Michelin and other guides assess restaurants, but our personal views may not always match the official view. Sometimes we can all be disappointed by highly rated establishments, but there are few more satisfying feelings than when there is an unexpected pleasant surprise.
You sit down expecting a meal of a certain standard, and the reality is much better. Perhaps the restaurant has been overlooked or harshly treated by the guides for some reason, perhaps it is yet to be fully recognised. Here is the first in a series on restaurants that seem to me to be underrated at present.
The Greenhouse – Dublin, Ireland
The Greenhouse opened in 2012 in central Dublin, the creation of Mickael Viljanen, a Finn who has lived in Ireland for over a decade. His creative modern cooking is gaining an increasing reputation that in time should be recognised by Michelin. Dishes such as superbly cooked turbot with sea vegetables and a Swedish anchovy emulsion, poached lobster and broccoli show a huge amount of talent in the kitchen.
A modern take on a classic dish here is beef tartare wrapped in pickled celeriac, using aged Dexter beef and served with confit egg yolk, truffle puree and a caper and raisin dressing. Ingredients are classy, presentation attractive. Mickael is without doubt one of the most talented chefs in Ireland. Image Credit: Shane O’Neill, Aspect Photography
Hedone – London, UK
Lawyer turned chef Mikael Jonsson moved to London in 2012 to open Hedone, a restaurant aimed at show-casing the very finest ingredients available. There is a level of obsession which the chef displays in ruthlessly demanding only the highest quality produce. As the diner you benefit by tasting scallops that were alive minutes before being served, stunning Shetland lamb or carefully aged beef.
The deceptively simple presentation belies high quality technique, as seen in a dessert of five different textures of lemon. Everything is made from scratch, from the superb sourdough bread to the puff pastry. Although Hedone quickly earned a Michelin star, the level of cooking here now is well above this standard. Image Credit: Andy Hayler
HKK – London, UK
Tong Chee Hwee may not be a household name, but as the original head chef of Hakkasan he redefined Chinese cooking in the UK. Now executive chef of the global Hakkasan empire, his flagship restaurant is HKK in a quiet area of the City.
A tasting menu of dishes uses unusually high quality ingredients, such as Bresse chicken in a soup, and features exceptionally delicate dim sum. Peking duck here is bettered only in the very top establishments in Beijing and beautifully cooked monkfish comes with Louis Roederer champagne and rice wine sauce.
As the menu unfolds you encounter a remarkably high standard of cooking, of a standard rarely matched even in the top restaurants of China. Service is as polished as the sparkling glassware.
Patrick Guilbaud – Dublin, Ireland
It may seem odd to include Patrick Guilbaud’s eponymous restaurant in this article, since it has gained many accolades since it opened in Dublin in 1981, including two Michelin stars. However its kitchen, in the hands of Guillaume Lebrun, turns out some world-class cooking. Blue lobster with butter radish, lime and green apple jus and green cabbage is a good example of the skills on show here. The lobster is cooked beautifully, its natural sweetness nicely balanced by the acidity of the lime.
A vast wine list with 1,200 choices complements the cuisine. Service is superb, and the combination of this with top-class classical cooking provides a truly classy experience.
Tom Kitchin – Edinburgh, Scotland
Tom Kitchin’s Leith restaurant is home one of the UK’s most talented chefs. Tom takes advantage of the very best Scottish produce, from seafood to game; you may be presented with a tempting choice of with black grouse, ptarmigan, grouse and teal for your main course.
The quality of the shellfish used here is shown in a stunningly tender razor clam served in its shell and stuffed with assorted vegetables and a lemon confit. Beef Wellington is a lovely rendition of the classic dish, using top quality Scottish beef, the pastry made from scratch in the kitchen, the dish superbly cooked. The restaurant has a Michelin star but for me it is cooking at a higher level than this suggests.
The Sportsman – Kent, UK
If you feel as if you would go to the ends of the earth in search of good food then you will get your wish with The Sportsman, which is just yards from the sea on the Kent coast near Whitstable. In this bracing setting is the cooking of Stephen Harris, a self-taught chef obsessive about ingredients, who bought the premises in 1999.
In the rather ramshackle pub premises you will experience fine cooking of the highest quality local seafood, perhaps the freshest scallops or fine turbot. The pork comes from the farm next door, the vegetables from the pub garden. Even the butter is hand-churned and the salt collected from the beach. Its solitary Michelin star does not do justice to the terrific quality of the food here. Image Credit: Andy Hayler
Martin Wishart – Edinburgh, Scotland
Martin Wishart blazed a trail in Edinburgh by gaining a Michelin star in the re-developed docks area of Leith. The use of local produce is highlighted in dishes such as organic Shetland salmon that had been smoked in the kitchen, with konbu vinegar, soused cucumber and malt powder giving balance to the richness of the smoked salmon.
Classy technique is shown in a magnificent savoury Emmenthal cheese soufflé with intense flavour and light texture. Grouse from the Scottish moors is cooked with a sauce flavoured with Armagnac, and served with cabbage, salsify, baby onions and lardons. Martin Wishart is an old-school cook, in his kitchen rather than out promoting himself, and his cooking is of a very high level.