Archive for ‘Restaurant reviews’

June 15, 2011

Restaurant review: Sketch Lecture Room and Library

One of the reasons that we haven’t been posting so many Last Night’s Dinner entries to the ETP blog of late is that we have been celebrating. Yes, it’s been my birthday and a fairly significant one too (ahem). So we’ve eaten out, indulged in too much Champagne, stayed up too late and had that strange next-day feeling that can only be described as a food hangover. We’ve eaten some rather lovely veggie food too. Top of the meals was at the Lecture Room and Library at Sketch in Mayfair.

Now, we’ve eaten at Sketch before, downstairs in the Gallery restaurant. We’ve utilised the egg-shaped pod toilet cubicles and we’ve been gloriously drunk on free cocktails in the sunken, circular members bar. We’ve even been to a party in the Gallery and drunk little bottles of Pommery through a straw while watching Tracy Emin dance with her mum to Roy Orbison’s ‘Pretty Woman’. But upstairs at the Lecture Room and Library? No. Not a chance. Not a big enough wallet. Too posh. Seen the reports about the prices. Ain’t nuttin’ doin’. Except…

Except the Gourmet Rapide lunch menu offers three generous courses for £48, including a half bottle each of mineral water, a half bottle each of wine (and yes, that means you get a whole bottle of wine on a table for two), plus coffee and petit fours. Oh and an ongoing supply of bread, and a round of amuses bouche appetisers to get things going. You can even do two courses without wine for £30. Now, given that some of the main courses from the a la carte rock in at the £50-£60 mark (seriously!), this is astonishingly good value, especially as there was no real sign of compromise on the quality of the food they delivered: all of it impeccable Michelin-starred elegance.

And yes, a vegetarian route runs right through the prix fixe menu. First, those amuses bouche: not one little taster but a selection including some miniature parmesan biscuits, crisp cumin scented crackers and a cleansing seaweed consomme. The first course came as four separate dishes and was listed, slightly confusingly, as “Tomato Jelly and Nasturtium Flower / Thao’s Avocado / Tamarillo Sorbet / Rhubarb / Brie and Gingerbread / Hibiscus Syrup / Celery”. But you get the picture – four tantalising plates with delicate combinations of taste, texture and temperature. It was a little journey all of its own, beginning with the fresh zip of tomato – the prettiest of small plates, dotted with nasturtium. Then a richer, deeper sorbet, followed by a tiny open sandwich of oozing brie on a gingerbread biscuit atop a sour rhubarb reduction that perfectly cut through the richness of it’s rivals. And then onward again, with the clear notes of celery to refresh your palate for the main.

That main only needed two dishes: one for a lettuce velouté with Ratte potato gnocchi that demonstrated a light springtime touch with a classic formulation of spuds and greens; the second for a salad of artichoke and pear with a not-overpowering gorgonzola ice cream.

We took a choice of desserts, Ella opting for a selection of cheeses (including a fine Stinking Bishop) at a £10 supplement – it came with sarasson cream, mostarda di Cremona, crackers and grapes seasoned with olive oil and Maldon salt. Cheese courses sometimes disappoint. Not here. I went for the dessert ‘Pierre Gagnaire’ (for it is that chef’s name which sits at the top of the menu). It came as two separate dishes: a salad of strawberries and raspberries and a good slab of chocolate dessert that I can remember little about other than that it was eaten enthusiastically.

It’s been a while since Ella and I have eaten at such a top-end place. Sketch really is a destination restaurant but, after the hype that surrounded its opulent rooms and exorbitant prices died away a few years ago, it seems almost to have been forgotten about in the press. A new tranche of fine dining places have come to the fore – Hibiscus is just round the corner and Heston Blumenthal’s new venture, Dinner, is serving up headlines for the foodie hacks at about the same rate Sketch did a decade ago. But it’s still an amazing room. And, with the fixed lunch menu, surprisingly affordable too. For a special occasion, of course. Which this was. Thanks Ella.

March 14, 2011

Restaurant review: Galvin at Windows

It was Ella’s birthday on Friday and we’d booked a table at Galvin at Windows, which sits rather spectacularly on the 28th floor of the Park Lane Hilton, London. I like the Galvin brothers’ restaurants, especially their Galvin La Chapelle. There’s something about the way you feel fussed over while dining, without them being overly fussy. Plus, they have a keen eye for a space. Windows is no different. Tables overlook Hyde Park and Buckingham Palace Gardens – from on high. You can see Crystal Palace in one direction and over to Alexandra Palace in the other. Try and get a seat by a window if you book, as we did, otherwise you may leave wondering what the fuss was about.

When meat eaters tell me about restaurants, they often utter the words, “You’d like it at [insert restaurant name here] because there’s lots of choice for veggies.” Well, let’s get one thing straight, I don’t really care that much about choice – I’m used to not having any: what I want, primarily, is good food. A ropey but fully vegetarian restaurant gives me choice, yet somehow I don’t want to take my wife there for her special birthday meal, do I? So no, as with many fine dining joints, you won’t find much that constitutes choice at Galvin at Windows, but you can take advantage of the vegetarian offering on their set lunch menu, which currently comes in at £45 for three courses, half a bottle of wine and coffee.

We asked about the vegetarian options. On booking they’d said there always was one. The menu seemed to have other ideas though – the most non-meat starter was almost veggie, apart from some snails. No matter, however, as not only could they refine this choice in the kitchen for us, but we could also choose from the vegetarian a la carte options as well.

From the latter list we chose a starter of salad of root vegetables, deep-fried organic egg, truffle dressing, baby leaves and fresh chestnut. The salad was nutty and, yes, fresh, well seasoned and pleasingly textured – from the soft warm yolk to the crunch of the chestnut and yellow beets. Highlight of the meal.

The main was a risotto (Must Try Harder!) of pumpkin and sage, made more Michelin-y by the presence of a slightly foamy sage cream, toasted chopped hazelnuts and a slick of a deep green vegetal jus. It worked – just. Last, for me, came a buttermilk pannacotta with rhubarb. The rhubarb came as a sorbet, a jelly and a confit. Ella had a Manjari chocolate ganache, hazelnut and salted caramel. Both disappeared pretty much without trace.

The Galvin brothers’ London restaurants, I remarked (and as I probably have done before – sorry Ella), are really fine dining restaurants as they, basically, should be done. Basically. Yes, with an extra star or two you’d get more refinement. Yes, the quality occasionally drops. But, but… if you hadn’t ever been to a fine dining restaurant before, go to one of them and you’d know, basically, what it was all about. A primer. Entry level. Could be better. Could be a lot worse. But I can always relax in them and enjoy a meal – which we did. And you can’t always say that about restaurants.