18 March 2015

Review: The Bonham, Edinburgh

HAVING SPENT MOST of the week in a London-sized hangover, I was constantly telling friends that I had grown bored of Edinburgh and sought pastures new.  Maybe I had just become used to the spoils this wonderful little city offers … I am a (self-proclaimed) capital culinary ambassador after all, and tonight would see us indulge on an appetising chateaubriand deal on offer at The Bonham, where we were yet to visit.

Seated next to the bay window toward the front of the hotel, I was initially a little sceptical about our table placement given that the back end of the dining room was buzzing, in contrast to our empty section.  However, the restaurant soon filled up with a varied clientele of young and old, livening things up a little at our end. The offer includes the beef (chateaubriand is a thick cut from the tenderloin), hand-cut chips with peppercorn sauce and a bottle of wine (there were two reds and two whites to choose from) for the sum of £49, and you can add king prawns for an extra tenner.

An amuse bouche of cured salmon with radishes and sesame dressing started the night off in a positive fashion.  This was an elegant and light introduction to chef Maciej Szymik’s cooking that really impressed.

The meaty salmon, wrapped in some sort of sushi-style seaweed gave yield to the back of my knife, and was further enhanced by mopping up the tasty creamy dressing. The crunch and pepperiness from the radish, and what I think was kohlrabi, added to the visual and textural parts of the dish, with the hot burst from the seeds making this dish explode with flavour. The only danger here was that too many seeds in one mouthful overpowered the dish – everything in moderation.

I was pipped to the scallops down in London last week; ladies first and all, but this time, I had the honour. The sweet little nuggets arrived with a luxuriously silky, although a tad under-seasoned, Jerusalem artichoke veloute and a neat quenelle of cep mushrooms that provided the dish with both texture and a pleasant umami taste (£11.50). The scallops were tender and just cooked – the way I prefer them – and harmonised with the earthiness of the soup and woody ceps. 

Sarah’s starter of roasted quail with sweetcorn puree, chorizo and wild garlic was a neat and colourful affair, priced at £8.95. The bird was juicy and delightful alongside the sweet puree and the crispy skin. The discs of chorizo brought some heat, which married well with the quail.  I like beignets of, well anything to be honest, but there’s nothing worse than an anaemic, soggy ball of pulp. However, this effort was brimming with herbs and technically sound, rounding of this plate of enjoyable goodies.

Arriving on a cast-iron tray, I wondered how we would manage this behemoth portion of beef. It came cooked to absolute perfection (we asked for medium-rare) and carved into perfect slices that simply dissolved on your tongue. The chunky chips were superb: light inside, crispy out, and not a hint of grease.  My only quibble was that they lacked a sprinkle of decent sea salt, which was a pity, especially with no option to self-season. A solid, not too peppery sauce was slick and unctuous – perfect for mopping up with the chips.  We took the option of the prawns, too, and found the plump shellfish to be deliciously sweet and tender – compliments to the chef yet again. Perhaps a bowl of water to cleanse our hands afterwards would have helped, but that was a minor detail given how excellent they were. From the wine list, we opted for the Nero d’Avola/Shiraz, which went splendidly with the beef in particular.  Full-bodied with hints of spice, it was very quaffable indeed.

I enjoyed this evening far more than I thought I would, and I must admit it helped sooth my London sores.  After all, this was far from just a decent steak ‘n’ chips, and at £30 per head for food  and wine of this quality,  I would suggest this will be tough to beat.  The dishes we sampled from the a la carte certainly suggested that visiting again wouldn’t be the worst idea we’ve ever had.

Web: http://www.townhousecompany.com/thebonham/restaurant/

Opening times:

Lunch: Weds - Sat 12:00 - 14:30  Sun 12:30 - 15:00
Dinner:  Mon-Sat 18:30 - 21:00 Sun 18:30 - 21:00
The Bonham Hotel,
35 Drumsheugh Gardens,

Square Meal Restaurant at The Bonham Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

8 March 2015

Review: Marcus, The Berkeley Hotel, Knightsbridge, London

The importance of first impressions permeate many aspects of life.  My first impression of Marcus will probably be one I won’t forget in a long time, simply because it’s seldom that staff (particularly at restaurants of this calibre) acknowledge your work, never mind beam with pride at the thought of you critiquing theirs. 

The man himself, Marcus Wareing, needs little introduction; most of you will know him from judging Masterchef: The Professionals, a position that the Southport-born chef seamlessly took over from the much-revered Michel Roux Jr. last year, or from his various appearances on Great British Menu over the years.  His restaurant is only one of nine in central London to hold two Michelin stars, resulting in us anticipating a flawless service.

We opted for four courses (£105, with three courses priced at £85) and a rather interesting Sauvignon Blanc from Burgundy as we nibbled on some wonderful fennel bread, served with Abernethy butter (see previous blog feature) from Northern Ireland, an instant example of Wareing’s intent to source the finest ingredients from across the British Isles.  The menu at Marcus comes in card form with an image on the reverse that matches up with a think piece adorning the restaurant walls.  Mine looked like something you’d find on a Beatles album; I was rather amused.  

