Interview – Rich Lee
Does Aviator?s new American dining concept soar or fail to take off? Rich Lee, food writer at The Guide 2 Surrey, went for a fly-by and discovered a captivating taste of Americana in Hampshire.
With the superb Brasserie, the hotel Aviator by TAG in Farnborough could have been forgiven for resting on its laurels a little. Having experienced the luxe charms of that restaurant earlier in the year, the golden-era Hollywood ambience and dazzling cooking from Head Chef Adam Fargin combine to easily beat off most other restaurants in the area. But life isn?t all about precision cooking and designer dining.
Enter One Eleven, Aviator?s relaunched love letter to the American sports bar and diner. Where the Brasserie is all elegant, gleaming curves and silk chocolate tones, One Eleven offers a neon-industrial playroom perfect for an informal catch-up with friends or to watch the game over a pint and a hotdog. Costello to the Brasserie?s Abbot, having this odd couple together under one roof makes a perfect, pleasing kind of sense.
Cajun crusted crispy duck was a starter that deigned to be elegant yet begged to be devoured.
Thick, creamy milkshakes, loaded with peanut butter and chocolate, might, in hindsight, have been a reckless way to fill up before a three-course meal, but were also a quick means to get into the spirit of One Eleven?s diner vibe. Some fine cocktails awaited to calm our inner kids in any case, but not before they gleefully slurped those shakes down to the bottom of their aluminium flasks.
Cajun crusted crispy duck was a starter that deigned to be elegant yet begged to be devoured, chewing and crunching on sweet savoury meat with the fruity tang of a sticky, jammy chutney, while a golden battered soft shell crab ? a rarity in these markedly un-American parts ? was a taste of Provincetown when dipped into a smoky, chipotle-like mayonnaise.
Beyond some very appealing grill and salad options, you?re invited to go one of three ways down the menu here. Go ?Bayou?, with no nonsense poshed up Brit pub classics from across the American ponds, like fish & chips or ham & eggs. That leaves your more star spangled options like hamburgers and hotdogs or a choice of three mains lifted straight out of the creole cookbook: Buttered Fried Chicken, Gumbo or Jambalaya.
I went for Jambalaya, lured by fond memories of the real thing I?d experienced on a road trip through the American Deep South a few years back. That dish then was an intoxicating, fragrant casserole of prawns, chicken and vegetable tumbled in a piquant sauce that sang with a swampy mojo you could find nowhere else. Happily, the Jambalaya served by One Eleven recreated it almost perfectly, with a sauce that was all kinds of fiery, fruity and smoky richness and, for me, a big hit of euphoric recall. Bulked up with peppery sausages and sticky rice, it?s One Eleven?s dish that I will probably forever taste in my recollections of that distant Southern adventure.
My friend had opted for the red, white and blooming tasty option of One Eleven?s all-in take on the American hot dog. The rudely, brilliantly named Pig Dog offered a fat sausage in a squishy, juice-soaking brioche bun crowned with pulled pork given a little crispy frazzle at the edges, all drizzled in BBQ sauce. Had I not been in the throes of a deeply nostalgic food glaze thanks to the Jambalaya, I don?t think I could have been held responsible for my food envy at that moment.
For Aviator in Farnborough to boast the two best eating spots in one town feels like nothing short of greedy.
Desserts read plainly from the menu, but emerge quite wonderful. A cheesecake cooked New York style had none of the heaviness, just fluffy lightness offset with the sweet sharpness of macerated cherries and coulis, a dusting of pistachio on top. A silky smooth ice cream sundae came mixed with nuts, choc chips, berries, biscuits and all kinds of smile-inducing loveliness to finish off what had been the sort of fun, indulgent and great value meal you?d happily book a room at the hotel for. Which is to say you might not be able to walk too far afterwards.
For Aviator in Farnborough to boast the two best eating spots in one town feels like nothing short of greedy. Thankfully, I am nothing if not greedy too, which suits me, and anyone else after some sizzle, succulence and a tasty slice of Americana, just fine.
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