Saturday, 29 November 2014

frescobaldi, mayfair - review

Swing a right down an alleyway opposite Hamley’s on Regent Street, and you’ll find yourself on a quiet and short strip of road called New Burlington Place. The only people that seem to know about it are the cabbies that turn into it from adjoining Saville Row for a three-point-turn, and to drop off the well-suited elite; there’s little else there. 

Except, that is, for new Italian fine dining restaurant and wine bar, Frescobaldi. Despite an almost complete lack of passing footfall, little launch fanfare, and having only being open for two weeks, it was almost full late Saturday lunch time. 

People knew it was on this invisible road, and were coming for it specifically.


If the name rings a bell, you may have seen their restaurant on the lower ground floor of Harrods, their branded Laudemio olive oil sold at Fortnum & Mason, or come across their outposts in Florence and at Rome’s Fiumicino airport.

Their major claim to fame though, and the focus around which this new restaurant is based, is that the Frescobaldi family produce wine, and have done for a very long time indeed (more information on that in this recent Independent article). 

It’s an involvement that dates back centuries. During the renaissance, we’re told they traded bottles with Michelangelo for works of art, and they were major financiers to the kings of England, with receipts signed personally by that great wine-quaffer, Henry VIII. 

Most of their nine estates can be found in the hills around Florence and Siena, and a range of wines from the likes of Mormoreto (a single-vineyard cru of Castello di Nipozzano) to the flagship Frescobaldi cuvée (Brunello di Montalcino Castelgiocondo Riserva) take pride of place on the new restaurant’s menu.

To launch this first independent site in the UK, the Frescobaldis have partnered with Good Food Society, a new hospitality venture promoted by fellow Turk, Levent Büyükuğur (also founder of Istanbul Doors, an international restaurant group with over 40 venues).



They’ve done very well with the interiors. A great wall of glass for the frontage, striking frescos of Italian renaissance characters painted onto the tiled walls, a great central column with shelves housing Tuscan paraphernalia and bottles of wine poured by the glass - it’s a handsome space.

At Frescobaldi, you’ll find the largest menu you’ve ever seen, in size rather than content - open, it’s almost as wide as the wingspan of an albatross. The extra maneuverability the broad and comfortable chairs provide are as good for big bottoms as they are for accommodating the perusal of the massive things; best to read them turned sideways for the sake of a smashed wine glass.

In it, a confident and concise menu with less than a handful of entries under each section: antipasti, carpacci, tartare, primi piatti (pasta), to share (salads, cheese and charcuterie), secondi di pesce (fish mains), seconde di cane (meat mains), contorni (sides).


Bread was great and made on site, the soft and salty focaccia still warm from the oven, crisp Sardinian flatbread entirely void of moisture, and the basket comes with a bottle of that Laudemio olive oil to glug at your pleasure. 

There were rippled sheets of seabass carpaccio with pink peppers, soy sauce and fresh curly celery strips, that could have done with a touch of astringency (£16). The lactating Puglian burrata, with rocket pesto and ripe tomatoes, was just about the creamiest I’ve encountered (£12.50). 

I thought the marinated black Angus beef with lentils and courgettes would come as a salad with cooked slices of steak, and I expected it to be dull. It was actually like a plate of joyous lemony bresaola, with a little gathering of fantastically dressed firm green lentils and tiny cubes of courgette (£15).

The wide ribbons of pappardelle with the veal cheek ragu were gorgeous - great bite and deep yellow from yolk. The pappy but pleasing sauce, quite sweet from the meat, needed the contrasting texture it got from a flourish of small crisp rosemary croutons scattered before serving - very good (£15).

There were small and soft dimpled gnocchi with porcini mushrooms and an earthy umami sauce, although I do like my dumplings sporting the marks of a longer fry (£15). The ossobucco was a loaded plate of flaking veal, flanked by a barrier of unctuous white polenta, and with a great slug of marrow that slipped out of the bone after just a little persuasion (£23).

Tiramisu came in an unusual format, a mound of yellow sponge, coloured from extra yolk I presume, with a moat of coffee sauce and bitter toasted beans. It was cleared in the same amount of time it took me to register it had arrived (£9).


