Monday, 7 May 2018

An A for Adam's

Our recent visit to Adam's in Birmingham was only meant to be part of a day of entertainment, the precursor to a concert in the city on the same day. The concert alas was cancelled - however, our lunch was more than impressive enough to ensure the day was still a special one.

Located just a few minutes walk from New Street Station, the interior of Adam's is impressive: modern, light and chic. The cooking is pretty much the same. After eight courses, snacks and bread we were pleasantly full rather than uncomfortably bloated. As we had plans later in the evening we chose a half-bottle of wine to accompany our tasting menu rather than either of the two wine pairings. Then we settled down to enjoy the show.

The three snacks that preceded the menu proper ranged from good (tuna sashimi rolled in sesame seeds), to great (beetroot meringue with goats cheese cream), to "I actually wouldn't mind if the entire tasting menu was just eight courses of these," (braised beef croquette with crispy onion). The croquette was fantastic: rich, succulent beef encased in a crunchy coating with slivers of crispy onion adorning the top. Warm sourdough bread was served with salty butter and soft, whipped pork fat (nicer than it sounds), before it was on to the main event.

The savoury courses of the tasting menu were a good mix of land and sea. Smoked eel in a cold tomato gaspacho was followed by a baked jersey royal, complete with crunchy potato skin. Next up was one of the real knockout courses: a slab of flaky monkfish atop which sat blobs of sweet champagne jelly. Two meaty mussels, some pleasantly crunchy samphire and a smattering of caviar rounded off a magnificent piece of cooking.

Monkfish

Meat followed fish followed meat. Squidgy beef tartare with slices of raw mushroom (which I don't normally like but which worked well here); masala sea trout with spicy, salty skin, sauce and gnocchi flavoured with coriander; then another one of the standout dishes. Tender breast of guinea fowl, flavoursome thigh of the same gamey bird, crispy skin and smoky potato mash as smooth as a silken handkerchief. The savoury section finished on a real high.

Guinea fowl

So to desserts. First up a dome of orange blossom mousse on top of a thin, crunchy ginger crumb. This was served with an excellent rhubarb sorbet, tangy cubes of the same fruit and a white wine jelly.

Rhubarb

And to finish off a mascarpone millfoy......millefouille......*Googles spelling*...millefeuille. All crispy pastry and creamy topping and shards of honeycomb and chocolate. Alongside it was creamy caramel sauce and cold praline icecream. An impressive end to a wonderful meal.

Service was friendly and slick throughout. Indeed when a lady sitting at a nearby table dropped her spectacles her waiter was a blur of movement to pick them back up. Pricing was perhaps a little more London than Birmingham but the quality of the food certainly warranted the cost. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Adam's and we'd definitely go back for more.

Sunday, 21 January 2018

A Night at the Social

Rustic wooden chairs. Bare bricks. Distressed-looking walls. Waiters wearing jeans. Social Eating House isn't your typical Central London Michelin-starred restaurant. And that's rather nice. Eating out is about the whole experience, not just the food, and feeling relaxed and comfortable might just make the food taste a little bit better. Not that Social Eating House needed any help in that department.

Having read the menu online we were expecting to choose a three course a la carte meal. However, upon arrival and being seated our waiter presented us with the choice of a tasting menu. We went for it of course, and we certainly didn't regret it.

Following some decent sourdough bread and smoked butter (nicer than it sounds), we kicked off with a scallop ceviche; slippery, slivers of sliced scallop with wafer-thin discs of artichoke and a dreamy avocado puree. It was a pretty generously-sized portion for a first course, but it was also light and refreshing enough to not lay too heavy on the tummy.

I know foie gras isn't everyone's cup of tea, but I can't help myself, I really like it, and the herb-coated wedge that formed the bulk of the second course was excellent. The taste of it always reminds me of eggy bread (I LOVE eggy bread), and this was no different; light and buttery and not too-big a chunk that the richness overwhelmed. It was served with vegetables in a dashi broth and some tiny slices of chilli which gave a hint of heat to the course.

Foie gras

The cod which was served up next was so flaky it could've been advertised by a model eating it sensuously whilst sitting in an overflowing bath. It too was topped with a crust - this time one with a light crunch and the warmth of horseradish. Cauliflower puree, slices of apple and a salty miso glaze finished off a fantastic fishy dishy.

