Thursday, 28 October 2010

The Scarlet: Gluttonous Travels, Cornwall, UK

Some hotels advertise their "sea views", but then you need a telescope and hawk eye vision to see the faintest dot of blue on the horizon. This is not the case when you wake up and throw open your curtains at The Scarlet.

Lie back in bed and soak up the views...

The Scarlet is an eco-friendly hotel on the coast of Cornwall, 5 minutes drive from Watergate Bay. Perched discretely on the cliff tops above the beautiful beach of Mawgan Porth, every room comes with stunning views, big and comfy organic cotton robes and crisp white linen to assist with some serious R&R.

Even the rooftops below blend into the scene, being covered in natural grass, and tapering down to my favourite feature of all...

... the big, red, saucepan shaped hot tubs on the outdoor deck. We sipped on local Camel Valley sparkling wine as our seaweed hot tub apparently worked wonders on my cellulite, metabolism and any number of diseases and disorders. I'll drink to that. Whatever its effect on my physical state, it has to be said that watching the sun set over the incoming tide from the comfort of your steaming, wood heated hot tub is the perfect antidote to a tough week at the office. (Or, as the case may be, a big day chasing down Cornish pasties along the coastline....)

The hotel is chic, but relaxed and comfortable. The decor is mostly in natural tones and the soaps (from the Cornish Soap Box Company) smell soothing and divine. Request fresh filtered coffee or tea which is brought to your room, or escape down to the heavenly indoor pool, the invigorating aquamarine tiled oval sauna (with eucalyptus essential oils) or chill out in the relaxation room while soaking up the views. We did all of the above. Several times. There's also a spa onsite offering a range of short and long "journeys" (massages and other treatments).

The indoor pool is heated just enough to take the edge off

Jasper the hotel dog can, to TPG's delight, be borrowed for walks on the beach. He seems to never get tired of chasing a tennis ball. Neither does Jasper.

With so much to keep you lazily occupied at the hotel, it is hard at times to tear yourself away.

Room service

Fortunately, an impressive dinner is available at the hotel's restaurant.

Chef, Ben Tunnicliffe, was head hunted to lead the kitchen after holding a Michelin star at The Abbey, in Penzance, for 8 years. Having championed seasonal, good quality, locally sourced food for a long while before it became today's catch cry, Ben sources his ingredients from local farmers and suppliers as much as possible. He describes his style at The Scarlet as determinedly "rustic" - but I say it's a stylish rustic, matching the style of the hotel in which it is housed. Each plate shows a subtle finesse that betrays the fact Ben is a Michelin starred chef who, after completing his training at Bournemouth College, went on to sharpen his skills further in top, starred restaurants in France and the UK.

But ultimately, this is food is made to be enjoyed rather than to impress the Michelin man.

Pigeon with Jerusalem artichoke and pearl barley broth

To start, my pigeon with Jerusalem artichoke and pearl barley broth is excellent. It's warming and packed with hearty flavours. The pigeon is perfectly plump and rare, while the barley adds a satisfying bite. This dish converts even TPG who is not normally a pigeon fan. 

Red mullet with lemon glazed salsify & prawns

He likes his own dish even more - the fillet of red mullet is thin but moist. The accompanying lemon glazed salsify is a terrific twist, while the prawns with a creamy, prawn sauce are a delectable addition. A fine dish.

My monkfish is a little chewy but has a great flavour. It's wrapped in pancetta and served with some wonderously firm, long yellow beans that retain just the right amount of crunch, parsley gnocchi, cider, mussels and thyme. It tastes every bit as good as it sounds. TPG's, rump of lamb with sweetbreads, red cabbage, parsnips and rosemary is elegantly presented, tender and rich. It's cooked perfectly. Food like this makes me happy.

For dessert, my quince crumble lacks a bit of oomph, but I love the confit orange slice with clotted cream and the chunks of warm fruit blend into the background nicely. TPG's banana, butterscotch and pecan cake is moist, warm and freshly baked with a terrific espresso sorbet which tastes to me like a rich chocolate covered cocoa bean.

We finish with a generous cheese board featuring an 18 month Montgomery cheddar, a mild Bath blue and a King's Favourite soft cheese - with sliced apples, homemade crackers and chutney.

The wine list is extensive, featuring a range of biodynamic and European wines.

