Chips at Comptoir Gascon

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These chips were disappointing.

What else can I say? Well, lots, actually.

At Comptoir Gascon they serve you spectacularly delicious wine. We had some excellent red wine, and it was glorious.

“At Comptoir Gascon they serve you spectacularly delicious raisins”

 

At Comptoir Gascon they serve you spectacularly delicious starters. I had a crackling soft duck egg in a bed of truffled polenta. It was absolutely delicious, with the warm, aromatic polenta delivering a mushroom, woodland, dreamy background to an oozingly soft duck egg, perfectly poached. Rachael has scallop, artichoke and oyster tartare – a dish as fresh and marine as anything you’d find at the seaside and which brought out – impressively – the individual flavours of the constituent molluscs and subtle vegetable.

Both were presented beautifully as well.comptoirpolenta

At Comptoir Gascon they serve you spectacularly delicious burgers. I had the ‘duck burger classic’ where Rachael opted for the deluxe version. The difference: 100g of foie gras. I thought it would tip the sandwich over the edge of the too-rich cliff, and I was right. But the whole concept – duck ground, grilled and stuck in a bun – is one I must admit to having been sceptical of, but I was proved wrong. Spectacularly delicious.

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But at Comptoir Gascon their french fries, cooked in duck fat and liberally drenched in salt, were… disappointing. Limp and rather tasteless – beyond the salt – they would have let down an otherwise perfect meal, if the rest of the food hadn’t been so damn good that even with these fries you could only drop it a notch back down to ‘perfect’.

In a world of triple-cooked, molecularly-calibrated chips, these don’t cut the mustard. They’d even provided a huge bowlful (thankfully we were warned, so only ordered one portion) – so concentrating on quality over quantity would be a wise move.

That said…

At Comptoir Gascon they serve you spectacularly delicious raisins. Spectacularly, spectacularly delicious raisins. We had a portion of the ‘raisins dorés’ – soaked in sauterne wine and coated in dark chocolate. It is almost impossible to describe the feeling on biting into one of these. The raisins are almost candied, with a tingly, almost sherbet effect. Sweet but tangy and instantly moreish. I’d go back for these alone.

But the chips were disappointing.

Mince and Potatoes at Dean Street Townhouse

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Imagine taking a pot of Bovril, emptying it out into a bowl, mixing with a potful of boiling water, until you have a thick, intense gravy that is pure meatiness. Now tear tiny strips of tough bread (maybe one of those crusty, airy French loaves which are mostly bubbles with thin membranes of wheat making up their substance). Soak these small chunks into the gravy, until you have a texture that requires no biting, but has identifiable ‘bits’ in a slick of beef juice. Dollop on herby mash, and what do you have? Does it sound at all appetising? And yet, and yet…

“Pleasurable? Yes, definitely. As if you’ve concentrated a whole cow into the space of a large bowl”

I’m not sure I’ve ever eaten something quite so intensely meaty as Dean Street Townhouse’s Mince and Potatoes. This is less a story of the mince itself than the sauce, which is weirdly more unswervingly animal than the protein morsels within it. The flavour doesn’t just punch you, it grabs you by the neck and doesn’t let you go. Pleasurable? Yes, definitely. As if you’ve concentrated a whole cow into the space of a large bowl.

But there are issues (which seem mainly our issues rather than anyone or anything else’s).

Firstly, while we did each have a small starter, both Rachael and I felt pretty much completely full within about two seconds of consuming a forkful of this dish. And, whilst I’m happy to admit neither of us will ever win an eating competition, I’m genuinely amazed that anyone could get through a whole plateful of this. As a ‘total flavour concept’ you could imagine (and enjoy) a spoonful of this in a deconstructed meat stew, or even in a tapas-sized portion to eat with flatbreads. You’d get the effect, and probably all the pleasure, just from that much.

Secondly, the potatoes. Delicious. Delectable. Rich, and creamy. Wait – hold up a minute – did I just say that? Yes, sure I did. Whether by treating with cream or butter or olive oil (I suspect the first two) the clever chefs had managed to achieve some of the most voluptuous mash I’ve eaten.

But that’s exactly the problem: matched with super-rich mince, I’d have liked mash that cuts through it. I get that citrus-mash wouldn’t exactly deliver the nostalgic flavours to which this old-time dish is clearly alluding, but, then, I’m sure you wouldn’t be chowing down on such a refined version of the plate anyway. This is about as far from the cheap-cut-makes-cheap-meal starting point of mince as you can get (though maybe some DST visitors genuinely think they’re slumming it without rib steak).

I’d have preferred some boiled potatoes (it’s a rare moment I say that), or a simple plain mash. I could always stir in a slick of beef fat from below if I found it too boring.

It was a lucky escape that we were told, on arrival, that there was only a single plate of mince and potatoes left, which we promptly broke our rules and ordered. If I went back, I’d want to share this dish with three others, so I got a bit of variety and got to sample the many other treats on the menu. I suspect, though, that chucking a few plates into the centre of the table and picking at each would be frowned upon in this slightly formal (dare I say ‘stuffy’?) restaurant which is less deconstructed and more unreconstructed.

Classic Tortilla at Barrafina

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There are some meals that break you. Of course, there are those so revolting, or so chaotic, that you end up exasperated and miserable. But others break you because they’re so good, so spectacular from both a culinary and experiential perspective, that you’re pretty sure your eating-life will never be the same again.

