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!

Beef Ribs at Duke’s Brew and Que

Beef Ribs

Disappointing. That’s the word that springs immediately to mind – this was one of the dishes on the list that I was really looking forward to. I love ribs (usually of the pork variety), but had had the joy of the gargantuan monsters that are beef ribs on a trip to the States, and was ready for another go at facing them.

“This is worrying…”

“This is worrying…”, I said to Rachael, lifting the steak knife sat on the tray next to the ribs, slaw and pickle.

“Why?”, asks Rachael.

“Surely we shouldn’t need a steak knife? The meat should just melt off the bone”. I was joking, but the moment I said it I had a feeling this wasn’t such a silly thought. Indeed, my first major complaint was the texture.

I’m not demanding a pulled-pork consistency, but this meat was genuinely tough. I certainly did need the steak knife to deal it. Second complaint: the presentation looked good enough, but there frankly wasn’t enough space on the tray to safely tackle the cutting and dicing process, especially after we’d splurted (totally delicious) home-made hot sauces onto the edge of the liner.

“Surely we shouldn’t need a steak knife? The meat should just melt off the bone”

I tried pulling the meat off the bone, and then cutting it smaller when safely not attached to an uneven surface, but it was joined by a rubbery, cartilaginous tissue that I wouldn’t recommend making the considerable effort to chew. Okay, so I can’t blame Duke’s for the physiognomy of cows – I’m guessing this is an issue that applies to all ribs of the beef variety – but all the more reason why the meat needs to have been smoked to within an inch of its, er, life, so you can eat the meat and leave the rubber to the bone.

Rachael and I have discussed the taxing question of portions. Specifically: ordering one portion or two. We’ve come to the conclusion that we each need to have a full measure of each dish, since quantities are very much part of what makes a dish great. Or, rather, we’d assumed that a dish might fail on the back of portion size. We’d imagined this was more likely through meanness, but both agreed there was way too much food involved here. Perhaps it’s sized for the appetites of our transatlantic cousins, but one of these massive ribs would have been approaching a meat-sweats quantity for me, and two was frankly absurd. This could be an unfair complaint to level (surely too much is better than too little), but combined with the first two, both of us found the meal became a chore, and gave up two-thirds of the way through.

Rachael at least got a doggie bag!

95/100 top 100 dishes in London