Review: 82 Queen

14 November 2018

Despite a horrible hangover the next morning, I had an extremely busy day in the area that required a vehicle, so off to rent one. Some nice explorations that took me through Magnolia Cemetery, then up the coast to Georgetown, then back for a quick visit to Mepkin Abbey then finally to Middleton Place. At the latter, I had a wonderful slow stroll, hanging out with the many poseurs there…amazing how they all pose for photos!

Long day, and worse, I had logistical issues when I got back that related to the car accident I was in months ago in Pittsburgh, as well as the looming snowstorm that could mess up my flight home tomorrow. That was a damn headache to deal with. I was looking forward to dinner at one of Charleston’s most venerable restaurants, 82 Queen.

I went old-school by going to 82 Queen, somewhere I had a wonderful meal many years ago. I arrived and it was already a bit chaotic. I was seated in the upstairs section, and just as I was relaxing to look through the menu, a huge and noisy group took over the adjacent room. Oh great…

Took for ages to get any service, then finally ordered. Relaxed and relaxed and relaxed and relaxed…took quite a bit of time to get a drink, then more time… Then finally my starter, the pork belly.

1-belly

Ugh…it’s actually cold. It’s probably been sitting around because no one ran the plate up. This is just awful. By the time I got someone’s attention I’ve already eaten half of it because I’ve not had any food all day and was hungry. Sigh… Awful. They offered to take it off, but they already took off the wine because it took 20 minutes for a glass of wine to appear. This is a shitshow…

Then of course my glass by now was empty, and NO SERVICE STAFF ATTENDED THE DINING ROOM FOR 15 MINUTES. What the heck happened? This is just piss poor FoH management, even with the noisy party that’s clearly annoying other diners as well. Finally someone came up and I ordered my wine. Then the main appeared, the gumbo.

2-gumbo

Again, cold, like it was plated and sat around for another 15 minutes without being put under a heat lamp. This is restaurant 101 stuff, how are they screwing this up so badly? The shrimps here were barely edible, and you have a combination of undercooked and overcooked here, with a few colder elements. Now I’m starting to think it wasn’t plated and left around, as the coldness was by ingredient, which means it was put together with a few really bad elements. This is piss poor kitchen work.

This was a total shitshow and I’ve had enough. The manager kept apologising as they noticed how bad things were going, but I’m not gonna even bother. This is a joke. Maybe it’s time for the venerable restaurant to take a breather and re-tool. At least re-train both the FoH and the kitchen.

82 Queen
82 Queen Street
Charleston, South Carolina

* The shitty dinner made me go to the Bar at Husk next door for quite a few drinks. I had planned to avoid Husk due to what I mentioned yesterday, but this was needed. The snacks were awful (terrible pork rinds, even others at the bar complained), but drinks good. Then more drinks around town and it was all a blur…

snacks

** The next day a total clusterfuck as American Airlines’s Twitter team decided to bump me from my flight, then LIE to me telling me it was cancelled. It was NOT, it had a mild delay. And more and more BS, I ended up having to stay an extra day in Charleston. Needless to say this is likely the last time I’ll visit Charleston — and DEFINITELY the last time I’ll fly American Airlines.

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Review: Circa 1886

13 November 2018

I needed to get out of town for a few days, so made a long-overdue visit to Charleston. I’ve always thought it was a bit overrated, but it’s a good time of year to go to visit a few places I had wanted to visit in town and the area. The trip began badly when unforseen issues closed a location that I made a priority to visit, and no luck in gaining access even pleading by phone. Pain in the arse.

A busy day, no lunch, and I was hungry. There’s plenty of places to pick in Charleston, but for personal reasons I’ve decided to purposely avoid places run by several chefs who are friends of someone who defrauded me a few years ago. This means most of the most popular places in town are out, but I had my eye on Circa 1886 anyway.

I headed to the graceful Wentworth Mansion, where Circa 1886 is based. The dining room was busy, so I told them I’d be happy to just eat at the bar — so they don’t have to waste a four-top on me. I relaxed and had a nice martini as I ordered. Pretty chilled out, though the walk here was quite hazardous with the lack of street lights and terrible condition of the sidewalks and flooded areas everywhere… The martini helped, though the amuse helped far less…

0-amuse

An okay little cheesy croquette and a wee broccoli soup, nothing to really write home about. I switched to a darker cocktail for my first course, the quail.

1-quail

Not bad, fried pretty well and nicely flavoured. Enjoyed it. Then with a glass of wine, we have the main course, the pork loin.