Cod

Our meaty main was nicely-pink lamb, salty and smooth olive oil mash, crunchy turnips and fondant potatoes. Rather than a traditional gravy it was all served with a Nicoise sauce, adding extra salt and crunch from the anchovy and the olives. Swiss chard added a touch of greenery to another cracking piece of cooking.

The first dessert of apple puree, buttermilk sorbet and blueberries was refreshing and sharp, welcome after the richness of the savoury courses. Tasty it was too, though for me it could've used a bit of crunch. The second dessert had that in bucketloads. Well, discs actually, of a nutty brittle which sandwiched a fantastic peanut butter parfait. Atop all this sat sour cherries and a cherry sorbet, and the whole combination was rather wonderful.

As was the whole evening in truth. Service, surroundings and ambience were lovely and relaxed and the price was pretty reasonable given the quality of the food and wine. Social Eating House would be a great place to take anyone a bit nervous about trying fine dining, and indeed anyone who enjoys a really good meal in pleasant surroundings. It certainly lives up to its name.

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

November Rain

As requested by @CityGroundCamel, an ode to Forest and Karanka set to Guns 'n' Roses' 'November Rain.'

When I look in Aitor’s eyes
I can see he’ll win us games
And now that he has joined us
Well I know he feels the same

But coaches aren’t forever
And Forest like to change
So I hope he’s still our manager
When the season starts again

Been in this league such a long long time
Tryin’ to reach the top again, ooh yeah
But bosses always coming bosses always going
And no-one gets a chance to build a team to play
The Forest way

If we could give them time
To sit on the touchline
I could watch the reds
Just knowing that they’d do fine
Just fine

So if you want promotion
Then give the boss some games
Or he’ll just end up walking
And we’re at square one again

Now he needs some time, on the phone
Now he needs some time, signing loans
Oooo now he needs to take some time, arranging cones
Oooo don’t you know he needs some time, before we moan

I know it’s hard to play teams off the park
When your defence seems out to harm you
But if we can sign some centre halves
That should be enough to calm you, woah oh ohhhh oh oh

Start marking man-to-man, not zone
Bring Patrick Bamford back, back home
Oooo bring a new assistant in, Ian Woan
Oooo buy someone who wins us games, on their own

And when your team declines
And can’t stop losing games
You know the fans will slate you
Cos there’s no-one else to blame
Well never mind promotion
We still can’t find a way
So we’ll just end up playing
In the Championship again

Don’t you think that we need some players
Try and sign us some decent ones
New left back and some pacy wingers
Strikers that score for fun
Strikers that score for fun

Don’t you think that we need some players
Try and sign us some decent ones
New left back and some pacy wingers
Strikers that score for fun
Strikers that score for fun

Don’t you think that we need some players
Try and sign us some decent ones
New left back and some pacy wingers
Strikers that score for fun
Strikers that score for fun

Don’t you think that we need some players
Try and sign us some decent ones
New left back and some pacy wingers
Strikers that score for fun
Strikers that score for fun

Don’t you think that we need some players
Try and sign us some decent ones
New left back and some pacy wingers
Strikers that score for fun
Strikers that score for fun

Don’t you think that we need some players
Try and sign us some decent ones
New left back and some pacy wingers

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Moonstruck

It's difficult to miss the Urbis Building, the space-age monolith a stone's throw from the Arndale Centre and home to the National Football Museum. But blink and you'd miss the entrance to The Rabbit in the Moon, chef Michael O'Hare's Manchester venture with Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs. If you did miss it you'd be missing something weird and wonderful, slick and surprising, challenging and, er, chewy? Actually, come to think of it, none of the dishes was that chewy. Some of them were challenging though, but it was a challenge worth accepting.

Through the door and up in the lift and into the bar we went, being invited to order a cocktail before our meal began. It was here we faced our first challenge - eating the first course of oyster topped with a ginger 'pearl' whilst reclining on one of the unfeasibly squishy chairs. I'm inept at eating oysters at the best of times but managed to slurp down the appetiser without wearing it. Job done, we were invited to follow our waiter downstairs to the actual dining floor of the restaurant.

