What I Would Rather Eat Today

July 30, 2009

32 Great Queen Street

Filed under: Restaurants — MartinH @ 9:58 pm

I’m a sucker for a restaurant-that-doesn’t-look-like-a-restaurant, so 32 Great Queen St (hereafter GQS, my fingers aren’t quite that masochistic) grabbed me from the first time I visited, and continues to do so.

My inaugural meal was some 3 years ago – my firm at the time had our Christmas lunch there – and the first thing that struck me back then was not just that the staff were courteous, but that they were proactively friendly. Some of us had arrived early and, seeing that we’d clearly be in for the long haul (we polished off a handful of pints each before the rest arrived) moved us to a table that we could keep for the rest of the day. I’m as little a fan of table turning as the next guy, but the attention to detail pleasantly surprised me. Needless to say, we spent the rest of the day there, eating, drinking and generally, well, if I’m honest, my memory goes a little fuzzy at this point, so I will say “good times” and let that lie.

Returning 6 months ago, after a far-too-long absence, I noticed, despite being markedly busier, the aura and attention to detail remained. This I found oddly soothing, like a comfy pair of slippers, which is not a metaphor I thought I’d apply to a restaurant! Back again last Monday and, as ever, it was packed, I should’ve made a reservation, at 7:30 on a Monday evening we were sat at the bar.

The bar at GQS is a long, gorgeous stretch of wood, positioned alongside the diners, trying to make the most of the space available in the fairly modest establishment. I’ve always found eating at a bar alters the mood of the meal entirely, one ends up with a different view on everything – the food, drink, other diners, staff, kitchen and dining companions – almost always in a complimentary way – there’s something about smelling your food sizzling in the kitchen, watching it piled up on the plate, and then the *ting* of the service bell to let you know it’ll soon be in your belly that’s just abjectly dribble-inducing.

Enough flowery language, the food:

The menu

The menu

Ordered: 1 Smoked mackarel with pickled goosberries & 1 bresaola with necatrines, followed by roast stuffed saddle of rabbit for 2 and a carafe of their house beaujolais. Might as well do the wine now… I’m very much a fan of beaujolais and the look on my face after the waiter asked me if we wanted it chilled or not was one of, well, not quite love, but certainly kinship. We opted for room-temperature, and it was as good a young, frisky, fruity thing as any I’ve had. GQS proffer their house wines either by the glass, carafe (half-bottle-size) or full bottle, so a nice range if one is feeling a little under the weather, perhaps…

Onto the fodder. The smoked fish was incredible, and nothing like what I expected. If you visualise a fish, chop out the middle 3 inches, pile up some sticky, sweet goosberries and you’ve got a rough idea of what arrived in front of me. It. Was. Gorgeous. The fish, cold, was so intensely smoked the flesh had turned rich, dense and salty, packed full of flavour, a wonderful combination of powerful, simple flavours and a texture I’d never experienced before. Following each mouthful with a pickled gooseberry rounded off the saltiness of the fish wonderfully, the twist in the plot, if you will.

Wine & water

Wine & water

Next was the rabbit. We waited a while for this, I assume the chef was trying to keep the last one for himself, but, when it did arrive, it was more than worth the wait. Chunky slices of smooth gamey flesh, stuffed with what I ascertained were simply mushrooms. Nutty, with a bit of a bite, they complimented the varying textures of the saddle, making for a very tasty mouthful indeed. It was billed as for two. I’d have happily had it to myself, and I wouldn’t care if they forever knew me as “the greedy rabbit lover”. The diamond in the, well, silk, to really torture the metaphor, was a sliver of liver nestling between the slices of saddle. Starkly contrasting in both texture, bite and flavour, rolling it into the superbly soft flesh provided an unexpected surprise, slipping inbetween the soft, supple, silky slices of Bugs Bunny, I mopped up the juices with a buttery Jersey Royal and tried to decide if I wanted pudding.

Bugs bunny...nom

Bugs bunny...nom

…and obviously, I did. We ordered a chocolate pot and a raspberry tart, the latter landing infront of me. This appeared to be closer to a cheesecake than a tart, a lovely light filing with sweet, vibrant raspberries embedded in its tasty depths, a perfect sweet counterpoint to the richness of the rabbit and the earlier mackerel, rounding off the meal wonderfully.

As with the Welly, this is one of my favourite and much-loved restaurants, but it’s good to know that, since my first visit years ago, it’s kept up it’s attitude to provenance, quality and seasonality, and it’s still as popular and delicious as ever.