A 3 course dinner costs £39.50 per head (plus wine and service). There's also a £19.50 3 course lunch menu. I highly recommend you enjoy a meal there if you're in the area.

Breakfasts at the hotel are also impressive - how nice to start the day with a 3 course breakfast while lapping up the coastal views. (The one downside of the restaurant for dinner at this time of year is that it's too dark to get the benefit of the views at night). We start with a basket of thick cut toast - white, brown and wholegrain - with an impressive home made raspberry jam and one of the best thick cut marmalades we've ever tasted. The home made crunchy granola is superb - nutty and knobbly, it almost borders on being biscuit-like at times. The home made muesli is also good, with lots of satisfying crunchy bits.

The Eggs Arlington is fantastic - a thick slab of whole grain toast, topped with lashings of creamy smoked salmon, poached eggs and a good hollandaise sauce. TPG's full English breakfast features a thick sausage, excellent bacon, roasted tomatoes, mushrooms and a fried egg.

Fresh Cornish apple juice and a cafetiere of hot, aromatic filter coffee is brought to the table from the start.

I must admit to finding it quite traumatic to have to leave The Scarlet. It's a beautiful, calming place, with great food, in an invigorating environment  - the perfect countryside getaway.

The Scarlet, Tredragon Road, Mawgan Porth, Cornwall, TR8 4DQ (Tel: 01637 861 800)

Other things to do near The Scarlet:

I could easily go to The Scarlet and not leave the premises all weekend. If you do feel like venturing into the wider world, there are some breathtaking walks to be had along the adjoining cliff tops.

The hotel is a short 5 minute drive to the picturesque Watergate Bay, home to Jamie Oliver's Fifteen restaurant.

Stein's Fish & Chips

It's also a short drive to Padstow, where Rick Stein has several seafood restaurants and cafes. We tried the  casual Stein's Fish & Chips where we had some of the best battered fish we've had in years. Pull apart your haddock or cod, and watch the crisp batter fall away from the steaming hot, fleshy fish. Mushy peas were watery and disappointing and the chips were just ok. But the fish, oh the fish... There are also oysters, scallops and plenty of specials to eat in or take away. Wash down with a cider or spicy ginger beer and Bob's your uncle. (Fish & chips costs about £8.95 per serve).
Stein's Fish & Chips, South Quay, Padstow, Cornwall

Pengenna Pasties

We also headed about 1 hour south to the beautiful beach side town of St Ives. There we had, for morning tea, a huge, home made Cornish pasty from Pengenna Pasties. Bulging at the seams with big meaty chunks of beef, potato, swede, onion and gravy, this chest beating pasty is definitely a meal in itself (£3.25).  Recommended, although I found it slightly oversalted. While you're there, stock up on the takeaway cream tea packs - 2 huge and glorious scones (of course I tried) with jam and Cornish clotted cream for a bargainous £2.95. Eat by the sea shore.
Pengenna Pasties, 9 High Street, St Ives, TR26 1RR.

Ok, I admit it - we also stocked up on the bakery's gorgeous short breads which we nibbled in the car (along with clotted cream fudge) in between meals...

In glorious sunshine we sat outside The Old Quay House in Fowey for a late lunch one day, drinking cider with some fantastic crab cakes and crab sandwiches.

Chef Ben Bass's profile states his inspiration comes from chefs like Fergus Henderson and Thomas Keller and his ethos is to let good simple ingredients do the talking. Service was slow, but the food on the late afternoon menu was terrific (arrive before 2.30pm for the full lunch menu). Fowey has some beautiful scenery and this was a great spot to soak it up.

The Old Quay House, 28 Fore Street, Fowey, Cornwall, PL23 1AQ (Tel: 01726 833 302)

I really, really wanted to try Nathan Outlaw but the address we printed from another website was out of date and we ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time. Until the next trip....

If time is of the essence, you can take a 1 hour flight from London Gatwick to Newquay airport with Flybe for around £70 return (the airport is a 5 minute drive from The Scarlet). Trains go direct from London Paddington to Bodmin Parkway and arrive just in time for dinner. From 1 November until 22 December 2010, packages for bed and breakfast (plus dinner) in a Just Right room at The Scarlet range from £180 - £230 per night.

