We had planned to go to Drunken Monkey last month, but we never managed to make a date work, which I can't entirely complain about, because it meant I wasn't restricted to the veggie options by my Lenten fasting.
I started with the Lavender Lady cocktail - camp? who? me? It was delightful though - gin, triple sec, lavender syrup, lemon juice, egg white - I think I'll be recreating soon. RM had a beer.
We ordered a fairly full platter of food off the bat, with particular highlights being the honey chicken, the drunken ribs, and the crab meat and pork dumplings. Our assessment was - at least half as good again as Ping Pong, at about 3/4 the price*. Certainly it was enough to order another wave of food, and the Pak Choi that turned up then was divine.
Not every dish was perfect, and there's no doubt you could get better dim sum in Chinatown at lunchtime, but for somewhere which serves in the evening it's hard to do better, and the cocktail menu is a big plus.
Enough food to leave two very good eaters feeling replete, plus two drinks each and service came in just under £75
*this was confirmed when I had lunch at Ping Pong today. It was, y'know, fine.
I was a little worried that half a bottle of Champagne per person wouldn't be quite enough, and that we should have put some house fizz in the fridge just in case, but as it turned out, just over three bottles was about right for eight of us, leaving most of a bottle for buck's fizz the next morning. Oh, the hardship. Other notes on the pre-dinner nibbles. RJ's revision of his Christmas chicken liver canapes with duck liver were just as nice, perhaps even an improvement. Heston Blumethal's tea smoked salmon may seem a bit extravagent, but whilst being about 20% more expensive than the standard stuff, was at least twice as nice. My red onion marmalade was quite tasty as well, and the quails eggs were tasty, but an awful lot of faff to peel.
The Mackay's French onion soup was superb. I'd never have guessed it was vegetarian without being told. RJ's asparagus was impressive, given the rather half-hearted attempts at Spring we've been seeing, but the Hollandaise was a work of art. Marcus's trout was really good, but the passion fruit and cucumber salsa he served it with was right there into exquisite.
Ramesh's sorbet was ever so clever. Pea and wasabi, rolled up with seaweed into maki, with ginger in the centre. So fun and clever. And delicious. The main course was lamb boulangere, which wasn't quite as good as the last time I did it, but everyone seemed to enjoy it, so I can't complain too much.
Pudding was a lovely cheesecake (again from the Mackays), with the most amazing chocolate sauce. Indulgence in liquid form, oh yes. Then we had some fantastic cheeses (from cathedral_life and Sue), which would have been the focus of the table, if it weren't for the port.
We did drink some other things, which RJ will probably tell you about in the comments, and ate some fruit for dessert, of which the grapes were particularly lovely.
It was Easter as it should be, as I'm sure our Lord envisaged it. Thanks to all who made it happen. See you again next year.
- Saying nice things about me. Specific is good, as it's easier for the lizard-brain to believe. Right now is good, but also good would be spontaneously doing so at some point in the next 3-4 months, as it generally gives a short term boost and then goes away again.
- Letting me know about any jobs I might be interested in - ideally project management in Higher Education, but anything that involves the intersection of technology and people is good, and I'd consider most sectors other than finance.
- Arrange to see me for things that don't involve much drinking, being around large numbers of people, or spending lots of money. Arranging to cook and eat together, either at my place or yours, would be especially lovely. I may need to be chased slightly more than I usually would, but that's very likely to be due to the state of my head, rather than not wanting to see people.
I am basically coping, so there's no need to worry about me, but feel free to be extra nice to me for the next few months.
I would like to read more short stories. I'm not particularly bothered about genre. I care more about plot and characters than atmosphere, style, and clever wordplay (although I do like those things too). I'd prefer things on the shorter side - around 2-3000 words would be ideal, but up to 6000ish would be okay. Some authors I've enjoyed short stories by before are Roald Dahl, Daniel Handler, Angela Carter, Isaac Asimov, Neil Gaiman, Poppy Z Brite (as was).
What else should I try?
