Lunch at Osteria Waggon and Horses, Milton

Osteria Waggon & Horses in Milton has been on my list for a while since various friends gave rave reviews but despite being deceptively close to where I live it’s just a little far to walk and there is no bus back from Milton after dinner would be finished so the only time I can get there and back easily is Saturday lunchtime when I’m usually out shopping or do other things. I finally managed to get the timing right and visited last Saturday and really regretted not having done this earlier.
The former pub was stripped down to a very simple and clean style with well spaced tables in the dining area and a small bar area. The menu consists of a blackboard of aperitivi, small plates of meat, fish, veg, salad, charcuterie and everything else they can think of on the day, a bit like Spanish tapas. I think there were at least 10 different ones on the board when I was there. Two make about a starter portion. The printed menu has starters, pasta, mains and desserts, all rather more varied than what you usually find at Italian places. There is also a set lunch option on weekdays and a “Taste” menu on weekends.

Aperitivi and bread selection
Squid ink bread

I chose two aperitivi, ox tongue with salsa verde on the left and salted sardines on the right, with their bread selection. The bread was warm and delicious (the black blob was made with squid ink, the standout one was the foccaccia), the ox tongue tender and rich nicely complemented by the fresh salsa verde. The salted sardines were small, more like anchovies, the tapenade was not too strong in olive flavour (proper olives, too, not those dyed ones you often get) and the lemon jelly cut through the richness.

Jerusalem artichoke risotto

My main was a superb vegetarian risotto with jerusalem artichokes, pesto, beetroot and parmesan crisps. Perfect consistency, rice al dente (which might not be to everyone’s taste) and a great balance of flavours and textures. This was a joy to eat, easily among the best risotti I’ve had anywhere.

By this time I was quite full already but I couldn’t pass on dessert:

Gianduja semifreddo, black sesame ice cream

This seemed to be the lightest option (with the exception of the gelato selection), a gianduja semifreddo (the chocolate glazed log), black sesame ice cream, truffles and chocolate soil. The gianduja was rich but not too sweet, helped by the dark chocolate glaze. The ice cream was rather remarkable, too, first time I had one based on black sesame. The truffles were excellent, too.

The experience was rounded up by friendly and helpful service. Osteria might be a little more expensive than other neighbourhood Italians but the extra cost is entirely justified by the quality of the offerings and I can only recommend it.
Next time I want to go with a few friends and go through the whole aperitivi menu.

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First impressions of Butch Annie’s, 14/02/2015

Like many new discoveries, I came across this new burger place in the centre of Cambridge (Market St, where Carrington used to be) on twitter.

Entrance

The room has been updated a bit (the graffiti on the walls will probably divide opinion) but it should work well for a long and relatively narrow room.

Beers Booths One side of the bar

They offered a free burger to the first 250 people through the door who had retweeted their info so of course I couldn’t resist. I arrived at noon but had to wait about 10 minutes until they had sorted out some issues. The menu has five beef burgers and two with iberico pork (all the topping combinations are also available with a veggie patty); sides are skin-on chips with various seasonings, “onion popcorn” (onions cooked in a chickpea and beer batter) and coleslaw plus additional dips and sauces. The drinks menu has bottled craft lager and ales (Freedom, Chapel Down, Fourpure, Rosita, Harviestoun), two ciders, four wines and five bourbons. Soft drinks are Cokes and Sprite, juices, Fentiman’s drinks and mineral water. Prices for burgers range between 6.90 and 8.90, the average of a craft beer is around 4.60, soft drinks are more harshly priced at 2.50 for a tiny orange juice, and 3.30 for a Fentiman’s. Now for the burger. I’d had breakfast not long before so only ordered a burger without any sides. I chose one of the iberico pork ones, just to see how they would treat such a superb and delicate meat.

"Topsy Turvy" iberico pork burger Cooked medium, as it's supposed to be

The burger was a decent size, the toppings were well balanced so you could still taste the meat and the brioche bun was crispy and not really sweet as some brioche can be. As you can see in the second photo, the meat was cooked pink, as it should be with iberico pork. It was delicious and I will happily pay the ¬£8.90 they are charging for it next time, although I want to try some of the beef options, too, maybe even investigate the “secret” vegetarian patty. It’s served simply wrapped in greaseproof paper on a metal tray.

