Lunch@Marcus, Belgravia

Today we are having a special lunch, with close friends and family, at a very special place. Marcus is a two Michelin star restaurant in Belgravia and the flagship of the Marcus Wareing group. The kitchen is led either by Marcus himself or by joint chef patrons Mark and Shauna Froydenlund.

After a glass or two of prosecco, we are presented with an amuse-bouche of rabbit in a sort of Japanese style steamed bun. This really helps to put us in the mood for more food of the same great quality. For the first two courses, I’m sitting near Lani, Muffin and Ilia. Rock is at the other end of the table next to Gino and Sid. Rock, Muffin and I have the salmon, calamansi (a small citrus fruit), cucumber, shallot & buttermilk. Highest quality salmon in a beautifully balanced dish. Lani and Sid have the burrata (a soft Italian cheese) with pea, hazelnut and truffle cream.

For the starter and the intermediate courses we are drinking Miss Terre, Domaine de la Senechaliere – a well-structured and flavoursome white from the Loire Valley. Edda, who is the only vegetarian on the table, loves her vibrantly coloured starter of heritage beetroot, cheese mousse, pine and girolles.

For the intermediate course Ilia and I are both having the scallop, curry & apple with a roast beef dressing. It is a dish of surprisingly delicate flavours – the curry and roast beef could easily overpower the scallop but this is a skilful kitchen. Edda has the asparagus, smoked egg yolk & pickled turnip. Lani and Sid have the amazing Gigha halibut with spring beans, shrimp & dill. It is the favourite savoury dish of the day for many. 

Now it’s time to change places. Rock moves to sit between Neko and Rufus, while I move to enjoy the company of Cali & Edda. With the main course we are mostly drinking another Loire Valley wine, a gamay from Domaine Levin. This is a berry flavoured ruby red with some subtle notes of spice. Cali & Edda both have the agnolotti with almonds, Cuore del Vesuvio ( an Italian grape tomato) and rocket. Rock has the mushroom, fregola (a Sardinian soup pasta) and cauliflower served with cleverly engineered wafer thin discs (yes, discs) of consomme.

Meanwhile, the carnivores can choose between lamb and duck. Neko and I both have the Herdwick lamb with pea and mint. Apart from beautiful pieces of tender lamb there is a crispy piece of lamb breast and a roundel of confit lamb. It is superb. Rufus has the Goosnargh duck with cauliflower, mushroom & cumin…he must be enjoying it because his plate is soon clean.

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Herdwick lamb, crispy breast, pea, mint
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Goosnargh duck, cauliflower, mushroom, cumin

After several bottles of prosecco, white and red wine, an amuse bouche, starters, fish or veggie courses, and main courses…do we have room for dessert? Omg, yes. But, not before we move again. This time Rock sits between Van and Ilia while I find myself between Wanda & Ziggy.

Most people fall into the trap of choosing the warm chocolate, cacao and salted caramel ice cream – it just sounds so comforting. A breast-shaped cone filled with warm chocolate is placed in front of me and I think I’m in heaven. At least that is until I try the dessert chosen by Wanda and Geno – bergamot, meringue and iced tea. It is full of sensational flavours – it is to die for!

Finally, as if any of us want this dining experience to end, we are presented with petit-fours – a lemon parmentier and a bitter orange macaron plus packages of hand-made chocolates filled with salted caramel to take home. Wow!

The whole experience has been fantastic. Great food and exceptional service, especially from Nicole – who was looking after our table. All enjoyed with the very best of friends and family. Same time next week?

Sunday lunch@The Woodspeen

Going out for Sunday lunch can be a challenge if you don’t want a traditional roast. We are with our good friends Rufus and Lani and, with this in mind, we want to introduce them to the wonders of The Woodspeen. Late changes to our plans meant that we were late booking a table and, as a result, there are no free tables until 2.15pm.