The Scarlet, Tredragon Road, Mawgan Porth, Cornwall, TR8 4DQ (Tel: 01637 861 800)

Greedy Diva was a guest of The Scarlet

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Hakkasan, Fitzrovia

Buttermilk bavarois

For his birthday this year, The Peanut Gallery chose to be taken to Hakkasan. I can only guess it is no coincidence that the papers announced the next day that it is the most expensive restaurant, per minute of dining, in London. Uncanny.

Hakkasan seems to be one of those places - you'll either love it or you'll hate it. I'm firmly in the love camp.

Soaring ceIlings, dim lighting and dramatic, dark wooden decor reminded me of Buddakan in New York. Unlike in New York, where great grub and a spectacular setting often go hand in hand, it's so rare in London for such a fabulous fit out not to mean the food is complete rubbish.

I have heard rumours of too cool for school service and door bouncers - there's NOTHING I hate more. Although they're glamorous with some gorgeous kit for uniforms (I'd wear those blue dresses on a night out) we found service at all times to be efficient, but quite friendly and helpful. I suppose the area when you first walk and face the line up in could be a tad intimidating. It feels like entering a night club and you have your name ticked off a list before you even step inside.

But we quickly warmed up to it with a few martinis at the bar (lychee for me, classic for the birthday boy). It's fun place for some great cocktails, even if you don't stop for dinner.

Sesame prawn toasts

Crispy duck salad
 Once seated (for our strictly 2 hour time slot of feeding - we arrived early to linger at the bar for a while first), we started with prawn toast and a duck salad.

The large, bulbous sesame prawn toasts are in a different league to anything I've had in a long while. They're fleshy and sweet, topped with sesame and served with a side of fried seaweed and enoki mushrooms. (£13.50)

The crispy duck salad mixes moist strips of duck with crispy fresh greens, pomelo, pine nut and shallots. Very nice, if a tad forgettable. (£19.50)

Stir fry pepper beef
Roast duck with Chinese herbs

Our main serving of roast duck with Chinese herbs is soon pronounced by TPG, serious duck addict, to be the best he's ever eaten. It's full juicy, fatty flavour is spiced up by some generous seasoning, and the texture of crispy skin against moist juicy meat is spot on. (£21.00)

Moist chunks of peppery, stir fried, rib-eye beef with merlot come spilling from a delicate, spindly nest. Again, big flavours and execution is just right. (£18.80)

Warm coconut rice pudding

Desserts are artistic creations. Naturally, TPG has the warm coconut rice pudding with mango caviar and black sesame crunch. I have the gorgeous buttermilk bavarois with blood orange jelly and fresh blood orange. (£8.00 each). Both are stunning, with interesting, indulgent flavours - a party in your mouth.

Hakkasan, under chef Tong Chee Hwee, has held a Michelin star since 2003. The food is excellent and the atmosphere is buzzing. Yes, Hakkasan is expensive - expect to upwards of £50 per head for food, and prices can of course soar if you get stuck into the cocktails or the wagyu (there's pair of £58 wagyu dishes). However, you can experience the glamour and some great Chinese food for a fraction of the price if you go for dim sum. It's fresh, interesting and the flavours pack some serious punch.  I'll be back.

Hakkasan, 8 Hanway Place, Fitzrovia, London, W1T 1HD (Tel: 020 7927 7000)

Hakkasan on Urbanspoon

If you're interested in dim sum, you can see my review of the dim sum at Hakkasan's sister restaurant, Yauatcha, here.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester, Mayfair

Rhum baba

Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester is one of only 2 restaurants in London to hold 3 Michelin stars (Gordon Ramsay at Old Hospital Road is the other). Although they come laden with expectations, in my experience, Michelin stars are no guarantee of perfection, nor that the chemistry will work for everyone every time.

While fine dining can be exhilarating and magnificent, committing to spend a significant portion of your pay cheque on a meal is always a gamble, if not entirely gut clenching and off putting for some. The food might show elements of perfection, but the atmosphere might leave you stone cold (hello Marea). But even if imperfections exist, when a restaurant charges a hefty price tag, you hope to be buying your own little piece of indulgence and luxury. As a queen for a night, you hope to be bestowed with an experience to remember, and one in which it all balances out in the end.

So when I was invited by Alain Ducasse's internal PR for a complimentary meal with 4 other bloggers, I was pretty quick to sign up.

