Tag Archive: Food

Fine Dining: Gordon Ramsay at Royal Hospital Road

Once a year I have the privilege of going to a fine dining restaurant for my birthday. My parents are foodies who worked all their lives as doctors before retiring, and one of their great pleasures is to travel the world eating delicious food. Living in Japan, I don't get to share in many of their meals these days, but when I come home for my birthday, they treat me. I'm so lucky.

I've been wanting to go back to this restaurant, Gordon Ramsay at Royal Hospital Road, for years now. We went in 2010 for my brother's birthday, and I had fond memories, so wanted to return. But it's a bit awkward to get a reservation, partly because the restaurant is popular but mostly because it's not open on weekends.

This year everyone's schedules lined up, though, so we decided to return to Gordon Ramsay at Royal Hospital Road, one of what was until recently one of just two 3-Michelin-Star restaurants in London (joined last year by a Japanese restaurant). We walked from Sloane Square to the Chelsea restaurant and after having our coats and bags taken to the cloakroom, had some tasty fruit juices in lieu of aperitifs (some of the others had gin and tonics, but gin is one spirit I really dislike).

The restaurant was different from how I remembered it. It was more spacious and modern, with more art deco touches. In fact, I see that it was refurbished in 2013. The chef was different too - when we first went, it was Clare Smyth (Ramsay hasn't been the chef there since 2007), and this time Matt Abé. So with many crucial elements having changed, it was worth trying again.

We were treated to some little canapes with echos of Japanese and Chinese cuisine, which were a pleasant start. The restaurant seated a few more this time, with many two-person tables around the edges of the room. This gave a slightly unnerving feeling for those of us in the centre of being the entertainment at a cabaret, but that was soon forgotten as we chatted and were greeted by the friendly staff, including an amiable maitre d' Jean-Claude who we remembered from last time.

An amuse-bouche followed in the shape of a soft-boiled egg with creamy garlicky soup inside. I've forgotten exactly how it was described, but it was a very tasty little treat to begin with.

The first course of the Menu Prestige was pressed foie gras with a wonderful piece of fluffy brioche toast on the side. Now, restaurant Gordon Ramsay is the place I had the best foie gras I ever remember having, but that was braised. Braised foie gras isn't for everyone, but I love it, even more than I love foie gras pates, so while this was a good start to a very good meal, it couldn't match up to my memories of the starter from seven years ago, nor to the braised/seared foie gras I had in The Square or Seven Park Place the last two years.

A ravioli followed, stuffed with lobster, langoustine and salmon, which was tasty and charming but a little salty for me.

Better was the halibut with king crab and lime. The fish was superb and balanced in a very interesting way by the lime. This is one of the advantages of a tasting menu - I'd never choose this kind of dish from the a la carte, but I'm happy to try it and be surprised.

Lamb with winter vegetables followed as the main course. It was delicious, especially when the meat and vegetables complemented one another when eaten at the same time. Again, lamb isn't what I tend to choose and I'd much rather have a steak, so while the cooking here was superb, it wasn't quite optimal for me because there are dishes I'd rather choose. Nonetheless, a delicious centrepiece.

Cheese was next. I forgot to take photos until I'd already sampled some. I wanted a strong cheese and two blue cheeses, and one of those blue cheeses was amazing. I'd rather larger, seedless grapes with my cheese, though.

A little blackcurrent sorbet came after that, with slightly questionable presentation but a very pleasant flavour with champagne crushed ice accompaniment.

I preferred the rich flavor of this little cheesecake-like affair for dessert, though, which was very sweet yet very refreshing and matched my dessert wine neatly.

Finally, they brought out some dainty little treats to polish off the meal. These little ice cream balls encased in white chocolate were delicious.

They brought me a little birthday cake, too! Cute. And those salted caramel chocolate pieces were some of the nicest chocolate I've ever had - and I eat a whole lot of chocolate, haha.

