My apologies for some of the pictures in today’s blog post. They really aren’t terribly good, but then that seems particularly appropriate because our meal at Terroirs, one of London’s current restaurant hotspots, really wasn’t terribly good either.
But, I am getting ahead of myself.
It is HP’s birthday next week and, as I shall be out of town on the day itself we scheduled a celebratory supper last night at Terroirs. We had visited the restaurant once before, sitting at the bar for a few snacks before a meal at Goodman, and were not overly impressed by the offer of warm sherry and oily duck scratchings. Since then, the restaurant has opened a large cellar restaurant space and garnered rave reviews from just about everyone. I still had my doubts, but it was HP’s birthday and his choice. With age, apparently does not always come wisdom.
The new (ish) space is lovely, lively and buzzing and our table, over looking the bar gave us the perfect chance to watch the comings and goings of the staff as we drank a glass of Vouvray and munched on a bowl of scratchings and tapenade. The scratchings had not improved since our last visit. Indeed, they tasted like they could have been made on our last visit and left a claggy taste in the mouth. The tapenade was better and came served with some excellent, thin crostini.
When you eat out as much as we do, your first instincts about a restaurant usually turn out to be the correct ones and my first tastes of our three shared starters confirmed what we suspected about Terroirs on our previous brief visit. The place may be jumping and the menu may read well, but the execution is sloppy and the final results depressing.
A dish of clams with ham and chilli came with enough added salt to make my blood pressure medication worthless. A salad of smoked duck breast with beetroot and hazelnuts should have made the most of terrific ingredients but swamped them with so much dressing as to make any flavours impossible to detect. Even a plate of the best anchovies on earth from Cantabria in Spain, served with toast and shallots, proved to be one salty dish too far and had us fighting over the water bottle.
So much has been said about Terroirs addition of the Provencal classic, chicken roasted with forty cloves of garlic, to its menu that we decided it would be worth the forty-five minute wait to experience it prepared in the style of the late, great Keith Floyd. There is something decadent about sharing a whole roast chicken between two people in a restaurant and I still have regular daydreams about the blackleg chicken with foie gras and fried bread at Petite Maison.
There was a loud, strange whirring noise when Terroirs’ example was brought to the table. It was the sound of the late, great Keith Floyd spinning in his grave at what they had done to the lovely dish he popularised in the early 1980’s. At its best, chicken cooked in this way should offer up moist flesh, a skin crisped to golden, simple cooking juices and soft garlic cloves from which the pulp can be squeezed on to bread or directly into your mouth. Instead, while the plate looked impressive (there’s a theme here) all it offered up was grease and lots of it. The skin was flaccid and unpleasant and while the chicken was juicy, none of the subtle flavour from the slow cooked garlic seemed to have permeated the meat during the cooking process. The gravy too lacked depth, but particular ire has to be reserved for the roast potatoes, attractive looking golden hunks of starch, which promised much but tasted actively nasty in the way that only roast potatoes that have been pre-cooked and reheated can. Their casing was tough and the insides had a slightly stale taste that had us pushing the bowl to the side.
For all the plaudits its menu is receiving, the truth is Terroirs is a wine bar, set up by wine people, serving not great food and it is only to sample its extensive and interesting wine list that we would ever choose to return. HP was keen to try their speciality of natural wines and for £27.50 we chose a 2009 Cuvée Octobre, bottled immediately the Syrah grapes come from the vines and served chilled. It is interesting to say the least, but not in a good way, so after a couple of gulps and a shudder, I left it to HP to polish off while I ordered a small pot of a much more agreeable Marcillac.
The bad taste left in the mouth by the chicken meant we skipped dessert and were presented with a bill for a whopping £126 including a charge for service which was friendly enough when you could catch the servers eye as they scurried around the packed dining room. A lot to pay for a meal which only served to confirm what we had suspected from our previous visit.
As I said before, your first instincts about a place usually turn out to be the correct ones and, as if to prove it, we raised our spirits and a last glass to HP’s birthday in the splendid bar of Rules. We had visited the bar within a couple of days of its opening and our first instincts told us that Brian Silva would make this one of the “must visit” cocktail bars in London.
We were right about that, I am pleased t say. I am a lot less pleased to say we were also absolutely right about Terroirs.