The Pickled Piglet, Birmingham, – 21 June 2013

The food day on this trip was also the day after a day full of Bruce Springsteen music, first in the small venue where Gazza where the starter and gave many Bruce songs his touch, and the main dish –  at the Ricoh Stadium where Bruce rocked the house – and the sweet dessert – where a crowd of 300 peeps enjoyed Mark Wright shacking his legs and singing the songs of Elvis and Bruce into the wee wee hours. Thank you Steve “Gazza”, Bruce Springsteen and Mark Wright for making it a day to remember.

So the game was up for The Pickled Piglet and later Turners to fill this day with food to remember.

The Pickled Piglet has only been open for a good 3 months and is already rising in the tripadvisor charts and elsewhere. It is situated just below the Hyatt Regency Hotel, where a channel and few other pubs and bars would make this little area something to focus on – on the next meetings in the City Planning Commision. Really – this area could be made into somthing quite special – “hell a little touch-up and a little paint”. Birmingham Mail recently made a review giving the restaurant a good 4 stars.

The period building hosting "The Pickled Piglet".

The period building hosting “The Pickled Piglet”.

Inside you will find a pretty light dining room on the first floor with original floors and a bar. Behind the bar smiling Chrissy with her spouse Mark taking care of the cooking.

On Monday evenings they are full, and one can understand why, an offer of dry aged beef with sides at 10 punds seems like an offer too good to refuse.

IMG_5671

Great light room

Chrissy serving the Sauvignon Blanc.

Chrissy serving the Sauvignon Blanc.

I loved the menu, first small tapas like plates to choose from – priced at 4-6 pounds per plate, and a large selection of starters and mains where some of the tapas variations could be found in larger versions it seemed. All this can be found on their homepage  also a description of the breed of pig they use etc.  http://www.thepickledpiglet.co.uk/

So having a dinner planned, we opted for a selection of the smaller tapas – tasting plates. The wine list is kept small and simple, but we were happy with our selected NZ Sauvignon Blanc. I think the bottles on offer ranges from 15-25 pounds and the wines list has a majority of new world wines.

So, with a good review, a perfect host, a great room – we were ready to see if they could live up to our expectations. Here is what we got.

1-2-3

1-2-3

Smoked Mackerel Pate, loved it. great crackers too, Crab and Celariac and Apple Pancakes – wonderful. Among the best of the day. The pancakes being done in the style of a tortilla almost. This was indeed the only complaint in the review of the newspaper, but we loved them, and understood they had adjusted the dish after the review. Third in this selection was Sweet peppers and Rosemary Cheese. Great cheese, but for me the peppers was a bit too watery and not sweet enough.  Nevertheless a great first selection of tapas.

4-5-6

4-5-6

Scallops, Apples and Smoked Bacon. This bacon and apples were done like my mom used to do them, and she would call it “Äblefläsk”. The bacon being a good partner always to the delicate scallop. The scallops were – in fact – damn – cooked a little too long. I am talking a little. But those 10-20 seconds that make them go from just right to just a little chewy. However, there may be a cultural cooking difference here, because at Simpsons last year and Turner later on today, I had the excact same experience and complaint.  And in compare to Simpsons and Turners, these scallops were halfed – making the “over-cooking” more understandable. Besides at Simpsons in 2011 I remember the scallops being a “signature dish”  and that just underlined/exposed the error in my eyes.

Second off, Spiced Lamb and Olive Meat Balls. Now this was probably the best dish. Try them. Soft, smooth, spicy with a lovely dip. Best meatballs ever.

Third one here was the Saffron and honey belly porc. Single complaint here was there were too few. No not really 😉 Great portion size, but I could eat that dish and nothing else the whole day. Every day. Again way up there.

7-8

7-8

Crispy Shredded Porc and Pickles…GREAT taste, great texture, but with the low fat meat used – it seemed a bit dry. All it need to make it perfect would be a small greek yoghurt dip, even a tzatziki without the garlic, maybe mint…;-) Just saying.

The bread selection was great but – the only real flaw of the day -being a little bit “tired” and thus not up to par with the rest of the meal.

