Food alone is good; wine alone is good; but food and wine together is heaven!

Recommended Restaurants

Premier Restaurants

I've enjoyed meals at a few of the best restaurants in the South East of England, so I've recorded our experiences here.

In most years we visit one very good (i.e. expensive!) restaurant as a celebration of the family's year. The Aubergine was the first of these visits and it's still my all time favourite, but others are also immensely enjoyable.

Aubergine - Gordon Ramsay

The very high level of service, amazing food and choice of fine wine put this restaurant at the top of the list.

This is a small restauarant, but the decor and attention to detail are both perfect. All dishes for each course arrive exactly simultaneously. As a family, we visited for dinner, but there is also a very reasonably priced fixed menu lunch.

The red wine was good, but I can't remember it particularly. However, I spotted that, very unusually, Château d'Yquem Sauternes was available by the glass, rather than the half-bottle. For a mere £45 per glass, this started my love affair with this exquisite white bordeaux.

Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, Royal Hospital Road, London

Petrus, Berkeley Hotel

A memorable outing was for lunch at Petrus, when it was owned by Gordon Ramsay and head chef was Marcus Wareing. We invited a friend and a partner, so we were six on this occasion and were seated at a large circular table, near the wine cupboard. A sumptuous meal with a bottle of Château Haut-Bailly, 1998, finishing with a half bottle of Sauternes (yes, Château d'Yquem).

This restaurant is now run by Marcus Wareing himself and he has been awarded two Michelin stars in his own right. Marcus Wareing At the Berkeley. The other good news is that Petrus will be re-opening at 1 Kinnerton Street, SW1 Petrus.

The Dorchester Hotel

Twice now I've enjoyed lunch at the Dorchester, in their Scottish Highlands themed restaurant, which is a great experience, and very good value for money. The first time was for just my wife and I and the second with a family party of twelve. On both occasions we received attentive service, great food and very helpful advice from the sommelier. There's a relaxed atmosphere, and they seem pleased to see customers and there's a lack of any snobbery, so we enjoyed our visits there.

In our first visit, because only I was drinking wine, I asked for wines by the glass, so that I could sample more than one of their recommendations. Here they were:

  • Pinot Blanc 2004, Kientzler, Alsace, France;
  • Gruner Veltiner Achleiten 2005, Domaine Wachau, Austria
  • Cote de Brouilly 2005, "Cuvee Melanie", Daniel Bouland, France.

Here's the link: The Dorchester.

The Ritz

Everyone should experience afternoon tea at theRitz. It's popular, because it's an affordable treat, so there is often a need for a forward booking. Tea is served in the Palm Court, an elevated area, alonside the grand central corridor. They serve plate after plate of beautifully prepared small sandwiches with all sorts of flavours and colours of bread. Followed by cakes, and together with tea of any type throughout. You probably won't need dinner that evening, but men will need a tie and jacket (trust me they insist). The whole experience is so encouraging, though.

Even better is breakfast at the Ritz, which is a multiple course feast. Surprisingly, breakfast is also open to non-residents.

The Fat Duck

Not everyone in our family would recommend the Fat Duck, but three of us did enjoy it. We were a party of five and took the 17 course tasting menu. Needless to say, this number of courses has never been matched anywhere else! The wine recommendations were good, and the wine choices huge, but it's the food that is great fun. Heston Blumenthal is delivering food as art here and the purpose of his experiment on his diners is to test our accepted notions of Western food. Of course there is the usual problem with art, how are we, as observers, to interpret what is going on, and can we handle the emotions when things are taken too far? These reactions are different for each one of us. For the first time in our little family the restaurateur managed to drive a wedge (of reactions) between us. After courses that included opening with lemon sorbet ice balls cooled in liquid nitrogen, green snail porridge and tobacco ice cream, at a point during the meal, one of our company downed tools and burst out "this guy is taking the ****!". Speaking for myself, I would recommend this restaurant whole heartedly. You must decide who is having the last laugh here, though, Heston, or the diner. At the time of our visit, some American food critics were enjoying lunch. They were so excited by their experience the previous evening over dinner there, that they had returned the following day for the lunch. Two weeks later, the Fat Duck was voted world-wide number one. Can the food critics be so wrong? One visit is a must. Here's the link: The Fat Duck.

Queen Mary 2

I've put an entry for the Queen Mary 2 in this list of recommended restaurants simply because their total restaurant catering service is incredible. But then this ship is a floating 5 star hotel. We needed to be in the USA for Thanksgiving with my wife's recently discovered American family and I said well, why don't we travel over there by ship? So, we booked the transatlantic trip on the Queen Mary 2.

