Category: restaurant

Confiture avec de l’agneau: Chef Richard Guest ou la cuisine anglaise

C’est sur que ‘Jam with Lamb’ ça rime et ça sonne bien. Quand on le traduit, tout à coup on décrit ce que les Français imaginent de la bouffe anglaise: de la viande avec de la confiture. C’est aussi le titre fort à propos d’un livre de cuisine du chef Richard Guest qui célèbre les produits du Sud-Ouest de l’Angleterre suivant les saisons à travers des recettes traditionnelles anglaises et quelques classiques français.

Avec une étoile Michelin qui le suit dans trois restaurants depuis 18 ans, il n’y a aucun doute que Richard Guest est l’un des meilleurs chefs Anglais. C’est aussi un ami à moi, mais on sait que Michelin ne donne pas ses étoiles à qui mieux veut donc si je chante ses louanges, ce n’est pas parce que c’est un ami.

Richard vient d’ouvrir un bistrot dans le Sud-Ouest de l’Angleterre, à Taunton: Augustus. Au Sud de Bristol et au nord d’Exeter, ce n’est pas un endroit à priori évident pour ouvrir un restaurant. Taunton n’est pas une ville particulièrement touristique même si le Sud-Ouest est une destination de vacances bien prisée en Angleterre. Mais Richard a de bonnes raisons de rester où il connait.

La carrière de Guest

Guest a tout d’abord été inspiré par le chef Marco Pierre White. Imaginez un mec aux cheveux longs, cigarette au bec, avec un caractère de cochon (White, pas Guest, il ne fume pas et a les cheveux courts!). A 33 ans White devenait le premier chef anglais et le plus jeune chef à obtenir trois étoiles Michelin.

Le jeune Guest, qui comme White est un type du Nord, -et croyez moi il y a une frontière en Angleterre entre le Nord et le Sud, avait trouvé en White l’inspiration qui le fit partir à Londres, le seul endroit où on pouvait vraiment faire ses marques dans les années 80, Sud ou pas. C’est là que Richard a travaillé avec Jean-Christophe Novelli qui lui appris -entre autres- l’art de goûter et lui a permis de s’exprimer dans sa cuisine. Novelli avait raison de lui faire confiance puisque c’est là que Richard a obtenu sa première étoile Michelin.

 Du Nord au Sud-Ouest en passant par Londres

Mais le chef du Nord a rencontré une belle blonde du Sud-Ouest chez Novelli et en 1999, Richard se retrouvait au Castle Hotel à Taunton, à la tête de son restaurant déjà réputé. Ce qui a plu à chef Guest après toutes ces années à parfaire une cuisine ‘française’ c’est que le patron, Kit Chapman, voulait la même perfection mais avec une cuisine anglaise et les clients ne s’attendaient pas à moins.

De ‘Jam with Lamb’ à Augustus

Ce qui explique comment on se retrouve avec un bouquin de cuisine intitulé ‘Jam with Lamb’. Anglais et fier de l’être, Richard Guest compte sur ses producteurs et leurs excellents produits qu’il transforme en des petits moments de plaisir. Qu’il cuisine pour un patron français, anglais ou comme dans son nouveau restaurant Augustus pour lui même, je n’ai jamais été déçue par la cuisine de Richard. L’assaisonnement est toujours parfait, chose rare, les produits sont locaux, de saison et frais, la présentation superbe et le résultat un vrai plaisir.

Le Sud-Ouest étant une région plus ensoleillée que le reste de la Grande-Bretagne, les fermiers et maraichers nous vendent des produits souvent meilleurs que ce que l’on peut trouver en France, si on sait les trouver. De plus en plus, il ne s’agit plus de copier la France mais de retrouver les races de mouton ou les pommiers qui appartenaient à la campagne environnante et ont disparu grâce à la révolution industrielle, les exigences des supermarchés et les changements d’habitudes des consommateurs.