2-pork

Cooked very well, and nicely flavoured once again. I really like when modern kitchens cook pork like this, not the horrific dried out, sawdust-leaving loins that I still often see — even in Michelin-starred places. This kitchen has done better than a handful of recent Michelin kitchens I’ve endured…

I was enjoying my evening chatting with other patrons and the staff so I decided to stay for a dessert, and this was definitely the right decision…

3-donuts

I did my best Homer Simpson impression here…mmm…donuts…{gargledrool}

Really tasty end to the evening. Had a few more drinks before I went to meet my Lyft outside. I’m not risking a walk back after this many drinks in the dark streets out here, so… But a pretty good night, pretty happy with it all.

Circa 1886
149 Wentworth Street
Charleston, South Carolina

* I did, however, decide to go for a nitecap at the venerable Kaminsky’s. I’ve always loved their desserts, but this time was for a bit more booze before I stumbled back to my hotel…

Belfast Disappoints — in So Many Ways…

27-28 October 2018

I spent a relatively quiet 2 days in Belfast, not helped by my bruised toe. But that wasn’t really the crux of my problems in this town, a place that has unfortunately left a rather poor impression in my head long after departing from it.

The dinner at Eipic was certainly not epic, and I have to say the entire dining scene was on the weak side — to be generous. My first day in town I had lunch at a place everyone seemed to recommend, Ginger Bistro.

Thank goodness it was so near my hotel, with my now red and blue toe. I arrived and the service seems a bit spacey. In fact, this was common everywhere in Belfast except for Eipic (tho it did remind me of the very beginning when it was rather spotty). I eventually ordered, after several other tables that had arrived after me had done so… I didn’t think much of it to be honest, but it’s noticeable. I’ll address this later. But first up was one of their signature dishes…

A-1b-squid

This squid is pretty good, fried very in the old salt-and-pepper method. The advertised spicy dip was really weak tho, so I just enjoyed the squid on its own. Not bad. Then after quite a long wait, the main arrived — lamb.

A-2-lamb

Well, it perhaps took too long because it was totally overcooked. The meat was dry, but thank goodness for the tasty sauce to make it palatable. The other components, from roots to pea shoots, were quite nice and helped the dish along, but wish the lamb itself was cooked better. Oh well. Took ages to get their attention so I didn’t bother with dessert so just settled up and headed out.

Later I had that dinner at Eipic, and just went to rest my foot. Luckily the next day it was a bit better so managed to explore the town. Good thing about bruises is that they don’t swell badly, so I could just keep going. I ducked into lunch at a place called Home. Let’s see if it’s homey…

Again very loose service, and one server was just plain ignoring me. Took a long time to get anyone’s attention. And by now I’m starting to wonder about why I am singled out to be ignored, and it’s sadly sinking into me. I’ll get to this later. But I ordered and tried to chill out. I gotta say nice music over the PA tho…

B-1-prawn

The lunch started off with some fried prawns. Not bad, worked okay, more as a snack tho. Went down well with the wine. Then for the main was a pork dish…

B-2-pork

Again, overcooked, with some rather dried out pork here. This time the sauce didn’t help it along, as the overdose of beans that seemed undercooked made it a texture nightmare. Not a good dish, and sadly abandoned. Service has improved a bit but if the kitchen can’t really perform I’m not sticking around for a dessert. Sigh…

With a few other examples experienced in town during the 2 days, I am starting to wonder if I’m a victim of casual racism. Even at one point, I won’t mention where, but I was greeted with “oh, you speak English?” by service staff. I should have shouted back “AN BHFUIL GAEILGE AGAT?!” but I was so stunned. And this was not an isolated incident. I’ve never been in a city that I felt so disrespected in my life.

That did not improve when I headed to James St. for dinner. Supposedly highly rated for steaks, but I was greeted again strangely by the service staff so I just ordered a pasta to see how it goes…

C-crab linguine

And this crab linguine was a cry for help. The pasta was cooked okay, but the sauce and crab was just awful. Throw in the very questionable service and the really annoying American tourists next to me, I called it a night and went to get some take-away and give up on this city.

Sorry, Belfast, you won’t see me come back. This short stay was basically a disaster, and frankly this place still has a lot of growing up to do and to ditch some attitudes that most of the world has for decades.