Conclusion:

It is always nice when something exceeds your expectations, I had a few, my dining partner – good friend Jörgen had let planning of the whole trip in my hands had no prejudgements whatsoever. But – we were both impressed by the freshness of the produce and cooking. The simple dishes were tastefull and well crafted. Minor flaws did certainly not ruin our dining experience. And often when I do this, look for good things or bad things in food, I tend to forget what it is all about. It is like with a good Bruce concert. There will be ups and downs – favourite parts – more dull parts – but what matters is the feeling you go home with. We left with smiles on our faces, and wish both Chrissy and Mark the best of luck and success with their little piglet. I loved the way you were interested in hearing what we had to say about the food. An the way you both seems like genuine nice people. From the moment we walked in we felt at home. The food is not re-inventing any wheels, but it is well crafted and Mark can surely cook. If you are a tourist in Birmingham, or if you live here – be sure to check this little piglet out…It is worth it.

Jörgen, I thank you for your friendship and both as a friend and dining partner I treasure your opinion. Being in Birmingham I should of course leave you with a Jeff Lynne song – my scores first…

My rating for this visit: Food 7p (10), service 4p (5), ambience 4p (5), Total Score  15p (20)

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Restaurant Clairefontaine, Luxembourg – 12th February 2013

A business lunch is never wrong, when one is invited and the venue is Clairefontaine. My good friend Sam wanted to discuss a future family highlight and I was happy to offer my advice and connections and hopefully we will also provide the wines to the upcoming festive occasion.

Impressive building, impressive weather.

Impressive building, impressive weather.

Sam has not been in Clairefontaine for quite a while but it was clear he felt at ease and enjoyed every minute there. From the warm greetings from the staff till the moment we left a good 2 hours later with full bellies and happy smiles.

Getting ready for service...

Getting ready for service…

Here is some impressions of the a la carte dining we did.

Amuse 1

Amuse 1

Amuse 2....

Amuse 2….

As I have stated many times before…the amuses at Clairefontaine are mostly very solid, and there is always an idea and a taste behind what you are offered. I especially today liked the fois gras thing with the crispy orange slice.

Scallops with truffles..

Scallops with truffles..

Or as it is described on the menu – Le carpaccio et le tartare de Saint Jacques Normandes mariés au céleri et à la truffe Mélanosporum, une vinaigrette d’échalotes confites plusieurs heures. This is one of the signature dishes of Arnaud and always return everyy now and then on the menu in basically the same presentation. I asked Sam to be the judge today. And for him it was a total balance and explosion of good taste. So he rated it a clear 10p. If I should say something negative about the dish 😉 – it would be the 4 leaves of salad, which I think did not fit in the whole picture. But man I do like the dish. 8.5p in my book.

I convinced Sam to try the waguy burger, which I had on my last occasion.

Hamburger Kobe style, with fois gras and a great reduction.

Hamburger Kobe style, with fois gras and a great reduction.

Like last time the potato chips are more potatos than chips, but I must admit I like them like that. Again Sam was over the moon with the dish, and gives it a 9p

Wake me up for this one..

Wake me up for this one…..

My choice today was lamb. I know Arnaud does a GREAT job when ever lamb is on the menu. Today it was one of my favourites…Lamb in different presentations. On the menu the description is again a bit more detailed I guess – L’agneau de lait en 4 versions, une déclinaison autour des légumes oubliés, un jus court infusé au thym frais et à l’ail doux. Loved it. 9p

So…full of taste and impressions…we felt no need to order dessert….but…..temptation is a devil – and so the offering of the market menu – a take on pinacolada, my favourite and not very masculine cocktail – well it had to be tried.

If you like Pinacolada...

If you like Pinacolada…

Just like with the Banana split you get at Schloss Berg, this is all one need in a dessert. I love these takes on classic dishes or tastes. And this was my best dish of the day – even on a day where the competition was tough. 10p.

Conclusion:

We decided to end the lunch at my dining table, opening two nice bottles…yeah I know Gijs, – but I got carried away 😉 And Sam loved them both as he did todays lunch. It is always nice when you decide on a restaurant for a friend, that it lives up to expectations – or even surpass these. Today we could have been in no better place in Luxembourg. Thank you all for the great service and inspiring food. One of my best meals here ever. Sam, thanks for lunch and your friendship.