Depuis quelques années, les Anglais se réveillent de leur longue torpeur. Comme Richard Guest ou le célèbre Heston Blumenthal (qui a d’ailleurs travaillé avec Marco-Pierre White et a maintenant trois étoiles Michelin) les Anglais redécouvrent leurs racines culinaires et même si les meilleurs chefs ont tous plus ou moins fait un ‘stage’ chez des chefs français (ou à influences françaises), ils louent enfin leur propre cuisine, à juste titre.

Célébration de la cuisine Anglaise

Donc ‘Jam with Lamb’ c’est une célébration de la cuisine anglaise. Et oui, ils mangent de la confiture avec de la viande. C’est vrai que dans le Sud-Ouest nous avons une abondance de fruits en été. Les pommes, les groseilles, les fruits du rosiers sont autant de produits qui ne peuvent se garder durant l’hiver que transformés; cidre bien sur, mais également confitures ou gelées. Les Anglais sont forts pour ce genre de ‘conserves’, après tout on a adopté leur marmelade.

Et pas de grimace si vous n’avez pas essayé. Il faut goûter un morceaux d’agneau juste à point avec une bonne gelée de groseilles faite maison. Pas la gelée du supermarché rouge comme de la betterave que je mélangeais enfant avec des carrés Gervais. J’aimais bien quand j’étais gosse mais une gelée maison n’a rien à voir avec. Mais bon, ce n’est pas tout sucré-salé. Par contre à Augustus, c’est tout bon.

Richard Guest et son partenaire maitre d’hôtel Cédric Chirrosel ont ouvert leur restaurant donnant sur une petite cour intérieure au coeur de Taunton avec une terrasse pour les beaux jours (et il y en plus qu’on croit!). Au contraire de ce dont ils avaient l’habitude au restaurant huppé du Castle Hotel où ils travaillaient ensemble, Augustus est simple d’apparence. Confortable et sympa on n’y trouvera pas de nappe blanche, de verres en cristal ou des clients qui chuchotent. C’est avant tout un bistrot dans l’âme, comme le voulait Guest, mais son art de faire, il ne l’a pas laissés sur le pas de la porte. Vous ne le trouverez pas encore dans le guide Michelin, mais croyez moi, Augustus est un restaurant ‘à suivre’.

Vous savez ce qu’il vous reste à faire si vous allez vers Taunton.

www.augustustaunton.co.uk

Advertisements

Richard Guest’s Augustus in Taunton… one to follow

I remember the first time I ate Richard’s food. He’d been Head Chef at the Four Seasons restaurant in Park Lane for Jean-Christophe Novelli and they’d just opened Maison Novelli in Clerkenwell. I’d met Richard socially a couple of times, had never heard of Novelli and had spoken food (pretty rare in those days with a normal English person). I just had to try this funny, approachable Northerner’s food. It was the best I’d eaten in London and totally on a par with what I had enjoyed in France, when my father treated us to Michelin stared restaurants.

For clarity’s sake I must tell you that Richard Guest and his wife Vicky are now friends of mine. So let me stick with some facts: After a YTS apprenticeship in York, Richard’s first kitchen was the Savoy’s in London in 1990, then Novelli’s Four Seasons (Sous-Chef, 93-96, Michelin Star), Maison Novelli (Head Chef, 96-99, Michelin Star, 3 AA rosettes) then Castle Hotel, Taunton (Head Chef, 99-2010, Michelin Star, 3 AA Rosettes). If you don’t already know Richard, that should give you an idea.

I equally enjoyed W8 (another Novelli venture) and was delighted when Richard and Vicky headed for the West Country. The Castle Restaurant did not disappoint as far as the food was concerned. I did find the atmosphere a bit too cold. Whilst I don’t like loud guests when tucking into my main in a posh restaurant, feeling the need to whisper is not conducive to fully appreciate the wonderful fare on my plate. The dining room was just too old fashioned for me. Its recent closure therefore did not come as a surprise. It is understandable that the establishment is concentrating on the Brazz with new chef Raftery. I have no doubt they will do well with another great chef.