Sure, with any free meal, you put yourself in an awkward position if you don't like it (and this issue is potentially magnified with the value of the freebie) but restaurants and PR  know the deal - a freebie does not guarantee a good review, and I'm entirely comfortable with that. Be confident about your product before you expose yourself to potential critics - and on that note, I must say, Alain Ducasse did generously open the floor. They allowed us anything we wanted on the menu, when they could have limited us to a smaller, carefully planned selection, suggesting a certain enthusiastic spirit and confidence. And I firmly believe that bloggers should put their integrity before the next free lunch to produce an honest and objective review, from which the thrill of leaving without paying has been carefully distilled. Enough said.

While some aspects fall short of perfection, the overwhelming impression when dining at Alain Ducasse is one of decadence and luxury. Service is faultless - relentlessly good but discreet, and so much friendlier, easier and warmer than I had expected. I was in a group which had been invited to review, so effort in this respect was a given. However, while all restaurants may try to put on great service for blogger doos, it is not the case that all succeed so well. And my impression was that this was not faked - although I can't, of course, guarantee it, it seems more likely than not that everyone is treated with the same genuine care, enthusiasm, attentiveness and charm of what is clearly 3 star service.

And the luxury. We dined at the private Table Lumiere - a table for 6 surrounded by a curtain of 4,500 bedazzling fibre optic strands falling like a shimmering waterfall from the ceiling. Guests dine off Hermes china, sleek silverware and a choice of glassware and crystal. There's a huge, shiny candelabra in the centre of the table. The area has the advantage of bestowing a sense of cloud-like privacy while not completely cutting off your party from the quiet buzz of the restaurant.

The biggest faults for me came in the imperfect execution of some aspects of the menu.  The food is there to impress as much as it is to be eaten. While the overall impression is one of over the top decadence and luxury, not every dish hits the mark perfectly.

We tried the seasonal Autumn Menu comprising 7 courses for £180 per head (plus extra for matching wines and service).

An impressive bread basket comes with both butter and a fluffy cream cheese mousse. The only failure here was a bacon and onion fougasse which tasted lardy to me - not my thing.

Marinated scallops were sliced thinly over "a rich nage" (a creamy sauce) and topped with Kristal caviar - salty, creamy bursts of opulence cut through the silky goodness of the scallops and blended well with the mellow nage beneath. A promising start.

A generous serving of seared duck foie gras was rich and melt in the mouth indulgent. The accompanying potato gnocchi was excellent, coming with cep mushrooms and fresh almonds - an uncluttered, earthy compliment and I liked the drizzle of rich duck jus.

The roasted Scottish lobster was a disappointment. The lobster was overcooked, chewy and lacked sweetness and flavour. It was overwhelmed by a strong red wine sauce with heavily spiced apple and quince cooked in salted butter. All sense of delicacy was lost. This dish seems wrong both in concept and execution.

A meaty fillet of turbot was, on the other hand, executed perfectly. Served "florentine" style with shrimps, walnuts and Arbois wine, a lovely combination of flavours rich, sweet and boozy was matched with pretty presentation (like the delicately cut mushrooms).

A hefty fillet of beef was served with a yet more plentiful slab of seared foie gras Rossini with "sacristain" potatoes and Perigueux style sauce. Yes, this was a second serving of foie gras, and you won't hear a complaint from me on that score. The black truffle and madeira jus in the sauce was sweet and sticky, and went some way to holding a life line to a piece of beef which was otherwise fairly bland and slightly overcooked. The fillets around the table were all (surprisingly) cooked to varying levels of pink, despite all being ordered to medium rare.

A wedge of delicious, crunchy lettuce dressed with balsamic vinaigrette was a highlight in its own right, but also helped cut through the indulgently rich and caramelised foie gras, lazing atop a long brioche crouton. The long, twirly crisp-like sacristain potatoes on the side didn't do much more than add to the decor for me. However, this was the ultimate indulgence course that, had I adored the beef, could have had me weak at the knees.

A truffled Brie de Meaux came with a small simply dressed salad on the side. The earthy truffle gave depth to the creamy cheese and this was a thoroughly enjoyable end to the savoury courses.

