Monday, February 27, 2012

Satay House Paddington

In search of a break from the luxuries of Mayfair, Mr Oil and Mr Vinegar wandered up the Edgware Road and turned left to visit Satay House, one of London’s relatively few Malaysian restaurants.

MrO: It’s a long time since I wandered around at night in Paddington.
MrV: I doubt that very much. Anyway, this isn’t really Paddington – not enough hotels where you can rent rooms by the hour.
MrO: That would be your speciality, not mine.
MrV: What on earth possessed you to drag us through the midst all those Middle Eastern bong houses on the Edgware Road.
MrO: They are called hookah lounges and I felt the walk would do us good. And their aroma was delightful.
MrV: I don’t call it delightful, sitting outside in the freezing cold smoking raspberries through a bong.
MrO: Well they were all enjoying themselves, and that’s the important thing. Rather like all the people at Satay House appeared to be. It was a very jolly collection, all well-mannered people, plenty of them Asian…
MrV: …Always a good sign in an Asian restaurant. Although I thought that child might ruin our evening by talking loudly – until it started singing. Heavenly. Almost made me like children.
MrO: It is very much a family place – the same family have been running it for nearly 40 years.
MrV: It is also a tiny place – probably can’t manage more than 30 covers, and that would be a squeeze. And yet they manage to turn out some very fine food.
MrO: It was interesting to compare the food to the stuff we had a few days earlier at Patara, which is part of a very successful chain and probably has a much grander kitchen. I know Malaysian food is different from Thai in many ways but Malaysia is such a melting pot of different influences that there are some direct comparisons to be made.
MrV: The satay sauce was to my mind better than Patara’s and much closer to the satay at Bangkok in South Kensington, which has the best I know in Britain.
MrO: Satay of course was not a Thai dish. It originated in Indonesia and everyone else in the region adopted it. I think our other starter, Ikan Bilis and Kacang, is also originally from Indonesia.
MrV: That was outstanding – so simple and delicious.
MrO: All they do is fry some chilli, crispy anchovies and peanuts in a sweetened oil. Apparently it goes with all sort of things.
MrV: I could eat it every day.
MrO: How do you reckon Satay House fared with your rule that the main courses in Asian restaurants never live up to the starters?
MrV: For the first time, I think, that rule was broken. The two main courses were faultless. I cannot choose between the king prawns fried in ground shrimp and hot chillis, or the beef rendang.
MrO: Rendang is yet another Indonesian dish. The Indonesians seem to be responsible for the much of the best Far Eastern food but they don’t have many restaurants in London to show off their talents. I wonder why?
MrV: Perhaps because there’s no need – the Thais, the Vietnamese and particularly the Malaysians have pinched their best dishes and now serve them up to us as their own.
MrO: I suppose London is quite similar to Malaysia in that way, cherry-picking the best of all the cultures that come its way.
MrV: Oh god, you’re getting philosophical. Anyway, the vegetable dish was very good – stir-fried morning glory. That phrase has come to mean something else in recent years but it was originally given to this Chinese vegetable because of its extraordinary laxative qualities.
MrO: Trust you to know that. How was your pudding?
MrV: Quite comical the way they spell it “ais krim” on the menu – a perfect example of them taking something foreign and doing it their own way. The cinnamon ice cream was sensational – beautifully creamy and flavourful.
MrO: I thought that viognier was quite good value at £23.50 a bottle.
MrV: So did I, but checking the receipt it seems they only charged us £22 a bottle. Perhaps it was slightly different to the one listed, but I didn’t notice.
MrO: I’m surprised you noticed anything, considering that you’d had drinks before, a vodka-and-tonic when you got there and then drank most of the wine yourself.

Mr Oil and Mr Vinegar ate one serving of prawn crackers, two starters, two main courses and one pudding, accompanied by one vodka-and-tonic, two bottles of white wine and two bottles of water, for a remarkable total outlay of £115.88.

Satay House
13 Sale Place
W2 1PX

+44 (0)207 723 6763

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Patara, Maddox Street, Mayfair

Mr Oil and Mr Vinegar have journeyed to the far east of Mayfair to sample the Thai goodies on offer at Patara. It was a mixed experience.

