|Friday, 08 March 2013|
Graham Layer visits some UK and American favourites
I needed a light lunch in Edinburgh so decided to find my way through the various pedestrian diversions around St Andrews Square (because of the seemingly endless construction of the Edinburgh tram network) and headed for Harvey Nichols. Their Fifth Floor restaurant in London is well known and recommended so it seemed an ideal opportunity to try out the Scottish counterpart – the cleverly worded Forth Floor Restaurant and Brasserie.
First of all, it is a little complex because, as far as I can see, there are two restaurants merging into one with slightly different menus in each at different times of day. However, there is an excellent view of St Andrews Square and the whole set-up is very contemporary with smart service, although it could have been faster. There is a limited Brasserie-style modern menu, so nothing is quite as it appears but, nonetheless, is very enjoyable. I sampled the classic Caesar salad with anchovies followed by straightforward Scottish salmon with lentils. Not cheap, of course, but certainly not outrageous and I was able to walk in off the street.
Now that, of course, is very different to Restaurant Gary Danko which I have mentioned before and is a few blocks south of Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. It is a Relais and Chateaux Grand Chef establishment and is the most favoured restaurant in San Francisco at present. It is contemporary American, high quality, buzzing and with slick service in an impeccable set-up where nothing goes wrong. It offers a superb menu and that is why I returned – for two consecutive nights! I therefore managed to try much of the menu because my wife and I ordered different dishes for each of the three courses (crispy egg, quail salad, lobster risotto, roast lobster, coconut Thai curry, stuffed quail, pork belly, guinea fowl breast with chorizo, and lamb loin being the most memorable) and then plumped for the dramatic bananas flambé at the end.
All the courses were interspersed with other little delicious morsels and the only downside to this place, in which the food is remarkably reasonably priced, is the cost of the wine. Also, you must book exactly two months in advance by telephone. Online bookings don’t seem to be successful and trying to secure a table is almost as bad as for the French Laundry in nearby Napa Valley. However, Gary Danko’s is much more fun and you have to go to this place next time you are in this exciting city. It is also on the cable car line so makes for a very unique evening.
Across town in the St Francis Hotel in Union Square there was another one-star Michelin restaurant from celebrity chef Michael Mina, Bourbon Steak. This offers seafood and steak which, as regular readers will know, is one of my passions. We enjoyed the most terrific prawns and lobsters followed by rib-eye and sirloin steaks with a magnificent cauliflower dauphinoise and the best baked potato we have ever eaten – one of those Yukon types covered with a potato puree and bacon pieces and cheese, which made a spectacular combination. There was also an unexpected intervening course of a ginger frothy soup, which I didn’t enjoy but was compliments of the house. I could have done without this because, first, I didn’t enjoy it, second, the reason I was having it and, finally, the restaurant should have been more generous with their offering.
The reason I came to be having it in the first place was that, as I moved from the bar to my table, the waitress was carrying my drink and managed to spill almost the full glass into my right inguino-femoral region. I was sent to inspect the restaurant’s plumbing accompanied by the sommelier, who just happened to have a hair dryer to hand. An ignominious start to what was otherwise a tremendous evening. They need to adjust the lights there as it is too dark to operate satisfactorily on their delicious offerings on the dark tables.
So down to earth to Brilliant Restaurant in Southall, not far from Heathrow. This well-known Indian Restaurant has been running for some four decades apparently and seats 250 in relatively formal style. The service is quick, the menu relatively limited with an impressive array of starters and main courses followed by adequate desserts, and the place was packed. Granted it was a Saturday evening when four of us sampled its delights, between the seemingly endless and repetitive playing of Happy Birthday over the speakers. We went for the healthy options because of the previous red meat load in Michael Mina’s establishment. There were fish, prawn, chicken and vegetarian curries, very good naan bread and we drank Indian beer. All finished with classic sweet Gulab Jamun. Beware the mint chutney, which brought us all out in tears and crying for cold tap water.
I now have to describe my second visit to a Jean-Georges Vongerichten restaurant. The first was a few years ago in the Trump Tower Hotel, New York, where I was irritated to have to wear business attire with a suit for a weekend brunch and I was not keen on the exotic mushroom omelette. He has restaurants all round the world now and a famous one in Paris called Market. The mirror image restaurant of Market has opened in the Palmilla Resort in Los Cabos, Baja California Sur in Mexico. It is outstanding. Not that dissimilar to Gary Danko but a little more European and a little more nouvelle but extremely impressive and it gained full points from me. It has filled the space previously occupied by the excellent Charlie Trotter’s. The food was mouth-watering, starting with black pepper blue crab fritters and a black truffle and fontina pizza between two of us together with seared shrimps in a ginger and butternut squash puree! This was followed by pear and endive duck crusted with Jordan almonds and a red wine and amaretto sauce and grilled rack of lamb with chilli bread crumbs, artichokes and sweet peas. Desserts were equally impressive and faultless. A superb establishment and I am keen to find an excuse to visit Paris as soon as possible for the repeat.
Back in the UK I want to recommend the bar snacks at Good Godfrey's Bar and Lounge, Waldorf Hotel, London. These are substantial plates (‘nibble platters’) with charcuterie and cheese and sun dried vegetables and so on, plus nuts, and really make a very good pre-theatre break. I have had variable experiences in the Waldorf over the years, most highly unsatisfactory, but this simple repast was excellent and just what the surgeon ordered.
I can also recommend the Three Choirs Vineyard in Gloucestershire, near Ledbury. I spent a walking weekend staying at their attractive small hotel and dining in the Vineyard Restaurant. It was always packed and everything was delicious, served with no pretence, was terrific value and beautifully prepared. Essentially, the menu has something for everyone with the usual range of meats, fish and vegetarian for dinner – but all gloriously fresh. We drank, of course, the local wine and the sparkling dry white wine from the vineyard was really extraordinarily enjoyable and, of course, you can purchase it from the shop!
Another of my recent favourites was recommended to me by other surgeons and is RL, that is, Ralph Lauren’s restaurant in Chicago – next door to the Park Hyatt where the Nomi Restaurant is excellent for breakfast and bar snacks. RL is a bit like Union Square Café in New York crossed with the Wolseley or the Ivy in London, or the Honours in Edinburgh, and is now a definite favourite of mine.
I have taken a liking to brunch which is becoming more popular on both sides of the Atlantic. It can include versions of eggs benedict (which can be recommended at Five Fifty-Five The Peninsula Hotel in New York City) or it can be platters of smoked fish with a colourful salad, as at the Top of the Mark restaurant in San Francisco. Several of the British chains are open at this time of day and Jamie’s Italian seemed to be coping with this type of food reasonably well. Unusually, this is the first time I have mentioned Italian in this article, although I tried the latest Italian in Greenwich Village, New York, recently, called La Lupa. It offers Northern Italian and Roman trattoria fare with a great flair and what is so important is that tremendous atmosphere that really makes a restaurant what it is. Quite different, but again very ‘New York’ is Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola at the Lincoln Centre. This overlooks Central Park and, apart from the outstanding jazz performances, you can enjoy gustatory happiness with a spicy southern-style meal complete with grits and a cold beer.