Wednesday, May 8, 2013
Every so often I visit a restaurant that totally blows my mind. Lasan in Birmingham is such a restaurant.
Having been obsessed with The Great British Menu last year during the Olympics in London it has been my goal to visit the restaurants of certain chefs from that show, which I particularly like. Daniel Clifford's restaurant is next week and Lasan was my most recent. Aktar Islam is a very talented young chef. Perhaps a little too talented. What I mean by this is that his cooking is perhaps a little confusing and stylized for some people and perhaps doesn't fit into any category. Lasan is like a brilliant high end French bistro, but with Indian flavors. So those looking for classical Indian dishes will be disappointed. You won't find a Chicken Madras or Vindaloo anywhere on this menu. And dishes are not served up in piles of saucy, lumpiness like every other Indian restaurant I've ever been to. It is delicately and meticulously placed on the plate.
When I booked Lasan I expected to see classic Indian dishes, but done much better than my local takeaway, if that's possible; I go to a very good one. What I got was so much better. To be fair, Aktar has a big advantage over most chefs and restaurants serving other types of fare. Indian spices, are in my opinion the best tastes on Earth. Garam Masala, Star Anise, Turmeric, Cardamon and Cloves are not only some of the most flavorful items on this planet, but also some of the healthiest. Indian is just damn fine food. And Lasan eeks out every flavor from every grain of every spice. Nothing is overlooked.
A couple of my favorites were: Konkan Kekada; Soft Shell Crab Dipped in a Crispy Ashwain and Kashmiri Chili Batter with Devonshire Crab, Green Pea and Potato Cake accompanied by Cucumber Raitha and Sour Raw Mango Chutney. This dish was inspired by the winning fish course on The Great British Menu. And it lives up to the hype! It is everything a beautiful plate of food should be. The Lamb Lababdar was equally sensational. A beautiful Wiltshire Downs Free Range Lamb Marinated Cutlet, 10 hour Confit Shoulder, Braised Shin Pattie and Tempered Lentils with Smoked Braising Juis Spiced with Nutmeg and Cinnamon. A winning dish on the semifinals of Gordon Ramsay's The F Word. Every bite I took of both of these dishes and in fact all of the dishes at Lasan was a sensory exploration in every way. The Indian I've had up until now has been basically one pot wonders with Indian spices. What Aktar has done is make Indian elegant and refined. I adored it.
If a trip to Birmingham is on the books and you like Indian as much as I do, please do yourself a favor and visit Lasan. Pricey? Yes! Worth it? Definitely! However, I can see why some might not like it. As I stated in the beginning, it is a very confusing restaurant and might be a little ahead of it's time. Still, it needs to be experienced at least once. You can make your own mind up.
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Tuesday, April 9, 2013
I went to Hawksmoor for all the wrong reasons; they had £5 BYOB on a Monday and, from what I've heard, amazing burgers. Being one of the best steak houses in London my reasons for going may seem farcical. But they are what they are. And I do not regret it.
I had a birthday and I wanted nothing more than a great, juicy burger and a giant wine with legs that slowly drip their way down the glass like molasses. A trip en-route to Fortnum and Mason for a very special Douro wine and we were on our way to the great American steak house in Seven Dials that is Hawksmoor.
Going down into the subterranean restaurant one can't help but feel nostalgic. Hawksmoor looks like an old speakeasy. In fact, it looks like it might of been a tube stop in the 1920's before it was a restaurant. The ceiling it slightly sloped and it has large iron pillars supporting it. Decked out in brick, the walls ooze a rich history. There is nothing but glass and ceramic tile separating the diner from the kitchen, which whisks out stacked plates of steaks, burgers and hotdogs along with triple cooked chips.
When looking at the menu online the Kimchi Burger captured my attention. Kimchi, which is a traditional fermented Korean dish made with vegetables and seasoning is lovingly placed on a cheeseburger and brioche bun and served with your choice of either triple cooked or beef dripping fries. If you love burgers and fries as much as me and think of them as gastronomic delights served in a bun, you can stop here and make a reservation at Hawksmoor, but it gets much better. The Kimchi Burger is absolutely gorgeous! The meat is succulent and falls apart before you even take a bite. The Kimchi has a beautiful blast of tang and slight heat with a delicate crunch that just has to be tried to be believed. I loved it!
