|Monday, 09 September 2013|
The latest restaurant choices from Graham Layer
I have been chasing celebrity chefs again it seems. I will start with Ormer which I went to I think on the eighteenth day that it had been open in St Helier, Jersey, offshore from France but still part of the UK. This is a new restaurant which is very stylish, right in the atrium of the town with outstanding interior design owned and run by Shaun Rankin, who used to work at the Bohemia where he achieved Michelin Star status (more on Bohemia later). Apart from a few difficulties in making the booking electronically, the whole dining experience was outstanding. It was a Friday evening and we both dined from the a la carte menu which has much to recommend it, but there is an inevitable menu dégustation or tasting menu.
As usual, there are all the little extras which were expected but we essentially concentrated on fish which, of course, is Jersey’s specialty. Suffice it to say our starters included calamari and lobster and the main courses Dover sole and turbot served with Jersey Royal new potatoes and some Cotes du Rhone from a very knowledgeable sommelier – and all at an extraordinarily reasonable price. The calamari was mixed in with a cauliflower risotto, which was interesting and perhaps had the least of the flavour in the whole meal, but the Jersey lobster was outstanding in a ginger and Asian sauce tucked up in a ravioli bed. The turbot was terrific and the Dover Sole rather like little fish fingers but surrounded by ‘fruits of the sea’, which included all sorts of unusual, I suspect, seaweeds and clam-type objects and a small soft translucent egg (but I am still not entirely certain what this was). The meal was finished off with a rhubarb soufflé dessert and a chocolate dessert which really takes some beating. This is an excellent restaurant and has a sense of informality but also fine dining and I think the mixture is really good. It has an upstairs terrace where drinks can be taken before a meal and I think this restaurant should be a huge success for TV celebrity chef Shaun Rankin. He was there, of course, and was charming and inviting.
Shaun had left Bohemia but not that far away and it is now run by Steve Smith, another Michelin-starred chef. This is in elegant surroundings and rather more formal and perhaps a little more sophisticated and certainly rather more expensive. Nonetheless, it offers a wonderful fine dining experience of multiple courses. At Bohemia we opted for the pescatarian menu and were not disappointed. Apart from the usual interspersed amuse bouches and other little delicacies we really enjoyed something of around nine different specialties including haddock, mackerel, scallops, lobster, turbot and various wonderful veloutes and the interesting raspberry dessert washed down with a Viognier from McLaren Vale, Australia.
It is difficult to know where to begin with this delicious food, which was presented absolutely beautifully. This is a great experience but not in an easy location in St Helier as it is inside the Club Hotel on a corner on the eastern side of the main town, or through the tunnel from Liberation Square.
Whilst in Jersey, I sampled crab and lobster on the Terrace Restaurant of L’Horizon Hotel in St Brelade’s Bay, which was delicious sitting outside in the sunshine with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. I also had crab and lobster with the inevitable Jersey Royals in the Oyster Box run by Jersey Pottery further west on St Brelade’s Bay, which was a little more expensive but worth it and accompanied by glasses of Cloudy Bay. This was perfect and a most delicious lobster with accoutrements and superb crab. Next door to the Oyster Bar is the Crab Shack, which is a good place simply for crab or dropping in for a coffee and that was also run by Jersey Pottery and is in a very convenient setting.
Another little place for coffee and bun or tea and a scone is the Brasserie at De Gruchy in the department store of that name and also the open air terraced platform outside Jersey Grand Hotel overlooking Elizabeth Castle just off St Helier on the causeway. Jersey is blessed with excellent restaurants and I think this is due to the quality of the seafood and other local produce.
