Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Bingham - restaurant review

As I've been working so hard at Uni (trust me, my brain aches), Marc took me to The Bingham, in Richmond, for lunch.  Sooo much better than a gold star!

The Bingham is a boutique hotel, in a Georgian townhouse, overlooking the river.  It's also home to Shay Cooper's restaurant.  Sadly, the restaurant has lost it's Michelin star in the 2012 guide.  All I can say is the inspector must've visited on a bad day, as the meal and service we had were absolutely top notch.

Like many other fine-dining establishments, The Bingham offers a very good value lunch menu.  This is also available on a Saturday, which is extremely accommodating!  The set menu is £22.50 for two courses or £26.00 for three.  Remarkably, there is no surcharge for cheese - and a mighty fine cheese selection it is too.

The dining room itself is bedecked in gold hues; luxurious but modern.  The full length windows offer views over the river.  Perfect on a sunny day, when you can watch boats passing by.

Cute lightbulb vase

We started with an absolutely delicious amuse bouche: rich, earthy cep mousse beautifully complemented by a cauliflower truffle foam.  I could've eaten buckets of it.  Truly delicious.

The freshly baked bread selection was almost too tempting.  I really wanted to ask for one of each (potato and rosemary, foccacia, seed and white baguette).  I settled on the potato and rosemary.  With lashings of salted butter.
Amuse bouche
The menu is a cacophony of seasonal goodies and the starter was a perfect example: truffle spatzle (a sort of German pasta), with mushroom puree, girolles, confit egg yolk and shaved chestnuts.  This was exceptional.  In fact the lady on the table next to us actually came over when she saw it arrive on our table to tell us it was the best starter she'd ever had.  It really was that good; beautifully cooked and with the flavours and textures in perfect harmony.
Truffle spatzle
My main was sea bream fillet, with glazed chicory, sauteed squid and bitter orange vinaigrette.  This was  picture perfect and I particularly liked the effect shredded squid.
Sea bream with glazed chicory
Marc's poussin was served with honey glazed root vegetables, crisp bacon and smoked pearl barley.  The poussin had been de-boned and Marc said he enjoyed it all the more for being 'unfiddly'.
Poussin with honey glazed root vegetables
The cheese selection is impressive, all the more so for being included on the set lunch menu.  Our waitress was happy to explain what each of the cheeses was (and put up with our indecisiveness in choosing!).
The cheese selection
The chocolate tart was the best I've had.  Served warm with a chocolate biscuit crust and a filling like a chocolate fondant.  It was rich, satisfying and did exactly what a chocolate pud should.
Bitter chocolate tart

Raisin bread, crackers and fig chutney
This was our final cheese selection.  Unfortunately I didn't note down what they were (could've been the wine!) but we both agreed we'd chosen well!
Our cheese selection
A fancy meal is never complete without a plate of petits fours and The Bingham didn't disappoint.
Petits fours
And, the piece de resistance: a cocktail enjoyed on the terrace in the afternoon sun.  Perfect end to an extremely good lunch.  Star or no star, I'd highly recommend the restaurant at The Bingham.
Rose fantasia

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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Mussels, clams and an Italian island hideaway - recipe

Last week's gorgeously hot weather made me wish I was on a beach somewhere eating fresh seafood and sipping chilled wine.  I couldn't do anything about the beach but I did manage to rustle up a pot of clams and mussels (and maybe a cheeky glass of wine or two!).

Last year, after going to an amazing wedding in Rome, we spent a few days on a tiny island called Ventotene.  It's a beautiful island, with crystal clear blue seas and picture-perfect pastel buildings.  The pace of life is leisurely, with days spent sunbathing, or wandering round the little village square and evenings enjoying the freshest seafood, washed down with carafes of house wine.  One of our favourite dishes was 'cozze e vongole' - mussels and clams.  My version below.

Ingredients (serves two for main, four for starter):
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
Handful of cherry tomatoes, halved
Good glug of olive oil
1 glass of white wine
1.5kg (total weight) clams and mussels
Handful of fresh parsley

Clean the mussels and clams by running under cold water.  Remove the beards from the mussels.  Discard any that do not close when run under cold water, or tapped firmly.

In a large saucepan, gently heat the olive oil.  Add the garlic and tomatoes and cook for 2 minutes.

Add the white wine and turn the heat up a little.

Add the clams and mussels.  Put a lid over the pan and allow them to steam, shaking the pan occasionally.

After 4-5 minutes they should be cooked.  They're ready when the shells are open.

Sprinkle with parsley and serve with some crusty bread.  And some sunshine if you can!

