Secluded Fine Dining
L’enclume REVIEW SUMMARY
Atmosphere 8/10 Cost 3/10 Quality 10/10 Service 7/10
Atmosphere 8/10 Cost 3/10 Quality 10/10 Service 7/10
What better way to congratulate Jesus on rising from the dead, then sniffing out posh Sunday lunch? Northcote Manor, surrounding by sodden pastures and grey skies, is home to Lancashire’s only Michelin star and the formidable Nigel Haworth and Lisa Allen.
A sense of Michelin hospitality was undermined by walking both in and out of Northcote Manor without acknowledgement, and neither my coat nor dripping umbrella was offered to be removed. Service was organised, and the smartly presented young Northcote team were cordial, but the bus conductor inspired maître d with his rapid fire: “Have you decided – what would you like – what can I get you?” was less than comforting.
Lunch not exceeding an (outstanding) Amuse Bouche was a ‘first world problem’ par excellance: the first bite had the bittersweet honour of being Northcote Manor’s highlight. Melting magenta shells fleetingly fizzled, birthing a tart, sizzling beetroot flavour, that slapped my taste buds ’round the chops in no uncertain terms.
There was no choice but to accept the
Dinner Jacket Potato Soup, which was more butter than jacket. The trendy foraged herbs added freshness, although someone’s hair added the opposite.
The Beetroot was the prettiest plate I’d ever seen: vibrant hues and floral shapes, elegantly intertwined in an act of vegetarian poetry. The sweet and acidic elements energetically danced but lacked a focal point. The alien looking Duck was heavily entombed but worked affably alongside the uplifting sorrel. Real elegance was on display, with an obvious great deal of skill, care and thoughtfulness.
The Salmon proudly commanded the plate, yet unselfishly yielded to the fork’s graze. The boldly seasoned fish and convivially sweet roe double teamed the earthy mushrooms, creating a bravely balanced dish, which spoke of land and sea in matrimony. While the Japanese touch of soy, shitake and ikura (roe) worked charmingly. The thoughtfully composed Lamb was quality dead baby sheep but lacked a je ne sais quoi. It was so rare it walked passed the oven while being properly seared and heartily seasoned. The mash was superlatively silky and the scorched and pickled onions added textures and talking points. Again, the composition was a real mark of finesse.
I seldom want sandwiches for dessert – bread with the Cheeseboard wasn’t required. However, the trio of cheeses was delicious, especially a terrified looking puddle of something Brie related. Northcote Manor’s cleverly crafted Cream Egg was an enchanting nod to the season, providing deftly constructed contrasting textures, and my personal favourite flavour combination of hazelnut and white chocolate.
Atmosphere 8/10 Cost 7/10 Quality 8/10 Service 8/10
Organising a Saturday night group booking in Manchester was a surprising pain in the derriere. Despite the plethora of culinary hotspots the fine city offered, it became oddly frustrating: El Gato Negro (no bookings), Refuge By Volta (limited tapas menu), The Hawksmoor (hates vegetarians), Mr Cooper’s (no availability), Iberica (brilliant, but went recently), Manchester House (too expensive)…Then, down a dreary Piccadilly, the shimmering mirage of Malmaison Brasserie rose from the horizon and my anxiety washed away with the rain.
On paper, Malmaison Manchester ticked the boxes required for this 30th birthday. It appeared suitably ambient, dark and sophisticated, while the menu was diverse, interesting and not extortionate.
On arrival, Chez Mal was gently buzzing away. Men in jackets and ladies in denial of Manchester’s Baltic conditions filled the space. My parties interest didn’t register a flicker of emotion with the staff, and I slouched to the bar. Some bourbon based beverages were mixed together with too much sugar and not enough rapport.
We slipped to the large tables in anonymity and given only the Al La Carte and Wine List in silence – The Chez Mal Set Menu was mysteriously withheld. Some well-chilled dry white wine arrived in a laboured manner, sluggishly followed by fresh bread, served with the panache of a prison officer issuing their least favourite death row inmate’s last meal.