On another trip to New York for jazz and the opera is my newest discovery, the Chowder House on the Upper West Side, which is very convenient for the Kennedy Center, where excellent drinks and pre-performance snacks can be tried. It is part of the Empire Hotel which has suddenly become very trendy but deservedly so. Just around the corner is the Mandarin Oriental Hotel with the fabulous lounge on the top floor, hugely high above Central Park and Columbus Circle. The lounge is known as Asiate and is not inexpensive but serves delicious and considerable snacks which make for a good late night catch-up. On a similar scale in terms of price is brunch at the Four Seasons Hotel in New York in Garden Restaurant. Completely delicious and served impeccably and outrageously expensive but fit for very special occasions. Lemon ricotta pancakes swamped in maple syrup are extraordinary and the eggs Benedict set a standard of excellence.
Talking of the opera earlier, I would strongly recommend the Royal Opera House Covent Garden Balconies restaurant which serves dinner before and during the performances. Though the service is a little erratic, the food was very delicious and, again, turbot was on the menu and plenty of asparagus and indeed Jersey Royals in London!
Across from the Opera House is a new opening, Balthazar, following the Soho Branch in New York. This was having rave reviews so I decided I had to entertain a little party there in what is supposed to be a French brasserie serving lobster, burgers and French onion soup and all the usual things. While my guests had a great time in general, one was served a raw hamburger which was sent back and came back again still raw with a certain amount of disdain and tasted rather unpleasant. I was not impressed although the surroundings were gorgeous, red leather banquets and brass everywhere. I suspect this was a reflection of a recent opening and doubtless Balthazar will be as popular as its New York counterpart.
Recommendations are beginning to worry me: the restaurant of The Bell at Fetcham had been suggested to us but on arrival we found the chef had changed, the ambience was nothing like expected or published, the food offerings extraordinarily disappointing and cheap, and the service pleasant but inexpert. I think this reflects the lability of the restaurant business, which essentially depends on the cost of laundering the tablecloths and the napkins.
Remaining in London, there is a restaurant and bar at the Law Society open to the public where I have taken lunch. It is known as 113 Restaurant and is at 113 Chancery Lane and used to be called the Six Clerks Restaurant. It is a somewhat unusual menu that I don’t think quite comes up to scratch. The starter of Suffolk gammon ham hock scotch egg sounds very unusual but is somewhat boring to taste and the Cornish king prawn cocktail was also uninspiring despite its geographical name. The roasted Cornish (again) lamb’s rump and crispy breast is tough and, when I come to think of it, I do seem to remember that lamb’s breast used to be popular with my dog when I was a child. Perhaps sadly, there wasn’t time for the pudding. This restaurant is a good space with an interesting menu but just needs to get its act in order in terms of service and inspiration.
Getting back to the other side of the Atlantic and celebrity chefs, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, who I have mentioned before, has a large open restaurant on the seashore in Bal Harbour, north of Miami Beach, and serves many of his signature dishes but also there is a little more of a steak and fish set-up with large portions rather than fine dining. It is known as the J&G Grill, requires booking and is hugely popular. We had an excellent evening of people-watching as the sun went down reasonably early outside on the beach but the large restaurant was buzzing with small and large tables and large numbers of very efficient and friendly staff. The black truffle pizza with fontina cheese is on the appetiser menu which I have mentioned previously from Market in Mexico and the foie gras brulé with strawberries and brioche was also excellent. The milk-fed veal chop with an almond puree and artichokes was a really delicious combination with scattered beans overlying it and the soy glazed Wagyu short ribs with apples, peppers and rosemary were fabulous. The dessert was salt caramel ice cream with popcorn and peanuts, which is really stunning but was an acromegalic portion, big enough for two or three, let alone for one; a meal to keep our bariatric surgical colleagues in business.
The President held a Regional Meeting very recently in Northern Ireland. This gave me an opportunity to sample a few dishes from an extremely popular family-run restaurant in the Lisburn Road, Belfast known as Shu (the Egyptian God of Atmosphere apparently!). The offerings were a real mixture of local pigeon, roast lamb, steak and chips, chilli squid, smoked eel, foie gras with an Armagh apple jelly and the usual fish and chicken dishes. It was all very congenial and straightforward and is a typical neighbourhood French-style restaurant, which I suspect is why it is so well patronised by the locals.