Monthly Archives: June 2010

Le Champignon Sauvage – Review

I entered another world on saturday, the world of Michelin starred restaurants and it was breathtaking.  You may wonder what an apprentice chef is doing frolicking around in a fancy restaurant, we’re supposed to be in the kitchen right?  The restaurant I am speaking of is called ‘Le Champignon Sauvage’.  Owned and run by chef David Everitt- Matthias and his wife Helen, it has been ticking along rather nicely since 1987 in the spa town Cheltenham.  Apparently the chef has never missed a service since his restaurant opened, which is no mean feat.  I spent the afternoon restraining myself from asking for a tour of the kitchen.  ‘Le Champignon Sauvage’ came to my attention when my father sent me a copy of David’s cookbook, ‘Essence’.  It is a fantastic book, the combination of beautiful photographs and innovative, creative recipes which showcase the best of local ingredients make it a real standout.  I have lent the book to many of my friends and colleagues who are now huge fans of David’s work.  And so, after waiting a year and a half to finally come home to England, I had the pleasure of visiting the restaurant.

We were greeted by a friendly and professional waitress and were seated on a large round table in a quiet corner.  I had a little chuckle with myself when they brought some warm gougeres to the table, it is a recipe I have cooked from ‘Essence’ and I was delighted to discover that he makes them better than I do, I’d be worried if he didn’t.  I am only a second year apprentice after all!  We both kicked off with a glass of the house sparkling (Ruffin Brut) whilst we fought with the appealing menu’s, how can you choose what to eat when you want everything on the menu? 

Eventually we made our choices, I chose to start with the Roasted native lobster with miso glaze, risotto of oat groats, onion and orange and spiced bread.  The lobster was perfectly cooked, sweet and tender, I’ve never eaten a native before.  Risotto of oat groats was incredibly flavoursome, perfectly seasoned and I enjoyed the chunkier texture.  The spiced bread, for me, bound the whole dish together, it had hints of star anise and Szechuan pepper.  So, we were off to a fine start.  Mr T enjoyed a rabbit cannelloni with icicle radish and wild asparagus.  Again, it was beautifully seasoned.  As we were having very different starters we opted for two half bottles of wine.  Charles Vienot 05 Chevrey Chambertin and Gocker 07 Gewürztraminer.  I must backtrack a little, afer we ordered our starters we were presented with an amuse-bouche of white asparagus veloute with coconut froth.  It was a silken, earthy, delicious little bullet of flavour.   

Next up, I ordered roast wood-pigeon breast with pigeon pastilla, whilst Mr T opted for Bream with baby squid and octopus married with chorizo sauce and baby vegetables.  Mine was again incredibly flavourful, the roast breast was rich and gamey and perfectly pink inside.  The pastilla was spiced wonderfully and the large round grey plate was littered with little pauses of flavour, preserved lemon, fig paste, confit baby carrots etc.  Mr T found his bream was moist and tender, the wonderful treatment of the baby squid and octopus brought the whole dish together.  And the medley of baby vegetables showed the sheer attention to detail.  There were many and varied ingredients on each of our plates but they were so dexterously handled that they managed to avoid the ‘party on a plate’ aspect. 

Have I gushed enough yet?  Not quite my friends, not quite…  And so it was, with heavy stomachs we soldiered on and asked for the dessert menu.  As an Earl Grey fan from way back, I could not pass by the Iced Bergamot Parfait with orange jelly and liquorice cream.  On contact, the deeply intense and concentrated flavour of bergamot exploded on my palate, it was strong and for about three seconds, it scared me.  However, it soon mellowed out and then almost disappeared, I had to keep eating more just to make sure I hadn’t imagined it!  The orange and liquorice were the perfect partners and the whole dish was seamless (again).  Mr T chose the Lemon Meringue cheesecake with lemon jelly and basil mojito sorbet.  In his own words, it was ‘very lemony and very fresh’, oh how eloquent he is.  I personally found the basil mojito sorbet a bit much on its own but when I tried it with the lemon cheesecake it worked well. 

By this point in the proceedings we were stuffed to the gills and marginally intoxicated so we ordered coffee and petit fours with the intention of taking the petit fours away with us.  Which we did, better to enjoy them when you’re hungry I think, and that’s exactly what we did the next day.  So we wound up the proceedings with Armagnac and coffee and rolled out of the restaurant and onto the bus, from glamour to stark reality in a few short steps!

Overall, it was the best food experience I have ever had.  I have eaten individual dishes in other restaurants over the years which equalled some of the dishes but I have never had every single facet be so consistently high.  The staff were polite and helpful but very restrained.  My only gripe which I felt I must include was the atmosphere, or lack thereof.  Admittedly we were dining on a saturday lunchtime but the small dining room (35-40 pax) was very quiet.  Populated with nice middle-aged country folk, it was a bit staid to say the least.  I think next time I would want to go with a larger group, so we could liven the place up or book the whole damn place and fill it with people we know.  Because, I think everyone I know should eat there.  David Everitt-Matthias and his team are clearly cooking with passion and enthusiasm and have a rare and thorough understanding of food.  I would go there again and again, if only I lived in the same country and wasn’t on an apprentice’s wage…

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Fromage, fudge and fun

Oh what a way to start the day in good old blightly…kippers!  Yes, I am indeed a octagenarian man masquerading as a 28-year-old woman.  I am a Kipper fan from way back so it seemed an appropriate way to ease into a strenuous day of eating.  Kippers smothered in lashings of butter paired with an oh so soft poached egg.  I was in pesce heaven but poor Mr T was in pesky hell.  Never mind, he valiantly soldiered on. 