They've been smart in making more of their wines accessible to diners, by offering small and reasonably priced pre-grouped wine flights. You get a taste of three glasses (125ml each), and there are different groups of three to choose from, ranging from £16 - £68. I had the Red Flight “Sangiovese” at £21.


Two female maître d's were wearing the same sophisticated monochrome dress that wouldn’t have looked out of place at a cocktail bar, and service was charming and very attentive, if a little too enthusiastic at the beginning of our early lunch reservation, when we were the only occupied table.
  
Fellow diners ranged from groups of American visitors, to distinguished and impeccably dressed Italian matriarchs enjoying a girly lunch, to young couples, to a Turkish family, which may have been a Mr Büyükuğur influence.

Like I said, I don’t know how these people knew it was there. I did, because my visit was in the capacity of critiquing it for the consumer publication for British Turks & Turkophiles, T-Vine (thanks to Mr Büyükuğur’s involvement).

But know about it, people seem to. And now you do too. 

Liked lots: accessible and reasonably priced wine flights, interiors, there’s also a very becoming bar below deck to enjoy both wines and spirits in

Liked less: Frescobaldi won’t win any prizes for ‘bargain restaurant of the week’, but considering the location and setting, it’s not trying to. That in mind, with a bit of considered ordering, you can keep a reign on the bill and enjoy a very good meal

Good for: respite from the hectic shopping streets of the West End, impressing a date

4/5

Find the menu on Zomato.


Afiyet olsun


Note: I was invited as a guest to this restaurant.

Ristorante Frescobaldi on Urbanspoon


Square Meal

Thursday, 27 November 2014

SCOTLAND: food & dining at Gleneagles, Perthshire


Food provenance is not the first thing you associate with a 232-room hotel. Such a big operation, with most taken rooms at double occupancy, translates to a lot of mouths to feed. Even more so when said hotel is set amongst 850 acres of Perthshire countryside; it’s a good hour drive from the nearest dining competition the cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow can offer.

Guests sleep at Gleneagles, they pursue leisurely activities there, and they eat there. It’s a destination hotel of great comfort; once you’re within its fold, there is little desire to leave. With eating options outside of the hotel mostly removed from the equation, Gleneagles could easily fall into the sorry culinary abyss so many resorts end up getting lost in - not caring.  

They could offer mediocre fodder three times a day, because it’s not like guests can eat anywhere else. Sure, it would manifest as a blip on otherwise glowing TripAdvisor and Booking.com reviews - “great service, grounds, activities, rooms, spa - food is so so” - but visitors would still come, for everything else.

But they don’t do this. Gleneagles is so far from that abyss, that they’re at the other end of the spectrum entirely. Through their numerous restaurants, passionate staff, and local sourcing, they showcase the Scottish larder in all its glory. And my, what a glorious larder it is.

Along with a few others, I was invited to stay at Gleneagles to experience the food offering, and get a behind-the-scenes look at what goes into it. We met with some of the local family-run businesses that supply the hotel, spoke to and dined with chefs, handled a lot of feathered game, got a tour of Scotland’s only two-Michelin starred kitchen, quizzed the Gleneagles Director of Food and Beverage (previously at The Savoy), ate a lot of very good food, and understandably, got quite tipsy.

I was struck by the level of unbridled passion for good produce and good eating I encountered with almost every person I met associated with food at the hotel. They were all really nice, really welcoming, and really good at what they do. I’ve written a little about them below by way of appreciation and thanks. 

Should you ever find yourself staying at Gleneagles, your stomach will thank you for it. 


Gleneagles suppliers

Stuart Tower Dairy

Stuart Tower Dairy farm is home to 90 beautiful Holstein cows. Most commercial farms have 200-250, so relatively speaking, it's a small operation. The animals are out grazing during the summer months, and are fed on grass and wheat silage, barley, soya and beet pulp during the winter. 

The commoditisation of milk meant owners and husband and wife team, Neil and Lindsay Butler, had to diversify in order to add value to their product. In 2006 they dabbled in ice cream, and have not looked back since. It now accounts for around half of their business. 

Each majestic lady produces around 8,500 litres of milk a year, some of which goes into the 40,000 litres of ice cream in 200 flavours made at the farm. It’s this stuff that's supplied to Gleneagles.

