Thursday, 9 January 2014

Top 10 restaurants of 2013 (part II)

The Five Fields

Part two of my top 10 restaurants of 2013 round up kicks off with this Chelsea hidden gem. Named after the 18th century term for the expanse of land taking in Chelsea, Pimlico and Belgravia punctuated by five large meadows used by duelists to settle disputes, The Five Fields is headed up by the jovial sounding Taylor Bonnyman, who grows large number of the restaurants' ingredients, including vegetables and herbs, in a garden in East Sussex. With a focus on modern British cooking using seasonal ingredients, there's a sense of occasion when you walk into The Five Fields' tiny dining room. Seating 40 and offering two tasting menus, the restaurant runs just one dinner service per night. 

Bonnyman is sweet on the idea of temperature and texture play, treating his dishes like works of edible theatre that aim to surprise and delight. After many an amuse bouche, the feast began in earnest with signature starter Rock Pool; an elaborate performance of four acts: oyster tartare, crab, langoustine and squid, served in futuristic vessels, which made them seem like the edible findings of some space mission. 

"Foie Gras" meanwhile, paid homage to Heston Blumenthal's indecently delicious Meat Fruit dish at Dinner. A tiny glistening globe topped with gold leaf, the outer shield was beetroot in colour and cherry in taste, housing a creamy dome of foie given added interest by an edible garden of flowers and dolls house-sized veg in a charming ensemble that wouldn't look out of place at the Chelsea Flower Show. 

Brasserie Chavot

Revered French chef Eric Chavot is the latest to saunter onto the brasserie bandwagon in London with his eponymous Brasserie Chavot housed within The Westbury hotel in Mayfair where the focus is firmly on rustic, regional French dishes – signature dish snails Bourguignon is given top billing. The long, elegant space is prettified with glinting chandeliers, soaring Corinthian columns and blood red banquettes that give the brasserie a decidedly French feel. Serving up classic French fare in classy, convivial surroundings, Chavot has done what Heston Blumenthal did before him at Dinner – created a destination restaurant independent of the hotel it inhabits. 

Brasserie Chavot serves what I deem to be the best steak tartare in London. Neatly spooned into a clear dish, a soft boiled duck egg rested suggestively on top, its sunshine yellow yolk spewing onto the raw meat beneath, which was vivifying in its freshness and enlivened by the addition of aerating mustard and salty capers flecked throughout into a creamy and indulgent ensemble so satisfying, I was tempted to order a Le Creuset full of the stuff and call it a night. Craving a little bit on the side, no visit to Chavot is complete without experiencing the French fries, if only for the way they are served; lovingly wrapped in the pages of Le Figaro

Hawksmoor Air Street 

Hawksmoor Air Street purports to serve the best lobsters in London – a bold claim for a steakhouse chain that has hung its reputation on its well hung beef. The assertion comes due to a collaboration with fish maestro Mitch Tonks of The Seahorse in Dartmouth. Air Street is a behemoth, and yet somehow, the long and winding space is intimate. 

The ceiling is low, the floor parquet and the volume loud. Framing the emerald green booths are stunning semicircular Art Deco windows that both usher in the light and happily distort the view out onto Regent Street, their centres glinting with jade glass. There's a sense of grandeur about the space; I can imaging Poirot playing with his moustache and plotting his next move in one of the emerald booths.

I begin drooling in anticipation at the sight of my Dartmouth lobster's plump pink pincers and the accompanying butter boat. Trying the flesh naked at first to get the measure of it unadorned, reader, it was a thing of beauty. The meat was of such heavenly texture and rich flavour it reaffirmed my love of lobster, which had, until that point, diminished into a mere flicker of interest. When paired with the molten butter sauce it entered a new level of divinity. Juicy, sweet and soft, it was like munching on an angel's forearm.

A tough act to follow, my 300g fillet steak put in a fine performance, its charred flesh glistening with promise and boasting an indecently pink interior. With the smoky memory of charcoal lingering, the flesh was salty, juicy and tender. Sullying its purity felt criminal, but I decided to hold a taste off with generously filled boats of anchovy and Stilton hollandaise; the former triumphed. It's indescribably good – Guardian critic Jay Rayner has talked of his desire to while away an afternoon in a hotel room with a boat of it and a consenting adult.

Launceston Place  

Launceston Place in Kensington is best known for being Princess Diana's favourite restaurant. Tuked away in a pretty townhouse on a quiet side street far from the madding crown, its easy to see why it would have appealed to Diana. Its sprawling setting is all secret staircases and cosy connecting rooms. There's something very homely about the space, as if you're dining at a wealthy aunt's house rather than a Michelin-starred restaurant, an accolade gained last year mere months after head chef Tim Allen began steering the ship.

Specialising in refined French cuisine with a British twist, plates at Launceston Place show exquisite attention to detail. My starter; hen's egg with girolles, peas, Pata Negra lardo and duck fat toast was an elaborate dish full of twists and turns both in appearance and taste, from the gossamer-thin, melt-in-the-mouth lardo to the pleasing crunch of the soldier-shaped duck fat toast balancing on the hen's egg like a seesaw, via the earthy girolles swimming in a pea purée pond.

The main event – veal three ways, served as an ode to the calf from which it came. All three pieces of the puzzle arrived glistening, as if freshly varnished. Each of the trio has its charm and showed off the flavour arc veal can achieve, from the silky and tender sweetbread, which was just the right side of rich, to the perfectly pink, juicy loin through to the deeply-flavoured cheek, the shards of which fell onto the fork without a fight. 

The Pig 

Befitting of an establishment with a porcine name, staff at The Pig in Hampshire sport pale pink shirts. Opening in a 17th century hunting lodge in the heart of the New Forest National Park in 2011, The Pig takes local to another level. The hotel's 70-cover, vine-clad restaurant hogs the limelight at The Pig. Filled with mismatched furniture and cutlery, the Victorian greenhouse serves as a stage for Dorset-born head chef James Golding, who, wherever he can, uses ingredients grown in the hotel's walled back garden. The menu changes hourly depending on what Golding unearthed from the garden that morning. 

Among the dishes on the menu during my visit in early may were "Brock eggs", Golding's take on Scotch eggs made using local Brockenhurst quail eggs; crispy pork belly and spiced honey; home smoked salmon (smoked with a blend of local honey, white pepper, lemon, sea salt and oak); garden fritters and smoked chili mayo; fennel roasted filled of Hampshire pork; New Forest pigeon and roast beetroot salad; and roast rump of Hampshire lamb. 

Desserts meanwhile, include local cheeses and Bramley apple Eve's pudding with caramel sauce. At breakfast, guests can choose from seven kinds of egg from the different breeds of chicken kept on the farm, including a pale blue variety laid by the hotel's Cream Legbar hens. 

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