Since my trip was a few weeks ago, and I didn't take comprehensive notes, I'll be try to be as complete as possible, but please excuse any lapses.....
In a valiant attempt to fight off jet-lag, I had a cup of tea with some friends and immediately set off for the East End. Stopped into Spitalfield's Market for lunch, where, unfortunately, ate nothing worth a particular mention. I was, however, "forced" to take a sugar-free, gluten-free, wheat-free cake as a gift from the fellow New Yorker who runs a stand selling cakes of this sort. It actually wasn't too bad, so if you're in need of this kind of thing.....
There's a great little store across the street from the entrance, selling all sorts of traditional British products (preserves, cheeses, hams, mince pies, game pies, homemade puddings, etc.).
42 Brushfield Street
0207 247 2487
Craving Keralan, I had dinner at the original Rasa in Stoke Newington and, as promised by Howler, was appalled by the food. Amongst 4 of us, we managed to sample almost the entire menu, and I have to say that there was NOTHING that I found even acceptable. Seemed as if everything had been sitting around all day. The idlis were hard, the dosas were soggy, the "curries" were bland. Oh well, next time I'll go to Quilon. Don't make the same mistake I did!
Le Gavroche was nothing special either; it seems to be riding on the heavily inebriated expense-account types who packed the place at lunch. Whoever said the three-martini (or, in this case, extra large Scotch) lunch was dead?!! The bread was horrible, not the proper French bread one expects at an establishment of this caliber. I had an artichoke/pate/foie gras concoction that was very good, but didn't blow me away, followed by rabbit that was a little on the tough side. My friend had a cheese souffle that was fantastically rich and dover sole that was fried (fried!) with no sauce and some measly garnishes. Glorified fish and chips (without the chips!!) if you ask me. The cheese course was excellent (fantastic Vacherin) but desserts were so-so.
I wasn't expecting it to be quite so traditionally french, and found the service stodgy and less than competent. They tried hard, but it didn't quite seem to mesh. On one occasion, returning from the bathroom, a waiter RAN the length of the restaurant to pull out the table for me. Probably deathly afraid of getting reamed out by his boss. Of course, by the time he arrived, I was already sitting.
I didn't realize that restaurants still did this, but only I (who had booked the reservation) was given a menu with prices, while my companion (male, no less) was given a price-free one. At least they've updated this quaint custom for the 21st century.
Gordon Ramsay, on the other hand, was once again phenomenal. I was alone, as I couldn't convince any of my friends to join me, but I was able to amuse myself by watching the other patrons. I went for the seven course tasting menu this time, and was advised by Jean-Claude, the wonderful Maitre d', that I could substitute any of the a la carte dishes for those on the tasting menu, or even add courses if I felt the need. I asked the Sommelier if he would pair glasses of wine with my meal, and he suggested half glasses, which was definitely more than enough. He was extremely helpful as we talked through and chose the selections, and he also offered some off-menu bottles. I think they felt sorry for me, dining alone, as they gave me quite a few extra course that were not offered to other tables. (Here's one benefit of solo dining!!) Below is the menu w/ wine pairings:
1) Canapes: Liver Mousse, Eggplant Caviar, Cheese Spread with Black Truffles
Breadsticks, Toasted Bread Crackers, Potato Chips (Crisps)
White and Brown Rolls
2) Amuse Gueule: Pumpkin Soup with Parmesan, Black Truffle, Mushrooms
3) Sauteed Foie Gras
Banyuls Sauce, Carrot Puree, Braised Endive
1997 Mitis, Amigne de Vetroz
4) Ravioli of Lobster of Langoustine
Lobster Reduction, Chervil and Lemongrass Veloute
2001 Chateau Bauouc
5) Roasted Turbot
Baby Cos Lettuce, Vine tomato Puree, Asparagus and Cherry tomatoes
Domaine Vallet-Freres, Burgundy
6) Canon of Cornish Lamb with 8-hour Confit Shoulder
Baby onions, Spinach, Pureed parsnip, Thyme jus
Domaine de Thalabert Paul Jaboulet Aine
7) Cheese course:
Vacherin Mont d'or
Ami du chambertin
Bleu des Causses
Black Grapes, Rosemary bread, Apricot/Hazlenut Bread, Assorted Biscuits
8) Pineapple Granite with Cream
Dried Pineapple, Coconut Tuile, Coriander
9) Panna Cotta
Grenadine Star Fruit
10) Coffee Souffle
Tia Maria cream
11) Cornets with Passion fruit Mascarpone Cream
12) Espresso and Friandises: Strawberry Ice Cream Balls dipped in White Chocolate
Every single dish was fantastic and the service was wonderful. Attentive, yet not overbearing. A little on the chattier side, but I felt this was appropriate for a solo diner. I had only 2 quibbles with the meal. The white burgundy did not work with the dish, the tomatoes were too acidic and overpowered the wine. The other selections were lovely, and paired well with the food, especially the dry, yet very berry-fruity, bourdeaux blanc.
