Tuesday, 27 May 2008

an a-MAZE-ing Bank Holiday...

OK, so yesterday was another Bank Holiday here. And you know what I do on Bank Holidays.

And, given my outrageously naff post title, you've probably already guessed where we went. Yip, Maze. Ever so well done of you.

Maze, then. Home of Jason Atherton - he of Gordon Ramsay Holdings, now that company's most brightly burning star since the recent departure of Marcus Wareing. Having lost Wareing (and therefore also Wareing's 2 Michelin stars), The Connaught, and La Noisette from his stable in the past few months, Gordon must be hoping for ever-greater things from his young protege.

Things have certainly been looking good. Maze has hardly been in out of the spotlights ever since it opened in 2005. Atherton has already won his first Michelin star, and is widely expected to win his second soon. In the meantime, he has a new recipe book out, and was a prominent finalist in this year's Great British Menu, winning the right to serve 2 out of 4 courses at a dinner at the Gherkin hosted by Heston Blumenthal for some of the world's most celebrated chefs. No pressure there, then.

But could he handle a real test? (That's me and The Other Diner, by the way. Do keep up.)

Only one way to find out. So - we booked a table for lunch on 27th May. No problem. And when the due date came around, we were very glad we'd been so darned organised for once. Since it absolutely p*ssed it down with rain ALL day, spending the best part of the afternoon munching on incredibly wonderful food from the Maze kitchens seemed like a very sensible idea indeed.

Anyway, enough of the natter. Onto the meat, so to speak.

The menu? Well, to start with, you have to choose which menu. Set lunch? A la carte? Or the tasting menu, as follows?

Starters
Crab salad, pickled mooli, apple jelly, Bloody Mary sorbet 8.50
Pressed marinated foie gras, Lincolnshire smoked eel, baked potato foam and dill 9.00 Jerusalem artichoke velouté, braised Gressingham duck leg and cep brioche 7.00
Cornish crab mayonnaise with avocado, sweet corn sorbet and Oscietra caviar 8.50
Roasted sea scallops, cauliflower purée, Muscatel vinegar dressing 9.00
Arbroath smokie with soft boiled quail’s eggs, chive and potato salad, native oyster cream 8.50
Slow roasted prawns with pumpkin purée, rye croutons, crab bisque and vanilla oil 9.50
Artichoke and potato salad, truffle mayonnaise and potato mustard 7.50
Marinated beetroot, Sairass cheese, pine nuts and Cabernet Sauvignon dressing 7.50
Assiette of sandwiches ‘BLT ’and Croque monsieur 8.00

Main courses
Honey and soy roasted quail, Landes foie gras and spiced pear chutney 8.50
Braised shin of veal, pumpkin risotto and aged parmesan 9.00
Roasted red mullet, bouillabaisse consommé, saffron and olive tapenade 10.00
Halibut with saffron pasta, braised carrots, gremolata, and veal vinaigrette 10.00
Steamed daurade Royale with candied aubergine, spicy ketchup and bok choi 10.00
Monkfish, roasted scallop, dehydrated black olives, and mussel reduction 10.00
Roasted rack of lamb, confit breast, lamb bolognese and provençale vegetables 10.50
Roast squab, Peking leg, marinated turnip and date sauce 10.50
Beef ‘tongue ‘n’ cheek’ caper raisin and ginger carrots 10.50
Rare breed Sussex pork ‘Head to toe’, parsnip and spiced lentils 10.50

OK, so the tasting menu it was. Greed prevailed. I feel no shame.

Actually, it's not so sinful as you might think. Partly why Atherton has been such a hit is that the food is served in tapas-sized portions, so that you can sample more than you might ordinarily and not suffer horribly ever after for it. Our waiter recommended that we have 2 dishes each from the starter section, and then 2 dishes each from the mains. Well, since he insisted...

It was a tough decision, but I went for the crab salad and the BLT, followed by the steamed daurade and then the beef. Oh, and a flight of revelatory wines (3 glasses chosen by the sommelier - in this case, a Gewurztramminer, a contrastingly dry Italian white, and a luscious Resalte Crianza).

First up, the crab:

Maze - crab salad

Yes, I know. I realise it's not the best picture, and I'm sorry. We had limited natural light, given the appalling weather and grimly dark clouds, and my point-and-shoot really struggled. But hopefully you get the idea. What you see is a carpaccio of cucumber, then a bed of crab, on top of which (from left to right) is the bloody mary sorbet, mooli, and apple jelly.

Was it any good? Er, yes. Yes, it was. Very good. Each element - the cucumber, crab, sorbet, mooli, and jelly was about as perfect as you could imagine it to be. Together, they made for a simply delicious starter - light, fragrant, fresh, delicate, but full of zing and taste at the same time. Crab starters can often be a tad on the insipid side - but not here.

