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Sep 17, 2012 06:22 AM

Farewell Europe

Dear Chowhounds on the UK/ Ireland board:

Thank you for your invaluable advice and suggestions for my vacations in the UK. My wife and I will be relocating back to Asia early next year. We are planning one final hurrah in London and to take in the theatre before our return as we are uncertain when we will return. With that, I would like to seek your advice on 5 dinners at the * restaurants in London. Some guidelines for your consideration include:

a) A preference to avoid French cuisine, as we have been fortunate to dine in Paris on many occasions
b) A desire to avoid the gastropub scene as we have taken in much of this on our vacations across the UK
c) Given our soon to be close proximity in Asia, we would like to avoid Chinese and Indian fare

After much research on the UK/ Ireland board, I narrowed down our choices to:

1. The Fat Duck (Bray) - we were unfortunately unable to secure a reservation but have been placed on the Wait List. A back up would be greatly appreciated.
2. The Ledbury - Reservation secured
3. Marcus Wareing - Reservation secured
4. The Square - Reservation secured
5. One final suggestion would be appreciated as we were unable to obtain a table at Le Gavroche during our planned trip

I look forward to your kind suggestions on how my wife and I can take great memories of the London dining scene back to Asia.

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  1. As often, I'll suggest Rules. It's my favourite place when visiting London and, because of its traditional dishes, I think it'd contrast nicely with your other "modern Brit" choices.

    You might want to consider Roganic for some more creative British cookery. I havnt eaten there, but have eaten at Simon Rogan's main gaff up here in the north west. If the cooking is anything like as good there as it is here, then it should be a highlight.

    I'm a little confused though. You ask us to avoid French cuisine, yet seem disappointed that you couldnt get a reservation at Gavroche.

    5 Replies
    1. re: Harters

      Harters, my wife is a fan of Masterchef and has wanted to eat at Michel Roux's place since he appeared as a guest judge... I know its a strange paradox that one.

      1. re: blownd

        Would she accept a substitute in the form of Michel's cousin, Alain?

        If so, then I would absolutely second ManInTransit's suggestion below of the Waterside. We had a faultless meal there last month (celebrating our 40th anniversary). Worth every one of the very considerable number of pennies it cost.

        1. re: blownd

          Have you tried to get a lunch reservation at Gavroche? It's quite a good deal, and your wife would be so happy!

        2. re: Harters

          I was going to suggest Roganic.
          The food was superb when I went. Normally this is not my kind of place as I worry about it being a little sterile but the service was relaxed and very friendly.
          I think that apart from a tasting menu in Paris for my 40th it is probably the best food I've eaten.

          1. re: Paprikaboy

            Dare we ask where is Paris superseded Roganic?

        3. Given your requirements I would strongly recommend Pollen Street Social or Roganic, both of which are superb but slightly less formal fine dining compares to 2-4 on your list.

          Nothing in London proper really compares to The Fat Duck - have you tried the Waterside Inn? It is very French but no more so than Le Gavroche.

          12 courses at Viajante would be the most madcap replacement for the Fat Duck I can think of. I think the forthcoming Kitchen Table from James Knappet at Bubbledogs will be something very special as well.

          5 Replies
          1. re: ManInTransit

            Thanks, MiT and all - but you know how we are as fans ... I noted that Pollen Street Social has a fair amount of naysayers on the board. Roganic it is then. For the last suggestion, what does the board feel about Dinner?

            1. re: blownd

              I think that's a good choice - Roganic is different to the others you have on your list. Expect there to be interesting vegetables and herbs you may not even have heard of but personally I thought it was superb.

              Dinner is probably a good alternative to the Fat Duck. It opened in a blaze of glory/publicity and reports since then have varied a lot. It seems to require careful ordering and it is still in a west end hotel which is always a bit of a bore but I've never actually been so others will have to comment.