The gorgeous rose and raspberry pleasure

We were treated to each of the 6 desserts on offer. The highlight was a deliciously light lime souffle with Sichuan pepper sorbet. Alain Ducasse's famous rhum baba was fun and boozy - if not earth shattering - served elaborately in a silver dish, before being split, drenched in your choice of rum and slam dunked with vanilla cream. The other puds pictured were also very good, even for someone losing her sweet tooth more on a daily basis. Delicate little macaroons and chocolate truffles were gorgeous.

Praline-chocolate biscuit with
very salty milk-salt flower ice cream
Lime souffle with Sichuan pepper sorbet

Coco caramel delight with lemon-vanilla sorbet

Chocolates & macaroons

As is often the case at restaurants of this ilk, it's often the small finishing touches that stay with you. We showed an interest in tea to finish, and out rolled a trolley laden with foliage - your chocolate mint tea is nipped fresh from the plant, followed by another trolley with big lolly shop jars of salted caramels, nougat, chocolates and marshmallow.

The tea trolley

And just when you thought
you couldn't eat another bite...

Each of our wines along the way was well chosen, but my favourite was the 2009 Saint-Joseph (Ro-Ree, Domaine L. Cheze), which was paired with our scallops at the start. Creamy, some oak, full but well balanced - this was the wine that most blew me away.

Given the price of this meal, the noted imperfections in execution are of course disappointing.  However, while it's easy to isolate the shortfalls in execution, it is more difficult to articulate how the meal as a whole was still more than the sum of its parts. How the mood, the service, the frivolously indulgent touches combined to make a chemistry that will either win you over or it won't.

For me, this was, overall, a beautiful experience - and a fun and memorable one. If spending in excess of £200 on a meal which has some glaring faults makes you baulk, you can obtain a piece of the luxury for a lower price over lunch - a £45 lunch menu buys you 3 courses with 2 glasses of wine, coffee and a half bottle of water. The 2 course lunch menu offers the same extras for £39.50, or you can try an a la carte lunch at 2 courses for £55 and 3 courses for £75. At dinner, the standard tasting menu is £115 or a la carte dinner packages come at 3 courses for £75 and 4 courses for £95.

On these less financially extravagant options, the Michelin stars might still carry a heavy burden of expectation, but your wallet might be slightly more forgiving of the shortfalls, allowing you to loosen up and let the charm and the opulence work its magic.

Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester, Dorchester Hotel, 53 Park Lane, Mayfair, London W1K 1QA (Tel: 020 7629 8866)

Greedy Diva was a guest of Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester

Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester on Urbanspoon

Friday, 22 October 2010

Bob Bob Ricard - The burger

I may have already mentioned that I'm quite partial to the fabulous dining extravaganza that is Bob Bob Ricard.

BBR has recently opened its beautiful downstairs bar, Bobby's Bar, to the public and I stopped by for drinks - red booths, low lighting, fun, fun, fun. Apparently there's also to be a piano. (There's currently a special deal throughout October - 10g of caviar, blinis, sour cream and a shot of Russian Standard Original Vodka for £15.50.)

Bobby's Bar

Back up in the restaurant, since my previous rant, I have fawned over the gorgeous quail egg starter, not to mention the amazing onglet which made me the best friend of every scavenger on the table (just do it).

I still need to try the lusciously pink lamb which, until now, I have only been making amorous eyes at from across the crowded room.

But it's the BBR Scotch Beef Cheeseburger that I'm having a moment about for now. I have adopted a concise new template below for occassions such as this.

Can it hold its metaphorical head high on a plate with the most esteemed burgers in my little black (burger) book?*
* Shake Shack, Eastside Inn, Little Owl, Bar Boulud, Hawksmoor, Goodman and Byron?

Yes, yes, oh my Lordy, yes.

Meat flavour (out of 10)

9. I have to leave some room for movement.

On the juicy to dry scale?

Way up there at the gorgeously juicy end of the spectrum

Charred on the outside, pink on the inside?

Perfectly, wonderfully so.

Toasted bun?

Char grilled on the inside. With sesame seeds.

What else is in there with the patty?

Choice of Montgomery cheddar or Kraft cheese slice. We tried both. Lettuce, tomato, pickle, red onion come with, as does a dainty little water bowl on the side. (Or maybe we just looked messy.)

My only quibble is that I'm not sure I like having my burger served split in half as pictured.


