Posts Tagged With: Proper service

Dining with La Fayette and Washington: Balthazar comes to London

Copyright of Balthazar. Sourced from Balthazar website

Copyright of Balthazar. Sourced from Balthazar website

Cuisine: French

Address: 4-6 Russell Street, WC2B 5HZ

Area: Covent Garden

Nearest Station: Covent Garden

Tel.: 020 3301 1155

Website: http://www.balthazarlondon.com/

Pricing: High

Good For: Smart dining, Buzzing atmosphere, That je ne sais quoi feeling, Place for romance, Proper service, Extensive French wine list

It’s hard not to take notice when one of New York’s finest French restaurants decides that it’s about time to head over the Atlantic and set up shop in a prime location in Covent Garden.

It’s even harder when your friends blast frantic emails around trying, nay, demanding to get a date in the diary to go check it out. Man, their excitement is infectious…

Before our big dinner together, I was able to get a ‘sneak preview’ of sorts when my brother scheduled the first of his many birthday dinners there (see here for another one of his birthday treats). I felt a bit naughty, getting there ahead of my friends, but sometimes in this cut-throat world of ours, you just have to look out for yourself.

Not that having a birthday dinner with my brother and my darling mother was exactly the greatest act of betrayal. I think.

It was a rather pleasant evening – sat amidst grand splendour, surrounded by scrubby yet chic mirrors and bathed in golden mood lighting, we dined well that night and generally quite enjoyed ourselves. I dined on a rather agreeable lapin à la moutarde, which was succulent and creamy, whilst my brother had steak tartare and oysters (which suited his low-carb diet perfectly, despite how extravagant and sumptuous that all sounds) and my mother had the moules frites.

To finish things off, we had the raspberry soufflé with crème anglaise, which we were informed was their signature dessert. And it was delightful – once that spoon dug in through the crust, you entered a realm of saucy and smooth goodness. Never have I had a soufflé that delicate – it was a real triumph.

A towering yet delicate soufflé

A towering yet delicate soufflé

But apart from that soufflé? All serviceable and well-executed dishes – but not mind-blowing. They were just decent, nothing more. Even trying to remember back to the rabbit I had is a bit of a struggle, as nothing from that dish jumped out as being absolutely amazing, as I would expect from a place of Balthazar’s hype. Was I wrong to have such high expectations, or would I just have to wait for my second visit in order to get that brilliant Balthazar experience?

Alas, it was not quite to be – that second visit was a bit of an odd one. From getting one of my friend’s order wrong (a simple case of forgetting to take the bun out of the bunless burger) to completely wrecking another friend’s dining experience – she had to send her rack of lamb back TWICE, the first time because it was inexplicably half the size of the other rack of lamb on the table, the second time because it was still raw inside – we had a pretty rough time of it. You know when you’ve got that legitimate complaint but you’re too embarrassed to do anything about it? Yeah, that was us. Our waiter was absolutely amazing though, ever-willing to take that dish back until the kitchen got it right, no matter how much flak from the chef I’m sure he took. They were very quick to offer us her rack of lamb, as well as dessert for the entire table, on the house as a means of saying sorry – a pretty good recovery, and one that would make me doff my hat to them, if I wore hats. But still, it’s always very awkward and uncomfortable when you find yourself in that situation in the first place.

Desserts for all, on the house!

Desserts for all, on the house!

And now let’s look to the food: apart from having some of the biggest onion rings I have ever seen (which were crunchy and well-seasoned), I had the duck confit with roasted potatoes, cipollini onions, wild mushrooms and frisée salad. It was very tasty and delectable, with suitably crisp skin and tender duck meat, but again when I think back to it I am hard-pressed to consider myself wowed by it.

How big is that onion ring?

How big is that onion ring?

Duck duck duck... not goose

Duck duck duck… not goose

And let’s consider the crème brûlée – it did come with a wonderfully crisp and fluffy madeleine, but it was just short of absolutely creamy loveliness. I’m putting my neck on the line here, but I would offer up Le Relais de Venise’s version as one of the best ones I’ve had in London.