So what about Augustus then? 

Richard does fine dining well, his recognition proves it. What he has always loved though is ‘simple’ food that highlights the produce of his great suppliers and changes with the seasons. Whilst he’s never said so, I imagine that when you have an absolute passion for the joy you create, heading a kitchen that feeds dozens of people in the space of three or four hours must take its toll. I always compare chefs to artists. They create inspiring compositions for all the senses. Once on a conveyor belt, the soul gets lost.

In fact, Richard would totally disagree with me. He does not like the “airy-fairy French guys romanticising about food”  to quote his book Jam with Lamb. Well he is a no-nonsense Northerner. I have airy-fairy tendencies, French or otherwise.

My husband and I -and many other friends- have been trying to get Richard and Vicky to join the Hix, Riverside or Wild Garlic of West Dorset and the constant sprouting of good gastro-pubs our area is enjoying. Unfortunately for us but understandably, Richard was keen to work with suppliers and a business partner he knows well and trusts. So he opened Augustus in Taunton with front of house Cédric Chirrosel, former Castle Hotel restaurant manager. It was always going to be called Augustus, after Roald Dahl’s character in Willy Wonka.

The Courtyard on St James Street is a great setting for a bistro. We parked a few steps away, the sun was shining, the outside tables were full, wine was flowing and the atmosphere was positively European. The inside is small, simple, comfortable and welcoming. Cédric is attentive, informative and helpful; Richard is nowhere to be seen, kitchen and small team oblige.

I’m not a food critic so I’ll be brief on food description: a meltingly delicious starter of Goats Cheese croquettes on a crunchy mix of salad and vegetables, a perfectly cooked main of lamb with a just-so creamy potato gratin and a ratatouille that made me think I was in the South of France. I know many people believe that Michelin is a load of rubbish. Having said that, once you have experienced fine dining of a high standard, your brain remembers it. Anything after that can be good, few will be brilliant. It’s about the small details, the subtle tastes that surprise you for being put together yet complement each other.

A few tender yet crunchy baby broad beans were a surprising firm bite in the middle of the soft salad leaves; mixed with goats cheese croquettes, it just worked. It’s about the total attention to detail, perfect seasoning (which I find really hard to achieve myself let alone find in a restaurant), trustworthy suppliers, absolute love and belief in what you create. I’ve gone all airy-fairy again. In his Jam with Lamb book written five years ago, Richard says it’s about the right produce at the right time. We know that’s true.

Richard Guest wanted to open a bistro called Augustus. He just got distracted by a few Michelin stars on the way but Augustus is here and well worth a visit; Taunton is not that far after all…

How reliable is TripAdvisor?

I read with interest a review for the Wild Garlic restaurant in Beaminster on Trip Advisor from georgeporgepuddingpie. George could be a woman called Georgina but as the ‘reviewer’ did not leave a real name, I’ll assume it is a male George and call him ‘he’ to ponder on the veracity of his claims.

I swear it’s true, or is it?

George claims to be a local who parked behind the restaurant and heard what can only be Mat (Follas, BBC Masterchef winner, who runs the Wild Garlic) swear and bad mouth his staff.

You can’t really park directly behind the Wild Garlic. There is a private parking area but it stands closer to the Pizza place. Was it Mat he heard? Did he really hear anybody swear?

He saw “one of the men in chefs white buying pastry from the Coop”. Did they have Wild Garlic written on their whites? Was this man in whites working for the chippie, the Pizza place or the Chinese? Was he buying a bit of pastry for his wife before the rush of evening service?

Does family man = children’s menu?

To say Mat was a family man, I was shocked not to see a childrens menu“. What did he expect? Fish and chips, sausage and chips or burger and chips?

