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!

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!

Salted Chocolate Caramel Tart at Pizza East

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Rich. And I mean really rich. This is your traditional basically-truffles-smeared-on-pastry. But it’s far from your ordinary take on that. The salt sharpens the richness whilst contradictorily taking the edge off it. And the milky caramel adds a sweetness that punches into the richness in a so-sweet-its-almost-bitter way. I like this dish. I particularly like that the salt is sprinkled on top, adding visual contrast and shouting about its ingredients. Though I couldn’t swear there wasn’t salt in the ganache itself. A sprinkling of nuts also added an earthen flavour and gave a hint of natural goodness (wishful thinking perhaps!), and was a good addition to the plate in a way that the cream (which I mistook for ice-cream, which definitely wouldn’t be necessary) probably wasn’t.

“This struck me as as close to an objective fault with a dish as you could get”

But this dish has a problem. I don’t know if you can see from the picture, but the caramel is sandwiched on top of the pastry and below the chocolate. This meant that

  1. it oozes out the sides, and uselessly spread onto the plate from where even the most dedicated plate-clearer (and yes, that does mean me) isn’t going to rescue it and
  2. the chocolate slides about on the caramel slick, and the dessert’s integrity is compromised.

This struck me as as close to an objective fault with a dish as you could get. It was simply a mistake to stack the dish in this way. Okay, so it might take an architectural feat to avoid the problem, such as sandwiching the caramel between two, thinner layers of chocolate, but, frankly, I think it needed it. It’s like making lasagna where you decide that for effect you’ll have the pasta super-al-dente, but which has the side-effect of making the dish impossible to eat.

Perhaps I was unlucky. Maybe the chocolate was too cold, and therefore rigid. Maybe the caramel was too warm and therefore liquid. Maybe the pastry was too fresh and therefore difficult to cut through. But even so, you need to make sure that everyone who orders a dish can eat it as intended, and I’m pretty sure you weren’t supposed to eat this in the train-wreck form mine ended up in.

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I can forgive this. It was delicious. There was also too much of it – a slice half the angle would have done – but I guess you have to offer a large enough portion that diners won’t feel hard done by, even if for a second before they taste how rich it is. If Chris’ cheese plate was anything to go by, they like to be generous.

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Yes, that really is five people’s worth of cheese – at least judging by the, to be frank, slightly miserly portions you frequently get elsewhere.

I’d eat this again, especially if I’m in the joint for a pizza. Or maybe I’d get the cheese between the whole table!

35/100 Time Out’s best dishes in London