Saturday, 31 July 2010

Best of the Blogs: Kavey Eats in the Times!

To my utter delight – more accurately described as delirious euphoria – Kavey Eats is featured as this week’s Best of the Blogs in the Times’ weekly food supplement, ‘The Table’.

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I particularly like journalist Nick Wyke's description of my blog as "rambling (in a good way)" and his comment that I have "an eye for the unusual".


For those of you visiting for the first time, after reading about Kavey Eats in the Times, welcome and thanks for stopping by!

I hope you stick around and enjoy the mix of restaurant reviews, recipes, cookery book reviews, interviews, reports from our kitchen garden, feedback on food festivals, beer and drink reviews and other random food-related mutterings.

If you'd like to subscribe using an RSS reader, please click here.

I love hearing from my readers so please leave a comment on a post or drop me an email if you would like to get in touch.


P.S. I must give credit where it's due - the "Courgette-saka" is (husband) Pete's invention, not mine!

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Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Creamy, Dreamy Paneer Malai

This post was first published as a guest post on Maunika Gowardhan's Cookinacurry blog back in June.


You know how people sometimes talk about second generation immigrants as slightly lost souls - neither entirely comfortable in the land from whence their parents came nor completely integrated into the land of their birth?

Well, that's not me.

I was born in London in the early seventies to two doctors who emigrated from India a few years before I was born. My sister came along 3 years (and five minutes) later. Throughout our childhood, we were brought up to have a strong connection to our relatives in India – indeed we visited them every few years, which we loved. But we were also brought up as British kids, free to take onboard our local culture, without the stricter cultural and behavioural strictures that many other second generation children were, in my admittedly subjective opinion, shackled with.

That applied to food too – mum regularly cooked Indian food but she also taught herself Italian, French, Chinese and, of course, British dishes from cookery books and by trial and error. We probably had Indian food once or twice a week, if that. And we travelled a lot too, in our holidays, to wonderfully exotic places and mum would often bring home a recipe or two such as peanut soup from South America, something she still makes today.

What all this boils down to is that, whilst we'd often help mum in the kitchen, we never really learned to cook Indian food in any meaningful way – we didn't pick up the techniques, the instinctive use of spices and wide repertoire of dishes that we might have resulted from a more traditional upbringing.

(Of course, I think my parents got it absolutely right – I feel a pride in my extra cultural heritage, I am very happy in my brown skin, I will always cherish my links with India. But I am first and foremost British).

When I went to university, I soon realised I could more readily cook a roast beef dinner than a keema curry and turned to mum for help when I needed an Indian fix, phoning for recipes and snatches of advice during term time or bending her ear during trips home. A few years later, my sister and I both implored mum to write down all our best-loved of her Indian recipes in a more organised manner, so that we might stand a chance of perfecting our family favourites.

Mum started laboriously writing recipes onto index cards, two copies of each, of course. It was slow work. Not long afterwards, an Indian cousin of ours who'd moved from India to Europe asked if he might have a copy, so he too could recreate the tastes of home. At which point, the idea of a website came up. Mum's brother pointed out that a website would allow all the family in India (plus some in America too) to contribute to the recipe collection, not to mention benefit from it too.

That was how Mamta's Kitchen came to be born, back in 2001. Since then, it's become so much more than its original intention – a family cookbook on the web. It's become a resource visited and valued by cooks from all around the world and mum, my husband Pete and I (who run it together) love the positive vibe of the whole thing.

Just like many of our non-Indian visitors, the first place I turn to when I need an Indian recipe is the website!

Recently, I was invited to attend a fantastically fun event – FoodUrchin's imu for which he buried an entire lamb in what looked like a grave in his back garden, along with lots of very hot rocks and things on fire. It's a Hawaiian tradition the idea for which he found in a book.

All the guests were tasked with bringing something for the table. With all that meat cooking away slowly in the earth, I decided to bring something vegetarian, opting for this simple paneer malai recipe.