MrO: Whatever you say about that lunch, it certainly started extremely well.
MrV: The staff were utterly charming, initially, and the starters were delightful, although I can’t help comparing them to Bangkok in South Kensington, which I think offers tastier satay and fish cakes.
MrO: I know what you mean – the satay sauce could have had a dash more peanut and the fishcakes a little more spicy heat, but they were delicious nonetheless. And the fish cakes included those prawn cakes on sticks of lemon grass, which were excellent and which I haven’t seen at Bangkok. The do-it-yourself tacos with chicken and prawn were inspired.
MrV: Quite comical that they are called kamon bueng DIY. Evidently the Thai language doesn’t have a word or acronym for DIY.
MrO: I daresay that’s the fusion of old and modern Thailand. What did you think of the main courses?
MrV: Ah, well, this is where we hit the perennial problem of Thai food – the mains courses never live up to the starters. I knew we should have ordered half a dozen starters, but you insisted on the boring, traditional approach.
MrO: The mains were beautifully described. Who could resist a “thick cut of grilled wild boar steak sautéed in coconut red curry sauce with sweet basil”?
MrV: I certainly could, having tried it once. There was no flavour of boar at all that I could discern – just that sweet coconut taste swamping everything else. I wonder if it was farmed wild boar, rather than genuinely wild. If it was farmed it would naturally have less flavour than a truly wild beast. There are plenty of wild boar farms in the UK now but I can’t think why they are allowed to call the produce “wild” when clearly it isn’t. Why haven’t the bossy EU commissioners made them change the name of the meat?
MrO: Well, the rice noodles with king prawns were very tasty.
MrV: They looked fine at first glance but as you know on closer inspection I found that the intestinal tract of one of them had not been removed, and it was full. I am sure I don’t need to tell you what lurks in a prawn’s intestinal tract, but you are probably aware that they are bottom feeders and will eat anything they find, even previously digested items, provided there is some nutritional value left in them.
MrO: I thought that there was no harm in eating the intestinal tract.
MrV: I am no scientist, but it certainly doesn’t appeal. What irritated me more was that when I showed the waiter the offending king prawn, he grunted non-committedly, took it from me and disappeared. No explanation, apology, replacement or refund was offered.
MrO: There was another dish we tried – the melange of seafood in piquant chilli sauce.
MrV: I recall ordering it and I remember it arriving on the table, but there my memory stops.
MrO: Well you certainly ate your fair share of it – rather more, I would suggest.
MrV: Possibly so, but I remember nothing about it at all. Perhaps the sweet coconut sauce on the tame boar drowned my taste buds for a time.
MrO: You seemed to enjoy the wine all right – you drank most of the two bottles we ordered.
MrV: The restaurant can’t claim much credit for that – it was Pinot Grigio, made a long way from either London or Thailand.
MrO: Patara is a very successful small chain of restaurants. It is extremely popular and well reviewed. But you would not go again?
MrV: I would, I suppose, but I would run through the starter list and go nowhere near the main courses. And I think I’d go in the evening, as the décor doesn’t really suit daylight.

Mr Oil and Mr Vinegar ate three starters and three main courses between them, washed down with two bottles of Pinot Grigio and three further glasses of house white wine, plus coffee, at a total cost of about £180.

7 Maddox Street

+44 (0) 207 499 6007

Monday, February 20, 2012

Arts Club Dover Street, Mayfair

Mr Vinegar has been taken to the relaunched and newly-fashionable Arts Club Dover Street in Mayfair, by Mrs Oil, who now regrets deputising for her husband.

MrsO: Sorry about the problems.
MrV: They were apparent from the outset. The reception area was utterly shambolic. The young girls in charge do not have a clue. Perhaps they are more members of Arjun Waney’s family drafted in to pad the staff of this place
MrsO: Who is Arjun Waney?
MrV: He’s the entrepreneur who’s bought the Arts Club along with some property bloke called Gary. Waney and Gary. Dear oh dear. Waney is behind Zuma and Roka and La Petite Maison. Most of the people on the board of the Arts Club are called Waney – apart from the Duke of Edinburgh. He’s the official patron. Lord knows what he thinks of the service, never mind the members. Mind you, he’s used to Palace servants so presumably anything seems good to him.
MrsO: Well I don’t know about Palace servants but I think you should give the young girls on reception a chance. They’re only young.
MrV: It was a relief to get into the brasserie dining room, which looked wonderful, I must confess. I hadn’t been for 10 years or so and in those days it all looked pretty dingy. In fact, I first started coming here in the 1980s and I must say, the food was quite disgusting in those days. Most of its members worked round the corner at the Arts Council and treated the place as their canteen.
MrsO: It was a beautiful dining room full of natural light and looking most inviting.
MrV: Yes, and it seemed impressive that there were six chefs working behind that sort of open-plan kitchen bar, but they all seemed very frantic given that there was hardly anyone in the place when we arrived.
MrsO: Well, to be fair, we were very early.
MrV: True, but it was long past sun-up so I could see no reason for our waitress to be plodding around like something from a horror movie. It was all I could do not to call her Igor.
MrsO: You did. You said “Our waitress is Igor” and she heard you.
MrV: Yes but I covered quickly and said “A very eager waitress indeed.” Anyway, I was somewhat mollified, momentarily, by the rather enticing menu.
MrsO: It looked perfect for a brasserie. The prawn cocktail was sensational the previous time I was here so I thought the crab would be interesting, and it was excellent, if a little late.
MrV: I was not at all happy that they didn’t have the Padron peppers as advertised. Why couldn’t Igor have told us the Padrons were off when it gave us the menu. And then to make matters worse, they brought my deep-fried courgettes fifteen minutes before your long-suffering crab arrived.
MrsO: They explained that. The waitress and that very young manager told us that the chef can only produce food as he sees fit.
MrV: What the devil does that mean – as he sees fit? It should be as ordered. It should be as the paying customer sees fit. The chef, Raphael Duntoye, has worked in some very serious kitchens including La Tante Claire. When he ran La Petite Maison he was much praised, so what’s this primadonna nonsense doing in his kitchen now?
MrsO: Well, we enjoyed our langoustine, at least. Mine were quite delicious and also looked very splendid.
MrV: Yours did look good and so did most of mine - except for the old one which had not been cleaned. And why couldn’t they serve the side orders at the same time as the main course? Why did they bring my fries when I was still eating my starter? Oh yes, because “the chef can only produce food as he sees fit.” I really wonder who is running this kitchen. Was Duntoye actually in charge that day or had he drafted in some sort of pantomime chef to give the kitchen staff a good laugh at the customers’ expense?
MrsO: Goodness, you were upset by it all, weren’t you? Anyway, what did you think of the Café Liegeois. It is their star dessert.
MrV: They poured coffee over the chocolate which is very dramatic, but this was not the correct presentation of the classic French dessert, as there was no crème Chantilly. It is not an optional ingredient with this dish. Before he became a chef, Duntoye was an engineer. Do you suppose he whimsically left bits out and stuck on other bits too early or too late when he was engineering things? I must find out what things he engineered and steer well clear of them. Perhaps he was responsible for engineering the taps in the lavatory as they didn’t work, despite the noisy efforts of a rather sinister-looking employee – a friend of Igor’s, no doubt.
MrsO: Aren’t you taking it all a bit seriously? It is only a club, after all.
MrV: They call it a club, but it did not seem very friendly to me, with unsavoury looking members in polyester shirts dotted about the place and prices far higher than those in respectable clubs – all for haphazard food and very surly service
MrsO: You have been very strident in your criticisms and I must admit it was not their best day, but will you give it another chance?
MrV: Not when there is so much competition from people who passionately care about service and ambience. I do not want ever to come back.

