Monday, September 1, 2014

The Five Alls Pub, Filkins: Cotswolds Where Else?

The Five All Pub, Filkins The Five Alls Pub Fish and Chips Roast Lunch at The Five Alls Frames in The Five Alls Pub Five Alls Pub Menu Bread and Oil The Five Alls Wine Potted Shrimp Onion Tart Lamb Steak Pudding Five Alls Burger
Before I begin this post, let me first start off by saying that I think Sebastian and Lana Snow are absolute super stars. I was one of their biggest fans when they had The Swan at Southrop. My wife and I visited them many times and brought nearly all of our family and friends there. It was our little Cotswold secret and we felt very special knowing about it. It was, quite simply, a perfect pub in every way.

A couple of years ago I received an email from Sebastian and Lana (a mass email. I am not personal friends with them) telling me that they sold The Swan and were moving on to The Five Alls in Filkins. My wife and I were one of the first people through the doors and it was clear from the start that this was not the same pub. It had a much more commercial, clean, new and fresh feel to it. Which, I am not really a fan of. I loved the old world, small, slightly dated feel of The Swan. But I reserved judgement until the food arrived. After all, the food is really why I dine out.

I was initially quite happy with everything, although my burger was a very sad piece of cooking, indeed. A bun that was far larger than the patty and made of, God forbid, a white, seeded bun, instead of brioche as all proper burgers are made from, made it feel far too stodgy.

After lunch I left feeling slightly unmoved. Although my food was ok, it was just that, simply ok. A far cry from the stellar meals I had had on so many occasions when this revered couple ran The Swan. I decided to leave this post for a year or two and go back and see how things had changed. The first time I had ever done that in five years. But I felt I owed it to the Snows.

This past weekend my wife and I were back in the Cotswolds, zooming around their narrow, idyllic streets, thatched roofs resting atop nearly every cottage, as far as the eye could see.

We sat outside this time and felt even further removed from The Swan. At The Swan you would constantly see smartly attired Cotswoldians dressed in their Sunday best. Now all I could see were seas of families enjoying their Sunday lunches. The sounds of glasses chinking and people chatting about important things at The Swan were now replaced with laughing and giggling from children and post-Saturday night 20 somethings, trying to cure a dodgy head with a fresh induction of Vodka via a Bloody Mary.

But what about the food? Well, I'm afraid it wasn't at all what I was expecting. My wife's Roast was lacking flavor and there was no reduction to the gravy at all, so it was watery and quite bland. The Jerusalem Artichokes (not sure what they were doing on the plate) were terribly fibrous and gritty. We mentioned it to our server and she said she would tell the chef. The worst for me had to be the doubly stodgy Yorkshire Puddings. They were lovely and puffy all around and terribly stodgy inside. A batch that had gone askew. That should be covered in cooking 101 and not happen in a place like this. My wife tried to tell me that some people liked them that way, and I'm sure that was true when most men went down into the mines each day, their wives giving them stodgy Yorkshire Puds and Beef Dripping, but I don't believe that's true anymore. My Fish and Chips were a nice plate of food, but the Fish was dripping with oil and I didn't like their choice of using 2 pieces of Fish instead of 1 large one as they used to serve.

However, despite my seemingly unimpressed writeup above, I will not totally condemn it. It was decent cooking for the amount of covers they had on this lovely, sunny Sunday afternoon. The pub is situated in a beautiful little village and would be ideal for a quick lunch if you're in the area. I just don't think it's anywhere close to what they had at The Swan at Southrop. That was pure magic... and I really miss it! Unfortunately, without the Snows there, I don't think it would be what it was either.

At some point I'll go back and see.

To view my professional food photography please visit: Taylor Young Photography

Saturday, August 16, 2014

My 100th Blog Post! What a Journey.

With this post I mark a milestone in my restaurant review career. This is my 100th post! Nearly all of those 100 are restaurant reviews. That is a lot of eating out. When I started I didn't think I'd have the patience to create 10 blog posts, let alone 100. But I've persisted and I've loved every minute.

As I approached this achievement I began to think about how to commemorate it. Surely I should go to one of the best restaurants in the world? No, maybe I should do a piece on the top budget eat, or trendiest food market? Wouldn't going to one of my first reviewed restaurants and doing an updated blog be the way to go?

In the end, I decided not to go to any restaurants. But instead, to stay home and write what I've learned over the last five years and 100 posts.

First of all, restaurants are echoing the divide between rich and poor. The top Michelin starred restaurants, run by A-List celebrity chefs rake in millions every year. Their booking lines ring off the hook, often to deaf ears. Getting a table at some of these restaurants is tantamount to winning the lottery. Recall my incredibly strategic, almost military plan to secure a reservation at The French Laundry?