“Often the selected dish in the Time Out top 100 hasn’t been quite up to scratch”

This was one of those meals that broke me by being Just. So. Damn. Good.

James happened to me in town, so we made use of the fact that whenever he comes along we have a great Chowdown Showdown, and this was no exception. The highlights of the meal were so many it’s hard to even list them. Impeccable tuna tartare with a fresh avocado salsa. Tender squid on a spicy passata. A cheese fritter which oozed and delighted in equal measure. Indulgent pata negra (which we plotted how to steal). The black pudding was rich and not exactly to my taste, but James and Rachael practically fought over who got to devour the last morsel.

And every dish was presented like a work of art, feeding the eyes first, though definitely not  beautiful in a way that made us consider for a moment not diving right in.

So – the tortilla? Often the selected dish in the Time Out top 100 hasn’t been quite up to scratch when compared to others on offer in the relevant establishment. It’s also true that tortilla is never going to be the most complex dish, or allow chefs to show off and demonstrate the full range of their abilities. But this tortilla is a delight. We tried a classic version, plus one with ham and spinach. Both divulged a flow of rich, yolky flavour on being cut, delivering an instant aroma that the perfect, browned discs hid with their humble exterior.

“There are some meals that break you”

The flavour emphasised eggs (obviously), but in a way that showed just how good these miracles of nature can be when they’re allowed to take centre stage and not cooked till bouncy – in fact this is a dish as much about feel on the tongue as flavour. The ham and spinach match the rich, indulgent fattiness of the eggs, rather than trying to steal the limelight.

You’d be disappointed if you only ate tortilla at a restaurant that offers such a variety of spectacular colours, shapes and tastes. But I’d argue you’d be missing out if you didn’t have at least one small plate of this delicious, if simple, complement to any tapas meal.

Kebabs at Antepliler

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Time Out equivocated quite badly at Antepliler. Their chosen dish – ‘kebabs’ – identifies a number of different offerings at this upmarket Turkish restaurant, right opposite Ottolenghi on Upper street. Judging by the two kebab dishes Rachael and I ate, I’m pretty sure every one would be superb, and I wouldn’t complain about having to work my way through the full kebab section of the menu.

“I’d definitely take my parents here, and I’m sure they’d enjoy the pixel-perfect cooking with top-notch ingredients in a relaxing and cosy environment”

Getting the best of both worlds, we shared lamb kebab dishes – one with shallots in a pomegranate syrup, and another on a bed of spicy tomato sauce. Both were succulent and full-flavoured, but also very distinct with individual attractions. The shallots and pomegranate offered a homely, rich, oniony stew, with tart flavours balanced by sweet fruitiness. The tomato version could almost be an Italian dish, matching the straightforward meaty punch of the lamb with a tomato sauce with a warming chilli heat that wouldn’t be out of place in a Tuscan meatball braise.

Despite the ‘variations on a theme’ nature of the kebab offer, they do change the menu relatively regularly, which shows an awareness that they’ll probably tempt people back, and an admirable refusal to rest on their laurels. The food is delicious, and clearly the work of a chef who’s still enjoying experimenting, and sharing his creations with the restaurant’s lucky patrons.

The venue itself is a breath of fresh air – a Turkish place not afraid to shy aware from hookahs-and-accoutrements, rustic weaving and landscape photos (sorry, a stereotype I know, but there do seem to be endless London Turkish cafés that match the description). I’d definitely take my parents here, and I’m sure they’d enjoy the pixel-perfect cooking with top-notch ingredients in a relaxing and cosy environment. One to return to.

Lamb Chops at Tayyabs

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Like many people, I have issues with lamb chops. The main thing is that I’m one of those people who thinks that lamb chops have as much meat along the bone as in the small, obvious triangle that the other faction believes to be the only edible part of the cut. Yes, that means that I’m one of those people who picks up a chop in their fingers and chews the tasty, fatty, juicy tidbits straight from the skeleton. This makes me a) disgusting to that half of the world’s diners who are overly obsessed with table manners and b) among those who find lamb chops super-fiddly and thus tend to steer away from them.

“In a universe divided into lamb chop factions, these just may be the ones to make me switch sides”

But, in a universe divided into lamb chop factions, I think these just may be the ones to make me switch sides!

They are encrusted with cracked spices on the outside, giving them a crunch before you reach tender, luscious meat. The aforementioned triangle is lamby, but without the gamey, over-obvious flavour that sheep sometimes has which can set it apart from other meats, demanding it takes the centre of attention and making, to my mind, one lamb dish often taste like any other. It has taken on a rich, hot, south-Asian spiciness which, I admit, I couldn’t imagine when hearing one should head to an Indian cafe/restaurant for chops.

And across the bone was the melting, oozing, fatty bonus, that no doubt half the world misses, and boy are they missing out. It has practically the consistency of St John’s’ bone marrow, and the same rich dripping flavour.

I can’t give a review of a dish at Tayyabs without mentioning the unique setting. Absolutely bustling, even on a Wednesday night, there is a queue of maybe a hundred, for a vast restaurant on two floors that must feed a thousand covers a night. We are lucky enough to have a booking, which I’d advise. But even with such a huge domain, the food was still brought within a handful of minutes. It must be a really well-oiled machine, both front of house and in the kitchen.

The rest of the dishes were spot on, with (very) spicy curries, excellent breads and the standard rice offer. But I definitely wouldn’t miss out on a starter of chops next time I’m here.