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Friday, January 20, 2012

Medlar (London): total charm

(Visited 29/12/2011)

The menu arrives and one immediately has good feelings: we would like to try everything. That is a good feeling.

The bread arrives (well made soft focaccia and a sourdough) and the good feelings swell. We start to understand in what sort of place we are: no showing off, stay within comfort zone, don't do too many things but do them well. Wise.

We go for two signature starters of the well-pedigreed Chef Joe Mercer Nairn: the Crab raviolo with samphire, brown shrimp, fondue of leeks and bisque sauce 

of which we had read, and salivated about, a lot, was very good, but surprisingly also the weakest, in our opinion, of the whole lunch. True, the raviolo was thin and feather light and bursting with crab, the samphire and brown shrimps a delicious garnish, but we also found that the crab was a little overwhelmed and could not truly shine, and that the bisque was too creamy and lacked some alcohol (or other form of) kick, lacked depth - perhaps it would have been enough not to call it "bisque" to avoid high expectations. All in all, the dish tasted more than pleasant, but a little more monodimensional than we'd expected. 

Mind you: to say that this crab was the weakest dish is to say that the standards are high.

In fact, the other starter, Duck egg tart with red wine sauce, turnip purée, lardons and sautéed duck heart

was a symphony of textures and flavours. The tart, light and crispy (puff-pastry); the mushrooms, strong; the egg, runny and luscious; the heart, soft and cooked just so: all played together to great effect. Thanks also to the delicious wine sauce and the powerful lardons (we could not fail to compare the effective use made of them here to the ineffective use made of pancetta by Locatelli the day before), this was at one stroke rustic and accomplished, assertive and mellow.  Jon Tseng on egullet puts it better than we could ever do:

'It is a great example of taking a homestyle dish (I guess we start with oeuf meurette), putting it on steroids and turning it into real haute cuisine. The kind of thing I would expect to be done at Le Gavroche or at a Ducasse joint.'

Similar feelings we had for our main of Daube of beef with Bourguignone sauce and parsnip puree

which also played on several keys. No prizes for prissiness here, mainly one bold flavour after the other but staying together, the generous sauce really lifting the splendid piece of beef, the puree a sweet and apt match, the lardons once again doing heavy duty with a contrasting saltiness. Only the mushrooms were not impressive, a little watery and bland, they could have been removed at no loss.

The other main, Roast partridge with confit leg, pearl barley, foie gras and kale

showcased precision in cooking, the soft breast and the crispy leg in nice contrast. The foie gras was a delightful accompaniment for the drier meat of the bird, but unfortunately it had not been properly de-veined. The barley and the pleasantly acidic sauce added yet another layer to this accomplished dish.

And the desserts, too, what a joy. A Pear and frangipane tart with clotted cream 

was quite rustic in style but had a meaningfully intense pear taste, as well as the almonds asserting themselves beautifully.

But the winner was  the Prune and armagnac ice cream with financiers

big prune chunks in the icecream, suavely punchy with Armagnac, the financiers verging, for us, on the too buttery but with a lovely almond flavour. To finish all off, some high quality chocolate truffles as petit fours.

As you can see, we liked everything. To this, add the charming personnel and the charming, generous practices they have: the bread is freely re-supplied; they don't push the mineral water and after your bottle is finished near the end of the meal they ask you if you want to continue with a carafe; the teas (great little selection!) are constantly and promptly refilled. Moreover, any wine is also offered by the carafe: they'll open any bottle for you and get you a 500ml carafe at 75% of the price of the bottle, which seems a very fair bargain given that glasses of wine from pre-opened bottle are always disappointing.

Medlar is a cute little restaurant where very serious, gutsy and apparently simple yet refined, cooking is going on. The value for money is excellent, the lunch menu coming at £30 for three courses (we paid a £3 supplement on the bird) during the Christmas period, but it is normally £25. The dinner (same dishes as for the lunch) comes to around £40 for three courses. 

Medlar may not break new culinary grounds, but surely, with its unfussy looking yet very intelligently thought out dishes, does make many people, including the most demanding gourmets in search of faux-rustic cuisine, very happy indeed. Absolutely worthy of a Michelin star in our view.


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