Friday, August 27, 2010
I'm always amazed by the quality and consistency of food in the South of England. There is clearly a food renaissance occurring here and I am lucky enough to live in the heart of it. While America continues to let the big agricultural companies take over more and more of their crops and livestock, you know who I'm talking about; Monsanto, Con-Agra, farmers in England are being encouraged to scale back and produce better quality, denser, richer foods. Sure, there are still many multinationals pushing their drugged up, hormone filled, fake food, but it's now easier than ever to avoid them and go for the locally raised, organic food. No matter where you are. Case in point, the George and Dragon in Speldhurst. A small town outside Tunbridge Wells.
The George and Dragon is said to be the 2nd oldest pub in England. It dates back to 1212. In 2004 it was bought by Julian Leefe-Griffiths and since then quality has been on the rise. The idea was to replicate the food Julian and his wife, Sarah ate during a trip to Urbino, Italy. They noticed that all the food they were eating came from the local area. And, the rest is history. "Food From a Farm, Not A Factory" is the motto written on most of the promo sprinkled around the George and Dragon.
Parking is always a nightmare at the George and Dragon. It was no different on this glorious summer Sunday in England. We sat outside, several feet from a thriving Olive Tree and instantly I was transported to Urbino with Mr. Leefe-Griffiths. In that moment I understood his vision with total clarity. After a quick glance at the menu, we were ready to order. Service is quick and tidy. We were being served our main courses within 20 minutes of ordering. My Gill Wing Farm Duck Breast with Star Anise and Honey not only looks like a dish out of a Gourmet Magazine, but it tastes like it too. The Duck Breast was slightly crispy on the outside where the fat had caramelized and the reduction sauce was so good I could have eaten it with a spoon. It was incredibly savory, which balanced out the sweetness of the Honey nicely.
But, as this was Sunday I had to have Beef. A Sunday without Beef and Yorkshire Pudding is a Sunday wasted. Feel free to quote me on that line and use it on large posters and other promotional material. Luckily, one of my fellow diners was thoughtful enough to order the Prime Aged Roast Rump of Sussex Beef with Yorkshire Pudding. A classic example of this quintessentially English dish, which went very well with our Organic Chilean Merlot. The Yorkshire Pudding was cooked extremely well. In fact, I've only seen it done better in one pub and that's the Hinds Head in Bray. There was however, one dish that I was interested in more than all the others. And that, of course, was my wife's Groombridge Gloucester Old Spot Pork Belly with Apple Compote. Why did this dish interest me so much? Is wasn't the presentation, nor the intensely scented crackling wafting in my direction. It was the groans, moans and other utterances of pure gastronomic ecstasy, which my wife was displaying at the table. I took my fork on a little journey over to her side to investigate what all the fuss was about and I soon discovered what it was. Her Pork was so good I won't even try to describe it with my mediocre prose.
For dessert I had the selection of Artisan English Cheeses, lovingly paired with Chutney, Fruit and Biscuits. All of which were extremely good and went well with my 10 year old Whiskey. The other diners had more textbook, sweet desserts. And I'm grateful to them. The Raspberry and Fresh Mint Fool with Shortbread touched my taste buds like few desserts have. And the selection of Ice Creams were so fresh I could hear it mooing.
Clearly I am a fan of the George and Dragon. I agree totally with Julian's approach to food. I think it should be local, organic and all the flavors of the food should be exploited to their full potential. The George and Dragon delivers each and every time.
My professional photography website: Taylor Young Photography
Sunday, August 8, 2010
What the hell does a guy have to do to get a great Burger in England? This is the question that has been plaguing me since I came here three months ago. This country tricked me by offering a stunning example of a great British Hamburger at The Hinds Head in May. But since then I have had little success. When I read the Dos Hermanos blog on Bar Boulud, Daniel Boulud's new London restaurant, I immediately got a tingly sensation in my nether regions. You know the feeling. This is because Chef Boulud has been satisfying the appetites of young New Yorkers seeking Burger nirvana for quite a while now. Long enough to be beaten down by Gucci wearing Gastronomic know bests, who understand what a good Burger should taste like. After all, New York houses just a few big names when it comes to Burgers. I won't bother spelling them all out for you. You probably already know what I'm talking about. Hint... Shake Shack, Burger Joint, Pop Burger... the list is endless.
A quick 50 minute train ride from West Sussex to Victoria Station and then a pleasant 120ºF Tube ride and we were in Kensington. Staring in awe to our left as we gazed upon the grand turrets of Harrods and to our right and slightly behind us, we feasted on the sensual offerings of Harvey Nichols. But we weren't here for shopping. Bar Boulud is housed in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Next door Candy and Candy are building an enormous structure, which I assume will house flats for the wealthy Arabs that cruise down Sloane Street in their Lamborghini Gallardos, their Dubai number plates still on, indicating that these cars are on holiday with their owners. Shipped over for the pleasure of the young princes and the entourage that follow them. Straight to China White they go, or wherever is hot these days. I wouldn't know. I'm but a humble married man-servant.
The inside of Bar Boulud keeps with the overall theme of the neighborhood. Rich and extravagant. Not in an overly posh way, but it's definitely not the Burger Joints I'm used to in New York. It isn't just a Burger Joint though is it? It's actually a Bistro. And they serve a lot more than Burgers. Most of it looks fairly tasty. However, I didn't see anyone eating anything other than Burgers. Except for the two guys next to me talking about £200 million movie deals. You know the type? They speak in exaggerated voices so we can all hear how amazing they are and congratulate them on their domination of the universe.
Our waiter took our orders, which didn't take long as we knew what we wanted before we entered the restaurant. And within ten minutes our Burgers were brought to us. These beautifully formed concoctions sat atop white plates and came with a generous side of Fries, which had their own metal holders and white paper holding it tightly around. On first glance, these Burgers looked top notch. But as I investigated more thoroughly with my mouth I realized something was terribly wrong. At the end of this meal I was going to spend £13.50 on a Burger that tasted like it came out of a bog standard British kitchen. There was nothing that stood out except the price. The Brioche bun was a nice touch on the Frenchie Burger, which also has Confit Pork Belly, Rocket, Tomato-Onion Compote and Morbier Cheese. But there was nothing overly exciting about this Burger. It didn't even make a mess, or drip onto my clothes. My God, is this what fancy London Burgers are like? I'm in hell.
The Yankee Burger with Iceberg Lettuce, Tomato, Sweet Onion, Sesame Bun and Pickle was even worse. Oh, and Cheddar Cheese for a £1.50 supplement made me want to write a letter. To whom, I don't know. The flavors were muted, the meat was tiny and the Vegetables had obviously been sliced with a mandolin and although this makes an attractive Burger, it also makes SMALL Burgers with far too much Bun.
Daniel, you're on the right track, mate. And possibly you know your market better than I do. Maybe Londoners want boring Burgers with no character and don't dirty your tie when eaten. But I seriously doubt it. Perhaps if you have a separate menu for the rest of us that like true, honest Burgers that have huge amounts of meat, "real" American Cheese, Thousand Island Dressing and lots and lots of towering toppings. Until then, I'll make mine at home and save my pennies.
My professional photography website: Taylor Young Photography