Milk pumped the morning of our visit was poured into the ice cream machine (no snip at £30,000 - that’s some investment), churned for a while (with only a little air included), and pushed out of a big nozzle, much like a bigger and more expensive Play-Doh Fun Factory toy press. Two litre containers were filled for each of us, full of rich, smooth and dense ice cream.

They have a large parlour located in converted steadings on the farm, and a patio overlooking the Strathmore valley, where you can sit a while and enjoy whatever flavour ice creams happen to occupy their displays that day. 

Neil mentioned they appreciated such a big enterprise as Gleneagles supporting the local, independent businesses. And rightly so.

www.stewart-tower.co.uk



George Campbell & Sons Fishmongers


Current owner, Ian Campbell, has worked at George Campbell and Sons since 1977, but the business has been going strong through four generations since 1872. It's supplied seafood to Gleneagles, almost continuously, since the hotel opened 90 years ago. 

Around five fishmongers work through the night every evening to prepare catches that come in from the bountiful cold waters in and around the country, for delivery to clients in the morning. Machines are available that fillet and pin-bone hauls, but here it’s all done by hand. The last van leaves at 8am, and their geographical positioning means they can reach 90% of the population of Scotland within 90 minutes; that means supremely fresh products. 

We were joined by Alan Gibb, Executive Chef at Gleneagles, and Colin Bussey, Alan’s predecessor, who retired in 2008. Colin, not one to take to retirement too easily, has since started a small consultancy business, and in this capacity has worked with George Campbell and Sons to come up with around ten fish-based food products, to sell to retail customers in their shop.

Our advertised “light” lunch there was anything but, but I do think it was my favourite meal during my stay. A spread of these products was cooked up by Colin and helpers just before our arrival, and it was exquisite. There were subtly spiced potted shrimp cooked with mace, nutmeg, butter, cayenne and lemon zest, still warm and wobbly smoked salmon and leek quiches, velvety mackerel patés and the biggest scallops I ever did see.

We watched one of the fishmongers, Gus McKenzie, deftly fillet a whole host of sparkling fish and prepare our scallops before lunch. From Loch Broom and plucked from the water just hours before, the latter were grilled, served on Stornoway black pudding from Macleod & Macleod*, and doused in a little buerre blanc. Simply put, the most impeccable morsel of food I’ve had in some time.

* Note: this is the best black pudding that is available, anywhere. And confirmed by people who know a lot more about black pudding that I do. I’ve had it a few times since, and nothing comes close. I think they ship to the rest of the UK.



Gleneagles restaurants & bars


Strathearn

The grandest of the restaurants at Gleneagles, The Strathearn is a time capsule transporting guests to a dining experience from a bygone era. Holding firmly onto the days when French food was fancy, service was silver, and half of the menu was cooked at the table, the restaurant is an ode to the grown up gastronomy of our yesteryears.

Expect dulcet notes from a grand piano played in the corner, and your dinner to arrive under those grand silver domes. There are alabaster columns, art deco lighting fixtures, and old-fashioned three-pronged candlestick holders that look a lot like Lumière from Beauty and the Beast. Crêpe Suzettes are flambéd, smoked salmons are sliced, and beef wellingtons are carved - all at the table, with great theatre and showmanship.

The menu is a mix of French and British classics and boasts the bounty from Scotland’s cold waters, some of which is supplied by George Campbell & Sons (see above). Think oysters from Argyll, Hebridean crab, Scottish lobster and langoustines and the ubiquitous smoked salmon. 

There’s a lot of locally sourced meat on offer too - foie gras, lamb from the mountains, venison, chicken, game from the moor, steak and the evening roast from the trolley. On our visit it was the beef wellington, and it was as spot on as it can get. Dry flavoursome pastry, beef pink throughout - quite wonderful.

Three courses including dessert is £60.00, four courses including dessert is £70.00.

The unrivaled epicurean endurance test that is the Gleneagles breakfast is also served in The Strathearn each morning - more on that here.





Deseo


An altogether more casual experience, Deseo focuses on Mediterranean-inspired dishes in relaxed and family-friendly surroundings. Expect to find an array of tapas, pastas, pizzas, regional plates such as Escalope “Milanese”, charcuterie, and cheeses.

