Charcuterie at The Bull and Last

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Charcuterie platters. They’re like tapas, right, but where you don’t get any choice, and they just serve you meat and, unless you’re very unlucky, a few chutneys and/or pickles? Actually, this is as much the reason why I tend to have a good time when I order these as why I never do so: because you get a whopping pile of tasty, salty, fatty meat, in a whole variety of guises. So I dove into the opportunity to head to Highgate (gastro-) pub The Bull and Last, visiting with Rachael and my parents.

“My theory was that watermelon pickle wouldn’t work”

The wooden board at The Bull and Last held products from a wider range of animals than you’d normally expect from a typically pig-heavy cuisine. Instead of the usual ham and chorizo and more ham offering, we found duck prosciutto – thin, delicately dried strips that genuinely sat somewhere between duck breast and bacon; chicken liver parfait (okay, it’s never going to be my favourite, but it certainly packed a creamy, indulgent punch – in exactly the way that means I find it a bit creepy and unpleasant); ham hock terrine was spreadable, but in a chunky way that didn’t lose all texture; duck rillettes were stringy and fibrous in just the right to-the-teeth fashion; pig’s head was rendered down into almost a croquette; chutneys and mini-pickles cut through the fatty mass of meat, though the perfunctory rocket salad was pretty bland and didn’t add much.

I was sneaky enough to ask if I could have some of the watermelon pickle that was an accompaniment to another dish. My theory was that watermelon pickle wouldn’t work. I contend that I was right, though Rachael and my parents were a little more generous and felt it was ‘interesting’. We all know what that means.

The selection was well-chosen, and a little different, and the thought that went into the creation and presentation of the whole menu shone through. This creativity was especially apparent in the desserts, particularly my pain perdu with hazelnut cream and a (yes, I’m cheeky) substituted-in (but correctly!) Ferrero Rocher ice-cream. Rachael’s Kernal Stout ice-cream, on the other hand, wasn’t exactly to my taste.

Overall, I’m game for trying more of the menu. You won’t even have to twist my arm!

Duck Egg Tart at Medlar

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I can say this straight away and unequivocally: the meal I ate last week at Medlar was one of the best I’ve ever eaten. Every course was spot-on, with surprising, delicious and delighting combinations of elements that in every case amounted to more than the sum of their parts.

“There was a time when French was the undisputed king of cuisines”

The duck egg at the centre of the plate was fried perfectly. In fact, I hesitate to declare that, because there wasn’t the slightest hint of oil, so I’m not entirely convinced that it was fried, rather than cooked via some dark magic with all the flavour but none of the grease. Perhaps is was baked onto the tart, but if that’s so I’ve no idea how they managed to get a perfect shape and texture. Some other magic, perhaps? The yolk ran fluidly, but was still hot and silky.

The most obviously ‘does that really need to be there’ element was the turnip purée. And the answer is a clear ‘yes’. Rather than being that boring root vegetable that ends up hanging around at the bottom of the remains of an organic veg box, this creamy, subtle, lovely white addition adds an earthiness without competing.

A red wine jus is sweet and sour, with a tanniny-tang that cuts through any possibility of the egg being cloying. It would work perfectly inside the tart, and I’m amused by the thought that you could reconstruct this dish into a pie.

There’s meatiness provided by the lardons (can’t go wrong, but these add just the right crispy saltiness), and the duck heart. I can be a little squeamish when it comes to nose-to-tail cooking, but I’ve recently been converted to heart, which seems to be just a delicate, steak-flavoured ‘cut’, especially when served sliced thinly and rare. In this case it is red and surprisingly unbloody. It has a distinct duck flavour without the fattiness that can make duck too rich.

“Some other magic, perhaps?”

You’ll have to excuse me if I go off-piste and mention my other courses. A spectacular aged white pork steak for a main, matched with a Geman (veal?) sausage and wild mushrooms, again every element pulled more than its own weight and left me wanting to weep. My chocolate pavé found it hard to match up to the heady highs of the accompanying malt ice-cream (incroyable!) and barley brittle (exactly what it sounds like, but it really worked!).

There was a time when French was the undisputed king of cuisines, but I generally head for Italian, tapas, Japanese or oriental myself. But I can honestly say that Medlar may have shown me precisely what the French are on about, and why they’re just so proud about their cooking. Revelatory!

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.

Charcuterie at Terroirs

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When we planned to have a spot of charcuterie at Terroirs ahead of a wiener schnitzel at The Delauney, I’d rather envisaged Rachael and I having a glass of wine and nibbling on a spot of cured meats as a perfect starter. I happened to bump into Paul, a good friend who runs my writers’ group, who had a glass of wine, but didn’t stay to help us eat. Which was a pity, not just to lose his company, but also because Terroirs don’t do things by halves – not by a long shot.

“Veritable plank-loads of meat”

With Time Out’s failure to specify exactly what we should be eating, we ordered a selection of charcuterie (including the selection of charcuterie!), and were brought veritable plank-loads of meat.

Everything we ordered was delicious, particularly the pork and pistachio terrine, and I also particular enjoyed the duck rillettes. These dishes could easily have been a meal in themselves, and a perfectly pleasant evening could be spent sipping nice wine and picking at seemingly bottomless plates of salami and paté, as clearly many of our fellow diners were doing.

“Terroirs don’t do things by halves”

Something about it didn’t come together, however, and I didn’t find myself feeling like I’d eaten a full meal, even though I was pretty full. Perhaps this is unfair, given we’re supposed to be reviewing dishes, not full meals. Even so, Time Out itself admits that there’s better charcuterie to be had in London, which rather invites the question of why they didn’t include those in the top 100 list. Maybe they wanted to include Terroirs for its (genuinely) comfortable ambiance and deft cooking in general, but again, the list is supposed to be identifying great dishes, not restaurants.

Enjoyable, tasty, but ultimately left me a little cold and unsatisfied.

Beetroot ravioli at Bistrot Bruno Loubet

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I don’t hate beetroot. Hate is quite a strong word. I can eat it, but I generally wouldn’t choose to, so a high bar was set for these ravioli to excite me. Yet thrill me they did!

“Delicate, ethereal ravioli with simple rocket and parmesan”

Rather than having that peaty, acid taste that exudes purple, these parcels of fresh, light pasta were filled with a subtly fragrant, but unmistakably beet flavour.

And rather than the popular, three massive lumps of pasta that you tend to get served as a starter these days, making up for quantity with a punch and a half of full-on-spinach-or-beef, this was a large plate matching several delicate, ethereal ravioli with simple rocket and parmesan.

I followed this with wild duck – excellent, brimming with flavour, much more than the farmed sort, but smaller in size. Competent, not-try-hard French cuisine is what this place does, and I’ll be back. I’d probably even order the beetroot ravioli!

20/100 of Time Out’s list