I'd never made it before and, even when it came out of the oven, at FoodUrchin's house, I worried that it would be too bland to stand up against the robust flavours of the wonderful baba ghanoush, parmesan biscuits, salads, sauces, freshly made breads and dips that others had created. But, to my delight and relief, it went down very well indeed – I had many requests for the recipe.

Here it is as my mum makes it:

Mamta's Kitchen Paneer Malai

Ingredients
350 grams paneer
-first marinade
2 tablespoons vinegar
1 heaped tablespoon ginger root, freshly ground or finely grated
1 tablespoon garlic, freshly ground or finely grated or crushed
1.5 teaspoons salt
-second marinade
2 tablespoons full fat cream cheese
3 tablespoons full fat sour cream or thick yoghurt
2 teaspoons corn flour (not maze flour)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon sweet paprika powder for colour
3 red or green fresh chillies, finely chopped (red chillies look nicer)
1 tablespoon. coriander leaves, finely chopped
A few strands of saffron, soaked in 1 tablespoon of warm water
1 teaspoon garam masala

Notes: I used shop-bought paneer. You can make your own, which will be a little more crumbly, following this recipe. I used full fat sour cream. I didn't have any fresh chillies or paprika so I used some very hot red chilli powder instead. I omitted the saffron completely.

Method

  • Cut Paneer into roughly 2 inch/5cm pieces.

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  • Place vinegar in a bowl and add salt, ginger and garlic. Mix.
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  • Add Paneer cubes, mix and marinate for 1 hour.
  • Preheat the oven to 200˚C.
  • Make a paste of the cream cheese, sour cream, egg, chillies, coriander, saffron, paprika and corn flour. (Mix this by hand rather than using a food processor, as a processor will reduce it to a thin runny liquid).

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  • Lift Paneer cubes pieces from the first marinade, leaving the liquid behind (but taking some of the ginger and garlic solids, if you like). Add them to 2nd marinade and gently turn to coat well. Allow to stand for an hour (or longer).

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  • Line a tray with aluminium foil and cook for 10-20 minute, turning once or twice, to ensure even cooking.

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  • They are ready when the marinade has formed a firm crust on the paneer cubes and they have started to take on a little colour at the edges.

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  • If you do not have a grill or oven, you can stir-fry them in a heated wok in 2 tablespoons oil.

Mum would usually serve these cubes on a bed of lettuce with some lemon wedges, but in this case, they were eaten straight from the oven dish, in very short order!

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Saturday, 24 July 2010

Pickled Gherkins, How I Love Thee!

I have always loved pickled gherkins. Many's the time I've come to the chagrined realisation, as I munch one straight from the jar, then another and then one more, that I have eaten an entire jar in one sitting!

Over the last several years, Pete and I have gradually converted our back garden into what we refer to as our home lottie (but which should, more accurately, be called a kitchen garden). Each year we’ve added a few more vegetables and fruits to the mix.

This year, for the first time, we're growing gherkins.

It’s a confusing word, is gherkin.

The cucumber (Cucumis sativus) is thought to have originated in foothills of Himalayas, possibly from wild cucumbers (Cucumis hardwickii). Certainly, it's been cultivated in India for more than 3000 years and also known in ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome and China. of course, it's now found worldwide.

There is also the West Indian gherkin (Cucumis anguria), a related but different species.

But usually when we talk about gherkins in Europe, we’re not talking about Cucumis anguria but about a set of cultivars of Cucumis sativus (cucumber).

To make it more confusing still, as it has long been common to preserve gherkin cultivars by pickling them in vinegar, the word gherkin has become synonymous with any type of pickled cucumber – gherkin cultivar or not.

I’ve even had some people insist that there’s no such thing as a gherkin, that it’s just a term for pickled cucumbers!

So, what is a cultivar? A cultivar is simply a variety of a plant that, over time, has been deliberately selected for specific desirable characteristics – for example, there are several thousand varieties of tomatoes of all colours, shapes and sizes and varying hugely in taste, disease resistance, yield.