The Corner Room is his new venture, located in the same Bethnal Green hotel, and borusa and I went there last night. It's a lot more informal and low key - a short menu, maybe half a dozen each of starters and mains. Robert went for the crab to begin with, and excellent it was - light, fresh, with a delicately garlicky dressing which managed not to overpower. Excellent it may have been, but it was blown completely out of the water by my mackeral and ponzu. The combination of earthy pungency and spicy citrus sharpness was just ... unhh ...
For a main course we both had the Iberico pork with bread pudding. Somehow, he has come up with a way of cooking pork so richly that it could actually pass for steak, except for that slight hint of salt and fat that remind you that it was once a pig. Puddings were apple and hazelnut pannecotta for Robert, and watermelon for me - the latter done in about a million different ways, and definitely doing the "what? how? how can you make this thing have so many different tastes in one dish?"
At just a shade over £50/head for three courses with wine, this has to be one of the best value meals I've eaten, pretty much ever. It would be well worth it at twice the price, and it's even cheaper at lunchtimes, with a £17/£21 for 2/3 courses offer.
There was only one veggie option for each course, and in general, the shortness of the menu might make it less than ideal if you have dietary restrictions (or at least checking what will be on the menu that day), but otherwise, if you eat out once this year, make it here.
It's fairly unassuming - rows of smallish tables with high-backed benches. The menu is printed on A4 paper, and the choices are limited, but all sound delicious. Amuse bouche were mackeral with creme fraiche and pepper on brown bread - classic, simple, excellent. For starters we both had venison, which was superb, on the rare side of medium-rare and served on a bed of delicious lemony risotto, which makes it rather filling for a starter. For mains, Robert had duck, and the mouthful I had was very good. I went for the whole crab, which may have been a mistake, as although I very much enjoy the white meat, I'm less a fan of the more accessible brown, as well as the 20 minutes or so of feeling like you're fighting a battle of wits with your dinner and losing.
To finish we both had the cheese plate, which was a little disappointing after the excellent starter and very good mains. A nice mild lancashire with rather good chutney, but the brie and the stilton were a bit middle of the road.
All in all though, a very decent meal, at an extremely reasonable £70 for both of us. This didn't include wine, but they have a BYOB licence, and don't charge corkage, so you can set your own price there.
The restaurant in question was Pied à Terre. I was pleased to find that they would do the omnivorous tasting menu alongside the veggie one - some places won't, and whilst I don't mind eating veggie much of the time, it does feel like very slightly less of a treat. The food was very good throughout, sometimes edging into excellent. One particular highlight was the scallops and sea bream - I really enjoy raw fish, and this was extremely flavoursome, incredibly fresh, and with a subtly sharp dressing which added layers to the taste, whilst still allowing the fish to dominate. Another excellent course was the duck foie gras with strawberries and balsamic. This was the 2nd time I've had fois gras served with a wine almost sweet enough to be served with pudding, and both times it's worked exceedingly well.
The atmosphere is very classic - decor in muted greys, crisp white tablecloths, and the service is very attentive, although at times bordering on the intrusive. Unlike a few favoured places, I don't find myself desperate to return for a third visit, given vast array of new places out there to try, and the rather hefty price tag, but I certainly wouldn't be unhappy to find myself eating there again.
Ten courses, with eight accompanying wines and glass of Champagne to start came in at around £450 for two
There's a theory that one shouldn't talk about ones charitable giving, that to do so is bragging and self-aggrandising, although the_alchemist does a pretty good job of taking that viewpoint apart here.
And I'm going to talk about it, because I want to encourage you to do the same. Because those of us who are relatively well off (and if you're reading this, the chances are high that you're extremely well off compared to the people who SCI help, even if you're not compared to me), have the ability to make an enormous difference to people's lives at very little cost to ourselves.
Now, in an ideal world I'd want to convince everyone I know to start giving 10%, or indeed more, but that can feel like quite a hit to one's income, especially if you're feeling pretty hard up to begin with, so here are some things that might make it easier to get started.