On, then, to the BLT. In case there's anyone out there who's not familiar with a BLT - it's a bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich (usually with mayo, sometimes with onion) - a veritable bastion of British workday lunchtimes. In Atherton's hands, though, the humble sarnie became something altogether different...

Maze - BLT

Again, not the best photo - not just for reasons of the light (or lack thereof), but also because I've completely failed to show the tomato consomme jelly lurking at the bottom of the glass, and the 'mayo' layer underneath the lettuce veloute. But you can at least clearly see the veloute, the lardons, and the most-delicate-ever tempura onion rings. Oh, and in the background to the left of the plate is a mini croque monsieur.

Yes, I know it sounds a bit, well, unpleasant, frankly. But it wasn't. And I knew it wasn't going to be, either, given that the judges on the Great British Menu had already hailed it as a triumph. I have to say, not that I have their years of expertise, I entirely agree with them. Again, every element was delicious. The soft, just-set jelly had the right tad of tomatoe-y acidity about it, the cream 'mayo' wasn't cloying or sticky, the lardons were porcinely perfect, and the lettuce veloute gave finished the whole thing with an alluring grassiness. And the onion rings were amazing - for all their minuteness, they were indubitably still onion rings, their taste and pungency wholly in proportion with the rest of the dish.

And the croque monsieur? My God. Cheesey wonderfulness - the crispest, softest, fluffiest, most flavoursome toast I ever expect to eat. When I gave The Other Diner a bite to try, it looked for a moment that I might lose the whole thing.

Mmm. Wow. I was beginning to understand why Jason Atherton is mentioned in awestruck tones.

But, you know, we had another 3 courses to think about. I mean, to eat. So breaking off from my BLT reverie, I continued on...

Maze - steamed daurade

... the steamed daurade. Not an obvious choice, this, for me. I usually prefer my fish to be crispy-grilled, or roasted. But I know there are many advocates of steaming, so I thought I should give it a whirl.

The photo simply doesn't do it justice. It looked so pretty - all silvery and quite without a single flaw. Really, it looked as though it had been just that moment plucked from the sea by someone wearing kid gloves. Which, given how fresh it tasted, it might well have been. I'm not particularly familiar with daurade (or gilt-head bream, as it's also known), but this was succulent, delicate, and very more-ish. The ever-so-slightly sweet and tangy candied aubergine and tomato sauce not only went well together, but served as perfect foils for the milder-tasting fish. I thought they - particularly the tomato - might overwhelm it, but no.

OK, so I'm going to have to give steaming a try when I get my kitchen back. I suspect supremely fresh fish is the ultimate key, but I can always give it a go.

Mmm. What next? Oh yes, the beef 'tongue 'n' cheek'. I'd seen one element of this - the ox cheek - in Atherton's main course offering on The Great British Menu. Prue Leith had declared she'd be happy to eat it 365 days of the year. Quite some recommendation, then. But could it really be that good?

Maze - beef 'tongue 'n' cheek'

Ahem. Yes. It could, and it was. I'm sorry, but you really need a close-up of that cheek...

Maze - beef 'tongue 'n' cheek' 2

Can you taste that? That deeply meaty, unctuous, melty cheek? Richly marinated, then caramelised and cooked till falling-apart point? You can? OK, good. Job done.

Just for good measure, I should add that the tongue and the carrots were the best I've ever tasted, too.

So that leaves, uh, dessert. What shall we have?

Selection of British cheeses 5.50/9.50
‘Pain Au Chocolat’ chocolate ganache with café latte sorbet and milk mousse 6.00
Pineapple carpaccio, coconut sorbet, seaweed croquette and Malibu lime jelly 6.50
Texture of pear with chocolate mille feuille 6.50
Madagascan vanilla rice pudding, raspberry and lemon thyme jam, mascarpone and pecan ice cream 6.00
Chocolate Moelleux, pistachio sabayon with milk and honey ice cream 6.50
Peanut butter and cherry jam sandwich with salted nuts and cherry sorbet 6.50
Coconut panna cotta with black olive caramel, white chocolate granité 6.00
Selection of ice cream and sorbets 4.00/6.00

Oh, and I have to pick one? Jeez.

Actually, you don't, of course. This being a tasting menu, you can have whatever you like. And since just about every one of those desserts beckoned me, I was sorely tempted. But, unlikely though it may seem, modesty finally won out. The coconut panna cotta got the nod.

Maze - coconut pannacotta 2

This was such a lovely way to end the meal - all cool, silken, creamy coconut panna cotta with even cooler granite, all topped with a dash of salty olive caramel. And a bit of mango coulis thrown in. Joyous stuff.

No, it wasn't the cheapest meal ever, but I thought we deserved it after enduring so many weeks of being kitchen-less. And it was worth absolutely every penny and more - the kind of meal that lingers on the memory and the tastebuds for a long, long time.

Jason Atherton - we salute you, and long may your (Michelin) star shine. If you haven't got two by this time next year, I'll be writing to the Michelin gods myself to complain.


