Kedgeree at The Wolseley

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If you haven’t eaten at The Wolseley – do so! Based in what was once a car showroom (think Rolls Royce not Vauxhall), and if nothing else the setting is utterly splendid. Perfect for a romantic evening, so long as you like a buzzy, busy atmosphere. And the food won’t totally break the bank. Which isn’t to say that it isn’t expensive – it is – but there are a variety of more affordable options on the menu. Kedgeree, at £12.00 is one of these more affordable options.

“It’s about as far from the vibrant, coronation chicken yellow that it can sometimes be”

Eschewing the obvious breakfast appointment for the dish, Rachael and I headed to The Wolseley in the evening (having taken our permission from the Time Out instructions that the dish makes as nice an end as it does a start to the day). I take things one step further with a starter of Eggs Benedict. This turns out to be a bit of a error, though not because of the dish itself. A perfectly toasted muffin holds an exquisite poached egg, and the most sumptuous, giggle-makingly delicious hollandaise I’ve even tasted. The reason it was a bit of a mistake is that said exquisite egg rather pre-empted the exquisite egg perched on top of the kedgeree! My mistake.

The kedgeree itself is more lightly curried that I would generally expect. It’s about as far from the vibrant, coronation chicken yellow that it can sometimes be. Rachael compliments the way that every grain of basmati remains separate, and it’s true: it hasn’t taken on any risotto or congee consistency, but remains a dish of many individual grains. I think this may be because the stock is a little watery, at least to my taste. Flakes of smoked fish are small, but make themselves known, and this certainly helps to bring the whole dish together: rather than delivering a bowl of weakly-flavoured rice with chunks of protein.

That said, the egg, once cut and allowed to ooze gloopily across the pile, takes things to another level, and what looks like a small plate does manage to satisfy. I insist to Rachael that the egg must be cooked sous vide (don’t all big top restaurants employ the technique for eggs?) – but this may be more down to my obsession that the truth. Without it, I think this dish would have been a pleasant, but rather ordinary one – lucky it was there!

English Breakfast at Pollen Street Social

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I’ll soon put up a review of my whole experience of the tasting menu at Pollen Street Social. The quick version is that it was an amazing culinary experience that introduced me to – or, more precisely, reintroduced me to – a host of flavours and dishes. But that’s for another time. The Chowdown Showdown Londontown reason for being here was the third dish on the tasting menu: the English Breakfast.

“This is as much a game or a magic trick as it is aiming for verisimilitude”

It seems to be part of the ethic of Pollen Street Social that the more simply a dish is labelled, the more complex and unexpected the food itself will be when it appears. With the English Breakfast you’re presented first with a (very cute) egg cup, with nothing in it. Rachael and I joked that this could be The Emperor’s New English Breakfast, and that we should start spooning air into our mouths and remarking on how delicious this truly modernist, truly minimalist, truly deconstructed item is. Next, they bring a tray with straw, and what look like soft-boiled eggs (opened by Little-Endians), with a sprinkling of red on top. But not all was as it seems…

Nestled inside the eggshell were a number of layers, each nodding at an element of a full English. At the bottom was a sour-sweet tomato purée, fresh and aromatic. Then comes a layer of finely chopped earthy mushrooms. Rich, creamy scrambled eggs is next, then a frothy, airy potato foam. Sprinkled on top are tiny crispy shards of bacon.

A testament to the brilliance of this dish is that, despite occupying only the space allowed by an eggshell, every layer was substantial enough to taste, feel, enjoy and identify. Granted, together they weren’t exactly like an English breakfast (and I’m not convinced I know what the potato was representing – please leave your suggestions below!), but this is as much a game or a magic trick as it is aiming for verisimilitude. Every part of it – from look to taste to dramatic presentation and set-up – made this dish, and it was a real joy to consume.

I’ll confess now: this wasn’t my favourite course of the tasting menu. That’s definitely not to take away from it, since the bar was set very high. You’ll have to stay tuned for my review of the other dishes to find out why not!

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!

Kiwi Burger at Gourmet Burger Kitchen

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There is honestly no humanly possible way to eat this burger. Or rather, there’s no standard burger middle ground between using cutlery and cramming the whole thing into your gob with vegetables and meat and condiments flying everywhere. But then, this burger does feature beetroot, egg, pineapple and cheese – let’s ignore for a minute the lettuce, ketchup, mayonnaise, sesame seed bun. Oh, and the huge beef patty!

“All in all, a pretty tasty burger, but would I rush out to have it again?”

I’m tempted to suggest this is a ‘concept burger’, rather than one intended to be, say, actually eaten. But what concept? Not ‘New Zealandism’. Not even ‘gourmet’. Maybe plain and simple gluttony.

The question is, setting apart the impossibility of eating this in any way half graceful, did it taste nice?

I’ll be honest, having been on something of a gourmet burger quest, I don’t rate GBK that highly. Yes, they’re a cut above the standard new-wave posh burger, but they’re no Byron Burger, and certainly not a Meat Liquor Dead Hippy or off-menu Joe Allen burger.

That said, this is the original GBK, before they went franchise-crazy, and they have new ‘testing’ burgers, which haven’t yet made it to the standard menu – oh, and they don’t take Taste Cards for that reason.

“There is honestly no humanly possible way to eat this burger”

And the verdict? You know what? It was pretty good. The egg has a perfectly runny yolk, adding a real homeliness to what is obviously essentially comfort food. The pineapple didn’t even slightly overpower, giving a tart, sweet, fruity bite. I’m no great fan of beetroot, and I’d probably have it without if I had it again, but I can’t pretend it didn’t add another, distinct flavour that genuinely added something.

All in all, a pretty tasty burger, but would I rush out to have it again? I do go to GBK every so often, but that’s because it’s reasonably cheap – with a Taste Card. Without an offer, it’s a rip-off. And since the franchises really do vary considerably in quality, I wouldn’t bet on another outlet’s Kiwi monstrosity tasting as good. I doubt I’ll rush back to the Northcote Road store, but I may well make a beetless kiwi my standard go to (half-price) burger at GBK.

72/100 of Time Out’s top 100