Monday, 15 August 2011

[Restaurant - French Modern] A tale of Deux Pied; L'Autre Pied of Marylebone

Location - Marylebone, London [UK]. 

Delays - tedious at best, generally inconsequential, and usually my modus operandi in the rare occasions where I am expected somewhere, through no fault of my own naturally. A week had passed since the last outing and as such, another meal was due. However, in lieu of some rude Ruffians in an aimless London-wide rampage of idiocy, plans were halted, from two different groups, denying me of two chances to exercise my jaw. Which saw retribution in a couple of overindulgent atrocities of the calorific kind. The rioters should be ashamed of this travesty unleashed unto me. Which added ever more importance onto the eventual date with the next night of indulgence, at Pied a Terre.

On arrival however, I was left comprehensively blind-sided - this was not Pied a Terre. This was not Pied a Terre at all. What is happening?! Seemingly still pedi-centric, and located in the same locality, apparently we were scheduled for L'Autre a Pied, which instantly sent me into a wild state of perplexed indifference, instead pondering on the aura of foot fetish suddenly permeating in this neighbourhood - does Marylebone have an obscure S&M connotations? Or am I stepping on a few toes with this slightly contrived notion ^_^. Little did I know at the time, that I would thoroughly dine on my foot as it would turn out that these two eateries kicked around as sister restaurants. Touche'. No real thought process went into selecting the restaurants - randomly rattling off a list of names I could recall, I was unaware that George had just gone and booked the restaurants as quick as I could recollect them. Unfortunately, having been aimlessly pondering at the wrong menu for the better part of a week would mean that I would now be fraught with a complete stranger of a menu. Heavens. 

On entering the restaurant we were met with a rather quaint and formal-ish looking setting, being led to our table I was left rather amused. Set up with me sitting in the middle of the table opposite the couple, I was overcome by notions of my Mafioso Godfather stereotypical preconceptions that I do so adore. I just needed to ask the restaurant to substitute a grand winged back arm chair and it would be perfect. Moving on, much deliberation on procrastinating from looking at anything other than the dessert menu resulted in two out of three of the group wanting the 8 course taster menu. Which was rather boring and contained nothing out of the ordinary, not even anything living in a shell or a cave. And if I were to decline, then they would be denied their entire table menu. Extortion. Damn you. I was supposed to be the Mafia boss here.

~ Starter ~

  • Salad of Heirloom Tomatoes, Gazpacho Consomme, Lemon  Oil
Slightly hesitant at the prospect of facing eight courses when I have been supplementing the fat reserves in my body seemingly to prepare myself for an exploration of the winter harsh lands of Pluto, I was immediately put at ease on the arrival of the ornate thimble sized serving of this starter, initially mistaking it for a token amuse bouche. It was a rather lethargic representation of what the description portrayed, being no more than four different coloured half slices of tomato sprinkled with some incredibly finely chopped chives and olive. Gazpacho? That would be the tomato water then. Refreshing but rather boring going from the anticipation created from the title - Tomatoes avec Eau du Tomates could have sounded just as enticing to those not French literate.

  • Chilled Courgette Veloute, Feta Cheese, Hazelnuts, Roscoff Onions, Basil Oil

Thimble removed and the next plate promptly arrives. Do not recall this one, a sprinkling of what seems to be goat's cheese and a tiny piece of squid with some hazelnuts dotted around? It all had a very prominent aroma of basil which was rather enticing, not even requiring proximity to capture. Then the waiter returned to douse the composition with a pea-green emulsion. Ah, so it's the veloute. Which would mean the previous dish actually was the Gazpacho. Oh dear.

However, on first sampling, I was overcome with the inherent need to inhale this concoction. It was delectable. For a veloute' it was exquisitely light yet fragrant, that basil aroma permeating evidently yet not overpowering, providing a delicate and refreshing touch to the dish. This fresh and excellently flavoured veloute' also melded well with the tartness and slight saltiness of the Feta cheese, not to mention the added crunch provided by the hazelnuts. The piece of squid, which actually was a slice of onion, was rather random, and lost. And consumed with no idea as to its purpose.  

~ Main Course ~

  • Soused Cornish Mackerel, Avocado Creme Fraiche, Radishes, Citrus Vinaigrette
First of the mains arrive, and we were presented with a collection of seemingly standalone morsels arranged on the large plate, all looking as exciting as a British Summer sky. In isolation, this boredom would translate into the general composition of the dish [you eat with your eyes apparently, thus see with your mouth?] - the radishes contained raw or lightly cooked fish of some sort I believe, and otherwise were rather uninteresting, likewise the "soused" mackerel which did not really taste of much beyond mackerel, without even a gentle hint of the "sousing". However, the miscellaneous green creme fraiche was delectable. So much so, that it seemed to have a Kryptonite-like ability to mutate the mundane into the exquisite, infusing a richness into the mackerel which instantly upped its excitement-quotient. Well, perhaps not excitement as there's only so much excitement that can be drawn from food [that isn't dessert and loaded with sugar and therefore awesome], but I certainly released a pleasure grunt. 