Ginger Bistro
68-72 Great Victoria Street

Home
22 Wellington Place

James St.
19-21 James Street South
Belfast, Northern Ireland

* Perhaps as a fitting final headache from this place, the lady at Belfast City Airport was probably the rudest airline worker I have ever met in my life — this is from 90+ flights a year, mind you. A quick stop in Bournemouth and then across the Pond and home…

Review: Eipic

27 October 2018

Things started today the worst way possible, and every frequent traveller can attest to this happening. Unfamiliar hotel room, and you start the day by KICKING something hard — like the bedframe. Ouch. Needless to say this made the trek out to Belfast less than comfortable, and the day very annoying, if not outright painful at times.

A nice morning slow stroll, a little ouchy at times, and a so-so lunch, and a more uncomfortable afternoon as my toe is now fully bruised…oh, I so need a good dinner. Tonight’s destination is Eipic by Deanes, one of few places in Belfast to have earned a Michelin star. I made this booking over a month ago, before this run of Michelin fails the past week plus:

Tafelspitz 1876* in Düsseldorf
Chapter One* in Dublin
Pollen Street Social** in London

I got to Eipic and was given a nice table — once I found out how to get into the restaurant proper. Relaxed with a drink and I relaxed after going with the full tasting. This is the final tasting menu in Europe for 2018, so let’s hope it doesn’t end like some of the above. After a wee time, some snacks appeared…

00-snacks

Not a bad selection. The tomato consommé was pretty tasty, the chickpea crisp not bad, and the shallot bite quite nice. The service has ground to a bit of a snail’s pace here, as it took about 20 minutes even for those snacks to appear, and another 20 minutes or so before a Tasmanian pinot noir is poured for the first course.

zzz

 

Smoked mushrooms, not bad but a bit underseasoned. The smoke was quite nice, but the crackling and grain added the wrong type of texture to this dish and took out the delicate nature of the mushrooms. Not bad of a dish, but could have been so much better. Let’s see what comes with the second dish, as a really big pour of Riesling signalled its appearance.

02-ravioli

Seafood ravioli, a beautiful plate, and some nice flavours here with the lobster emulsion. Pretty tasty ravioli (tho one seems to be significantly smaller than the other), cooked well. I’m glad I had plenty of bread to soak up the delicious emulsion. Good dish, things moving well. And I have to say the pours here are extremely generous, demonstrated again by a nice chenin blanc from Stellenbosch for the third dish — brill.

03-brill

Unfortunately the fish was cooked rather uneven, but at least the flavour is quite good — once you try to ignore how crazy uneven it was. The “bone sauce” was fabulous, could have used more of it to help the fish along. The kohlrabi was excellent, and all of it worked very well with the wine. For all the kitchen inconsistencies, the FoH seems to have totally waken up now and the wine pours have been extremely generous and service very smooth.

 

I relaxed and caught my breath knowing that the next item is the last of the savouries, and that was confirmed by the appearance of the venison.

04-venison

First of all, it’s cooked well, which is always saying a lot. Good flavours all around, perhaps not quite as good as at Timberyard the other day in Edinburgh, but it’s very tasty. The advertised “spice” was on the mild side but worked very well, though I for one can’t wait to see the end of the seasonal pumpkin use as I am never a fan of it. So glad winter is approaching…

Although somewhat inconsistent, the flavours have been generally good. I still think a Michelin-starred kitchen should be more consistent, but considering the rubbish I’ve had recently this is far above the 3 I listed above. Then with a nice semi-sweet poured we have a nice dessert.

05-sea buckthorn

Sea buckthorn ice cream! I love sea buckthorn, its tanginess is just so addictive. Love this. Then a tad sweeter dessert wine is poured, again a healthy portion, and we have the final dessert based on apple and chocolate.

06-apple chocolate

An odd combination as I thought it clashed, so I ate them separately. The apple sorbet on its own was delicious, as was the white chocolate mousse within the “apple” crust. So it worked well in its own way. That was a nice close. Then a bit of a closer with some coffee.

finale

The service has turned excellent through the evening so I was happy to enjoy a bit of a tipple afterwards. I saw the place filling up on this busy Saturday evening, so I moved up to the bar to free up the table. Then a bit of an odd situ as whilst I enjoyed my drink standing at the bar, someone came to say hello — and I was a little shocked as it was the FoH manager from Chapter One in Dublin. He came up for the weekend with his partner so that was nice, and was nice for him to come to say hello — despite my somewhat harsh comments about his place when I was there. But I did say he seemed like the only person to have actually cared what I said. But that was awkward…

Anyway, Eipic overall isn’t bad. Service turned wonderful once they got moving, but the kitchen was a little too inconsistent for this level — supposedly. I have no bloody idea anymore, as Michelin-starred places are often so poor in my experience. Of the 28 Michelin-starred restaurants in Europe I have dined in 2018, I would say more than half were not worth my time or money. I think that is a indictment of how poor Michelin is becoming.