Oyster and ginger 'pearl'

Anyone who's visited O'Hare's Leeds restaurant The Man Behind The Curtain will instantly note the similarities: the large, open-plan eating space, the 'graffiti'-covered pillars and the exact-same design of chair. The menu choice, or rather lack of, is also the same - which is to say you get what you're given. Luckily, what you're given is very, very good.

The menu at TRITM is a play on the British love of Oriental cuisine and takeaways. Only, to my knowledge, none of my local takeaways serve octopus, or calf brain, or rabbits' ears. OK, so the 'ears' were actually pointy-shaped prawn crackers which you used to scoop up a delicious dashi crumb at the start of the meal proper. I had to ask the question though, and if they had been ears it wouldn't have surprised me one bit.

All of the courses were smallish, ranging from a tuna melt that you devoured in one go to a more substantial sweetbread slider which needed a few bites and some deft handling to avoid covering yourself in it. It was excellent by the way, lightly crisp on the outside, rich and buttery in the middle. There was no one 'starter' or 'main,' rather a series of courses often served in groups of two or three together.

Sweetbread slider

The last of the savoury servings was probably the most diverse: the aforementioned calves brains delivered up with a nigiri of Wagyu beef tartare and caviar and a number of foie gras foam-covered nuggets of duck breast, to be eaten in that order. These helpings were accompanied with both a red and white wine from the matching wine flight, and our excellent waitress suggested we drink each wine with each of the dishes to taste the difference they made to each of the mouthfuls. She was right too, with the white seeming to mellow out the rich flavours while the red made them more intense.

From top to bottom: brains, beef and duck

Highlights of the rest of the meal included a pleasingly-rich beef and onion 'bird's nest soup' and a fantastically-spicy 'Thai green curry' which was poured onto some shoelace-thin crispy noodles and cooked them as you ate. The pick of the desserts was the passionfruit gyoza, with its crunchy but light pastry giving way to a burst of tropical goodness.

Service was prompt, friendly and knowledgeable throughout, in particular with regards to the wine. The decor was perhaps a little more formal than The Man Behind The Curtain but still quirky and interesting. I can understand that the background music might not be to everyone's taste - ranging as it did from Portishead to Eric B and Rakim - but we thought it was great.

We had only two minor gripes: a Cappuccino we ordered was served up as an Americano but was replaced without fuss when we pointed out the error. The other blip concerned the bill. Upon booking we had to pay a £30 per-head deposit, which the website informed us would be removed from the final bill. When we received the bill however it still included the £60, which isn't a small amount. As with the coffee this was resolved as soon as we mentioned it. In a busy service these things happen, and this certainly wasn't the worst bill-related mishap I've ever encountered...

All paid up, our trip to the moon was over. There was no dark side to this moon, just a tasty, interesting and thoroughly enjoyable experience. Fly me to the moon? You betcha. I'd board a rocket back again right now.


Sunday, 29 October 2017

So good they named it twice

Anyone who knows me reasonably well will know that I don't like flying. Over the years I've grown to tolerate it though. Strangely, however, I was more excited than scared before our recent visit to New York. Partly due to excitement about our destination, partly because of the prospect of flying in a bigger and better aeroplane than I'd flown in before. For whatever reasons, there was far less dread than usual as we soared into the sky to head over the Atlantic on our way to the Big Apple.

Day 1

Seven hours later. Well, that wasn't so bad. A bit wibbly-wobbly due to strong winds on our final approach, and some pretty sharp braking once we'd touched down onto the runway, but on the whole the flight wasn't too unpleasant. Going through customs took a while but soon we were on the metro en route to our hotel. Upon arrival we checked in and made our way to our 20th floor room. Peering out of the window, the scale of New York started to hit me. Normally in a room so high up you'd be looking down on your surroundings, yet here the nearby buildings still dwarfed us. A quick wash and brush-up later and we were strolling down 7th Avenue to our dinner destination for the evening.

View from the room

7th Avenue by night

Virgil's Real Barbecue was recommended to us by a friend who'd visited a few years previously. Upon arrival and being shown to our table it was instantly appealing - the archetypal American diner with the well-stocked bar taking up one of the walls. As we'd been well-fed during our flight we didn't go for starters and only ordered a couple of mains and accompanying beers - of which my nitro stout was deliciously thick and creamy.