Hmm, nothing enhances dessert than a bit of Madeleine on the side

Mmm, nothing enhances dessert than a bit of Madeleine on the side

Why this obsession with being wowed? Balthazar has come in to London, on a wave of hype, encased in an absolutely gorgeous Parisian bistro setting that feels so warm and comforting. When my friend made a dinner reservation for six, the earliest date they could offer her was nearly two months away. Surely it’s reasonable to expect that the food should live up to all that?

But considering that I still rave about the meal that I had with my ex some years ago at the Bleeding Heart in Farringdon, and considering that I can still fondly remember most of the details of my experience with her at Clos Maggiore in Covent Garden, both of which are roughly similar (if just a smidgeon higher) in price to Balthazar, AND considering that I had just as much fun at the very reasonable neighbourhood bistro Le Sacré Coeur in Islington, ultimately I find that Balthazar is not the place I will be falling over myself to recommend to someone if they want an outstanding French meal.

Certainly, go for the one-time experience, the mood, the atmosphere, the very extensive and commendable wine list (we enjoyed a bottle of the Château Villa Bel-Air ’07 from Graves, Bordeaux), heck even for a taste of proper and courteous service. Balthazar can give you all of that by the bucket load. But maybe do what my mum does when she and her friends baulk at paying through the nose for an expensive-and-not-quite-worth-it-yet-atmospheric restaurant: go there just for dessert (most certainly the raspberry soufflé – that is worth the trip) or for afternoon tea.

VERDICT – An okay experience. The attempt to recreate a grand French bistro in New York and in London (I’m told they’re almost identical) is successful, and you could spend a lot of time there soaking up the bustling atmosphere and admiring les très français waiters avec leur je ne sais quoi… but if you’re looking to be wowed by the food, this is not the place for you.

Currently listening to: Cali – Que se soucie de moi

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Categories: French | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A steak that would mash your insides: Getting our beef on at MASH

Copyright of MASH. Sourced from MASH website

Copyright of MASH. Sourced from MASH website

Cuisine: American

Address: 77 Brewer Street, W1F 9ZN

Area: Soho

Nearest Station: Piccadilly Circus

Tel.: 020 7734 2608

Website: http://www.mashsteak.dk/restaurants/london/

Pricing: High

Good For: Filling meal, Proper service, Carnivorous eating, Ambience, Smart-casual dining, Place for romance, Quality meat

Well, that was a filling meal. Stuffed right to the gills, rolling out of there like a tubby barrel, groaning at the sides; I’d been MASH’ed.

Let’s rewind a bit. My dad wanted to take me and my brother out for a nice steak meal, and after scoping out a number of different places, finally settled on MASH. MASH, if you don’t know, supposedly stands for Modern American Steak House, but rather confusingly has come to us via Denmark, but fear not – this was a thoroughly American evening.

Your first impression is shaped by the rather spacious and grand lobby you enter at street level, guarded by an imposing bouncer and overseen by an ever-smiling receptionist of sorts. Once she took my details, she informed me that my party were waiting for me downstairs, but what she didn’t mention was that there would be two waitresses waiting there too, greeting me by name and shepherding me to my seat. So far so good.

Your second impression is formed by the cavernous space that greets you as you enter the bar and main dining room. All decked out in Art Deco and illuminated by warm lighting, the area is truly impressive. How did they get such a big basement, with such high ceilings, right in the middle of Soho?? You could spend a good few minutes just looking around, soaking up the atmosphere and imagining you were in 1930’s New York, as smooth jazz tinkled over the sound systems.

