Pudding porn

June 30, 2010

A couple of weeks ago I ate the best dessert in the world. I don’t have a particularly sweet tooth, so usually at that stage in a meal I default to cheese, or if too full for cheese, to cursing and coffee. On my last visit to Bocca di Lupo (yes, again) however, I was sufficiently intrigued by the prospect of Bergamot and prosecco granit-a-laska to throw caution to the wind. It was DIVINE. Bergamot is the herb that you find, extremely diluted, in Earl Grey tea – here it’s neat and its aromatic bitterness is extraordinary. In a large martini glass they pile the bergamot granita, pour over a splash of Prosecco, then top it with a two-inch layer of very soft meringue, which is then browned gently. The combination on the spoon, of hard, icy, crunchy, bitter granita and soft, warm, smoky-sweet meringue is like having somebody slowly kiss you while gently clamping a cold shackle around your ankle. Slightly alarming, but with a flush of promise. Yep.

Re: the Gauthier review, this is our menu with wines – we ordered four courses, each choosing a different dish and wine, which we swapped religiously halfway through each.

First

Green English asparagus, spring Italian truffle and brown butter
Gaillac sec, Chateau Clement-Termes 2009

Herb and ricotta ravioli, sautéed broad beans and jus de roti
Vin de Savoie, Les Alpes, 2008

Second

Roasted native scallops, celery, brown butter and lemon
Chenin Blanc, Morgenhof Estate, South Africa 2008

Spring truffle risotto, chicken jus reduction and brown butter
St Chinian Blanc, Château Puisserguier, 2008

Third

Wild sea bass on its crunchy skin, langoustines, courgettes and spring onions, crustacean sauce
Lubéron Rosé, Château Val Joanis, 2009

Red mullet and baby squids, fennel and confit tomatoes, lime/parsley jus
Bourgogne Rouge, JM Pillot, 2007

Fourth

Sweetbread and morels, lettuce and veal jus
Gaillac Rouge, Cuvée des Drilles, Dom. D’Escausses, 2008

Fillet of Angus beef, bone marrow potatoes, mousserons and broad beans
Tamaya, Carménère Reserva, Limari, Chile 2008

Final bill: £72 per head (including £48 sommelier’s selection)

Gauthier, 21 Romilly Street, London W1D 5AF

Met SB this week for our irregular restaurant expedition. Last time we did Galvin La Chapelle and left drunk, poor and ecstatic. This time, we did Gauthier and left less so on every count. It’s run by Alexis Gauthier, formerly of Rousillon (whence also comes the sommelier). We threw them off kilter as soon as we arrived by refusing our table, which was by chance situated right next to my old boss and his wife, who writes for me. They’re perfectly charming, but I’m not going to sit a foot from them at dinner. That said, once we were seated safely on a different floor, it shouldn’t have taken quite that long even to get a menu. They have a hilariously French waiter hierarchy, so that the guys in white coats can bring you plates and take them away, but they can’t take your order or bring you a menu, and the guy who can, who wears a suit to denote his superiority, can’t bring you a wine list or take your wine order and has to fetch the sommelier. Eventually, after enduring a display of two different olive oils, two different butters and about 87 different breads, we managed to order (I’ll list the dishes alongside the wines – selected by the sommelier – for interest in a separate post).

Green asparagus with truffle and brown butter was perfect, very savoury and cooked with just enough bite. We were also intrigued by herb and ricotta ravioli with sautéed broad beans and ‘jus de roti’ (thin gravy, essentially). Unusually it was packed with thyme, which gave it a fabulous herby kick. For the second course my favourite was truffle risotto with chicken jus reduction (oh look! Gravy again) and brown butter. I could have shoveled in a pint of the stuff, it was so light and yet comforting, and it had real wow factor combined with the wine. S loved the roasted scallops, which were sweet and soft.

Gauthier was famed at Rousillon for his attention to vegetables, and lo, we were both slightly disappointed by the fish and meat courses, particularly the fish, to which he appeared to have paid only the scantest of heed. Sea bass with langoustines was fine in its component parts, but had a really weird effect in combination the contrast of the firm bass and the very soft langoustine made them seem dry and soggy respectively. Red mullet and baby squids with fennel and confit tomatoes was ok, but you need to be a bit concerned when the bit that makes the most impression is the confit veg. Fillet of Angus beef was very good but it didn’t make my heart beat faster, though the accompanying bone marrow potatoes were great little potato cases made to look like bones, stuffed with roasted marrow, and the mousserons mushrooms were delightful, though not as superb as the morels that accompanied the sweetbreads in our other dish. I admit I found these a bit much I expected them to be delicate, like brains, but to me they tasted overwhelmingly like that weird smoked cheese you used to get tubes as a kid. It was accompanied by a lettuce and veal jus, apparently, which by that stage tasted to me exactly like all the other jussss (plural).