The black and blue burger looked great, nicely charred with a pink middle and generously coated with blue cheese. My Maryland crab cake was fantastic. Crunchy on the outside, soft and delicious in the middle with a lovely strong flavour of crab. This was served with a cornbread muffin, coleslaw and a choice of two sides. Of these I went for the mashed potato and gravy and the collard greens, and very nice they both were too. Service was bright and breezy and the whole experience was just great, and a brilliant start to our visit. Happily full we headed back to our hotel to sleep before our first full day.

Day 2

So, this is what jet lag is like. Though still tired from the day before I was wide awake at before 5AM and just not able to drop back to sleep. Ah well, it's not like there wasn't going to be anything to do today! A quick coffee for us and pancakes for James and it was back on the underground to the Staten Island Ferry. The bright but cold day allowed us great views of the Statue of Liberty on the ferry journey out and the immense Manhattan skyline on the way back.

No caption required

Manhattan skyline

Next up was a detour to see the incredible new World Trade Centre building (and a quick scoot round Century 21 for some bargain hunting) before grabbing a sushi lunch and heading back uptown. As we were still pretty pooped from the day before we spent a couple of hours in the afternoon snoozing (with a beer break in the middle) to make sure we were fresh for our evening at the basketball. We were off to the Barclays Centre to see the Brooklyn Nets host the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The new World Trade Centre


En route to Brooklyn across the Manhattan Bridge with the Statue of Liberty in the distance


The Barclays Centre (well, Center)

I know next to nothing about basketball but our resident expert James informed me that the Nets weren't the best of teams. Indeed, upon arrival at the very impressive Barclays Centre it seemed to me there were more Cavs fans around than Nets. Certainly the Cavs' star player LeBron James received a bigger cheer upon his introduction than any of the home players did!

The Brooklyn Nets cheerleaders (the Brooklynettes!) warming up the crowd

The match was really exciting, with the result being in the balance until literally the final minutes. The lead changed hands several times before the Nets finally prevailed, and the whole evening was incredibly enjoyable. They really know how to hype up the match with the announcer being particularly funny in the way he greeted every Cavs score gloomily but every Nets one with nothing short of hysteria. Our hotdogs were great too, but the beer was ridiculously expensive, so we made sure to nurse it through the whole match. Beer and basketball done, it was back on the metro and back to the hotel to refresh ourselves once again.

Day 3

Thankfully we all managed a bit more sleep this time round! Before hitting Central Park we refuelled our tanks with breakfast at the Times Square Diner and boy, were our tanks refuelled!

The Times Square Diner had got really good write-ups and the queues outside suggested it deserved them. Thankfully though we weren't waiting long before being seated and treated to a breakfast to remember. Waffles for one of us, French toast for another and for me the Loaded Times Square breakfast: four doorstop-sized hunks of French toast with egg (scrambled in my case), bacon, sausage and ham. Oh, and potato hash with onion too. Lordy. I managed most of it but the hash was just one carb too far. All this was washed down with mugs of pleasingly strong coffee and it all served to set us up nicely for the day ahead.

Breakfast of champions (and tourists)

Another hop on the metro took us to Central Park for a very pleasant wander around Strawberry Fields and a nosey at the lake and the boat house. Then after running the gauntlet of cyclists and squirrels we made our way to The Met to check out the Van Goghs and Monets. The Met is huge and you could easily spend a whole day there alone. That wasn't our plan though - we'd finished seeing Monet and felt like spending money instead. So with this in mind it was off to 5th Avenue for Bloomingdales and Macy's. Our evening meal was booked in pretty early today so we couldn't spend too long at the stores - which was probably just as well - so after a quick nap and change back at the hotel it was off to Greenwich Village to the Minetta Tavern.

Van Gogh's self portrait at The Met

We wanted to have one special meal during our visit to New York but we didn't want to go too contemporary, so after a bit of research it seemed like Minetta Tavern would tick our boxes. The menu seemed very traditionally American and - as we discovered when we arrived - the setting most definitely was too. With its checkerboard flooring and wood-panelled walls it looked like the sort of place that Ray Liotta and Joe Pesci would've rocked up at in Goodfellas. This is a good thing.

