Tag Archives: review

Review: Dinner by Heston Blumenthal

9 Aug

‘I want to sit in the lounge.’ This was the first requirement of one of my Dinner acquaintances and the reason for our group arriving, or at least planning to arrive, half an hour early. Unfortunately the Mandarin’s lounge is not all that, and drinks weren’t forthcoming, so having scored early minus points, we decided to draw a line under the pre-lunch experience and moved on (drink-free) to the object of our Knightsbridge trip. Namely, Dinner. Well, lunch anyway.

The restaurant is simple: dark brown and cream, with an impressive kitchen, fully visible and encased in glass through which you can see rows of pineapples being slowly roasted on the rotisserie and a surprisingly calm front line of chefs. The menu held no surprises, as we had all done our internet research, and of course at least two of us were bound to have the restaurant’s first signature dish, the meat fruit. As a signature dish, the meat fruit more than fulfilled its premise. The appearance of a tangerine, the taste of the smoothest parfait of chicken liver and foie gras that you could ever hope to come across and the skin of a mandarin, so fine that you almost couldn’t separate its texture in your mouth, but which added a minute and perfectly weighed fruity tang. I, with my roast marrowbone – which was incidentally, more than satisfactort, with well balanced flavours and just enough anchovy to give it a gentle kick – suffered severe food envy.

Meat fruit

 

Eating starters, and on our second bottle of wine, all five of us were more than content, but the service score was still suffering. We had been sat without a drinks list and not approached with one before asking. In a restaurant where the average spend per person is around £100, I don’t think it is too much to ask for the waiting staff to be diligent enough to think of drinks before we do.

We drank Billecart Salmon Brut (New Zealand), Albarino (Rias Baixas) and Sancerre first of all and were brought a Cape Mentelle Cabernet Sauvignon just in time for our red necessitating mains, which encompassed powdered duck, spiced pigeon, and two great hunks of meat – a rib-eye for one and a wing for two. The duck was probably the best of the dishes, ‘powdered’ meaning that the leg was a coated with spices including fennel and star anise, and providing a burst of pungency that begged for savouring. The pigeon was impossibly soft and smelt amazing in ale and spices, whilst the great quantities of steak with chips (not triple-cooked. The potatoes aren’t ready until September) were nicely fat-laden and rich in the taste of pure, bloody, carnivorous meat, although the rib-eye was slightly over-cooked. The sides deserve a mention, not least because the chef among us declared the pommes puree to be the best thing he’d eaten at the table. Exquisitely seasoned and emitting surprisingly strong flavours, the carrots were so good that you almost didn’t want to share them with the mainstays, instead enjoying the multiplicity of flavours within each meat-free mouthful.

Tipsy cake

 

Feeling spoilt for choice and sure that any preference would cause consequent regrets and inedible green-eyed monsters, we made the wise decision to get five desserts to share as pudding tapas. Feasting on chocolate bar, brown bread ice cream, tipsy cake, lemon suet pudding and taffety tart, the verdict was more or less unanimous that the ice cream and chocolate bar were the standouts in a competitive crowd. I couldn’t find the time or words to accurately and tangibly describe how truly great the brown bread ice cream was. Served atop crunchy salted butter caramel, it had savoury tinges of brown bread and salt that assimilated perfectly into the sweetness of the ice cream and the sugar, with a clashing and fusion that demonstrated complete understanding by one of the other.

Unfortunately, the same could certainly not be said of the £15 liqueur coffees that two of us ordered post-dessert. Triple layered in naff glasses, the booze stayed firmly at the bottom, the coffee somewhere in the middle and the cream managed to marble its way through the whole beverage infecting it with a tepid and lukewarm flavour.

Leaving suitably drunk and full of good food and wine, we argued over whether or not Dinner would or should be awarded a Michelin star. I would say not yet, but a cranking up of the service and a few serious floater coffee training sessions later, and it ought to be rearing to go.

 

 

Review: Berwick Lodge

19 Jan

As a waitress, Sundays are a precious commodity that are not so much to be enjoyed as to be spent indulging other people’s brattish offspring.  As such, it was a great luxury to be free last Sunday to have people serve me, and some work friends, at ‘luxury country hotel and fine dining restaurant’ Berwick Lodge

The day began early, at Whiteladies Road Boston Tea Party, and then onto the number one bus, which takes you to within a twenty-minute walk of the Lodge. Our journey began before the rain, and was a pleasant preamble to what was sure to be a delicious,  expensive and boozy lunch.