A beaming waitress arrived with our starters, taking us through our dishes before inviting us to dive in.  My foie gras, blood orange and rosemary (served hot or cold, mine being the later) also came with confit tomato and a tomato gel and was utterly sublime.  The portion of rich, creamy foie gras was so substantial that I pondered sneaking half in Sarah’s bag for a midnight snack.  The genius came from the blood orange: slightly sweet, marinated in sugar I suspect, with a zesty and acidic kick that really lightened the dish. A mushroom-shaped wedge of brioche was delicious, but too thick, which was confirmed when a thinner, more practical slice arrived after the first slab had been devoured – a touch that gives a glimpse of two star Michelin class. I loved the blood orange, but the best component was the clever dots of black pepper gel, as it added a bit of crunch and spice that rounded this dish off to a tee.  

Sarah began with scallops, celery, lemon and miso.  You knew this was a winner just by the look of it.  Scallops perfectly cooked, as you’d expect, with a sea bed-esque arrangement of ingredients providing a range of flavours in the guise of citrus from the lemon and a velvety warmth from the miso.  The celery weighed in with a textural element, as well as an earthy tone, while the burst of salt from the keta caviar naturally seasoned the dish. 

The middle course essentially acted as a fish course given the offerings (there was also a veggie option).  The salmon, langoustine, buttermilk and lime course was my dish of the day.  It can only be described as an underwater sweetie shop: tender, cured salmon married with the lime, while the meaty langos swam harmoniously alongside it.  The pickled celery cut through the sweet fish with a welcome bite, culminating in what I reckon was an ideal middle course.

Turbot, Dorset snails, shallot and gnocchi was a real knockout in Sarah’s round.  Reminiscent of surf ‘n’ turf, the meaty fish along with the plump snails, in an earthy sauce tinged with sage, was soaked up by the light gnocchi vessels, displaying how you can’t look past classic cooking with the finest ingredients.  I had noted that the plates were purely round, white ones; this eluded a confidence in Wareing’s cooking, demonstrating that he doesn’t need the pageantry of fancy plates or gimmicks to amplify his food.

I love seeing mutton on menus and chose the rump with calçot and radicchio.  The meat came in two different cuts, one seeming to be tenderloin alongside the rump, both soft and brimming with that intense mutton flavour I enjoy so much.  Charred calçot, a celebrated onion from Catalonia, was the outstanding element for me.  The barbeque note it brought to this dish was truly wonderous with the mutton, and I appreciated the delicacy of the grelot onion sauce that just reined in the intensity of this dish.

It came with a side of pomme puree with Linconshire Poacher cheese, which was a real disappointment.  The texture was fine, but the seasoning was none existent and certainly not in theme with the other courses.  You’d feel pretty aggrieved to have paid ten quid for a side and it not be the best damn pomme puree you’re ever going to taste.

For main, Sarah decided upon suckling pig, winter tomato and pomegranate.  This was a complex offering, with the acidity of the tomato, bursts of pomegranate and spice from the Bombay potatoes jostling for position with the pig.  The melt-in-the-mouth rack boasted excellent crackling, and I could eat the additional air pocket-like nuggets all day long.  However, maybe the fat on the belly could have been rendered a little more. While I enjoyed tasting, Sarah is still mulling this course over.

There had been a distinct effort since Wareing rebranded the restaurant as simply “Marcus” to shift away from the usual stuffiness associated with high-end restaurants, particularly when you possess an SW1 postcode.  To throw my tuppence worth in, I think the team here achieve that, despite what some other reviews have said previously.  Sure, everyone here was suited and booted, but who’s to say you can’t have a relaxed occasion with a sense of grandeur all the same?
Each member of staff was ridiculously interested in having us as guests, chatting almost as if the dishes were their own and speaking to us like real people.  I even overheard Wareing speak to another guest about his vision and how they slowly getting to “where they want to be” with what was obviously his pride and joy.

Choosing dessert was a real task because of the levels of appeal afforded by each option.  I eventually settled for rhubarb, custard, thyme and ginger.  Extremely delicate and pretty visually, it was a splendid way to round off a meal.  Although it looked tiny, on eating it was more than adequate.  On tasting the creamy custard, you find a hit of thyme, a hum of ginger then the rhubarb slices through it harmoniously.  Wareing is known for turning childhood food memories into elegant, adult versions and I can picture him sitting eating this plate with the same smile I had on my face.

Pineapple, pain perdu and coconut really hit the nail on the head when it came to ending Sarah’s meal.  Stunningly presented, the Caribbean-inspired flavours of pineapple soaked in rum with a light coconut ice cream are ones that just work.  The light as air, suitably caramelised pain perdu cubes sort of made this a deconstructed (in a good way) dessert, with the snap of mini meringues finishing off this palette cleaning pud.

I can’t say anything less than this was a complete gastronomic triumph. Marcus is a blend of classic technique and sheer originality with an unashamedly British feel that results in extreme dining pleasure. The term "fine dining" is banded around willy-nilly these days, but here the sheer attentiveness from the front of house staff, in such a pulchritudinous setting really affirm what fine dining is supposed to be, and while it doesn't come cheap, Marcus serves up the full experience that'll make you glad you parted with your hard-earned cash. 

Web: http://www.marcus-wareing.com/
Book online: http://www.marcus-wareing.com/reservations/
Opening times: Mon-Sat, Lunch: 12pm-2:45pm, Dinner: 6:00pm-10:45pm

Marcus on Urbanspoon= Square Meal