|Fois Gras Mousse with Plum Compote|
There’s a new syndrome here in London. Post-Olympic malaise. It’s only been four days since the Games ended with a musical spectacle that brought me back to my youth: Spice Girls, Pet Shop Boys, George Michael, Fat Boy Slim. My eyes swam with tears as I thought about the ideals of the Olympics and the heroic athletic feats that had occupied probably too much of my time over the past 17 days. Now the designated Olympic traffic lanes are being painted back to normal and Heathrow is jammed with revellers making their way home. What’s a girl to do to get out of this funk? Well, in my case I had been lucky enough to be invited to dinner with friends, some of whom had been overseeing the broadcast of the Games for the US. The cure perhaps? Oh, yes. The Ledbury in Notting Hill.
|Beet and Cherry Soup with Smoked Eel|
A simple black awning with white block letters out in front of the restaurant belies the magic that is going on in this two Michelin starred restaurant. Even the dining room is relatively free from pretension. Simple white tables to me signal that the food is going to be the star of the show. The chef’s name is Brett Graham and he started his career in Australia. I would take a gander and say that the relaxed service and bright flavors are both a result of his Aussie roots.
I couldn’t have asked for a better group to enjoy this ambitious meal with. The two other lovely ladies at the table both grew up in homes with professional chefs and restaurateurs and we eagerly passed our forks and spoons across the table to each other, relishing what Chef Brett had accomplished with familiar ingredients. My Aussie cameraman friend picked food friendly Australian reds to accompany our variety of courses. Darling husband, just back from another stint in Syria, his eyes lit up in awe as beautiful plate after beautiful plate was put in front of him (quite possibly in culture shock as the harsh realities of those living in Syria come to mind here). And here I ask you to please forgive my dark photos from the meal, but I still can’t bring myself to make a scene with a proper camera and flash during a intimate meal with friends. Hopefully you’ll be able to make out just enough to salivate along with me.
|Orange & Vanilla Cream with Meringue|
So what did I eat? I would dare say it was the extra bits that I didn’t order that were the more exhilarating parts of the meal. Small offerings from the kitchen between courses that left me craving more, pushed me to the next dish full of anticipation. Wafer thin crispy pastry filled with a fois gras mousse and plum compote. Beet and cherry soup topped with a little creme fraiche and a lardon-sized hunk of unctuous smoked eel. Orange and vanilla cream with caramelized meringue and shards of melt-on-your-tongue sugar (really it was reminiscent of orange flavored baby aspirin, but in a good way). Earl Grey petite fours cakes and citrus jelly cubes that tingled in my mouth until I went to sleep. It’s these little extras that make the difference between a very good meal and one like this, exciting and exceptional.
|Roasted Scallops with Brassicas and Seaweed|
My starter was roast hand dived sea scallops with brassicas and seaweed. They were unusually roasted and it is a technique I will try with them. Instead of the usual crisp brown crust on the outside of the scallop, they had an almost smoky flavor from roasting. Paper thin slices of cauliflower and little pyramids of green romanesco accompanied the scallops along with a rich, salty seaweed sauce. Sounds sort of unremarkable, but the ingredients were perfect and it’s the sauces – sometimes several of them in one dish – that elevated it to Michelin star level. My husbands flame grilled mackerel with avocado, Celtic mustard and Shisho was remarkable. The mackerel, which is so often overly greasy, was flaky and had a perfectly crispy skin. Hampshire buffalo milk curd sounds sort of gross! Pair it with Saint-Nectaire truffle toast served on a bed on pine needles on a log platter and pour in some grilled onion broth and you have a deconstructed French onion soup like nothing you’ve tasted before. Genius!
|Suckling Pig with Peas, Iberian Ham etc. etc. etc.|
As you probably know by now, give me pork and I’m going to be happy. Give me crisp pressed suckling pig with peas, Iberian ham, grilled onion and sherry cream and I’m doing a little happy dance in my chair. The pork was slow cooked and simple with a shell of crunchy crackling encasing it. A small mound of mushed peas topped with shredded crispy Iberian ham, oval shells of grilled onion and thick streaks of sherry cream artfully finished off the plate. The sherry added almost an Asian tasting element (it’s a common ingredient in dim sum dipping sauces). Roe deer (a breed our waiter described as a grown up bambi) was tender and perfectly accompanied by roasted beets and blackcurrants. I don’t care for lamb, but the shredded shoulder was delicious and I need to know how they made the accompanying eggplant glazed with black sugar and garlic (I know it doesn’t sound hard, but you never know).
|Passion Fruit Souffle with Sauternes Ice Cream|
Finally it was time for dessert. Normally, I’m the one who goes for the cheese plate, but as someone else called dibs on it, I was more than content waiting for my passionfruit souffle with sauternes ice cream. The cheese really was delightful and I’m grateful that my fellow food lover was so generous with the rest of us vultures. Two of the six she got were magnificent – the Fousterkase from Switzerland proclaimed as the best cheese ever by my husband. A Robiola from Italy sexy enough that I would have slathered it all over my body. My souffle did not disappoint however, the dramatic flourish from the waiter as he plunged the spoon of delicate ice cream into the center of my puffed up confection. My mouth still waters as I think about the tartness of the passionfruit and the perfectly crunchy exterior of the souffle where the ramekin had been expertly dusted with butter and sugar to create a delicate caramelization. Sigh.
Often I don’t love a fine dining experience quite like I do the everyday solid yet inventive, value for money meal that serves the many. Our night at the Ledbury though, reminded me of what I love about cooking. The science and precision that takes ingredients beyond their usual roles in the kitchen and elevates them. The hours that I know are spent in the kitchen preparing ingredients for a sauce and the nerves of some young chef at the poissonier station as he carefully watches the skin on that mackerel filet char perfectly. Eating a meal like this one makes me want to be a better chef, to try something new and artistic. It raises my expectations of myself. It’s good to get a nice little nudge every once and a while. Thank you, Chef Brett.
|Tremendous cheese plate|