Month: August 2016

Le Gavroche, London


I first ate at Le Gavroche almost three years to the day from this meal. It was at a time when this blog was a distant dream and we ate for pleasure only.  Oh, how I miss those days.  It still stands as my favourite ever meal; perhaps not the best food, but certainly the best overall experience.  There was, and still is, something uniquely special about walking underneath the famous signage, through the heavy doors, down the stairs and into that dimly lit basement dining room.  There is ceremony with every nudge of a chair and pouring of wine, and touch of class at every detail with custom made table sculptures, plates, and silverware.  We ate chicken with parmesan risotto, drank our body weight in wine and overindulged Michael Roux Jnr himself in person at our excessive praise of the soufflé suissesse – a long standing stalwart of the menu here so light it threatened to drift back up those stairs and off into the clouds.  I consider myself lucky enough to have eaten at Birmingham’s five Michelin starred restaurants on many occasions but our pursuit outside of my home town has never led us back to the same place.  Now, with Phil Howard departing from The Square there was only ever one option for a celebratory return meal:  Three months back we decide to hammer the phone lines at 9am and secure a table at Le Gavroche.


It was, if I am entirely honest, not as memorable as our first visit.  Perhaps it was the table; this time in a busy area near the stairs as opposed to the dark green booth we had once nestled in to in the far corner.  Maybe it is much of the romanticism is lost once you have witnessed it in person already.  That is not to say it is still not one of the countries top tables; almost everything we ate punched with French classicism and Gaelic charm, personified by an almost entirely French waiting team, each oozing with the confidence only a top kitchen can install.  Nibbles of smoked duck and another of cheese and chive greet as us as we are sat, followed quickly by an amuse of deep fried burrata ravioli, all of which quickly disappear before a basket of bread is presented with a choice of butter.  Knowing what is next, we save the bread for the aforementioned Soufflé Suissesse, flavoured with cheese and cooked on double cream, which is every bit as naughty as it sounds.  The dish is filth in the best possible sense, imagined by a brain with zero regard for health care and the upmost respect for indulgence.  This version was as good as I remember and still makes my top three dishes of all time.


A fat cut of veal shoulder follows, braised gently so that the knife is redundant.  The cooking of the meat is exact, even if the ragout of beans is light on seasoning and the accompanying  green beans the extreme side of al dente.  Our charming waiter asks if everything is okay to which I tell him that the portion is too big, only covering half of the truth as this singular dish individually ruins my otherwise perfect memory of the restaurant.  A chariot of cheese quickly restores memories, each one impeccably sourced and kept, with the comte and stinking bishop notably good.



Dessert number one is a nougatine parfait almost as smooth as the service here, with melon in varying forms, which is nice but hardly memorably.  Better was the birthday cake for two; a chocolate mousse with a rich ganache exterior, not dissimilar to the famous Louis XV dessert at the Alain Ducasse restaurant in Monaco of the same name.  Its rich and velvety, and it has my name written on the plate.  Honestly, could it get any better.  There are petit fours including candied kumquats and truffles which are as good as you would expect.




Being my birthday we gorge on the pink sparkling stuff, the white stuff, the red stuff, and the fortified red stuff, leaving a bill that I did not see (Thank You, Charlie), but was fairly considerable by any stretch.  Not that this matters of course as nobody goes to the effort of trying to get a reservation here, eventually donning the compulsory shirt and jacket, and comes here expecting it to be cheap.  What you pay for is an institution steeped in gastronomic history, where food sits around the two star level it is presently scored at, with service arguably a level above that.  Le Gavroche is an experience unlike anywhere else in London, which everyone should save up for and try once in their life.  Maybe not the perfection I recalled first time around, but still very very good indeed.  Go on, spoil yourself.


Le Gavroche Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Zen Metro, Birmingham


The central point of the dining room at Zen Metro is a faux cherry blossom tree lit naturally by the domed skylight it resides under.  Its a beautiful thing, as significantly ceremonial to the South East Asian cuisine here as aesthetically pleasing.  Curiously, there is a lone table for two adjacent to it.  I’d hate to be sat at that table, for sitting there means you are likely to feature on a strangers Instagram timeline.  Its a picture that will be taken time over, the clay coloured walls adorned with Buddhist imagery, the white lined splayed across the wooden tops and the navy blue booths, all with that tree central to the shot.  And it deserves to, for this is the cities prettiest dining room.  Tell me otherwise and I wont believe you.