Mrs Oil and Mr Vinegar had a starter and main course each and shared one pudding, washed down with two bottles of Gavi di Gavi (at £55 each) for a total cost of about £250 (excludes an annual membership subscription of £1,000).

The Arts Club
40 Dover Street

+44 (0) 207 499 8581

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Hawksmoor Seven Dials Covent Garden

Mr Oil and Mr Vinegar have followed their keen noses to the much-lauded new steak house in Covent Garden, Hawksmoor Seven Dials, with a beautiful young lady friend.

MrO: The space at Hawksmoor is absolutely huge, isn’t it?
MrV: Literally cavernous. Those great brick caverns under Covent Garden still have not been fully exploited, I believe. But the din when they are full can be awful. All those shouting designers and their cackling secretaries, all that brick and stone. Dreadful cacophony.
MrO: Well it wasn’t full when we went – it was lovely and calm.
MrV: Hardly surprising for a Monday lunchtime.
MrO: One of the things I like best about it is that it is so big, they can allow a bit more space per diner than most restaurants in this part of the world. The chairs were wide and comfortable.
MrV: Yes, although perhaps they were a little low.
MrO: And the service was good.
MrV: As I said, it was Monday lunchtime – not as if the staff were particularly pushed, was it?
MrO: But most importantly, I thought the food was first class.
MrV: It was admittedly outstanding.
MrO: The Dorset crab on toast was very good indeed.
MrV: So were our young lady friend’s Plum Pudding ribs. I had thought that they would be covered in some sort of plum sauce, but apparently Plum Pudding is the name of the pig breeder.
MrO: She was rather defeated by the enormity of the starter. Fortunately you were able to eat much of it for her.
MrV: yes, I’m good like that. My clams in bacon broth were very ine with one reservation – the bacon bone broth. Had it been any stronger, I wouldn’t have been able to taste the clams. But it was completely overwhelmed by the big chunk of strong bread served with it.
MrO: Sounds like your problem was with the bread, not the broth.
MrV: Whatever. How was your steak? I think you and the young lady had the rib-eye?
MrO: It was sensational, although there was so much of mine I couldn’t finish it.
MrV: She didn’t have the same problem. I thought for a moment I was sharing a table with T-rex.
MrO: That’s not kind. It was delicious steak and probably not something she gets very often at her educational establishment.
MrV: They are indeed good steaks, all from the Ginger Pig company. It’s partly owned by a neighbour of mine in Yorkshire so I’ve had it often before, although never the D-rump.
MrO: What was that like?
MrV: Cheapest of the lot – only £20 – but 55-day aged and very rich in flavour, albeit expectedly chewy. One minor quibble about that: I asked for medium rare but to my mind got rare – an important distinction with the tougher cuts.
MrO: I loved the side offerings of two fried eggs, roasted bone marrow or half a lobster.
MrV: Yes, I wanted them all but settled for the bone marrow, which was fabulous. My triple-fried chips were slightly chewy. Perhaps they were meant to complement the rump.
MrO: Well, I did warn you that you’d be better off with the beef dripping chips – brilliantly crispy. The puddings were extraordinary though, weren’t they?
MrV: It says a great deal of our sophistication that we essentially ordered steak and ice cream for lunch.
MrO: The young lady was slightly more sophisticated than that – she had peanut shortbread with her ice cream.
MrV: And had the decency not to go into anaglyptic shock or whatever it’s called. Most young people today seem to carry a loaded syringe with instructions to stab them in the heart if they so much as smell a peanut.
MrO: Anyway the shortbread was very good as was the salted caramel ice cream.
MrV: it was a bold ice cream – most chefs are a little scared of salted caramel and weaken the flavour, but not this one. I think my favourite thing of the lunch, though, was the cornflake ice cream. I am going to try it at home, as it is such a clever idea.
MrO: The Haut Batailley 2004 was delicious. What did you think of the value?
MrV: Well, it retails at not much more than £26 so £95 is looking on the steep side, particularly when you factor in the restaurant’s trade or bulk discount.