Cavernous. Like a cave

Cavernous. Like a cave

Your third impression is coloured by the large racks and chunks of beef hanging to dry in their airing cupboards separating the bar and the restaurant. I won’t go so far as to say that I am astounded and wowed by raw meat (a childhood spent around the wet markets in Hong Kong can have that effect upon you), but I was still fascinated by the way that they were being presented almost like pieces of art. Pieces of succulent, tender, meaty, art……. Ahem.

So, let’s talk food. Let’s talk STEAK. I opted for the bone-in N.Y. strip (approx. 600g), culled from IBP prime, Nebraska cattle. For those uninitiated to what this means, N.Y. strip is cut from the short loin and is a rather tender piece of meat, being from a little-used muscle; it was also described to me by my brother, steak expert that he is, as like the bigger half of the T-bone steak and with a bit more fat to it. And as for IBP prime, Nebraska, “this certified and hormone-free, corn-fed beef is as tender and flavourful as you can imagine”.

Bone-in N.Y. strip. Imagine all of that meat in your stomach. OUCH

Bone-in N.Y. strip. Imagine all of that meat in your stomach. OUCH

As far as I was concerned, it was a wonderfully tasty steak that had no need of sauce. Cooked perfectly to rare, it was extremely succulent and not hard to chew through. But I must reserve highest praise for the fat lining the edges of the N.Y. strip – never have I had fat that melted that easily in my mouth. None of this horrible stringy and chewy fat that I can picture very clearly on that Slug & Lettuce steak a colleague had down in Poole (*shudder*); it actually felt socially acceptable to eat fat this luxurious. All in all, I was very happy with my choice of steak; I think we were all happy with our choices, my brother and my dad contented as they were with the long-bone ribeye (Danish beef, dry-aged for 70 days. 70. DAYS. I did not know you could age beef for that long).

As for sides, I accompanied this with macaroni and cheese (rich, thick and creamy) and creamy spinach (creamy, unsurprisingly). And, since the 600g of steak had quite properly finished me off, all that was left for me to have for dessert was a richly sweet glass of 2008 Patricius “Katinka”, Late Harvest Tokaji. What a perfect way to end an evening of gluttonous steak eating.

Why you gotta hurt me like that?

Why you gotta hurt me like that?

VERDICT – A good place. It’s a rather impressive venture, all the way from the extremely friendly staff to the atmosphere and décor and to the well-executed steaks. Rather cheekily, they delivered the bill to us in an envelope labelled “The Damage”, but I think that just topped off what an enjoyable evening it was, where a father was able to take his two darling sons out for a ‘simple’ steak dinner.

Currently listening to: Cancer Bats – Drive This Stake

Categories: American, Steak | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Burgers and redemption: an evening at Patty & Bun

Copyright of Patty & Bun. Sourced from Patty & Bun website

Copyright of Patty & Bun. Sourced from Patty & Bun website

Cuisine: American

Address: 54 James Street, W1U 1HE

Area: Bond Street

Nearest Station: Bond Street

Tel.: N/A

Website: http://www.pattyandbun.co.uk/

Pricing: Medium

Good For: Friendly conversation, Filling meal, Casual dining, Takeaway, Proper service

I was fortunate enough to have visited Joe of Patty & Bun fame twice during his summer residency at The Endurance in Soho. I was initially a bit sceptical, not being particularly keen on cramming myself onto tiny tables between the after-work drinkers to eat something potentially very messy, but my word that first visit back in June was astounding. I don’t know whether it was the Jose Jose burger, the rosemary fries or the smoky sticky chicken wings that did it for me, but I was won over to that crazy man dishing out burgers from behind the bar. Heck, my brother and friend were happy enough that they both ordered SECOND burgers, much to Joe’s disbelief, and perhaps mild disgust. I guess not many people eat two burgers in one go, for we got some recognition on our second visit, the final week of Patty & Bun at The Endurance. It was at that point that I knew that the coming months would be fallow ones indeed…

Jose Jose, chicken wings, rosemary fries. Messy? Of course not!

Jose Jose, chicken wings, rosemary fries. Messy? Of course not!

