Monday, 20 October 2014

House of Tides by Kenny Atkinson, Newcastle

Like many fans of ‘high end’ food, I first heard the name Kenny Atkinson when he appeared on the BBC television series Great British Menu, 2009. On the show, he won the starter dish, which went on to be served at a banquet held in honour of troops returning from Afghanistan. The following year, his mackerel and gooseberry fish course, championing local produce, also made it to the banquet.

Soon after GBM, Kenny took a position at the prestigious Rockcliffe Hall – although Kenny had won Michelin stars earlier in his career (one on the Isles of Scilly at ‘St Martin's on the Isle’ and another at ‘Seaham Hall’ in County Durham) a star at Rockcliffe did not materialise. 

Of course, it’s not all about Michelin stars but Kenny Atkinson has made no secret of his desire to push for this type of recognition for his hard work. As chef / proprietor at House of Tides (with his wife Abbie), Kenny has the most wonderful setting in which to achieve an ambition to bring stars back to his native Newcastle.

In their usual understated style, Michelin offer a succinct description of the House of Tides as an “Attractive Grade I listed, 16C merchant's house in the shadow of the Tyne Bridge. It has a utilitarian feel courtesy of old flagged floors, cast iron supports and exposed brick.” They also state how the “Modern 8 course menus offer accomplished dishes.” (at a value for money £65).

Appetisers: Oyster Pebble and Lindisfarne Oyster – this ‘Oyster Pebble’ proved to be a little ‘controversial’. When Chef Mark Birchall saw a picture I posted on twitter, he said something along the lines of ‘it’s good to see how we are “inspiring” other restaurants’ with the obvious implication that it may be a little ‘too similar’ to one they serve at L’Enclume.

Another ‘detractor’ made a comment about Kenny’s food being heavily inspired by Stockholm’s Frantzénin the chefs’ world, it seems a fine line between inspiration and plagiarism. I don’t know Frantzén’s food well enough to know if this is the case but I do know Kenny is a talented chef and as he and his team progress, his menu will develop and his own style will come to the fore. This has started to happen at Aiden Byrne’s Manchester House, which was initially criticised for ‘copying the Spanish chefs’.

I don’t want to dwell on what may be perceived as ‘chef politics’  – like the vast majority of diners, I visited House of Tides to eat top quality food… and that’s exactly what I got.

Bread & soup:  Cumin & sultana bread, spiced carrot velouté – the bread was excellent, good flavour (not too ‘cuminy’ and not too sweet from the raisons) and a delightful thin yet crisp crust. The soup too had good depth of flavour – my one criticism would be the carrot dice within which I found overly sweet.

Signature: Line caught mackerel with gooseberries, lemon & mustard – available as an optional extra, this refined take on a ‘fish finger’ is one of Kenny’s signature dishes that won the Great British Menu. This is a clever way of ensuring that the dish remains on the menu for those wanting to try it for the first time although it also ensures regular diners do not grow tired of it………. as if they would!

Today’s catch: Scorched scallop with pumpkin and Parmesan – a beautiful autumnal dish that still had the lightness and vibrant colours of summer. What I liked about this dish was how the pumpkin meat had been included in its squishy natural state as well in the purée. The sweetness in the dish was balanced with acidity in the pickled squash, bitterness from the searing to the scallops as well as salt and umami from the Parmesan wafers. 

Ken Holland’s Vallum Farm: ‘Northumberland Moors’ Hare with parsnip, beetroot & wild flowers – I love to eat hare and farmers like to control their numbers so they do not ravage their crops… as a result, this was the perfect dish to show off Ken Holland’s wonderful produce, including his signature beet leaves which are raised in a dark ‘disco’ poly tunnel. As Michelin say, ‘accomplished cooking’.

Butcher’s choice: Pheasant – the pheasant main came in two parts.

Rolled pheasant leg & ham hock terrine with parsley, pear, kale & chestnuts – terrines are typically served with a toast or something similar to carry them; the associated crisp textures here came from crispy kale, parsley and chestnuts crisps and that’s all it needed. A little sweetness came from poached pear and a pear purée.

Poached & pan roasted pheasant breast with Jerusalem artichokes, apple, girolles & truffle – the star of this dish was the Italian autumn truffles which smelt and tasted heavenly; most other meats would have been lost under their strength but the gamey pheasant managed to hold its own.

Pastry: Coconut popsicle with mango & passion fruit – both dessert dishes featured classic crowd pleasing flavour combinations. The ‘mini magnum’ element added a touch of whimsy.

Chocolate pavé with popcorn, salted caramel, chocolate crackling – good quality chocolate flavour, salted caramel, popcorn and popcorn flavour… no complaints from me.