Mr Oil, Mr Vinegar and their young lady friend had three courses each plus three glasses of Chablis, a bottle of fine claret and some mineral water and coffee at a total cost of £310.

Hawksmoor Seven Dials
11 Langley St.

+44 207 420 9390

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

34 Grosvenor Square Mayfair - addendum

Having favourably reviewed 34 Grosvenor Square with Mr Oil in late November 2011, Mr Vinegar took his wife there in early January 2012 to celebrate her birthday – and wasn’t quite so impressed.

MrO: So, what was the problem?
MrV: There was more than one. In the first place, I’d asked for a table at the other end of the room from the piano player but we were put virtually next to him. In the second place, we were put next to three very drunken, loud, swearing men who were there purely to drink. The three of them, two of whom were very fat, were squeezed round a table for two on the banquette, which made things even worse. I cannot understand why they weren’t at the bar. If they hadn’t left when they did, we would have walked out. Thirdly, the quality was inconsistent. Our steaks were excellent but the chips were chewy and my sloe gin jelly had a very rubbery texture, which happens to jelly when it dehydrates – for instance, if it’s been made some days beforehand. And fourthly, the service was inattentive at best, distracted at worst. I sat with my hand up, like a schoolboy wanting permission to go to the lavatory, for ten minutes before someone came and took my wife’s drinks order. And later, when I explicitly asked for coffee to be brought after my pudding, they just brought the coffee and had to be reminded about the pudding.
MrO: Do you have anything good to say about it?
MrV: Well, the room remains very pleasant, the food was generally very good and it is clearly a big hit, being full on a Monday evening in early January. But perhaps its popularity is the problem. I got the feeling that, having realised that it is a success, everyone has relaxed. This is a crucial moment for any restaurant. Do you remember what happened when Christopher’s in Covent Garden became an overnight success 20-odd years ago? The waiters thought they ran the place and they almost destroyed it. I hope 34 doesn’t go the same way.

Mr Vinegar and his wife consumed two first courses, two main courses and one pudding, one glass of champagne, two glasses of white wine and a 500ml carafe of red, two cups of coffee and mineral water, at a total cost of £232.

34 Grosvenor Square
London W1K 2HD

+44 (o) 203 350 3434

Monday, January 9, 2012

Rim Rock Cafe, Whistler, Canada

Mr Oil and Mr Vinegar enjoyed the New Year festivities en famille at the Rim Rock Café, widely regarded as the best restaurant in the foodie ski resort of Whistler, western Canada. The restaurant did not disappoint – though the same cannot be said of the local cab firm, Whistler Taxis.

MrO: I told you that was a jolly good place. The food was superb and the drink was a revelation. Every time I go to British Columbia I am more impressed by the progress they are making with their wines.
MrV: You pay for it, though, compared to other New World wines.
MrO: Anyone putting that much care into their wine-making is entitled to a return on it. In any case, in the liquor stores and lower-grade restaurants you can buy the blended stuff pretty cheaply.
MrV: Well, I’m not disagreeing with you about the restaurant or the wine list. It was indeed as good as you promised. But it was a great shame the evening started so badly. I do wish that the resort – which is after all dominated by some very powerful corporate interests – would do something to sort out the taxi situation.
MrO: The taxis were a disgrace, I acknowledge. To give no idea of when the taxi would arrive, to keep us waiting an hour, and then charge C$75 for a three-mile journey is just plain theft, particularly as we paid only C$12 fifteen minutes later. You should have stood up to him.
MrV: All very well for you to say but Whistler is your bailiwick, not mine, and I had all those impatient teenagers in the car with me. I was keen to move on.
MrO: Anyway, I think the restaurant owner behaved superbly when he heard what had happened, refunding C$60 out of his own pocket to mollify you. I always say that dealing with a problem well does more for a restaurant’s good reputation than having no problems at all.
MrV: I wonder if he’ll follow up on his promise to hunt down the errant cabbie and hound him out of a job. I hope so.
MrO: A lovely thought to start the New Year. But getting back to the food, I thought it was outstanding. The Kumomoto oysters were extremely tasty. Canadian love tiny little concentrated oysters. Maybe it’s because the big ones are so plentiful out there. You can get six shucked fresh giant oysters in a tub in the local supermarket for C$6.99.
MrV: The creamy seafood chowder was also delicious – an excellent first course. What was your second course?
MrO: The beef carpaccio with wild onion tart was very fine – although my son claimed that the carpaccio was a little bland. I disagree.
MrV: My steamed mussels were plump and juicy and the mariniere was perfect.
MrO: I had particularly been looking forward to the main course, though, and was very pleased with it. Apart from the Japanese restaurants, there doesn’t seem to be anywhere other than the Rim Rock to get great seafood dishes in Whistler. My trio of lobster, scallops and prawns with parmesan risotto was wonderful.
MrV: And I have to confess the filet mignon was very well-sourced and cooked to perfection. I wasn’t so keen on the pudding. Can’t abide any sort of cheesecake, let alone mocha cheesecake.
MrO: No, but it was in fact a trio of puddings and you managed the chocolate mousse and raspberry yoghurt freeze without any noticeable difficulty. What about the wines?
MrV: I was a bit worried when I first saw the list. The mark-up on French wines is rather horrifying in Canada. Perhaps because the state controls the sale of alcohol they turn the screws on imports. But you’d think that with so many Canadians being loyal to France they’d have found a way around the import duties, if that’s what’s causing the problems. I saw a £160 bottle of 1995 Cos D’Estournel marked up to C$750, which is pretty close to £500. I noticed that Guy Hands was at the table next to us but couldn’t see if he was drinking the expensive stuff. Perhaps not, as the other man at the table looked a bit of a cheapskate.
MrO: I was very pleased that we felt compelled to order the BC wines instead and I was thrilled with both the Haywire pinot gris at C$48 and the Hillside Estate merlot cabernet franc at $52. I looked up the red afterwards and the rim Rock was charging little more than double the retail cost of it, which I think is very generous compared to British restaurants. It is a great shame it is impossible to get British Columbian wines in the UK.