My rating for this visit: Food 9p (10), service 5p (5), ambience 5p (5), Total Score  19p (20)

“If you like Pina Coladas, and get caught in the rain.
If you’re not into yoga, if you have half-a-brain.
If you like making love at midnight, in the dunes of the cape.
I’m the love you’ve looked for, write to me, and escape.”

Restaurant La Mirabelle, Luxembourg – 9 February 2012

Restaurant La Mirabelle is the top brand of the group of restaurants in Luxembourg that call themselves – Espaces Saveurs. These days they celebrate the 20th anniversary of La Mirabelle – but actually the collaboration between Olivier Fellmann and Dominique Colaianni started already in 1987 in Cave Gourmandes. So actually the two of them celebrate their “Silver Wedding” this year. Together with some investors they have build up a small imperium of restaurants that includes Come Prima, Goethe Stuff and Sapori among others.

Today I was invited as a “member of the press” -the new press so to speak. Newspapers are slowly but surely dying at this age in time. Unfortunately. I wonder what our kids, or grandchildren will thin kwhen we tell them about the time when you went to the shop every morning to pay for “old” news. The fastness of our world is not always a good thing I reckon.

Nevertheless, here I was, proud to be invited – and happy that La Mirabelle has recognized this change of the tide – by the way as the first restaurant in Luxembourg I know of.

So it was a big table – 13 people – fixed menu – in one of the small rooms upstairs – which I most certainly prefer to the semi-modern styling of the the main restaurant.

And here it was the table – om the table to greet us the usual sundried tomato “mash” – and the rilette with freshly roasted ciabatta. Great stuff. All you need. No need for any other amuses in such a restaurant in my opinion

Sundried tomatoes with bread

Terrine of fois gras

Lovely presentation, the gelantine to the right was done of – I think pomegranate – anyway, I think it was a great mix- the pomegranate with  the added orange balancing out the fatness of the dish. Served with a glass of sweet Chenin Blanc from Loire, but still with enough acidity to make the wine lighter and thus not as irritating sweet as many Sauternes. 8p

The wine for the dish to follow

My kinda wine...

Really a crowd pleaser, not even too sunny or too much wood. Just a good balanced Chardonnay. Not the depth or minerality of a lets say Chassagne Montrachet – but it does not need to have that in my opinion. I would order this wine – or buy a box given the chance.

Second dish…

Scallops with vegetables julienne, and a small coconut inspired sauce on the side.

Scallops has to be cooked perfectly to be interesting. It is very weasy to cook them to much, and too little I find them too fishy for my taste. These were cooked just as they should be. The plate with the running green stripe from side to side a beauty. I love Asian cooking. But I adore French cooking with Asian touches. The coconut would probably offend most French gastronomes…but I thought it was just right. Not to dominant, just a good companion to the still crisp vegetables. 8p

Filet of veal

Great looking dish, great jus, great creme of the root of persille, stunning millefeuille of vegetables, celaric, carrots…I think was in 10 or 12 different vegetables – slowly cooked, but wauw…what a result. With a touch of sea-salt on the top. That part of the dish was the highlight of the day for me and deserves an extra 0.5 point. Meat perfectly cooked. Great dish – really. 8.5p

With the veal we has a light female style of Bourgogne

Your average good Chambolle Musigny 2006

This wine did not blow me away as such, but off course Pinot Noir is a perfect companion to veal – and I think the raspberry in the wine goes well with fois gras, and as you can see from the picture the filet was done Rossini Style. Maybe a touch of raspberry within the dish would have brough that more out in the wine. But then again it might  have taken away the focus away from the lovely “millefeiuille”. Guess you can´t have it all.

Most appropriate - dessert based on mirabelle

Especially the caramel stribe behind the “cake” and the nutty ice cream made this dish work in my book. It had softness, crispness, sweetnes…and was actually a very light and nice finish to a great menu. 6.5p What followed was some sweets and coffee.

Here is two shots of the hosts of the day…

Dominique Colaianni

Olivier Fellmann

My conclusion:

As I said, being recognized as a member of the press, was something else for me. I know it is the ways of the world and there is nothing that can stop that. Still somebody need to be the first and Luxembourg is normally not that innovative to say the least. So I thank you Mr. Fellmann and Mr. Colaianni for that. The menu today was a step up in compare to the menu I had last month here. But then – it was a set menu for a set number of people. But it was good. It was not perfectly matched with the cold weather outside, I mean this menu I could repeat in the summer without a problem. But it was dishes that all looked and tasted nice, all were justified and all had great ingredients or good produce treated correctly and with a great result.