Minetta Tavern

As we were booked in for the earliest sitting at 5:30PM and arrived a little early we were ushered through to the small bar area for a drink first as the tables were still being readied. Once all was set we were shown to our table and presented with the menus and wine list. The grilled oysters looked good for starters and indeed they were, lightly seared and coated in chilli butter. The special of the scallops was also delicious, served cold and plump with a vegetable garnish.

After having read so much about the black label burger it was the only choice (well for two of us anyway, with the other going for the Minetta burger instead). Our waiter advised that the burgers tended to be cooked under rather than over so we went for medium rare to be on the safe side. This proved a wise choice as the burgers were all still very pink. Indeed the black label burger was more like a steak tartare than a burger, albeit one with a beautifully seared exterior. It was served with a lightly grilled and not too hefty bun, a generous helping of crunchy fries and a nicely sharp gherkin. No foams or airs here - just perfectly cooked food.

We accompanied our meal with a couple of excellent cocktails and finished off with a foamy cappuccino each - it somehow seemed more fitting given the surroundings. The evening wasn't cheap but the food was delicious and I think it's great that Michelin recognises this. You don't always need frills and fancy presentation for a dinner to be memorable - and our dinner at Minetta Tavern was just that.

Day 4

Our last day. Boo. The time had gone far too quickly and there were so, so many things we hadn't yet done. One of these things was sampling some authentic New York cheesecake, so after a bit more retail therapy and a walk back up sunny 7th Avenue we paid a call to Junior's.

The cheesecake defeated us all

Once we'd eventually found it (thanks for nothing Google Maps) we ordered nothing but cheesecake. Three portions in fact: one red velvet, one carrot cake and one traditional New York vanilla. When the slices arrived they were enormous! Particularly the carrot cake and red velvet. I tried to finish mine - I really did - but it was just too rich and creamy to manage. Still, our excellent waiter reckoned we'd made a decent effort so that was enough for me. The cheesecakes were all delicious and I'd recommend Junior's to anyone wanting to sample a taste of New York indulgence. And that was pretty much that. It was back to the hotel to collect our luggage and wait out the time until we needed to get back to the airport.

Oh yes, our hotel - the Sheraton Times Square. It was really rather good. The location was fantastic - a few minutes walk from both the heart of Times Square and Central Park - and also close to a number of metro stations, one of which was perfect for the journey from and back to JFK Airport. Check-in on the first night was quick and efficient and our room was spot on. A decent size with an impressive view onto 7th Avenue.

The Sheraton Times Square

Wi-fi wasn't advertised as free but when we asked to buy some we were given it free of charge, which was a very nice touch. The room was quite warm but the aircon soon cooled it down if required. We had been told we'd have a free bottle of mineral water left in the room each day but we never found it, and consequently made the mistake of taking a bottle from the mini-bar thinking it would be free. Let's just say we were wrong! Still, as we hadn't been charged for the wi-fi we couldn't really complain. There was also a room available to leave our luggage which was great as we didn't fly until the evening. A small charge was required for this service but it was worth it for the convenience.

When we visited Venice a few years ago I remember feeling that the experience was somehow surreal, and I felt the same about New York. The sheer scale of the city is astonishing - the buildings, the roads, the press of people, the food helpings! - all of it is almost a bit daunting. However it's also very easy to get around and there's just so much to do that I doubt I could ever feel bored there. The flight time seems like nothing more than an inconvenience rather than a thing of horror. I really can't praise New York much more highly than that.



Sunday, 17 September 2017

Alchemy at Alchemilla

I'm always proud to think that Nottingham plays host to one of the country's finest restaurants and I've often hoped that one day another might come along and pique the interest of the Michelin inspectors. With the opening of Alchemilla, that hope may be closer to being realised.

Based in a refurbished Victorian coach-house and less than ten minutes walk from the city centre, Alchemilla is the brainchild of head chef and owner Alex Bond, who was previously a chef at, amongst other places, the aforementioned Restaurant Sat Bains. Before Alchemilla opened, the building in which it resides had been derelict for over a hundred years so this is no small investment and gamble for Bond. If its early days are anything to go by however, the gamble will pay off handsomely.

