My best friend has found a new best friend. And that new best friend isn’t even an actual person. It’s the rather brilliant Bookatable, purveyor of shiny restaurant bargains. There’s no way I can compete so, as the old saying goes, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.
Our first foray with Bookatable took us to Adam Handling at The Caxton. As a huge fan of Masterchef, I was very excited to eat at the restaurant of one of my favourite former contestants. Handling was a finalist in the 2013 series of Masterchef: The Professionals, and right from the outset he impressed with confident and competent cooking. I adored him even more after watching him struggle with “conceptual cooking” in one of the later episodes, and still managing to nail it by coming up with a dish inspired by how angry he was about the whole task. A favourite to win, with a feisty streak a mile wide, I think he was robbed of the title; but he doesn’t seem to have done too badly out of being a runner up.
Handling is based at Caxton restaurant within the St Ermin Hotel, an elegant venue near St James’ Park. The interior is immaculately decorated, with a convivial, gentleman’s club atmosphere. A large glass of red at the bar was accompanied by small plates of delicious bread, cheese and ham; the risk of spoiling our dinner was great! Before we could fill our bellies too much, we headed into the dining room for our three course meal where more appetite-ruining temptation was placed in front of us in the form of warm sourdough bread with rich, salty chicken butter. Wonderful.
As we were dining with Bookatable, we were offered a set menu instead of the a la carte but even with more limited choice, we struggled to decide between dishes as they all looked so delicious. To start, I ordered the enigmatically titled “duck liver, pear & rosemary”. This turned out to be an oozingly unguent duck liver pate served with slices of toasted brioche, and offset by a sharp, sweet pear puree. If I had been served three courses of just this, I would have been a happy girl. Unfortunately things only went downhill.
My main course was gnocchi, pumpkin, almonds and burnt butter. A winning combination. However, for me, the mixture of burnt butter and pumpkin seeds was slightly too bitter on the palate. It was a surprisingly strong tasting dish that sat a little too heavily in my stomach. I enjoyed it….but I probably wouldn’t order it again. After requesting a short break before the next course, which the staff happily accommodated, it was time for dessert. I had ordered the orange & chocolate trifle; it had been highly recommended by our waiter so I was expecting great things. What I wasn’t expecting, however, was to be served something so unpleasant that I wasn’t able to finish it. It looked pretty enough; a jam jar filled with all manner of naughty, decadent ingredients. However, it tasted like someone had soaked a bar of Dairy Milk in orange juice and squirted cream on the top, so jarring were the flavours.
Three courses plus a glass of Prosecco for £35 at a restaurant of this bearing is a pretty good deal to be honest. It was disappointing that the menu went from the sublime to the ridiculous, but the service was great and I would be interested to try some of the dishes from the a la carte menu on another occasion. I still believe that Adam Handling should have won Masterchef and he is most definitely a chef to watch. His future is as assured as he is.