When we arrived at the hotel, we were confronted with a rather scary fountain surrounded by broken-down old-fashioned streetlamps that must have escaped the hotel’s five years of regenaration, and a surprisingly small, but impressive, building.

Inside,  all was plush, and subtlety forgotten. We enjoyed pre-dinner drinks in a luxurious room on luxurious sofas, where heavy interiors and furnishings were completed by an over-the-top chandelier, Georgian-inspired furniture and a strangely mismatched modern painting whose presence apparently attests to the hotel’s ‘arts and crafts’ status.

Of the five of us, only four were given a menu, as one guest was vegetarian, and not generally catered to.  We were told that the kitchen had put together a pithivier for our herbivore friend, but disappointingly, the specifics of her special menu were not communicated to us, until she got up to ask the waiter, who had to bring a chef out to explain.

On to the dining room, and we were suitably impressed. We had a large oval table for just the five of us, and this room was much more simple and elegant than its predecessor, with sweeping white curtains draping large windows, and a more simplistic approach to interior design.

To start, we chose a bottle of As Laxas Albarino (£29), which was complemented by the delicious bread selection, and the starters, which were primarily fish, with three of the group choosing scallops. I ate pidgeon with walnuts, pistachio, cherry, cocoa and Turkish delight. It was absolutely delicious; the flavours complemented each other perfectly, and the turkish delight was especially savoured, as I tried to make it last the pidgeon (it didn’t). The scallops were reportedly under-salted; I did taste them, but didn’t take much notice, being distracted, as I was, by my own dish.

Pidgeon starter

Prior to the main course, we moved on to a bottle of red – a Prophets Rock Central Otago Pinot Noir (52), that was perfect – light and smooth, and chosen by our most wine-cultured diner (that certainly wasn’t me) who could surely describe it more aptly.

With the main course, I continued on a meat theme, and was not disappointed. My duck with foie gras, kumquats and red cabbage, was perfectly cooked, beautifully presented and completely satisfied my high expectations. The foie gras – which I have only eaten once before, and whose ethical questions I am vaguely concerned by – was perfectly textured – like a mousse, but somehow lighter and more substantial – and not nearly as rich as I would have expected.

Duck

The others ate halibut, beef, chicken and ravioli, and all reported happily. I maintain (smugly) however, that mine was the best choice.  To pudding, and I wanted something light to follow my first two courses, and opted for the creme brulee with apple sorbet and compote. This was lovely and light, with welcome sharpness from the compote, but the sugar top was disappointingly lacking in the satisfying crack that you should experience when first breaking in to a good brulee. My friend’s chocolate coulant was over-cooked, but her disappointment was somewhat dissipated by the £25’s worth of ‘frozen brandy’ that she had to accompany it. I had a single shot of said brandy, and whilst it was undoubtedly very good, I did feel a pang of guilt at discovering that I – a non-brandy drinker or fan – had spent a lavish £12.50 on a digestif.

After lunch, we asked each other whether we would visit again. The general consensus, was ‘probably, but only after quite some time’. Perhaps for those more fiscally endowed, a repeat visit would be a nearer eventuality, but for myself, such spending on lunch must be spread out (occasionally) over various places.

My rating: 7/10

The Sound of Music @ the Hippodrome: Review

18 Nov

Last night the Hippodrome was ‘alive with the sound of music’ as Connie Fisher et al took to the stage in their curtained attire to entertain an audience of all ages, with what is probably the world’s favourite musical.

The show was brilliant, and Fisher pitch perfect, if a little irritating at times, in her exaggerated clumsiness with swinging that guitar case around her head and grinning from ear to ear. Expectations were, of course, sky-high. All of us there were huge Sound of Music fans, and unable to stop ourselves from mentally comparing each stage scene to its equivalent film scene. I feel that the film compares favourably, but then who has ever preferred a screen adaptation to a beloved book?

The sets were fantastic, especially those at the Abbey, and I often felt that if I looked behind me, instead of peering into the faces of other enthralled audience-members, I would instead see the Alps looming large into the distance. For this very reason, I ignored a nagging desire to turn my head, and the view in front was certainly far more entertaining.

Michael Praed, as the Captain was handsome, though I thought, a little old with grey hair that belied the more youthful black tresses of film favourite Christopher Plummer (that is of course excluding the real-life Captain Von Trapp). He was, however charming, and exemplified that literary phrase of ‘the softening of features’ upon the realisation that Fraulein Maria has brought music back into his house.