To start, the Tuna Tartare was elegantly presented with sophisticated, vibrant flavour combinations – if only there was more of it. The Duck Ragu Soup could have passed for a school canteen’s Sponge Pudding; fortunately, it was delicious. Despite its suspicious beige, lumpy demeanour, the depth of flavour and balance of seasoning was superb. One guest was allergic to prawns, and so asked for the Tempura Calamari & Prawns to be adapted – this was ingeniously accommodated by serving half the starter at the full price. The smell of the Spatchcock Quail made my omnivore mouth water with jealousy. The dead bird was wonderfully smoked without it drying out, with the pomegranate providing an exotic touch.
For mains, the Lobster Risotto was suitably Al Dente, with well-formed, proud standing Arborio, draped in well seasoned, rich stock. Unfortunately, the dish was lacking lobster and thus its raison d’etre. The fleshy morsel placed on top was really a delicious garnish. The Venison was an excellent autumnal thing – well rested, properly seared and satisfyingly meaty. I also had it on good authority the Chez Mal Burger managed a respectable account of itself.
For desserts, the Chocolate Fondant was a black hole of sensual cocoa, which I liked so much it was embarrassing. Finally, the gooey Le Fromage Tray sluttily spread itself everywhere and was as good as any I can remember. I wasn’t advised what constituted it – unfortunate, as this was Malmaison’s highlight.
Atmosphere 7/10 Cost 5/10 Quality 8/10 Service 3/10
Visit Su Tzilleri e le Cantine for unpretentious, informal Sardinian food, rich in both history and flavour. If you seek something else, Sardinia won’t be your island, let alone Su Tzilleri your trattoria.
Choosing the taster menu, I naively brought only one stomach. Don’t bother with lunch beforehand and only pencil in tomorrow’s breakfast. Never before had I been intimated by a pending main course. Su Tzilleri e le Cantinea didn’t sell meals but character building challengse. The realisation I’d eaten too much came as I struggled to breathe. Mercifully, my partner’s inhaler rescued me, despite not being asthmatic.
Now I see why Italians are so
fusilli fussily protective of their pasta. The Culurgiones (Sardinian Ravioli) with goats cheese, tomatoes and mint were perfection. A minimalist celebration of summer on a plate. Seeing the tomatoes basking in the sun outside, was iconic as it was romantic. The antipasti produced cured wafer thin lamb so good it would be illegal in England. Ensuing Su Tzilleri e le Cantinea highlights included delicious rabbit, tasting like a gym-obsessed chicken pampered in luxurious oils, and a perfectly balanced, angelically light tiramisu. All washed down with local Cannonau and Barbera which was embarrassingly rambunctious for its frugal price point.
Dining wasn’t faultless; meatballs yearned for seasoning, rigatoni flirted with being raw, plates were cold, and the menu didn’t always match what arrived. However, all this can be forgiven when the same euros in Milan only get you some prosecco and a scowl.
Su Tzilleri e le Cantinea haphazard, customer is always wrong philosophy of Italian service wouldn’t survive in England. I didn’t suggest the dishes weren’t strictly as ordered, for fear of a skillet-wielding emotional chef. However, the food was so memorable I had no right to complain. Walking out into the warm, clear Sardinian night I was disorientated, shell-shocked but jubilant. Su Tzilleri e le Cantine served a truly memorable dinner and provided bagged-up bunny for brunch to boot.
Atmosphere 10/10 Cost 9/10 Quality 9/10 Service 6/10
Foodies visiting Cagliari (or Sardinia) for the first time, will, as I, fall in love with the food. It is simple, fresh and delicious. It is food that has been sun-kissed, honest, and direct from the land and her people – precisely the kind of food lacking from British mid-week dinner tables. It speaks volumes of the Sardinian culture and should be celebrated; however, presentation is rarely considered, menus are incredibly insular in technique and ingredient, and restaurants rarely expect guests in anything smarter than T-shirts. Ristorante Luigi Pomata on paper provided a refreshing, modern alternative.
Unfortunately, Ristorante Luigi Pomata was the worst kind of restaurant: it thought it was sophisticated, but wasn’t. The only thing worse than a snob is an inept snob. I can only assume Luigi saw Michelin star restaurants on TV and tried to emulate them without leaving the house.
Luigi Pomata’s staff for all their running around and snooty faces were entirely unintuitive and inefficient – as though Italy’s declined industry was paralleled in the dining room. The atmosphere, unless eating shortly before sunrise, is non-existent. I find our continental cousins evening dining habits strangely sophisticated, so arrived when it was suitably dark outside. Still, it was quieter than lunch in Islamabad cafes during Ramadan. I’m English; admittedly, but wasn’t staggering in, chanting “Vindaloo, Vindaloo!” I had the decency to turn up before midnight, yet received less rapport than on my driving test.