We arrive early, knowing we can sit in the bar area, with the hope that a table will become available earlier. The restaurant is absolutely packed – even the bar area is busy. Lani has a glass of champagne, Rufus a G&T, Rock has an elderflower pressé and I have a Cavalier bitter from the excellent Two Cocks Brewery. Our hopes for an early table dissolve and we are finally seated at around 2.35pm.

Rufus starts with the pigeon, pickled parsnip, apple, watercress and malt crumb. Rock has chosen the game terrine with duck parfait, quince, smoked apple & raisin chutney. Lani has the cured mackerel with horseradish remoulade, crab croquette, fennel and orange dressing. I cannot resist the roasted scallops with pork cheek, mulled wine pears, thyme and shallot purée. We may be late to the table…. but it has been worth the wait.

We order a bottle of Crozes-Hermitage, Domaine du Colombier that should work well with game dishes. It is a medium bodied red with flavours of dark fruit and spice…perfect. Rufus and Lani are both having the venison pave and faggot with mustard mash, bacon choucroute, swiss chard & blackberry jus. I have picked the partridge with home-made black pudding, blackberry & apple compote and cavolo nero. Rock does not ignore the game theme and goes for the rabbit tortellini with pumpkin soup, sherry vinegar syrup and celery cress. We are all very happy with our choices though my black pudding was maybe a little too moist for my taste.

We are enjoying ourselves enormously and it would be unreasonable to leave without looking at the dessert menu. Rock and I share the pistachio and olive oil cake with fennel, honeycomb & goat’s cheese ice cream. Rufus and Lani share the spiced cranberry and orange pavlova with lime cream. Both desserts are truly beautiful.

We came looking for something other than a traditional Sunday roast and, once again, The Woodspeen has delivered. Creative cooking, fantastic flavours and, apart from the initial wait for our table, great service.

2016 Food Awards – Part 2

WadeandRockandFood Awards 2016

The WadeandRockandFood Awards 2016 follow another year of dining out in hundreds of restaurants, pubs and cafes. The awards aim to celebrate the very best eating experiences we have had over the last 12 months. Awards 2016 part 1 focused on restaurants, part 2 focuses on pubs and part 3 will focus on small independent food providers.

In 2015 we found several sensational pubs. In 2016 we have not been quite so fortunate – with many places falling short on imagination and quality. However, our top 3 pubs are all worthy of their place.

Devonshire Arms, Long Sutton

A former hunting lodge set in a pretty Somerset village. Has the feel of a traditional village pub but the food is of a far higher standard than you find in most village pubs. Devon review

Hand & Flowers, Marlow

You may have to wait months to get a table at the only UK pub with 2 Michelin stars…but it is worth it. A clever combination of exceptional service and high end pub food. Hand review

Three Tuns, Great Bedwyn

A free house that always has a good range of beers. The Three Tuns is a lively village pub that creates some beautiful plates of food and it is simply a great place to dine with friends. Tuns review – Apr 16 Tuns review – Dec 16

Part 3 will follow in the next few days.

2016 Food Awards – Part 1

WadeandRockandFood Awards 2016

The WadeandRockandFood Awards 2016 follow another year of dining out in hundreds of restaurants, pubs and cafes. The awards aim to celebrate the very best eating experiences we have had over the last 12 months. Awards 2016 part 1 will focus on restaurants, part 2 on pubs and part 3 on small independent food providers.

We have had an extraordinary year in terms of visiting restaurants of the highest quality. As usual, we have narrowed it down to 3 UK restaurants that we loved the most, plus a new award for the best international eating experience. The top UK restaurants are listed in alphabetical order followed by the winner of the international award.

UK

Aizle, Edinburgh

This place creates a 5 course menu from monthly ‘harvest’ ingredients that are all at the height of quality and seasonality. They create dishes and cocktails that are sensational. Aizle Review

Carters, Moseley

3,5,or 7 course set lunch menus cleverly balance big flavours and a variety of textures. It was a joy to find such a diamond of a restaurant in a relatively unassuming suburb of Birmingham! Cart Review

The Woodspeen, Woodspeen

This beautiful airy restaurant was featured in the 2015 awards and we couldn’t resist going back. They spoil diners with exceptional service and consistently fabulous food. Wood Review – Jan 16. Wood Review – Aug 16.

