Wednesday, 1 April 2015

The Cross at Kenilworth – Michelin Star

The Cross at Kenilwoth is a Michelin starred pub from renowned chef and restaurateur Andreas Antona. He also owns the Michelin starred Simpsons in Birmingham. Heading up the kitchen, is Chef Adam Bennet. A talented guy, Adam and his team represented the UK at this year’s finals of prestigious Bocuse d’Or .

Arriving early for my lunch reservation, I headed up the hill to check out the ruins of Kenilworth Castle. The castle has some impressive history -I remember the bits that involved food… in 1266 it was under siege for six months (the longest siege in English history) which only ended because the folk inside run out of stuff to eat. Also, some bloke who was trying to get into Elizabeth I’s knickers spent £1000 a day putting on lavish banquets and fireworks displays; she was having none of it and he didn’t get any.

After that unexpected bit of culture, it was time for lunch.

What they say: ‘The Cross, Kenilworth is a Michelin starred pub restaurant serving excellent food, cooked by award winning chefs. The Cross started out as an inn back in the 19th century and was recently refurbished to reveal its original features. Expect a warm welcome, friendly service and stunning dishes, cooked using the very best local ingredients.

What Michelin say: ‘Smartly furnished pub with eager, welcoming staff. Skilfully executed, classical cooking uses prime seasonal ingredients, and dishes not only look impressive but taste good too. Sit in the back room to watch the kitchen in action. The bright and airy room next door used to be a classroom.

In addition to the a la carte, The Cross offer a tasting menu for £65 and an excellent value lunch menu, 2 courses £20, 3 for £25. I went for the 2 courses from the lunch menu (ravioli and duck) but added a starter and dessert from the a la carte.

Crispy duck egg with white asparagus, potato & garlic mousse, parsley & truffle poultry jus – white asparagus is one of my favourite ingredients. If it’s on the menu it’s almost guaranteed that I’ll order it. This dish did it wonderful justice; just what you’d expect from Michelin starred cooking… sound techniques, prime ingredients and clarity of flavour, especially from that truffled chicken jus. Delightful stuff.

Beef tartar with wasabi, radish salad & quinoa – artfully presented, the tartar was another triumph. The wasabi cream was nicely balanced with the heat from the diaphanous sliced radish and the acidity from the pickled. Going through the tartar more pickled radish in a tiny dice and the toasted quinoa topping added a particularly gratifying texture to another excellent dish.

Ravioli of ox cheek with carrots, mushrooms, pine kernels & red wine – I asked my twitter followers if it would be too pretentious to use diaphanous to describe a thinly sliced radish, the general consensus was yes. I know that following up by describing ravioli pasta in the same way is taking things to a whole new level but it really was the thinnest most delicate pasta I’ve ever encountered; the pasta may have been delicate but the flavours sure did pack a punch.

Duck breast with curly kale, cereals, cranberry & verjus – a little more bold, the duck dish was another joyous dish. I loved the sharp acidy of the verjus and cranberries. Against the crisp, salty skin, the duck meat itself was some of the most tender I’ve eaten.

Orange and gingerbread soufflé & dark chocolate ice cream – there’s nothing I need to write here… a perfect end to a most enjoyable lunch.

The Cross on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Sticky Walnut, March 2015

So I went to this place called Sticky Walnut for lunch. I ate bread, quail, brassicas and plaice. It was all rather delicious. Then I had some chocolate tart with bits of orange and a sorbet.

To start, people who work in the kitchen had put breast and leg from a quail in a bowl with a carrot purée, choi sum and some dukkah (which is a mixture of nuts, herbs and spices from Egypt (where the Pyramids are). Around this they had poured a vegetable ‘nage’, which is a type of poncy broth.  

The same people had done some clever things to vegetables; they had caramelised cauliflower and served it with broccoli, carrot and walnuts (the place has walnut in its name too!) I particularly liked the Romanesco broccoli, which they had pickled. It made me happy.

With the plaice they had put some ox cheek into breadcrumbs, which I liked a lot. The fish was on what some restaurants would call a ‘bed of’ pearl barley (here they just called it ‘pearl barley’). They also used some wild garlic, which is a type of garlic that grows in the wild! I know, crazy huh?