Mr Oil and Mr Vinegar, with two other adults and five teenagers, had nine set-price menus at C$99 each, accompanied by unremembered quantities of wine and soft drinks, at a total cost of C$1,450, or approximately £900, including state taxes and a generous tip.

Rim Rock Café
2117 Whistler Rd
British Columbia

+1 (604) 932-5565

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

34 Grosvenor Square Mayfair

Mr Oil and Mr Vinegar have been to the newest star in the Mayfair restaurant firmament – and the Caprice Holdings stable - and been very impressed.

MrV: You wait ages for a new steak restaurant to open up in Mayfair, and then two come along at once.
MrO: It’s doesn’t seem right to compare them – at least, not 34 Grosvenor Square – to a London bus. I thought it was outstanding.
MrV: 34 is an object lesson in how to do things properly, unlike its rival Cut in the old Playboy Club premisesin Park Lane. I must say I disliked that place intensely. The service was very patchy and the food decidedly unimpressive considering the razzmatazz that went with the launch.
MrO: Everyone was very excited that it is Wolfgang Puck’s first restaurant in Europe.
MrV: I’d never heard of him before. But after eating at his restaurant I’m inclined to think that Puck and Cut are typographical errors.
MrO: But you clearly approved of 34.
MrV: A different thing entirely. Richard Caring and Jesus Adorno have excelled themselves here.
MrO: You don’t mind the prices?
MrV: I’m happy to pay top dollar for top quality.
MrO: You certainly didn’t stint, though I am glad you insisted we both have the Jamón Ibérico de Bellota. It is quite the most delicious Jamón Ibérico I’ve ever had.
MrV: The pigs are fed only on the tenderest acorns to produce that flavour and texture. Worth every penny of £22.
MrO: There’s a lot of it. When I next go there I’ll be tempted to have one of those between two.
MrV: It is a very comfortable room, particularly if you’re on the separate tables rather than the banquettes. A much nicer space than PucknCut’s flashy, soulless place. It makes one feel terribly prosperous just being there.
MrO: Is that why you ordered a £70 wagyu steak?
MrV: Precisely.
MrO: I was quite happy with my £19 sliced rump steak. It was excellent – although tasting a bit of your wagyu before I’d tasted the rump was mistake, as the rump was rather drowned by the other’s richness. I’m not sure I’ve ever eaten from an indoor charcoal barbecue before.
MrV: It is an incredible contraption, isn’t it? Made specially for them in Argentina. The smoke extraction alone must be some sort of work of art.
MrO: I think it will draw in the rich and the curious. This place looks like it will become very fashionable quite quickly.
MrV: Yes, but it’s probably expensive enough to keep out the hairdressers and secretaries. I hope it doesn’t attract too many Mayfair property spivs. Nothing kills a restaurant’s atmosphere and appeal quicker than a spiv with an entourage, chucking money about the place.
MrO: That tends not to happen in Richard Caring’s restaurants, I would say.
MrV: Not in most of them, I agree, but look at Annabel’s. Ghastly.
MrO: It was a shame you didn’t try a pudding. My sloe gin jelly with lemon sorbet was exceptional.
MrV: Ice cream and jelly – not an original idea.
MrO: No, but brilliantly executed and that’s what counts. What did you think of the wine list?
MrV: It’s a decent list and I guess their customer base won’t quibble at the prices, though I was a little surprised to see Chateau Musar 2003 at £19.75 a glass when you can get a wholeb ottle of the stuff from Majestic for £17.99.
MrO: The Californian Duckhorn Decoy was very good – much more European in style than most California wines.
MrV: Again, quite pricey. I think you can get that for less than a quarter of what 34 charged us – but hey-ho, it’s only money.

Mr Oil and Mr Vinegar consumed two starters, two main courses and one pudding, washed down with two large vodka-and-tonics, two bottles of wine, one large Poire Williams and four further glasses of wine, plus mineral water and coffee, at a total cost of about £500.

34 Grosvenor Square
London W1K 2HD

+44 (o) 203 350 3434

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Kiku, Mayfair

Mr Oil and Mr Vinegar have been to one of Mayfair’s most long-established restaurants – Kiku, which has been serving unpretentious Japanese food for more than 30 years.

MrV: I think what I like most about Kiku is that it hasn’t followed the poncey fashion for modernising the Japanese concept that everyone else has done since Nobu.

MrO: I know what you mean, but I do wish you’d stop pronouncing Nobu as ‘Knob-you’ – it’s very childish and most people stopped saying it shortly after the place opened – nearly 15 years ago. On that basis you may as well call this place 'Kick-you'.

MrV: Good idea.

MrO: Ow!