  • Pan-fried Cod, Saute' of Baby Artichokes, Wild Celery & Crab Emulsion

Second of the fish plates and yet more dry-breeze inspiration, though to be honest it is rather difficult to create enticement, a fish I find rather comatose, perhaps why it can be so profuse in all the fish & chip parlours of the country. True, it is a delicate fish, but, anyway. At this point I had forgotten completely what the menu items had consisted of, and so just went on an exploratory round of the separate components. The Cod was harmless, on its own it was anodyne. Then again, pan-frying doth not miracles create. The baby artichokes were nice, with the typical sharpness permeating slightly, and the crab emulsion [I somehow though it was morel mushroom, shows how much I know ^_^] was subtle but pleasant, with an appropriate creaminess and hint of earthiness. Combined, miracles were not created but certainly the dish came together well - the artichokes added some interest to the cod, which cut through the rich sauce to create a well flavoured melange. Still dry-breeze, but pleasant. No more. 

  • Pressed Belly of Suckling Pig, Tender Stem Broccoli, Bergamot Lemon Puree, Pink Grapefruit Emulsion

Then there was solace. Meat. Healer of wounds, resolver of wars. The only protein that counts. A minute slice of pork belly with a delightfully crisp looking crackling was presented, with a little quenelle of potato, some sparse pieces of broccoli, another green dollop of something and some haphazard dottings of random emulsions. Controlling myself just long enough to avoid devouring the pork belly and plate whole, I found the broccoli to be rather fragrant though not overly so, the mashed potato was good but short of the levels of starchy divinity I have experienced elsewhere - a tiny bit dry, which was not an issue, but which tied in with the fact that it was not as creamy as some. The green sauce, though different to the concentrated awesome that came with the mackerel [not that I knew at the time] was again light yet delightfully rich, leaving the emulsion for last. Which was essentially just acid, on its own just serving to implode my face.

Combining the sauces however just further supplemented the pork belly of destiny, not that much is needed to improve pork belly anyway. Obviously with the former whole-face puckering acidity of the grapefruit sauce, it worked well with the relative greasiness of the pork belly, cutting through the flavour nicely. The bergamot puree further added to this, adding a subtle richness to it all. As an amalgamation of all its constituents, this dish was fabulous, though pork belly can never be less than such. Ever. Unless perhaps if it were raw.

~ Dessert ~

  • Cheese Selection 
Onto the most important meal, which is to say the desserts. There would be three of them. ^_^

Unfortunately I did not pay much attention to the selection of cheeses that were provided, with the aperitif champagne doing its best to ridicule my susceptible empty mind and render it largely useless more useless. In saying that, I know that the first of the cheeses was a goat's cheese and another was a three milk cheese [cow, goat & ewe] with a herb crust. I cannot recall much specifically other than they were all pleasant, one of the last choices being particularly so. The portions were a bit sparse, which was not of complaint considering the duration of the meal and the fact that we had several bricks of cheese to devour back at the apartment, but even so it did not avoid the peaceful couple from squabbling over who should have the most calorific size. So I soldiered ahead.

Of note though, were one of the provided crackers - one of which was seemingly a sesame-encrusted digestive cookie, quite similar to a McVities but far more refined, it was truly delectable. It was actually an event on its own, and I did not wish to sully it with cheese. Or vice versa. 

  • Fromage Blanc Mousse, Blueberry Compote, Yoghurt Crunch

Done with the formalities of the cheeses, it was now time for the beginning of the dinner's Quintessential Course. The Centrepiece. The Highlight. THE CRUX.

What is this pitiful small cup with a berry within doing in front of me? THIS is my dessert?! HEATHEN. No sense in souring grapes, and thus I commenced inhaling the dessert. The blueberry compote was not terribly enticing, being rather sour. Something I had noticed with blueberries of late anyway, and no amount of magic could alter it would seem. Digging deeper into the thimble I had a bit of the blancmange, or fromage blanc mousse, or pannacotta, or variation of a theme of other bland cooked creams, and again I was presented with no surprises. A subtle creaminess was evident, but otherwise it was rather bla. When combined however, the sour grapes Blueberry compote suddenly mellowed its tone, the Fromage Blah was suddenly suffused with a gentle sweetness and tartness, and the whole thing picked up a bit. It was still over too soon however, and generally not of the face melting variety of delectable. An interesting particularity were the yoghurt crunch bits. Which were crunchy. Not much else. They did add variety of texture though!

  • Glazed Custard Tart, Lime & Olive Puree, Raspberry Sorbet

Being left rather underwhelmed by the former dessert, more through volume than through quality, this forthcoming treat would have to rectify the travesty of such an injustice of my greed. Oh. My. Dear. Jeebus. Has my life been re-affirmed yet again? Is there so little to my being that mere dishes can transcend beyond the terrestrial and affect me on a spiritual level? Does that even need asking? That one fateful spoonful of this dessert bombarded me with futile questions of its composition. Was it cheese? Cream? A divinity's congealed essence? Why are these thoughts occurring at such crucial point in time - they are denying me of the next spoonful! 

