It's not fancy, it's not big and it's not clever, but the scrag end is delicious. For simple, honest opinions on restaurants, recipes, supper clubs and what not, you've come to the right place.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

San Francisco, Napa Valley and Heathrow Airport (part one)

It started, as transatlantic travel so often does, with a meal in an airport. Gordon Ramsey’s Plane Food, at Heathrow’s Terminal 5, fits perfectly in that gleaming monstrosity, with only a terrible pun to mark it out from the various overpriced designer shops that litter the corridors of this most glamourised of bus stations. A breakfast pancake with cinnamon butter and bananas was a treat however, gooey and soft in all the right places. With orange juice and coffee, it came to a laughable £14.50, but then I suppose it was at least twice as good as the less-than-half-price Wetherspoons would have been.

A mere 15 hours later, San Francisco and Mayflower Seafood. I’d dithered about whether to go to this recommended Chinese restaurant, put off by tales of ethically dubious shark fin soup. Those rumours proved founded, but, shamefully perhaps, I went anyway, though I didn’t eat the offending dish. Like AV voting, my decision was a ‘miserable little compromise.’ It’s a shame about the shark fin, because the Mayflower is excellent. Packed to the gills with locals, it was probably one of the best Chinese restaurants I’ve ever been to, especially at about $25 per head.

Peking duck was fatty and moist, entirely different from the desiccated version we eat here. Frogs legs with garlic and sherry-soaked sausage were a bony revelation, while the more familiar sweet and sour pork was a prime example of the genre.

Beef with honey and mustard sauce excelled too, and Tsingtao beer was exactly the same as it always is. Busy, efficient service and a cacophonous atmosphere made this a great start to the trip, shark fin guilt notwithstanding.

Phil Letts’ take: 8/10 (0 for ethics, mine and the restaurant’s)

Mayflower Seafood on Urbanspoon

Corporate hospitality ensured the next day was restaurant-free, but nibbles will only keep you replete for so long. Our next stop was Pagan, a Burmese/Thai mix (a border town, perhaps). Another reasonable option (about $20 each for more than we could eat), this was rather less interesting.

Burmese beef curry was rich and layered, but everything else was rather disappointing, from a sickly coconut chicken noodle soup to a watery thai red curry and spring rolls that were just plain odd.

Phil Letts’ take: 5/10

Pagan on Urbanspoon

Various diners served burgers of varying quality for lunch, but none so exciting I’d recommend attending or avoiding. Thankfully, work then ended and Cute Letts arrived. The proper eating could begin.

After a breezy walk around the fantastically beautiful Lands End, we popped in at the Cliff House, a remarkable double restaurant (posh and bistro) perched, as its name would suggest, on the edge of a cliff. The views were wonderful; the food in the bistro, less so. We went for the daily menu, at $25 for three courses – that’s a pretty good price, which is just as well, considering the rather more elevated numbers had we selected from the carte.

A tomato panzanella (so-called, though I don’t think that’s a particularly accurate description) to start featured beautiful, fresh, flavoursome tomatoes and decent mozzarella, all rather ruined by a ‘balsamic reduction’ that smacked of long-boiled, cheap vinegar, and overpowered the clean, simple flavours of the rest of the dish.

Swordfish followed, simply grilled and only slightly overcooked. Asparagus and carrots were surprisingly bland accompaniments, though a tapenade-type topping was better. A dessert of zabaglione and red fruits rescued things somewhat, the sweet, rich froth a perfect foil for juicy fruits.

An awful Monterey Riesling and a rather better Supery Sauvignon Blanc cancelled each other out in the wine-quality stakes.

Phil Letts’ take: 6/10

And then, and finally for this instalment, we went for lunch on Fisherman’s Wharf, at Nonna Rose. Crab is the thing to have here, so I had ½ a Dungeness version, beautifully steamed and simply served with warm butter, a bowl of tinned clam chowder, and a bib. It was glorious, though at $15 odd dollars for a small half, it should have been. Anchor Steam (my new favourite beer) was terrific alongside. Cute Letts went for a crab and prawn Louie – essentially a giant, uninteresting salad with very nice fish and a mediocre prawn cocktail sauce. It hit the spot without being particularly brilliant.

If you must go to Fisherman’s Wharf (and I suppose you must, even though it’s tatty and overpriced) I should think you could do a lot worse. Thankfully, the rest of our trip was full of extraordinary culinary highs. They’re coming up in part two...

Phil Letts’ take: 6/10

Nonna Rose on Urbanspoon

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