The second problem was with the fromagier. He was not very receptive to my questions (but I suspect this was more of a language barrier than anything else). Anyway, two minor bumps in a meal which surely ranks up near the very top of my list.
Portions were also the appropriate amount. I finished everything but the souffle and only glanced at the Friandises before pushing them away. I left feeling very full, but not disgustingly stuffed.
I was offered a tour of the kitchen and spoke with the lovely Chef de Cuisine, who informed me that GR had been approached to open a restaurant in the new AOL/Time Warner Building in NY, but has turned it down. However, he has not ruled out NY as a possibility.
When I mentioned that I would likely be returning to London in January, and remarked that it was difficult to get a reservation, Jean-Claude gave me his private number and said to call him anytime and he would find me a table. A nice ending to a nearly perfect meal.
The price for this feast? 119 pounds pre-tip. Cheaper than Le Gavroche, with infinitely more deliciousness and finesse.
Also had a great meal at Noura with Howler. I never knew Shish Taouk could be so juicy!! And Toum is definitely going on my list of world's greatest condiments (although I practically ate it as a main course!). I particularly liked the Bamieh bel Zeit, bite-sized okra cooked with tomato, coriander and olive oil. Also had Fatoush, Kebbeh, Muhammara, and Makanek, all delicious. I lament the lack of Lebanese restaurants in the States (at least on the East coast). I guess I'll just have to buy myself a Lebanese cookbook, and make it myself.
Had a better-than-decent(for Hampstead at least) meal at ZENW3, a "modern" chinese restaurant. Everything was very fresh and well-cooked, although not really chinese per say. I've eaten in most of the restaurants in Hampstead, and this is one of the few I would return to. If you're in need of a meal in the neighborhood it seems like a good bet, although not a destination restaurant by any means.
Had some great things from Borough Market too. Nice game terrines (oxtail, venison, pheasant) from one of the pork vendors (name?) and some good cheeses and olives from the Spanish vendor.
Had a nice tea at Fortnum's. The tea blends were very good, as were the sandwiches and scones. (Clotted Cream makes everything taste good!!). I was underwhelmed by the pastries tho, I've had better from the counters downstairs, and the room is looking rather shabby, but all-in-all a decent experience.
Random food stops include: L'Artisan du Chocolat on Lower Sloane Street. Single-bean varietals from the Carribean, Madagascar, Venezuela, Trinidad, etc.; plus standard flavors like vanilla, orange, cinnamon, honey, and coffee; more unusual flavors such as Szechuan peeper, tobacco, sesame ganache, various tea infusions, basil, wine, cardamom; and seasonal varieties like Bramley apple, strawberry grapes and pollen. These are world-class chocolates, in my opinion topped only by La Maison du Chocolat. If you haven't been, then go!
Also popped in to La Fromagerie in Highbury Park. Best selection of French cheeses in London, all in wonderful shape. Smuggled home some nice young raw-milk cheeses: brie, vacherin, etc. Damn American FDA laws!! Why would they want to keep these cheeses from us?!
And of course I made the requisite stop at Neal's Yard Dairy before I left.
I think I've included most of what I ate. Quite a lot of food for 4 days! It's wonder I didn't come home 10 pounds heavier. I'll be back at some point in January and hope to try Mohsen and Quilon, as well as return to GR and Noura. Any other suggestions? There's got to be at least ONE decent Indian (of any type) in London. Howler?