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the starr, great dunmow

The Starr, Great Dunmow

I’ve been so busy recently that I’ve got rather behind with a load of posts that I wanted to make.  I’m on call this weekend, so I’ve got a chance to catch up with some!

A couple of weeks ago, me and The Man managed to make it to the quite frankly rather startling mileston of seven whole years together!  Having been so poor for so long, we’ve never really been able to mark these occasions properly, so I made the decision to book us somewhere nice to eat, and after a lot of ‘research’, I decided on The Starr Restaurant With Rooms in Great Dunmow, as the reviews of the food were fantastic, and the idea of not having to go very far to get back ‘home’ was very appealing.

So I booked their most expensive room – on the basis that there was a free-standing bath IN the bedroom, which felt rather decadent!

 

Doctor's Pond, just at the back of The Starr

I’m an Essex Girl, and have often got upset that people don’t realise what gorgeous little villages there are in my home county, and Great Dunmow is a lovely example.  The Starr itself is a gorgeous 15th Century buildin, with the rooms just across the courtyard at the back, in what looks to be converted stables.

Our room was lovely – really spacious, all dark oak furniture, a four-poster bed, and that bath.

The Man has a go in the bath

There was a gorgeous HUGE separate bathroom with a massive shower, and we found a perfect use for the bidet.

Some lovely 'Naked Wines'

I felt extremely happy, relaxed and decadent sipping wine whilst relaxing in a deep bubble-bath, watching the TV whilst chatting to The Man as he lounged across our four-poster bed.  It was the perfect pre-dinner setting!

So, then we made our way to the restaurant, which took us at least 2 minutes!  We were seated in the tiny little bar area, which was bustling as the restaurant was (unsurprisingly) fully-booked.  We had our drinks order taken, and were given some rather scrummy little ‘amuse bouche’, while we perused the menu before being taken to our table, which was in their lovely conservatory area.  One was chicken liver pate on little brioche toasts and the other a deep fried crispy potato and cheese concoction.  Sound simple but gave us high hopes for what was to come.

Chicken and cep ravioli on wilted spinach with a chicken and celeriac veloute

This was my starter choice, and was absolutely lovely, the ravioli filling meaty and earthy and the sauce flavoursome but light and velvety – the only very minor criticism I could have had was that the pasta could have done with being oh so very slightly thinner!

Monkfish, cod and prawn in a fish soup

The Man was extremely happy with his starter – I’m sure it had a more descriptive name, but it was on the specials board and I can’t remember exactly what it was – it was 2 weeks ago!!  but apparently it was totally delish.

Braised Ox-Cheeks "bourguignon" topped with foie gras

The Man’s choice of main (yes Linda, more ‘face’!) – look at the amount of foie gras on there!! The cheeks were fall-apart tender, the foie-gras rich and the sauce unctious.  We ordered a side of triple-cooked chips as a side, mainly to go with this (and the staff said this was a favourite combination for the boys) – oh my GOD, if you ever go to The Starr, you HAVE to have the chips, they were wonderful!

Prior's Hall Farm Poached & Roasted Pork Fillet, apple puree, fidget pie

How pretty is that?  The pork was moist and tender, and very ‘piggy’, the cabbage with smoked bacon was just SLIGHTLY salty, but worked well when eaten with all the other elements.  The fidget pie pastry was light, almost melting into nothingness – filled with a lovely porky-appley stew.

Chocolate Brownie toasted marshmallow parfait

The Man went for the cheese board with some smelly cheeses, celery, quince chutney and biscuits and I opted for the chocolate offering.  I’m not altogether what was in the little shot glass, it tasted rather like a ‘condensed milk foam’ topped with chocolate.  The brownies were happily nutless and the marshmallow coated in a knd of biscuity crumb.

However, by this stage I was starting to feel rather full, and was unable to finish it much to my shame.

Coffee and petit fours

I did manage to help The Man with some of the petit-fours though.  I had one of the little sponges (the smaller one) and half a chocolate swirly thing, which were just perfect.

And then we went back to our room, finished our wine and had one of the best night’s sleep I have EVER had on the most comfortable bed EVER.

The Starr is lovely, high quality but comfortable with polite but friendly staff – they obviously take a lot of pride in what they do – I highly recommend it.

It was the perfect anniversary 🙂

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grand union, camden

March 31, 2011 2 comments

I just spotted a couple of photos that I’d taken and realised that I had forgotten to post about my trip to Grand Union with my mate earlier this month.

As with my trip to The Montcalm at the weekend, I had a Groupon voucher that was rapidly coming to its expiry date.  I had paid £12 for a £35 voucher to be spent on burgers, pizzas or cocktails.  I had never been in a Grand Union, even though I pass by the one in Camden almost every day.