International

Kodbyens Fiskebar, Copenhagen

Skilful kitchen teamwork helps to create fish dishes and desserts that are fantastic to look at and even better to eat! Despite the restaurant being very lively, the service is still superb. Kod Review

Parts 2 and 3 will follow over the next few days.

Lunch@Hand & Flowers, Marlow

The Hand & Flowers is the only UK pub with two Michelin stars. A downside of this is the fact that, if you want to dine here, you usually have to book several months ahead. (WadeandRock tip: follow Hand&Flowers on twitter – they sometimes tweet about additional availability). We really enjoyed our last visit and today we will see if it has been worth the wait to come here for a second time.

We enjoy some beautiful home-made bread and keep the sealed pack of home-made cheese & onion puffs we are given for later. We start by sharing the glazed omelette with smoked haddock & parmesan served in a small skillet. The flavour of the smoked haddock flesh works wonderfully in an omelette and the parmesan is just a bonus. I’m helped by being able to wash down the rich taste with a pint of Hand & Flowers bitter.

As you might expect the place is buzzing with life. Service standards remain high with prompt attention and explanations of dishes where necessary. I decide to have the loin of Cotswold venison with Boudin noir (black pudding) purée, salt baked celeriac, a ball-shaped ragout pie and a cowpuff (like a prawn cracker but beef flavoured). Loads of bold flavours on one plate!

Rock selects the tenderloin of Wiltshire pork with pickled cabbage, garlic sausage, a malted cheek beignet and mustard mayonnaise. It is a beautiful dish even though the pork is very, very pink. She leaves a little and when asked she simply states that some of the pork was just too pink for her but that she really enjoyed the dish. Almost immediately we are informed that it has been taken off the bill – great service is sometimes going a step further than required!

With the bill now somewhat lighter than we had anticipated – we agree to share not one, but two desserts. The Hand & Flowers chocolate & ale cake with salted caramel and Muscavado ice cream plus the tonka bean pannacotta with poached plums, honeycomb, ginger wine jelly and plum sorbet. The chocolate and ale cake is also accompanied by two tiny glasses of dark stout – another nice touch.

It has been a lovely experience. Very good food, really excellent service and some fine beer. Was it worth the wait? I think it probably was.

Lunch@Carters, 2016

Today we are going on a food adventure. Rock and I have been to Carters before and we know we’ll have food experiences that are both interesting and unusual. We are having lunch with our dear friend Douglas who, until now, has not had the opportunity to visit Carters.  Hopefully, he will enjoy himself as much as we did last time we were here.

At lunchtime you can choose from a menu of 3, 5 or 8 courses. Most courses are modest in size but, whichever number you choose, you also get three additional ‘snacks’. Three courses plus three snacks will be enough for us. While we study the menu we order a glass of Auratus Alvarinho for Rock, a beautiful Portuguese Vinho Verde and a fabulous IPA from the Long Arm Brewing Company for me. Douglas is keeping his head clear for the food experience to come.

The first snack arrives – chicken liver cereal. A breakfast bowl of cereals, nuts, seeds, dried fruit and herbs that cover a delicate chicken liver paste. It is extraordinary how they have managed to produce such a mixture of fantastic flavours and textures that all work together in a small dish. Douglas is already impressed.

The other two snacks are not quite as inspiring. The Ogleshield Gougeres are small choux pastry affairs, similar to a profiterole, but filled with Ogleshield cheese. The Brixham scallop with coral roe dashi and kelp is tiny but full of flavour.

For our first course, Rock and I both choose the flamed mackerel with greengage and back fat. When it is presented the dish does not look that inviting – but it does taste a great deal better than it looks. Douglas has clearly made the wisest choice! He is having the Mayan gold mash with marrow bone gravy. Rock and I both have to try it and we all agree that it is a joy.

