Restaurant Review: Gauthier Soho, London Sunday, Dec 29 2013 

During one of our recent stays at Club Quarters’ Trafalgar Square location, we were looking for a convenient spot to dine after a matinée concert and cheeky visit to Fortnum and Mason. Having been unable to get through the door of the fêted Covent Garden restaurant Clos Maggiore, we had made a reservation at Gauthier Soho, which is conveniently located a short walk from the hotel.

The uniqueness of the restaurant is apparent even before you’ve stepped through the door: dressed up as a glamorous London residence, it has a shiny black front door not unlike that of Number 10 Downing Street, and you have to ring the doorbell in order to gain entry, which all adds to the sense of occasion that is at times lost these days when dining out. This is nicely combined with a warm yet professional welcome from the overwhelmingly French staff, who continued this demeanour throughout the night’s service.

There are several options in terms of dining at Gauthier (à la carte; 3 courses, 4 courses, 5 courses; 7-course tasting menu…), but these are all presented in a clear manner both orally and in writing. This is made even more impressive thanks to the excellent (albeit expensive) wine list that complements it. As well as a range of bottles to suit every taste, wine by the glass is also available – we enjoyed a wonderful Barbera, which is a slightly carbonated red wine due to the unique maceration process involved in making it. It combines fresh fruity flavours with ashy, mineralised ones, which suited our hearty main course well (more of which later). We also had a glass each of Sauternes and Jurançon with our desserts, which balanced botrytis and freshness pleasingly.

Gauthier’s seven-course, £70 tasting menu appears tempting and of good value, but even three courses (which we opted for at £40 a head) still makes for a plentiful feast. The restaurant’s use of seasonal ingredients and its formal French finish arguably makes it a more affordable “Manoir-lite” which makes you feel like you’ve had a quality meal with plenty of wow-factor while not making the meal the centre of your day. To begin, there were canapés, consisting firstly of delicate cheese straws, and secondly of colourful tomato jelly on mini bruschette, offering appropriate contrasts in texture, and an idea of the quality of flavour to come. But before our starter there was also an amuse-bouche, in the form of a truffle and mushroom raviolo on squash purée. Suffice it to say that this was worthy of a whole bowlful by itself, heightening the anticipation of your meal even further.

One side of the table had chosen an apple and pancetta salad, which was served with appropriately autumnal vegetables (celeriac and marrow), as well as an aged vinegar dressing. The other side of the table took soup to new heights thanks to the head chef”s chestnut and pheasant concoction. While the aniseed infusion perhaps could have had a more intense flavour, the pink liver that it came with was a perfect complement, and the crispy onion rings and leaves added great textural adventure. In terms of the main course, the wild duck served two ways proved tempting, but ultimately two plates of the Highland venison were ordered, to no regret. Served with pears poached in red wine, caramelised pumpkin, and truffle and celeriac purée, the tannic flavours intermingled playfully with the sweetness of the pear, pumpkin and celeriac, and were given added depth by the earthiness of the truffle. As for the venison itself, it came cooked to perfection (even though I had forgotten what “à point” was in English when asked how I would like my meat cooked), thus leaving us sorry that it was gone once we had cleaned our plates (it is a testament to the portion sizes and the lightness of the food that we did not feel as stuffed as a Christmas turkey).

The dessert menu offered a host of temptations to celebrate the festive season indulgently. While the dark chocolate mousse with crunchy praline was a serious contender, as were the refreshing-sounding blackberry, rose and pineapple sorbets, in the end one meal was completed with the restaurant’s “mandarine givrée”: a frozen mandarin orange that has been hollowed out and then refilled with the mandarin segments, before being served with extra segments, edible flowers, orange jelly, and a chocolate orange stick. While the shortbread in the description was conspicuous by its absence, and the tarragon could have made itself more obvious, the flavours, textures and temperatures combined to make a refreshing, low-fat, festive and original finish to the meal. On the other side of the table was another delight: a pear millefeuille served with cider ice cream, which again proved fruity, refreshing, contrasting and original.

To end our meal, disappointing coffee was served with far superior petits fours: a cherry marshmallow, a chocolate financier, and even a mini mince pie (whose wafer-thin pastry, full flavours and highly diminutive size all proved notable). This epitomised the beautiful harmonisation of French and English traditions that Gauthier Soho is producing in its kitchen – and is just one of several reasons why we would go back (regardless of the circa £150 bill for two).