Obviously, this is just faint praise, but with each spoonful, I was being overwhelmed by a higher state of dessert gloriousness. A microscopic layer of glazing gave way to an impossibly soft filling before reaching the millefeuille-esque base, creating a delectable contrast of textures, which tried in vain to out-awesome the flavour of the tart. It was rich, certainly more than me [not difficult], but not overtly so, proving delicate at the same time and very well supplemented by the glaze and light base. Almost the entire tart was consumed before I so much as even noticed the raspberry sorbet, which was rightfully shunned. It could offer no game to the tart. It was a bit sour, and a bit of a distraction, so devoured and continued with the rest of the tart. Likewise the puree was not of any real notice, adding precious seconds of separation from the tart. 

This was truly glorious. Most definitely rectifying the relative evils of the unfulfilling previous dessert. And then some. And some more. And more again. Ad infinitum. 

~ Drinks ~
- Aperitif Champagne

Perhaps a mistake to order, not by any wrongdoings of its own but rather by us being all on an empty stomach and not having so much as exhaled from entering the restaurant. The champagne promptly proceeded to deviantly incapacitate us and leave us slightly idiotic, all before the meals had arrived. Nevertheless, not actually knowing what the champagne was, it was rather pleasant, slightly sweet, which was just as well as I am not usually an appreciator of sparkling wines. I cannot recall much else other than a slight cask note in flavour and aroma. Otherwise, it made quick work as an aperitif. Plotting to reduce all forthcoming dish descriptions explained by the waiter to sweet nothings

- Chablis Wine
Leaving the choice of wines to an individual that had so much as a clue, amongst the generally ignorant [me] and the helpless [a girl], a Chablis wine of some description was chosen to match George's predilection for fruity and light wines. Whose brief was matched by this wine, quite so. Light & not too fragrant, it was a nice fruity background wine, otherwise not being of any special mention. Other than to carry on the work started out by the champagne to render us ever more impaired.

- Bodegas Olivares: Jumilla Dulce Monastrell
Not paying any particular attention, or rather not being able to by dint of the above two servings of liquid-stupid, a selection of three dessert wines were provided to us, and being the receptive/perpetually-indecsive individual, I went for the different choice. Or rather was left with it. It was a Port-style wine, excellent I thought, with much rancour for despite being a former appreciator of Port, I have found it to be a rather short-lived pleasure [at least the ones I had tried], with the first rich, fruity sip giving way to face-pummelling alcohol annihilation. Not so this wine - dense, rich, interesting & lingering. These were the characteristics it retained throughout its duration. Quite unlike ports that I had thus far tried. 

It had a rather odd aroma, George's other likening it to cough medicine - obvious how the Russians cure their ailments. I was not quite of the same mind, but it was definitely exceptional. A very full-bodied dessert wine, and quite the pleasant one.

- Espresso & Petit Fours
A requisite end to the perpetual meal, and what a pleasant surprise on its arrival, just whilst I was in mid-sentence of exclaiming how this wrong-footed choice of restaurant would deny us of the Petit Fours served with coffee. Only to have Petit Fours served with coffee. More food? Mo' better! The espresso itself was unremarkable, quite light-bodied but very clean of finish. The trio of minute chocolates however were rather delightful - extraordinarily light and just the right amount of sweetness. The second one however was different. It had a hint of "something" that instantly melted a heart that surely by now is mostly composed of chocolate. Is that a hint of Cardamom?! At least I think it was and now Saudi Arabia was on my mind. Until I had the last delectable Petit Four [or is that Three]


Fin. The dinner in the company of the menage a trois had culminated, with nary a wrong footing along the way, despite the at times quasi-feudal couple. Fitting the billing of a Michelin-starred establishment, the experience was as expected, with the requisite, immaculate and slightly pompous presentation and serving rituals, the delicate flavourings of the food, and the surmounting costs, indubitably assisted by the treacherous mind-debilitating champagne aperitif. Despite the severe transgression of having been so cruelly deceived of my notions of dining at the sister restaurant of Pied a Terre, which conspired to stoke a growing feeling of general indifference, I was rather quite pleased.

Not being my first choice of menu, the dishes were all rather appetising, with the one shaking my notion of existence to the core. Which seems to happen every time I consume a particularly delectable dessert. I therefore exist for/as a dessert. However, as far as exploratory gains or novel experiences, the dinner was rather mundane and did not push many personal boundaries. I did not sample any diverse animal or a platter of internals, or anything out of my usual norm. I suppose it is fine, but it leaves me rather empty, figuratively, not literally [perhaps a smidgen more room for some of that tart], and not that every meal should be intended to tick off another explored avenue. Though it is always nice to broaden perspectives. I guess I am just tainted by having eaten the viscera soup a few days prior, and just as in that case of deception, I came away rather pleased. Who knows, the soup may have even included foot too, making it rather current with the choice of restaurant.  

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