The Bath Priory

The Bath Priory.

The surroundings for this Michelin awarded restaurant is bold. I mean a retirement home come antiques hoard is an acquired taste. But at least they have stuffy service to match.

It’s not that their target market is retired is really the issue. Why would I care? The age of the diners has no impact on me really, but it does filter through to our experience in a few ways. And it’s less a bad thing, and more of a warning of what to expect.

We had a glass of English sparking wine on the patio over looking the gardens, and this was without a doubt the best part of the experience. It was serene, and the warm summer air, muddled with cool fizz and the faint waft of flowers is enough to make any Brit go weak at the knees. We do love it when our summer comes up trumps. And over looking the croquet lawn, I thought we might have stumbled onto Downton. The house itself is gorgeous, and with a perfectly manicured exterior and gardens, it’s a shame the interior is how it is. The main lounge/study area is nice, and while the artwork is dry and uninteresting, the feel is in keeping with the house’s history. I’m down with that, and it adds to the experience. But the bar area had a catastrophic collection of art, and the restaurant itself, in all its peachy glory, is dull, dated (despite a recent refurb), and doesn’t make the most of the picturesque surroundings.

After some distinctly average amuse bouches ‘on the lawn’, which consisted of cacky hummus, tasty salmon and un-delicious cucumber/apple concoction, we were ushered into the dining room. It was quiet in this plush carpeted room. There was a quiet murmur from neighboring tables, but it seemed exceptionally devoid of any atmosphere. Maybe that’s what they’re paying for. Silence. This stiff ambience is added to and accentuated by the staff. After such a warm welcome and friendly disposition from The Ledbury last month, we were hoping for much the shame. Sadly, despite asking for recommendations on wines and attempting to spark a rapport with the waiters, we were met with flummoxed faces and short answers. It’s a shame, I’m sure they’re lovely people in real life, but it seems working in somewhere with such a strict adherence to some outdated standards means their staff are out of touch and cold.

We had matched wine, and whilst they were tasty, especially the dessert wine that was paired with the vanilla mascarpone parfait, none of them matched the eye-watering price attributed to them. Eating out as we do, and seeing the same wines for three times the price here as say Flinty Red or Bells Diner really reinforces the underlying ethos of The Priory: A lot of money for something you can get elsewhere, for half the price. You’re paying to be ‘there’, and unfortunately ‘there’ isn’t somewhere I’d want to be.

So, other than the expense and the staff, we should spend some time on the food. We had a good tomato soup as an appetizer, which was, yeh, good, fine. And the starters also were good. Actually, the raw mackerel was delicious. A simple dish with caviar, cucumber, radish and horseradish, it was fresh, clean and well balanced. Simple, yes. But pulled off. The Innes goats curd mousse with pinto peppers, dressed with thin croutons and fresh basil was again simple, but again, worked. Nothing wow, but good, and I’d eat this again.

For mains we had saffron linguine, soft poached egg and hake. This was bizaree, and the presentation hindered the dish from gelling. Whilst everything was cooked to perfection (other than a slightly heavily salted bit of fish), it was good. It was just confused, and small. The lamb galette, sweetbread, asparagus, pearl barley and carrot purée was much the same. Disappointment I think is the word.

Pudding was exponentially improved by the banging dessert wine. But as it was, was rather underwhelming. The parfait was good, but the slightly burnt honeycomb hindered the dish, and it was just a bit of a non-event. The soufflé was tasty, but again, just fine. Even the petit fours had their highs and lows. With highs from the chocolate praline truffle and tuilles, and lows from the cheesecake shot glass itself. We’re still undecided about the Turkish delight. The jury is out.

So how would I summaries the experience? The service and interior had no personality, whilst the food was OK. Some courses were great, others off the mark, but nothing stuck out as remarkable, in a good or a bad way. It’s a bloody quick way to blow the best part of £200 though. (Unless you can eat the £27.50 set-lunch, and not have wine or coffees – if you can, you’re a better person than me). For me, it’s all a lot of pomp and circumstance, with no delicious food to fall back on. (Go and have a glass of something sparkling and wander round the lawn though.)