It isn't just the 3 Michelin Star restaurants that are hard to get into anymore, it is nearly every single trendy restaurant owned by anyone who can afford to hire top notch PR firms.

It is because of this fact that my tastes have changed. I am tired of patiently waiting on the phone while some snooty teenager tells me that there aren't any reservations for that date and perhaps I should call back on the day, the phone lines open at 9am and maybe, just maybe they will have had a cancellation.

I've almost completely lost interest in molecular gastronomy in the last five years. Although it is still going strong and Heston is still doing nearly the exact same tasting menu as he was when I proposed to my wife at The Fat Duck in 2007, it is not something I have much interest in anymore. Instead, I prefer food done in a simpler approach.

Take Tom Kerridge's The Hand and Flowers pub in Marlow. He's earned 2 Michelin Stars by making simple food taste the way food should taste. He coaxes out the best of every single ingredient until there is nothing more that ingredient can give.

When deciding where to go for my wife's birthday this year, my thoughts turned more towards lobster rolls out of a van in Borough Market than La Gavroch, a restaurant I hold in high esteem. Right now I feel that the restaurant business has simply become too expensive and too stuck up for me to care much anymore. And let's be honest, a plate of perfectly cooked Thai food from a van tastes nearly as good as a 25 course tasting menu at Le Big Snoot Trois Attitude. Sure, we don't go to 3 Michelin Star restaurants for the taste alone. We go to be wowed and awed. To have flames coming out of chocolate dragons and eat foam that looks like the sand on a beach and tastes like soy lecithin. I think it is soy lecithin actually.

Of course, knowing me, this could all change tomorrow. But for now, I am very happy to search out and eat in restaurants that do one thing; prepare and serve excellent food in a relaxed atmosphere.

The below are a selection of some of my top meals, not restaurants, just meals. As I have learned in the last five years, favorite meals and favorite restaurants can often be completely different.

Thank you to all that have read and hopefully enjoyed my little blog. I look forward to the next 100 posts!

Beautiful Foie Gras Ari Gold Burger-Patty and Bun Truffle Foie Gras
Lamb Chunky Beef Hummus Dinner Heston Blumenthal Steak Chips Confit Duck Panang at Oli's Pulled Lamb Sandwich River Cottage Canteen

Monday, July 14, 2014

The George Inn, Alfriston: A Perfect South Downs Way Stop!

The George Inn, Alfriston Inside The George Inn Chips at The George Inn Lamb Duo Trout Close up of Trout Beautiful Trout
There are some villages in England that truly take one's breath away. And there are some pubs that transcend time and are so old that you can't help but sit in awe and wonder what it looked like back then. Alfriston is such a village and The George Inn is that pub. Opened in 1397 The George Inn was one of the first pubs in England to be granted a license to serve alcohol. It's foundation can be traced back to 1250 when tunnels beneath were used by smugglers. In fact, Alfriston itself was home to a gang of smugglers and it's ground is riddled with tunnels built to escape any unwanted callers.

With such a rich history Alfriston has become one of my favorite English villages and I can now call The George Inn one of my favorite English pubs. The food is simple and traditional. There is no chefy-cooking here, only honest, true cooking using the best local ingredients available.

My Duo of Lamb: a Pan Roasted Loin with a Braised Shank Parcel and served with Cabbage, Chestnuts and Red Wine Jus was a very tasty dish indeed. Brimming with flavor and perfectly cooked. My dining partner for the day; Simple Foodie had the Fillet of Trout on Red Lentils, Vegetables and Chorizo, with Braised Fennel and Saffron Sauce. A lovely, sophisticated dish that would please any Fish lover.

If I'm speaking plainly, The George Inn isn't a foodie pub in the way that The Griffin Inn or The Ginger Fox are. People flock from all over the region to dine at these highly revered pubs and for good reason. However, while I dined at The George Inn I couldn't help feeling that I was part of a unique club. A small band of wannabe smugglers that have visited this tiny, but exceptionally beautiful little village and an even smaller group of people that have dined at The George Inn.

If I have one complaint it is that the prices are a little steep for what you get. Looking at the menu for the first time I was reminded of the prices at The Hinds Head in Bray, which has a Michelin Star. However, I'm not sure you can really put a price on dining in such a place. And I have no regrets.

The George Inn is the quintessential English pub and I highly recommend a visit if you're anywhere near Alfriston. See the village, fall in love and have a great meal.