There were a few kinks in the service but in the first hour of opening that’s to be expected and I’m sure they will be smoothed out soon.
I had a brief chat with Tim, one of the owners and they sound like they both know what they’re doing and have a good philosophy generally, and more importantly, in the sourcing of their ingredients. Their beef comes from a small, well-managed herd in Herefordshire, for example.

They’ll be open from 12pm (11am on weekends) to 11pm all day so should provide a good source for a quick meal in town later in the evening.

The website is still quite bare but will hopefully have more info soon.

Lunch at The Sportsman, Seasalter

I’ve been lax in posting to this blog for various personal reasons and hope to take it up again soon.
One recent restaurant visit I can’t possibly miss to put on the blog was The Sportsman near Seasalter/Whitstable right on the Kent coast. I’d had too many both raving reviews and personal accounts from friends and acquaintances with similar tastes in food that I couldn’t push a visit off any longer so I took a day off in late September and braved a morning train to London. I managed to get a seat on the London train so the start was less painful than it could have been. The train from London Victoria is quite pleasant as it trundles through the Kent countryside, especially as it turned to be a fine day indeed. Whitstable station was quite deserted so I had to call for a taxi which arrived about 10 minutes later. The ride on the coast road was also quite pleasant, lasted about 15 minutes and cost 8.30 (!, cheaper than a taxi from Cambridge station to my house). I got to the Sportsman a bit early so had a drink in the conservatory.

Table Table

After I had taken my seat in the light and airy room, I ordered the tasting menu and a glass of Picpoul and relaxed. The first nibbles soon arrived and gave an indication of what was to come in terms of both freshness of ingredients and flavour.

Nibbles
Nibbles

Egg
Poached egg, smoked eel, parsley sauce

Oysters
Poached rock oyster on the left, raw native oyster with chorizo on the right. The native one won for me but both were excellent.

Bread and butter
Foccaccia, soda bread, sourdough, butter, all made in house. These were replenished throughout the meal as most dishes didn’t have a carb accompaniment.

Crab, carrot, Hollandaise
Crab, carrot, Hollandaise. The Hollandaise was very light and there was just enough to bring everything together. The crab naturally was as fresh as could be and an utter joy.

Baked celeriac, apple, fresh cheese
Salt baked celeriac, stewed apple, mustard, fresh cheese. I’m not a huge fan of celeriac but both the slow baking and the combination with the tart apple took away that particular flavour and made it a lovely dish.

Slip sole in seaweed butter
Slip sole in seaweed butter. This simple dish was my favourite. Letting the ingredient speak for itself, the fish was cooked on the spot and that’s all you needed, except a little bread to soak up the juices.

Braised brill, smoked pork belly
Brill braised in oxidised meursault with smoked pork belly. This was another highlight, the dense fish and the pork harmonised beautifully and the best beurre blanc I’ve ever had brought everything together.

Lamb croquette
Roast lamb
After all this glorious seafood, the lamb main was almost a letdown but only almost as the flavours were great, the meat cooked nicely and it was sourced from the farm across the road, so probably even closer than most of the seafood. The little extra course of the braised lamb croquette with mint sauce was a nice touch.

Then the puddings, oh the puddings:

Apple and blackberry ice lolly
The pre-dessert was an apple and blackberry ice lolly with crumble. Fresh and tart, this was the perfect palate cleanser after the rich lamb.

Plum souffle and kernel ice cream
Plum soufflé and kernel ice cream. A beautifully cooked, fluffy souffle with excellent plum flavour, complemented by the ice cream made with plum kernels, a flavour similar to almond.

Coffee and tartlets
And finally, an espresso with little tartlets: custard/raspberry and chocolate/salted caramel.

Service was friendly and efficient throughout the just over three hours I spent there and made the stay pleasant indeed.

A note to those who like myself rely on public transport: There are two local taxi firms but they don’t have many cars so booking in advance is highly encouraged, although a breakdown like in my case propbably won’t help there, either.