Of course georgeporgepuddingpie is totally entitled to dislike the Wild Garlic or any other establishment. He can have a problem with Mat and his Kiwi ways -supporting the wrong rugby team and all that. After all, Mat is somewhat famous and we know that celebrity status can bring positive and negative consequences in its wake.

Give the chef a chance

The thing is, if the food was cold, why did our anonymous reviewer not send it back? If the mash was unseasoned, did he tell the chef? Why do English people often sit there, say nothing and pay the bill? Why do they not give the business a chance to make amends when there is a problem with the product or the service?

To write an anonymous review on Trip Advisor about a local restaurant is not only cowardly, it sends a very negative message to the world about the local town. If we’ve eaten there, said our bit to the owner and nothing’s changed, then yes, we should review what we thought was a problem for all to see. I bet georgeporgepuddingpie does not run a B&B or a shop.

Are you being serious?

Thankfully for the Wild Garlic, Beaminster and the area, any foodie reading georgeporgepuddingpie’s review is unlikely to take it seriously. As with many Trip Advisor’s reviews with titles like “DISGUSTING !!!” and only one entry from the ‘reviewer’, it doesn’t take much imagination to read between the lines: “I have a hidden agenda”. Whatever that may be.

User generated content websites and personal grudges

The problem is, not everybody knows how to use a ‘user-generated content website’. If there is only one review and no profile, how do you know that the reviewer likes the same things you do? All the same, these often personal grudges are there for all to see, leaving a doubt in the reader’s mind.

The consequences can be very negative for a business; which is exactly what these ‘reviewers’ are looking for. I cannot help but wonder whether the Georges of this world run a business themselves or are always Perfect. Should have called himself Peter.

Is this the way forward for English hotel rating?

There are talks at the moment that the government is thinking about getting rid of the star rating from Visit Britain. The likes of TripAdvisor could replace this costly system.

This little example should be food for thought.

A pinch of art and a large dose of love

“Cuisine is a few grams of passion, a spoonful of technique, a pinch of art and a large dose of love”

When chef Eric Bendel wrote this, he clearly meant it. His restaurant is in the middle of nowhere, well actually right bang in the middle of France in Bruères-Allichamp. We were driving South and found that all the hotels in Bourges were full. A short drive on an empty route départementale and we were grateful to find a small hotel along the Cher river. Les Tilleuls isn’t the prettiest of hotels, rather a long 60’s wooden affair.

No credit card or passport were asked, what a delight and oh so rare these days. Our rooms were clean and comfortable although sound proofing is probably not high on the list. The big surprise came when we sat down for dinner. The menu is a short list of about nine items that change fortnightly and you choose how many you want. Children just get smaller portions, no fish and chips to be found anywhere.

When I read Eric’s poem I figured we should be in for a treat. When I read the menu, it was definitely an artist talking. Proof was definitely not just in the pudding. It started with not one ‘mise en bouche’ but two: three verrines each of cress, celery and cucumber gazpachos followed by crayfish with a courgette soup topped with herring caviar, all beautifully presented.

It’s one of those menus some people find pompous. Verrines are pretty little glasses filled with soups or layered puddings. Gaspacho is after all a cold soup. Yes it’s nouvelle cuisine if that means a pleasure for the eye and yes there were foamy additions to perfectly balanced plates. Last time I had a meal that made me feel like a child again was when I ate at Les Ambassadeurs, the Crillon’s restaurant in Paris. Proper posh with a stool for my handbag. Jean-François Piège was in the kitchen, I was scribbling notes for a magazine. This time, I was with my family, paying my way. Seeing my children get all excited by beautifully presented plates and happily discover new tastes was a joy.

Laure has done a great job decorating the restaurant, husband Eric clearly cares passionately about his work, attention to detail is faultless; although I must admit there were only two tables that night, being mid-week and off holiday. At around £60 per person for four properly crafted courses including nice wine, aperitifs and digestifs, we got an evening that we will remember for a long time. The joy of the unexpected, the subtlety of tastes, the fun of new discoveries; the love did show.