I’d booked ‘an area’ online as per the Groupon instructions – which felt a bit weird for 2 people, but there was actually a really nice, rather large table reserved for us, ready and waiting when we got there.  it was out the back, which I hadn’t realised was there, and was a lovely space with big comfy chairs, dark tables and gorgeous mismatched lamps lighting it.

We got a HUGE jug of ‘Gingerly Does It’ which was a gorgeous concoction of Finlandia Vodka, Chambord, ginger beer, passionfruit,
strawberries and lime.  A hell of a lot better than the Celtic Warriors I had been drinking the night before.

Gingerly Does It - much yumminess!

We decided to opt for burgers.  It seemed rather steep to pay £6.45 – £10.45 for a burger (without chips!) in what was essentially a bar, but that was the beauty of having the voucher!

I opted for a ‘Fully Loaded’ – Beef patty, mature Cheddar,bacon, onion rings, BBQ sauce, £8.95 and my mate had a New Yorker – Beef patty, salami, Monterey Jack cheese, pickles, £8.45.

We sat, relaxed and chatted in the lovely atmosphere and THIS is what was brought out to us!

That's not a burger it's a mountain!!

The burgers were moist and cooked to medium and the toppings were fresh (although my onion rings were a bit pedestrian).  The fries were fry-ey and we were pretty happy with our lot – especially at OUR price.

There was a fab atmosphere, the food was nice enough, but I’m not sure I’d pay full whack for what is essentially just a burger.  I’d definitely go for cocktails and they do have offers on the burgers frequently, so I’d have them then 🙂

tlsee afternoon tea at the howard

February 27, 2011 6 comments

Ages ago, I bought a couple of Groupon vouchers to get afternoon tea at The Howard Swissotel in Temple – £19 each instead of £39, a bargain!

So, me and my mate (who is also an afternoon tea lover) decided to have ‘tea for dinner’ one night a couple of weeks ago, and sed teh vouchers.

The Howard is just behind Temple station, but unfortunately The Mauve Lounge where the tea is served is on the ground floor of the hotel, which means you don’t get a view across the river.  However, the room IS very nice, contemporary and stylish without being too over done.

 

Finger sandwiches, fresh fruit tartlets, macaroons, cakes

So out came our ‘starters’.  the sandwiches were, well, sandwiches.  I have to admit, they weren’t particularly special – unlike the ones I’d had at Claridges.  In fact, they felt a little heavy  which isn’t the way that you want to start off what is going to be quite a large meal.

The fruit tartlets were gorgeous – thin, buttery pastry filled with yumminess.  the macaroons were also extremely nice, light and flavourful – there was one chocolate and one vanilla.

We then got our scones, clotted cream and jam – one fruit and one plain scone each.  Again, they were unfortunately a little on the heavy side, which meant that we found it all rather difficult to get through.  in fact, by the time we finished them, we had really had our fill!

 

Yes, I took the photo with the tray upside-down!

This part is what makes the TLSee Afternoon tea unique – all the little 3D chocolates and biscuits.  But we really were too stuffed and too full of tea to even attempt to make a dent in these OR the two cupcakes (one lemon, one chocolate) and two slices of almond, walnut and chocolate cake!

However, The Howard are obvioulsy very used to this happening, as the waitress came over to us and asked if we would like our leftovers packaged up.

 

Classy doggy bags!

How cute are these?!  They just split the leftovers between the two of us, and The Man and The Girl chomped their way through all the goodies over that night and the next day!  Very happily!

It was a lovely evening – had fun with my mate, nice surroundings, lovely tea (the waitress noticed when I was idiot enough to forget to use my strainer and replaced my cup and brewed me another pot!), and very yummy sweet things.  However, there wasn’t the delicacy to it all as you would hope for from an ‘elegant’ afternoon tea, so it was often rather too heavy and filling.  the doggy bags kind of made up for that though!

I’ve just looked at their website, and it looks like they have reduced their price to £32 now.  I was happy paying £19, but I don’t think I’d have been thrilled to pay over £30 for it.

The staff were lovely though, and it was a good experience!

st john’s chop house, cambridge

February 19, 2011 2 comments

For my birthday a couple of weeks ago, The Man whisked me off to Cambridge for a night away.  I just haven’t got around to blogging about it yet, LOL

We were booked into a lovely hotel and got a cab down to the restaurant.

St John’s Chop House is part of a small chain of restaurants around Cambridgeshire, although each seems unique.