- Begin by just giving 1%, perhaps even just as a trial for a couple of months, and see if it's bearable. If it is, maybe push it by another 1% every now and then. Even 1% of the salary of someone on UK minimum wage will provide another 400 vacinations each year if donated to SCI.
- Decide now that when you next get a payrise you'll start donating half of it. That way, you don't have to take any hit at all
- In a similar vein, if you're paying off student loans, or other debts, resolve to switch some of the difference to charitable giving when they're paid off. (This wasn't my idea - I think it's either shreena or lavendersparkle who deserves the credit.)
- If you're already making regular charitable donations, but to charity which works in the UK or another rich nation, consider switching to a more efficient way of giving. Even if you feel closer to the people who are being helped by your current choice, is that really worth overlooking the fact that tens, or hundreds, perhaps even thousands more could be helped with the same amount of money if you direct the funds elsewhere?
I would be up for reading a play on a Saturday
I would be up for playing duplicate bridge on a Sunday
I ticked boxes one and two, and live close enough to do both without needing crash space
I ticked boxes one and two, but would need crash space to do both the same weekend
I ticked box one or two but would need crash space to make a day in London viable
I think the following play would be excellent for a readthrough with a small cast:
I can definitely make the following weekends (based on my current plans)
I can possibly make the following weekends:
The bridge bit needs a multiple of four people to work, of course, but we don't have to have precisely the same people on both days. This is a public post, so feel free to send links to anyone you know who plays bridge and likes readthroughs :) Anyone who doesn't have a Dreamwidth account and wants to answer, just do so in the comments (and let me know if you'd like an invite code)
*okay, so with 8 actors there may have been a leetle bit of running backwards and forwards between warlords to be their officers, but I think there was only one scene that had people talking to themselves, which I feel is quite an achievement!
And what with my surgery having been all of last week, I've entirely failed to organise anything.
So in a last minute fit of "I'm too fragile to host a party but would like to see you all", I would like to suggest meeting at the Tally Ho in North Finchley*
I'll be there from 14.00 until lateish - certainly 22.30 or so, and probably there'll be cocktails at ours afterwards, but let me know if you're likely to be turning up post-pub sort of late.
*yeah, it's a wetherspoons, but it does nice beer, and is just round the corner from the house, and I'm all post-op and fragile, so you'll just have to cope.
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.
Last week borusa and I continued in our quest to find the best steak in London, and this time we were seeking it at the Goodman, which opened just off Regent Street at the end of last year.
First impressions were not good. We arrived a couple of minutes early for our 9.30 table, and were asked to wait in the (small, cramped) bar area whilst our table was prepared. The place was packed with loud drunk people, which combined with the accoustics meant we could barely hear ourselves speak as we waited (more than a couple of minutes).
Fortunately, it got better from there on in. We were seated in a corner which was mostly walled off from the main restaurant, and therefore a lot quieter, and settled down to study the menu, until a waiter came along with a big plate of beef and talked us through the different cuts, along with recommendations of how each should be cooked to best show off its particular characteristics. Thus far on the quest I've always gone for the fillet steak, so I can make a fair comparison, but this time the marbling in the raw meat got to me, and I couldn't resist the grass-fed bone in sirloin.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. After a slightly longer wait than we would have liked, given how hungry we were, we both started with fish, although about as different as fish gets. I had a stunning lobster bisque, rich and creamy, with a delicate swirl of tarragon butter, and a gloriously warm, almost caramel undertone. Robert had picked herring which came in a jar and were accompanied by hot mustard; not a dish for those who aren't keen on strong flavours, but sharp and piquant and exciting for those of us who do. And served with slightly more bread than he needed, which is fortunate, because it meant I could mop up the last traces of my bisque, saving myself the loss of dignity that would otherwise have been involved in licking the plate.
