Monday, November 24, 2014
We are so fortunate to have a plethora of excellent pubs in the South of England. It seems like every time I read an article on the food scene in the country, there's another pub that is touted, "must-try", "the best in the country", "as idyllic as it gets". This is both a good thing and a bad thing. Why? Well, have you ever visited a shop early in the morning and there are a million parking spaces? Normally there aren't any and you dive into the first space you find. But when the parking lot is empty you take ages and finally pick the one that looks like it's been preordained by God as the space for you that morning. Usually it's no closer, or better than the space you normally get and it took you half an hour to decide. It's the same thing with the pub scene here in the UK.
If it were up to me I would visit the same few pubs week in and week out. I live in one of the best pub areas in the world and for me, The Bottle House, The Griffin Inn, The Coach and Horses and The Cat Inn are as good as it gets when it comes to English pubs. But, my wife and I like to get out of the area every once in a while and travel to pubs that are further afield.
The Duke of Cumberland Arms in Henley, West Sussex is one of those pubs.
Now, I have been accused of being far too hard on restaurants in the past and I'm actually going to be a bit harsh about the food in a minute. So let me start with something positive. The drive to the Duke of Cumberland Arms and the scenery that surrounds it are among the best I have ever seen. It's like a mini-Lake District, right in the heart of West Sussex. Just minutes from the South Downs Way, this is truly a stunning place to visit. I felt like I was in The Hobbit, it's so pretty.
On to the negative. Ouch, this hurts me. I'm sorry to say, that I was disappointed with the food. Granted, I only had three items on the menu, but only one of the three was good. Actually, it was brilliant. The Mussels, served with Crusty Bread was the best example of this dish I think I've ever tasted. But the Fish and Chips and my wife's Burger were very poor quality, indeed. My wife's Burger was bursting with meat, but not in a nice way. It was seasoned too much and it was more than well done, it was cremated. It was supposed to be medium. The meat sat between two dense pieces of... what seemed like pine or maybe cedar wood. I'm joking of course, but it was a dense, horrible bun. As you can see from the photos above, the Burger just doesn't look right.
My Fish and Chips was slightly better. I enjoyed the Pea Puree. The Fish itself was glorious. However, the batter was dripping with grease that inevitably fell onto my Chunky Chips and made them soggy. It was one of the only times I haven't finished my Chips. They were soft and nearly flavorless. The Tartare Sauce was lovely though and I kept dipping my Chips into it in order to impart some flavor into them, but it just didn't work.
In the end, my wife left all of her bun and 1/4 of her meat from her Burger. I left quite a bit of my Fish, nearly all the Batter and a handful of Chips. £13.95 for her Burger and £14.95 for my Fish and Chips, plus £4.50 for Sparkling Water and I didn't feel like it was the best value meal I've ever had. £7.95 for a half portion of Mussels did help to ease the pain though as they are worth much more.
Having said all that, I will definitely be going back. I can be honest and I know that Fish and Chips and Burgers are not the best way to tell if a pub is good or not. It should be two of the simplest dishes to make, but so often chefs get these two easy dishes wrong. If you want to see how delicious these dishes can be, check out The Crown at Bray. Then you'll understand why I love them so.
Having won The Good Food Guide's Pub of the Year in 2012 I'm sure there are better items to be had on their menu. And I'll be trying them in the summer when I'm sure those views are nothing short of marvelous.
To view my professional food photography visit: Taylor Young Photography
Sunday, October 5, 2014
Firstly, I must apologize for the poor iPhone photos and the general lack of photos altogether. I recently found myself in meetings around London and without a proper camera. Something that doesn't happen to me often. Normally I would have just left this review for another time when I did have a camera that was larger than a business card, but Lucky Chip is a restaurant I've wanted to review for some time now.
London is getting extremely crowded with Burger Joints. They are popping up at a phenomenal rate. The U.S. chains such as Five Guys and Shake Shack have caused quite a stir and more and more people are jumping on to this cash cow, if you'll pardon the pun. In fact, Burger Joints in London are so popular now that I read somewhere Byron turns over something silly like £10m a year. That's nothing compared to the large U.S. chains, but Byron is not that old and is managing to make that kind of money in this, quickly becoming, an overcrowded market.
Lucky Chip is one of the new kids on the block, (new to me anyway). Started in a trailer in Netil Market, it now also occupies the trendy Sebright Arms pub. However, walking into the Sebright I thought I was in CBGBs in New York instead of a burger joint in Hackney. Upstairs there were bands rehearsing and the bass was echoing through the floorboards and making my Fries dance.
I opted for the Plain Cheeseburger, although it would have been prudent to try one of their Burgers with a clever name, such as: the Royale wit Cheese, or the Kevin Bacon. But, I have learned over the years that it's always best to try a Burger joint's simplest Burger. If it's good, you've got a winner on your hands. Anyone can throw a Chipotle Sauce on a Burger and top it with a Brioche Bun and it will be tasty. The real trick is to master a Plain, or Cheeseburger.
And Lucky Chip has done a good job of it. Their Cheeseburger was big and had minimal toppings; French's Mustard, Ketchup, Lettuce, Tomato and American Cheese. All lovingly placed between a thick Brioche Bun. The Burger was very tasty, but not amazing. The Fries, however, were excellent.
Whenever I eat in a new Burger Joint I always judge it by, would I go back? And the answer is, no. It's a nice Burger, with simple ingredients, but it's too far out for me to travel for it and it just wasn't good enough. Add to that I was sitting on couches that were too low for the table and far to tatty and it made for a slightly less than ideal experience. Patty and Bun and Hawksmoor still reign supreme in the fight for best Burger in London.
To view my professional food photography (which is far better than what you see above) please check out Taylor Young Photography.
Monday, September 1, 2014
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