MrV: It was your idea. Anyway, I’ll call it what I like but that’s beside my point about the Europeanisation of Japanese restaurants like Roka and Zuma and many others. There’s nothing wrong with them doing it, I suppose, but I prefer the simple, slightly Spartan approach.

MrO: That’s not what you said when you sat down at Kiku.

MrV: Well, you can take the Spartan approach too far, of course, as they may have done with those chairs. There was nothing at all to those seat cushions. I may as well have been sitting directly onto the wood. Very hard on my poor bottom.

MrO: It looks substantial enough to withstand any deprivation. How was your salmon sashimi?

MrV: Perfect. People think there’s not much to sashimi but it’s all in the buying and the slicing and I have no quibbles over the sourcing or the presentation.

MrO: High praise from you. My sushi rolls were very good, too.

MrV: Most British people think sushi rolls are a rather brutish clump of vaguely flavoured rice, thanks to the gullet-blocking supermarket and sandwich shop versions.

MrO: Kiku’s was a great deal more delicate. After that I had the beef teriyaki, which was absolutely delicious. Very good quality beef and cooked exactly as I’d asked them.

MrV: I was also quite impressed by the silver cod. The marinade of sake and miso paste transform what I’ve always found to be rather a dull fish. I can never understand why cod stocks are running out so fast when it’s so dreary to eat. Except when the Japanese smarten it up.

MrO: I loved the prawn tempura. So many places get this wrong by over-cooking it.

MrV: 60 to 90 seconds, depending on how many pieces you have in the oil, is all that’s required. I agree, it was very good.

MrO: There seems to be something wrong with you. You are not your usual curmudgeonly self.

MrV: It may have been all that chilled sake. It seems to leave me in a lighter mood than I’m left in by claret.

MrO: Then we must come here more often.

Mr Oil and Mr Vinegar drank two vodka-and-tonics, two bottles of chilled sake and six dishes – most from the main courses section of the menu – at a total cost of £187.99.

17 Half Moon Street

+44 (0) 207 499 4208/9

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Hakkasan Mayfair

Mr Oil and Mr Vinegar have been to Hakkasan Mayfair, one of the newest fine restaurants in the area.

MrV: The Chinese restaurants I grew up with seem to be a thing of the past. Scuttling Chinamen and mountains of gelatinous food. I rather miss them.
MrO: What absolute nonsense. No one can possibly miss mono-sodium glutamate or faux-servile waiters bowing and scraping.
MrV: Or stray pets in the food, I suppose.
MrO: The old high street Chinese restaurant may be largely a thing of the past but it was very useful for educating the British palate away from fish and chips or boiled beef and potatoes.
MrV: There’s none of that here, is there? It’s all rather fancy – Chinese with a posh European twist probably sums it up.
MrO: Sesame prawn toast with foie gras and peking duck with beluga caviar are perfect examples.
MrV: What is this Royal sweetcorn soup, though? Did someone crown the Jolly Green Giant?
MrO: I found all the food we had quite exceptional. The Shanghai dumpling was delicious but the soft-shell crab was outstanding and the mound of crispy fried egg-yolk threads it was buried in gave the dish a completely new texture.
MrV: Yes, I enjoyed that. I thought the salt and pepper squid was confusing – the squid was cooked perfectly but the batter was a bit chewy. How can that happen? Perhaps they were sitting around for a while.
MrO: Our glamorous young female guest seemed to enjoy them without complaint.
MrV: Well, you know these young girls. She was probably so impressed with the surroundings that we could have given her Pot Noodles and she wouldn’t have noticed.
MrO: What rot. She was very discerning. She agreed with me that the pak choi was quite unexpectedly brilliant. Who would have thought that pak choi could excite one?
MrV: They were very small. I wonder if they just gave us the hearts or whether you can buy tiny pak choi. It was certainly tender, but at £11 for a vegetable side dish it would have to be damned special.
MrO: The main courses were very fine. Usually in oriental restaurants, I find that the starters are the thing and the main courses a little disappointing, but that wasn’t the case here. The spicy prawns...
MrV: ...which weren’t spicy...
MrO: ...which may not have been particularly spicy, were nonetheless excellent. What about the sweet and sour pork?
MrV: Sweet and sour dishes in conventional Chinese restaurants have always rather disgusted me. They taste like orange-flavoured ketchup, or something. Fit only for children and their nannies. But this stuff was very good. None of that cloying mixture of sugar and vinegar, although for all I know both ingredients may well have been in there, but whatever it was worked well.
MrO: I liked the Peking-style duck. It might have been interesting to try the one with the caviar but I thought the one without was more than adequate and perfectly reasonably priced at £19.50.
MrV: The prices here are pretty steep.
MrO: Well, you say that, but our first courses cost between £8 and £13.50 and none of our main course choices more than £20, which is bordering on very reasonable for this part of London. The fact that the wine cost £55 a bottle and you insisted on ordering two of them had a far greater impact on the cost.
MrV: It was quite a pleasant Chablis, though, wasn’t it?
MrO: Agreed. On balance, I think I prefer this Hakkasan to the original one off Tottenham Court Road.
MrV: Me too. I think on that basis we should call this one the Godfather II Hakkasan.
MrO: The general manager looks a bit like someone from the Godfather II, don’t you think?
MrV: No, he looks more like Gomez from the Addams Family. But not the Adams family that hang out nearby in Shepherd Market, I hasten to add.

