thepassionatecook is SIX years old today! Shamefully, I only just realised and did nothing by way of preparing a special post or baking a nice cake or making a fancy cocktail or realising the idea of a weekend cooking what I perceive to be the blog highlights or signature dishes... oh well, I guess after six years, I have regained my life outside blogging and a restaurant review, a rare feat on this blog, will have to make do ;-)
Three foodbloggers strolling through the streets of Chelsea which seemed strangely deserted on a sunny Saturday afternoon... one drooling over the Aston Martins and Maseratis glistening in the evening sun, the other struggling to keep up with my galumphing, heavily pregnant as she was, and me still slightly reluctant at the thought of visiting yet another gastropub that wouldn't cut the mustard. After all, I had traded in being served a maki feast by my personal sushi chef... but I was to be pleasantly surprised, both by the company of old and new friends) and the rather lovely dinner we were served at the Cadogan Arms.
The setting is in pretty standard gastro pub style: slightly worn and chuffed bare tables, wooden floors (I guess if you transform a pub into a gastro pub, the first thing you'll do is to get rid of the carpet that carries the smell of smoke and many a spilled beer suffered over the past few decades) and the dining area at a safe distance from the bar to still accomodate for the occasional rowdy drunk that might stumble in late at night. You don't want to inconvenience the distinguished Chelsea punters, now, do you? Extra charm and quirkiness have been added by a massive fireplace, gigantic candle holders and a rather curious selection of hunting trophies (an impressive wild boar over the fireplace, deer antlers and fish in glass boxes) made us all feel slightly queasy... or maybe this should be attributed to the cocktails we drank a bit too hastily on an empty stomach?
The very friendly staff and the slowly arriving diners quite obviously didn't know what had hit them when we all proceeded to bring out our cameras... as from then on it was to be click, click, click, every single dish had to be photographed from at least sixteen different angles - a typical foodblogger outing, basically. And if they'd been understanding, if slightly bemused, about the photography, odd looks were cast by more than one pearl-clad and perfectly-coiffed Chelsea lady as we liberally dug into our fellow diners' plates so we could try all that was on offer... no seriously, where were our manners!
Starters were predominantly fishy... but that's just down to our selection. Oysters were traditionally presented on a plate of crushed ice with lemon and shallot/red wine vinegar, I liked the idea of a crayfish cocktail initially, promising to be meatier and creamier than a prawn cocktail, but the dressing could have had a bit more kick and I wish chefs would stop using iceberg salad - it's got absolutely no taste, why not spruce it up with some rocket instead? Better colour contrast, better flavour and some nutritional value to top things off... now there's a thought! I have no picture of the wild rabbit, duck heart and pistachio terrine with chutney, but I remember it was a decent terrine. The perfectly seared scallops served in their shell were sitting on a bed of samphire that retained the necessary bite and gave the butter a nice, salty taste - there was rather a lot of the latter, but I am never one to complain about too much butter... and went mopping it up with focaccia after my friends were done with their shellfish.
My starter of steak tartare with quail's yolk was faultless (I am very picky with my steak tartare, you see) - the excellent-quality beef was just coarsely chopped, not ground into an indistinguishable slosh, with generous proportions of capers and coarsely ground black pepper. Most importantly, it had the required kick from just the right amount of dijon mustard, which I think is not that easy to achieve - too little, and there's no punch, too much and the tartness and saltiness are unpleasantly overwhelming... but this specimen was absolutely perfect! (The only quibble I have is the dreadful "toast melba" it was served with - as you can clearly see, "toast melba" was posh speak for toasted pieces of Hovis that had been lying around in the kitchen for too long, they were hard and brittle and tasted of plywood... and oh yes, it DOES make all the difference to use artisan bread!)
We were slightly less adventurous with our mains and ended up trying just two, if I remember correctly. The duckling with broad beans, peas and watercress was unexpectedly served boned - casserole-style, I guess, although certainly not cooked that way. It's definitely less messy to eat than on the bone. The sauce it was served in was fairly sweet, always a good thought with duck, but it lacked the sweet-sour/salty balance - the pickled onions just didn't have the right punch and the whole dish could have benefited from the individual components to be brought together during cooking, to allow the flavours to mingle.
A side of gratin dauphinois left us arguing at length over which potatoes to use for this classic French dish, but we all agreed they weren't on this plate. On a more positive note, I liked the taste of thyme that came through - unusual, but it definitely worked for me. While the spring greens were bland, the garlic fries with mustard mayo were a hit - perfectly crispy on the ouside, fluffy inside, not overly garlicky and the mustard mayo wasn't for the faint-hearted. Best of the lot, though, was the Aberdeen Angus rib-eye steak - although I didn't try the meat (but was assured that it was very tasty) and one of us sent hers back to the kitchen because she had ordered it rare and the piece on her plate wasn't mooing anymore - the sauce béarnaise was absolutely perfect and the best I have had in a seriously long time. (Extra points for the manager and staff who handled the complaint without quibbles - I almost expected them to turn round and say: "Mam, your steak would still be rare if you hadn't spent the last 15 minutes photographing it from every possible angle.")
On to the desserts, then, which were a mixed bunch. A special of white chocolate mousse was not the greatest choice I've ever made - I had expected the mousse itself to be overly sweet, but was hoping the blackberry sorbet would cut nicely through it... which unfortunately it didn't. It could also have been served a bit colder. The oven-roast pineapple was delightful in itself, especially with a lovely, tart creme fraîche ice cream, the caramel sauce was probably at a loss as to what it was doing on that particular plate... the dish certainly didn't need it. I got food-envy with the honeycomb parfait - as much as the other bloggers were criticising the chocolate madeleines being too chewy (I suspect melted chocolate was used instead of cocoa or they were simply overcooked), I loved the parfait which was not overly sweet and brought out the honey's taste very nicely. A plate of cheese was amazingly generous: good quality English cheeses, chutney, grapes, apples, celery and stacks of crackers - which may be typical for Brits, but I do prefer proper bread with my cheese, sourdough or pumpernickel, if possible.
On a side note, I wish I hadn't gone to the toilet, the overpowering smell of disinfectant almost ruined the taste experience, I am glad I left my visit until the very end. While I understand the necessity of hygiene, this is an eatery in a sufficiently exclusive neighbourhood, not a run-down toilet at Waterloo Station... maybe a change of brands is in order.
All in all, I find the Cadogan Arms to be a rather nice gastropub - and the locals certainly seem to appreciate it as the place was brimming full by the time we left. The £50 per head for the very generous portions and pleasant house wine may seem high for pub grub, but were absolutely justified in this location - if they charged any less, I would seriously question their business-sense...
The Cadogan Arms
298 King’s Road
London SW3 5UG
Reservations: 020 7352 6500 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Tube: South Kensington & Sloane Square
And if you don't trust MY judgement, why not read the reviews of my fellow diners:
Solange of Pebble Soup
Sarah of Maison Cupcake
Michelle of Greedy Gourmet who kindly organised the dinner
and Jeanne of Cook Sister!