Details:

32 Great Queen Street
WC2B 5AA

020 7242 0622

Advertisements

July 12, 2009

The Wellington Arms

Filed under: Restaurants — Tags: , , , , , , , — MartinH @ 3:41 pm

Lately, I’ve found myself returning home to the soil that nurtured me much less frequently.  Work and London life in general mean that I rarely get the chance to make the (admittedly short) journey out to see the parents and get some fresh air.  However, one thing sure to entice me back is a birthday, particularly my sister’s, and the prospect of lunch at what is fast becoming my favourite restaurant only sweetened the deal. I was sold, Saturday 11th July 2009 was going to be a no-breakfast day, something I almost instantly regretted as my grumbling stomach complained aloud to the world on the drive out.

After the exchange of presents, and the admiration of my sister’s cake, lovingly cooked and crafted into yet another wonderfully relevant shape (a champagne bottle) by my mum, we strolled up the road (another plus point, walking distance, everyone can drink!) to the rather gorgeous Wellington Arms.

From the outside...with my Dad strolling into shot

From the outside...with my Dad strolling into shot

I have many memories of this pub, back from when I was knee-height to a grasshopper, and it was an old man’s boozer. A handful of mental pictures of sitting in the garden (as a child, I was thoroughly banned from the interior) waiting for my Mum or Dad to be served through the window from the bar. Fast-forwarding, oh, 15 years, and the place was bought by a husband and wife team, who cleaned up the interior, reduced the bar space, refurbed the kitchen and turned it into a restaurant, with a small bar for the regulars, to ease the transition.

Just over a year later, these trailblazers moved on to pastures new and the now-proprieters Justin King and Simon Page, chef and front-of-house respectively, took over the place, gave the interior another facelift and set to work on the food, vastly improving its provenance and expanding the home-grown reach of the menu. Rescued battery hens scurry around the garden, laying eggs which are both used in the kitchen and sold by the half-dozen inside. A magnificent herb garden stretches out from the back of the kitchen, segueing past the veg, well, patch seems a little tame, but that’s where it comes from.

One thing that immediately hits you about this place is its size. From the photo above, it doesn’t look huge, and it isn’t, which is absolutely brilliant. 25 seats, max, mismatching tables, chairs on one side, heavily-cushioned window seats on the other, jars of chutney on the walls, a fireplace with a champagne ornament next to it. Straight ahead is a blackboard-painted oak beam advertising bin end wine, to the right a hanging sign for home-made marmalade.

Home-made marmalade

Home-made marmalade

To the left is the menu, a blackboard-bound list of changing wonder, promising the world, from steak to scallops, cod to pidgeon, lobster to lamb, neatly arranged in two columns – starters and mains.

The menu, blackboard-bound

The menu, blackboard-bound

Settling down, we ordered:

  • Mum: Goat’s cheese souffle followed by Line caught scallops with samphire
  • Dad: Hen’s egg tortilla with smoked salmon, followed by Berkshire Down lamb chops with courgette, beans and rosemary
  • Sister: Vine-ripened tomato soup with basil & olive oil, followed by crispy fried pumpkin flowers, stuffed with Ricotta
  • Me: Terrine of wild venison and wood pidgeon, followed by Berkshire Down lamb chops with courgette, beans and rosemary

We managed to cover the menu pretty well. We ordered a bottle of white to go with this lot, sadly, I wasn’t drinking, trying to kill off the last few remnants of a cold, which means I didn’t pay as much attention as I should’ve to the chosen tipple, I will do better in future! I also need a better camera, but that’s for another post…

There now follows a couple of photos, mainly because they’re the best that came out. I’m afraid this is where my camera rather let me down, so I only have two good snaps, boo, but behold! Our starters:

Mums goats cheese souffle

Mum's goats cheese souffle

My venison & wood pidgeon terrine

My venison & wood pidgeon terrine

The souffle, although I didn’t partake on this particular occasion, I’ve had before and, judging by my Mum’s approving noises and clean plate, was as wonderfully cheesy and fluffy as I remember it. I would’ve ordinarily plumped for it, but I had a real meat craving going on, and the prospect of venison & pidgeon, wrapped in pancetta was too much to give up. I was not disappointed. Big, meaty chunks of deer and the humble pidgeon oozed flavour, even more so when schmeared over some thick grilled toast and topped with the gorgeous apple chutney, the sweetness of the latter providing a nice counterpoint to the strength of the meat(s).