Next Rock is having the North Coast hake with black garlic, trompettes and shiso. It looks extraordinary…a mound of black & purple sitting in a black pool. Again, the flavours are just superb. Douglas and I are both having the red-legged partridge with polenta and wiltshire truffle. I’m not the biggest fan of truffle, it can be overpowering, and there are a considerable number of truffle shavings on my plate. But, I should not have been concerned – the kitchen has balanced the truffle perfectly with the partridge. Excellent.

For dessert Rock and Douglas both have the black fig tart with Moseley Honey and fig leaf ice cream. I’m having the salted caramel mousse with Russet apples. Both desserts are beautiful. We know this food adventure is drawing to a close but we are enjoying ourselves so much we order coffee.

It is explained to us that they do not do traditional coffee here but a pourover, drip filter method of brewing. We cannot resist. Several items of equipment are brought to our table as the method is explained to us at some length. There is a point when we all believe that the resulting coffee cannot possibly live up to the hype….but is is very fine coffee indeed.

Overall, our latest visit to Carters has been fabulous. Even better, we have shared the experience with Douglas. This is a place that every food lover should visit!

Lunch@The Woodspeen – take 3

If you really love a place…. you just have to keep going back to check that it is as good as you think it is. We first went to The Woodspeen in November 2015 and now we are back for a third visit. Today we are meeting our friends Jem & Sassy for lunch. Coincidentally, one of our favourite food critics, Jay Rayner, reviewed this place in the Observer at the weekend and he seems to like it almost as much as we do.

Jem & Sassy are Woodspeen virgins and they are immediately impressed as we enter the nordic minimalism of the smart restaurant interior. Sassy, being sassy, orders a glass of Château de Beaupré – a well-balanced rosé from Provence. Jem has a Peroni while I have a Cavalier golden ale from the Two Cocks Brewery.

Jem selects the smoked salmon with quail’s eggs and a potato & onion salad. Rock the soused mackerel with pate, cucumber and Horseradish. Sassy has the burratta (a pouch of mascapone filled with curd and cream) with peas, broad beans, white asparagus and hazelnuts. I have the crayfish cakes with a guacamole coriander salad. The smoked salmon comes in rich thick slices and Jem is very pleased with his choice. The burratta is a revelation – fabulous but not something any of us have come across before.

Our conversation, mostly about travel and the bizarre current state of world politics, is interrupted by the arrival of the next course. A fabulously colourful dish of broad bean filled courgette flower with nettle pesto, tomato and feta is placed in front of Rock. Jem is having the guinea fowl with sweetcorn orzo pasta, chard and a coriander dressing. Sometimes I really love the mix of fish and meat and so I am trying the turbot with ox cheek, broad beans, girolles and mustard mash. It is good but, for me at least, the combination does not work quite as well as I’d hoped. Sassy has chosen the sea bream with crushed peas, sundried tomato, spiced aubergine and a plot salad – presumably a salad made from some of the produce of their vegetable plot.

After seeing several portions of the egg custard tart with nutmeg ice cream being delivered to other tables, Jem cannot resist ordering one for himself. I always struggle to resist a panna cotta and I don’t put up much of a fight this time. The elderflower panna cotta with strawberries and a cucumber & lime sorbet is simply divine. Rock has the lemon meringue with white chocolate and Sassy the mint & raspberry pavlova.

Although my turbot & ox cheek fell slightly short of my high expectations…it was the only bum note in a fabulous symphony of flavours, colours & textures. As ever the service, on this occasion from Bianca, was superb. We still love this place and Jem & Sassy now understand why!

Postcript: after the minor coincidence of the Jay Rayner review, we turned on the TV last night to find two of the key men behind the Two Cocks Brewery being featured in an episode of Grand Designs! Spooky… Even spookier….a review of the farmhouse & brewery featured on Grand Designs appeared last month in a Daily Mail article written by a former colleague and old friend of mine.