And finally, these little jelly pieces with a leaf in reminded me of Japanese mochi. I prefer sweeter things but these were definitely well worth having in between the salted chocolate pieces to refresh the palette. And that was the end of a very fine meal shared with loved ones, which I would love to have again, but which wasn't quite aligned with my ideal dishes. I'd love to try Abé cooking the same dishes I had at the Square last year. The last two years' meals edge this one out slightly, but I'd still say this, averaged with memories of last time at the same restaurant, was one of my top 5 fine dining experiences! I'll have to try Smyth's new restaurant Core when I can, though.

「怖い絵」展 / Fear and Painting exhibition, Ueno Royal Museum

Today, my friend Mayumi and I went to Ueno for the Fear in Painting exhibition, which has been widely-advertised for the past few months with striking images of Delaroche’s Execution of Lady Jane Grey across Tokyo.

After stopping for probably the best tempura I’ve had in Japan so far, at Ueno’s 音音(Oto Oto), we headed into the park to the Ueno-no-Mori Museum, usually called the Ueno Royal Museum in English. Instantly we knew this was not going to be a simple art gallery visit – today is a national holiday so the queues rivalled the Harry Potter attractions in Universal Studios when they first opened.

One very long wait later and we were inside. I had the same frustrating experience I’ve had in Tokyo art museums with major Western artists so far – extreme overcrowding. You have to shuffle slowly past each painting, which most patrons give a cursory glance to unless their audioguide directs them to look at something, and then get elbowed and shoved by old ladies as soon as you get a good view of a painting, at which point you have to move on to the next. At least the Delaroche painting is on a grand enough scale that it hardly matters! On the other hand, I’ve seen it several times before in London, without the overcrowding, so for all its beauty, masterful use of lighting and interesting place within the theme of ‘fear’, and for all its academic style has become fashionable again, I wasn’t nearly as impressed as I might have been viewing this masterpiece for the first time in a visit from a far-off land.

Otherwise, the exhibition wasn’t really strong enough to justify the crowds or the admission price. There were some gems, from Waterhouse (Circe), Gustave Moreau (Angels of Sodom) and Henry Fuseli (The Nightmare) in particular, as well as some famous drawings/etchings from Aubrey Beardsley and Hogarth, but the overall feeling was that major artworks that the curator would have liked were missing and had to be referred to obliquely – in lieu of The Scream, several minor Munch works had to be included, for example. In place of Bosch, anonymous Netherlandish art. No Dalí, but some proto-surrealism from illustrations of Edgar Allen Poe books. No Goya paintings, only etchings. Then, too often there was a tenuous connection with fear but no actual fear being portrayed, like an image of King Solomon proclaiming the baby should be cut in two, but the only one in terror at this facing away from the viewer. Other renditions of fear were a bit clumsy, like Ford Maddox Brown’s melodramatic (but expertly-painted) rendition of Manfred. There was something to be said for fear inspired by a place in Sickert’s image of Jack the Ripper’s room, but within more of a context of actual fear portrayed, I think that would have been more successful.

Perhaps the most interesting section was a series of paintings by Charles Sims. I don’t know much about Charles Sims but I feel I should find out more. This was one of the most questionable links to the concept of fear, but in several pictures in different styles showed a creative mind tortured by trauma. As a scholar of the First World War, that was very relevant to me, and as a writer and musician who admires the ability to work in different modes and styles, seeing Sims now working as a realist, now a post-impressionist, now a kind of Modernist, was impressive to me. I think I’ll look out for his work in future.

At the end of the exhibit, the crowds and slow pace actually felt exhausting. We had to agree that this isn’t really the way to view art, and far from the relaxing experience we had been hoping for. While there were gems, and I’m happy to have been introduced to Sims, it wasn’t an overly enjoyable experience. Also for some reason the curator, Nakano Kyouko, seems to have a significant bias towards England. English painters were dominant here, or borrowed from English galleries. Or both, of course. The centrepiece may have been by a French painter, but it was an English subject and on loan from the National Gallery. With Hogarth’s Beer Street and Gin Lane, a map of the Tower of London to flesh out the Delaroche painting, Sims’ fairies, Sickert’s squalid London room, Waterhouse, Beardsley and, through an adopted homeland, Fuseli, it may have been the most English-dominated art exhibition I’ve ever been to that wasn’t a collection of a single artist’s work. Which was entirely unexpected and seems a little constraining given the multitude of artworks dealing with fear from around the world.