At the rear of the restaurant you’ll find a food emporium. Here, they showcase the ingredients used in the kitchen, as well as boasting a fridge packed with prime cuts of pure pedigree Scotch beef from breeds such as Belted Galloway, or the indigenous Highland.

Local butcher, Simon Howie, has created a meat version of a wine list; the “breed book” gives diners the opportunity to select their beef in the same way they would a fine wine or whisky, and there’s a different “guest” breed featured weekly.

Game Dinner

We dined at Deseo twice during our stay. Our first experience was at the chef’s table in the food emporium. The focus of this meal was game, and we were joined by Gleneagles Director of Food and Drink, Alan Hill, as well as the man who supplies Gleneagles with this meat, Neil from Ochil Foods.

Shooting since the tender age of 11, Neil regaled us with stories of hunting seasons, the coveted and rare delicacy of woodcock, the leanness of venison (only 4% fat - lamb is 28%, beef is 40%), and the ongoing challenges of encouraging supermarkets to get over the occasional presence of lead shot in the meat, and stock more game.

Paul Devonshire, Gleneagles Executive Sous Chef, was tasked with cooking our game dinner that evening. There was delicately flavoured partridge carpaccio with a herb encrusted and deep fried quail’s egg, pheasant in a life-affirming broth with a hint of chilli and ginger, succulent grouse breast marinated in double cream and thyme and topped with fried julienned leeks, hearty venison and hare with Stornoway black pudding (there it is again - the best), and an apple bavarois to finish. The accompanying wine flight, bottles plucked from the hotel’s 17,500-strong cellar, made for a solid marriage.

The Chef's Table Experience costs £720 for a table of eight and includes your own chef, waiter and menu offering.



Truffle Lunch


Round two at Deseo was a celebration of that fantastic funghi we love to stick our noses into around this time of year, the truffle. 

Cooked for us by Gleneagles Executive Chef Alan Gibb (he was with us at the fishmongers, remember), we were treated to a black truffle pizza with parmesan and basil, scrambled Arlington eggs with white truffle, a truffled macaroni cheese with capers and parsley, and a sensational chicken dish with winter truffles, fluffy potatoes, chicken liver, carrot and cauliflower - like a poshed up and proper impressive roast. Truffle, truffle, truffle.

A fantastically pungent lunch, and only two hours after an epic Strathearn breakfast. A bit of a struggle, but we managed to muddle on through - it was too good to pass.



Andrew Fairlie

We didn’t get to eat here (gutted). But we did receive an exclusive tour of the kitchen during preparation for an evening service. It’s a small and intimate venue, with just 17 tables, and it boasts the only two Michelin stars in Scotland, which it has retained since 2006.

They only offer evening dining, and they have a one-year-old kitchen garden off-site on private land, the location of which is kept a secret. Three full-time gardeners tend to it and supply the Andrew Fairlie kitchen with most of its produce.

We were informed that one of the highlights on both the a la carte and degustation menus is Andrew's signature smoked lobster, relinquishing an intense smokiness from a twelve-hour infusion over whisky barrels. I'll take two.

If you want a table, book (way) in advance.

www.andrewfairlie.co.uk


The Blue Bar

Alan Hill also joined us at the hotel’s The Blue Bar, a unique edition to the Dormy Clubhouse. This is a covered outdoor luxury, with sumptuous Bentley leather seating that heat up, emblemed blankets and a roaring fire pit. 

Open by invitation only, this is the place to retire to post slap up meal, smoke a fine Cuban, and chat with friends into the night. The bar is stocked with Johnnie Walker Blue Label, and some regular guests keep their own bottles, tagged with the owner’s name, behind it for each time they visit.


A big thank you to all those involved in what was a truly splendid couple of days spent with great people, in a wonderful part of the world. 

The Gleneagles Hotel, Auchterarder, Perthshire, Scotland PH3 1NF
T: 0800 704 705 (UK Freephone) or 1 866 881 9525 (US Freephone)
www.gleneagles.com
@Gleneagleshotel


Related posts
SCOTLAND: Gleneagles, Perthshire - Hotel Review

Deseo on Urbanspoon
The Strathearn on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

SCOTLAND: Gleneagles, Perthshire



In a nutshell


A grand and stately presence set in 850 acres of verdant Perthshire countryside. With 232 rooms, 14 event suites, seven bars and restaurants, three championship golf courses, and a destination spa, this five star luxury property is currently celebrating its 90th birthday. It’s played host to some major international events, including the 2005 G8 summit, 2014 Ryder Cup, and is home to the only two Michelin-starred restaurant in Scotland.