I much prefer the rooms on this floor to the large modern room down-stairs – but that is off course a matter of taste.

On another note I got to talk to Olivier Fellmann about Come Prima. And I was so happy to learn that they offer gluten-free pasta dishes. Come Prima we actually gave up when the gluten allergy of the missus was diagnozed. So – Come Prima – see you very soon….. Great news. Actually it always a pleasure to talk to professionals – about their experiences with the business, with wines, with ratings etc. etc. That makes it all worthwhile.

As for my rating today -service – well we had great service – but it was a closed table in a closed room. But I have judged it as I would have done it in the restaurant.

Thanks for having us.

My rating for this visit:

Food  8p (10) service 4.5p (5) ambience 4p (5), Total Score  16.5p (20)

Simpsons, Birmingham – 12 February 2011

Going to Birmingham for the first time in my life, I decided to pay this 1 star michelin rated restaurant a visit. My friend could not make it, so I had to dine alone.

Outside the Simpsons

I was warmly greeted by the staff, and placed in a slim “hallway” between one of the two dining rooms and the terrasse. A loud air-conditioner somewhat irritated me but apart from that it was a nice spot where I could follow the waiters and the plates coming out of the kitchen and look at the beautiful terrace where I am sure many good summer evenings could be spend.

View outside from my table

Having time to kill before the “Born to run, an evening for Dan –  show” in the evening I opted for the big tasting menu and after talking with the young French female Sommelier I opted for a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc/Semillion from Pemberton, WA and a bottle of NZ Pinot Noir. Neither of the wines were masterpieces, but they did their job, especially the white wine was a nice companion to most of the dishes.

And here is what I had

The amuse, A mushroom shot...

Citrus cured Salmon, avocado purêe, micro herb salad, Auruga Caviar

A great first dish. 8.5p

Great selection of homemade bread, loved it.

Some of the best bread I have had in any restaurant 10p

Pan-fried Fois Gras, banana purêe, pain d'epice, salted pecan nuts

I do not think I have ever had Fois Gras mixed with banana before, but it worked. Great dish. 9p

Seared Ross Shire Scallop, orzo, squid, chorizo, broccoli, preserved lemon, cuttle fish sauce

Great bed of Orzo etc.. The Scallop slightly overcooked. As I mentioned to the waitress – I have no idea why the broccoli was on the plate. Added nothing to the picture or taste – not the strongest dish of the day. 7.5p

Ballotine of Mackerel, chicory marmalade, lemon confit, lentils du Puy, sweet/sour Mackerel nuggets

Back to form. The lemon worked well, the marmalade and also the bitterness of the endives leafs did magic 8.5p

Home-salted organic Cod, butternut purêe, baby spinach, capers, sultanas, crispy-fried whitebait

One of the strongest dishes. The fish cooked to perfection 9p

Tete de Moine, Sardinian flatbread, carrot & sultana salad

Wonderful cheese, for me this could have been the last dish, since I was running out of steam 8p

Pre-dessert

To be honest I forgot what this was, I guess it did not do a lot of things to me, positively or negatively.

White chocolate & green tea mousse, sesame seed ice-cream

Very beautiful presentation. Loved it. But the taste is difficult for me to rate since I rather dislike green tea…..but I loved the details on the serving, the pale colours. So I shall give it at good 9p

Sweets...

Conclusion

I spend a perfect 150 min. All by myself, but never alone. The friendly staff, especially the beautiful waitress Kim, made sure I was always taken care of and entertained, and she even stood up for my old man flirting.  So I shall be happy to be back with the family or with friends. Beside the restaurant, Simpsons offer a few beautiful hotel rooms and even a weekly cooking school which apparently is very popular and something I would be interested in booking.