Overall, while the exhibition had its highlights, I didn’t feel it dealt with the subject very well and was limited by a strange narrowness of vision as well as, presumably, budget. But judging from the demand, it was an undoubted success, and was of course much better than seeing no art at all.

Fine Dining: my birthday meal at The Square, London

The Square is the favourite restaurant of my brother and his wife. For my birthday meal this year, I wanted to go back to Gordon Ramsay at Royal Hospital Road, but didn’t manage to get a booking in time, so instead remembered this excellent restaurant with two Michelin stars. We had been twice before, but it must have been at least six years since the last time so I thought it would be nice to try it again. After all, The Square served the best dessert I’ve ever eaten on my first trip there, an absolutely delicious pear tarte tatin, so it was well worth another try. Though I was jetlagged and flagging toward the end, the meal last night was excellent once again. Rich, bold flavours balanced with more delicate ones and some superb amuse-bouches. The first of these was the best: a cone filled with delicious foie gras mousse, just the right balance between crispiness and rich creamy flavour. It was accompanied by a fun little spicy prawn cracker affair. 20151219 01 A second amuse-bouche was simpler, three little canapes with rich, interesting flavours to them, though none as direct and mouthwatering as the foie gras pastry. 20151219 02 Continuing on the same theme, what followed was a generous piece of buttery, extremely flavoursome braised foie gras. It was cooked to perfection with the crispy burnt layer perfectly judged. The accompaniment was apple and pear with a meaty pastry-like strip, plus crushed almonds, but honestly I felt all of it detracted from the simple pleasure of the foie gras, so I ate everything else first and then enjoyed the centrepiece unadulterated. 20151219 03 My go-to menu is always foie gras and then beef, and I made no exception, choosing steak for my main course. And what a steak! Shame my photo didn’t come out better, because this was superb. Everything on the plate, from spinach to burnt onion and particularly the meat itself was absolutely delicious. I would eat it again in a heartbeat. I didn’t want to drink wine because it made me much more drowsy after my 15-hour plane journey, but it was worth it with the steak. 20151219 04 The third amuse-bouche before dessert was a little sorbet and meringue arrangement that surprised with rich vanilla flavours, and certainly set us up to finish the meal well. 20151219 05 My dessert was ‘tiramisu’, the inverted commas amusing us – and of course indicating deconstruction. The chocolately affair that arrived looked very pretty and tasted very rich indeed, but a few concentrated dark chocolate balls were just a little overpowering in comparison to the rest. Still very delicious, though. 20151219 06 After that, considering we weren’t having coffee, the little petit fours-style chocolates were a bit redundant, but welcome anyway and served in sweet little wooden boxes. 20151219 07 I was shattered by the time we finished eating and midnight approached, but very gratified. It was a delicious birthday meal and wonderful to spend with the family!

Tokyo Michelin-starred restaurants #2: Fureika (plus a disastrous haircut)

Luckily, my hair has recovered. Picture by Acqua Models

Luckily, my hair has recovered. But in the video...ew...! [Picture by Acqua Models]

My second visit to a Michelin-starred restaurant in Tokyo. This time it was the more expensive but decidedly yummy dim sum menu at Chinese restaurant Fureika in Azabu-Juban. I was in the neighbourhood to get a haircut which…yeah, I can’t say went very well. Bleh!  