The restaurant is gorgeous – all blocky wooden tables, big fireplace and a gentle elegance – but, the only way I can describe it is ‘quite manly’.  This really is a ‘boy’ restaurant – if you don’t like big hearty, meaty dishes then I would advise you to go elsewhere.

I don’t have a flash on my phone camera, and the restaurant was lit by candlelight, so I apologise for the photos.

Chicken & Walnut Terrine, Port, Orange & Onion Marmalade

The Man’s starter was very nice, with a good consistency but we felt it was rather under-seasoned.  The marmalade was absolutely stunning though.

Scallops with buttered leeks and bacon

My starter was absolutely delicious.  This was on the daily specials blackboard, and probably the lightest dish on the menu, and considering what I moved on to – I am SO glad this was my choice.  The scallops were fat and juicy and perfectly cooked (and seasoned), the leeks were buttery, and the bacon salty.  The ‘crumbs’ on the side seemed to be some kind of flavoured salt (I couldn’t quite place it), but I don’t think the dish needed it really…I ended up leaving most of it.

Sirloin Steak, Bashed Carrot & Swede, Chips & Sauce off the Board

The Man went for the peppercorn sauce – and he loved every single medium rare bite of it all!  The chips were more like big fat potato wedges – everything was hearty and full of flavour.  We’d ordered some red cabbage too (as we both have a weakness for it!) and that was extremely yummy!

Braised Beef Cheek, Colcannon, Parsnips & Gravy

Oh my God!  I had never seen such a HUGE hunk of meat on my plate.  It was beautifully tender – just falling to pieces under my fork.  The gravy was absolutely delish – and I adore parsnips.  There was just SO much of it.  I couldn’t finish it – and I HAD to leave room for dessert as it was the first nice meal that The Man had taken me out for in years.

I didn’t take photos of dessert – I went for the chocolate mint mousse, which wa deeply chocolatey, but could have done with being a bit lighter considering the haviness of the main.  The Man went for cheeses.

I highly recommend St John’s Chop House – as I say, it’s elegant, gorgeous surroundings, lovely atmosphere, brilliant but relaxed service, great wine list and fantastically cooked food.  however, make sure you skip lunch – and preferably only have a light breakfast!

The people on the next table had the slow roast shoulder of lamb sharing dish, and it looked absolutely fantastic – definitely one to try.  If we go again, we’d consider the Beef Wellington to share (one of The Man’s favourites).  That’s if he isn’t tempted away by the ‘Suet Pudding of the Day’!  (See what I mean abotu it being very much a boy’s restaurant?)

I am so glad that I made the decision to walk the 20 minutes across the top of Jesus Green to get back to the hotel – I think our bodies were grateful for the post-scoff exercise!

baumanns brasserie (again!)

February 7, 2011 5 comments

As a treat for my parents, on Thursday, I took a day off and took them to the gorgeous Baumanns Brasserie in Coggeshall.  This wasn’t the first time I’d been, and you can see my last review here.

We were lucky, in anotherwise dreary week, the sun came out and shone down on us.  A good omen indeed.  I had told my parents not to have any breakfast so that they could make the most of a proper three course lunch being bought for them.

The menu had changed beyond recognition since I had gone in April, and the three of us had a really hard time choosing what we wanted, as it all sounded so yummy.  however, the one thing my dad DID know he wanted was a cheeseboard to end with, and the menu encourages diners to choose their cheeses with their starters, in order to let them breathe.  Eww!

We had a bread selection while we were choosing:  Garlic butter bread, Sun blushed tomato butter bread and cheese & bacon bread.  And very nice it was too!

“Grass” & spicy meatball soup

I asked what the “grass” was, and the wiater informed me that there was actually a mixture of specially cultivated grass and lettuce in this particular batch.  I wouldn’t have known it was grass if I hadn’t been told.  I guess it’s no more unusual than Watercress soup!  However, I was surprised at how rich it tasted.  Deep and clean with gorgeous little balls of meat with a little chili hit.

Hoi sin duck gyozas & Thai salad of crispy mango & toasted peanuts

My mum’s choice – which we all settled on at one stage!  These little gyozas were gorgeous.  So extremely crispy, with rich, flavourful tender duck and a fresh salad.

Foie gras crème brulee, warm brioche & black grape jelly

The foie gras brulee was certainly unusual.  very rich as expected, but the cornichons and black grape jelly cut through that admirably, and the little homemade brioche was gorgeous.  The only criticism we had was that the brulee was rather runny.

Jerk marinated corn fed chicken, dirty rice & peas, peppered pineapple relish

The jerk chicken was moist and tender and the seasoning balanced beautifully – my mum especially loved the pineapple relish.