Unfortunately sparks between Fisher and Praed were only noticeable in their absence, perhaps due to the relatively few scenes between the two prior to the Captain’s return with the Baroness. It is understandable that the show’s writers did not wish to match the films 174 minute length, though I am confident that most of the audience – myself included – would have been perfectly happy to enjoy a lengthy scene-by-scene recreation of the film classic.

The greatest moments of the show were – as in the film – when Maria sang with the children. ‘Do-Re-Mi’ was a particular highlight, and the children were brilliant; Gretl (Claudia Hall) was perfectly cute, Liesl (Claire Fishended) suitably haughty (at first) and Brigitta (Eleanor Shaw) displayed just the right amount of precociousness. I was not impressed with the liberal song-swapping that saw ‘My Favourite Things’ displaced by ‘The Lonely Goatherd’ during the thunderstorm, but could just about forgive the added songs that deservedly gave Max (Martin Callaghan) and Baroness Von Schraeder (Jacinta Mulcahy), additional stage time.

Marilyn Hill Smith, as the Mother Abbess drew an intake of breath from just about every member of the audience as she reached the dizzying heights of ‘Climb Ev’ry Mountain’s climax, with not a note out of place. Had glass been permitted in the auditorium, I’ve no doubt that the Hippodrome would have had more than one health and safety suit on their hands.

I have concluded that it is nigh impossible for a stage show to outdo a great film original, but given those limits, The Sound of Music certainly matched expectations.

Review: the Misanthrope @ Bristol Old Vic

25 Oct

In order to better oneself – you know, culturally – one should regularly take a trip to the theatre to enjoy a play in which one is unlikely to understand all of the words. But what if one doesn’t even understand the title?

Although opening myself up to ridicule I have to admit that upon being asked which play I was going to see (The Misanthrope), and what this meant (the word not my activities), I realised that I actually had no idea what misanthropy was. It is one of those words that you read a number of times, and presume to understand until actually put to the challenge. I had assumed that the definition was just out of reach on the tip of my mind’s tongue, but on later googling said word, I realised that this was nothing but self-delusion.

The definition of a misanthrope – someone who dislikes people in general – is the definition of our protagonist Alceste, a cream-blazered, shouting cynic who spends the play either rallying against social niceties and hypocrisies, or fawning pathetically over his conniving girlfriend, Celimene. Much of the first act of director Tony Harrison’s adaptation of the Moliere classic is spent with Alceste and his more moderate chum Philinte, as they argue tirelessly about the use (Philinte) or idiocy (Alceste) of social conventions.

I was quite astounded at Philip Buck’s (Philinte’s) ability to retain such close proximity to the obnoxious shouty man portrayed by Simon Armstrong. Even from the far reaches of the gallery, Alceste’s over-zealous bitching was giving me cause to hope that his increasingly red face showed signs of an impending heart attack. But, alas, he’d just forgotten to take a breath in between the last fifty words.

Fortunately, the play was rescued by Oronte, a fat man with a shiny bald pate, who brought humour and a break from Alceste’s shouting to the play with his rebuffed declarations of admiration for Alceste’s literary work and an attempted kiss. A woman just behind me practically shrieked at this hint to homosexuality, but she needn’t have worried as Celimene soon entered the scene as the object of both men’s affections.

Dorothea Myer-Bennett was pitch-perfect as the  flirtatious, social-climbing Celimene, whose clever malicious wit would cause her to be both revered and reviled. It was soon clear that Celimene rather than Alceste, was the axis of The Misanthrope, as fighting suitors and jealous women pontificated on subjects of unrequited love, prudeness and sincerity that were mostly brought about by Celimene’s self-serving behaviour.

The Misanthrope is a character-driven play that did not always play on its best characters, and which I felt was not entertaining enough to make up for lack of plot. Celimene is a great Becky Sharp-esque character, with entertaining admirers, but her boring boyfriend, whose errors stem from either the actor or the character or both, is much too prominent.

Many members of the audience audibly found Alceste’s cutting lines hilarious, but I found it all a little try-hard and was constantly distracted by the reddening of his face, as he struggled for air and bile.  I was also distracted by the sixth-former sitting next to me, who insisted on knitting with giant clacking needles throughout the entirety of the play, but that’s another story.

If I were to rate The Misanthrope, I’d probably award it 6 out of 10, but this isn’t that kind of review.