Gallery visit – Inventing Impressionism: Paul Durand-Ruel and the Modern Art Market at the National Gallery

Trafalgar Square

Trafalgar Square

Today I went to the new Impressionism gallery in the Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery. Back in November I enjoyed the Rembrandt exhibition there more than I expected to, but I’ve always rather liked Rembrandt and have never been keen on Impressionism, so was pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed this more than anticipated as well. Quite a lot more, really – because it’s allowed me to really refine what I do and don’t like in impressionism. In fact, what I really am not very keen on is the painting of Monet. I actually really greatly admire Renoir’s work, and the greater part of Manet’s and Degas’ too – when they are not being too slapdash. Pissarro and Sisley, also well-represented here, are hit and miss, but at their best they are admirable. The problem I have with Monet is that I don’t feel his paintings stand alone. To appreciate the artistic statement he is making, one has to have an overview of his artistic development, and I think that is a weakness. With every Renoir painting I’ve seen and all but a few of those from Degas, no matter how experimental they are with their techniques, colour choices or compositions, there is still evidence of the master technician, the clever painter with an eye for light and texture, whose bold choices are justified by the picture as a whole. Manet in particular often balances the loose impressionist elements with touches of realism in just the right way to be clever and experimental while also new and challenging, which seems to me the manifestation of his love for Velasquez. But with Monet, it is clear that he pushes boundaries and made striking statements, but I can’t say that I enjoy the results. I don’t find them pleasing to look at, or painterly, or clever. He was clearly technically gifted and likely rigorously trained, but one has to see his early painting to know that – rather like Picasso. There isn’t that admirable cleverness or evidence of solid technique in his later works, and while I see that there’s something admirable in that academically – he truly embraced the statement Impressionism was making without any need to anchor himself in the old-fashioned – the result doesn’t please me or impress me.
Looking confused outside the gallery

Looking confused outside the gallery

The exhibition was based around the life of art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel, who championed the Impressionists when they were being rejected by the Salon and eventually ended up being vindicated as the ‘New Painting’ became highly fashionable. American money, of course, helped – as did leaving France when war was declare with Prussia and setting up a gallery in New Bond Street, London. Though close to bankruptcy on occasion, he is now considered a pioneer and set up many established practices such as running solo exhibitions for artists during their lifetimes and acting as a kind of patron to painters in need – including commissioning painted doors in his apartments and several portraits of his family members. I can’t say I’m touched on any emotional level by the impressionism I’ve seen, as I can be by the works of the Old Masters, the surrealists, the pre-Raphaelites or even some of the realists. Degas is probably the one most likely to paint something to move me, though Renoir paints things I find lovely to look at. After the gallery, to Chinatown for dim sum – though the rice and noodles we ordered were a bit excessive so a few dumplings had to be taken home as dabao!
A feast of dim sum!

A feast of dim sum!

Went to meet the band afterwards, and got all the letters ready to submit to labels as well as getting the audio ready to make a trailer. Once the four of us got together – for the first time in forever – we did some basic photos for publicity shots, though we’re going to arrange more with a proper photographer soon. All that remains is the artwork, the teaser and the website – then we’ll begin the submissions process for our distribution deal! Tomorrow, off to Manchester to do some more archival research. Then I’ll probably spend Tuesday in the library with the historical books I was recommended – and then go back to fiction-writing for a good long while.

Fine Dining blog post: Seven Park Place

Eagerly awaiting food in the lounge

Eagerly awaiting food in the lounge

This may be quite bad timing for a foodie blog post. I’ve been lucky enough to eat in almost all London’s top restaurants thanks to my parents’ love of fine dining, but this is the first time I’m writing a full blog post. But this trip to Seven Park Place is likely to be the last meal at a Michelin-starred restaurant I have in many months, because I’m moving to Japan soon and I’m pretty doubtful I’ll have the money to spend on extravagant meals – or anyone to go with if I do! So let me enjoy my last little moment of getting to sample some of the best cooking the capital can offer. Yes, I am only able to eat at this sort of restaurant thanks to dearest Mummy and Daddy’s affluence – but I’m certainly not going to refuse because this is an unearned treat. Most of the best meals I’ve ever had have been far beyond my means. We headed to Green Park the long way, as the useful part of the Jubilee Line was closed for the usual engineering works. The plus side of this was that we took the DLR to Tower Gateway and enjoyed some lovely views as the sun set.
Pretty, no?