21 Romilly Street, London W1D 5AF

Telephone: 020 7494 3111

www.gauthiersoho.co.uk

Chain Review: Langan’s Brasserie Saturday, Aug 18 2012 

Having experienced a shoddy breakfast during our early-morning get-up at the hotel we were staying at in northern France, by the time we’d driven to Calais and got on the ferry to set sail for England we were keen to refuel. We therefore decided on the Langan’s Brasserie option, which has since evolved to cover several branches on board P&O ferries as well as locations scattered throughout west London.

Even if our breakfast in France had been poor, I had ultimately already eaten (cereal and bread) so did not want much. I therefore ordered a rack of toast and enjoyed the complimentary orange juice that was served to every customer and turned out to be of very high quality. My husband plumped for the brasserie’s fuller breakfast option: this offered a starter, full cooked breakfast and additional drink for £13. He ordered a pot of tea as his drink, which I promptly stole. He then went on to feast on porridge and a full English, which consisted of egg, sausage, bacon, black pudding, tomato, mushrooms, and bubble and squeak. As if that wasn’t enough, for your £13 you also get a generous basket of mini bread rolls and pastries served with butter, honey and different types of jam. This was all filling, satisfying, and generally really hit the spot. The portions were large and you could easily do as we did – share one £13 breakfast menu and then order extras if needed. Service throughout this experience was discreet (sometimes too discreet as the staff were not always prompt), friendly, and overall added a touch of class to proceedings.

We were therefore keen to take refuge there again from the ferry’s hustle and bustle during our return crossing about 10 days later. On this occasion it was around tea-time, and unfortunately we had a very different experience. Staff were standoffish almost to the point of being rude when they discovered we weren’t going to be wanting a full meal (and who does want a full meal at 4pm – seriously?) – and in any case it’s not as if they had customers bashing down the door wanting full meals ahead of us, as we along with another party were the only customers in the restaurant (which was a large venue with plenty of covers).

When we did come to order, we had difficulty choosing, as we had hoped for something more along the lines of afternoon tea, which it appears that Langan’s does not offer. Trying to order something remotely appropriate to tea-time, I ended up ordering a cheese plate while my husband ordered a bowl of strawberries and cream (both of these dishes, by the way, turned out to be mediocre and not to the standard of the breakfast we’d enjoyed the previous week). We also then ordered tea, because the weather was miserable and we fancied it. This (I admit) somewhat unconventional order raised a few eyebrows with the staff, but I was not impressed by their reaction, having worked in the service industry previously and knowing that no matter what a customer does, says, or orders (unless you get into the territory of hitting and swearing etc) it is your job to comply and be as polite to them as to any other customer. This did not seem to be a priority at Langan’s on this particular day, where we also heard them make an uncalled-for comment relating to members of the other party’s clothes (I admit they were dressed ridiculously for the venue, but again, this is not staff’s business; they are paying customers like any other). As a result of these reactions, and the generally slow service that followed (despite, again, the fact that the restaurant was practically empty), we were keener to leave as soon as possible, rather than lingering and enjoying the food (as during the first visit).

It seems to me, as someone who used to visit Langan’s aboard P&O Ferries regularly as a child and remembers queues stretching out the door (you used to have to reserve a time for later in the sailing and come back if you weren’t quick enough to get a table at the start), that their reputation has gone downhill in the intervening years. Service and food are inconsistent, and can prove either very good or truly terrible. Langan’s projects a very good image through the presentation of its menus and restaurants, and indeed through its competitive pricing, but at time lets itself down through average food and lacklustre service. It’s possible that its London restaurants provide a sparklier experience, and that indeed the P&O branches vary according to who is running them (meaning perhaps that we got lucky on one day and not on another). However, as a result of the second experience we now feel that we cannot rely upon them adequately for the welcome and high quality promised by the brand. We are now convinced that P&O’s club lounge – which, at £12 per person, promises champagne, tea, coffee and soft drinks included in the price, along with luxurious facilities (which we have now seen, as we went to inquire about the service immediately upon leaving Langan’s), newspapers and snacks. We’ll know what to do next time – and I almost feel sorry for Langan’s that their service is now so inconsistent and has gone downhill in this way.