It's a premium burger with a premium price tag. £13.75 with cheese. Add £1.50 for bacon and £1 for fried egg.

Do I have to wait more than an hour for it?

No. It's fast. And you can sit in beautiful surrounds drinking a cocktail while you wait. (I have no problem with the cocktail - burger pairing.)

Other important notes:

A fancy pants contender for another of London's best burgers. Highly recommended. But perhaps one for pay day.

Bob Bob Ricard, 1 Upper James Street, Soho, London, W1F 9DF (Tel: 0203 145 1000)

Bob Bob Ricard on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Gauthier Soho - dinner for 2, & again with Casillero del Diablo winery

Autumn Truffle Risotto

I questioned the value of a £50 set price lunch at another much lauded restaurant recently, and my dinner at Gauthier Soho a few days later showed it up for all that the set price menu can be. Gauthier's London Restaurant Festival 4 course menu, at £25, dazzled and delighted, leaving me hankering to go back for more.

In contrast, it has to be said that walking into Gauthier Soho feels like walking into your rich Aunty's house. Everything about the decor whispers "beige twin set", right down to the hushed tones and the table load of plummy accents with silver topped heads next door. Normally, it's exactly the sort of atmosphere that has me looking for the emergency exit. But, for some reason, I like Gauthier Soho immediately. Is it the smiley French waiters, the romantic lighting or is it the little round rose baths that remind me of the ones my Granny used to have? It's certainly not our slightly wonky table or the mirky water in the glass vase on the ledge behind us. (These seem to be odd oversights in an otherwise details focussed, highly polished operation.)

Fortunately, every bit of sensuous energy that the decor lacks has been sucked up greedily by the food.

Alexis Gauthier, the French chef with a Michelin star, has moved from Roussilon in Pimlico to a 4 storied Georgian townhouse in Soho, formerly the site of Richard Corrigan's Lindsay House. He may be posited in the middle of West End mayhem, but the man cooks like an angel.

Amuse bouche - pumpkin & parmesan, cherry tomato
with eel & a cheesy gougeres
Amuse bouche with cod

Two amuse bouche arrive one after the other. The first selection looks pretty, but is nothing to write home about, although the lovely cod filled bit of puffery which follows really whets our appetite for the things to come.

Scallops with girolles & apple, and a crustacean dressing

Salsify with quail eggs & curry

Because TPG takes first dibs on the scallops starter, I opt for the salsify and curry - purely out of a sense of adventure and a dedicated love of salsify. The salsify is braised and served with perfectly poached quail eggs, a light curry sauce and a terrific sweet mango chutney. I'm not sure how they pulled this dish off, but somehow it all works.

The Scottish scallops are creamy and gorgeous, but with a lovely crispiness on the outside. Served with girolles, parlsey cream, garlic and crunchy Granny Smith apples with a light crustacean dressing, this is another example of perfect execution from the kitchen.

Everyone gets the same second course, and it's one that you don't want to miss - Autumn truffle risotto with a chicken jus reduction, brown butter, and a glorious lathering of finely shaved black truffles. This dish is, quite simply, my idea of heaven. It's one Alexis Gauthier is known for since his time at Roussilon and the reasons for that are abundantly clear. There's a hugely satisfying bite in each grain of rice with the an ideal amount of soupy, creamy jus and butter. This is the clincher that would lure me back back to Gauthier Soho pronto, even if everything else had not been so seductive.

Welsh lamb

For our third plate, TPG and I both decide on the generous serve of Welsh lamb (both grilled fillet and a rich confit) with autumn vegetables from Secrett's farm, crispy-but-fluffy-in-all-the-right-places pommes dauphines, garlic and lamb jus. The grilled lamb is perfectly pink, and it's all as wonderful as it sounds.

Pineapple with lychee sorbet

Louis XV
Apple & caramel crumble

Another surprise plate in what is proving to be a bargainous £25 meal - a palate cleansing lychee sorbet with pineapple, is a spritely prelude to our desserts. TPG goes for the chef's signature Golden Louis XV - a gold leaf topped, chocolate encased bombshell of chocolate mousse, praline, hazelnut croquant and a sticky hazelnut meringue base. I often stuggle with chocolate desserts, finding them too rich - but I adored this one in all it's gooey gorgeousness.