— I decided to include the photos as some of the dishes were pretty, but apologies for the dim lighting and bad quality of the images!!!!! —-

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English Fizz.

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Amuse bouche

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Soup

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Innes goats curd starter

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Mackerel starter

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Lamb main

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Hake main

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Vanilla mascapone parfait pudding

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Passion fruit souffle with coconut sorbet pudding

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Petit fours

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Bruton (& At The Chapel)

BRUTON

The Bruton train station immediately plunges you into deepest darkest Somerset. With naïve and simply un-googled views of Bruton being ‘just past Bath’ on the train from Bristol Temple Meads, the hour and a half travel time was quite the shock – but at least we had the Sunday papers to keep us occupied. Although, with a table booked for 4:00, and breakfast fast becoming a distant memory, the abundance of food images in said papers was abhorrent. Hunger fully developed, we set off from the tranquil station into the ‘high street’, past the impressive church with it’s forever chiming bells through the Midsummer town. A town I highly suspect was entirely curated by the National Trust or English Heritage.

My first impression of Bruton was its quaintness and charm. With character rich stone houses, dating from way back when, it really is beautiful to look at. And as if to rub its perfection in our faces, it even has a babbling brook trickling through (River Brue). With gorgeous banks on either side, dotted with wild flowers and looming trees. It reminded me of similar dated towns such as Lewes in terms of the architecture, and eclectic mix of old dilapidated building next to tasteful (and expensive looking) conversions and restorations.

Bruton appears to have heaps of character, in the winding alleys snaking off from the main artery, reminiscent of old villages and towns such at Port Issac yet with the grandeur of Bath. However the second big impression was the vacancy of the place, almost death life silence smothers it save those infernal church bells. Walking along the main streets of one of the the smallest towns in England it is clear it is no ghost town, the odd range rover rolls on through. But many shops are closed, other than the obligatory pub, convenience store and the main restaurant. Walking through the back streets and across the river, we never passed a soul. So if you want to really see Bruton, I’d recommend going for one night. You can spend Saturday relishing in the craft shops and cheese peddlers, and getting a better taste for the retail, food and life it offers, while Sunday you can appreciate the serenity that comes with the holiest day of the week.

And oh! What a food haven it seems to be! Given it WAS a Sunday, many of what I can only hasten to assume are the local delicacies were shut. Matt’s Kitchen, a restaurant right in Matt’s home has a daily changing menu that reads fantastically. Truffles Brasserie looked equally if not more appealing, promising a refined and delicious dinner, while Bruton Wholefoods stores looked like the most authentic and interesting organic store come café that I’ve seen in a while. All of these places within basically 100 metres of each other really reinforced a lasting memory of Bruton as being not ‘foodie’ but tasteful. See ya later chains, there no room for you in this little Somerset idyll.

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I took no other photos other than the roast. Apologies!

AT THE CHAPEL

So as unfortunate as it was that we couldn’t spend more time in Bruton and explore these promising eateries, our table was booked ‘At The Chapel’, and it did not disappoint. As you walk up to the restaurant desk, you are immediately taken aback by the size of the place. Not in square meters, but the height of the ceilings leaves a beautiful and open building. The décor itself is refined and tasteful. It boasts a minimalist tone, with streaks of wilderness and modernism helped along by the gallons of natural light filling the room. It’s mainly white with accents of natural tones, exposed wood and glass leaving an impressive finish. And despite much of the modern art on the walls being rather ‘unimpressive’, the splashes of vibrant colour they give the room are welcome.

The meal itself was delicious. Really super delicious. The English Laverstoke Park Farm buffalo mozzarella was a highlight for me, mainly as a novelty more than anything else. In texture, it was unusual, and unlike it’s Italian counter-part. It was soft, but not gooey, yet still melts in the mouth. Not as good as Italian? Maybe not. But delicious in its own right. Hell yeah.

I’d have to say the best dish was probably the asparagus and poached egg though. In the main part because of the ingenious brassica pesto that accompanied it which lifted the simple asparagus dish to another level, complimenting all the flavors and giving you a different taste to your more run of the mill asparagus expectations. Executed beautifully, it is the best asparagus dish I’ve had in a while.