            2. re: ManInTransit

              Can you elaborate a bit about what Kitchen Table is going to be aside from the obvious. :-)

              1. re: zuriga1

                Well my understanding June is that it will be out the back of Bubbledogs with James Knappett cooking directly for just a few diners at a time. Just a no-choice menu for £80 a head but with a chance to talk and interact with the chef. If you look back on some of Cumbria Foodie's posts (I think) about James' cooking at Marcus Wareing there should be hints of what he will produce but he's incredibly talented.

                We're going quite early on for my wife's birthday so I will report back.

                1. re: ManInTransit

                  Thanks for the info, Man... or as we used to say in the olden days... thanks, man. I can understand a very good chef having to use his skills for more than just hot dogs. I'm sure you'll give us a full report.

            3. Trinity in Clapham
              Lima in Fitzrovia

              Have you considered the various Latin American, Middle Eastern and African cuisines? They aren't so easy to find in the part of Asia that I'm from.

              9 Replies
              1. re: limster

                Limster, thank you for the feedback. I would go so far as to conclude that in general what constitutes fine dining particularly in South East Asia in general falls considerably short compared to London and that does not include taking the price point into consideration.

                It is also why we have prioritized our choices, at the risk of chasing the stars. I would be grateful for your feedback on another restaurant as a replacement assuming we are unable to get a reservation at the Fat Duck where we are on the waiting list. Thank you

                1. re: blownd

                  Other than Trinity and Lima, why not try something like Persian kebabs at Mohsen?

                  Or perhaps grazing through Brixton Village/Market -- in particular check out the Colombian places that are very good (Las Americas for various snacks like bunuelos; El Rancho de Lalo for the chicarron). Also the 50 hour smoked beef ribs at Bulkowsi's, and perhaps a couple of tacos at Casa Morita. This would be particularly suitable for lunch.

                  1. re: blownd

                    Another thought crossed my mind -- a tapas crawl, sampling various places such as Opera Tavern in Covent (great iberico presa), Barrafina in Soho (remembered having excellent stuff on the grill and the off menu turron), then up to Fitzrovia for places like Salt Yard. I would also include Jose in Bermondsey, but you have to be there early as it gets very packed at prime time.

                    1. re: limster

                      Opera Tavern and Salt Yard are both excellent but I would advise against going to both while on a tapas crawl as they are both from the same group and their food and philosophies and atmospheres are very similar.

                      Limster's idea is an excellent one though - and I would add Fino and Brindisa to the list.

                      1. re: ManInTransit

                        Good call on the Opera Tavern/ Salt Yard similarity.
                        Maybe Donostia could be added for the excellent pinxtos.

                        1. re: ManInTransit

                          The menus between the two didn't seem that similar to me even though they are part of the same group but I did eat at those places at very different times. Had not included both Fino and Barrafina for that reason.

                          1. re: limster

                            Copita is supposed to be excellent.

                            Donostia is a little more formal and expensive but we did have a very nice meal there recently.

                            There is also Morito which does some lovely food and is cheaper than most of the above, although it is slightly off the central path - not that far from the Opera Tavern though.

                            I think Salt Yard and Opera Tavern are far from identical but the whole setup and style are quite similar. Foodwise it would probably depend on the menu on the day.

                            I think it's fair to say that given the variety on offer there would be no need to visit both, nor both of Fino and Barrafina.

                        2. re: blownd

                          Wholeheartedly second ManInTransit's suggestion of Viajante in the east. I love the place - the innovative food, open kitchen, casual environment. Have had 6, 9, and 12 courses there, albeit all within a year of its opening, so a a while back.

                          I think Dinner is definitely a good choice - interesting, hearty food. I really like the place, but don't think it's necessarily London's top 5 for my personal tastes, but a lot of my friends would definitely put it there.

                          Would suggest Apsley's as well - fine, Frenchified Italian food, great taste. Under-rated / under-hyped, which is why you can get a table any day if you just walk in. We haven't been back since the chef changed in May 2012, but if the food stays of the same quality, should be great.

                          On South East Asia, I totally agree about the fine dining there, especially in Singapore. I feel sick every time I eat at 'fine dining' places there. They are often of ~1 star standard (some of them pushing the boundaries and closer to 2 stars), but the prices are ridiculous... firmly in the 2 star range or at Spanish 3-star pricing. Extremely poor value for money.

