Sunday 26 May 2013

The Chequers PH, Matching Green

Many years ago, this was an old-fashioned spit 'n' sawdust pub of the type that just doesn't exist anymore. It was somewhere I would visit occasionally until one day it had closed, been re-furbished and re-opened as a gastro pub (by their own admission). My mate and I just walked back out in disappointment and mourned the loss of a great public house. About 3 years ago, possibly even longer, a bunch of us went for dinner to The Chequers, as it was getting something of a reputation. It was fine food, but I didn't feel that it in any way justified the above-average price tag for pub grub. Another visit last night and I was ready to be disappointed all over again.

I really wasn't.

Starter was a cold seafood selection, which I shared with a friend. The smoked salmon, prawns, crayfish, crab and smoked mackerel were all very good. The prawns in particular were fresh and juicy, and the horseradish and crème fraiche it was served with was a divine example of what must surely be the best seafood accompaniment?

Main course was a simple sirloin steak, served with peppercorn sauce and some asparagus and chunky chips on the side. I ordered the sirloin rare, and it was much nearer medium (not uncommon) but it was a beautiful piece of beef. With a strong peppercorn sauce it was elevated further still, and there was a good, large jug of it too! Asparagus was fine but the chunky chips (so often poor) were amazing. Some of the best I have had (certainly the biggest!) and entirely deserving of a SUPER-DISH. They were so good that I was too busy eating them to take a picture… sorry!

Dessert was my one of my favourites, Eton mess. Good but not the best, the ratio was 'off' for me: too much cream and not enough fruit or meringue. And the addition of a pistachio powder was a little unnecessary.

About £55 a head with drinks which for the quality and quantity of food on offer was worth every penny, I came away feeling like I had got very good value. Besides, a relaxing drink before dinner watching the cricket on the green... you just can't put a price on that. Recommended.

Monday 20 May 2013

China Garden, Standon

Regular readers (both of you) will know my feelings about Chinese food… mostly bad. When it’s good it’s great, it just isn’t very often. A random need for dinner somewhere a few weeks ago ended up at China Garden in Standon, a new one on me.

Starters were the usual Chinese fare, deep-fried but perfectly palatable. None were exceptional, but the high point was the additional order of salt & pepper squid which was very nice indeed. Crispy duck to follow (obviously) which again was nice but unexceptional.

Main course was a Chinese classic, sweet & sour chicken Hong Kong style. Tasty but lacking in much chicken. Served with some vermicelli noodles which were very nice indeed.

So, really nothing special, but perfectly fine. As a quick ‘drop in for some food on the way out somewhere’ restaurant it has much to recommend it; but honestly I think I would have been just as satisfied stopping for a kebab or for some fast food.

Saturday 18 May 2013

Ferry good or ferry bad?

I travel a lot with my job and recently visited the Netherlands; however instead of the usual ‘up at 4am to get to Heathrow’ routine I decided to play it different and get the overnight ferry from Harwich to Hook of Holland. I had done this trip once before but as this was for a stag do it really doesn’t count! I got the train to Harwich and was on the boat by 10pm, ready for a late dinner.

The Stena Hollandica is a new boat, built in 2010 so still nice and clean and surprisingly well equipped. I dumped my stuff in the comfortable cabin and walked swiftly to the food hall, as I remember that this got very busy very quickly on my first trip.

I ordered pork schnitzel with chips, and helped myself to the salad bar. You know what? It was very good, much better than I thought you could realistically expect on a ferry. It was freshly cooked to order and had a lovely spiced breadcrumb coating. The chips were equally good; from experience I know that Dutch people like good chips. The salad was mostly a mix of Dutch options and all were perfectly good. A small bottle of wine complemented this nicely.

An hour on deck with a cigar and a book (under the heater) and it was time for bed. I woke up suitably refreshed and ready to go, I was on the train into Rotterdam less than 15 minutes after walking off the ferry. Definitely a more civilised way of travelling; I firmly believe that train and boat travel broadens the mind whereas plane travel narrows it. Find an excuse to go to Amsterdam (I can think of plenty) and get the boat at least one way.

Thursday 9 May 2013

Las Palmas, Rotterdam


Rotterdam is a city I know very little about. I know it is a big port, and thanks to The Beautiful South I know it could easily be mistaken for Liverpool or Rome. What I wasn’t expecting was a super-new, super-cool city that had a little something of New York about it. Thanks to an excellent host, I got to see a little of the city (including a speed boat ride!) and eat at a famous Rotterdam restaurant, Las Palmas. Specialising in seafood, it is the brain child of a famous Dutch chef and TV presenter, Herman den Blijker.