Only one or two flaws, being the in my book “misplaced” broccoli and the dull pre-dessert – the staff however as well as the outstanding quality of the bread and the overall good quality of the food, surely made this a lunch to remember.

http://www.simpsonsrestaurant.co.uk/

My rating for this visit: Food 8.5p (10), service 5p (5), ambience 3.5p (5), total score for this visit  17p (20)

Lameloise, Chagny, France – 13 November 2010

Lameloise was the first 3 star michelin experience in my life some 15 years ago. So it will always have a special place in my heart. Some years ago it lost its third star only to regain it I think two years after. Locals shook their heads when it happened and still talk about it today. For them Lameloise has been the local pride since the 1920’s (!) and for them there has been no decline in quality over the years. There has been a change in the kitchen however. Jaques Lameloise who took over the family business in 1971 to become the youngest chef in France to receive the 3 stars in 1979 has stepped aside and left Eric Pras and Frederic Lamy in charge of the kitchen, however the Lameloise family remain involved in the running of the Lameloise business.

Last year they opened a Brasserie, “Pierre & Jean” which we were lucky to visit the evening before, but  I shall come back to that in another review.

But today was the day to “pass on the torch”  to the new generation, making it both Oscar and Emils first visit ever visit to a 3 star michelin establishment. Fellow diner good friend from Norway Kjetil and his Sebastian funny enough shared that feeling. Lameloise being Kjetils first 3 star restaurant some years ago, and Sebastians first time today. So there was thats special felling in the air when entering the restaurant. Sebastian told us – where are the stars – he expected them to hang in the windows. But as Kjetil explained him, sometimes when you are that good, you dont need to show the world…the world will know.

After a rainful arrival the day before in Bourgogne, the sun came out a bit and this is what that looks like in Chagny in November

The beautiful old building of Hotel and Restaurant Lameloise

Two different tablets were served with the aperitive

Olives, Marinated Garlic and Salmon Creme

The quality of the green olives outstanding, as good as they get.

Second round of tastings...

Fois Gras, Macrel, Tartare and….I forgot. Great, especially the Macrel on Red Beet….

Last greeting from the kitchen, Fois Gras Creme Brulee and Cold Chestnut Soup

Emil, having tried mostly the bread at this point and the escargot bisquits of the second round of amuses...

Oscar was not really sure what to do with this one...better wait for the pasta...

As for drinking. The boys opted for Limonade. The grown-ups a beautiful Meursault 1. Cru from Jaques Prieur, and a Gevrey Chambertin 2008 from Meo-Camuzet, both stunning and good companions, The fruity red going very well with both the lobster, the sea bass and the beef.

A 3 course menu for small children comes at 25 eur, Breast of Chicken with pasta being the main dish. All Amuses and Greetings were also offered to the kids (nice)

Fois Gras "wrapped" in sliced Potatoes and Cabbage, topped with Truffles. Truly wonderful. Simple ingredients, wonderful result.

Langoustines

A typical classic presentation at Lameloise. Not to much of a fuzz, but clearly a kitchen who knows what to do and how to present a wonderful dish, without “re-inventing the wheel”.

Lobster with Sabajone

Old friend and fellow diner Kjetil claims two things. 1) to have (caught and) eaten hundreds of lobsters….and 2) That this was the most perfect lobster dish he had ever had. He actually had tears in his eyes eating it. Softy.

Sea Bass with Scallops

Scallops and Sea Bass cooked perfect, the Sea Bass being a bit “robust” in the taste – making this the weakest dish of the day.

Beef Charolles with Vegetables

This was my main dish. Great basic cooking and presentation. However, I do prefer old fashioned braised or grilled meat. I am little bit tired of meat being cooked to perfection at 48 degress during x hours. I want a bit more roasted crust, a bit more variation with the given piece of meat. But perfectly (slowly cooked) it was. Call me old fashioned.

What a beauty, the pre-dessert, great great Mango. I do love Mango.

 

Chocolate dessert

As good as the first time. Some things dont ever need to change. I remember having more or less the same presentation 15 years back.

and then came the sweets….

First round...

and the last round.

Conclusion

For me the legend is still there, so is the “romance”. I love the old rooms, the service, the wonderful bread, the classic presentations of good produce, cooked to perfection and ever so beautifully presented. I am happy that this pearl remains alive and kicking – and I am sure the new team will keep Lameloise at this top level. In compare to other of my favourites, for example Le Cinq in Paris, the service is a bit more distant. Its friendly and as good as it gets, and they are very good with the children – but it is not as “family-like” or “young” as I do prefer. But I guess a bit of old fashioned top service is good to experience once in a while, and thus know that some things in the world do not need to change. Add a huge wine list and the rest of Bourgogne just around the corner, you will leave happy and content – and you will be sure to have spend some memorable hours in the hand of people who clearly know what they are doing. I am happy that the next visit is already booked, even if half a year away.