Pretty, no?

Arrived just in time for our booking at St. James’ Hotel, an eccentric 5-star hotel tucked away in a cul-de-sac not far from the Ritz. To start with, we had some drinks in the lounge, where my brother was waiting, and his wife soon arrived to complete our party. The decoration there was fun – old-fashioned and ostentatious without being stuffy.
The exterior of St. James' Hotel

The exterior of St. James' Hotel

The restaurant itself was along similar lines, and odd in that it is relatively tiny. The restaurant covers only 26, even smaller than Gordon Ramsay at Royal Hospital Road, though it still felt more spacious and airy than La Gavroche. That  said, one party of eight was crammed onto a table elbow-to-elbow – though they didn’t seem to mind. The staff were friendly and attentive, though one forgot all about a question Mum asked her and later they brought us someone else’s coats from the cloakroom. The menu was explained well, and my brother ordered possibly the nicest wine I remember having in any of these restaurants from the sommelier. We started with a little amuse bouche – a pretty little salmon dish with beetroot. Then came my starter, which was delicious: seared foie gras with baby vegetables.
Seared foie gras

Seared foie gras

Foie gras is of course a controversial foodstuff, made by force-feeding geese. Whether they seem quite happy about this on a free-range farm or are cruelly pumped full of grain in a battery farm, the fact remains that they are being force-fed, and that rubs many people the wrong way. And yes, some of the same people turn a blind eye to worse things happening to battery-farmed chickens, but that does not change the unpleasant thought of how a bird’s liver is fattened. But I eat meat in awareness that animals suffer for it; there is no escaping that slaughter is unpleasant, and yet I am not vegan. I don’t find foie gras notably more morally repugnant than how steaks or lamb chops are made. I have chosen to go on eating meat, so fundamentally I must admit to not considering animals’ suffering equivalent to human suffering. I don’t think they experience the world in the same way. That may alienate some people, but I can’t just pretend never to have thought about it or be a hypocrite about it. And one of the finest flavours I have ever tasted has been the foie gras at Gordon Ramsay at RHR. This starter came close to that. That got a little heavy for a cheerful food blog...but I know that at some point I’m going to have to justify eating what I do and it might as well be now! Anyway, the meal continued with lovely pink saddle of lamb, cooked to perfection and perfectly balanced with root vegetables and a slightly sweet jus. This is where the wine came into its own!
Saddle of lamb

Saddle of lamb

Dessert was a chocolate mouse with salted caramel ice cream and fruit – stronger flavours than I expected and matched with a somewhat subtle dessert wine. Well, subtle as dessert wines go, which is to say that it didn’t taste like an alcopop. Like most of the best desserts, even though individual elements were strong, it was by far the best when every element was eaten together and the different flavours mingled on the palate.
Chocolate mousse

Chocolate mousse

After that they brought us another small amuse bouche that was fairly obviously a pre-dessert that they’d forgotten to give us beforehand (whoops) and was tasty but fairly indifferent after the strong dessert, and then some sweet little petits fours. I happily snapped up the lemon macaron!
Petits Fours

Petits Fours

Seven Park Place isn’t one of London’s most well-known restaurants, but this was a very fine meal. Chef William Drabble deserves the acclaim. Like Fera at Claridge’s, no dish was the best of its kind I had ever eaten, but absolutely every flavour was near the top of is class and there was a consistent excellence dish after dish. The portion sizes were also just right for a satisfying but not uncomfortable meal. Most of the talk about Seven Park Place will revolve around its distinctive setting. It’s not a striking, impressive location like Galvin La Chapelle, nor does it have the converted townhouse atmosphere of Texture – if it reminded me of any other similar restaurant, it was probably rather if Viajante had been downsized by half rather than closing. But love or hate the tiny, rather eccentric space – and I came down on the side of love – the food really needs to speak for itself, and for its strength of flavours, earthiness and the excellence of the ingredients, I was very impressed by Seven Park Place.
Approved!

Approved!