Lunch at Sushi Tetsu

The first stop during my birthday binge was Sushi Tetsu, arguably the best sushi restaurant in London or even the UK. It is modeled on the high-end sushi bars in Japan, guests sit at a counter behind which the chef prepares individual pieces of sushi, sashimi or small dishes in real time. In case of Tetsu, the counter seats seven guests, which explains how difficult it is to book a seat there. They open reservations for the first and second halves of following month on the 1st and 15th of the previous month respectively, phone only. While working at the same time, I regularly tapped redial for about 90 minutes and watching dates disappear from the calendar on their website. And then, it rang and there was still one seat available on one of the three days I would be in London. I had managed to beat the trickiest booking in London on my first attempt!

Tetsu is hidden away in a small passage in Clerkenwell, just behind the Modern Pantry (where I had an excellent pot of tea because I’d been a bit early for my reservation). When I arrived, a friendly lady took my coat and bag and let me into the tiny room. The counter is along the right hand side, seats for five along the long side and two along the end bit at an angle. Four guests were already enjoying their meal and chef Toru Takahashi was hard at work. I took my seat, ordered some green tea (which was regularly topped up throughout the meal) and nibbled on a few edamane beans while listening to how the meal would work, when to use chopsticks or your hands, which sauce went with which and so on.

Watching chef Toru’s precise movements as he sliced fish and other ingredients, picked up a precise handful of rice to shape the base for his nigiri, applied wasabi, added the slice of fish on top, giving it the final shape with his hands and finally presenting it on a plate or leaf on the counter in front of you was fascinating and captivating.

I am not going to describe every piece of sushi or dish as the selection is entirely dependent on the market availability of the day but here are a few highlights:

The main difference between freshly made sushi in this style and that in bigger restaurants is that the rice is warm, I would say at body temperature, rather than cold, which of course helps with the flavour. Apart from familiar offerings of salmon, sea bass and sea bream, there were scallops, squid, and tuna that had been marinated in soy.
One of the non-sushi offerings was a plate of sashimi which featured both fish including different cuts of tuna, other seafood and thinly slice and julienned vegetables. Everything was as fresh as you would expect and in different thicknesses depending on the type so it was pleasant to eat. It was the first time I had the really fatty tuna which actually melted in my mouth, like a good lardo. Amazing.
Another standout dish was the mackerel which had been cured and then blowtorched to perfect crispness, all brought together by a fresh and savoury sauce.
Another unusual dish was a cone shaped hand roll of freshly minced beef with soy and a hot seasoning, wrapped in rice and a large sheet of seaweed.
The final dish was described as a sweet omelette but the consistency was more that of a cake, albeit light and fluffy, about 2.5cm thick, cut from a large slab. Remarkable.

This high-end offering comes at a price, the large Omakase (which roughly translates as “entrusting the chef”, i.e. you leave the selection to the chef) costs £80 plus service but it is something for a special occasion, especially if you like watching chefs and a bit of theatre. It’s also ideal for dining on your own and I recommend it to anyone who is interested in Japanese cuisine and especially sushi done properly.

There are no photos as it wasn’t really practical sitting at the counter without disturbing the other guests and to be honest, I was far too fascinated by what was going on behind the counter to concentrate on photos.

Dinner at Restaurant Story

For my birthday this year I went to Story a relatively new restaurant that had been on my list ever since it opened last year as it offered modern, ingredient-led and unusual cooking. Despite receiving a Michelin star in the same year it opened, the reviews were mixed, some critics giving very high marks indeed while others weren’t happy at all. That just gave me another reason for wanting to try it. Besides, what I’d seen in photos and blog posts, the food looked like exactly my thing. It turned out to be exactly what I was looking for.

The restaurant is a rather unusual location, a former toilet block at the end of Tooley St. It was a bit tricky to find as the street splits into two and Google Maps tells you its on the other half. I got there eventually and on time, too. The L-shaped dining room has about 12 tables, with the rest of the room taken up by the semi-open kitchen. Tables are simple wood without cloth and the floor is bare but polished and treated concrete screed.

The evening menu has only two choices: two tasting menus of six or ten courses. This being my birthday, I obviously went for the larger menu.
Only a few minutes after I had ordered the first “snacks” arrived, little mouthfuls of different flavours and textures from a radish stuffed with “kelp butter”, crispy cod skin, a “rabbit sandwich” and other delights. These gave an early indication of what to expect later. A lit candle arrived as well but not your usual candle. This was made of beef dripping which melts, runs down and collects in the bottom of the stick to be scooped up with bread later. Of course it’s a gimmick but it’s also a nice bit of theatre.