I was still pretty hungry, so when a large white plate containing nothing but eighteen ounces of thick, charred, dead cow arrived in front of me, it was pretty much like manna from heaven. I leant over and breathed in the aromas, and tried to restrain my watering mouth from chomping away before the sides and sauce arrived. When they did I had my only disappointment in terms of food, as the bernaise was rather too vinegary for my tastes, but this wasn't really a problem, as the steak was so good that even a perfect sauce might have interfered unnecessarily. The sides were basically flawless - chips that were crisp but delicate on the outside, and melt in the mouth fluffy on the inside, and honey and ginger-glazed carrots cooked just firm enough, and correctly (and unusually) sparing on the honey. We accompanied it with a bottle of Mendel Malbec 2007*, which was good and a decent match for the steak, without being outstanding. Berryish, a bit of chocolate, moderate tannins.
After all that we were a bit too stuffed for puddings, and it was getting late, so we called it a day. This is, along with the Sloane Gaucho and Griegs, a real contender for best steak so far. There are a couple of places we're still keen to try, and then we'll be back to the places we liked best a second time to make sure. After that, who knows - maybe we can look for the best sushi in London?
*kake - it was marked up by about 160%.
For a starter I had a leek vinegrette, topped with shredded crab and capers. This was less vinegrettey than I was expecting, but the little there was dribbled around the plate was delicious. The leek was cooked just right - still a little bite to the texture, but soft enough to slip and slide in your mouth amidst the topping. The crab was perhaps a little underwhelming in flavour, but it's a very delicate meat at the best of times, and it had a sublime texture. I was particuarly impressed by the capers. For a long time I didn't like these strange flowers, but am in recent years very much a convert. Nonetheless they are often very overpowering, and tend to dominate any dish they are part of, unless paired with similarly strong flavours such as olives or anchovies. In this though, perhaps they found very young flowers or something, but however they did it, they got all that complex musky saltiness and then turned the volume down, so I could enjoy it (and I did) without losing out on the leek and crab and herbs and dressing.
Robert had the old spot pork with piccalilli. The mouthful I tasted was very nice, although the least good match for the wine of the things we ate. The pickle was sharp, and the pork salty and tender, but I didn't spend enough time with it to go into detail.
For my main course I had grilled cornish sardines, with a pine nut, lemon, garlic, and parsley crust,and an olive jam on the side. This was the thing that came closest to getting into my "Outstanding Food" mental file. It was really good. There was, obviously, a lot of salt in this, between the sardines and the olives. Nonetheless, it managed a great deal of complexity, a lot of that back-of-the-palate fishy flavour, and a nice garlicky kick. I don't really think I can do it justice in describing it, but will certainly be trying to recreate it. One unfortunate drawback to this course was that other than half a roast tomato it didn't come with any sides, but the waiter didn't think to ask if I wanted anything with it when I ordered.
Fortunately Robert was kind enough to let me steal about a quarter of his main, which was the fish pie. This was another example of absolutely unimpeachable execution of what it was aiming for. Now there is only so high one can aim with a fish pie, but this really did hit the pinnacle. The fish was salmon - cooked long enough to be very tender, but still retaining a good deal of flavour; but what really stood out was the mashed potato topping, which was almost impossibly airy, and the tarragon sauce, which was buttery and smooth and had just the right amount of spicy herby flavour.
For dessert Robert chose the poached pears with cinnamon ice-cream and I had the strawberry savarin. I didn't like to admit beforehand that I didn't actually know what a savarin was, but it turns out to be a sponge soaked in a sweet, honey'd dessert wine - much like a lighter version of the rum-baba. It wasn't quite what I was expecting, but it was delicious, and I'd love to know how they manage to get the wine to soak through without making the sponge soggy. Robert's pears were also delicious, and from the one bite I had probably the better choice, but I'm not sure that's enough for me to speak of the details.
All in all, I was really quite impressed with this place, and although the drinks are quite expensive, if you go there for lunch and have the set menu it would work out startlingly cheap. The only real criticism I have is of a few small flaws in the service. The failure to mention the lack of sides with my main course I already mentioned. Also they took a long time to come and take our orders (although the food arrived promptly once they had), and the wine was a little over chilled. Still, small quibbles, and overall a very good meal.