Where is it?

Mid-way between Perth and Stirling on the A9. It’s also equidistant from Edinburgh and Glasgow, one hour on the motorway from each. It lies at the very centre of Scotland, and to add to its exclusivity, it even has its own railway station.
















Style and character


Designed with a French chateau in mind, the imposing facade beguiles the soft and warm interiors. Despite the great volume of space within its walls, the hotel manages to retain a sense of intimacy and accessibility. A warren of carpeted corridors guides people through the building; recognising this can at first be confusing, reception will provide you with a map at check-in. 

The main building, and the oldest part, retains many of the Art Deco features from its 1924 origins, a time when it was referred to as ‘a Riviera in the Highlands’ and the ‘eighth wonder of the world’. To a younger set of eyes, this might come across as a little outdated, but is undoubtedly part of the charm that attracts so many.

The Braid House bedroom wing is a more recent addition to the building. It houses rooms with balconies overlooking the Ochil hills (the room pictured), the super-slick, Asian-inspired ESPA Spa complete with outdoor pool, the Deseo restaurant, and has an altogether more contemporary finish.

Rooms are plush, spacious and elegantly done, with comfy sofas, plumped up soft furnishings, and airy, modern, white-tiled bathrooms. If you’re interested in doing some real damage, suites range from mini-apartment-sized Whisky suites to the crisp and glossy ones on the fourth floor, some with sunken baths and roof terrace.




What's unique?

Shopping arcade  It’s certainly big enough to have one, so why not. Leading off from the lobby area is a gallery of quaint shops to while away an afternoon and spend a bit of cash. You can find anything from luxury cashmere to Dunhill lighters, jewellery to deluxe whiskeys, and there’s even a hair salon and nail bar.

Wine cellar  It's not unusual for a good restaurant to have an impressive wine cellar. But it is unusual for it to host private dinners. The space, holding around 17,500 bottles, is available for anything from multi-course silver service dinners for up to 12 guests, to cocktail receptions or wine tasting events for up to 20. 

Outdoor activities  When surrounded by such splendid grounds, it makes sense to provide outdoor activities that make the most of it. Guests can go shooting, fishing, off-road driving, ride a horse, learn how to handle a trained gundog, or even get falconry lessons from the on-site British School of Falconry.

Green credentials  They have their own biomass boiler which provides 70-80% of the hotel’s heating needs, and they achieved zero waste to landfill status in 2014. Commendable, for such a big operation.

Who goes?

I didn’t see much evidence of people playing golf during my stay, probably because it was cold, drizzly and November. But I have little doubt the warmer months attract enthusiasts in their droves. Otherwise, one member of staff mentioned around three quarters of the guests are from Scotland, with the remaining from the UK and a smattering from overseas.

The guest list seems to range from girlie weekend spa breaks and empty-nesters, to anniversary couples and three-generation families. It also welcomes the occasional celebrity - I think someone from Made in Chelsea or Towie or one of those other equally painful TV shows might have been there when I was. I say "celebrity"..

Breakfast

An epicurean endurance test of epic proportions. Breakfast is served in the most impressive of the restaurants, The Strathearn, with its lofty ceiling, alabaster columns, silver service and waistcoated waiting staff.

The spread is an impressive one, showcasing the best of Scotland’s seasonal larder. Expect to find a pancake station, stone baked breads and fresh pastries made on site each morning, smoked salmon, roasted and carved hams, whole parma ham legs, an array of cheeses, exotic fruits, and a whole lot more.

In addition to the self-serve buffet, there’s a menu of ‘classics’ you can also order from, freshly prepared and served at your table. Think kippers, haddock, omelettes, waffles, duck eggs on scones, and even steak and chips. 

Beverages include the usual  tea, coffee, and freshly squeezed juices, as well as champagne and a Bloody Mary bar. If your room includes breakfast, all of the above is part of it. If not, it’s £32.