They do Thai food here, reasonably priced and authentic.  It holds its own against the rooms character, more so at times when the whack of chilli fire hits the back of the throat and sends a bead of sweat down the forehead.  Its unrelenting in the way that South East Asian food should be, but seldom is.  We know this from the start with the prawn crackers that we work through whilst perusing the menu.  The crackers have a decent flavour and nice snap, though it is the dips that impress.  A nuoc cham has the deep flavour of fermented fish, a sriracha chilli sauce of pure heat and a sweet chilli sauce which is more fire than the sweetness we are used to from the supermarket jars.  All of these punch with masses of flavour.


From here we eat some of the most authentic Thai food that I have tried in this country.   Som Tum takes me back to roadside stalls of the stuff packed in to plastic bags and sold for pennies – the green papaya dressed boldly with more nuoc cham, palm sugar and chillies.  It is, as all good Thai food should be, a vibrant mix of hot, sour, salty, sweet and bitter.  Duck comes thinly sliced, rare and properly rested, the cucumber and celery a calming measure for more of the sriracha sauce.  Tom Yum is pho’s naughtier sibling, a stock soup finished with a ferocious chilli oil.  It’s addictive, even if the minced chicken balls are a fraction overcooked.




It’s not all heat.  Butterflied prawns are grilled to a gentle smokiness and dressed in a garlic oil which enhances but never overpowers their subtle flavour, whereas deep fried morsels of chicken have a crunchy exterior that gives way to tender poultry.  Pad thai with tofu is a potentially dull dish that springs to life with a tamarind dressing that enlivens it all with distinct sweet and sour notes.  Sea bass is accurately steamed and finished with soy and ginger.  To take these delicate flavours and transform them into dishes such as these shows an underlying respect for ingredients that others could learn from.





It takes a lot for me to like salmon and they almost achieve it with a teriyaki sauce full of funk and sweetness.  I struggle with the oily fish as I always do and find myself devouring the underneath noodles coated in the same moreish sauce.  We finish the savoury courses with two curries that hit the five flavours of Thai food with pin point precision.  A green curry with chicken which would be a star on most tables was overshadowed by a lamb massaman that sings with aromatics.  Its a stunning dish that sees me mop up the last of the thickened sauce with fried rice studded with scraps of scrambled egg.





Replete, I tackle a banana fritter for dessert in the name of gluttony.  The stodgy batter needs a little refinement, which cannot be said for a silky coconut ice cream that adds a welcome luxury to the plate.  Its a finish not quite worthy of the excellence before it.  The savoury courses here are a notch above any other Thai restaurant in the city, the issue for me is maintaining the very essence of what makes it so.  At present it is unflinching and bold; not holding back on the big flavours when needed, which is why it is as authentic as it is.  But what happens when our tame English palate finds it too much?  It potentially only needs two idiots on TripAdvisor to complain that it is too hot or too salty before questions are asked of the kitchen.  Lets hope it doesn’t get to that, or, if it does, they politely tell them where to go in search of a blander experience.  For now I suggest you get in quick, order the dishes with the fire and feel the enjoyment of Thai food cooked just how it should be.


Metro Bar And Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

I was invited to eat at Zen Metro




Cheval Blanc, Moseley

In my distorted world, wine joins chess and the guitar in a small list of things I will never truly master.  It’s not through lack of trying; I preserver with them all despite being gifted with fat fingers, a bloated liver, and distinct lack of intelligence.  With the wine I am a member of a club, I read on the subject and I go to wine tastings.  I can tell the difference between red crushed grapes and white crushed grapes (the colour), and I can often tell you a bit about the make-up if its printed clearly enough on the label. But that’s where it ends.  Like chess and the guitar, there is always someone better; a master of their arts, willing to show-off a little with the panache of a flick of the hair or slight of hand.  And I can only stand back and admire it all when that happens.

