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.

Tarte Tatin at Galvin Bistrot de Luxe

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Having made the rookie error of opting for Mother’s Day to eat a Chowdown Showdown dish, and without even booking months in advance, we ended up in Galvin Bistrot de Luxe. It turned out to be not such an error, since they were serving a three course set menu for much less than ordering three courses would normally cost a la carte, including in the evening (it appears people take their mothers out for lunch, not dinner).

“As French as apple pie”

Okay, so going to a French bistro and ordering roast beef with Yorkshire pudding and roast root vegetables was a mistake. Especially when the restaurant in question takes its attempt to mimic the typically English dish so seriously that it refuses Rachael’s request for her beef to be served pretty much bleu, and instead insists we have it medium rare (and proceeds to serve it to us medium).

The Jerusalem artichoke soup with a truffle cream (and artichoke crisps!) to start was genuinely delicious, and they poured great wine as you might expect.

All of this was, of course, an irrelevance, since we’re here to judge a single dish alone – namely the tarte tatin.

“Enough to make even the harshest Great British Bake Off judge happy”

Happily, the (mischosen, but still disappointing) main was unreflective of the dessert, which was genuinely formidable. The pie was caramelised to the point of almost being burnt, which isn’t a criticism since it had developed earthy as well as sweet notes. The pastry was flaky (and not soggy) enough to make even the harshest Great British Bake Off judge happy, offering a crisp riposte to the tender apples that had bite but little resistance to a spoon.

Overall, an indulgent, comforting sweet as French as apple pie!

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