It’s open 7am - 10am on weekdays, and until 10.30am on weekends. Eat for the whole sitting, and you may not need to again that day.

Dining
This gets it’s own separate post - here it is. Service Immaculate, yet friendly, from the smiling kilted doormen, to the chefs and restaurant staff, to the reception. They all seem passionate about the hospitality industry they're in, and seem to genuinely love their jobs. On more than one occasion, staff members seemed to know where I’d come from or what I’d just been up to. When the car dropped me off on my arrival, I was greeted with “how was your train journey?”. How did they know I didn’t fly? Impressed. Liked lots & liked less Along with the service and the spectacular grounds, what particularly stood out for me was the culinary offering, and the thought and care that goes into everything involved with that, from the suppliers to the cooking. More on that in a separate post. A few nice little touches include the ‘for your journey’ shortbread on departure, the information sheets left during turndown service that include the next day’s weather report, and the fact they posted a letter for me, which I needed to arrive in London the next day, at no charge. Appreciated. Niggles - a plug socket near the bed would be useful for charging phones.


Pricepoint

This is high-end, AA five red stars. It doesn’t get any higher. So, expect to pay for it, but don’t expect to feel short changed. 

  • B&B From £245 per room, per night (1 Nov - 31 March 2015)
  • Green fees from £70 (off-peak, Nov 2014 - March 2015)
  • October 2014 green fees: PGA Centenary Course - £175, King’s or Queen’s Course - £125.
  • Special offers available.

Contact

The Gleneagles Hotel, Auchterarder, Perthshire, Scotland PH3 1NF

T: 0800 704 705 (UK Freephone) or 1 866 881 9525 (US Freephone)
www.gleneagles.com
@Gleneagleshotel

Related posts
SCOTLAND: Food and dining at Gleneagles

Note: I stayed as a guest of the hotel.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

som saa, london fields - review

There’s something undeniably exciting about a restaurant residency. The impermanence of it all, knowing it will no longer be there in a couple of months, feeling as though you’re taking part in some sort of exclusive underground dining movement that is not quite radical but certainly not mainstream. 

I say that. Som Saa has received a review from Fay Maschler in the Evening Standard, which is about as mainstream as it gets. But that doesn’t detract from the thrown together, off-the-cuff charm of it all.


I’d never heard of Climpson’s Arch before hearing about Som Saa. Probably because it’s a working coffee roastery right out in the sticks of east London, next to London Fields train station (not tube or even overground, an actual National Rail train station - far).

What’s particularly exciting though, is that it’s fully licensed, has a grill and wood-fired oven out in the partly covered yard space, a kitchen built into a shipping container, tables inside under the railway arch adorned with fairy lights, and occasionally moonlights as a venue for young chefs to showcase their talents.


When chefs and restaurateurs want to create a dining experience, but aren’t quite at the stage of settling at a permanent site, they’ll take up residency for a limited amount of time in a place that’s ready to roll as soon as they arrive. In this case, we have Andy Oliver, previously at Nahm (voted no.1 restaurant in Asia) and Bo.Lan in Bangkok, and Tom George, a manager from Goodman in Mayfair. Their intention is to bring the cooking of northern and north-eastern Thailand (the area known as Isaan), to us lucky Londoners. And lucky we certainly are.

Get the tube to Bethnal Green and walk north for around 20 minutes, or get a train from Liverpool Street three stops until you arrive at London Fields. Allow Google maps to instruct you from here along quiet roads and under railway bridges, as thoughts flit between I can’t wait to eat this food and am I going to get mugged if I keep parading my phone.

You’ll then either hear or smell Som Saa before you see it. Follow the murmur of music and a convivial atmosphere, or the aromas of shrimp paste and lime searing against hot metal, and you’ll soon find yourself outside a venue that by day, you wouldn’t bat an eyelid at.


The menu is brief but confident, with a handful of bar snacks, a couple of salads, four small plates, three large and one choice for dessert. Flavours are big and bold and a glorious ode to all things we love about Thai food - the salt, sour, sweetness and heat. Astringent and aromatic nectar, full of the flavours of lemongrass, garlic, coriander, shrimp paste, ginger and chillies, pool at the sides of the plates. Liquor so good that leaving a drop should come with a police caution.