So I was very excited to hear that you would now be able to find these burgers permanently on James Street. But I was also cautious – how would the transition from short-term residency to permanence be handled? Would the effervescence of the original, slightly anarchic yet thrilling Patty & Bun survive settling down?

My trip last Sunday with a friend was therefore rather enlightening, in that respect. Although the rather dim lighting made it look closed (I got quite scared for a moment then), Patty & Bun was still as welcoming as ever. Friendly and smiley staff made a good first impression; the sight of Joe actively helping out and mingling and chatting with diners made an even better second one. But then the night almost took a turn for the worse, and almost made us doubt whether we’d be back again.

Almost. But first, the story. We made our orders – Lambshank Redemption, Smokey Robinson and rosemary fries – and waited. And waited. After about 25 minutes (time flies when you’re having fun), we politely asked where our food was. “No problem, sorry for the delay”. A bit of hustle and bustle in the service area. “Oh jeez, I’m very sorry, it looks like we already served it, but to the wrong table”. I’m sorry, WHAT? Here we were, two hungry fellows, being told our food had been and gone. They’d somehow managed to mix up the table numbers. Oh dear. This was not looking good.

Our annoyance was soothed somewhat by how apologetic everyone was, and Joe did come over to say that he’d get it sorted pronto. It was therefore not long before our food did arrive: “I’m soo sorry for the wait, guys, I really am, here’s your Hot Chick and Jose Jose. We all good?” Ahhhhhh. If only they had gotten our right burgers. I felt quite bad about mentioning that they were the wrong burgers, but really, getting our order wrong twice? It was looking quite farcical. All we could do was laugh really.

But thankfully, our night was saved by the sterling effort of Team Patty & Bun in trying to make things right. We were gifted those burgers, eventually got our original order through free of charge, had a complimentary extra portion of chips and, to our surprise, were also given a rather potent cocktail jug on the house. All within 10 minutes.

Burgers all up in yo' grill

Burgers all up in yo’ grill

My friend and I were both really impressed by this, as we’d been part of a group who’d experienced a similar order failure at another restaurant; we could not fail to notice how much worse that place was in handling the debacle. At that place, they quite clearly could not be arsed to apologise sincerely for the very lengthy wait, they ardently defended the poor quality of the food that did come as “that’s how we do it, that’s how people like it” and they very grudgingly gave us a 10% discount. Not so at Patty & Bun – they took out all the stops to try and turn around what had been looking to be a rather disastrous evening.  That’s how you ensure that people come back.

Oh, and of course, having pretty damn fine food helps in ensuring the punters return. I devoured that Jose Jose, enjoying the pink juiciness of the meat, the sharp bite of the chorizo and the sweetness of the red peppers, whilst my friend loved the interplay of the caramelised onions and the cheese in his Smokey Robinson. Rather sensibly, we both took our second burgers home for our work lunches the next day (that’s not to say I couldn’t eat that second burger; I mean, I really could. I just didn’t want to. Just saying, it’s not that I’m incapable). And I must say, when I warmed up that Lambshank Redemption in the client’s microwave, people were JEALOUS. Even more so when they could smell the punchiness of the lamb and the feta cheese and see the juices soaking into the bun and running down my fingers. It was very messy and perhaps not very edifying for my first day at the client, but it was damn tasty.

What's that? You didn't manage to get a juicy burger like this Lambshank Redemption at the local sandwich shop for your lunch today?

What’s that? You didn’t manage to get a juicy burger like this Lambshank Redemption at the local sandwich shop for your lunch today?

VERDICT – Highly recommended. As you can probably guess, my main take away from that Sunday night was what genuine effort Joe and his team put in to try and rectify their mistakes. They seemed pretty determined to get things right for their customers, and I like that. I do like their burgers too; you know, since they’re a restaurant, I should probably mention that too. Yeah. Awesome burgers, great service. I’m definitely going back for more.

Categories: American | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments