OK, let's get this out of the way. Jay Rayner just won Critic of the Year at the British Press Awards 2006.
Much as it pains me to say it. It is very well deserved. Despite the recent growth on the back of his head ( all together - DON'T BREAK MY HEART etc etc ) Jay remains one of the best writers in the UK and reading both his novels and criticism make me consider giving up my own pathetic attempts at writing as he does it so well. Bastard!
I wonder if he will insist we call him "Critic of the year, Jay Rayner" in the way the, in no way barking doollaly, Ben Kingsley allegedly insists that every one calls him "Sir Ben"
I digress. I mention Jay because the first time I went to Comptoir Gascon was about six months ago as the guest of the afore mentioned "Critic of the Year"
I had not been since before Christmas and I am kicking myself that I left so many days between meals there. On that first visit, as COTY Jay recounts, I had one bite of my main course cassoulet and immediately summoned the waiter and made a reservation the next week. It really was that good.
Today, after an early evening appointment, I found myself in Smithfield and decided to have a solo supper at Comptoir. James, the senior waiter, remembered me from my four previous visits and gave me a seat at the bar.
After the horrors of the Bloody Horrible ( I mean the Bleeding Heart ) this was better, so much better.
I chose my starter from the specials, two slabs of foie gascon for £10.50. A lot to pay? Perhaps, but not for foie of this quality. It almost had a barbecued quality to it and was rich beyond measure. Lovely and suitably served by the glass of Muscat I had with it.
Inbetween courses, I could hardly stop myself from eating the bread that was popped in front of me. I had to ask them to take it away. I did, however, eat most of the large pat of eschire butter that came with it. Offically the best butter in the world.
In honour of my first visit, I went for the Cassoulet again. This is by far the best I have tried in London. No heinz beans here. Soft, slow cooked beans with meaty thick sausages, melting duck confit with crispy, crispy skin and topped with a slice of crunchy bacon and a slice of fried pork fat. This is proper cooking and whoever phlegmed up that noxious monstrosity at Bleeding Heart should be dragged here and made to watch them cook this. I had a glass of the house Montravel with this and it was suitably big ( Mostly Merlot, I would guess)
The bill including service was £39. Not cheap for a solo supper but I did not begrudge a groat.
I was about to head around the corner to Vinoteca where I had promised the chef a book. But, James persuaded me to a comped ( large ) brandy. I have no morals. No one gives a damn if I take a freebie. Least of all me. A nice way to round off the evening.
As I left James said " Abientot" I think, remembering my schoolboy French, that means "see you soon" or "see you again."
Damn right you will, James, Damn right