As for the boys including visitor Sebastian from Oslo. Whenever you get a big older and read this -let it be known, that there were 3 proud parents in the room today (Siri, you would have been too). We know that we sometime expect a lot from you…sitting on a chair for 3 hours among other…..but you did so very well today as throughout the whole Bourgogne trip, a trip that was short on childrens activities and heavy on dining and drinking. Thanks for making parenthood all worthwhile. Big boys. We hope someday you will pass the torch on to your offspring. And by the way…thanks to Nintendo…without whom….

http://www.lameloise.fr

My rating for this visit: Food 9p (10), service 5p (5), ambience 5p (5), total score for this visit  19p (20)

L’ Annexe, Luxembourg – 29 October 2010

L’ Annexe is probably the single restaurant I have visited most in my life – despite the fact that it has only been open for 3 years. And an instant success it has been. As I mentioned before it is probably the best price/quality restaurant in Luxembourg, and out of my hundreds of visits here for lunch or dinner, private or business I have only been disappointed once or twice.

On this Friday evening the Restaurant was (once again) fully booked. We had reserved our “Stammtisch” with good friends, a tradition we have developed this year. Its a good way to finish the week, seeing them, enjoying the happy hour, and not the least – good food. Starting off with a Leffe Blonde, my favourite “almost local” beer. Probably the best beer in the world, sorry Carlsberg.

On this night we drank local Pinot Gris from Ahn and a beautiful 2005 Cornas.

Scallops to share and porc chops for the men, and a tomato/goat cheese crumble for the women.

Scalllops (the portion was halfed, this being half a portion !)

Tomato and Goat Cheese Crumble

Porc chop with peas and sauce au morilles

Now to call the above a porc chop would be the understatement of the year. It was more like “Half a porc”. But it was cooked to perfection, tender. The peas and bacon lovely, the morilles sauce very tasty – and almost to powerful for the Cornas.

Mind you this is Brasserie food and service, we never felt left alone in the corner. And as one of the few restaurants in town, the staff is so children friendly, even on busy nights. And we thank you for that guys. That means a lot for stressed out parents. The food tasted just as good as the pictures indicate.

I can only again suggest anybody who has not tried it. Book now. And say hi to Jerome from “Foodwinerocknroll”, who knows – he might let an extra glass flow, either your way or my way. Maybe Im beeing a bit generous with my rating, but please understand – when you have good food, it does not need to be *** michelin. And add the sober presentation and wonderfull staff, this Brasserie is simply unbeatable in Luxembourg.

My rating for this visit: Food 7.5p (10), service 4.5p (5), ambience 4p (5), total score for this visit  16p (20)

Clairefontaine, Luxembourg – 29 October 2010

One of my longest periods of absence….I think 100 days or so from my favourite local restaurant….too long in my opinion.

But it was great to be back. Arnaud and Edwige used the summer vacation to give the restaurant an “up-date” interiour wise, the first since they took over the restaurant many years ago. The old ambience was classic and a bit old fashioned, I loved it. So a bit frighthened I felt, entering the room. I hate changes.

The new style, is lighter, more red, more modern. However with respect to the history of the room. With one or two minor objections, I think they have generally speaking succeeded in transforming the place into a more contemporary style.

Good to see old friends in the service, having the usual VIP treatment, blind tastings etc….It felt good to be back.

Amuses, food and sweets were brilliant, usual high standard.

Heres a few impressions…

Fois gras brick...brilliant !

Amuse....

Scallops....

The missus finished the plate…..(!) so it must have been very very nice. It sure looked brilliant.

Venison....

My own selection of cheeses, all very very good.

Cheese is nice.

So was the lunch in general. Usual high standard (which is top notch for Luxembourg)….I hope and promise – it will not be 100 days again before Im back. Thanks for having us and congratulations on your “new” restaurant.

My rating for this visit: Food 8.5p (10), service 5p (5), ambience 4,5p (5), total score for this visit  18p (20)