Upon entering the building the first thing you see is, unusually, the open kitchen where Bond and his team work their magic. Just past this is the main dining area, all open-brick arches and ferns on the walls; while off to one side is a more contemporary-looking bar area. Our group forwent any pre-dinner drinks though and settled straight down for the evening. We'd already decided in advance to go for the ten course tasting menu (they also offer five and seven course options) before caution and frugality were thrown to the winds as we chose the accompanying wine flight for our drinks. After some warm and crunchy home-made sourdough bread was polished off the fun and games proper began.

Our seven savoury servings ranged from good (the crab and kohlrabi, celeriac and mushroom and leeks, cheese and hazelnuts), to excellent (the cauliflower fungus(!), squid carbonara and duck and carrot) to "Oh my God that's heavenly." This was reserved for the black pudding, eel and beetroot. A slab of the softest black pudding I've ever tasted was covered by a small slice of smoky eel and smeared with a beetroot sauce. Puffed wild rice added a touch of crunch to finish the whole delicious creation off nicely.

Crab and kohlrabi

Duck, carrot, rhubarb and nasturtium


The three dessert courses were also top notch. Freeze-dried apple pie retained all its crunch and flavour when it thawed and was served with a warm poached apple; a crunchy chocolate tuille sat atop rich chocolate ganache and banana ice-cream while slivers of lime zest and a smudge of miso caramel added wonderful saltiness and zing; and finally blackberries and an almost-sour 'cultured cream' were matched with a deep and delectable beetroot sorbet.

Each of the ten courses was served with a well-matched wine and there were some real crackers - in particular the Beaujolais which accompanied the black pudding and the sweet Chateau Doisy-Vedrines served alongside the chocolate dessert. The final wine was a red Lambrusco, which was something I didn't realise existed.

Service was very good. We were there for a long time but never felt like there was too much of a wait between courses. Our wine waitress was excellent, taking time to provide detail about each wine and explain why it had been matched with the particular course. Similar explanations for the food were unfortunately missing however - it would have been nice to have learned a bit more about each dish, in particular the unusual ones such as the cauliflower fungus.

My only other grumbles are so small that I almost feel guilty writing them. There was no amuse bouche. (#firstworldproblems) You may argue that with ten courses you don't need an amuse bouche, and you'd be right; but it's always nice to feel you're getting a little something more than you paid for. Also we were sometimes left guessing which cutlery we should use for each dish, as a number of the courses were served in high-sided bowls and consisted of both solid and liquid elements. This is me being very picky however and none of the above detracted in any way from our experience.

The meal and wines represented really good value for money, service was slick, smooth and friendly and the environment was very smart indeed. If Alchemilla can tick all these boxes within two months of opening then the future really is bright and I can't wait to see how it develops over the years to come. I hope the people of Nottingham recognise they've got a real gem on their hands here - and I hope the Michelin inspectors recognise it too.




Monday, 28 August 2017

London, Lille, Lovely!

After a fun weekend in Lille in 2016 we decided another trip was in order. This time though, rather than sampling the city's brasseries we booked something a bit more special. More of that later though. To make a full weekend of it we had a day in London en route. But what to do in the evening? What's that you say? A three course meal at a Michelin-starred restaurant for £38? With a cocktail? On a Friday evening in Mayfair? Where do we sign up?

Where do we get in more like?

We were so busy reading the plaque denoting the place where the Queen had been born that we walked straight past the entrance of Hakkasan Mayfair and had to double-back. The well-hidden doorway took us through to the plush interior before we were ushered to our seats in the downstairs dining area.

As we were dining before 18:30 we each chose the "Taste of Hakkasan" menu: three courses and a cocktail for the incredibly reasonable sum of £38.00 per person. Though this menu doesn't include the full choice of what Hakkasan has to offer it still has a wide variety of dishes. From the menu we both went for the dim sum starters; for our mains I had the Sanpei chicken claypot whilst Clare chose the stir-fried beef in Merlot.

The starters were tremendous. Three dumplings each, including plump, juicy prawn and a caviar-covered scallop, a wonderful chilli sauce with brown shrimp and the same venison puff that Hakkasan's sister restaurant Yautcha also serves. Light, flaky pastry with a shiny-sweet sheen encasing rich chunks of venison.