Radish, kelp butter, Maldon salt

Crispy cod skin, smoked cod roe, gin botanicals

Rabbit sandwich, tarragon cream, carrot

Beef dripping candle

Then the dishes on the menu appeared: A fresh onion dish with a gin sauce, pickled scallops with cucumber and dill, and the best potato dish since Simon Rogan’s heritage potato/onion creationa dish of fresh crab with leeks and lovage:

Onion, apple, Old Tom

Scallop, cucumber, dill ash

Heritage potato, turnip, coal oil

Crab, smoked leek, rapeseed, pear and lovage

I was very much tempted by the optional extra main course of beef tartare served in an apple with bits of apple and grated truffle on top, served in a bowl of (dry) ice and did not regret the decision as it was both some excellent theatre and an explosion of flavour, filling my head with umami:

Raw beef, apple and Perigord truffle

And the flavour sensations just came coming. The next dish of raw squid with bitter sea vegetables/leaves and pine honey was equally satisfying and the lamb with grilled salad and sheep’s yoghurt was the perfect end to the main courses. This was the most conventional of the dishes with roast fillet and crispy belly.

Wild stems, squid and pine honey

Lamb, grilled salad and sheep yoghurt

Despite my rapidly filling stomach, the extra cheese course was also far too tempting to decline of which the calavados camembert was my favourite.

Cheese

Then it was time to slowly wind down and move on to the sweet part of the evening. A dish of sea buckthorn and rapeseed cleansed the palate nicely of the lingering cheese and rich lamb, ready for the foie gras brûlée with pear. A similar concept to the dish at Duck & Waffle but far smaller and better balanced with the tart pear. And without the lobster, of course. A bowl of cereal with prune and variations of milk was next and made me wish I could have it for breakfast every morning. Then it was time for the star of the show: Simply described as “almond and dill” on the menu it was one of those dishes that just sound odd on paper and you simply have to experience yourself. I still don’t know why it worked but it did. The fresh, green flavour of the dill was well balanced by the sweet almond creating a quite remarkable sensation. The only dish that did not quite live up to the others’ was the final dessert of a small milk bottle filled with rhubarb and custard. This would have been great anywhere else but just a little boring after what had come before.

Rapeseed and sea buckthorn

Foie gras, pear and sorrel

Hay, prune and cereal

Almond and dill

Rhubarb and custard

Rose teacake

After all the above and almost four hours after I had sat down I was quite full and declined the offer of coffee or tea. I had an outstanding meal, the first one I now consider equal to the one I had at Sat Bains two years ago. The accompanying wines (and one beer) were well chosen and service led by restaurant manager Jon Cannon was both efficient and enthusiastic about the food, happy to discuss the dishes and to answer questions.
I can see that Tom Sellers’ food is not for everyone but f you like the cooking of Simon Rogan, Sat Bains, Ben Spalding or Paul Foster, I’m quite sure you will love the food at Story, too.

A few more photos are on flickr.

[Dining] Dinner at The Olive Grove, Cambridge

The Olive Grove is a relatively new Greek restaurant at the far end of Regent St. I’d been once late last year for a quick meal and enjoyed it so wanted to go back for a full meal last Monday.

Marinaded octopus

I started with the pickled octopus tentacle which was served cold. The texture was quite firm but not chewy with excellent flavour. I nicked some of my companion’s tzatziki to go with it, which worked well.

As main we both had the moussaka. There is no photo because it would just have been a brown bake in an earthenware dish. The taste, however, was superb, very meaty, the aubergine was great as was the bechamel on top.

Baklava

We had heard good things about the baklava so ordered both a slice. Slightly different than usual, i.e. not a multitude of thin layers of filo pastry with nuts and honey in between, this was more like a pie, i.e. a filled pastry crust. Quite sticky but not horribly sweet. Lovely.

Yoghurt, walnuts, minted honey

The kitchen was kind enough to let us try a new variation of a classic Greek dessert, yoghurt, walnut and honey, the difference being that the honey was boiled with mint which balanced the sweetness of the honey. Much lighter than the baklava, this would easily fit in after a heavier meal.