The roast was also a hit, and one of the best we’ve had in a restaurant for years. With perfectly cooked beef, buttery squash mash, cauliflower cheese, well-cooked and seasoned veg, there wasn’t really anywhere to go wrong. The Westcombe ricotta gnudi was also brilliant, perfect in texture and taste, highlighted by the sage, wild garlic and pea shoots, which adorned it.We drank Picpoul, which worked well with the intense flavours of basil & tomato starter and garlic splattered gnudi, but would have been too sweet with the fish. The house red worked well with the beef.

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We were too full for pudding, but did indulge in some take away treats from the in-house bakery. Their brownies were not as good as mine (ahem), but the lemon drizzle was pretty tasty.  At The Chapel has an in-house bakery and wine shop, which is immediately a win for any self-respecting hotel.

Any qualms? Potentially the unfinished nature of the dishes, in that I was recommended sides with everything that wasn’t the roast. Also the puddings didn’t SOUND delicious enough to order despite already being uncomfortably full, which is saying something. The service was temperamental, which tainted it slightly. And the biggest regret was not trying the pizzas. But i’m just picking holes.

In the immortal words of Arnie, we will be back.

THE Ledbury

The Ledbury

This week I had the pleasure of eating out in London, lots. Probably too much. So what did I learn during my lavish time off work? Money can buy happiness? A little. A lot more if you like perfectly executed food, brilliantly matched wine, and made to feel like a bit of a Princess. This is what The Ledbury managed. Currently ranked 10th in the world with talented Brett Graham at the pass, the restaurant is keenly seeking renewed confirmation of it’s excellence when the 1-50 places of the World’s Best Restaurants are released soon. And I for one, hope it doesn’t slip.

The Experience

The ever-increasing damage didn’t hinder this experience. For me, this is the most genuine compliment. – The expense did not taint the experience – The front of house team is so friendly and warm, that we were quickly at ease with the stiff tablecloths. The knowledge they effortlessly reeled off was endless, typified in the wine flight (more of that soon). There was never a point when the thought of the bill crossed my mind through the duration, because there was never a time when the service or food could have been faulted. And when you are presented with exceptional food and drink in such a way, it’s less ‘what am I paying for this!?’, and more ‘I’m allowed to eat that!’, followed with warm feelings of honor and joy. Eating in two-star restaurants is a luxury, and there certainly is a high price tag to match at this establishment, but I would recommend it in a heartbeat.

The vacant dress code really does help set the tone here. I mean, I could’ve done without some of louder Ralph Laurens, but you can’t have it all. The ethos from the oft is one of personal comfort of the customer, matching their own interests and tastes. The experience is food centered, and people are excited. You can’t escape the full Michelin service though, which I find testing at the best of times. The number of times I said thank you, was exhausting, almost encouraging me to stop drinking the water so a refill was never required. However, the most futile challenge was making it back from the bathroom fast enough that there was no time for your napkin to be properly folded. Maybe if I stopped guzzling on water, then this challenge would be redundant also.

The benefits of the customer service were showcased with our spot on wine flight. Presented to us were wines I had never had before, so well matched to the dishes, that they were as necessary as the ingredients themselves. This worked from the Buffalo curd miso style soup paired with a punch-packing PX grape wine right through to the olive oil cake dessert with a Muscat pairing which really felt like an extension of the dish itself. The audible excitement from the well-to-do neighbors on the right on being treated to a glass of wine from their favorite area in France, whilst the table on the left were gifted an extra course which they had been eying up, illustrates this.

The place oozes with refinement (can refinement ooze), and expectation. The setting is unassuming, and as with many high-end restaurants, the décor is tasteless in its mediocrity. It might leave room to appreciate the modern cuisine, but a smear of personality might be nice. Following from this minor negative, the scallop dish was slightly over cooked to the point of them being really chewy. This disappoint does mean my favored scallops (everyone has these right?), are the one from The Lido, sorry Brett!!