Dim sum starter

Our mains were equally impressive. The beef was full of deep and smoky flavour while the chicken packed a pleasingly spicy punch. The meat was accompanied by a generous helping of jasmine rice and a bowlful of crunchy asparagus.

To finish the evening we opted for a cherry delice and a Jivara bomb. The former was a slab of cherry mousse on a crunchy base, accompanied by a deep cherry sorbet and pistachios. The Jivara bomb turned out to be an impressive ball of rice crispies coating some delicious hazelnut praline ice-cream. Our waiter poured hot, gloopy chocolate sauce over the spherical sensation whilst a nutty crumb and freeze-dried raspberries completed the plate. A pinch of popping candy provided the explosion!

Jevari bomb

A notable mention must also be given to the cocktails. Clare's "Hakka" was a tropical mix of vodka, Sake, lychee and coconut; and my "Green Destiny" was, no, not a sword with ornate markings, but a refreshing blend of vodka, cucumber, kiwi and apple.

Service was good. It took a little while for our starter to appear but our waiter duly apologised and, to be fair, we had turned up earlier than our booking time and been seated immediately. The whole experience was excellent and represented brilliant value for money and they certainly didn't skimp on the portions. For anyone wanting to try some top-quality Oriental food in London, Hakkasan is definitely worth the visit.

And so, on to Lille.....

La Table is based at the rather charming Clarence Hotel in Lille, which itself is barely five minutes walk from the city's Grand Place. As usual we arrived early, but this wasn't a problem and we were swiftly escorted to our seats in the beautiful, wood-panelled dining room. Rather than enjoying an aperitif on the terrace we dived straight into our meal and wine choices for the evening.

We opted for the "Pur" menu of four courses and a dessert. Rather unusually this didn't contain any meat. Our first starter was purely vegetable based while the other dishes all contained fish. Apart from the dessert of course. That would've been weird. Before any of these arrived however we were treated to the amuse bouche which included a nicely grilled and crunchily-coated oyster and a seafood bisque with, unusually, some slivers of rich cheese. This being France we were brought a wide range of breads accompanied by a trio of butters of which the fish one was particularly tasty - almost like a really light mackerel pate.

Starter one was a runny egg yolk with some crunchy courgette, nicely-salted courgette crisps, a piquant pepper puree and some caramalised almonds to add a touch of sweetness. This was a very pleasant mix and beautifully presented with a blaze of colours and a real vibrancy to the plate.

Chapter one of the subsequent seafood trilogy consisted of slivers of perfectly cooked squid covered in an intensely nutty pistachio-based vinaigrette. Creamy avocado and crunchy balls of lightly-pickled cucumber rounded out another excellent dish.

Squid

Next up was lobster, and boy was it good. A couple of respectable chunks of sweet meat were complemented by a small, fried, pea pierogi, peas and sweetcorn, buttery strings of grilled leak and wonderfully salty bacon slices which were nothing so much like Frazzles. That's a good thing. Oh, and it was all drizzled in a lobster sauce so good it had us both wanting to lick the plates clean (but retaining our dignity and not doing so).

Our final main was an impressive slab of flaky hake, perfectly seasoned and nicely salty. It sat upon a saffron sauce and shared the plate with tomatoes of varying sweetness and texture, earthy chanterelle mushrooms and a crispy cuboid of polenta. All very lovely.

Hake

Dessert was a baked fig which resembled an upturned mushroom. With this was served some zingy lemon yoghurt ice-cream, a blizzard of blueberries and an odd, chewy slice of what seemed to be a blueberry jelly encrusted with crunchy nuts. Together it resulted in a light and not-too-sweet end to a very impressive meal. After-dinner coffees were served with some excellent petit-fours including Amaretto-soaked plums and a small, rich chunk of salt-covered chocolate.

Our whole evening at La Table was an absolute delight. The dining room was opulent without being stuffy, the meal was delicious yet not overly heavy and the service was really, really good. I'm not sure a non-English speaker in London would get their menu and wine choices read out to them so clearly in their native language but that's exactly what happened here. Special mention must go to the sommelier Romain who was utterly charming.

For a special meal in a fantastic setting in a wonderful little city, La Table at the Clarence Hotel in Lille will take some beating.