinnamon, again contrasts perfectly with the yogurt. Warm versus cool, airy versus creamy.

The there is the airiest of passion fruit souffles, dusted with powdered sugar. Lime ice cream brings just the right hint of tartness. A coconut dusted meringue adds a hint of texture to offset the light-as-air creaminess of the souffle

Incredibly, there is more, and another small plate is brought.

Chocolate covered orange sticks are the best I've ever tasted, with each flavor distinct and perfect. There are also tiny truffles of some sort, perhaps coffee.

I ask now for hot jasmine tea - it is also perfect. (I'm not overusing the word - it is accurate each and every time)

Then as a finale, 5 lollipops of fresh fruit gellee are served, orange, strawberry, apple, passion fruit and Turkish delight.

The bill comes, and for a meal this extrordinary, at 111 pounds inclusive of everything, it is very reasonable.

I ponder how soon I can return.

Thursday, April 03, 2008
Overall rating 10 stars
Food 10 | Service 10 | Atmosphere 10 | Value for money 10


Le Gavroche

I walk into a small entry hall and the hostess immediately takes my coat, as it has been raining outside.

She asks my name, and then a young man guides me downstairs into a large dark room with low ceilings. It is softly lit with recessed can and halogen lighting.

There are enormous arrangements of spring flowers in two wall niches, (gladiola, rubrum lillies, pussy willows and greens) and a large spray on white orchids graces the back of the room.

Upholstered chairs of red fabric trimmed with leather are gathered around round tables with 3/4 length tablecloths.

Everything carries the Le Gavroche logo, from the starter plate, to the silverware with a figure of a chef on the handles, to the black & gold paper that lines the plate of the amuse bouche.

A silver filigree holder keeps the bottled water cold. A cunning triple salt cellar holds regular salt, sea salt and wrapped toothpicks. There is also a small wooden pepper grinder.

A little 12" high golden oil lamp gleams on the table. A silver, three dimensional fish holds six knives, with decorated silver handles and blades.

It is mostly an older crowd in their 50's and 60's, and the assistant manager, Emmanuel tells me that half of them are regulars. By 7:15 p.m. the room is half-full, and the noise level is beginning to be high.

Waiters all have french accents, and are formally dressed in black. Before the restaurant gets busy, they tend to bustle around uselessly, or hover together in small groups, talking amongst themselves.

Salted and unsalted butter accompany the bread basket. I choose a wheat baguette from the five offerings. I only have one bite, as it is lukewarm and somewhat tough. The waiter never asks if I would like to try something different.

The sommelier is a woman, Celia, and she poorly conceals a sniff of disdain when I decline any wines with the meal.

An enormous silver bowl filled with iced varieties of white and pink champagne is brought to the table next to me, where the flower arrangement in the wall niche is so low it hits the gentleman in the head. Given the amount of money it costs here to have dinner, they should not have a table in that location.

Enrico is my waiter, and he explains each dish.

There is a four piece amuse bouche. Two artichoke hearts are hot and mouth-wateringly good, lightly battered and deep fried. Two cold quail eggs rest on a bed of celeriac remoulade and are garnished with paprika.

The first course is a warm spring green salad that consists of artichoke hearts, carrots, sweet onions, mushrooms, chestnuts, and the tinest of crispy croutons, dressed in a raspberry vinaigrette. It is excellent.

The second course is their signature dish. A twice baked cheese souffle in fresh cream is airy and delicious, very light in taste.

The third course is a soft polenta, whixh serves as a bed for a tempura of baby artichokes, red pepper coulis and herb olive oil. Wafer thin bread with a puree of black olives on one side and a mayonnaise of garlic & saffron on the other is sharp and unpleasant.

The fourth course is a vegetable cannelloni filled with ratatouille on a bed of good couscous, resting in butter sauce with a watercress coulis. (It is improved with a little lemon juice.)

This is followed by vegetables stuffed with vegetables, in an overly salty potato-truffle sauce. A baked tomato holds a julienned green vegetable. The spinach mousse with carrots is mushy. There are potatoes with sweet onions. Aubergine is somehow tough on the outside and too soft on the inside.

Overall, the presentation is pretty, but the vegetables themselves are tasteless.

The cheese board has 40 different varieties on it. I choose an incredibly creamy Conte from the french Pyrenees mountains, and a hard Cheran Mont D'Or. They are served with a crispy, thin, walnut-raisin bread, plum chutney, celery and quince jelly.

The first dessert is a fresh pineapple carpaccio with basil mint garnish and a touch of white rum underneath a creme de caramel donut. It is somehow heavy and overly sweet.

Tea of fresh mint leaves is fragrant and boiling hot, served in a delicate white china cup with the ever present chef logo on the side/ White sugar cubes and brown sugar cubes are brought in silver holders with a small silver spoon on a silver, doily-lined tray.