Seared rib eye of beef, Mozzarella & chive croquettes, Café de Paris butter

The parsnip crisps were so very crisp and the steak was cooked to my dad’s medium-rare perfection.  The little croquettes were lush, but the star of the show was the gorgeous sauce that came with it.

Butter sautéed veal parmigiana, filled with gruyere & bresaola, tomato & basil chutney

Veal doesn’t seem to appear on enough menus as far as I’m concerned, so whenever I see it, I tend to order it.  I am so glad I had this – the veal was moist and tender, the gruyere beautifully oozey and the bresaola just added the right amount of saltniess.  The chutney cut through it all, and the creamy sauce was just enough to cover the spaghetti.

Cheese with biscuits and home made membrello

I have no idea what ‘membrello’ is – but the texture made me think it was some kind of quince puree – but with a nice spiciness to it.  My dad went for the gruyere, couer de lion, dorset blue and smoked applewood!  And only MY dad would think to do bunny ears on a photo of cheeses…*sigh*

Iced apple parfait, toffee apple, apple sauce and apple cream

For me, this was my favourite dish out of the whole meal.  I made lots of VERY appreciative noises over this!  The iced parfait was gorgeous and creamy without being too rich, the apple sauce cut through the sweetness of everything, and the little toffee apple was unbeliveable.  It was like a piece of stewed apple inside the crisp toffee shell – and it was still warm!!  Fantastic!

My mum opted just for coffee – so we had coffees too and she had ALL of our petit fours!

I think I should mention that on a Toptable 50% off food deal, the whole thing including service came to just over £60 including a drink each and the coffees.  Bargain!!  Even better, I think I’ve now got enough Toptable points to get two free 2-course meals there sometime.

york and albany, camden

January 31, 2011 4 comments

The York & Albany restaurant area

For Christmas , me and a couple of my mates decided that we wouldn’t buy each other presents, but go our for a nice meal in January.  So, we chose to go to York & Albany, as none of us had been, and we’d heard good things about it.

It was a good chance to take advantage of their ‘Early Supper’ menu too – which is available 6-7pm and is £18 for 2 courses or £21 for 3.  I thought it was a pretty good deal, considering.

I only realised afterwards that both of my mates chose exactly the same three courses, whereas I had something completely different!

I had:
Chicken liver and foie gras parfait, quince chutney
Parmesan gnocchi, field mushrooms cream, truffle butter sauce
Vanilla cream, rhubarb infused with gin and juniper, ginger ice-cream

They had:
Smoked haddock and horseradish scotch eggs, tartare sauce
Braised pigs cheeks, confit shoulder, kohlrabi purée, red wine shallots
Dark chocolate ganache, caramelised bananas, honeycomb

My starter was absolutely gorgeous – the chicken liver & foie gras parfait was rich but light and the quice chutney was beautifully spiced and a perfect accompaniment.  Gnocchi is one of those things that when it os done right, it is a thing of beauty, but when it’s wrong, it’s just bearable.  This was luckily the former, with a selection of different mushrooms, and a sauce of some sort that I couldn’t really place but was totally yummy.  And my dessert was fresh, the vanilla cream a perfect boob-wobble, the rhubarb sharp but not bitter and the ginger ice-cream to die for!

In contrast, one of my mates complained that while his starter was yummy, it was rather on the small side, his main wa snice, but both of them needed to order a side (tenderstem broccoli with orange and honeyed parsnips – the parsnips were gorgeous!), which added to the bill, and that the dessert was disappointing – it was literally a quinelle of chocolate ganache, bananas and honeycomb.  The ganache was REALLY rich.  The honeycomb was yummy!  He felt that considering it’s a ‘Ramsay’, it didn’t seem anything that special.

I, however, had a lovely time and thought it was well worth it 🙂  I loved the atmosphere – it was pleasant without being pretentious, and the service was impeccable without being over-bearing.  I thoroughly recommend it!

hakkasan, mayfair

November 19, 2010 1 comment

Hakkasan - same styling, different branch!

On Tuesday, I was completely spoiled and treated to something way out of my usual experience range.

Hakkasan, the Cantonese restaurant in Hanway Place has had a Michelin star since 2003, and the very few people I know that have been have been exceedingly complimentary.

There is another Hakkasan in Abu Dhabi and one in Miami, and last night the brand new one opened in Mayfair.

My boss is friendly with the manager, who was previously running the Hanway Place restaurant, and was lucky enough to be invited for a complimentary lunch as part of the launch celebrations – and he chose to take me.  Unfortunately, because I was with him, I was unable to take any photos, which I was really dying to do, because everything was so…perfect!