In Italy, the idea of pushing the boundaries of flavour is daringly swapping oregano for rosemary on focaccia. At least Ristorante Luigi Pomata was serving unique dishes for a 100-mile radius. That said, never eating octopus and chickpeas together won’t keep me up at night. The food, although thoughtfully presented, was largely style over substance; however, the quality of ingredients was self-evident across all dishes.
Ristorante Luigi Pomata thought it should only sell food, not ambience. At least their extra dry Prosecco is as good as a champagne three times its price in England.
Atmosphere 2/10 Cost 3/10 Quality 6/10 Service 2/10
When Prince Philip phones to book a birthday bash, a restaurant is seriously posh. The Waterside Inn caught the royal eye for a reason; it is the only restaurant in the UK to have retained three coveted Michelin stars for twenty-one years. I’ve long thought the Roux family were a thoroughly decent, hard-working lot; personable, despite their unrivalled culinary achievements.
To appreciate The Waterside Inn to its real potential, the Le Menu Exceptionnel, accompanying wine flight, supplementary cheese and recommended digestives was ordered e.g. les bollocks complètes (which I said, to nobody’s amusement). All the dishes were graciously composed, with delicately and sophisticatedly balanced flavours. As lovely as it all was, I was left waiting for it to get into top gear.
I appreciate it’s hardly an issue of pending global catastrophe, but the dishes of Foie gras, crayfish, scallops, lamb and soufflé were all beige. Putting aside a mint leaf garnish and a lonesome grilled tomato, The Waterside Inn produced an almost entirely monochrome meal.
The Waterside Inn’s best bite? It had to be the pan fried Foie gras. At the risk of sounding as morally respectable as an international arms dealer, it simply brought a broad smile and a sort of evil warm afterglow.
A restaurant cannot be all things to all people; I respect The Waterside Inn for sticking by its “unashamedly French” heritage for a generation. Not that there is anything to be ashamed about. The Waterside Inn’s food is all about balance, quality and refinement, creating a pleasant journey through French cuisine. However, it certainly did not offer the deepest of flavours, the most exciting of combinations or any real surprises. I hoped for something similar to La Maison Troisgros, which is similarly run by an industrious dining dynasty, and also consistently held three Michelin stars for generations. The difference is that the younger generation revolutionised the cuisine of its ancestors, yet still retained the highest levels of excellence. There was no such dynamism at The Waterside Inn, but I can understand the if it aint broke, don’t change it approach.
All The Waterside Inn staff were undoubtedly genuine and hard working – a credit to the restaurant. The maitre d’ was a jovial and instantly likeable chap, who combined formality and familiarity in perfect measure. My only gripe was the consistent recommendations of the most expensive wines and spirits possible. I spent £31 on a skinny cheeseboard, anymore Armagnac and I’d have been selling a kidney.
Finally, the drinks were top drawer – the evening’s highlight – lifting The Waterside Inn experience. If you’re tempted to journey to Bray, make allowances for their cost; as they, if anything, will keep in your memory.
I enjoyed the privilege of the visit, but perhaps through stifling expectation, given the frankly exorbitant cost, The Waterside Inn is utterly unjustifiable for anyone but the 1%.
Atmosphere 7/10 Cost 2/10 Quality 10/10 Service 10/10
Potential customers should consider before investing in Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, that your dinner will have very little to do with Heston Blumenthal. Obviously, he’s not rustling it up, but more importantly, dinner is unlikely to have any element of molecular gastronomy synonymous with Heston’s name.
Set in the bowls of Knightsbridge’s Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Dinner by Heston is within the inner circle of London’s shadowy elite. Literally next door, two-bedroom apartments are yours for a very reasonable £19,500,000. In retrospect, the bar bill was never going to be cheap.
Dinner by Heston’s bar felt like a high-end departure lounge full of non-descript business class Euro jet-setters: not what I expected from an iconic hotel in our great capital, but probably a fair reflection of London in 2016. Still, all Dinner by Heston’s staff were nothing but gracious – professional and completely down to earth. If there was an award for best-dressed servers, Dinner by Heston would win. There were pleasing avant-garde touches to the cocktails; a Banana & Parsley Daiquiri is something one order’s only once, but without regret.