The Food

 Let’s get to the best bit. The highlights for me were the oyster cream, raw sea bream, caviar, cucumber and frozen English wasabi. This dish, sounds like something I wouldn’t particularly order, but the way the flavors, textures and temperatures bounced off each other, to create something not only wholly delicious, but cleansing and fresh was really amazing. And that oyster cream was ‘summin else. The next thing to blow me away was the lobster dish, largely for the size of lobster claw presented to me, but also the exquisite plating and on point cooking. And lastly, was the final dish, the pave of chocolate. All the puddings were amazing, and it’s a tough one between this and the pre-dessert strawberry bowl of amazing-ness. But chocolate is my kryptonite, so it was an easy win in the end, and this was unbelievably smooth and chocolaty, perfectly accentuated by the () ice-cream and matched desert wine (which I’m afraid to say I was paying less attention to at this stage).

My big regret is booking transport for 16:00, when we sat at 12:00. We had time for a tasting menu, plus coffees, but unfortunately had to rush off before we could take them up on the tour of the kitchen we were offered. I’m going to hold you to that though, and can’t wait for next time.

Duration: 3hrs 25mins

Price per person: £180

THE PESCETARIAN TASTING

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Smoked mussel and squid ink cracker (left), goats cheese puff with black truffle (right)

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Brioche and cauliflower

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Oyster chantilly, tartare of sea bream and frozen english wasabi (with cucumber and caviar)

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Mackerel, flame grilled and raw, with pickled cucumber, Celtic mustard and Shiso.

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Buffalo curd with onion, peas and broth. & a black truffle rarebit accompaniment


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Scallop, cauliflower.


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Lobster claw, shittake mushrooms, cauliflower.


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Turbot, asparagus (white & green), olives

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English strawberries (pre-dessert)   11208781_10155687138710360_1909931725_n   Olive oil cake, blood orange, white chocolate & tea

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Outlaw’s Empire.

— This post got really long. Flick through the pictures and read the summarising sentence at the bottom if you have more important things to do with your day, no one would blame you for that. —

This post has been side-lined for a while, in favour of recipe testing, my job, job hunting and other, less valid procrastination activities. However, the announcement of the latest Michelin guide last week reminded me of my failings as a new blogger, and the desire to document my un-nurtured opinion returned. Why? Because Outlaw’s Fish Kitchen, Port Issac, has been awarded a prestigious star. Hmmm.

I should say now, before I rip this accolade apart, that I’m a massive fan of Nathan Outlaw. The boy’s got talent, serious talent. And it’s a popular opinion to share. But the decision to award his newest establishment a Michelin star, strikes me as odd, misplaced, and highlights the flaws in the system. I fear at this point my boyfriend may accidentally happen upon this blog, read this, and shrink away in embarrassment as I boldly talk about something I honestly know very little about. But I suppose having a wordpress account lets anyone who can type have an opinion, so why not document mine.

Outlaw has a growing Empire down in North Cornwall, and I have had the pleasure of eating at most of them, as well as his restaurant in The Capital. I advise you now not to do what I did, and eat in them all in a confined space of time, as I had very similar dishes at a lot of the places. I would also advise you to not journey to Port Issac in the hope of a replication of Outlaw’s style similar to The Capital or St Enedoc Hotel. The food wasn’t horrible, I mean, c’mon, it is Nathan Outlaw, we gotta give him some credit. But without that name pioneering that little restaurant on the front, there is no way that place would have received a star. No way. Not from what I saw.

The Fish Kitchen is a dainty little eatery, right on the harbour side, situated in a unassuming little fishing cottage. It has been designed well inside, is bright and feels spacious despite the square meters they have on offer. The menu reads well, and are dishes typical to the Outlaw repertoire: cured salmon with horseradish mayonnaise OR smoked mackerel with cucumber, dill and caper salad and crispy oyster etc. When I went for lunch in August, I was taken aback by the value as well. To eat from the set menu, it was only £15 per person (based on 2 sharing), and you were treated to 3 of the small dishes from the regular menu to share, finishing with a heartily sized fish burger and shoestring fries each.

DISCLAIMER: All photos on this post are taken with an iPhone 4 – apologies for the quality – which varies a lot.