What I am going to do is talk about some of the food we had there. After the flight got in and we'd had a much needed cup of coffee we made our way by bus to Dejvika, which is a mostly residential and studenty area on the outskirts of the city. The guidebook said it had a few good restaurants though, and it was close to the airport, so we decided to give one of them a try. Unfortunately we relied on my map-reading for a while, until it became clear that we were quite lost, and I figured to hell with the data costs, and I should use the magic of googlemaps and gps. Once we found our bearings it took another twenty minutes or so to reach the restaurant, so we were very hungry by the time we got there.
This turned out to be a blessing in disguise however, because it meant we had space for more of what was probably the best sushi I've ever eaten, at a place called Sakura*. It was sufficiently good that despite only being there for three days, we came back for a second time. I had lots of different things, and could no longer do justice to describing them all, so will pick out some highlights from across the two visits.
The gold goes to the dragon rolls. I've never encountered them before, which may have been part of the appeal, but I find it hard to imagine a better execution of the simply wonderful concept of futomaki crossed with nigiri. Inside the roll was red caviar, cucumber, and prawn tempura in the lightest, most well seasoned batter that I've ever tasted in my entire life. And as though that wasn't enough the eel on top was grilled to perfection, very fresh, and coated in a sweet, sticky sauce that was the perfect complement to the salt of the caviar as it went popopopop on my tongue. The rice, as with all the sushi pieces, was amazing - you could feel each grain individually, and yet it held its form easily as you dipped it.
Silver goes to the cherry tea which Ramesh had on our second visit, and which made me wish I hadn't gone for the (nice enough, but not outstanding) sake again. I'm generally not a fan of fruit teas, as they smell so wonderful and then taste far more insipid than their black, green, and herbal cousins. This turned out to be an exception. It was sweet, without being sickly, fruity, without being sour, and spicy, without being overpowering.
Bronze goes to the california rolls, which I'm not (very) ashamed to admit have long been a favourite of mine. That amazing batter made another appearence around the surimi, and whilst I've always been a fan of avocado, I had no idea it could be this smooth, this creamy, and this flavoursome.
And finally honourable mentions to the avocado nigiri, which I stole from the boy, as they made the ideal ending to a meal, and gave the superlative example of the fruit centre stage. Also to the enonoki soup, which did the thing that always impresses me of finding mushrooms so rich that it takes some effort to distinguish them from the meat (in this case chicken) that they're served with.
I wouldn't quite go so far as to say that this place alone was worth travelling to Prague for, but there are a lot of other reasons to go, and if you do then I would certainly pay a visit if you get the chance.
*Aside - I once had a very brief fling with a girl called Bob, short for Sakura.
Also, and I know I've said this before, but it bears repeating from time to time, if anyone in or around London would like to invite themselves to dinner in the next while, do shout - I love cooking for new people, and from the responses I get my food is usually quite tasty.
When Heath was in London for Easter we made a trip to Alain Ducasse' restaurant at the Dorchester. They have two Michelin stars, and are pushing towards a third, according to the latest guide. It was a very good meal, but I feel there's a little more room for improvement than that implies.
Due to a slight miscommunication about timing, I arrived early, but went straight to the table to enjoy a dry martini whilst I waited. To accompany this I was brought a plate of cheese puffs - little balls of choux pastry made with emmental and sprinkled with paprika. These were quite splendid - warm on the tongue, sharp and salty, and the pastry so light that they almost evaporated in your mouth. I had foolishly left my book in my pocket as my overcoat was taken to the cloakroom, but I passed the time quite happily enjoying the atmosphere, under the sparkling lights from the outside of the Salon Lumière.
Once Heath arrived we decided fairly quickly to go for the Menu Printemps, and some wines which I hope he's going to remind me of so I can update this review to make it more comprehensive.
