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!

Bone marrow and parsley salad at St John

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St John was pretty empty when we were there, which was odd, since it’s usually crammed. But perhaps it was the fact that, for a nose-to-tail restaurant (some would say the nose-to-tail restaurant), there was remarkable little nose or tail on the current menu.

Buttered toast will never taste quite the same again!

I decide to brave the ox heart, after being reassured by the waiter that it wasn’t too ‘offally’, having been marinated in balsamic vinegar and then cut into very thin slices before cooking, rendering it a steak-like quality (he wasn’t wrong).

But before the ox heart I got the joy of the famous bone-marrow, which I’d assumed came in a parsley salad, given the name on the menu. Instead, it’s really bone-marrow-on-toast with a parsley garnish (which, no doubt, could be corrected by pausing in the right place when reading the menu).

Rather unappetisingly, when I suggested it was basically toast-with-dripping (which I confess I’ve never actually ordered) Chris declared that ‘but marrow is all cells and stuff’. I’m pretty sure all food is ‘cells and stuff’, but I took his point: there’s a bit more going on than just a butter-substitute (in the opposite direction to Olivio!)

It’s really bone-marrow-on-toast with a parsley garnish

That there’s a bit more going on is also evident in the eating. Your mouth is greeted by a complex flavour, outrageously velvety, but meaty, smoky and utterly indulgent. The richness (but not the grease!) is offset by a sprinkling of course sea salt, which cuts through the creaminess. The parsley definitely adds something, and something more than just a hint of healthy afterthought. It’s a fresh flavour, but more importantly a herby complement, and its absence would certainly be missed.

A salad this is not – but buttered toast will never taste quite the same again!

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