You know what, it was fun. It was fancy. The vegetables were perfect, which is rare. But ultimately, what with the complicated waiting dance and the fat bloke halfway across the restaurant talking endlessly and insistently to his silent companion about targets and markets non-stop for two and a half hours it was just a bit exhausting.

Crazy Bear, 26-28 Whitfield Street, London W1T 2RG

Took a quick trip here for a business lunch today at the invitation of a contact, despite misgivings about the name. I can’t imagine why they thought it was a good idea to make a pan-Asian restaurant sound like a Canadian theme pub, but there you are. This restaurant is nothing if not incongruous, in every way. The menu is reasonably unpretentious (except for the tasting menus, which are just silly), it’s not especially authentic but is perfectly pleasant, with curries, noodles, ribs, duck rolls etc., the usual Thai-ish suspects cheerfully adapted for the Western palate.  It was quiet at lunchtime, possibly because it’s tricky to find – the clubby (and by clubby I mean gentleman’s, as opposed to Ibizan) wooden exterior doesn’t carry a sign, instead it is discreetly inlaid to the front step. But it’s worth the effort purely for the interior, which is a kind of insane Belle Epoch/Speakeasy blend of brass lamps, comfy swivel chairs and near-pitch darkness. The most gloriously bizarre thing about this place though, is the toilets. I still have no idea whether I was in the ladies because there was no sign on the door, indeed no indication was given that there was a door at all. I had to feel my way around pressing all the walls before I fell into a dark (again), completely mirrored room, lit only by a hideous purple light emanating from the trough sink, which started gushing as soon as I got close to it. Visiting the cubicle was disconcerting, partly because I made the mistake of looking up to find myself regarded by my own sombre reflection, and partly because I wasn’t  at all sure I’d be able to find my way out again. It was like being in Labyrinth, if Labyrinth had been entirely set in a futuristic Russian retro-theme-bar with no-one but a witheringly disdainful Eastern European bartender to help you rescue the baby. I was quite glad to get back to the office.

Hadley House, 27 High Street, Wanstead, London E11 2AA

My parents live in South Woodford and my sister E recently discovered a fantastic restaurant in nearby Wanstead, called, rather grandly, Hadley House (you can see beautiful pictures of the food on her friend’s blog, go to Ms Hedgehog’s comments on my Chicago restaurants post and follow the link, or there are a few less accomplished snaps below). If you knew SW, you’d understand why the unearthing of a decent restaurant is a bit of an event – there aren’t any, at least until now. We went there today for E’s birthday and weren’t disappointed (the service, incidentally, was impeccable). I was in an unusually healthy mood so I went for heritage tomato (those cute little yellow and red ones which are almost treacle-sweet), asparagus and herb salad, which had some sort of very smooth (by which I mean unvinagery), pale French dressing and was completely moreish, followed by spaghetti with sun-dried tomato tapenade, more asparagus, shaved black truffles and truffle oil. It wasn’t a combination I would have considered, but it worked, weirdly, and was a mercifully reasonable size. Our parents both went for pan-fried chicken livers on toast to start, which was by all accounts meltingly soft, and E had a fantastic chunky, clear minestrone, with wafer-thin slivers of parmesan. She and my Dad had roasts – pork loin and beef respectively, which was very good (the pork crackling got an especially favourable review but she ate all of it herself, the ratbag), but gave rise to the observation that you can’t get crispy roast potatoes in restaurants. It’s true, I’ve never had them. I can’t think how it would be physically possible to do if you’re churning out roasts for a full sitting. If anyone can enlighten me as to a place where it’s done (and consistently) I’d be grateful. That said, I’d heartily recommend this place to anyone in and around that part of North East London, it’s worth the trip.

Pictures: heritage tomato salad; pan-fried chicken livers on toast; minestrone; a half-eaten spaghetti which I only just remembered to snap.


A quick BBQ recipe, having been to one last weekend at the house of two friends, where our friend W stole the show with his modest Tupperware of marinated pork fillet. Why I haven’t thought of doing this before I have no idea, but inspired by the Churrascarias of Brazil (BBQ restaurants), he cut it into small, bite-sized slices about the width of a finger and just handed it round as each batch came off the grill, rather than the big chunks of meat you normally do for BBQs. A few seconds on each side and it was done – melting and succulent. This is his glorious marinade recipe: 

2 tbsp fish sauce

juice half a lime

1 tbsp toasted sesame oil

2 stalks lemongrass

2 cloves garlic

1 tsp sugar (palm sugar for pref, or plain caster)

Mix, marinade for at least a good hour, preferably more. Slap on BBQ for a few seconds on either side. Eat before anyone else realises you’re cooking it.