VILLANDRY: DOING THE JOB AT LUNCHTIME
When I was invited to choose a destination for a lunch meeting with my publishers on Tuesday, “not too far from the office” I thought of Villandry.
Strange really as I had not thought of Villandry in a long time and had not set foot in the place for at least five years that I can recall.
It speaks volumes that, when I referred to its location as “new” HP reminded me that it moved from its original place on Marylebone High St ten years ago. It is, it would appear, one of those places that has dropped off a lot of people’s radar. Certainly mine.
However, it fitted the bill. It was a short walk from the offices of John Murray and easy enough for me to get to on the tube between frantic bouts of packing and last minute organisation for the next leg of EAT MY GLOBE.
It fits the bill too for the setting of the restaurant, light and airy, situated alongside the food hall and the less formal dining area, the tables are just about far enough apart to have a conversation away from the ears of other diners (in this case, nearly all publishers many of whom I think I may have pissed off at some point in my past life)
The service too is aimed full square at the business meal. Efficient, but without any effort to engage or intrude on conversations of significant import or, in our case, me showing my poor companions pictures of dead dogs in South China.
It is, in fact, perfect for the working lunch. In other words, entirely inoffensive.
There folks is the rub. If the restaurant and the service is inoffensive, so too is the food. It comes and goes with barely a raised eyebrow from any of the diners who continue conversations without a pause as courses of perfect adequacy are placed in front of them.
My companions took a little more notice of their food that anybody else in the place. Primarily because I was shoving my camera under their noses taking pictures without which I would be hard pressed to recall what I actually ate.
None of this is to say that it is bad. It isn’t. The cooking is competent and the ingredients are good, which they bloody well ought to be given that they are being sold at nosebleed inducing prices in the deli.
A salad of ham hocks and girolles came long on leaves and short on fungal matter but the pleasingly chewy bits of pig made it worth bothering with.
An artichoke was served with the proper accompaniments but with the hearts removed and replaced by a “Villandry salad” which was declared as “a bit naughty” by one of my companions, which it was. Even more so when it appeared later on as a puree under slices of salmon, which came as her second course.
Another dish of black bream showed a kitchen that can cook, but one that can’t plate. Does anyone else think that serving tomatoes on the vine looks, well quite frankly, a bit naff? It is bad enough that they sell them that way in supermarkets to charge more labelling them “grown for flavour” (what the f**k else are they going to grow them for, juggling?) but to have them plonked on a good slice of fish like this is just ugly. It is also ill judged as the juices from the tomatoes takes away any crispness to the skin of the fish.
My dish of salt & pepper squid was much better with a pleasing coating covering perfectly cooked squid. No easy task. However, HP knows me too well. When he looked at the pictures, he said “you only liked it because they put the lemon half in that muslin thing, didn’t you?” and he was right. I have always been a sucker for that ever since my first visit to J Sheekey’s all those years ago. I still am. So sue me. All the juice, none of the pips. It's the way foreward I tell you.
This being a business lunch, we all forewent pudding and headed for the fresh mint tea test which they aced by producing two large pots of water with, er fresh mint. One of my great bugbears is that so few places feel able to do this. The benefits of having the shop next door I guess.
While my companion, Eleanor paid the bill (thank you, I have always depended on the kindness of publishers) I treated both her and my Editor, Helen to a slideshow of my pictures. They made enough “ooh” “agh” and “eiww” noises for me to convince me that I have not wasted the last seven months and to send me back to my packing with a smug smile on my face ready for the next six on the road.
By 3pm as we left, the restaurant, Villandry was empty again. I have no idea what it is like in the evening, but here at lunch, it was very much “job done” which about sums it up. Hardly groundbreaking, but for a business lunch, it just about does the job.