Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Rendezvous: French Brasserie in Churchill's Backyard

Westerham,Rendezvous Brasserie,Winston Churchill
Westerham,Rendezvous Brasserie,Winston Churchill,Olives and Bread
Westerham,Rendezvous Brasserie,Winston Churchill,Farmhouse Terrine
Westerham,Rendezvous Brasserie,Winston Churchill,Endive and Walnut Salad
Westerham,Rendezvous Brasserie,Winston Churchill,Avocado and Mozzarello Salad
Westerham,Rendezvous Brasserie,Winston Churchill,Chips
Westerham,Rendezvous Brasserie,Winston Churchill,Braised Beef Bourguignon
Westerham,Rendezvous Brasserie,Winston Churchill,Breast of Chicken
Westerham,Rendezvous Brasserie,Winston Churchill,Pork Belly
I love recessions. They allow those with less weighty wallets to afford luxury items, which they normally could not afford. You can now buy property in the South of England for nearly 1/3 less than in 2007 and likewise, you can eat at good, solid restaurants for a fraction of the price. If you know where to look. In fact, if you search hard enough you'll be able to find deals now which were simply unheard of three years ago.

For instance, in the small village of Westerham, in Kent a very popular French Brasserie, Rendezvous, is now doing a lunch menu for a price that is, without question, outrageously good value. You can order either a 2 course lunch for £13.50, or a 3 course lunch for £16.50. In a village that resides just several miles from one of the wealthiest areas in Britain, Sevenoaks, and which is a stone throw away from Winston Churchill's family home Chartwell, I'd say that's pretty bloody reasonable. At face value anyway. What about the food? Just how good could it be?

After our totally unimpressed French waiter huffed and puffed at the mention of us doing the set lunch menu, he took our order and several minutes later we were feasting on glorious green Olives, soft Butter and freshly baked Baguette. It wasn't very much longer until we were presented with our starters. My Farmhouse Terrine with Herb Salad was beyond expectations. It melted in my mouth and all those wonderful fatty flavors came pouring out all at once. The Endive and Walnut Salad with Blue Cheese Dressing was a bit of a letdown though. The flavors were muted and dull like a color photograph that had been left on the dashboard of a car for 5 years. However, the Avocado, Mozzarella and Mixed Herb Salad with Tomato, Basil and Olive Oil Dressing came to the rescue. A fresh, vibrant Salad it got my palate ready for my main course.

Beef Bourguignon is one of those dishes that when done right, make my heart sing and my palate dance like Michael Flatley. And although this particular one didn't make me Riverdance all the way down the street, I did enjoy it quite a lot. The meat flaked off like a dry piece of chalk and the juice emitted was very tasty indeed. Overall, it was a very well done dish. The Sauteed Breast of Chicken served in a Creamy Tarragon Sauce with Sauteed Courgette and Dauphinoise Potatoes was also a top notch dish. Especially for the money. And lastly, the Braised Pork Belly served with Braised Red Cabbage, Root Vegetable au Gratin and Apple Sauce sealed the deal for me. Rendezvous gets my vote for best value meal in the UK.

This place had all the high quality dishes that more expensive restaurants have for a fraction of the price. I have no idea how much their dinner menu is and I don't care. If you're at Chartwell visiting Churchill's home and feel a little peckish, stop by Rendezvous for a quick 2 course lunch for £13.50. You will not regret it.

My professional photography website: Taylor Young Photography

Rendezvous Brasserie Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Hinds Head: Heston Blumenthal But a Lot Cheaper

The Hinds Head,Heston Blumenthal,Bray,Berkshire,England
The Hinds Head,Heston Blumenthal,Bray,Berkshire,England
The Hinds Head,Heston Blumenthal,Bray,Berkshire,England
The Hinds Head,Heston Blumenthal,Bray,Berkshire,England
The Hinds Head,Heston Blumenthal,Bray,Berkshire,England,Bread and Butter
The Hinds Head,Heston Blumenthal,Bray,Berkshire,England,Balmoral Venison Cheese Burger
The Hinds Head,Heston Blumenthal,Bray,Berkshire,England,Balmoral Venison Cheese Burger
The Hinds Head,Heston Blumenthal,Bray,Berkshire,England
The Hinds Head,Heston Blumenthal,Bray,Berkshire,England,Roast Pork Collar with Crackling
The Hinds Head,Heston Blumenthal,Bray,Berkshire,England,Veggies
The Hinds Head,Heston Blumenthal,Bray,Berkshire,England,Triple Cooked Chips
The Hinds Head,Heston Blumenthal,Bray,Berkshire,England,Bakewell Tart with Ice Cream
The Hinds Head,Heston Blumenthal,Bray,Berkshire,England,Banana Eton Mess
I just moved back to England after living in my home country, the U.S., for over two years. On the run up to my move I did one thing... research where to eat. I have a list of 25, or 30 great restaurants dotted all over the U.K., France and Spain. But there's one I wanted to get to first, The Hinds Head in Bray. I've actually eaten here before, but it was pre-Passport Foodie and thus, a new trip had to be made. U.S. Mothers Day seemed like a fine excuse to make the hour long drive from West Sussex to Berkshire.

