We spent last weekend in London with the sole purpose of getting as much good food in our bellies as possible, and largely succeeded.
Beware: the following is loooooooooooong.
Golden Hind (fish and chips, Marylebone High Street)
I'd wanted to try this place for ages -- and was happy I finally did. Granted, the chips were a trifle anemic (but living in Brussels, I'm spoiled for chip choice); however, the plaice I had was extraordinary. Light, crispy, grease-free batter enclosing perfectly cooked fish, just steamed by the heat of the coating. The owners/staff are disconcertingly friendly, and I was intrigued to see people ordering what looked to be the largest dill pickles ever to accompany their fish.
One unrelated note: I was stunned to see a line of people out the door and down the block across the street at Le Relais de Venise - Entrecote. What's up with that?
Assaggi (Sardinian/Italian, Notting Hill)
Again, a place I've been wanting to try for ages. The room itself seats about 24 - high ceilings, wood floors, terra cotta walls, nice space between the tables. One big strike immediately made its presence felt -- or smelled, as it were: restaurants should NOT be allowed to feature massive floral displays with tons of day lilies. The odor was really unpleasant and definitely interfered from time to time with the gustatory experience. Anyhoo. Both of us had a lovely starter of three plump, nicely cooked scallops, each on a little pool of radicchio puree. Nice idea -- but if you ask me, they overdosed on red onion and vinegar in the puree, so that it was more tangy than bitter. Melanie followed with tortelli alla zucca with brown butter and sage -- nice pasta, rich filling (a touch of amaretti in there), but a bit too heavy on the butter. I had tagliolini with crab, which wasn't great. I think it's hard to cook thin, fine pasta al dente, and this had gone a minute or two too long. Eeehhhh. A very nice glass of pinot grigio accompanied (warning: I didn't retain wine info on anything I drank this weekend; I'm obviously out of practice). No dessert, just cappucino and mint tea. A nice lunch overall, but worth 35 quid a person? Probably not.
Konstam (Modern British/locavore, King's Cross)
I really like this place! A few stumbles, but I left with a really good feeling. Small (about 28 covers) and dark, with an open kitchen (we sat right next to it). The chef-owner used to be at Moro, and we were chatting with him as we had tea and coffee and he was up on the stove degreasing the hood at the end of the night -- nice guy, as was our server. So, the one blot on the record came from the lack of heat lamps over the plating area (which was literally two feet away). It meant that several of the dishes came to us with chilly spots. Unfortunate, but I won't complain too much as the flavours were all lovely. Starters -- sauteed blewit mushrooms with vermouth, garlic and parsley over toasted country bread (as straightforward and tasty as it sounds) and a sparklingly vibrant tomato soup with persillade. Mains: sea bass with chard and roasted potatoes and a peppercorn beurre blanc (the vegetables were GORGEOUS, fish -- three good-sized pieces that I couldn't finish -- was nicely cooked although the skin could have been crisper, sauce yummy but a bit stodgy). I went for dessert, which was a fab treacle pudding with cinnamon ice cream, and G. opted for a glass of Somerset apple brandy. Calvados it wasn't...
They did have English wines on offer, but not being a masochist, I opted for a glass of Austrian gruner veltliner -- really good with both starter and main. G. went for a glass of Gigondas, nicely round and dusty. Would definitely go back.
Maze (Modern European, Grosvenor Square)
The piece de resistance -- a gulpingly expensive but AMAZING lunch. I'd fully intended to go for the prix fixe menu at 28 quid, but wasn't really tempted by it, so we decided to splurge and go with the a la carte small plates I confess we left hungry -- we would have needed two more plates apiece to fill up, but we were trying to be reasonable. But the food was absolutely exquisite -- not a miss in the bunch of the ten things we tried. And the plating was beautiful to boot.
Me: veloute of Jerusalem artichoke poured at table over a duck ragout, accompanied by a warm miniature brioche with cepe butter. I didn't know whether to bathe in this or ask for another gallon's worth and a straw. Earthy, nutty, autumnal -- and the cepe butter was to die for.
G: thin wafers of beetroot sandwiching creamy yet assertive whipped chevre. Candied pine nuts sprinkled atop, and a drizzle of Cabernet reduction. Tangy, texturally interesting -- very nice indeed.
Me: pickled yellow beetroot with crab salad (really just sweet crab meat -- no binder), Granny Smith jelly, avocado cream with a few grains of caviar and a tiny scoop of bloody mary sorbet, with a sprinkling of tarragon microgreens. Loved it. The crab was nice, but the accompaniments, both tasted individually and in combination, really sang.
G: scallops with cauliflower puree. What can I say? It's all in the cooking (impeccable) and the quality (ditto).
Me: roasted prawns with a spoonful of shellfish bisque and sweet, creamy butternut squash puree. The prawns were a HAIR overcooked. But again, the combination of flavours was inspired.
G: slow-cooked quail with foie gras en torchon and sauteed wafer-thin slices of apple. He was grinning from ear to ear with this little birdy thing, which had a lovely gamy taste. The jus was excellent.
Me: braised shin of veal with pumpkin risotto. A little cylinder of meat that fell apart when I looked at it harshly, garnished with wood sorrel microgreens, a lovely deep jus and a Staub cocotte of perfectly textured risotto.
G: rack of lamb (okay, one chop) with hispi cabbage and a little Staub cocotte of navarin d'agneau. The meat had fantastic flavour and again, someone in the kitchen is a dab hand at stock reductions. This one had an echo of Madeira in it, I think.
Me: a dessert that made me laugh and drool. Sweetcorn vanilla panna cotta with popcorn sorbet and a little plastic bag of salty-sweet popcorn. Lovely!
G: three perfectly aged British cheeses -- Lincolnshire Poacher, Ticklemore chevre and a washed-rind cow's milk called Isle of Avalon, which was pungent and unctuous and altogether splendid.
I had a glass of 2006 Trimbach Riesling Reserve, which pleased me greatly, and G had a glass of NZ Pinot Noir whose name I don't remember but whose very Burgundian earthy, mushroomy nose came as a pleasant surprise.
Finished off with coffee, fresh mint tea and petits fours in the lounge and wafted out on a cloud of well-being (trying not to think about the price, which was, in the interest of full disclosure, 135 pounds. SO glad the pound's weakened recently against the euro...).
Still - this is now my splurge restaurant of choice in London.