First things first, the cods roe dip with flatbread. I have become quite the connoisseur of this, but this take on it didn’t really hit the spot. I have been informed this may be because his is ‘proper’, but I think the smoother, moussier texture is more appealing. This was slightly lumpy, unnecessarily finished with oil, and the taste was a little weak. It was good (value and taste), but I would never put that dish as a starter to a Michelin starred menu. My socks stayed firmly on my feet.

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Cured Salmon and Cod’s Roe Dip (w/ flatbreads – really tasty flatbread)

Next, and featured above was the cured salmon. True to form, this was delicious, but it’s one of my favourite dishes ever, so I’m pretty easy to please when it comes to this. It wasn’t as good as the version I had at The Capital, but it could get a little boring me just arguing ‘it wasn’t as good’, as I feel it might be a critical approach akin to ‘I could do that’ in the art world. Apologies. It already happened. I’m not deleting it.

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Great simple mackerel dish. Shameful unfocused photography.

The smoked mackerel was really good, and it’s a shame I had eaten the same dish done slightly differently 2 days before at St Enedoc Hotel, as the latter was world’s better, and the Fish Kitchen’s one, just didn’t live up to it’s rival.

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Then was THE fish burger. This was by no means a good dish. I can only assume the judges for the Michelin guide decided the set lunch was not something they should be sampling. BUT IT SHOULD BE. Every dish should be impeccable and delicious and you should want to eat it again and again. However, aside from our table, there were audible and visible signs of other diners dislike of this dish. Blitzed up fish, set together in a burger form. Which tasted a old a bit dry and chewy. WHAT? NO! This is not fine dining. It is just a bit rank. Maybe if it has been a breaded fillet of good quality fish, and pulled you nostalgically back to when you used to have fish fingers sandwiches for tea, but in a refined, clever manner, then a fish burger would be apt in this Fish Kitchen. But done in this way, I can’t see where the merit is. Give me Birds Eye over this any day. Bizarre that this relaxed dining experience now has such a sophisticated accolade.

Here’s some food I WOULD recommend, just so you know I do LOVE Outlaw… Ode to Outlaw.

The Mariners Public House, Rock.

Simple delicious food. Not a thing to criticise. Tasty and great service too. (We also had mussels and olives)

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Whole Plaice, cider onions, anchovy & tarragon butter, courgettes.

^ This was incidentally the star of the show ^

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Butterflied Sardines, tomato chutney.

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View for the afternoon.

Outlaw’s at the St.Enedoc Hotel, Rock (not it’s neighbour Restaurant Nathan Outlaw – who do not serve lunch)

BUT, everything, from the view, the food, the wine, the service, was all impeccable. Cannot reccomend this enough, especially if you’re not feeling plush enough to eat at the ‘real deal’ next door… but you’re still feeling a little plush.

Lunch – 3 courses. £45.

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Start: Char-Grilled Octopus, avocado, green olive, lime & rocket – This was the best.

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Start: Cured Mackerel, cucumber, dill, horseradish yoghurt.

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Main: Plaice, hot tartare sauce, crushed minted peas.

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Main: Bass, cider spring onions, tarragon & anchovy butter.

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Pud: Chocolate Cheesecake, raspberry sorbet, raspberry and honeycomb.

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The view. Mmm yes.

Outlaw’s at The Capital Hotel, London. Set Lunch. 3 Courses, £27.

All SO spot on. (Service and food). And it’s all proper fancy given it’s setting.

salmon

Set Menu – Cured Salmon, horseradish yoghurt, saffron kohlrabi & dill.

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Set Menu – Bream, pickled vegetable, smoked paprika sauce.

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Set Menu – Breaded Hake, runner beans, parsley & mussel butter.

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Set Menu – Red Gurnard, broccoli, lettuce, lemon & garlic

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Set Menu – Dark Chocolate Tart, lime ice cream & cocoa syrup

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A la Carte – Poached Peach, honey ice-cream, pistachio & yoghurt

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Coffee and Petit Fours

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Fancy toilets, with swans head golden taps. Cool.

Effectively: Eat at Outlaw’s little empire. Lunch is cheaper, and no less delcious. Don’t make a pilgrimage to Port Issac for the Fish Kitchen, but check it out if you’re in the area. Don’t eat the fish burger.