Bray is one of those funny little English towns that is so unassuming you think to yourself, what does everyone do here? And, how does anyone make a living? Do the people who live in Bray get paid to take long walks along the river and dine in the best restaurants in the world? Namely, The Fat Duck and The Waterside Inn. Both 3 Star Michelin restaurants. The narrow village high street off the motorway leads straight to The Fat Duck and The Hinds Head. In fact, you'd have to be rather dull to miss either restaurant. We parked in The Hinds Head parking lot, next to a Ferrari 660, just one of the countless super cars parked next to our... well, not super car. Just another day in Bray I suppose.

We were seated rather quickly and in a quiet area on the second floor. Gnarled, rustic wood was aplenty in this 400 year old pub, which was Queen Elizabeth IIs local. Actually, that's not true, but she did bring a busload of European Royalty there in 1963. The menu is exactly the way I like it... small and to the point. Nothing but pure, understated, delicious English pub grub.

Up first was the least pub-like dish on the menu. My Balmoral Venison Cheese Burger. And I just have to be extremely honest here, it was perhaps the best burger I have ever had. The Brioche bun was perfectly toasted and flaked off in my mouth with just the right amount of sweetness. The Cheddar Cheese was melted to perfection and wasn't too sharp that it distracted from the meat. And the meat was the top gem on the crown. Venison, served slightly pink in the middle, with gallons of juice running down it with each mouthful. I could stop this entry right now and be happy. But I won't... I've had far too much coffee today to stop now.

Next up was the Roast Pork Collar with Stuffing, Apple Sauce and Crackling. A shining example of this dish, but it was overshadowed by the glorious burger, which was still lingering on my taste buds. There was one dish on the table that looked like it could give my Venison Burger a run for its money and that was the Roast Sirloin of Highland Beef with Yorkshire Pudding and served with Roasted Potatoes and Veggies. Yorkshire Pudding is one of those things that looks so easy to make well, but it is rarely done so. Far too many pubs ruin this quintessentially English accompaniment and it's a bloody shame. The Hinds Head is not one of those pubs. This was perfect. And so were the Triple Cooked Chips Blumenthal is known for.

Dessert was next and it didn't disappoint. The Sussex Pond Pudding was a very pleasant dish, with just the right amount of sweet and savory. The Banana Eton Mess was equally good and for once I had to stop myself from finishing both desserts. Prices are relatively reasonable for what you get. There are less expensive pubs in the UK, but this one is special. Even if you forget about its famous big brother right next door. Which is tough to do with Ferrari 660s in the parking lot and Japanese tourists taking photos with all of their 13 cameras around their necks. As I write this I'm only thinking of one thing, when can I go back for that burger?

My professional photography website: Taylor Young Photography

Hinds Head on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

La Cachette: Fine French Dining in Clearwater, Florida?

La Cachette,Clearwater Florida
La Cachette,Clearwater Florida
La Cachette,Clearwater Florida,Menu
La Cachette,Clearwater Florida,Selections of Veg
La Cachette,Clearwater Florida,Bread and Butter
La Cachette,Clearwater Florida,Champagne Cooler
La Cachette,Clearwater Florida,Frogs Legs
La Cachette,Clearwater Florida,Scallops
La Cachette,Clearwater Florida,Escargot
La Cachette,Clearwater Florida,Pork Tenderloin
La Cachette,Clearwater Florida,Quail
La Cachette,Clearwater Florida,Rabbit
La Cachette,Clearwater Florida,Mousse
La Cachette,Clearwater Florida,Cherry Pie
I have been blogging seriously for more than a year now. In all that time I have had some pretty incredible experiences. I have eaten train food on an Amtrak cross-country journey. I have dined in the best and hardest to get into restaurant in the United States and I've done almost everything in between. Somehow when I get home I always find the words to convey my meal to my readers. But I'm afraid this is perhaps my toughest entry.