The first course was chilled Scottish langoustine in a rich nage caviar from Aquitaine. The langoustine were good and fresh and flavoursome, although the creamy sauce they were served in didn't really seem to add anything except a bit of texture. Neither of these things are particularly important though, because the real star of the dish was the caviar. There's something quite thrilling about the pop-pop-pop-pop sensation as you press the eggs against the roof of your mouth and wait for the pungent fishiness to spread over your tongue that really is incomparable.
The second course was hand-made ravioli of foie gras with fresh herbs & black truffles in duck consommé. This was probably my favourite course of the meal. I began by spilling a small spoonful of the liquid into my mouth, and it was everything a consommé should be - warming and heartening, and yet more, infused as it was with the black truffle which is perhaps my favourite flavour*, and the chives and tarragon which I thought very well chosen. I would have been quite happy had that been all the tastes delivered by this course, but then I took a mouthful of ravioli, and oh. Oh, oh, oh, how sweet and smooth it was. I forced myself to take my time, savouring each bite.
Next we had roasted Scottish lobster "primavera" style. In my youth I was always violently opposed to "mushy peas", thinking that they were a vile corruption of a foodstuff that couldn't possibly be improved from the simple popping of the pod and eating them raw, preferably having taken the pod from the stem oneself in the childhood summer sun. I now admit to having revised this opinion, as they managed to savour all the sweetness I remember, and intensify it into these swirls of bright green. Perhaps it is only next to such exquisiteness, but the lobster itself was almost a disappointment. I remember commenting that of all the traditional luxury foods - champagne, caviar, fois gras, and of course truffles, lobster has generally been the one that I feel least deserving of its place in the list. Perhaps it's just that I've never had it done just right, but this was not the occasion to convince me otherwise.
The final fish course was baked fillet of sea bass, crayfish and asparagus, and a champagne sabayon. This was probably my least favoured course. The sea bass was good, but the crayfish were a little bland, and I know they can be much more than that, and the sabayon was strange and a seemed predominantly sour and bitter, which are flavours that do very well as afternotes, but certainly shouldn't serve alone. It was redeemed rather by the asparagus, which was my first of the season, tiny slivers full of flavour and just the right amount of crunch.
The main course was roasted farm house veal loin from Limousin and braised morel mushrooms in Arbois wine. This was extremely good. It was, I think, the first time I've eaten veal since my splendidly ridiculous trip to Houston, and the meat was almost as good but not quite. This pleases me, since I managed to enjoy it immensely, without feeling that the trip could have been skipped**. As it turned out though, this was another course where the supposed accompaniment stole centre stage. Those mushrooms. Oh, those mushrooms. For a long time I had held a course at Nobu, where they served about six different kinds of mushroom in a light soy based sauce, and every single one was delicious and distinct and glorious, to be the pinnacle of what can be done with that humble but delicious fungus. Now I know different. They were small slices, dark and shrivelled, but each one exploded in your mouth with earthy, salty, almost-sweet joyfulness. I carefully metered them out as I ate the veal, and managed to save three for the end, which I devoured almost hastily and felt ripples of sensual pleasure all through my body.
The cheese course was truffled brie de meaux. I think everyone reading this knows a)how I feel about cheese, and b)how I feel about truffles. If I say that I wasn't disappointed, then that probably conveys all that I need to. I nearly slid off my chair.
For the final course we had a choice of sweets, and I went for lime souffle with white cheese and sichuan pepper sorbet. The souffle was actually a bit of a disappointment, although that may just be because my expectations were so raised by those at The Square and Morgan M. The sorbet though was an absolute joy. I'm a little sceptical of calling something containing cheese a sorbet, as I rather think of it as an ice with no dairy, but regardless of the name it was extremely good. Not terribly sweet, but the smooth sourness of the cheese was the perfect counterpoint to the spice of the pepper.