'Cozze e vongole'

Delicious served with some fresh bread

The view from our hotel in Ventotene

The local supermarket!

Ancient Roman harbour

Back in Rome, everyone travels by scooter!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Tea for two and two for tea: Espelette at The Connaught review

I have been pondering what makes afternoon tea so blimmin fantastic.  Is it because it's so quintessentially British?  Is it because it's reminiscent of a bygone era?  Perhaps because it feels so civilised to sip tea whilst nibbling on dainty sandwiches?

And then it struck me: afternoon tea adds a whole extra meal to the day's proceedings.  Amazing.
None of this messing around with squashing two meals together (you know who you are, brunch).  Just an extra, cake filled, meal.  What's not to love?

I'd be quite happy to reinstate afternoon tea as a daily affair but sadly it is but an occasional treat.  Most recently enjoyed at Espelette at The Connaught

This is a very 'proper' afternoon tea, with the usual selection of finger sandwiches, scones and delicate cakes all done to an extremely high standard, all graciously replenished if you wish (we did!).  The service is top class and you're well looked after from the moment you enter the door to the moment you're rolled out.

I particularly enjoyed the jam menu.

Yes, you heard me right, a menu.  For jam.  You're able to pick two jams for the table from a selection of 16.  After much deliberation, we plumped for raspberry & violet and rhubarb & vanilla.   The rhubarb jam was exceptional and, somewhat surprisingly to me, went perfectly with the scones and clotted cream.  And those scones - yum, yum, yum.  Plain and ginger scones are served straight from the oven and they were perfect specimens.

The cakes tasted as good as they looked.  The maple syrup and blackcurrant jelly 'religieuse' and the strawberry jelly cheesecake were particularly good.

By the time the final cakes, a raspberry and rose and chocolate loaf cake, were served we were can't-eat-another-mouthful stuffed.  After the beautiful delicacies from the cake stand, these seemed rather plain and probably a little bit superfluous but just a minor quibble.

All this food is washed down with an excellent selection of loose-leaf teas.  Silver needles was my favourite and we were given a complimentary sachet to take home, which was a very nice touch.

All in all, this is a fabulous afternoon tea.  As you might expect, it's not cheap (£35 a head without champagne) but it is an experience.  And one I'd definitely like to repeat in the not too distant future.

Afternoon tea: my favourite of all the meals.

Before we got stuck in

The maple syrup religieuse on the left.  Strawberry cheesecake in the middle.

The first plate of sandwiches.

Perfect scones
Rhubarb jam on the left

Which one will you choose?

The cake that defeated us.

Tea to take away

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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

What's in season: October

I've thoroughly enjoyed every second of our amazing Indian summer but there's no denying that it is actually Autumn.  With normal service set to resume over the next couple of days, I'm quite looking forward to tucking into mushrooms, squashes and beetroot and putting stodgy stews and soups back on the menu.

Vegetables: Artichokes, aubergines, beans, beetroot, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celeriac, celery, chicory, courgettes, cucumber, fennel, garlic, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuce, mushrooms, onions, potatoes, pumpkins, rocket, sorrel, squash, swede, sweetcorn, turnips.

Fruit: Apples, blackberries, chestnuts, crab apples, cranberries, figs, loganberries, pears, plums, quinces, sloes, tomatoes, walnuts.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Maki - restaurant review

I think I eat Japanese food more than any other cuisine.  I just can't get enough of it.  I tend to get my Japanese fix at lunchtime, often buying sushi take-out for lunch. Incidentally, did you know the reason sushi from a sandwich chain or a supermarket doesn't tend to be very good? It's because the fridges are set too cold: sushi rice reacts under super-cold temperatures and becomes very dry.  Japanese places tend not to have their fridges as cold, so the sushi rice stays a better texture for longer.

But I digress.  I was just about to tell you that, despite it being a firm favourite, we rarely go out for Japanese in the evening but that looks set to change.  We've been living in leafy Richmond for a few months now and have just happened upon a rather good neighbourhood Japanese restaurant: Maki

The restaurant is decorated in typical Japanese style, in reds and blacks, with a sunken seating area. The service is friendly and attentive, the menu extensive (in a good way) and the prices reasonable.  I won't go into all of the dishes but highlights include the sashimi, which was incredibly fresh, black miso cod (less than half the price of Nobu) and ebi (prawn) tempura rolls.  The only slight disappointment was the gyoza, which had been deep fried.

If you're in the area I highly recommend it for a reasonably priced taste of Japan.

Edamame with plenty of salt, as I like them best

Sashimi bento box

Ebi tempura roll

Salmon sashimi (a little complimentary gift from the chef)

Soft shell crab roll

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