Stars or no stars, the House of Tides is a great place to eat - I’m going to continue to watch Kenny’s career and hope to get back on Tyneside to eat there again.

Kenny Atkinson House of Tides on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 19 October 2014

L’Enclume – October 2014

“Oooh, haven’t you grown?” is a phrase I’d here from my Great Aunt Sheila every time we made our yearly pilgrimage to her farm in Lincolnshire (this was usually followed by her spitting on a hanky and wiping some sort of grub off of my face.)

It had been just six months since I last visited L’Enclume (see last visit here) and the voice of Great Aunt was ringing in my ears throughout the meal with the refrain “Oooh, hadn’t they grown!”

Back in April, I commented that it had to be only a matter of time before Michelin bestowed their highest honour of 3 stars upon L’Enclume.

Sadly, Michelin did not award any new 3 or 2 stars in their 2015 guide but Simon Rogan’s Fera at Claridge’s (see here) is off and running with one star. I’m not sure if Simon has publically declared his desire for 3 stars in both venues but I’m pretty certain that is a goal.   

The canapés are always a highlight for me. The Oyster pebbles, Oxtail dumpling and Smoked eel with ham fat have been perfected – I find the little canapé style meringue pebbles that are popping up everywhere are often too sweet and sticky, not so here; and the steamed dumpling was divinely pillowy and packed with rich, unctuous oxtail.

Also, gone are the Ragstone and malt balls, of which I have never been a fan; in their place was a delectably light squid ink cracker, topped with a silky chicken liver parfait, crispy chicken skins and a poke of redcurrant gelée.

Oyster pebbles

Oxtail dumpling

Crispy chicken, squid & redcurrant

Smoked eel with ham fat

Raw scallop & caviar

After the appetisers, before the march of the mains, one is now presented with a moistened face cloth with which to freshen up. As small and insignificant a thing this may seem, it’s these kinds of extra “little touches” that, along with the perfecting of the dishes, could also help L’Enclume achieve its 3 star ambitions.

The change to the bread offering is another step up the celestial ladder; the new Sourdough loaf is amongst the best breads I have tasted.  

Other tweaks included the addition of ‘Stout vinegar’ on the Artichoke, Ragstone, tarragon and malt dish – ‘this dish’ has been around in various guises for a number of years and has always been a favourite of mine; although ‘Stout vinegar’ may not sound like the ingredient that could make the difference between a restaurant getting 2 or 3 stars, all these elements can add up to make the whole.

Creamed celeriac, Tunworth & lamb’s tongue

Salt baked squash, Maran egg, sunflower & chestnut

Valley venison, charcoal oil, mustard & fennel

Lobster, scurvy grass, hazelnuts, glazed lobster, carrot & watercress – part 1

Lobster, scurvy grass, hazelnuts, glazed lobster, carrot & watercress – part 2

Artichokes with goat’s cheese, tarragon, stout vinegar & malt

Grilled plaice and turnip, potato, dill & mussel

Reg’s duck with duck sweetbreads, beetroot, sweet corn & elderflower

As a non drinker, before the desserts began, I asked what soft drinks they had available, expecting the usual choices. Pleasingly, I was offered an Apple Marigold Cordial (with ginger ale and mint) made with produce from the farm – how many places can offer that? A lovely touch.  

Apple & rosehip tart / Blackberry, brown butter & rhubarb granita

Iced blueberry, sheep’s milk & apple marigold

Honeycomb, poached quince, walnut and perilla

Apple / Sweet cheese / Pineapple weed

L'Enclume on Urbanspoon

Monday, 6 October 2014

Sticky Walnut - #BurntTruffle #KickStarter @StickyWalnut

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you’ll now that with four posts to date, I am a fan of Sticky Walnut in Chester’s Hoole.

So it seems are quite a few other people: voted Cheshire’s Best Small Restaurant in 2012 and again in 2013; an ‘Industry Oscar’ Catey Award for the ‘Best UK Restaurant Menu, 2013’; voted 39th best restaurant in the UK by Restaurant Magazine, 2014; a glowing review by The Guardian’s Marina O’Laughlin and the small matter of being England’s AA Restaurant of the Year 2014-2015.

When recommending Sticky Walnut to people I always say, “It’s just a neighbourhood bistro.” but go on to clarify this by saying “It’s what a neighbourhood bistro should be!” and that “Every local High Street should have one.

In Burnt Truffle, the hope is, one lucky High Street is about to get just that…

I write this blog as a hobby - I have chosen not to “monetise” it in any way and never accept freebies from restaurants. As such, I have never asked anything of “my readers”… until now.

All, I ask is for you to you to check out Sticky’s ‘Kickstarter’ project page… and back it, obvs!

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