Sticking with the (relatively) frugal Set Lunch Menu, diners choose from either Hay Smoked Salmon or Ragoo of Pigs Ear on Toast. My partner’s salmon was beautifully composed and very much lived up to the high expectations. In contrast to this piscine elegance, the pig’s ear looked like a gruesome murder scene. It was really a filling, wintery dish, out of place on a summer menu – particularly as pork was one of two choices for main. Regardless, it had a rich, deep flavour that was certainly enjoyed. For mains, there was Roast Pollack with Parsnips or Slow Cooked Pork Belly. My partner’s pork was absolutely sensational, undeniable the best porcine-related dish ever tasted: it was pork exalted to its highest station in life. The Roast Pollack was presented simply but attractively but was irksomely lukewarm, not helped by the frustratingly cold buttermilk sauce. A beautiful piece of fish let down by its lack of body heat. However, without wanting to resort to needless hyperbole, the accompanying side of carrots was unbelievably good. Our minds were induced into a higher state of consciousness – at one with the universe – and its carrotiness. I will never look at a root vegetable in the same way again: it was the agricultural answer to crack cocaine, at a similar price-point.
Finally, despite no longer being hungry and rarely displaying a sweet tooth, the Bohemian Cake was undeniably the best dessert either of us had ever had. The presentation, the textures, the balance of flavours was truly Michelin standard. It took me by surprise, in short – it was memorable. I’d heard nothing but gushing reviews for Dinner By Heston’s iconic Pineapple Upside Cake, but it’s hard to imagine anything better their Bohemian Cake.
Regarding value, Diner by Heston’s Set Lunch was probably the lowest priced way to experience two Michelin star food in the UK. Still, at £75 per head for lunch with one drink, Diner by Heston is only a regular haunt for Champagne Charlies. Is Diner by Heston the seventh-best restaurant in the world, as the San Pellegrino Guide proclaims? I doubt it, but Dinner By Heston is probably the seventh best in London – which is a great achievement.
Atmosphere 10/10 Cost 6/10 Quality 9/10 Service 9/10
I won’t bore anyone by deconstructing the welcoming service, eccentric interior and sophisticated atmosphere Angels Restaurant offered – mainly because I already have, secondly because it’s simply excellent.
Despite recently reviewing Angels Restaurant, their ‘Gourmet Evening’ seduced me into Ribchester with their super-reasonable midweek price point. The Angels Restaurant Gourmet Evening was a delight; the menu contrasted unusual combinations and predominately classic British cooking, with every course well balanced and beautifully presented. Angels Restaurant should be applauded for putting ambition above blandness, standing out against the Ribchester crowd.
Angels Restaurant kicked off with ‘golden beetroot, whipped goat’s cheese, tempura cauliflower’. The starter was a wonder, with the humble beetroot and exotic tempura batter getting along like inter-racial soul mates. This apparently simple starter is a guaranteed cock-up if attempted at home, and was the jazziest thing to ever happen to a cauliflower. The paired Pinot Noir was non-offensive but not the life and soul of the party. The ‘salmon, ginger cream, orange purée’ was memorable, as those elegant flavour combinations were a personal first. The citrus notes of the Chablis worked wonderfully with the dish, and I found myself sitting up straight, feeling rather pleased with myself. The ‘mushroom & apple veloute’, balanced the acidity of apple with the earthy mushrooms admirably. The ‘blade of beef, watercress & grain mustard sauce’ was hearty and delicious, with the mustard commendably picking out the peppery Rioja pairing.
The local cheese was well a piece of cheese really, but the artisan biscuits and chutney were fit for the Queen. Finally, the ‘pineapple caramel, banana brownie and coconut ice cream’ provided a satisfying mixture of textures and temperatures. The desert wine was an absolute sensation – think incredibly refreshing port and cranberry juice. I immediately made a mental note to drink more dessert wine.
fat, greedy people criticise Angels Restaurant’s small portion sizes. I’m far from wasting away, yet I unbecomingly took my belt off before the bill. Luckily Angels Restaurant manager Claire recognised the large volume of food, rather than forwarding me onto the Ribchester Sex Offenders Register.
