Monday, 22 October 2012

Linen Autumn/Winter Menu

Popping candy toffee apple
A recent relocation to Rusholme and subsequent dearth of free time mean that it’s been a while since our last blog post. So, what better way to show our faces again than with a review of Linen’s new Autumn/Winter menu? 

Head chef at Linen - Jaromir Hlavsa
It’s been a good two years since Anna or I have been to Linen so we were quite excited to see if and how things had changed. The addition of new head chef Jaromir Hlavsa has been the catalyst for a new menu and a new direction with the food.

For those who don’t know Linen, it is the restaurant at the Manchester235 casino, located on a mezzanine floor, a decent distance from the gambling tables. And, after a wonderful ‘Basil Smash’ cocktail (courtesy of the Drinks Enthusiast)and an inspection of the chef’s table, the conversation turned to people’s perceptions of Linen and whether the association with the casino is a detrimental one. 

Having walked through the casino to get to the restaurant, the experience is, shall we say, a little odd – escalators and roulette tables aren’t your normal precursors to a great meal. But, with a new entrance from the AMC complex and a high standard of food, this is nothing a bit of well-done marketing can’t solve. If I were a gambling man (pardon the pun), I'd bet that a lot of people wouldn’t expect a restaurant of Linen’s calibre to be found in a city-centre casino.  

We were seated at a table with Kat from Echo Pr and fellow twitter foodies DineInOut and StokieSimon amongst others. After an appetizer of bread and olives we were presented with a trio of starters, all introduced by head chef Jaromir Hlavsa, who has recently moved from Malmaison and was keen to promote his seasonally-inspired dishes. There is something in his manner that very much reminds me of Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park (I'd like to know if anyone else can see the similarities!).

The house-smoked salmon and beetroot salad was a beautiful-looking plate of food - three different colours of beetroot with dots of horseradish and vodka creme fraiche and tender, delicate hot-smoked salmon. Usually a bolder smoked fish, like mackerel, is paired with beetroot and horseradish, but the salmon more than stood up to the other ingredients.

Smoked salmon and beetroot salad
The rustic pork and pistachio terrine was well made - it made me think of Raymond Blanc who asserts that you can gauge the standard of a restaurant by its terrine. I've seen the combination of duck and pistachio in terrines quite often, but never pork and pistachio. The classic accompaniment of pickled vegetables worked well and the overall feel was quite light, if a little dry. A nice change to pâté which, though delicious, I sometimes feel can be too rich for a starter. 

Pork and pistachio  terrine
The pigeon breast with hummus and red wine jus was superb - the pigeon was cooked to a glorious scarlet, nicely mirroring the beetroot. The hummus was made as usual but substituting roasted beetroot for the standard chickpeas. Earthy, vibrant, and very seasonal. I believe that every menu should have a pigeon dish at this time of year - it's a great alternative to duck and has a more assertive flavour than pheasant or partridge. 

Pigeon breast with beetroot hummus
Next a trio of main courses, two meat dishes and one fish. The Cumbrian lamb loin chops were divine, complemented exquisitely by some Scottish chanterelles, garlic confit, potatoes forestiere and a truffle jus. When I'm in the mood for something rich and delicious, this ticks all the boxes. Meat and mushroom give a powerful umami hit; the garlic and truffle jus bring everything together. Garlic and truffle love lamb and mushrooms. 

Cumbrian lamb loin chops
I confess I've never eaten wild boar which is having its own mini-renaissance at the moment. The wild boar steak with venison chorizo was thus a new experience for me and a very pleasurable one at that. The boar was not as gamey as I'd expected - obviously similar to pork but slightly darker and more intense, nutty and sweet. It's hard to judge it, as I've nothing to compare it to, though it did strike me as perhaps being a little overcooked. The tiny cubes of venison chorizo were tasty but I think it would be impossible to detect the flavour of venison underneath all the garlic and paprika. The highlight of the dish was the mulled wine jus - a traditional mulled wine recipe, reduced almost to a syrup. Delicious with boar, I can imagine it worked well with duck which loves those oriental spices.

Wild Boar

The bream with salsify, purple potatoes, and saffron sauce was one of the highlights of the night and another dish that seemed perfectly fitting for the time of year. The earthiness of the potatoes and the salsify perfectly complement the muddy, sweet flesh of the bream and the rich saffron sauce livened up the dish. The fish was wonderfully cooked. A dish I'd highly recommend ordering.

Fillet of bream
Turning to the dessert menu, I was immediately drawn to the ‘Raspberry Rippled Baked Alaska’ and the ‘Toffee Apple Creme Brulee’. To my delight, the Jaromir had chosen both for the tasting – a fact which led me to utter an ecstatic and uncharacteristic whoop! 

I'm a sucker for a good brûlée and I wasn't disappointed. It was perfectly cooked with cubes of apple inside and a thick caramelised crust, and the normally redundant shortbread here complemented the apple with their cinnamon notes. A tiny toffee apple coated in popping candy was the proverbial icing on the cake. It made me think of bonfire night and also brought me back to the idea that desserts should be fun. The Graham Beck muscadel, our dessert wine, was the perfect match with its nuances of caramel, raisin and apple.

Toffee apple creme brulee
The baked alaska, that childhood classic, was transformed into something more adult and inspiring with the addition of toasted coconut and a rum sabayon. A great contrast of temperatures and textures - freezing, smooth ice-cream cocooned in warm, crispy meringue. If you hadn't guessed by now, Jaromir likes to use booze in his cooking - he confessed that his office is more like a bar! 

Baked Alaska
The only dish that disappointed was the Baileys cheesecake - a sure-to-be favourite over Christmas, the batch we had was almost unanimously considered under-sweetened.

So, all things considered, there were very few negatives to take away from our evening at Linen. Kat Atakuru and Sophie Baxter did a great job of sussing out of opinions of Linen and didn't ram their marketing spiels down our throats (which can happen all too often at these events) and we're really looking forward to the food that will be coming out of the kitchen in the future, thanks to new head chef Jaromir Hlavsa.