In all over this year, I’ve had 22 Michelin-starred meals in 18 places, for a total of 36 stars all told. I’ve tried to keep a wide range through the year, from pubs-with-stars through to some of the most spectacular-looking dining destinations in the UK. In no particular order, I’ve been to…
- Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester Hotel, London
- Waterside Inn, Bray, Berkshire
- Hélène Darroze at the Connaught Hotel, London (three times, including tonight)
- Champignon Sauvage, Cheltenham (twice)
- Midsummer House, Cambridge
- Hibiscus, London (now closed)
- Hand and Flowers, Marlow
- Manoir aux Quat Saison, Great Missenden, Oxon (for my Birthday, no less!)
- Dinner at the Mandarin Oriental, London
- The Ledbury, London
- Marcus at the Berkeley Hotel, London
- One star
- House of Tides, Newcastle (twice)
- Raby Hunt, Summerhouses, Darlington
- Pony & Trap, Chew Magna, Bristol
- Paris House, Woburn, Beds
- Benares, London
- Alimentum, Cambridge
- Wild Rabbit, Kingham, Oxon
Interestingly, neither of the three-starred places count anywhere notable on my favourites. In my opinion the best restaurants of the year have been
- 1st= Hélène Darroze
- 1st= Midsummer House
- 3rd= Hibiscus
- 3rd= House of Tides
The best meals, on the other hand, is a smaller list – the top three would be…
- Hélène Darroze – the second visit
- Hélène Darroze – the first visit
- Midsummer House
Yes, Darroze really is that good (in my opinion, of course – others may vary)
Alongside that, honorable mentions go to
- Wild Rabbit – any other year, it would certainly have been in the top three, and indeed I’d say it’s probably number four/five in the list
- Marcus – much as I dislike the man himself, I can’t deny that the meal was bloody marvellous
There are other places I still want to go (and I’m considering another Scotland visit at some point in 2017) but I won’t be going to anywhere like as many as this year. I’ve massively enjoyed it, and I truly don’t want to become blase about the entire thing.
This week we’ve had temperatures up around 10-13° C – which is ridiculous for mid-December – and I’ve been wandering around in shirt-sleeves. (While also wondering just how people are walking about fully clad in coat, gloves, and even furry hats. What the bollocks are they going to do when it gets cold, for fuck’s sake?)
Yesterday was my penultimate Michelin-starred restaurant visit of the year, so it’s all coasting down to the end of year. Which is no bad thing, to be honest.
I’ve got some plans and ideas for 2017, but really I think the theme is “do less”. I’ll still be doing all the stuff I’ve been doing in 2016, just less of it. That’s the idea, anyway. Whether it’ll work out that way, well, only time will tell.
We’re coming to the end of 2016, and things are (kind of) calming down a bit here.
Mind you, in the next month the main events are
- Seeing Glenda Jackson in King Lear at the Old Vic in London
- Seeing The Tempest in Stratford-upon-Avon
- A Festive BurgerCrawl in London – only Christmas Special burgers allowed. (That’s pretty much planned already)
- Meals at five Michelin-starred restaurants, including one for New Year’s Eve
and alongside that there’s also
- at least one techie meetup/socialisation night
- two social things with other friends and contacts
- a minimum of three films (that’re already booked) including Rogue One and Passengers, plus any others I choose to see
That’s about it – except for the standard stuff around the Festering Season as well.
And yet still, that’s a lot quieter and calmer than a lot of the year has been. Which just goes to show, sometimes I can be a spectacularly busy idiot…
For the birthday weekend, once I’d done Le Manoir on Saturday, I was in London on Sunday for two things – the first of which was lunch at Heston Blumenthal’s “Dinner” restaurant at the Mandarin Oriental hotel.
I can’t claim to be a huge fan of Blumenthal, but Dinner is an interesting concept, resurrecting and reinventing meals from previous times/eras, ranging from the 1300s through to early 1940s.
It’s also one of the few places I’ve been to this year that doesn’t do a tasting menu, opting instead for three larger courses.
