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Pétrus [Review]


Pétrus – never "Château Pétrus" – is famous for being the most expensive wine in the world. That's not a good thing. Most people have a knee-jerk hatred of brands like that, and the rest – the ones who drink it – hardly ever appreciate it. It's a truism that sheikhs and oligarchs and robber barons know the price of everything and the value of nothing: rappers buy the cognac because of its cost, not its taste. Expensive plonk is typically just a bonanza of willy-waving, so for a restaurant to align itself with a wine like that, and all its dreary affluent pretensions – smacks of grasping inertia, of being hopelessly out of touch.

There's a bottle on the list here for 49,500 quid. What a brazen, hilarious amount to spend on fruit juice. That, and the resurrected name, tell you everything you need to know about the ambitions of this place. And if the food were stellar, they could almost get away with it. But it isn't, so they don't.

Belgravia smells of second homes and stucco; the local brothel would be called the Non-Dom's Condom. "We have lots of regulars already," says Jean-Philippe Susilovic, the maitre d', sometime Hell's Kitchen personality and an eminence grise in the embattled Ramsay empire.


The World's 50 Best Restaurants awards

Even to those of us who had seen the leaks, Noma's victory last night at the World's 50 Best Restaurants awards was a bit of a surprise. Nobody at the shindig was sure whether the "leaks" were real or a piece of slick, sly marketing. Thomas Keller's predictions proved catastrophically wrong, at least for him, and the jostling between El Bulli and The Fat Duck was always going to be too close to call. (There's perhaps a joke in there about bulldogs chasing ducks, but I'm far too hungover now to make it work.)

Every year, much is made of these awards. They attract an inevitable slew of criticisms: the 800 judges can't have eaten in all the shortlisted restaurants; the awards focus too strongly on European and American places; the process assumes that food in the best restaurants will always be technically dazzling. Whither the Tayyabs lamb chops, a conspicuous member of the London food scene asked pointedly last night.

Consider the Soreen, Doreen [Article]

The second of my "Consider the..." series at The Guardian is on Soreen, "the fruity malt loaf".

Click here to read.


Restaurant critic round-up, 26/04

A rare negative review for Manson

Click here for my weekly round-up of the national restaurant critics at iStarvin.


Rhubarb syllabub with ginger and star anise [Recipe]

I spent last weekend in the West Country on a lovely bloggers' trip to Riverford Farm in Devon. If you're an assiduous reader of British food blogs, you might have seen posts elsewhere on this lamentably brief excursion.

Among the goodies I came away with was some firm young rhubarb. I hadn't made a syllabub for yonks: they seem strangely out of fashion nowadays, which is rather a shame. The best are delicious and fruity and a tiny bit grown-up. Serving them in martini glasses is no doubt wincingly naff, but they were all I had, and the dish still rounded off a nice dinner with some friends.

Rhubarb syllabub with ginger and star anise

Serves 6

1lb rhubarb, washed and cut into 2cm-long chunks
2 ripe oranges
100-150g caster sugar, depending on how sweet your rhubarb is
4 tbsps of sweet wine (I used Muscat, which was on offer in Waitrose)
2 star anise
6 cardamom pods, seeded, husks discarded
300ml double cream
A small lump ginger, finely sliced
3 tbsps of flaked almonds, toasted

Zest one of the oranges and squeeze both of them. Finely chop the zest, then place it in a pan along with half the orange juice, the rhubarb, star anise, ginger, cardamom and 50g of the sugar. Cook over a low heat until the rhubarb has softened without turning into mush – about six minutes. It'll carry on cooking off the heat, so err on the cautious side. Taste for sweetness, adding more sugar if necessary (though you want it reasonably tart), and allow to cool.

Mix together the rest of the orange juice, the wine and the remaining 100g or so of sugar, and stir until dissolved. Whip the cream into soft peaks and fold in the wine mixture. Assemble the rhubarb and its juice in the bottom of individual glasses, reserving a few rhubarb pieces for garnish, then top with the cream mixture. Place in the fridge for at least two hours. Just before serving, top with the flaked almonds and a little more rhubarb. Serve with the rest of the wine bottle.


Consider the scotch egg [Article]

The scotch egg at the Harwood Arms. Photo: thecattylife.com

I've started a new series at The Guardian's Word of Mouth considering individual ingredients. I'm inaugurating it with the scotch egg. Click here to read.


Restaurant critic round-up, 19/04

Restaurant Michael Nadra. 'Heartbreakingly effortful'

Click here for my weekly round-up of the national restaurant critics at iStarvin.


Restaurant critic round-up, 12/04

Petrus. The restaurant may represent better value than the wine.

Click here for my weekly round-up of the national restaurant critics at iStarvin.


I'm on BBC Radio 5 Live

Tony Livesey

Last night was the final of Masterchef, and a fine series it was. Many congratulations to the whimperingly talented Dhruv Baker and, of course, an awestruck big-up to fellow food blogger Alex Rushmer, who missed the title by the breadth of a Rizla.

To coincide, BBC Radio 5 Live asked me along to Tony Livesey's show to speak in a discussion about whether "posh" TV cookery has any relationship with food prepared at home. It was thrilling to be whisked over to White City to take part, and to see the bleeping interior of the Beeb.

You can listen here on iPlayer
– it all lasts about 15 minutes. Our segment starts 1:11 into the show, and I begin spluttering inconsequentially at about 1:15.


The Ship, Wandsworth [Review]


The Ship is known as a "destination" pub. Not because you'd cross London to eat there – though you might, and you'd do well to – but because it's miles from anything. It lies on a silty, sallow U-bend in the river, and the cars swoosh yonder over Wandsworth Bridge and the water slops beneath it. It's a dead, desolate zone; the landscape is as battered and past-it as Detroit – and yet, weirdly, that splendid isolation turns out to be the source of its charm.

A couple of hundred years ago, when they built it, a road ran alongside (whether the oddly Dickensian Jews Row or not, I don't know). It was a pub at a hub, a villagey inn. The phone box in the garden – a modern replica, apparently – was there when they bricked off the road and amputated the pub from civilisation. To compensate and bring in the punters, the owners have updated the place freely and tastefully over the years: there's a languid patio, a bright conservatory, a barbecue outside and a space-age metal buttock-warmer in the main room, which are all welcome. They asked me along. (The owners, not the decorations.) I brought some blogging friends, and the day was a reminder how setting, welcome, service and company can raise a meal beyond the sum of its parts.


Rack of lamb Lasan [Recipe]

In January, I was in the audience for the final of The F Word, Gordon Ramsay's recurrent sleb-filled saga which was themed this year on Britain's best local restaurants. (If you're some kind of stalker you can watch it here: I crop up a few times, apparently growing out the back of Janet Street Porter's head.)

It seemed to me a very long day, and I spent those 12 hours parked at table – God knows what it was like for the wretched runners and waiters, not to mention chefs. But for what it's worth, I think the right restaurant won: a Birmingham Indian called Lasan. Their masala beef (original recipe here) was gaspingly accomplished: its extraordinary depth of flavour, its rich, fragrant headiness, the way it zipped with cardamom and ginger and the cashew-thickened smoothness of its sauce – they had me at hello.

Restaurant critic round-up, 06/04

Aldo Zilli. 'Greasy and tasteless'.

Click here for my weekly round-up of the national restaurant critics at iStarvin.