Atmosphere 9/10 Cost 10/10 Quality 9/10 Service 9/10
It’s difficult to say anything that’s not already been said about the iconic Ivy restaurant. Living in the North, I’d only visited twice; yet, The Ivy is my favourite British restaurant – I cannot give it a greater compliment.
I loved The Ivy for being so understated: the Art Deco building oozed style without trying. More cynical types may say it’s dated, but The Ivy had a real sophistication without pretentiousness. What’s great was the mixture of people; old money types, no money types (me), minor celebrities, families, tourists, ladies who lunch and fathers and sons.
Service at The Ivy on both times was spot on: the amount of polished staff that briskly trotted past without flying arse-over-tit was amazing. The Ivy was obviously a well-run restaurant – confident in its abilities – taking a serious amount of choreography.
Regarding cost, The Ivy Set Lunch provided good value. Unless you’re looking for something offensively ostentatious, it will provide you and yours with plenty of good eats. The al la carte wasn’t cheap, but not as ridiculously expensive as other top London restaurants. The Bang Bang Chicken provided plenty of bang for your buck (or chuck). The Roast Lamb dish was the personification of a glorious spring morning. The Steak Tartar was as good anywhere – either side of the channel. Desserts weren’t a highlight; some pineapple thing was a waste of time, but the Sticky Toffee Pudding was a comfort blanket on a plate.
The food was of the highest standard: just simple flavours but with real depth. One could argue The Ivy’s menu was miss matched, but everything sounded tempting and looked equally delicious. It was proper (predominantly) British cooking at it’s best. If you’re not driving (who is in central London?), you owe it yourself to have a cocktail either before or after your meal – they really are excellent.
I’d eat here every week if I could.
Atmosphere 10/10 Cost 5/10 Quality 9/10 Service 10/10
Angels Restaurant Ribchester has held or flirted with, Trip Advisor’s top Preston spot for considerable time – building up significant local support. With an empty stomach, I booked myself in for Angels special Autumn Food Month menu…
After I greedily ate too much posh bread, Angels Restaurant Ribchester started with ‘smoked sweet corn & lime soup confit chicken’ – an unusual ensemble, which worked surprisingly well. I didn’t associate limes with autumn, but it added freshness, balancing the moist, flavoursome meat and provided a zingy talking point if nothing else.
Angels Restaurant Ribchester’s Fish Course produced wonderfully presented ‘seared mackerel, beetroot, horseradish, celeriac’. Gloriously in season with pleasingly blistered skin, the oily fish against the sharp beetroot is a classic combination I’ll never tire of. I finished the plate noting that I must remember to buy more beetroot.
Angels Restaurant Ribchester’s Main Course proudly consisted of ‘Guineafowl, spiced squash & mushroom Bolognese’. Who puts Bolognese with guineafowl? I don’t care if your Italian family’s Bolognese recipe’s passed down mother-to-daughter for generations – it couldn’t compete. A delicately piped thimble of creamy mash and ethereal micro leaves framed the rich guineafowl. It was so succulent I wondered why anyone bothers with turkey?
Angels Restaurant Ribchester’s Dessert produced a ‘Blueberry chocolate blondie, caramelised apple, & caramel cream’. This was how puddings should be – indulgent – not comma-inducing. As if that wasn’t enough, the ‘Northumberland Baltic ale-washed cheese, fruit & peanut loaf’ concluded the consumption, although I wasn’t blown away: I viewed the vaguely geriatric quality of the dried fruit and nut loaves with suspicion.
I haven’t mentioned wine because I’ve gone on long enough; however, the pinot noir was a general crowd-pleaser for this time of year when we eat little else but dead birds. For a tricky dessert pairing the ‘Concha y Toro Late Harvest Sauvignon’ with its light honey and peach flavours was just lovely with their creamy dessert.
A lot of thought and effort had gone into the interior of Angels Restaurant Ribchester. Perhaps the glitz won’t be to the taste of conservative persuasions. For my money, Angels Restaurant Ribchester got it just right, with a tastefully muted colour scheme with a touch of kitsch humour. Restaurants need an element of fun – how they achieve that while retaining their professionalism is a big challenge – but one Angels Restaurant Ribchester answered.
Finally, just as much effort was exerted by their hard-working shiny young staff, who will almost certainly make your meal an enjoyable one should you be lucky to visit.
Atmosphere 9/10 Cost 10/10 Quality 9/10 Service 9/10