On my first visit, I had the skewered lamb loin which was well cooked, tender and just pink.

Monday’s meal for two, three courses each without drinks (the bottle of red we had was kindly provided by the restaurant) came to just under 50 pounds which is perfectly acceptable for the location. You can easily have much worse dinners in Cambridge for that amount.

Greek restaurants are quite rare in the UK and definitely in Cambridge (unlike, say, in Germany) so The Olive Grove is a welcome addition to the Cambridge restaurant scene and I will definitely be back as there are many more interesting options on the menu I want to try.

Many thanks to George and his team for looking after us so well that night.

Lunch at Aumer’s La Vie, Nuremberg

Having recently researched the fine dining options in Nuremberg and dismissed the two-starred Essigbr√§tlein because of too many negative reviews, the lack of website and online booking facilities, I decided I wanted to give Aumer’s La Vie a try as the reviews were good, they had recently received their first Michelin star and their menu looked interesting. One downside was that the restaurant is open for lunch only on Saturdays so I adjusted my travel plans accordingly.
La Vie is conveniently located opposite the Germanisches Nationalmuseum, a few minutes walk from the U-Bahn stop Opernhaus and even walking from the main station won’t take longer than 15 minutes or so.
When I arrived at 1, the restaurant was not busy, there was only one couple sitting at a table by the window and I was shown to another of a total of three window tables. The rest of the tables are in the back of the dining room with space for about 30 covers.

The menu options were a four-course and a six-course menu as well as a la carte. While the longer menu was tempting I wasn’t quite sure of the time it would take so I opted for the four courses which turned out to be an excellent choice.

Bread

First was the bread which overall was the only disappointing item as it was neither warm nor particularly fresh. This was served with soft butter, a little bowl of sea salt flakes and a small bottle of peppery olive oil.

Amuse 1: Marinaded tuna

The first amuse of marinaded tuna with yuzu and cucumber was served by one of the chefs. This was interesting and fresh and much more exciting than the bread so already breaking the rule that the bread is an indication of the quality of the rest of the meal.

Amuse 2: Duck liver and ham

The second amuse, served by another chef (two of them would alternate throughout the meal), was a duo of duck, a superbly cooked piece of liver and a slice of tender ham (cured and smoked breast).

Veal sweatbread, Jerusalem artichoke, rose hip,

The first proper course was a nice piece of fried veal sweetbread, served with roasted Jerusalem artichokes, braised onion and, a first for me, rose hip (gel and leather). The tangy rose hip contrasted really well with the meat and the artichokes provided earthy crunch.

Ray wing, celery, mustard seed, cabbage, dashi broth

The fish course was a piece of soft ray wing with celeriac, mustard seed and cabbage in a dashi broth, again with perfectly harmonising flavours and contrasting textures and fun to eat. Of the deeply flavoured broth I could happily have eaten a whole bowl full. Simply excellent.

Saddle of roe deer, carrots, herbs, wild mushrooms

The previous courses had already been excellent but the main cranked up the quality and enjoyment by another notch. Venison is one of my favourite types of meat anyway and this saddle of roe deer was a superb example. Cooked medium rare with a nice crust, it was a delight to eat. On a side was a forest of sculpted carrots with wild mushrooms and herbs, equally deeply flavoured and a perfect accompaniment.

Quince, Whisky, Hazelnut

The dessert was quince in various forms, a sponge similar to rum baba but flavoured with whisky and crushed and pureed hazelnut. After the strong flavours of the main this was almost a bit boring but the quince was tart and the baba not too sweet so it worked well.

Petit Fours

After a rather rich meal I fancied a coffee and I am glad I had one as the petit fours that came with it were a delight. On a piece of would were a quenelle of meringue filled with liquid almond, a jelly with chocolate flakes, a candied apple and a ginger snap shard. Brilliant and fun.

With a half litre bottle of water, a glass of wine with the main and the coffee, my bill came to €87.50 so about £73 at the current exchange rate. For Nuremberg, this is quite pricey but adequate for the quality of the offering. I am highly tempted to go again in summer, provided I can plan my holidays accordingly.