We wound our way into the heat of the city atop a double-decker bus, it ground its way into town at a snail’s pace but at least we had a glut of time to watch the city go by.  Catching up with an old friend just off Oxford street we found our way to Busaba Eathai (Bird street), a Thai eaterie which is now  a small chain.  Arriving at 12:05 we walked into an empty restaurant, however the sheer number of waiters on standby hinted to the deluge of customers they were soon to greet.  The large room was mostly made up of large square sharing tables with a wall of seats facing the open windows and onto the street.  It was dark and moody but in a warm, inviting way, my only slight qualm was the incense being burned near the doorway which drifted all the way to our seats and would occasionally waft in front of me and totally upset my nose and palate. 

Being that it was only lunch we all chose a dish each, G and I both ordered the green chicken curry with coconut rice with Thai roti whilst Mr T opted for the Tom Kha chicken.  The green curry was very tasty and I am forever astounded by how different they are from restaurant to restaurant.  This particular incarnation was very soupy and very green, well-balanced flavours but maybe could have had a touch more sour notes.  The tom kha chicken was also very pleasant, not ground breaking but light and fresh.  A lemongrass and coconut soup with noodles and chicken, the only slight downer for me was that the chicken seemed to be chargrilled which clouded the Thai flavours a little.  However, all in all, a pleasant lunch. 

Lunch was a mere pit stop on the way to the main event.  Borough market was our destination and I was champing at the bit.  We caught the tube for the first time in two years and so on arrival we were much in need of a drink.  We headed to Wright Brothers Oyster and Porter House, one pint of Suffolk cider and a glass of Prosecco later (not both for me) we were ready.  Although the market was doing a good trade there were a lot less stalls and punters than on the saturday market.  One of our first ports of call was Burnt Sugar, a fudge stall which I much admire and costs me an arm and a leg to buy in Australia.  I was delighted that they had every variety on offer and it was very good value.  Traditional English fudge is crumbly and the sugar should be crystal-ly and that is exactly how it was.  As I write this now, I am on a pretty hardcore sugar high, the box is sitting next to me and I can’t wait to try the chilli fudge, I might just wait for this wave of nausea to pass though. 

As we wandered around we took everything in and tried to resist the urge to buy the entire contents of the market.  After much consideration I purchased some Lincolnshire sausages and some chipolatas from the very helpful chaps at the Ginger Pig butcher.  They are soon to be turned into supper of some description, along with beautiful vine ripened tomatoes and onions.  Our penultimate stop was what I consider to be a holy place; Neal’s Yard Dairy.  For those Fromageophiles among us it needs no introduction but for the rest of you, it is a stonkingly good cheese shop.  Walking through the door you are met with a big, sweet, sultry waft of the delights on offer and greeted by endlessly tall shelves stacked to the rafters with great wheels of cheese.  I was literally the cat that got the cream!  My friendly assistant let me taste any cheese I desired and I came away with Stichelton (blue from Nottinghamshire), Montgomery Cheddar (from Somerset) and Cotherstone (from Yorkshire). 

And now all that is left to do is consume large quantities of fatty foods and imbibe a generous splash of wine.  It’s going to be a tough night as I sit in the courtyard garden in the late afternoon sun with yet another glass of cider in hand…

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Good croissant, bad coffee…

In my infinite wisdom, I have decided that whilst in London, I shall name and shame.  Living in a small town does not allow me the freedom to honestly critique the places at which I eat.  However, in the big smoke, I am a small fish in a gigantic pond so I will be honest til my heart’s content. 

Yesterday we started the day with a little bit of France, actually, to be totally honest that’s not how I started my food day.  After waking up disturbingly early and pottering around my sister’s house in the dark I gave in to the delights of coco pops.  But when Mr T finally woke up, we headed down to Macaron in Clapham Common.  A quaint little Boulangerie decked out with a mural on the ceiling of cherubs holding aloft the sacred baguette and cakes.  This, coupled with oh so kitsch crockery makes for a quirky little venture.  We ordered coffee and croissant and one of every flavour macaroon to take away.  The croissant was as it should be, crunchy and crisp on the outside and fluffy and light on the inside.  Not as buttery as it could have been and not the best I have ever eaten but the best I have had in a good few years.  The coffee was pretty shocking, burnt milk ruined the whole thing and it was bitter.  I have been back home  for four days and I am yet to have a decent coffee.  I would definitely go back for those croissant though, maybe tomorrow… 

Dinner at Grafton House in Clapham Old town was several shades of average.  There were seven of us around the table, some foodies and some normal people (foodies are far from normal) and yet the general consensus was not bad but certainly flirting with mediocrity.  I ordered the gnocchi with mussels and chorizo, the gnocchi was a bit sticky and cloying and the chorizo was cut so big that a knife would have been handy.  Personally, I like my gnocchi with a decent amount of sauce and for my liking there was a deficit.  Ho hum.  For main I ordered asparagus with poached duck eggs and Hollandaise.  This would not be a usual dinner choice for me but the menu did not really arouse my attention.  As I know that man cannot live on asparagus alone I ordered hand cut chips cooked three times.  Usually this practice of thrice cooking is to ensure that your chips are crispy but they were far from it.  Tasty but not crispy.  The asparagus was generally ok, a tad overcooked but the duck eggs were well poached and the Hollandaise was pleasant enough.  So I came away relatively disappointed.  It was a nice setting, appropriate lighting, comfy seats, a waitress who was a bit of an over sharer (“when I was in India I ate elephants ear”) but not an altogether bad night. 

And so, the search continues for a decent cup of coffee and a damned fine restaurant.

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