Cucumbers come in many shapes and sizes too, from spherical yellow ones to long, slender ones with thick dark green skins. Some are juicy and full of seeds, others are virtually seedless. Some have bumpy, ridged skins, others are smoothly lustrous. Some taste quite bitter whilst others have a mild, almost sweet flavour, similar to that of melons, which are also part of the Cucurbitaceae family (as are gourds, marrows, squashes and pumpkins).

The gherkins we are growing are a cultivar of cucumber (Cucumis sativus) called 'Diamant' F1 Hybrid.

Gherkins are well suited for pickling.

And the first four picked just had to be pickled, didn't they? Oh, yes!

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But which recipe to use? There are so many variations, from sharp to sweet, with dill or without, nothing but gherkin or with some onion and garlic thrown in, not to mention the choice of spices…

The majority of the recipes I found use a ready-bought pickling spice but I decided to make my own.

I simply combined a few whole spices, crushed them a little to let the flavours escape more readily, popped them into one of those make-your-own-teabags pouches before steeping them in malt vinegar. (Malt vinegar because I have lots left over from when I made lemon pickle).

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The gherkins I sliced into halves or quarters and salted overnight in the fridge, before pouring off the resulting liquid, washing them gently and patting them dry.

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Into my pickling vinegar I dissolved sugar (to taste) before pouring it into my (sterilised) jar full of gherkins (and a couple of garlic cloves).

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I made these on the 18 June and want to leave them at least a couple of months before I crack open the jar.

I made a second batch on the 11 July. This time, instead of salting the gherkins on a plate, I poured lightly salted boiling water over them in a bowl, let it cool down and then put it into the fridge overnight. I also added a higher volume of sugar to the vinegar (which I'd steeped with the same pickling spice teabag for several hours). The cucumber pieces were put into hot sterilised jars and the hot vinegar poured over.

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I'll let you know how they turn out!

Recipe for Pickling Spice Mix

1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon powdered allspice
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon whole cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon cardamom seeds (measure after removing from pods)
1-2 bay leaves
1-2 small pieces cassia bark

  • Crush whole spices, leaves and bark and combine with the ground spices.

Addendum: We opened the jars of gherkins in May/June 2011. Both worked well, but I preferred the texture and higher sugar content of the second batch. I shall be making these again if we get a decent yield of cucumbers in coming months!

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Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Memories of Vodka, A Moscow Mule & The Re-Establishment of a Vodka Empire

Vodka has a special place in my affections, so strongly does it feature in my memories of two rather splendid holidays during my youth.

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the only picture of me I have to hand from 1989 (and I was all dressed up and hadn't hit the voddie yet)

In 1989 I was one of a coach load of teens (under the supervision of just 3 brave teacher-drivers) on an adventurous road trip across Europe. To Ukraine and back again, we went. I can't even begin to describe to you how amazing these 5 glorious weeks were to us, how many unexpected, incredible experiences we shared, how widely opened were our young eyes. Even now, 21 years later, I could write pages and pages… but let me focus on the vodka:

It was the summer of vodka. In some places, the facilities in the camp sites we inhabited were so primitive that we brushed our teeth with vodka (and toothpaste) rather than risk the local tap water. We drank vodka morning, noon and night.

One evening, installed in a rather comfortable hotel for a change, I went to the bar to order 13 shots for my 12 friends and I. As the bartender argued vociferously against my order, I wondered if he was berating us for being too young or suggesting that vodka wasn't a suitable choice for us – in truth I had no idea. Speaking next to no Russian, I pointed repeatedly at the vodka listing in the menu, "puzhalsta, puzhalsta" and finally he conceded. I handed over a ridiculously paltry sum to cover the bill and a decent tip and went to sit down. Shortly afterwards, 13 large bottles of vodka arrived! A bottle each but don't worry, they didn't go to waste!

A couple of years later, I went to Moscow and St Petersburg in the company of fellow history undergraduates, from Warwick University. This trip too included many vodka moments.