When we sat down at our table the maître d’ suggested starting with some oysters whilst we chose our meals, which regular readers will know are my favourite thing in the world. He was great fun, and spoke at least six languages! The oysters were big and fantastic, certainly a lot bigger than our own native UK oysters. A simple red wine vinegar and shallot dressing, and some lemon wedges were served with the oysters. Amazing.

To start, another seafood favourite, bouillabaisse. At a basic level, this is just a simple fish-based soup. At Las Palmas it was an event, the waiter introduced and explained the three types of fish that were in the bottom of the bowl, and then theatrically poured over the broth from a kettle. A nice touch (see video above) that just raised this dish from the norm, and it was every bit as tasty as it deserved to be. I’m giving this a SUPER-DISH award, not least because of the accompaniments (croutons, cheese and aioli).

Main course was gurnard, served as a whole fish. It’s not the most attractive fish (it’s a BOBFOC!) but was very impressive when served whole. I have eaten this fish many times before, and this was one of the best; it can be quite labour-intensive to fillet but this was a generously-proportioned specimen. It was served with some un-remarkable vegetables but that just didn’t matter, it was all about this exceptional fish.

For the first time in a long time I didn’t make it to dessert, however I had in effect already had three courses so this can be explained away. What I did have were some excellent petit fours, the chocolate truffle was great and the mini-macaroon was even greater.

This place was simply great great great. The décor was amazing, especially the taxidermy and the beautiful meat hanging up in the lobby. Not as expensive as expected and definitely a great destination restaurant if ever you find yourself in this interesting and exciting city. Very highly recommended.

Heel erg bedankt aan Richard, onze uitstekende gastheer. We hadden een geweldige tijd in uw stad en kijken ernaar uit om binnenkort weer komen!

Saturday 4 May 2013

The Meze House, Folkestone

I was looking for somewhere interesting to eat whilst in Folkestone at the weekend, so consulted TripAdvisor for some advice. The Meze House was a restaurant I had never heard of, rated #3 amongst Folkestone’s 83 restaurants so definitely worth investigating. I’m a big fan of Greek food, and it isn’t something I get to eat very often so I was suitably excited. The restaurant is in a great location just off The Leas, underneath a slightly crappy old hotel. Walking down the stairs and the atmosphere in the basement restaurant is nice; it is subdued and softly lit. However the all-Irish staff doesn’t give you the confidence that this is going to be an especially authentic experience!

I shared the inevitable meze with a mate. First of all (again, inevitably) was houmous, taramasalata and tzatziki served with pitta bread. All were good, none were brilliant. The horiatiki salad was nice, well dressed with balsamic vinegar. The grilled halloumi was for me the best of the starters, probably best of the whole meal actually.

Inevitable (third use of this word) was the calamari, which was unfortunately not as good as the calamari I had for lunch a few hours earlier. The fish course was seabass, which was very good and was devoured quickly. The meat course was souvlaki (pork) served with chips and a flatbread. The souvlakia was fine, as were the chips.

All of the above was fine, no more and no less. Exactly the same thing you would expect to see in any mid-level Greek restaurant in any town in the UK. I might visit again, but I would not by any means make a bee line for this place. The trouble is, once you have eaten at the best Greek restaurant in the UK (Vrisaki in Palmer’s Green, which is AMAZING) nothing compares!

The Smokehouse, Folkestone

Everybody loves fish & chips. And if you don’t, you just need to go to the right place. My parents are lucky enough to have a great chippie where they live in Folkestone, from Mark Sergeant. Mark used to run Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant at Claridge’s; but he is from Kent so a few years ago he ‘did a Rick Stein’ and moved to the seaside, opening a restaurant and a chippie. I have eaten here many times and it is my favourite fish & chip shop.

My favourite dish at my favourite chippie is the salt & pepper squid. It’s just divine, the perfect SUPER-DISH and one I could eat every week and never get bored of. The spiced batter is amazing, better than anywhere else I know, and I love that there is a good mix of the head of the squid as well as little bundles of sweet tentacles. Last weekend I added a curried scallop in batter which was also very good. The chips are cooked in beef dripping and this makes them a) incredibly tasty and b) perfectly textured, I’ll also add a c) which is the fact that this a great link to how chippie’s used to be. The addition of a homemade pickled egg tops off the perfect lunch.

In Folkestone? Go there for lunch. A great place to stop off and have something to eat if heading for the channel tunnel.