La Cachette is a restaurant that shouldn't even exist. It's a French Restaurant in the heart of a beach town on the West Coast of Florida. When one thinks about restaurants in CW, short for Clearwater, one usually thinks of Frenchy's, or the old Los Mariachis, not fine dining. The people who live there are not known for being foodie's. I know this because I lived in CW for years before moving up North and more recently, across the Pond.

This point became even more apparent when I entered La Cachette with my two fellow diners. We were the only people there and this didn't improve as the night wore on. In fact, not one single person other than ourselves came to La Cachette that night. When I asked the server/owner's wife about this, she said, "It all depends. Sometimes Tuesday nights can be fully booked, like last week, and sometimes not, like tonight." Some part of me wanted to believe this, but I didn't buy it. I liked the decor, the outside was also pleasant, so why was I so unimpressed? It could have been the three small pieces of hair which adorned my butter. It could also have been the wine sleeve that our server placed on our BYOB Champagne with the words La Cachette written in permanent marker, like my mom used to do with my underwear. But, up until this point I had not had the food. Maybe my considerations would change based on their culinary expertise.

Up first was a very odd looking selection of veggies. It included pickle, sliced carrots and a few other things that simply looked out of place and were not welcome on my table. Surely the starters and main courses would improve matters. Interestingly enough, they did. Markedly. The Frog Legs cooked in the Parisienne style, with Butter and Garlic and a splash of White Wine, sauteed and finished in a Parsley Sauce was so delicious I had to stop for a moment and stare around the dining room to remember where I was. They were Garlicky and rubbery and just flat out gorgeous. The Burgundy Helix Snails cooked in broth of wine and Champagne, with Green Chartreuse Butter with Garlic Shallots and Walnuts was equally good and so were the Fresh Large Deep Sea Scallops, wrapped with a Pastrami style Goose Breast, pan seared and flamed with Cognac, dark brown Balsamic Glaze.

However, I still was not a believer. Surely with a menu this exotic they must freeze their meat and serve it to us weeks after it's delivered. So I asked. The answer was, "Everything is bought fresh." Could this be? The microwaves dinging every minute, or so in the kitchen told me this was probably a lie, but still, the starters were sensational.

When the main courses came out the rest of my skepticism was replaced with sheer joy. My Farm Raised Tender Rabbit marinated in and braised with a rich Red Wine from the Cahors region in France and served in a reduced sauce with Baby Onions, Cremini Mushrooms and Pancetta was close to perfection. Had it not been for the boiled Potato which rested in my sauce like a lost soul, no dressing, no butter, no herbs, it would have been perfect. The Whole Marinated Quail, butterflied and pan seared under a brick, flamed with Cognac and oven finished, with a demi-glace infused with essence of Black Truffles almost made me forget the thin black hair that was on my butter just a few minutes ago. To round out the main courses was the Midwestern Very Lean Pork Tenderloin, split and filled with Wine marinated Red Cabbage, dried fruits and Juniper Berries, covered in puff pastry and oven baked with Madeira Wine Sauce. Like the dishes served before it this also made me forget that I was in Clearwater, Forida. Until dessert came.

The Deep Chocolate Mousse over a Chocolate Ganache, then covered with a very dark Swiss Bittersweet Chocolate was not worth eating and neither was the Old Fashioned Cherry Pie made with Michigan sour Cherries Demerara Sugar and topped with Creme-Fraiche.

So what did I think of La Cachette? I still don't know. I adored the starters and main courses, but I loathed the pre-dinner veggie selection and the dessert. The fact that I heard microwaves dinging the entire meal from the kitchen and had a hair in my butter has sealed this restaurants fate. I would probably never return. I do wish them all the best of luck and I am very glad that downtown Clearwater has this restaurant. Perhaps if the menu was shortened and they concentrated on doing several dishes really well, instead of the 40-50 items that are currently on the menu, they'd have a much better time and manage to keep the doors open for more than a year. If they don't, I'm afraid this niche restaurant is not going to make it. But only time will tell.

My professional photography website: Taylor Young Photography

La Cachette on Urbanspoon