The ones I cherish most fondly are from the long train journey between the two cities. We were kept boisterous company by other passengers, mostly Russian, with whom we found vodka and song to be a far more universal language for communication than English could ever be! I seem to recall that we supplied most of the singing and our Russian friends supplied most of the vodka. We had the most marvellous time together, though I recall needing some assistance walking by the time we detrained!

But since these long-ago days, I've drunk surprisingly little... In fact, my alcoholic tendencies have withered so dramatically that my current annual ingestion is less than what I could once consume in a single night of partying!

Until this year.

So early in the year did my rediscovery of vodka begin that one could almost consider it a new year's resolution. "I resolve to drink more vodka". Now that's the kind of resolution I could get behind!

Of course, Leonid didn't hook me back on any old voddie, oh no! I've now developed a taste for the expensive vintage Russian stuff - I even bought a bottle of Kauffman Special Vintage 2006 for Pete's birthday.

*cough* OK, I'm fully expecting to assist him with it!

The stoli that kept me warm during those long-ago drink-fuelled days tastes like lighter fuel in comparison.

Heck even the triple filtered stuff is as rough as a Russian's five o'clock shadow.

So, back to the present day.

I was approached by Babelgum, a new online mobile video channel thingy, with information about a 24-part documentary they are hosting called How to Re-Establish a Vodka Empire.

It's a story about filmmaker, Dan Edelstyn, who travels to Ukraine to explore his ancestry only to discover that his great-grandfather once owned the town’s now nearly bankrupt vodka distillery. He decides to revive the business by launching a new vodka brand named after his ancestors.

Edelstyn has an odd style. I don't care for the arty reconstruction sequences in which his wife plays the part of his granny. But I did quite enjoy his exploration of family history and the former vodka empire. I haven't watched the whole series yet, though.

Well OK then. But what about the vodka?

You'll be pleased to know (though not as pleased as I was) that the PR approach about this unusual story came with the offer to send me a sample of the vodka in question. I quickly agreed.

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I'm a sucker for rustic labelling!

Vodka: image

Now... what to do with it?

Well... I discovered vodka mules for the first time only a few months ago and have been meaning to make my own ever since.

Kavey's Belvoir Moscow Mule

Some vodka
Some Belvoir Ginger Cordial
Some lemonade
Some lime juice

The standard moscow mule recipe calls for vodka, ginger beer and lime juice but I decided to use some lovely Belvoir cordial I picked up recently and mix with lemonade.

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I was a little heavy-handed with the cordial but it worked for me!

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Happy drinking!

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Monday, 19 July 2010

Pete Drinks: Black Isle Yellowhammer IPA

YellowhammerBeer-8029

Name: Black Isle Yellowhammer IPA

ABV: 4.0%

Bottled/ Draft: Bottled

Bottle Conditioned: No

Bottle Size: 500 ml

Price: £2.19 from Abel & Cole

Colour: Deep Golden

Clarity: Clean and crisp

Head/ Bubbles: Slightly carbonated; large bubbles, short lived head.

Mouthfeel: Very bubbly; the first word that comes to mind is "Tizer" :)

Taste: Another light tasting beer, little or no maltiness. A nicely rounded hoppy finish, which comes in once you're passed all the bubbles!

Comment: As with the Sam Smith's, a combination of light flavouring and a lack of bottle conditioning makes this a less than perfect beer. That said, the hoppiness is strong enough to come through at the end, and if it was maybe half as fizzy it would be a superb summer drink. There is a distinctly floral citrus aroma, although this doesn't really come through as anything more substantial. A nicely flavoured beer, but it's probably worth leaving it open for a while to let the worst of the bubbles subside.

Additional Info: Black Isle now seem to label this beer as simply 'Yellowhammer Bitter' on their website.

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Follow your dreams, indulge in your passions, share the happiness…

A little parcel arrived in the post for me this week.

A parcel containing a very thoughtful gift from a stranger who's obviously been reading my blog.

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The note stuck to the back reads "A little gift inspired by thecupidconcept.com. We love that you follow and share your passions! Pass it on. xxx"

I'm thrilled to bits – you remember how much I loved that chocolate, right?