Well, what can I say. I know for sure in 2019 I will not be visiting 28 Michelin starred restaurants in Europe — or anywhere. This was not quite a whimper, but was nowhere near a bang. It’s…it’s…Michelin mediocrity…

Eipic
27-40 Howard Street
Belfast, Northern Ireland

Review: Ondine

26 October 2018

I had a busy afternoon, but thank goodness today was the least hectic day of the week. Finished some annoying logistical planning and paperwork, thankfully fuelled by that excellent lunch at White Horse. But I was also looking forward to dinner at Ondine, often called the best seafood place in Edinburgh.

I headed there for a long hike uphill on the Royal Mile, seeing some of my old haunts (including a dreaded hotel I shudder recalling) and got to Ondine. Already the service was a mess as they were near the end of a busy Friday evening happy hour. Lucky I caught it, and someone bothered to serve me in time, as I ordered some oysters to get the night going.

1-oysters_edited

Not bad, a nice assortment. Sorry about the weird colour in the photos, but the place is BATHED in a really annoying red/pink light that gave me a headache… And there was one server who was ignoring me with a look of pure hostility. What is up with some people these days? Sigh… Anyway, my server was pleasant enough (also Italian) and recommended a few things, and I went with one of my call and one of his recs.

I enjoyed my wine as the place quieted down a bit during the transition from the oyster happy hour to the Friday night dinner crowd when my dressed crab dish arrived.

2-crab_edited

Not bad, but nothing too special. Inevitable with this dish you get a lot of loose rogue cartilage, but this dish seemed just a bit messier than you’d expect. Then the main course arrived, the langoustines.

3-langoustines_edited

You may wonder why I went with this considering where I was just a week or so earlier, but they said it was fresh, so I wanted to compare. Yep, no comparison, these were nowhere as good as the ones in the Faroes. Not bad, but nothing special.

With the shaky (albeit friendly from the one guy) service, I decided to call it a night here. I was tired and I have a stupidly early morning flight tomorrow to Belfast, so I thanked them and headed out…

Ondine is a bit more show than substance, though the oysters were good. However, White Horse is far better on both departments, and if you have a seafood craving I’d recommend White Horse instead of Ondine for all the reasons you can imagine — better kitchen, better service, better price.

Plus, you don’t get a headache from that red/pink light at Ondine…

Ondine
2 George IV Bridge
Edinburgh, Scotland

* In fact I took my own advice and stopped at White Horse en route back and had a few drinks and a last half dozen oysters…

Reviews: White Horse

25-26 October 2018

I mentioned in the previous review about the nice dinner at Timberyard. But earlier in the day, as I was heading back to my hotel dead tired, I noticed a place just steps away from it called White Horse. I thought about a quick late lunch, so I stepped in there.

Turns out to be quite a nice oyster and seafood place, and I sat at the bar and had a good chat with the very friendly crew there. So I started with some oysters, and they brought me half a dozen locals.

a1-oysters

Very tasty, love the flavour of these local oysters. Not quite as good as those New Zealand bluff oysters that has utterly ruined me but these were quite nice. Good enough for me to order a few more things. I enjoyed another cocktail chatting with the friendly Italian bartender when they arrived. First up, razors.

a2-razor

I love razors, and this was a nice rendition. Love the addition of chorizo, which worked really well with the spicy oil. Very tasty. Then next up, which was the bartender’s recommendation, the octopus.

a3-octopus

Also quite delicious, with a generous portion of delicious merguez as well. Cooked perfectly, lovely flavours in the octopus. A nice discovery! In fact, so good that I came back for lunch the next day

I returned and the same staff seemed happy to see me. I had actually dropped by after my dinner at Timberyard for a quick drink before going back to my hotel, so they are used to me now I reckon! I relaxed with another of their cocktails and ordered. Was good to chat with several of the now-familiar FoH staff as I enjoyed my drink, and soon my food.

b1-scallop

First up was scallops. Not bad, but a little underseasoned. And honestly as I said the Faroes have really ruined me for scallops, but these were far better than the ones I had at Michelin-starred Chapter One in Dublin or the rather dubious ones at similarly-starred Tafelspitz 1876 in Düsseldorf… I also had a side of broccolini.

b2-broccollini

Delicious, a big side, but worked well with all my dishes. Next up, mackerel…

b3a-mackerel

Oh this was so delicious, cooked so well… All the wonderful oily flavours were retained, yet the texture really fabulous without sacrificing taste. About as good as last night’s fabulous rendition. This kitchen has some chops for sure! I finished off the fish and the vegetables, but had room for a last snack, so the now-familiar bartender suggested some salmon…

b4-salmon

And it was a good call. Surprisingly good, full of flavour. I’ve become a bit numb to smoked salmon, but this was a nice flavourful dish to call it an afternoon.