And I loved the other two burgers tried on this meal; the Hawksmoor Burger made with Longhorn Beef and served with just a tad of Bone Marrow and Gubeen Cheese, although on this occasion they were out of Gubeen and replaced it with Cheddar, and the Third Burger, which changes often, but on this occasion it was Pulled Pork on top of a Pork Patty. Both were nothing short of awesome! All of their burgers are served on a Brioche bun like any proper burger joint would do and all were perfectly constructed. They were not sloppy like some burger joints in London... ahem, Meat Market anyone? And they were not ultra conservative, can you say GBK? They were simply perfect.
The fries were also a testament to what great fries should be. The Triple Cooked Fries were crispy on the outside and moist and delicious on the inside. The Beef Dripping Fries were decadent and ultra flavorful. The Fries were served with a sauce, which I can only guess was a mix of ketchup and BBQ sauce and it went perfectly.
For my money, there simply is no reason to go anywhere else in London. Of course I will, because just around the corner there is another burger joint that will make me dream of patties in little brioche buns for a fortnight. But for now, Hawksmoor is tops!
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Friday, March 22, 2013
After a long absence from blogging (work has been keeping me very busy recently) I am back. And what a good way to return to the blogosphere. A trip to Cumbria last week saw me urgently flicking through pub guides and the interweb for restaurants, besides L'Enclume, which I still need to visit, the Drunken Duck had an enormous amount of followers. But it was Jay Rayner's glowing review of The Drunken Duck that sold me.
Arriving at twilight, I was immediately bawled over by the appearance of The Duck. It is up a winding, typical Lake District road, away from anything and anyone. It is one of those archetypal English Inns that just explodes with class and beauty. And, like most quintessentially English pubs, all the locals turned as we entered, glancing up and down at the newcomers to see if we belonged.
I was slightly disappointed by where we were seated, in a small, cramped section off the bar. After seeing another room that looked a lot more comfortable, rumbling fire, high backed chairs, better lighting (always important to me) I asked our waitress if there was another dining room. She said no and I left it. When dinner was over I glanced in at the other room and there were many happy diners enjoying meals in better light, with more elbow room. So take heed when you dine at The Drunken Duck and ask to be seated in the dining room that does not exist.
The food was another story. Our starters: my Lamb Sweetbreads with Lamb Tongue served with Goats Curd and Courgettes was a delicious way to get over where we were seated. My wife's Gratinated Crab Cannelloni was nice, not great, but I could see where they were going with it. The flavors were slightly muted, but it was a good effort. And the Cheese Souffle was mouthwateringly delicious. I still taste it now.
I'm afraid I cannot give an accurate account of a selection of main courses, as all four of us had the Cote de Boeuf. We decided on that instead of the dish that the restaurant is most known for, the Whole Roasted, Honey Glazed Duck because for the price £44 for two, it was just too good of a deal to pass up. Only £4 cheaper than the Duck, for some reason beef at that price sounds like a better deal than duck, even if it isn't. The Cote de Boeuf is served with Bone Marrow, French Fries and Seasonal Veg.
While I was eating the Cote de Boeuf I was finding a number of reasons not to like it; the meat was chewy, the bone marrow was not presented well, it could of been served to us in a different form other than a hunk of sloppy marrow, just pulled from the bone, the fries needed to be double or triple cooked and the reduction sauce was not reduced enough. But, if I'm being honest with myself, it was a delicious meal, and a great price. It is easy to start to compare every restaurant I visit to Michelin Starred restaurants like, Heston Blumenthal's Dinner in London, which serves the best Bone Marrow I have ever had. But that is not fair. Heston is a chef that comes along once in a generation. The Drunken Duck provides extremely good food at good prices and in an atmosphere that is simply stunning.
I do have one genuine complaint though. At the end of the meal, when I handed over my American Express card, our waitress, in a tone that I would not call pleasant said, "we don't accept American Express." There may have been a, "I'm sorry" in there somewhere but because of how she said it, like she was annoyed by all the people trying to pay with Amex, it really put me off and suddenly The Drunken Duck seemed more like a restaurant trying to make money instead of giving its patrons the payment choice they want. Does the extra 1% or 2% fee Amex charges really make a difference to your bottom line when we are spending £150 on a single meal? I don't think so.
And, it might seem silly, but for that one reason alone, I wouldn't go back to The Drunken Duck. I'll go to L'Enclume next time and earn some Amex points while eating a sensational meal.
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