The heat from the green papaya salad is penetrative rather than eye-watering, a gradual climb across the tongue to the back of the throat that will release as a little cough or hiccup. It’s wonderful, get it (£8.50). 

The whole deep fried seabass, crisp and curved like the crescent of the moon, is covered in Isaan herbs and comes with roasted rice, the soft flesh a joy to peel away from the big bones of the spine (£14).

The fish also appears cured with citrus under ‘bar snacks’, with lemongrass, kaffir lime and mint, ready for wrapping in the glossy betel leaves they’re delivered on, zippy little parcels that go down barely touching the sides (£5). Grilled pork neck with chilli, lime and garlic was as dreamy as it reads (£8), and the sweet flesh of the salt roasted prawns were a great excuse to get the fingers dirty and suck on some crustacean heads (£8).

There was also a palm sugar ice cream with turmeric grilled banana which had a great warming depth (£4.50). Things that continue to flirt with me from the menu I stowed away in my bag and took home: Isaan hot and sour soup with duck leg; Northern style pork belly curry with pickled garlic and ginger; grilled fermented pork with peanuts, chill and cabbage.

There’s corrugated metal panels, a concrete floor, exposed pipes and ducts, and what seems to be a load of industrial paraphernalia stored towards the back of the space, beyond the seating - it is a coffee factory after all. But there’s also communal dining tables, Arcade Fire on in the background, a cracking wine list, standout service and some seriously good vibes.

Som Saa is so far east from where I live that it might as well be in Germany. But it’s also so good that I’m pretty certain I’ll be back. It runs until at least early 2015, with no set end date of yet. Just turn up as there’s no reservations - open Thursday to Sunday from 6pm with brunch at the weekends. See you there.

(P.S. Please excuse the shoddy photography. I turned up without my proper camera as I had little intention to write this up due to the time constraints of a hectic work schedule. But then it was really good, so I had to. The snaps are from my crappy camera phone.)

Liked lots: Huge flavours, great vibes, fantastic service
Liked less: Please be closer to where I live
Good for: Impressing your mates with your knowledge of London’s alternative dining scene; eating what is arguably some of the best Thai food in town 

4/5

Afiyet olsun.

Climpson's Arch on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 15 November 2014

FRANCE: Hotel Marignan, Paris


In a nutshell

Forty-five rooms and five suites of modern chic and understated elegance. Independent five star boutique accommodation, with sensational views of the Eiffel Tower, trying (and succeeding) to offer something different to its neighbours.

Where is it?

In the heart of the ‘Golden Triangle’ between the Champs-Elysées and the Montaigne Avenue. If coming off of the Eurostar from Gare du Nord, take the Metro Line 4 south to Strasbourg-St Denis. Then change onto Line 9 westbound to Franklin D. Roosevelt - the hotel is just around the corner. Or start the spending early and get a cab.

Style and character

It’s an impressive building with a handsome black facade dominating the bottom half, conspicuous amongst the surrounding classic architecture. The tall golden doors don’t allow you to see in, but the doormen can of course see out through a well-positioned gap. 

The hotel states rooms and suites are intended to feel like a second home - pied-à-terre - and they’ve succeeded. Rooms have muted tones and use quality materials - wool, silk, oak, marble. Furniture is unique to the hotel and there are a lot of pieces created by French artisians dotted about.

Rooms on the 5th floor have balconies, and those on the 6th and 7th have terraces with unobstructed views of the tower.

There’s a lot of attention to detail and splashes of creativity when it came to designing the interiors, from large and colourful botanical prints on the walls in the restaurant, down to the individual choice of lighting and bread baskets.


What's unique?

Art  It’s everywhere - sculptures, paintings, photography - all chosen by hotel manager Natalie Richard. Art is used to customise rooms and to define the public areas; it’s clearly a big part of the hotel’s character.

Cinema  There’s a 20-seater in the basement. They use it for private events, but guests can request screenings and they’ll often project major sport events.