It wasn't a cruise, because there just aren't any ports to stop over on a great circle between Southampton and New York; but it was a voyage. Flying jumbo across the Atlantic removes any sense of the distance across this ocean. Seven nights aboard, with the clocks changing by an hour each night, as this huge, but elegant liner plowed through the heavy seas, night after night, gave a much greater sense of the vast, endless scale of this ocean.

Arriving in New Yourk harbour early in the morning at dawn is a thrill that is not replaceable by any other. And with it, the sense of history, because this is how so many European migrants made the life-changing transfer to living in the new world of opportunity. Cunard Queen Mary 2.


Le Vacherin

We met up with one of our sons for supper one Thursday evening at this very smart, and efficiently run up-market Chiswick bistro. Traditional French cuisine and a substantial wine list. Very attentive service at the table, and the courses we ourdered arrived efficiently and timely. Beautiful food.

My son and I drank a bottle of Chateaux Beau-Sejour Becot, Saint Emilion, Premier Grand Cru Classe, 1985. Wonderful nose and full of flavours. Expensive in this restaurant, but I enjoyed.

Date of visit: 14 October 2009. Le Vacherin.

Gastro Pubs

The Devonshire, Chiswick

A very relaxed, welcoming atmosphere, for informal dining. Well presented, delicious pub food of a higher standard and a good wine list. Free bread and cheese on arrival. Large rectangular dining room that completely filled for Sunday lunch and developed a great buzz. Good value and recommended. Parking's an issue in London, but there are some parking spaces in the street that are free on Sundays. One of Gordon Ramsay's group of restaurants.

Date of visit: July 2009. The Devonshire.

The Devonshire Chiswick London Gordon Ramsay gastro pub

Bel and The Dragon, Reading

We've just returned (1.Nov.09) from a family get together at Bel and the Dragon, which is a very convivial, happy relaxed pub/restaurant by the canal in Reading. There are other others in this small Thames Valley chain in Windsor, Cookham, Godalming.

The Reading venue has a large, high roofed main dining room, refurbished from a canal barge repair workshop, complete with beam crane and rustic brickwork, now all well painted. There's a smaller entrance lounge for drinks. The menu is relaxed gastro-pub in style, with quite a large wine list from both Europe (France, Italy, Spain) and new world (Chile, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand).

I started with a bowl of excellent cream of parsnip soup and hot bread, with olive oil and baked garlic cloves. Others in our party ate very good half roast chicken, roast beef and squid. A 175ml glass of very good Marques de Morano, Rioja Crianza Tinto (£3.50), full smooth fruits, oaky, helped that along. A main dish of turbot, cooked in a milk, mussels and scallops sauce with finely sliced vegetables. A liquid dessert followed in the form of a small glass of Hardys Botrytis Sémillon (Australia, £5.25), which had a fruity, musty nose, and perfectly smooth, bright, fresh, sweetness with oranges and apricots on the palate; delightful.

£30/head including all drinks and tip; very good value and recommended. Bel and The Dragon.

Ethnic Restaurants

Comme Ça, French Restaurant, Chichester, West Sussex

Just half a mile north of Chichester, this friendly and welcoming restaurant offers a very good standard in French style food and a carefully chosen wine list. Michel Navet and English wife Jane, opened this restaurant by elegently converting an old Georgian inn into a suite of rooms, each with its own distinct character. We normally meet a branch of our family here, for parties, often near Christmas, but this year to celebrate a 90th birthday. The conservatory room is our regular choice, because of its space and light. The wine list offers a wide range, catering from simple, low cost house wines, to substantial, classic French Bordeaux, Burgundies and Champagnes. Highly recommended.

Old Siam, Thai Restaurant, Reading, Berkshire

Tucked away in the small Friar's Walk arcade in Reading's town centre Broad Street, this intimate and welcoming restaurant should not be missed. We've visited many times and the staff, in authentic Thai silk dresses, are always very kind and attentive. The food is authentic Thai and served in a room panelled in imported beautifully carved wood friezes, with windows that open into the arcade for airy ventilation, but keeping the cosy intimacy of the room. They use very fresh ingredients, vegetables and herbs (coriander, lemon grass, chilli), lightly cooked, with bright, fresh flavours, served on hot plates. Their soups, red and green curries are to die for delicious. Even their house red, a soft, fruity, medium bodied wine is pleasant along with the freshness of the food. There's nothing I can fault and very recommended.

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