As any round of starters should, we were chomping at the bit for the next stack of food, and, on cue, they did arrive:

Mums scallops

Mum's scallops

Dads (and my) lamb

Dad's (and my) lamb

Sisters pumpkin flowers

Sister's pumpkin flowers

In a flash of poor form on my part, as soon as my lamb arrived, I ripped into it like it was the only food left on earth – hence the rushed photos – and neglected pretty much everything else going on around me, including a small pot of sauce that I only ended up sampling after placing the last gnawed-to-the-nth-degree rib back on my plate and looking up and the rest of my family. Wonderfully juicy, with a good level of charring, I tore through the lot (and there was a lot – 3 very meaty bits) in double-quick time. I’d like to think if I’d been drinking that might’ve slowed me down a bit as I savoured the interactions between the wine and the lamb, but, well, I wouldn’t put money on it…

The lamb was lovely, a tasty edge of fat clinging on to provide texture and an extra level of flavour, the centre nicely pinked, oozing enough juices to warrant a cleanup operation with a latent bit of bread from the pre-prandial calm, I chewed the bones clean. The courgette slivers and bed of beans providing a nice bit of veggie balance to the intensely meaty chops, I was thoroughly stuffed. My Dad, finishing with satisfaction after me, had similar sentiments, if expressed through slightly tangential vocabulary (“God, that was good”).

My sister went for the pumpkin flowers as soon as Simon told us they had them on the menu, and demolished them about as quickly, before I could get a nibble, horribly unsporting of her, I let it slide as it was her birthday… From memory, they’re just as good, lightly crispy batter giving way to semi-molten ricotta inside, fluffy and textured, packed full of flavour.

My Mum’s scallops were a starter-sized portion, but still bursting with flavour, and the addition of samphire gave two nice flavour points to quite a simple dish, the latter was duly shared around for sampling, a bright, fresh green and very tasty indeed.

That left pudding. Mum & Dad balked at the idea and plumped for coffee, but my sister and I were not so daunted. She went for an elderberry jelly with vanilla bean ice cream and I for a mango sorbet, sadly I only have an in-focus picture of the former (I really, *really* need a new camera)…

Elderberry jelly with vanilla ice cream (and a candle)

Elderberry jelly with vanilla ice cream (Birthday Girl's, naturally)

The elderberry was a nice, light finish to the meal, and the ice cream the very essence of vanilla, velvety smooth and flavoursome. All their puds are made in-house, as are their sorbets, hence why I decided I should give the latter a try. I was not disappointed, nor was anyone else who I was forced to share it with. A chorus of “mmm, that’s *very* mangoey” echoed around the table, as did a string of “awww”s as I picked up my tiny warm shortbread and nibbled away on it, only getting about a hundred crumbs all over myself, and I was sober!

This post was always going to be unashamedly congratulatory, I’ve visited this restaurant about a dozen times, indeed, we booked the place out for my sister’s birthday last year with 20 or so of her friends, but there is a reason why we all keep going back, and why I’d happily make the journey from further afield than London to visit. The quality of the ingredients, the homely size of the place, the skill it’s all cooked with and the changing, seasonal menu are but a handful of this place’s attributes, and why I recommend it to anyone. Also, I went there before Giles Coren did, *sticks tongue out*. Oh, and the cost rounded out at about £40 per head, so when I say it’s worth it, I really mean it.

Post-dinner relaxation

Post-dinner relaxation

July 11, 2009

Err…blog!

Filed under: Bloggging about blogging — MartinH @ 9:46 am

I love writing, and I don’t get a chance to do it often in my job, to the point that, when I do, it puts me in a good mood for about a week. I’ve tried blogging before, but, like many, it tends to descend into that worst kind of blogging – that of the navel-gazer, resulting in not much of any particular interest, unless you’re me, and even then, it’s not *that* compelling.

So, having been befriended by many of the food bloggers on Twitter, and who’ve had the good grace to invite me to a few of their gatherings, it made eminent sense for me to start blogging about food. I love it, I encounter it daily, and, with a bit of luck in the future, I’ll be able to do more of it myself, which, I’m sure, should lead to some, well, I was going to say “fireworks”, but I think it’ll be simply closer to the “fire” part without the spectacle, unless you enjoy watching me battle with a fire extinguisher.

So, in the short term, I’ll be doing restaurant stuff, probably, and some miscellaneous cooking at weekends and so on, but I’ll try and keep up *some* kind of regularity.

My first post will be tomorrow on the Wellington Arms, a favourite restaurant just up the road from my parents place in middle-of-nowhere Hampshire.

Miscellaneous table stuff from last time

Miscellaneous table stuff from last time

Until then, happy eating! Om nom nom.

Blog at WordPress.com.