I had a great meal consisting of
- Roast Scallops (c. 1830) – with cucumber ketchup, roasted cucumber, bergamot and borage
- Chicken cooked with Lettuces (c. 1670) – Grilled onion emulsion, spiced celeriac sauce and oyster leaf, with a side of some of the best mashed potato ever (as recommended by the waiter)
- Tipsy Cake (c. 1810) – fresh-made brioche on a beautiful sauce, with spit-roasted pineapple.
- And finished off with Liquid-Nitrogen ice cream, made at the table, which was a great finale.
There’s also a lot more stuff on the menu that I now really want to try, so I’ll be aiming to return in 2017.
I grew up close to Le Manoir, and my parents are still close by, so I’ve never been able to justify going there (and particularly staying, which is the best way to book a table well ahead of time) but I did get lucky when it came to booking myself for lunch. They open the bookings for non-residents three months in advance, and I’d called them before lunchtime on August 5th. (That was more about lucky ‘why the hell not’ thoughts and decisions on that day, rather than anything I can claim to be planned)
So it’s fair to say I was looking forward to this one quite a bit. Happily, it lived up to the expectations.
Le Manoir is well known for its garden, where they grow a lot of their own vegetables, fruit and herbs. It’s an impressive setting, and guests are free to have a wander round the garden, either before or after their meal.
I had the November tasting menu, and it was bloody good. It included…
- Roasted Pumpkin and Butternut Squash soup, with a biscotti loaded with pumpkin puree, cashew nuts and Cashel Blue cheese
- Beetroot Terrine (which I’d been recommended to ask for, and managed to get as a complimentary extra course, because Birthday)
- Confit Salmon with Lemon Verbena, Apple Pieces and Apple Puree
- Free-range Hen’s Egg, watercress, ham and toasted hazelnuts
- Quail, beetroot gratin, bulgur wheat and “leaves”
- Comté Cheese, aged 12, 24 and 36 months
- Ravioli of exotic fruits (a mix of exotic fruits under a shell of apricot) with a coconut foam/jus
- Millionaire Shortbread to finish, a soft toffee with bitter chocolate on shortbread, and salted butter ice-cream
It was a fantastic meal, and one I thoroughly enjoyed. Admittedly, it wasn’t in the top three meals I’ve had this year – but some of that is because I’ve massively spoiled myself this year with other places. In any normal year, it would definitely have been one of the best.
In general, I don’t really do much on/for my birthday, or surrounding it. Birthdays aren’t something I see as generally important, they are (to me) just another day. I try to recognise them for others and so on, but honestly, I’m not that bothered when it comes to my own.
This year, though, the weekend of my birthday turned out to be a fairly epic one – albeit still not massively social, and more because of the way things worked out, rather than anything else.
The first indicator that it would be a non-standard weekend came a lot earlier in the year, when I discovered that the Royal Albert Hall (RAH) was going to be showing one of my all-time favourite films, Aliens, with the soundtrack being performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. I’d have booked it for any damn time of the year, to be honest – but the fact it was being done on the day after my birthday made it even better. So I booked tickets for myself and a friend to see it. Happy day. And really, that would’ve been enough to make it a good day/weekend.
But then same friend suggested we make a day of it, and do a decent lunch before the film. And wouldn’t you know it, there’s some decent places just up the road from the RAH. So he booked a table for us, as well as his wife and son. (Who wouldn’t have let him eat around there without them, all being foodies) Where? Heston Blumenthal’s Dinner at the Mandarin Oriental hotel. Because? Well, why not?
But both of those were for the day after my birthday. So, with the Solo Dining project in mind as well, I decided to book somewhere for lunch on the actual day. And ended up with a booking at Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons, which had been on my list for a while, and was generally regarded as being bloody good.
And that’s what happened.
And you know what? It was bloody good. I’ll write more during the coming week, but safe to say, yeah, it’s been a good weekend. Although today I do feel just a bit broken. Sad, but true.