"That's the most amazing tomato ketchup I've ever tasted"
Not really words I've ever expected to hear, particularly not from someone as food-savvy as borusa
, but in a way it exemplifies the meal we've just eaten - the way that even the tiny things brought something more.
In fairness, it wasn't absolutely one hundred percent perfect - the parsnips were softer than I like them, and the cocktails, whilst enjoyable, didn't blow us away. Everything else, however, did.
I believe that last time
I wrote about our attempts to find the best steak in London we had three contenders out of the places we'd tried, which we were planning to revisit when we'd made a first pass at everywhere on our list. After tonight's trip to the Hawksmoor
, we don't need to bother.
Let's start at the beginning. After the Royal Fizz and Autumn Mule
, which as aforementioned, were decent enough ways to pass the time waiting for a starter, I had the Scallops with Celeriac Puree and Black Truffles, and Robert went for the Tamworth Belly Ribs.
The plates arrived, and as mirror images we leant down towards our plates, sniffed deeply, and looked up at each other, grinning broadly. I sometimes forget quite how distictive a scent good celeriac has, and mingling with the truffles, it left just a hint of the buttery scallop behind it. We drew the moment out a little longer, passing each others plates before we tasted. Robert's ribs were gorgeously aromatic: cinnamon, pepper, ginger, anise - the platonic ideal to which most chinese style ribs are mere earthly copies. I think the most amazing thing about my starter was the way it took on a completely different character when you varied the ratio of puree to scallop, whilst still carrying all three distinct flavours of vegetable, fish, and truffle, no matter what the proportions. The most amazing thing about the pork was the way it felt quite dry when you put it into your mouth, but then as you bit into it managed to overflow with juices that took the heady spices and turned them into something quite new. I'm afraid that this time the celeriac puree was that good
that I didn't manage to save myself the indignity of licking the plate. Maybe no-one noticed.
Once the starters had gone we paid a little more attention to the wine, the Luigi Bosca Gala 1 2006, which they describe as a "Sophisticated Malbec blend with Petit Verdot and Tannat. Strong yet elegant with intense red berry fruit and delicate spice. Caresses the palette and has a long finish." It had an unbelievable nose with lots of tobacco and leather, and they weren't kidding about the long finish - it just went on and on and on. We restrained ourselves from more than a few mouthfuls before the steak arrived though.
Oh yes, the steak was rather the point, wasn't it? Wasn't it? OH GOD YES! At this point it's important to remember that I am a man who has eaten a lot of good steaks, many of which have been very expensive and very, very good. But not this good. I'm never quite sure if the fact that an extraordinary meal can bring me to the edge of tears in the same way as a moving aria or a startlingly beautiful painting is a sign that my aesthetic senses are freakishly distorted or merely tuned slightly unusually, but in any case, I was blinking a fair bit more than usual as I ate that steak. I am normally very keen on a bit of good bearnaise sauce, and the pot that they brought us was very very good, but after one mouthful of steak bearnaise it got relegated to a sauce for dipping chips in, because nothing, nothing, could be allowed to adulterate that meat.
We had the porterhouse steak, nine hundred grammes to share, (which was exactly the right amount, leaving us just enough space for one more course). I'm a recent convert to this cut, but do wish I'd encountered it earlier - the usual dilemma of choice between the punchy, almost aggressive intensity of the tougher and gorgeously fatty sirloin, or the more delicate, sweeter, melt in the mouth fillet steak being replaced by the cry that will surely be my epitaph: "Embrace the power of 'And'." And this was 'And' embraced to perfection. There was a layer of fat around the outside of the sirloin bit, so you would work your way up the slice, with the flavour getting stronger and stronger, until the last mouthful exploded in the caramelised juices. The fillet was so soft, almost like marshmallow, if marshmallow had just slightly more resistance and an ever increasing variety of flavour.
And that's another thing worth mentioning - despite the fact that every mouthful was perfect, every mouthful was also different. I kept being surprised by nuances to the flavour - here, half way through, was a smokiness that I hadn't tasted before. There, in a slice that looked just like the last, was a moment of salt, not too much, just enough to spark interest and then disappear. The contrast between the two kinds of steak was marked and glorious, and the contrast within each slice, changed the meal from a theme and variations to an entire symphony.
Having spent three paragraphs talking about the meat, I should give brief mention to the chips before moving on. Thrice cooked, as all the fashionable restaurants seem to be doing nowadays (thanks Heston!), they were very good, and as the beginning quotation indicates, had an unexpected new dimension in the ketchup. A simple condiment, and not one you expect greatness from, this certainly surprised us. I think that what they did was mix in a bit of five spice, and I'll be having a go at replicating this.
And for the final course, I went, predictably, for the cheese and port, whilst Robert opted for the apple and blackberry trifle, with the "Shipwreck" apple brandy. I had a mouthful of the trifle, and whilst it's not a dish I'm terribly keen on myself, it seemed like a jolly good execution, and Robert certainly seemed happy. The apple brandy was quite superb, and a better match for the first of the cheeses than my port. As for the cheeses, there were three - a goat's cheese, which at first taste was a bit unremarkable, but then developed on the palate, and had the mix of crumbly and creamy just right. The second was a strongly flavoured hard cheese - possibly an exceptionally good cheddar, but I'm not sure, because I "don't like strong hard cheeses". Ahem - possibly a revision of tastes might be in order. Finally there was a soft blue. Despite generally prefering both soft and blue cheeses, I thought this was the weakest of the three, whilst still being something I'd happily serve after dinner. The port was right at the top end of good, without tipping over into great, but then at nine pounds for a fairly large glass, one can hardly complain.
The whole meal for two came in at a shade under £200 including service, for three courses, cocktails, aperitifs, and a bottle of wine which wasn't by any means the cheapest on the list. Frankly, if it had been half as much again I'd consider it great value, since it was up there amongst the best meals I've ever eaten in my life.