The views  If you ask really nicely, the staff may well take you to the roof of the building (where the main image was taken) to show you a truly splendid view of the Eiffel Tower (it’s where all the cables and ventilations boxes are, so it’s mostly out of bounds). I’ve seen it a hundred times, but that structure never ceases to momentarily take my breath away. I had a front-facing room with a balcony on the 5th floor and could see it quite clearly, albeit with its head quite literally in the clouds on the first day.

Who goes?

I arrived late on a Friday night to the sounds of a party. A big party, in such full swing that I walked right past the building assuming it must be a bar or club, and not a hotel. It turns out Carla Bruni was holding a charity bash and had hired out the entire ground floor - a great bash it seemed too. I discreetly weaved amongst the Parisian elite to check it out - they’d kicked off their heels and started dancing in front of the DJ long before I arrived.

Breakfast time revealed mostly French guests, a few that could have been there on business. Clientele seemed to be 35+ and I didn’t spot any children. A discreet and sophisticated customer base.

Breakfast

If the room you book includes breakfast, it will be their ‘continental’ offering and very typically French. Meaning very good bread, fresh pastries, quality preserves, great butter, and whatever you want to drink. Simple, but quite lovely. And feel free to ask for a basket refill. It’s 29
 if it’s not included in your stay, which does seem pricey for what it is. Alternatively, you can order something cooked off the menu.


Dining

Canopée is the hotel’s single restaurant, open all day. Commandeering the kitchen is chef Felipe de Assunção, originally from Portugal, with years of experience at a number of high-end Parisian and London hotels, who’s been at Hotel Marignan for two years.

The menu is seasonal and changes quarterly. It doesn’t shy away from luxury ingredients, rich textures and strong flavours - all very much at home in this sort of accommodation, in this city. 

Entrées involved soft scallops on potatoes with chives and a smack of truffled cream, fantastic lobster and spinach ravioli with a deep bisque, duck foie gras with a lick of tart rhubarb on crisp bread, and the best butternut squash velouté I’ve encountered - a velvety pool of amber with chunks of salty fried sheep’s cheese. Ask me to clear a vat of that any day.

There was a succulent roast chicken breast with mushroom and peas and a perfectly al dente risotto, so unashamedly decadent in its cream content, that I wouldn't be surprised to find it in the dairy aisle. 

A great hunk of cod with chorizo cream came with soft leeks, white cocoa beans and an armour of tiny tomatoes - turned pointy in their dehydration in the oven, I suspect - with welcome bursts of tartness to cut through all the richness. Then there was a heft of seabass sporting a layer of sliced baby courgette on a bed of citrus-spiked ratatouille. All beasts were cooked well and with balanced, albeit robust flavours.

Sweets had us cooing over Paris-Brests with light choux and a gorgeous praline cream. Roasted figs with honey, rosemary and a cottage cheese sorbet tasted as exciting as it sounds, and a pineapple tarte tatin was an exotic twist on a classic done well.

Prices match the surroundings, and the upmarket part of town you’re in. Don’t expect much change from 200 for a three course meal with wine for two, but do expect to be suitably impressed with it. Take a look at the Hotel Marignan menus.



Service

A highlight of the hotel. From the doormen, to the reception staff, to the waiters, to the housekeeping, to the chef himself coming out to speak to us and ask how we found the food, the service here is exemplary.

Polite, charming, engaging, accessible, informed - I encountered a number of members of staff and was impressed by them all.

Perks

The hotel uses Clarins for its toiletries, rooms come with coffee-pod machines, and the mini bar of soft drinks in the room is complimentary (note - no alcohol in them). Little cakes are left in the room each day.


Liked lots & liked less

The service and the unique character of the hotel are what stood out. The experience was, for all intents and purposes, faultless. And there's free wifi across the whole building - you would hope a given.

My one niggle would be the full length mirror on the inside of the wardrobe door could do with more lighting around it. But who cares about that when the luxury bed you’re sleeping on is made of bamboo.


Pricepoint

Lowest  The Premier room ranges from 330 to 530 a night
Highest  The Marignan Eiffel Suite comes in at 1300 to 3000 a night - ouch.

Contact

Hotel Marignan, 12 rue de Marignan 75008 PARIS
T: +33 1 40 76 34 56
www.hotelmarignanelyseesparis.com
@MarignanParis

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FRANCE: A postcard from Paris

Note: I stayed as a guest of the hotel.

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