So what's this cupid concept then?

Searching the interwebs takes me to this blog post on thingswemake about another random gift and the cupid concept's website blog.

What an intriguing idea. The cupid concept encourages the world to "get on indulging in what makes them tick, share it, find and connect with all those others who get it too."

I'm a firm believer in the adage that we only live once and should do our best to enjoy life (so long as we can do so without hurting others).

Following our dreams, indulging in our passions, sharing our happiness and excitement with others… I'm all for that!

This blog allows me to share just a small part of what makes me tick with others and it's great to know it's striking a chord!

Thank you so much to my anonymous benefactor – you've really put a smile on my face today!

I am already thinking hard about how and to whom I can pass the love on…

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Friday, 16 July 2010

Pierre Koffmann is back in business: Koffmann's at The Berkeley

I'm generally not fussed about being an early bird visitor to a new restaurant, not because of worries that the food or service might not yet be perfect but simply because I'm happy to wait until the buzz dies down and it's easier to get a table.

And yet here I am blogging about Pierre Koffmann's new restaurant the day after it opened.

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Have I secretly been rubbing my hands about getting a blogger scoop? I'm afraid I'm not that organised; it was a last minute impulse!

Having decided a couple of days ago to renew our posh weekday lunch habit (from our sabbatical in January) I was contemplating yesterday where to book for a leisurely Friday déjeuner and fancied somewhere new to us. Suddenly, serendipitously, I remembered that Koffmann's new restaurant at the Berkeley Hotel was due to open around now. A quick call revealed that it was launching the very same day. I took that as a sign!

I felt a bit foolish, calling on it's first day open to ask for a table the very next day, thinking it would surely be fully booked, but to my delight, a table was available and my reservation quickly made.

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Chatting later with front-0f-house manager Eric Garnier (co-founder of the wonderful Racine restaurant), I learned that they are accepting just 40 at lunch and 70 for dinner for the moment, allowing them to ensure food and service is just as it should be, before ramping up to their 120 capacity.

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Arriving a little early we were very warmly greeted by Koffmann's partner, the elegant Claire Harrison. Claire is an enthusiastic, urbane and charming front of house leader and kindly showed us to a table giving me a view into the open kitchen, where I might enjoy glimpses of Koffmann and his team at work.

I was a little apprehensive as we were lead inside – our table was some distance into the underground dining area, where no natural light from the sunny summer's day outside could reach it – but the space is well lit and the tables liberally spaced out, both of which contribute to a feeling of brightness.

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a member of staff opening a bottle of Monbazillac for me

So what's the menu like?

For this new venture, Koffmann has moved away from his haute cuisine past and is offering instead a more classic, provincial French repertoire. Many of the dishes embrace his Gascon roots. Many are good, hearty dishes made from top quality seasonal ingredients.

Several of his signature dishes are here – the pig's trotter and pistachio soufflé which I sampled at his Selfridges pop-up last year, as well as scallops with squid ink.

It's a menu in which virtually every dish appeals!

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We mix and match from the prix fixe menu of the day (very reasonably priced at £18 for 2 courses, £22.50 for 3) and the a la carte.

I reject the aperitifs listed and opt for chilled Monbazillac 'jour de fruit' 2007 from l'Ancienne Cure (£7) – cold, honey syrup fruit in a glass. Pete decides to stick to chilled tap water which is unobtrusively and regularly refilled throughout the meal.

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Shortly after being seated we are served an amuse bouche. Iron-rich black pudding sits in crunchy-fresh celeriac slaw on top of a crisp toast and is simple and delicious.

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A basket of different breads comes with a slab of heavily salted butter, slightly too chilled for easy spreading. From a tangy sourdough to classic French stick to a plain white roll the breads are magnificent.

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Pete's starter of tartine de foie gras et haricots vert is from the prix fixe menu. There's no toast to be seen but we both agree that the lightly dressed cold beans and salad are a perfect foil to the thick and plentiful slices of fatty foie gras.