                          Happily, street food in South East Asia is superb, and extremely good value for money, especially in Malaysia!

                          Happy eating!

                      2. I have only eaten at one of your shortlist, and that's the Fat Duck, earlier this year. My sister took me as a gift for my 40th birthday and we both enjoyed the meal hugely. Even though, if you're into reading restaurant reviews, you'll have read about many of the dishes on the menu -- the menu seems to change very slowly indeed -- it's still an amazing experience and one we really appreciated.


                        *aerated beetroot with horseradish cream (amuse)
                        Crunchy, light beetroot balls sandwiched together with mild horseradish cream, the textures were superb and the flavours just lingered and lingered on the tongue.

                        *oak moss
                        This dish is one of the theatrical ones, and comes with set pieces, but it's what we eat that impresses most, the little bowl contains very rich chicken liver parfait, crayfish cream, quail jelly and a jewel-bright pea puree. There's a fig tuile, and then a radish and herb topped truffle toast.
                        What amazes us most is that each element is so robust, so packed full of flavour, and yet they all work together.

                        *saddle of venison with beetroot soubise and risotto of spelt and umbles
                        Tender tender meat with great flavour, a powerful reduction sauce, earthy beetroot, candied chestnuts and a side of rich risotto with mushroom and madeira jelly and vubes of venison heart, topped with breaded sweetbread and candied spelt.
                        Completely unlike combinations I've had before, but very enjoyable.

                        *black forest gateau
                        As shown on his In Search Of Perfection series. It's really rather good!

                        I say highlights, but actually, every course was fascinating and we loved it.

                        That said, it's not a place I'd go back to within 5 years, perhaps even more, given the very slow evolution of the menu, I would rather wait until there are new ideas and dishes for me to try.

                        6 Replies
                        1. re: Kavey

                          It's one of the "problems" of iconic restaurants. Most folk only dine once or, perhaps, very irregularly. But we want the iconic dishes for which they are famous - give us snail porridge; give us "sound of the sea". And we're going to be considerably pissed off if they're not on the menu. It makes for change being very difficult.

                          I'm so pleased that we went in 2010 (60th birthday). I shall remember it for a long long time. But I've no particular need to go back - I would worry that I might be served Mock Turtle Soup again and, rather than enjoying the theatricals, might just think it was a very nice soup. That'd be such a disappointment.

                          1. re: Harters

                            Yes, I can understand that. Though from my point of view, I actually wouldn't have minded not being served the various famous dishes, IF they been replaced with new but similarly amazing ones. But you may be right that it's more common that visitors DO want those famous dishes.

                            And if we went back and had the same dishes, then yes, whilst the textures, tastes and smells would still be wonderful, the surprise and show and theatre wouldn't be as thrilling as one a first experience...

                            1. re: Kavey

                              All, thanks for the advise and feedback. I'm trying to get a reservation at Dabbous - my wife seems quite keen on the menu compared to Roganic. Given that we're unlikely to obtain a table, the final reservation will probably be Roganic or Ducasse at the Dorchester.

                              We're departing to London next week, and I will be certain to provide an update.

                              1. re: blownd

                                Given your other options, and having visited both I cannot recommend strongly enough that you choose Roganic over Ducasse.

                                The Square and Marcus Wareing are both wonderful examples of French-influenced fine dining and great restaurants. Ducasse is a pale imitation.

                                Roganic is so different from the others and stunningly inventive.

                                Have a wonderful trip.

                                1. re: blownd

                                  Assuming that you havn't had the opportunity to visit my part of the country to eat at L'Enclume, then I'd suggest your next best option would be to try Roganic. Note - I make that recc without eating there or at Dabbous and simply based on a knowledge of Rogan's skill and creativity at the flagship restaurant.

                                  1. re: Harters

                                    I failed to say but your chances of eating at Dabbous are very low. You could try turning up each day for a cancellation but I'd make other plans.