Having assisted TPG with his chocolate bomb, I dive into my warm apple and caramel crumble chiboust with caramel ice cream. It's dainty, the pastry is heavenly and there's terrific combination of flavours at work.

We finish with decent coffee in pretty tea cups and scrumptious petit fours - including marshmallows with a subtle hint of Grand Marnier (marshmallows for grown ups).

And I haven't even mentioned the excellent bread basket (with chorizo, tomato and basil rolls, raison bread, baguettes and more), great quality butter from Normandy and free still and sparkling water included in our £25 menu (along with the extra 4 dishes we didn't expect on top of the 4 we bargained for).

Diners often use set price menus as a way to gauge (at a relatively low cost) how much they like what the restaurant has to offer - with a view to returning for more if they are suitably inspired. Unfortunately, all too often, prix fixe diners leave feeling like they've been given the cheap seats in all respects. This was anything but the case during my experience at Gauthier Soho.

We dined on a special £25 menu during London Restaurant Festival, but Gauthier Soho has a variety of 3, 4 and 5 course, tasting, lunch and pre-theatre menus running all year round. The current autumn menu sounds particularly inviting. Even when factoring in our drinks and service, our meal came to less than £50 per head. I consider it great value and excellent quality. This was a meal that has inspired this prix fixe diner to return.

Gauthier Soho, 21 Romilly Street, Soho, London, W1D 5AF (Tel: 020 7494 3111)

                                *                     *                      *

In what has been quite the fortnight for my digestive system, I also attended a fabulous wine dinner at the same restaurant the week before. Hosted by Chilean winery, Casillero Del Diablo and enthusiastic winemaker Marcelo Papa, I found myself as their guest for a 5 course meal with matching wines.

Casillero del Diablo, meaning "The Devil's Cellar" is one of the most successful Chilean wineries, having won over 80 awards, and aims to offer quality, good value wines at reasonable prices.

You have my thoughts on the food above - but, actually, I think Gauthier's standard menu was far better than some of the courses created for the wine dinner. However, the roasted Scottish scallops were (again) a highlight and worked wonderfully with my favourite wine of the evening - the Maycas de Limari Quebrada Seca 2007 (RRP £19.99). Aged for 10 months in French oak, it's dry, elegant and well balanced, and carries quite a body. Casillero del Diablo's Casablanca Chardonnay 2009 was slightly sharper with the creamy scallops, but well priced at RRP £7.49 for an easy drinking option.

The tart, yeasty bubblefest that is the Casillero del Diablo Brut Chardonnay 2008 (RRP £9.99) was a great start to the evening, and also appeared at the end of the night to accommpany to our praline souffle (although I didn't think the food was the best match here). The Casillero del Diablo Casblanca Sauvignon Blanc 2010 (RRP £7.49) is crispy, clean and fresh - it would perhaps work better with a natural oyster than the poached oyster with orange and leek marmalade paired with it for the evening.

The unusual, peppery Casillero de Diablo Carmenere 2009 (RRP £7.49) really comes to life upon pairing with the wild duck mallard rubbed with honey and light spices. The carmenere grape is one that fell out of favour in France, but is coming into its own with some Chilean love. However, as a standalone wine, I prefer the other pairing suggestion - the Maycas del Limari Reserva Especial Syrah 2008 which is soft and sweet with gentle tannins (and a good buy at RRP £12.99).

Finally, the big papa, Casillero del Diablo Reserva Privada Cabernet Syrah 2007 (RRP £9.99) has lots of vanilla, tobacco and spice to show for its 14 months in oak. It was the better half of it's pairing with a cheesy Feuillete of Fourme D'Ambert and port reduction.

Casillero del Diablo wines can be purchased from Majestic, Waitrose, Morrisons and Maycas del Limari stockists include Hailsham Cellars, Harrods and The Wine Society. Both labels present good value, readily available wines which held up as well to the posh notch of Gauthier Soho as they should to some robust home cooking.

Gauthier Soho, 21 Romilly Street, Soho, London, W1D 5AF (Tel: 020 7494 3111)

Gauthier Soho on Urbanspoon

Greedy Diva attended the wine dinner as a guest of Casillero de Diablo Winery. The LRF dinner was paid for out of the Greedy Diva's own battered wallet.

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