Some call it professionalism. That’s not enough. The passion has to be translated to provide a memorable experience.

I can still taste the mini pistachio rice pudding with strawberry cream and poppy mousse.

Thank you Bourges for being full that day.

Hotel restaurant Les Tilleuls

Bull Hotel, relax… you’re in Bridport

As you drive into town, you can’t miss the dark blue 17th century Inn with a gold Bull overlooking the pavement. A Bridport artist gilded that Bull, old fashioned way; she works on the St Michael trading estate. I like that about the place. The meat comes from the butcher next door, the apple juice at breakfast is from a farm down the road, the amazing beds from a company whose impressive showroom is just outside Bridport.

I’ve been a few times for cheap and cheerful lunches (they have a ‘crunch lunch’ for a fiver which is great value for money) and once for a friend’s 40th which was a great laugh. I was curious to know what an overnight stay would be like and thought a night without the kids would be a great idea…

And it was. The bed was wonderfully comfortable (although ours did creak a bit but hey) egyptian linen and all, the Neal’s Yard bottles were bathroom size (no nasty plastic throwaway stuff) and we loved the mixture of old and new. Philip Starck lighting worked well with a french inspired Toile de Jouy wallpaper and plain chocolate walls with a silver tinge. Taste is very personal and if you like twee, you might want to find somewhere else. If you like bold statements and smile at quirkiness this should be down your road.

Supper? Well, we liked. Went for a sharing evening all the way with a Côte de boeuf and a cheese platter. The meat was tender in the middle yet crusty and black on the outside, sliced onto a wooden tray laden with hand cut chips, crispy yet not fatty, oversized sweet and crunchy onion rings, a large mushroom and some rocket salad. There was also a tomato each. I don’t understand tasteless tomatoes in winter (southern french pompous palate probably) so I gave mine a miss. It went back with the herbed butter which was unnecessary. The meat was succulent and did not need any addition. It did not need any more salt either, if you’re one of these add salt before tasting, beware.

The cheese platter was a good selection of local fare, from the famous Blue Vinney (which I love) to the Dorset Red (delicious if you like smokey) via a Somerset Brie and of course a farmhouse Cheddar. The husband liked the chutney which tasted too much like curry for my liking. He also loved the pudding of raspberry soufflé which was a bit too sugary for me but then I’m more of a savoury kinda girl.

There’s been a fair few reviews on Bridport’s Bull Hotel since they opened. They appeal to the growing number of people who have moved back into the area after a London stint or time elsewhere, as well as visitors who want comfort and a certain amount of luxury in a relaxed, modern atmosphere. Think affordable Babington House and you won’t be far wrong.


The Bull: hotel branché à Bridport, Dorset Occidental

Pour une soirée en amoureux, mon mari et moi avons décidé de se faire un petit plaisir et de passer la nuit à l’hôtel branché du coin et de dîner sur place. L’auberge The Bull date du 17eme siècle mais n’a rien de vieillot, au contraire. L’atmosphère y est sympa et un certain luxe simple flotte dans les chambres après un couloir un peu austère.

Avec son taureau doré sur fond d’auberge bleu foncé, on ne peut pas rater The Bull quand on arrive à Bridport.Nous connaissons bien car on y a déjà mangé plusieurs fois, petits repas ‘crédit crunch’ (anti récession) le midi à £5 ou pizza bon rapport qualité prix et cidre au Stables (étables derrière l’auberge transformée en pizzeria).

Notre chambre (la 207) était un mélange bien Anglais de meubles anciens et modernes, de papiers peints genre toile de Jouy et de murs chocolats virant au gris. Un grand lit en métal super confortable (bien qu’un petit peu grinçant!) d’un coté, un divan et une chaise en cuir de l’autre, notre chambre était assez spacieuse sans être immense. Les éclairages de Philippe Starck mariés aux meubles de bois foncé donnaient une atmosphère cool qui nous a bien plu. Les proprios ont un penchant pour les antiquités françaises, et on retrouve cette influence française dont nos amis British sont friands.