This tenuously leads me one hundred and fifty words in to Cheval Blanc, a wine bar that has my total admiration despite being less than two weeks old.  For here is a place that takes wine seriously, with a impeccable list formed from around the world after a substantial holiday in France.  Located next to its sister pub The Dark Horse, Cheval Blanc (French for White Horse; see what they’ve done?  Clever clogs.) feels a different entity.  The seating has upholstery thick enough to nestle in for the night, with thick wooden tables and exposed brick walls.  The centre piece of the room is an inset spiral cellar, accentuated by lamp shades which dangle down at head height above it.



We try lots of wines with each one having the sort of character you would expect from a list hand picked by those who appreciate the craft.  There is a house champagne full of sparkle and sweetness that would shame many a fine restaurant and a rose that begs to be enjoyed on a warm evening out on the terrace they share with The Dark Horse.  A rather marvellous white from BLANKbottle comes with a great story and no grape information.  Its a corker, all balanced marzipan and pear.  We all love a classic style Beaujolais whilst a big red from South Africa is as elegent as it is punchy with blackberry and cherry.  We go home and look the wine up.  Good wine has this effect on me in the same way good food does.



And they do food.  Of course they do, this is a restaurant blog after all.  Small plates, mostly cold, designed to sit amongst the wine, are good enough to warrant a visit of its own.  An accurately poached lobster tail sharpened by lemon acidity, a liver parfait of real depth and cured bits of venison are enjoyed almost as quickly as they are washed down.  It’s all good stuff, I just wish I remembered to take photo’s.  I will next time.  Promise.

Bottles range from twenty quid up to a Cheval Blanc at £800.00, with glasses of wine and plates of food starting at a fiver and rising upwards.  It all seems extremely fair given the experience and love which has gone in to the end product.  It’s a place that I can see myself spending a lot of time and money in, admiring the real experts go to work and having a bloody great time doing so.

Tapas Revolution, Birmingham

I wont go into detail about my initial opinion of Tapas Revolution, but suffice to say it wasn’t particularly pleasant. It was a let down of a meal, a distance away from the food I had been told to expect from Omar Allibhoy, poster boy of Spanish cooking for a certain Gordan Ramsay.  But that was a year ago, back when Tapas Revolution joined a host of other similar sized businesses in the colossal launch that is Grand Central.  I’d heard since then that they had hit their stride, the quality of ingriedients starting to be backed-up by some consistent cooking from the open kitchen.


I’ve been back and am pleased to say it is better, significantly so in fact.  Everything we ate was a marked step up from the early visits, more spritely and heavily punctuated with seasoning. The paella has transformed from a one note wonder into an authentic reproduction, still heavy on saffron though now deeply savoury.  Bread comes smeared with a pungent garlic sauce and draped with thin slivers of serrano ham which more than stands up for itself amongst the big flavours.  Okay, perhaps the patatas bravos could have had crisper spuds and more of the tomato sauce, but these are small pickings.



From the new menu we try three of the five recently added dishes.  The lamb is a let down; a distance away from the pink we were promised with a spring onion, radish and pomegranate dressing that fails to add anything.  We leave half the portion untouched.  Deep fried pastries with goats cheese and spinach are moreish bites which are enhanced by a saffron marmalade that adds a nice counteractive balance, whilst a salad of butternut squash and manchego is enhanced by a raisin and pine nut vinaigrette that lifts everything around it.  Its clever touches like this that make me like a place.




Chorizo braised in cider reaches us so hot that the ceramic bowl is cracking in front of us.  We take this as a cue to pile it on to bread, steeping it with the thickened sauce.  It’s a wise move.  The chorizo is properly meaty, the cider sauce an almost British choice of accompaniment that cuts through the sausage.  Best of all is cod, baked until the flesh is just cooked and the peppers and olives underneath are blistered and charred.  Its a super bit of cooking, the tang and metallic notes of the veg working well with the fish.




We finish with churros and a chocolate dipping sauce, where the deep fried and sugared pastry hit a higher note than the slightly thin sauce.  The service, much like the food, was charming and warm.  Overall I was quite impressed with Tapas Revolution, initially leaving me to think that I had possibly been over harsh on my first visit.  Talking to others I don’t think that I have; I am not alone with my assessment that it has improved, and that itself is an achievement for a group which continues to grow.  For those looking for a feed in the centre of Birmingham you could do far worse than eat here.  Its certainly the best cooking to be found in Grand Central


Tapas Revolution Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

 I was invited to eat at Tapas Revolution