Mr Oil, Mr Vinegar and their youthful female friend ate prawn crackers, three starters, three main courses and three puddings and drank two vodka-and-tonics and two bottles of wine, plus coffee, water etc, at a total cost of about £310.

Hakkasan Mayfair
17 Bruton Street

+44 207 907 1888

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Eltermere Inn, Cumbria

Mr Oil persuaded Mr Vinegar to accompany him to the Lake District for a weekend of healthy walking about. By chance, Mr Vinegar discovered a good restaurant within walking distance.

MrV: That was stroke of luck, wasn’t it? Did you know there was a decent place to eat and drink so close to where we were staying?
MrO: No, I did not. Had I known, I would not have booked us a cottage in Elterwater. I thought it was remote. We were supposed to be getting fitter, not fatter.
MrV: But if we were walking during the day then surely we deserved something special in the evening.
MrO: Not if we are to improve our health. I had envisaged nourishing but non-fatty foods in the evenings, accompanied by one or perhaps two drinks.
MrV: That would never have worked. There is a pub in Elterwater, after all.
MrO: You deliberately subverted the theme of the weekend and you are clearly enjoying the situation. Why is it that you only ever display happiness when I am unhappy.
MrV: Do I? Tut tut. Anyway, my prawn and parmesan tagliatelle was quite wonderful. How was your carpaccio?
MrO: Under other circumstances I would have greatly enjoyed it but all I could think about was the carbohydrates in your pasta and the fat in the parmesan.
MrV: You were a bit glum about the main course, too, just telling the waitress “I’ll have what he’s having”. Mind you, it was an excellent surf and turf – delicious steak with prawns and scallops. It’s really a pretty decent restaurant.
MrO: Your admiration of it was very obvious. I can’t believe you even had a pudding.
MrV: A bit of ice cream, that’s all. What’s wrong with that?
MrO: It’s unhealthy, that’s what’s wrong. I don’t know why I bother.
MrV: Nor do I. Anyway, you can’t accuse me of going mad on the wine. All we had was a couple of bottles of that rather pleasant l’Aristocrate pinot noir from the Languedoc. Very reasonable, too, at less than £20 a bottle.
MrO: You drank most of it. And you appear to have forgotten the amaretto.
MrV: Ah yes, very tasty. Well I needed it to fortify myself for the walk back to the cottage.

Mr Oil and Mr Vinegar consumed two starters, two main courses, one pudding, two bottles of wine and a digestif, at a total cost of about £120.

Eltermere Inn
LA22 9HY

Tel: +44 1539 437 207

Le Petit Bistro, Guernsey

On their recent trip to visit offshore accounts in Guernsey, Mr Oil and Mr Vinegar spent an enjoyable evening at Le Petit Bistro, one of the island’s best restaurants.

MrO: Fond as I am of English cooking, particularly at this time of year when game birds are in season, nothing quite beats a really good French bistro.
MrV: I know what you mean, although I don’t understand the need to pack people in so tightly they knock over each others’ glasses every time they shift in their seats.
MrO: Did that happen to you?
MrV: No but it very nearly did. And why do French waiters find our every request comical?
MrO: I think they view English pronunciations of French words as quite funny.
MrV: Then they shouldn’t be in Guernsey. There isn’t even the slightest attempt by any of the locals to pronounce French words in a frenchie sort of way. When I asked that taxi driver to take us to La Grande Mare golf club, he said: “Do what? Ohhh, you mean the Grand Mayor.” Admirable fortitude, really, that close to France.
MrO: Le Petit Bistro was the only place we ate where most of the staff weren’t eastern European. Considering how difficult it is to get residency in the Channel Islands, I wonder how all the Poles and so forth manage to work there?
MrV: They’re cheap, that’s all. If there’s one thing the Channel Islanders understand it’s saving money. It’s clear from driving around Guernsey that building ugly houses must be much less expensive than building pretty ones, for there are virtually no attractive homes there.
MrO: The restaurant was quite pretty.
MrV: Yes, that bit of St Peter Port has an old town feel to it – probably is the old town, although the brochures all say it’s medieval when most of the buildings look Victorian or possibly Georgian.
MrO: There’s also quite a lot of classic Breton architecture.
MrV: Whatever that may be. Anyway, let’s talk about the food.
MrO: It was a marvellous array of bourgeois French classics, wasn’t it? The oysters were excellent.
MrV: So were the frogs’ legs in lemon and parsley butter. What was the filet de boeuf Rossini with foie gras like?
MrO: Exceptional. Cooked to perfection. And the chips were as good as any I’ve ever had.
MrV: I wish I’d had the steak. There was nothing wrong with my moules mariniere, of course, but yours looked so much better. You might have offered me a taste.
MrO: You should have chosen more wisely.
MrV: Come to think of it, your main course cost £10 more than mine. I think you should pay me back.
MrO: Well, in that case you probably ought to pay me for the disparity in our wine consumption.
MrV: Nonsense, you drank just as much as me. Talking of the wine, though, it was pretty good value, wasn’t it?
MrO: Just as well given the amount you drank.
MrV: I drank exactly the amount that the occasion required. That Ropiteau shiraz house rosé was pretty good at £4.25 a glass. I’m not familiar with burgundy rosé but on the evidence of that one I’ll be having another look.
MrO: You were also quite partial to the Chablis.
MrV: A bit of 1er Cru Chablis always goes down well but it was far more expensive than anything else we drank during our stay.
MrO: It did rather stand out at £29.95 a bottle. Funny, one wouldn’t think twice about paying that in London.
MrV: As I’ve said before, booze is really cheap here and it doesn’t seem to have created a drink epidemic. Though if I lived here I’d have to drink all the time just to deal with the boredom.
MrO: You do drink all the time. And I barely got a look-in at that bottle of Chateau du Bois Chantant claret you ordered.
MrV: Well, it was so cheap - £21.25 - I thought I’d better knock it back before they upped the prices. It was very good. I’ve tried to find some in London but with no luck.
MrO: My chocolate brownie with white chocolate Chantilly and chocolate macaroon was very fine indeed.
MrV: Unfortunately, I made another poor choice. The melon in four ways – mousse, poached, gazpacho and sorbet – was largely inedible apart from the sorbet.

