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Thursday, November 17, 2011

A triumph of Grouse

Fewer and fewer of the beautiful birds on restaurants' plates, the glorious period that begun on the 12th of August, the opening of the grouse shooting season, is nearing the end.

We have tried many fantastic interpretations of grouse this year: these are the best ones.

Alas, we failed to take the photo of the truly superlative one by the great old man in London, as the last time we went armed with our camera they had run out. But more vivid than a picture, the deep, deep flavour of Koffmann's grouse will stay in our memory till next year. His grouse is something that transcends any intellectual evaluation, it strikes at your taste emotion and you just stop caring any longer about the hours of high techniques and patient preparations that have gone into it: all you want to do is to abandon yourself completely to the sheer pleasure of eating it, to drown in it and forget all the rest!
Martin Wishart's interpretation contrasts markedly with Koffmann's, the latter sheer power, no holds barred, the former with the hair less let down, more of an elegant and sensual beautiful lady or gentleman than an exhuberant youth, delicious in a different way. He had two versions, one accompanied by a foie gras


and the other by a boudin

The waiter was astonished that we preferred to forgo one portion of the nobler foie gras (to which we were entitled by our choice of menu) in order to try also the more rustic boudin, but we don't care for the aristocracy of produce and just look for true flavours. We were not disappointed, both were packed with them and technically flawless.
While the chef's touch is exhibited unashamedly in Wishart's dishes, the class of Geoff Smeddle at the Peat Inn is more restrained, developing only slowly while you enjoy and understand the dish and all its hidden subtleties and details,

the meat presented simply and openly, the beautiful colours - visual testimony to a perfect cooking - in evidence, supported by a muscular jus, and notable because of the so welcome abundance of a vegetable element (in this case Puy lentils as the core) so typical of his style. Geoff has a unique knack of making you feel as if you are eating at the same time a rustic and a superfine dining dish (this one also comes accompanied on the side by neatly presented innards on a crusty bread).

Look how very different this presentation at Galvin La Chapelle,

 which while accomplished was a little more austere, a little more rigid, maybe a little less joyous, what do you think? The piece on the left packed a punch of flavour as good as any other sample, while the one on the right divided us, Man finding it slightly more stringy, somehow less convincing than the best ones, while Woman was happy. We agreed that the jus was shiny class, and just so there is no doubt, let us make it clear that even with our modest criticism this is stratospheric level of cooking.

Let's conclude with an Italian version...if you have followed us for a while you know we are great admirers of Maurizio Morelli's skills at Latium. Grouse is not something one finds in Italy, so there's not a traditional Italian way of preparing it, and Maurizio here was unconstrained by the weight of tradition that sometimes tends to shackle Italian chefs in the UK.

Here you will notice, unique among those presented, the symmetric and 'full dish' type of composition that Maurizio likes, and, like at the Peat Inn, a love of vegetables (and blueberries!) that we share (here there was a lovely baked pumpkin, as well a Savoy cabbage, in a red wine and bluberry jus). The cooking was perfect, and the gentleness and the balance of flavours shone as usual even with an assertive grouse.

By the way, did we mention we love grouse?


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