If you want to be sure of eating exceptional food, rather than just enjoying an exceptional location, then pick a restaurant that?s run by a chef. Unlike sleek designer restaurants where the décor is everything, at a chef-run restaurant it all begins in the kitchen. For a chef, running his own restaurant is the ultimate dream. Especially for the sort of chef who wakes up at 3am dreaming about an incredible dish, scribbling the recipe down in the notebook he keeps beside his bed, so that he can put it on the specials board the next morning.
If you fancy eating somewhere like that, then get yourself down to St Aubin?s where Danny Moisan, culinary whizz and recipe rêveur has just opened his very own restaurant at the stunning Harbour View. You?re going to love it. And who wouldn?t ? with a leafy courtyard full of sun-bleached tables stretching towards the harbour, and an airy conservatory for cooler evenings, Danny?s at the Harbour View is the perfect summer spot. Team the laid-back location with a restaurant owner passionate about local flavours and you?ve got a winning combination.
With tastes and textures from Thailand and Asia via the Mediterranean, Danny?s serves relaxed food at its finest. We started with the home-baked bread and a trio of dips; a homemade pesto made with hazelnuts instead of pine nuts for a deep flavour, a rich tomatoey eggplant relish and the most incredible baba ganoush. If you haven?t tried it, baba ganoush is a bit like houmous, only greener and made with aubergine. Sounds vile? It?s absolutely heavenly ? garlicky, salty and smoky with just a tang of lemon juice. It takes me back to late-night meze at a tiny Lebanese in the heart of the Marais, and the best baba ganoush I?d ever tasted. Nothing has ever come close to Hassim?s grandmother?s recipe? until now. And with the escalating euro, it makes so much more sense to head to St Aubin for my aubergine fix rather than Paris.
The problem with eating at Danny?s is that all the dishes sound so delicious, it?s hard to restrict yourself to just one. We finally settled on the starters ? the seafood pot and the fire and ice tempura veg stack. The seafood pot was a definite winner, a concentrated blend of coconut and chilli, filled with seafood and topped with a tangle of nori and some chilli tempura squid on the top. The intriguing ?fire and ice? tempura refers to the Japanese method of tempura-making ? with icecubes ? to make the tempura light and perfect. And continuing the whole fire and ice theme, it?s served with two dips, a fiery sweet chilli and an ice-cool yoghurt.
It?s easy to choose your wine ? in what must have been a fun few evenings, Danny?s gone through the wine list, matching the wines to various dishes. The descriptions are simple and straightforward and there?s plenty of new discoveries. To match the tempura, we tried the rosé Pinot Grigio which was juicy and sweet, just the sort of wine you want for alfresco summer evenings, and reasonable at £15.95 a bottle. If an ice-cold beer?s more your style, Danny?s is currently the only place you can get the Aussie favourite Crown Beer. But if you want an impressive bottle at an even more impressive price, try the Heathcote Estate Shiraz (2005). It?s been getting rave reviews for its velvety rich flavour, and has won a couple of gold medals for best Shiraz. Rate it yourself ? it?ll only cost you £24.95 and works perfectly with some of the more full-flavoured dishes, like the duck and chorizo we had for our main course. The rich crispy-skinned duck had been slow-cooked to make it melt-in-the-mouth, and came with a jammy plum sauce full of ruby red discs of chorizo. It?s an incredible blend of flavours, but if you?re not up for something quite as rich, then go for the Big Red ? vanilla-baked red snapper steaks served with pesto mash, baba ganoush and parmesan. The snapper is rubbed with vanilla before being baked, and the sweet vanilla flavours balance out the robust snapper flavours perfectly. There was more of that gorgeous baba ganoush, and a delicious pesto mash, muddled through with spinach.
Another benefit of eating at Danny?s is that you never know what new dish or flavour he?s going to try out on you. We sampled a new green tea blend he was road-testing, served in a shot glass mixed with star anise and lime. Refreshing and calming, it?s perfect as a palate-cleanser.
You?ll regret it if you miss the desserts. Danny?s teamed his secret recipe Coca-Cola pears with homemade strawberry icecream and crushed macademia biscuits. It comes with a shot glass of icecream, cola and Tia Maria, and is an incredible combination. For chocoholics, you can?t do better than the chocolate tart. Definitely one for cocoa purists, it?s a slice of pure chocolate heaven, topped with icing sugar and melting cream.
I can?t wait to try the rest of the dishes on Danny?s menu, for his adventurous ways with flavour you have to give the guy top marks. And it sounds he?s come up with the perfect recipe for success ? exciting flavour combinations in a setting that?s perfect for laid-back lazy dining. Roll on summer!