Mr Oil and Mr Vinegar ate three courses each and drank two glasses of rosé, a bottle of white and a bottle of red, at a total cost of about £135.

Le Petit Bistro
56 Lower Pollet
St Peter Port
GY1 1

Tel: 01481 725 055

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Crabby Jack's Bar and Bistro, Guernsey

Mr Oil and Mr Vinegar have been to visit some of their offshore monies in Guernsey, where they discover Crabby Jack’s by the beach at Vazon Bay.

MrV: Frightful place, Guernsey.
MrO: That’s very unfair. I think it is charming.
MrV: Horribly suburban. I thought there’d be cows everywhere but instead there are little villas and bungalows. Looks like the whole place was built in the 1930s by the same chap that built Finchley and Perivale.
MrO: St Peter Port is nothing like Finchley or Perivale. It is Second Empire, architecturally speaking.
MrV: Rubbish. You’ve been reading books again.
MrO: Anyway, it is a very pleasant place. You can see why so many Brits are trying to move there.
MrV: That has nothing to do with it being pleasant. They are desperately trying to avoid the ruinous taxes in mainland Britain and are willing to be bored almost to death on Guernsey in exchange for saving their money.
MrO: You didn’t look very bored while we were eating that platter de fruits de mer.
MrV: I must say, Crabby Jack’s was rather a surprise. To sit on a sun deck beside the beach scoffing mountains of seafood was an unexpected treat. It was also very useful that the beach shop across the road sold straw hats, as I’d forgotten mine and I hate eating and drinking with my head exposed to the blazing sun.
MrO: You were pretty grumpy about the piped music.
MrV: Yes, but once I’d discovered I could disconnect the speaker nearest us when the waitress wasn’t looking, it became much less of an ordeal.
MrO: I thought the Vazon Bay Platter was extraordinarily good value at £55 for two. It had most of things I like in fruits de mer – I quote from the menu: “Whole Chancre Crab, Half Lobster, Six Oysters, Six King Prawns, Shell on Prawns and Freshly Steamed Mussels.” They also threw in some smoked salmon which wasn’t on the menu.
MrV: Why must restaurateurs start every word with a capital letter? They are like estate agents in that respect – idiots. And another thing – much as I enjoyed it, I suspect that the giant crab was prepared elsewhere. It was a little too refrigerated.
MrO: Perhaps, but it tasted fresh enough.
MrV: Yes, no complaints there. If I hadn’t liked it I wouldn’t have gone back for lunch the following day. The second visit wasn’t quite so successful.
MrO: You should have stuck with what you knew you liked.
MrV: I know, but we couldn’t share another platter because you decided to be a girl and have the Caesar salad.
MrO: Very nice it was, too. You could have had the mini fruits de mer. It looked very good – “One Oyster, One King Prawn, Picked White Crab Meat, Shell on Prawns, Smoked Salmon, Lemon Mayo” – and excellent value at £12.95.
MrV: I think the mention of mayo put me off. Disgusting secretaries’ glop. Anyway, the steak stones looked interesting. I liked the thought of cooking my food on a “searing hot volcanic rock” on the table in front of me. Shame it didn’t really work.
MrO: Was anything cooked properly?
MrV: No, the salmon and tiger prawn kebabs were interspersed with bigger chunks of onion and pepper so the heat couldn’t get to the meat. Also, I don’t think the stones had been properly heated in the first place, because even when I took the salmon and prawns off the kebab sticks and put them directly onto the rock, they still didn’t cook.
MrO: Ah well, a lesson learned. Stick to the platter. Or the salad.
MrV: To end on a more positive note...
MrO: ...unusual for you...
MrV: ...the wine was outstanding value at £14.95 a bottle. It was not a distinguished pinot grigio, by any means, but it slipped down very nicely. Booze is very cheap on Guernsey – I expect they don’t have to pay the same taxes we do here, yet the streets aren’t rolling with drunks. This claim that taxing booze will discourage drinking is a plain lie. The three countries I can think of with the worst drinking problems – Britain, Norway and Ireland – all have the highest drinks taxes, so clearly it doesn’t work.

Mr Oil and Mr Vinegar visited Crabby Jack's twice, on each occasion eating one main course and drinking one bottle of wine each. The bills came to about £95 the first time and about £60 the second.

Crabby Jack’s Bistro & Bar,
Vazon Bay
Tel: +44 1481 257489

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