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I choose the cassolette d'escargots et girolles à l'ail (£12). Musty girolles and earthy-tasting snails sat on a bed of very creamy mashed potatoes, the lot topped off by a vivid green parsley garlic foam. Whilst the ensemble tastes fantastic, I must confess that the lime-coloured foam is not attractive to me. Perhaps I'm too childish for such frippery but it's too Fungus the Bogeyman not to giggle just a little, right? The thin sliver of garlic toast is essential to provide a bit of crunch against the soft, chewy contents of the pot.

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Pete's daube de joue de bœuf (braised beef cheeks) (£20) is garnished like Koffmann's famous pig's trotter, with creamy mash and crispy, paper-thin wheels of bacon. The beef falls apart to the touch and is the epitome of a hearty French stew.

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No chance of feeling short-changed by my prix fixe main of fricassée de poulé [sic] noir aux girolles. I am served an enormous portion of sautéed and stewed black-leg chicken with broad beans, pulpy-soft shallots and garlic cloves, a happiness of girolle mushrooms (I love these, as you can probably tell from my decision to have them in both starter and main) and a trio of vine tomatoes. The chicken has an intensity of meaty flavour so often lacking in lesser birds. And it comes with a newspaper-wrapped portion of the best pommes frites I've had for a long while: fluffy inside, crunchy and golden on the outside, piping hot out of the oil and judiciously salted, they are superb. (And that's today's Le Monde!)

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Pete's œufs à la neige caramelisés (£7) is also one of the three prix fixe choices. As our head waiter Richard promises, it is incredibly light. Pete delights in breaking through the caramel carapace into the pillowy meringue beneath and it's good to see it served in a generous portion of smooth, vanilla-rich custard. Once again, one of the best examples of the dish that we've had for some time.

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I order the prix fixe croustade de fruits rouge. Translated as Gascon apple pie with red fruits I make sure to clarify that I want the red fruits one not the similar croustade aux pommes et Armagnac (£9) on the full desserts list.

What arrives is the apple version. Full marks to Eric Garnier who quickly pours some cream onto the plate, insisting I enjoy a taste of this one as it will take a few minutes for them to ready the correct one. I like the couple of bites I have well enough but can't detect any Armagnac and miss the gooey caramel I remember from the pop-up version.

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In just a few minutes my red fruits croustade arrives, along with a little explanation that the prix fixe menu has a few errors – this dessert doesn't have any apple. The croustade comes perched atop a selection of fresh mixed berries and cherries and a lavish piped squiggle of sweet cream. What makes this simple plate so effective is the careful selection of perfectly ripe and delicious fruit.

Satiated beyond belief, we nonetheless can't resist tea and coffee. I order a jasmine pearls tea and Pete a latte. For me it's a good sign of attention to detail when our waiter, on bringing the tea and coffee and noticing that the latte lacked any foam head, quickly makes a decision to have a better one made. It doesn't take long and is definitely a more attractive glass of coffee second time around.

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With our hot drinks come a little plate of macarons and fruit jellies. The jellies are fresh and full of real fruit flavour. The macarons are absolutely delightful with that wonderful balance between crisp and chewy and a really zingy fruit flavour. When we can't put our finger on the flavours, the staff come to our rescue to inform us they are orange with a chocolate filling. Immediately, we realise that candied orange peel is what they remind us of, and perhaps some orange blossom too? Noticing our pleasure, our waiter brings us seconds…

We are both absolutely stuffed!

Our bill comes to a very reasonable £85, though that's with just the one glass of dessert wine and two hot drinks included. It could easily have been more with a few more drinks durnig the meal but it could equally have been less if we'd both stuck to the very well constructed prix fixe menu.

We loved the food: great ingredients treated simply, cooked confidently, presented beautifully and full of robust flavours.

This was reinforced by excellent service from Eric Garnier (front-of-house manager), Richard (our head waiter and one of 4 on duty at a time), Michael, our main waiter and the various other members of the team who looked after us. Seamless, professional, friendly and genuinely invested in giving the customer a great experience.

What more could one ask for?

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