One particularly clever person made a chocolate tart and served it with some clementine segments and a blood orange sorbet – I’d like to marry him.

Some nice people who do not work in the kitchen brought the food to me on plates. They were smiley and chatty but not overly so. I liked them.

I took some pictures… wanna see?

Breast & leg of quail, carrot, choi sum, dukkah & vegetable nage

Brassica salad, pickled Romanesco, caramelised cauliflower, purple sprouting broccoli, carrot & walnuts

Plaice fillet, braised gem, pearl barley, wild garlic, pickled cucumber & oxtail croquette

Hand cut truffle & Parmesan chips

Dark chocolate tart, blood orange sorbet

Sticky Walnut on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Ibérica, Manchester

The soulless abyss that is Spinningfields has never been at the top of my list of favourite places to eat in Manchester… so when the “chain restaurant” Ibérica opened there, I was not exactly chomping at the bit to visit.

On the day we did, my wife and I had initially been keen to check out at the newly opened BistroVin (above @SWofDeansgate) in Barton Arcade for wine, cheese and ham but it seemed they were not yet fully operational. With our hearts set on procuring some quality charcuterie, I grudgingly suggested Ibérica.

Probably in part fuelled by my mood, things didn't go smoothly initially. On arrival we were shown to a table on the mezzanine level, which compared to the high ceiled bar area, seemed a little confined, so we asked to move downstairs.

The host then seated us next to the only other occupied table in an otherwise empty section – I never know why places do this; I guess it makes it easier to wait on but surely no customer, given the choice, would choose such a seat? It’s not quite as freaky as going to sit next to the only other person in an empty train carriage but it’s still bloody odd… I asked that we sit at the bar instead.

After appearing like an awkward wanker, I was finally a happy bunny at the bar. The young lad serving was good but I didn’t appreciate a 12.5% service charge being added to the bill as standard AND the card machine prompting for further gratuities – one or t'other would have sufficed.

Generally, I found the food good – I guess good enough to warrant a listing in the Michelin guide (the Canary Wharf and Marylebone branches are listed after all).

We ordered a couple of ‘Pinchos’, Baby squid with aioli and Ibérico ham with green pepper – both were great little things that I’d definitely order again if I ever do return.

From the deli section we went for the Anchovies in vinegar, Cockles in brine, the Spanish cheese taster and some Juan Pedro Domecq Jamón Ibérico de Bellota – I found the anchovy dish particularly pleasing.

At £32.50 for the tin, the cockles were the single most expensive item we ordered. Each one was perfectly plump and delightful but I think you’d have to be some sort of certified cockle connoisseur to fully appreciate them at that price.

The jamón however, as expected, was worth every penny (£20). Ibérica offer a choice of three hams, which you can buy individually or as a tasting platter. One advantage of ordering the platter being that it can help you to appreciate the qualities of each. As it’s a personal favourite, I just ordered the Jabugo beauty.

From the tapas section, the picks of the bunch for me were the Ibérica’s Serrano ham croquettes and the Padrón peppers with Maldon salt – good examples of each.

Conceptually, the Asparagus, Manchego, onion confit & truffle oil toast was another good dish, although sadly let down by woody asparagus.

Slightly less successful were the Aubergine, honey & pinenuts and the Sea trout with almond puree, pickled cauliflower & smoked olive oil – the aubergine was far too sweet for my taste, cloyingly so. Despite being delightfully cooked rare, I found the sea trout dish as a whole, a little lacklustre. 

For dessert we ordered a portion of Churros con chocolate and the Torrija but received the Gloria cheesecake with Galician ‘Parmesan’ & dried strawberries instead of the latter. They weren’t the best churros I’ve had but, then again, I was in Spinningfields and not a Spanish plaza with the sun on my back… I guess that helps.

Despite being more impressed with Ibérica than I thought I would be, my natural snobbish proclivities mean that I’d always rather support local independents like La Bandera, Levanter in Ramsbottom and El Gato Negro (when they open soon on King Street), so I’m not 100% sure if I’ll ever make it back.

Ibérica on Urbanspoon

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