Des produits Neal’s Yard (excellents produits bio Anglais aux huiles essentielles) étaient à disposition dans la salle de bains. Pas de petites bouteilles en plastique pour la poubelle mais cette confiance que j’ai rarement trouvé en France, que les clients ne vont pas partir avec les bouteilles en verre taille salle de bains maison. Bon bain moussant bien chaud avant de descendre au resto.

On a décidé de faire un menu partage et avons choisi une côte de boeuf suivie d’un plateau de fromage pour deux. On a arrosé tout ça d’un Lalande de Pomerol et on s’est régalés! La côte de boeuf était saignante mais croustillante sur l’extérieur, les grosses frites maison n’étaient pas trop grasses mais dorées, les rondelles d’oignons panées étaient géantes mais très douces. La tomate par contre était une perte de temps. Probablement que la Varoise que je suis toujours a les papilles gâtées par le soleil et ne peut apprécier une tomate pâlichonne en plein hiver.

Pour le fromage, il ne faut pas s’attendre à un plateau genre chariot fourni ou on choisit un peu de tout. On vous donne une bonne portion de ce qu’il y a dans le coin sur votre plateau, pas de choix. Un bleu du Dorset ‘Blue Vinney’, un Brie du Somerset, un Cheddar de ferme et un Dorset Red (fumé). Et comme j’ai expliqué dans mon billet précédent (‘on le mange comment le fromage anglais’), des biscuits salés. Il y avait même une chutney (ou confiture salée) pour accompagner mais qui avait beaucoup trop le gout de curry a mon gout. Mon mari anglais a aimé. Chacun son truc.

L’un dans l’autre, notre soirée a été bien agréable, le personnel était sympa et attentif et à £150 la nuit petit déjeuner anglais compris, il est difficile de faire mieux dans le coin si on veut se faire un petit plaisir et passer une soirée un tout petit peu décadente. Ou plusieurs.

£6 for 2 decent lunches on Dorset’s Coast

When the husband discovered this little hotel down the road with a nice Cellar Wine Bar that do lunch for £6 per couple, I thought we’ve got to give it a try. I was expecting soggy vegs and microwaved mush. I was wrong.

The Manor Hotel in West Bexington is an attractive stone building with a veranda and a cellar turned into a Wine Bar. A few steps from Chesil Beach on the Dorset Jurassic Coast, it’s the kind of place I’d happily spend a quiet weekend.

We ordered a fish pie and a shepherds pie and fifteen minutes later we had a couple of piping hot meals with crunchy vegs, just as I like them. My fish pie had decent pieces of fish and sliced potatoes on top in a tasty creamy sauce. Husband’s shepherds pie was equally enjoyable and a good portion for lunch. I mean if that’s not great value for money, what is?

They also have an evening menu “eat as much as you like for £8.50”. Normally I stay away from the principle of eating as much as I like. It sounds like gluttony and conjures up cheap produce. But with this lunch in mind and with a bouillabaisse of local seafood on the menu as well as local squid with chilli, ginger and garlic (husband’s vote), I will have to try. Their neighbours, the Michaud family are famous in the chilli world for growing the Dorset Naga -hottest chilli in the world, allegedly- but that’s not the one they use for the squid. Thankfully.

Being a cold and wet winter day, I must admit we were the only ones there this lunchtime but the fire was going and the atmosphere of the place was friendly and warm. Just one annoying thing, they insisted on putting the noisy dishwasher on whilst we were eating (and even chatting to the landlady at the bar) which surely could have waited half an hour. But hey. Husband kind of felt guilty at spending so little, so he had 2 drinks and some peanuts to make up for it. Which took us to the grand total of £12.

Looks like West Bexington is going to see us more often this winter, just around lunchtime.