http://www.langansrestaurants.co.uk/brasserie.html

Langan’s London locations can be found here: http://www.langansrestaurants.co.uk/booking.html

for information about Langan’s Brasserie on the Dover-Calais route, follow this link:http://www.poferries.com/tourist/content/pages/template/onboard_dover_-_calais_langans_brasserie_onboard_-_the_brasserie_DOCA.htm

Restaurant Review: The Thai Orchid, Maidenhead Monday, May 3 2010 

To talk of eating my way across England might be a bit of an exaggeration. I’m actually not very well-travelled. In fact, Birmingham, Cambridge, Coventry and Edinburgh are the only places I’ve been to in the UK that are north of the Watford Gap (unless Oxford also counts? I’ve never been much of a geographer). So I’m really quite the Southern fairy at heart, and as you can imagine I’ve sampled a fair few of its gastronomic delights. My 10-day trip to England last week was full of culinary wonder just by itself.

However, as you will see from this first wave of restaurant reviews, not very much of the food I consumed this week was very ‘British’ at all. Sure, there were goodly amounts of Jammy Dodgers, fruit crumbles, Waitrose sandwiches and whathaveyou (and certainly there will be a few reviews from this trip of outlets selling British food), but perhaps reflective of Britain’s culinary diversity, plenty of it wasn’t.

And so we arrive at our first review: THE THAI ORCHID, located in Maidenhead, a fairly middle-class suburb about 40 minutes west of London. I had visited once before, and the restaurant is a general family favourite. Part of this is probably the fact that it’s less than 15 minutes’ walk from the family seat, meaning that everyone can drink as much as they want. But there’s more to it than this. If you can ignore the restaurant’s proximity to a petrol station and main road, and look the other way, the fact that it’s opposite the Thames (with a nicely picturesque bridge to boot) means it does actually have a rather prettier setting than it first might appear.

Then, of course, there’s the restaurant exterior and interior.

The elephants got nicked, sadly. (You know I said Maidenhead was middle-class? Well, it is – as perhaps evidenced by the copious numbers of flash cars, leafy estates, and brand new yuppie apartment complex round the corner from the Orchid – but it also has a considerable population of chavs.) You also can’t really see it, but to the left there’s also a pretty water feature, which is at its best seen at night. Indoors, you can look forward to sumptuously traditional Thai interiors, including extremely detailed wood carvings on the walls and tables.

The restaurant is always busy, and the night I went was no exception. The restaurant is extremely popular in the area (while this is partly down to the excellent service it provides, it’s also perhaps due to the lack of Thai competition in the area. Chinese and Italian restaurants abound, but this place is more unusual and this is likely recognised by its clientele) and you are advised to book a table in advance. However, this does not seem to affect the rapidity of the service, with waiters and waitresses being attentive, friendly, accurate and speedy.

Speediness in a restaurant is not always a good thing; chances are there’s something wrong with a place that can dish up a risotto in five minutes flat. At the Thai Orchid, though, the quality of the food is definitely not compromised in any way: while no vegetarian food was ordered on this occasion, pork, seafood and chicken were all deemed excellent. The starter plate is perfect for sharing, shows excellent portion control, combines vegetarian and meat dishes effectively, and is beautifully presented. The main courses were kept warm successfully on the table throughout the entire meal and there was enough to go around, but again, portion control was very good: we were satisfied, but not stuffed to bursting and not in a situation where we were leaving a lot of food on the plate.

This left only two things – dessert and wine – and these both carried small disappointments in one way and another. While the wine list was comprehensive, on the occasion that we visited they were unfortunately all out of Thai wine (so it was to the good old faithful Pinot Grigio for us, which, even though it complemented the meals well and was wonderfully cooling and fresh against the spices used, is not exactly authentic). Equally, the desserts trolley is always impressive, providing everything from fruit salad to Crunchie cake (yes, really), this lacks authenticity, and the restaurant would benefit from adding a few more traditional desserts to its trolley (such as coconut ice cream).

After that a few of us had mint tea, which was adequate, but ultimately did not have a patch on the mint tea served in good Moroccan restaurants.

Nevertheless, the Thai Orchid offered a pleasing experience all round – and, of course, living so close meant that we were able to walk off at least a few of the calories we’d just consumed.

********

Address: 2 Ray Mead Road, Maidenhead, Berkshire SL6 8NJ
Tel: 01628 77755 (you might need to stick a 6 in front of that first 7, though)

Average cost per person: £31 (excluding drinks, taxes and tips, as calculated by http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk)

Website: http://www.thaigroup.co.uk