Friday, 23 May 2008
Texture, Marble Arch
I've never consciously set out to be one of the first to visit any new restaurant openings in London. It seems a bit pointless making a special effort traipsing across town only to be let down by frantic service and a stripped-down menu, when if you wait a few weeks for everything to "bed-in" slightly you'll get a much better experience. There's also a much more important reason why I'm generally not amongst the opening-night crowd - I'm lazy, and the first I know about a new place is usually reading a post at Dos Hermanos or in the Evening Standard. So although Texture opened in 2007 and those in the know visited soon after, it took me another six months and an attractive Toptable offer to make the effort myself.
On the one hand, it's perhaps slightly worrying that a high-end restaurant barely six months old has already resorted to Toptable menus to bring in the punters. But then my meal at Pearl was one of the highlights of last year so there's no reason having any sort of deal should be a sign that things behind the scenes are going pear-shaped.
First impressions are pleasingly luxurious. The high-ceilinged Georgian townhouse has been tastefully split into a haute-cuisine dining room (too new for Michelin but they're clearly aiming at a star) and a swanky champagne bar complete with tables with integrated champagne buckets, which seems like a good idea until you all start ordering nibbles and they keep sliding into the ice. Nibbles, by the way (which despite being priced quite aggressively on the bar menu seemed to be comped for us that night) consisted of bacon popcorn, which was lovely and warm, and an impressive slate of various slivers of fried parmesan, cod skin and potato, all well worth trying along with the homemade dips.
The meal proper began with an unannounced amuse of cold pea and bean soup (and a silly little flower on the side). Nice and fresh tasting, although some fellow diners noticed theirs was slightly frozen in the middle and mine wasn't, which points to some inconsistencies in the kitchen. Plenty of time to iron those out before the Michelin boys arrive though I imagine. With an eye on getting my money's worth, I ate my flower. Nobody else did.
Starter proper was Icelandic Cod, which was presented dressed with some vegetables (including remarkably sweet par-baked cherry tomatoes), then the waiter poured a tomato consommé on top and plonked down a rack of gazpacho test tubes in the middle of the table, to also go with it. Slightly pointless, to be honest (would you like some tomato soup to go with your tomato soup?) but I'm a bit of a sucker for theatrical flourishes like this and it all tasted pretty good. I've had better gazpacho, sure, but never from a test tube.
My main course of Cornish bream was slightly overcooked, but was of good quality and with a lovely crispy skin. A damn sight better than the fish I was served in Nantes recently, for example. However I'm not sure the melon and cucumber accompaniment worked particularly well, being rather flabby and sweet. Looked very pretty on the plate though with all those colours.
Finally, and apologies for the blurry photo, was coconut done about a hundred different ways, including - and here's another bit of theatrics - coconut syrup from a little squeezy tube. Oddly, there weren't enough squeezy tubes to go round but we were assured this was deliberate and we were supposed to share. I know you're thinking this sounds a bit twee, but this sat very well with me as I'm well known for swapping food across the table with other diners anyway. A nice idea, which probably deserves developing.
So as you've probably worked out by now, this is not mind-blowing, life changing food but it's pretty solid cooking and for the offer price of £30 a head it's hard to beat. If you only order tapwater and make the most of the free glass of rosé champagne in the bar beforehand, this is a genuine bargain. Which is just as well, as after New York, Spain and France I'm totally broke. For the next few months, I'm going to have to make do with the only place in London where you can eat like a king for under a tenner, and if that's my punishment for a month of excess then I'll accept it gladly. If you want me, I'll be in Tayyabs.