The petit fours that followed were nice enough, but nothing outstanding enough to stick in my mind. The meal had another very special punctuation mark though, because as we were finishing our brandy, and about the last people in the restaurant, the sommelier asked us if we'd like a look around the wine cellar. Of course we leaped at the chance, and it was really quite something. It's built into the corner of the dining room, and I'm not sure how much was mirrors and how much really was magical expanding of space to fit more wine that seems feasible, with shiny techy bits to adjust the temperatures in different areas of the cellar. Heath was far more composed than me, and had a look at some of the more exciting bottles, which I hope he'll tell you about in the comments when he reminds me what we drank with the meal.
All told, it was one of those evenings that reminded me just how good life could be.
*I was lunching today, with jamesofengland at 1 Lombard Place, and commented that it's very easy to please me by by splashing something in truffle oil. "Oh yes, a man of simple pleasures, you are," he said, mockingly.
**I say that, but the think I got most of from that trip was the overwhelming experience of the Rothko Chapel, which I think will affect me to my dying day.
The shiny new crush I mentioned a couple of posts ago is coming for dinner this weekend, and whilst I'm not entirely convinced by the adage of the title, I don't want to miss a chance to impress, whilst also getting to indulge in two of my favourite pastimes of cooking and eating delicious food. Here I present a menu plan, with recipes, and a couple of requests for advice.
To start I'll be serving a white onion soup. Finely chop one very large or two smaller white onions, about three cloves of garlic, and half a teaspoon of thyme. Heat a spoonful of olive oil, and gently saute until the onions are transluscent. Add about 300ml of vegetable stock and a large splash of vermouth. Simmer gently for about 15 minutes, then blend until smooth. Season to taste and allow to cool. When it's time to serve, chop a slice of bread into squares and fry in a very little oil seasoned with salt and pepper. When the soup is hot stir in about 50ml of double cream, and serve in small teacups with a few croutons and a drop or two of truffle oil.
Next I'll be doing courgette fritters - the recipe is in this comment, although I shall be doing them with coriander, and serving them with tzatziki dip.
For the main course I'll be doing a beetroot and goats cheese risotto, with roasted cherry tomatoes and peppers, and some kind of salad. The first question for you, dear readers, is "what sort of salad should it be?" Given the colours of the rest of the dish, I would like it to be predominantly green, and given the richness of the risotto, I would like it to be fairly light.
The tomatoes and peppers (sliced into thick strips) are simply thrown into a roasting dish, tossed with a little extra virgin and balsamic, and go in the oven at about 200 for around half an hour. By the time they come out they'll be bursting with sweetness. For the risotto, chop an onion and start sauteing gently. Whilst that's happening chop a couple of (precooked) beetroots into cubes of around 8mm, and a tablespoon of tarragon quite finely. Add 100g of carnaroli rice to the pan and continue frying for a couple of minutes. Start adding vegetable stock a little at a time, stirring all the while, until the rice is almost the right consitency. Then add a splash of red wine, the beetroot, tarragon, and about 50g of soft goat's cheese. Stir through, and check for consistency - if need be keep adding liquid until it's perfect.
For a sweet, I'm going to do a white chocolate and passionfruit mousse based on this recipe. The second question then, stems from the recipe calling for raspberries to soak up the liquid which inevitably settles at the bottom of the mousse. It being the dead of winter, it would feel unfitting to do this even if I could find decent ones, so what should I use instead? I thought perhaps a sponge of some kind, but that would be a lot of faff. Another kind of fruit? Crushed amaretto biscuits? Something else?
And finally, to end the meal in utter indulgence, home made Valrhona truffles. Bring 150ml of double cream to the boil, then reduce the heat and add 150g of chocolate. Stir until the chocolate has melted, then remove from the heat. Allow to cool for a couple of minutes, then add 25g of unsalted butter, cut into small pieces. Stir until smooth, and chill the mixture for at least three hours. Once cooled, dust your hands with cocoa powder, and taking teaspoons of the mixture roll around in your hands until it forms a ball. Drop each one into the cocoa mixture, and then place on a plate, to be returned to the fridge, until time to serve.
Of course, the only trouble with this is that I'm now looking forward to the food just as much as seeing the boy.