Located in the old Hibiscus building, the room appears unchanged. There’s still the odd combination of rough stonework and dark wood panelling. It’s still a bit too hot for comfort. And there’s still really good food. A variety of menus are on offer at lunch – from the 10 course surprise tasting, through the carte to a short set lunch. And it was the latter, priced at £30, which appealed. Three choices at each course with, of course, amuse and pre-dessert. This is one-star cooking, of course, so such extras are almost a given.
And it was the amuse that was the full-on in-yer-face flavour of the whole meal. A take on carrot and coriander soup. Spiced carrots in the bowl, an intense carrot veloute, sprinkled with a little coriander leaf. I may never want a bowl of Covent Garden again.
Carrots appeared again in one of the starters. Pickled in orange this time. And accompanying a fillet of red mullet, a few very crispy battered squid rings and a couple of balls of deep-fried breaded brandade. Ohhh, it was good. Very good, Very good, indeed.
Where I come from, we have a name for “jellied pig’s head ballotine”. It’s “brawn” and it’s delicious. The sort of thing granny had for her Sunday tea. Becasse’s version is Michelin refined and is not as in-yer-face as you might buy on Bolton market. But it was certainly nice enough. And lifted by the slightly incongruous accompaniments of a chickpea salsa, citrussy from preserved lemon, and little dab of hummus. I wasn’t sure that this was going to work – but it very much did.
For a main, chicken came as breast and leg. Just cooked through, the flesh very succulent. The birds come from Bryn Derw farm in Wales and are free-range and slow growing. I’m sure this accounts for the excellent flavour. It came with what must be the last of the Jersey Royals and almost the first of the runner beans. It was dressed with a light cream sauce which I think always works well with chicken.
Breast of lamb had been long cooked with a very punchy stuffing of pine nuts, rosemary and capers. There was purple sprouting broccoli on the side and a good drizzle of more punchy flavours in the form of salsa verde (or “verdi” as the menu has it).
Desserts were in fine fettle. Pre-dessert was a Pimms jelly topped with a sweet cucumber cream. One of us thoroughly enjoyed this, the other wouldn’t want to repeat the experience. As to desserts proper, there was deconstructed and reassembled peach melba, incorporating all the elements of the classic and, whilst, very good, was not necessarily an improvement on the classic. The other described as “strawberry” was very much a work of art. A small crepe enclosed lemon curd; there was a scattering of strawberries, a sorbet, and a tang of the savoury from a black pepper caramel and some basil olive oil. This worked so well – and I would have been more than happy to keep eating the crepe concoction till the cows came home.
Almost needless to say, service from the mainly French staff, was formal and faultless. The discretionary 12.5% service charge is well earned.