"It's not much but it's ours"

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


After two weeks of kicking it in the Costas – think sun, good books, big steaks and large quantities of orujo - I reluctantly returned to England. After paying someone to punish me for my lack of recent physical activity (I believe they’re called Personal Trainers) I thought I deserved something tasty for lunch so I wandered into town not really knowing where to go.

On the way I passed what used to be West then East@West and what now is the latest branch of L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon. Unusually for a restaurant there was a bouncer outside but they needn’t have bothered, a copy of the menu with the prices in large print would be enough to frighten most people off.

Inside I found myself in a Spanish disco circa 1986. All it needed was Nu Shoozs I Can’t Wait blasting out of the PA. Instead there was some muzak of the Jazz noodling sort. There were also vases filled with shredded paper, peppers and bowls of what looked like Red Delicious apples. Those wacky French.

I was seated at a long bar and got a good view of the goings-on in the kitchen. Men clad in black quietly moving around preparing the dishes. The quiet only broken by a junior member of staff inexpertly opening a bottle of champagne at which point all his colleagues turned to stare at him. Hope he kept his Eurostar return ticket.

At lunchtime three menus are offered: one specifically for lunch, the tasting and a carte made up of tapas, starters and main courses. It was all a bit bewildering for a numbskull like me so I decided to go with the tapas menu. The waiter said three or four plates would be sufficient so I ordered seven just to be on the safe side.

Even though I made a valiant attempt over the past few days to consume most of Spain’s jamon production I was intrigued to see how the French would handle such a delicacy. Not too well. The serving size was about what I would expect but it wasn’t cut thinly enough so completely missing the point of the best ham in the world. The toasted bread which accompanied looked nice but was a pointless addition.

A little mackerel tart followed which would have been better if it wasn’t covered in dry parmesan shavings. The little bundle of herbs that came with it just annoyed me.
The Crispy Langoustine fritter with basil pistou showed someone knew how to deep fry but I couldn’t taste the langoustine. I dissected the batter casing but the langoustine inside was mushy. Not good.

The downhill trend continued with Pig Trotter on Parmesan toast. The chopped up bits of trotter were pleasingly piggy but the toast was an overly chewy piece of bread with a soggy centre and hard circumference. More of that dry Parmesan made an unwelcome appearance along with some rocket.

Things picked up considerably with Le Burger. Two little beef burgers topped with foie gras in a sesame seed bun. Served with fantastic crinkle-cut chips which I haven’t had since I was young ‘un. This was more like it. As you bit into the thing you got the taste of the yeasty bun followed by the richness of the foie and then a beefy hit from the burger combined with a little sweetness from the peppers. Que rico ! One of those dishes that looks good, tastes good and makes dining out fun.

The free-range quail stuffed with foie gras and accompanied by a truffled mash consisted of excellent quality Bresse quail cooked perfectly. The foie gras stuffing didn’t really work though and the mash was gluey and not redolent of truffles. Even the truffles weren’t redolent of truffles.

To finish up the savoury part of the meal I tried the Lamb chops with thyme. Again the quality and the cooking were spot on although the chops were nowhere near as good as Spanish chuletillas. The chops came with “our famous mashed potatoes” as the waiter described it setting himself for the biggest fall since the decline of the Roman empire. Luckily for him they were pretty good and extremely moreish but in the end they are just pommes puree with extra butter. Please note annoying bundle of thyme as an(other) extraneous extra.

I was pretty full after this lot so I took five and pondered on a possible cheese course.
Pondering over, I went against more protein and headed for pudding. I lucked out with a Coffee Dessert. There were layers of Coffee Mousse, Coffee Ice Cream and Coffee Jelly. It was light and not oversweet and no, I didn’t try to eat the silver coffee beans.

Wines by the glass were dull and overpriced. Coffee was shit. PF was a toffee. An Eau-de-vie de Mirabelle did its job.

Mixed emotions about this one. It’s expensive and you are just sitting at a bar not at a table with a nice tablecloth, lots of waiters in attendance and a sommelier and all the other frills. On the other hand there is some good cooking here and for the most part I think they had tried to source the best ingredients which doesn’t always happen in London high-end restaurants. I shall return.

Looking round my fellow lunchers were a 50:50 mix of suits and a couple of ab-fab types who actually used the word “fabulous” several times. But never in relation to the food as in “that was really good” or even “I didn’t like that”. I sensed that this might be the amount of interest shown in the food by the majority of the clientele. You know, sometimes I think we get the restaurants we deserve in London.
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