You wouldn’t know that the restaurant was there (in Bruton Street) if you didn’t know it was there.  I was physically looking for it, and almost missed it.  There is no sign, just the logo cut into the plate above the door.  all very minimalist and chic!  Our names were checked at the door, and then we were taken down the grey marble stairs to the amazing basement dining room.

I have never been in a room that just oozed sexiness.  It was all blue lighting, dark contemporary wooden fittings, ‘just-right’ music and a real chinese influenced style, and unlike anywhere that I have ever been.  It also managed to be quite open plan and yet feel very intimate.  The lighting was exactly right – you could see the person you were with, see all the food clearly, but the rest of the diners weren’t a distraction.

You can just make out the kitchen through frosted glass at one end of the dining room – a flurry of exertion and activity if you choose to watch, but no sound or vision to distract you from complete relaxation and luxury.

We were presented with far too many menus – but this was the launch, and we were allowed to have whatever we wanted – so we had a choice from the main menu, the dim sum menu, the bar/cocktails menu and the wine list.

Venison puffs

The menu is staggering really – there is so much to choose from, and it all sounds so divine.  I really really didn’t know where to start – but our waiter (Jason, if you’re interested) was fantastic and he offered to devise a menu for us, asking us a few

of our preferences, and making suggestions that all sounded fantastic!  We did manage to order our own cocktails, and I had a Pink Mao Mao (vodka, watermelon, strawberry, pink pepper and other yumness) and a Pink Mojito – I can’t remember what the boss had, but there was one with pineapple and lychee called The Hakka (or similar and that was scrummy too!)

So – this is what we ended up having to eat:

  • Venison puffs – gorgeous flaky light pastry encasing a flavourful yet light venison ‘stew’ almost.  It was the first food I put in my mouth and it was a delight.  They were big beasts too – you certainly get decent portion sizes here.
  • Scallop & prawn – a roll of minced prawn topped with a scallop with a dollop of (something beginning with ‘t’) ‘caviar’.  Gorgeous, fresh and I had never had caviar/roe/whatever before, and although I’m not a massive seafood lover, it was delightful!  Everything was plump and tasty.
  • Duck & shitake rolls – juicy, yummy, slightly sweet rolls of shredded, marinated duckwith a little spring onion and topped with a slice of shitake mushroom.  they may have been rolled with shitake too…my memory isn’t picture-perfect.
  • Pork & prawn dumplings – fried dumplings with minced pork and prawn.  My boss cracked up when I called it ‘posh surf & turf’ – but it was gorgeous.

The dim sum came with various dips obviously – but the sweet chili was definitely my favourite.  then it was time to move on to our mains.  Lovely Jason had recommended:

  • Steamed mini New Zealand lobster wrapped in glass vermicelli with Gu Yue Long Shan rice wine and chilli garlic sauce – (yes, I copied that from the menu)  Apart from a lobster and crayfish ravioli that I had on my birthday this year, that doesn’t really count as it was more of a mousse, this was my first time trying lobster, and I wasn’t disappointed at all.  It was gorgeous, and the sauce was fantastic.  the only problem was that the lobster hadbeen cooked with their tails on, so they curl round and the tail is actually in the middle.  I’m not the most delicate person, but I really couldn’t work out how to get the tail off and eat it easily without butchering it.  Jason did notice this, and rushed over to us with bowls of water/lemon and hot towels, and discussed with us about whether the lobster would be better tail-off.  It will be interesting to see if they continue cooking it the same way
  • Jasmine tea smoked chicken – this was the only dish that we actually ordered ourselves (or rather *I* did).  i’d spotted it on the online menu, and when a friend suggested it on Twitter, I thought we should give it a go.  it was divine!  moist, plump chicken with a beautiful delicate smoked flavour, with the skin absorbing even more flavour, but just slipping off of the chicken.  Perfect!
  • Hakka noodles (I think that’s what they were called) – I think this must be their standard ‘house noodles’ dish – it had little bits of chicken, chili, and other yummy stuff and was an absolutely perfect accompaniment to the main dishes.

Prawn & Scallops

My only criticism would be that most ‘multiple’ dishes seemed to come in 3s or 5s, and I know this is because it’s aesthetically pleasing, but seeing as most people dine in 2s, it makes it a bot difficult to start carving things up!

We thought that we would be stuffed by the end of all this, but when they insisted on bringing us the dessert menu, we were convinced to have a coffee and share a dessert, which was a cardamon creme brulee served with chocolate mousse, orange sorbet, orange tuille, crushed biscuit of some kind and was the most delicious dessert I have had in a LONG time!  A perfect end to a perfect meal.

And then we walked out without having to pay, picked our coats up and caught the C2 bus back to the office, LOL – what a come down!

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