Maze on Urbanspoon

27 comments:

Sylvie said...

Sounds and looks like a great experience! Lucky you.

Happy cook said...

OHHHHHHHHHHH why was i not there yo eat this a-MAZE-ing food :-)

Pia K said...

Apart from the meaty stuff - sorry but tongue'n'cheek thing... ahem, not really my kind of thing, not even before I became a vegetarian back in the stone ages - it pretty much sounds awesome!

I always wonder how well these top-notch restaurant deals with vegetarian requests though, the times I've had to ask for a vegetarian alternative (like at the Swedish Gordon-Ramsey-wannabe-owned restaurant of Fredsgatan 12) it's been rather a fiasco.

Peabody said...

It all looks delish!

Lizzie said...

Lovely pictures! I went to Maze once and had the tasting menu and I agree - Atherton is a great chef. I wish I had the guts to get the camera out, we had a cracking meal at Launceston Place on Saturday night.

Neen said...

Oh wow, looks absolutely gorgeous. Thanks so much for sharing, getting your great visuals is almost as good as being there

Bellini Valli said...

It seems as though I could just pick up my fork & knife and dig in:D

Sophie said...

That food looks fantastic! And you definitely deserved it after all that time without kitchen (we had a week with no kitchen earlier in the year and that was bad enough).

Hope you enjoyed the Gewurtraminer (it's my favourite wine!)

lorraine@italianfoodies said...

Now I have to be honest with you, you are making it rather difficult for me to keep feeling sorry for you!! My mind is saying yes do but then my eyes send messages back that convince it not to and then pure green jealousy takes over!!!;) This looks absolutely fab and once again the pics really tell the story, I still wonder how you take these great pics without anyone noticing???

p.s. when do you start your food critic post??:)

Helen said...

Yay! This is great timing. We have been trying to decide whether to visit Maze or Clardiges and can't decide. Have you been to Claridges? I really want to taste that BLT, it's been on my mind since the Great British Menu!

aforkfulofspaghetti said...

sylvie - it was, and yes, I do count myself lucky

happy cook - I don't know. Where were you?? ;)

pia - yes, Maze wasn't so good on vegetarian options, it must be said. Most good restaurants here are much better than they used to be, though

peabody - it was, it was

lizzie - ah, I was wondering if you went. Glad you enjoyed it.

neen - thank you. I try ;)

bellini - nope, sorry, you can't. I ate it all ;)

sophie - I'm guilty of not drinking Gewurztramminer as often as I should. I don't know why I overlook it so often, as I love it!

lorraine - I'm not secretive about taking photos. I just take my camera out, point, and shoot. If anyone has a problem with it, they've yet to tell me

helen - have emailed you at your hotmail address. It depends on the kind of experience you're after. If you want to push the boundaries, go for Maze

michelle @ TNS said...

next time i come to the UK, i'm going out to dinner with YOU. you know how to eat.

Heather said...

While everything else looks amazing (truly), I think that the BLT in a glass wins the "If It Ain't Broke, Don't Fix It" award.

I've never tasted a Michelin star, you lucky thing.

Cookie baker Lynn said...

Wow, what a fabulous meal! I love the idea of a tasting menu with tiny portions so the indecisive can enjoy some of everything.

Manggy said...

I just love living vicariously through you! I didn't know Ramsay had lost two of his Michelin Stars. Now I'll be a little depressed each time I leaf through "3 Star Chef" (at the book store... I'm not made of money, haha!-- and even then I could use that money to buy PANS!). Everything still looks dreamy from my inexperienced eyes, though :)

White On Rice Couple said...

I think your crab dish picture is beautiful! Everything looks great and I would love to try the pineapple carpaccio!

Browners said...

Hey there!

I have tagged you for a Meme on the Paunch. Would be great if you could get involved. Also, we should definitely get together for coffee, lunch, or some dinner very soon!

http://aroundbritainwithapaunch.blogspot.com/2008/06/meme-5-things-about-us.html

Cheers

Jonathan

Kate / Kajal said...

oh my ... thats a whole lotta nice looking food.

Rosie said...

Ooooooooh this is such great looking food - really amazing!!

Rosie x

David Hall said...

lucky you! i love his stuff and i dont buy many cook books these days, but his was a pre-order on amazon! very envious!

cheers
David

Alex Rushmer said...

I'm so jealous. Great post and now I want to go even more than I did before!

matt wright said...

This looks awesome - I haven't eaten at Maze, and doubt I will any time soon.

Really nicely composed plates, great to see.

Helen said...

Absolutely fantastic sounding and looking.
We ate at Gordon Ramsay @ The London in NYC and went for a tasting (or Prestige) menu. One of the courses was a BLT tasting concotion in a shot glass - much the same as you got but smaller I guess. I agree with your comments - it was definitely tastier than it sounds.

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