Highly recommended, an accidental and pleasant discovery! Excellent kitchen, wonderful FoH staff, a really cool place to hang out for some food and drinks. I’m quite happy to have discovered this place, and this is some of the best food I’ve had since I left the Faroes, and puts so much of the Michelin laggards to shame.

Check it out, you won’t be disappointed!

White Horse
266 Canongate, Royal Mile
Edinburgh, Scotland

Review: Timberyard

25 October 2018

After last night’s calamitous “dinner” at Aizle, I was apprehensive about this evening’s dinner plans. I had another ridiculous busy day that took me all over the Lothians — including the magnificent Dean Cemetery. Even though I had a nice late lunch (which I’ll discuss in the next review) I was hungry. When I arrived at Timberyard on a misty evening, I was tired and hungry.

I was led to the bar, which was already busy. Oh well, at least some folks to talk to. I relaxed and looked over the menu, enjoying an opening cocktail, and hoped it goes far smoother than last night. As a worked on the cocktail a series of amuse comes through…

A1-snacks

The first plate was sad looking but the beet was nice, as was the sausage and the rather mauled pickle. The second was a nice local seaweed with a very tasty sauce based on oyster. The last was a good ol’ oyster, which was quite tasty too. A good start, and my cocktail was finished. A pour of a Riesling from Mosel and we start off with the crab dish.

1-crab_edited

Not bad, definitely a generous portion under the kohlrabi. A bit sloppy as I nearly broke a tooth, but that’s par for the course. Lovely flavour here, enhances the natural goodness of the crab. A good start. Then with an English (!!) wine, we have the mackerel.

2a-mackerel

Now this is nice. This has a distinct Japanese feel to it, and it was cooked very well. Lovely quality of one of my favourite oily fish, perfect skin. The daikon added to the Japanese theme, as did the really tasty broth on the side. I’m starting to feel confident here about this evening!

3-hen egg mushrooms_edited

Next up was hen egg with an assortment of fungi, from hen of the woods to truffles to chanterelles. A tasty selection of mushrooms for sure, the hen of the woods was particularly fantastic. Another winner here! Then with a beaujolais nouveau we have the partridge.

4-partridge

Nicely cooked, lovely flavour. I’m not the biggest partridge fan, but this was really nice. I enjoyed the chunk of celeriac too on the side, which was surprisingly delicious. The good dinner, albeit a little slow, is going very nicely. Good, well-informed staff made the time pass right by. Then with a aged chardonnay we have the hake.

5-hake

Again, hake not one of my usual favourites, but this was surprisingly good. The meaty fish was extremely strong, with a nice assortment of shoots to help it along. Another surprisingly good dish. I think I am sold on this place already, as we move to the final savoury dish — venison.

6-venison

Kudos to this kitchen for cooking this so well. Delicious, the meat sourced well and executed perfectly. I love venison when it’s cooked well, and this was indeed such an example. The beets and curd added to the richness of this dish, playing off the berry-based sauce very well. Indeed an excellent dish, I almost wished the savouries would continue!

Alas, no as we move into the latter segment. First up, a dessert based on cherry.

7-cherry

Very nice, the main ingredient presented in several ways, each of them delicious. The topping on the hazlenut ice cream is just wonderful. Then finally, with an ice cidre poured, we have the final item, their take on the bramble.

8-bramble

Again, a delicious assortment of items, from plums to walnuts, brought this traditional pudding to modern tastes. A nice close, and that ice cidre is just awesome… A wonderful dinner! The crew was very friendly so I stayed to drink for a bit, enjoying a few nice tipple before I ventured into the rain for the bus back to my hotel.

After last night’s mess I didn’t expect that much from tonight, but goodness I was proved wrong. What an awesome place here. Excellent cooking, friendly and efficient staff. And no disgruntled chef! Nothing to be disgruntled about, some fabulous items, especially the venison and mackerel.

This is how you do it! Highly recommended!

Timberyard
10 Lady Lawson Street
Edinburgh, Scotland