The last dessert is a petite bitter chocolate cake garnished with gold leaf, and a bitter chocolate sorbet. They are pure in flavor, and taste delicious when combined.

Different petite fours are brought as the final touch to complete the meal, an almond cake with rum that is nice, coconut macaroon, candied gooseberries and lace cookies.

Presentation on everything throughout the meal is dramatic and lovely, but tastes are all a little off, seeming to rely on an excess of ingredients. Only the first two courses, the cheese board and the second dessert are flawless; the remaining half of the dishes disappoint a little.

Le Gavroche may have been a London institution, but now it seems to be coasting on its former reputation. Unfortunately and despite having 2 michelin stars, Le Gavroche is merely a slightly better than adequate meal, and not worth the money

Thursday, April 03, 2008
Overall rating 7 stars
Food 5 | Service 7 | Atmosphere 8 | Value for money 6


Restaurant Gordon Ramsay

Mhmmmm. Dinner was amazing !

The restaurant faces the street, with white flowers outside flanking the windows. A top hatted doorman opens the outside door, and then you pass through the second door, down a short hallway and into a small bar/reception area.

Immediately, the charm and stellar service begin. The entire Gordon Ramsay experience starts out with polish and panache, a precursor of a truly lovely dinner and evening.

The maitre d' greets me and ushers me into an intimate, carpeted room that appears to seat perhaps up to 50 guests.

Cream walls with a discreet edging of gilt, offset by equally tasteful mirrors subtly done.

Elaborate crown molding, silk and sheer shades on the windows, cunning small prism lamps on the walls, everything is soft, warm, intimate.

Double tablecloths on each table, 3 white rose buds in a silver vase, a glass oil lamp throws gentle light on the flowers.

There is a silver/gilt 'charger' plate on the table, the color of which harmonizes with the interior of the room. White bone china with rippling edges, and silverware heavy enough to feel real.

A refrigerated holder to keep your bottle of flat or sparkling water chilled. Lemon slices brought on a plate on the side. Already I am spoiled, and it just continues.

I think there were 4 different waiters just for my table alone. At least it felt that way - service is an art form here.

Plus a different waiter brought a selection of freshly baked sourdough, olive or wheat bread to the table. With stamped rounds of both salted and unsalted butter brought, each on a small silver plate with a butter knife.

The sommelier asked about my wine preferences. Not a flicker of dismay crossed his well trained face as I told him I'd just be drinking water :)

Everyone was so polite, helpful, solicitous. You can order a la carte, or they have different 8 course tasting menus.

I was in the mood for vegetables, so chef happily obliged... It is NOT Gordon Ramsay himself anymore.

An amuse bouche was brought, melt in your mouth avocado something in a tiny tuile. It was FABULOUS.

They kept replacing the silverware for each course. Quiet, pampering, this is an experience with a capital E.

Another amuse bouche - an individual, melt in your mouth ravioli in consomme with tiny diced vegetables, garnished with a nickel sized slice of black truffle.

Then a frisee of baby lettuce salad with artichoke heart, carrot, apple, and a truffle vinaigrette made me moan (quietly) with pleasure.

Asparagus risotto followed.

Every detail is perfect at this restaurant. It just doesn't get better.

Stuffed baby red peppers with ratatouille followed, with the thinnest of Pecorino shavings, basil puree and red pepper vinaigrette.

Dime sized potatoes that melted in my mouth. (I keep saying that, and it is true :)

Six tiny individual coils of onion rings as delicate as fishing wire garnish baby vegetables.

Broccolini, baby carrots, artichoke hearts, spinach, celery root and button mushrooms, each so fresh it tastes as though they were picked from a garden not an hour ago.

Exquisite jasmine tea was brewed for me at the table in a glass pot, where the tea was a flower bud that expanded in the water as it steeped.

And then, ohhhhhh yes, dessert. Or desserts, to be more accurate.

A small glass jar of creme brulee. But not just any ordinary creme brulee. The kind of creme brulee you'll remember for a long, long, long time.

So sinfully good, not too sweet, just a perfect blend of apple and pear, dusted with bittersweet chocolate on the top.

Then another dessert. An edible piece of art on a plate - a bitter chocolate and hazelnut cylinder, with ginger ice cream and blackberry granite.

Incredibly, more followed.

Pineapple and coconut 'soup' with chili syrup they had me drink through a glass straw. Silver dusted chocolate balls. White chocolate covered strawberry ice cream balls. Raspberry sorbet garnished with microfine chocolate stripes. Turkish delight lemon-flavored squares.

Somehow, I managed to try a bite of each :)

The attention to detail, the freshness of the ingredients, the presentation, the service, the atmosphere, all of it combine to make for an experience to last for a lifetime.

Thursday, April 03, 2008
Overall rating 9 stars
Food 8 | Service 10 | Atmosphere 10 | Value for money 8


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