Wednesday, 7 December 2011
Morgan M, Barbican
As much as I flatter myself that there is such a thing as an objectively good restaurant, I've had enough people going for a meal out on the back of one of my more slavering posts, only to hate it, to demonstrate that nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, some good places can have occasional off-days while some bad ones have very occasional "ons", but I'm not just talking about the perils of recommending an inconsistent kitchen. The single most important factor that governs whether you will enjoy a meal out has always been, and always will be, personal preference. Don't like queuing and table-turning? You won't like Tayyabs. Don't like eating in the dark? Avoid MeatLiquor. Can't bear the idea of spending £100 on lunch? The Ledbury's not for you. And it doesn't matter how much I try and convince you that all these places are amongst the best ways of spending your money in London, if somewhere aggravates your intolerances or your own particular penchants and eccentricities aren't catered for, you will not have a good time, and there's nothing I or anyone else can do about it.
Objectivity aside, then, Morgan M will be many, many people's idea of a good restaurant. It is smart and comfortable, serviced by effortlessly charming staff with outrageous Gallic accents and the menu boasts a comprehensive list of all the dishes you could reasonably expect to find in such a place - foie gras terrine, lobster cannelloni, tarte tatin. And it probably says far more about me than anything Morgan M are doing that I'm afraid I just found it all a bit, well, dull. Nothing was bad, some things were good, but for the best part of £60 a head with a couple of house wines, I couldn't help thinking how much further this kind of money would go elsewhere. Call me fussy (and you may be right), but perhaps competent French haute cuisine doesn't rock my boat as it so clearly does for so many others.
An amuse of beetroot soup, containing a sharp sorbet and a little blob of horseradish cream, was good, doing its palate-freshening job very well and with top seasonal awareness. I imagine you're all getting sick of hearing me say this, but apologies once again for the photos - it all looked a lot better than my iPhone would have you believe.
The best thing you can say about my snail ravioli starter was that you could really taste the snails - they were either better quality than most I've had in the past or Morgan M's treatment of them was spot-on. The pasta was delicate and silky, containing dainty chunks of vegetables in amongst the snail meat, and the Chablis they were poached in gave a pleasant alcoholic tang. In fact, thinking back now I have no idea why I didn't like it more - perhaps the "garlic froth" was too insubstantial to lend any depth (ironic accusing a froth of being insubstantial) or perhaps it was just missing that something extra to quite justify the £12.50 price tag. A friend's foie gras terrine was similarly competent, the foie slightly fridge-fresh and the brioche a bit dry, but nothing too disastrous. £14, mind.
As with the starters, there was much to admire about the mains, yet little to love. Best of the two was a partridge, carefully butchered and presented with a roast breast underneath a boned leg & thigh. At least when you pay your £21.50 for game in a French restaurant you do get your money's worth in the often painstaking preparation. This came with a pleasant liver and bread sauce arrangement in tribute to a traditional game dinner, and a rather less traditional but no less tasty caramelised chicory. My mallard though, despite on paper having everything going for it, was let down by strangely tasteless meat. The breast wasn't overcooked, I'd have liked a bit more crispiness in the skin and the confit leg was a little dry, but even if prepared absolutely perfectly I doubt this would have been worth the effort. I also could have done without the three dense, chalky nuggets of old chestnut (yes, that old chestnut).
Events nearly came full swing with the appearance of a brilliant cheeseboard, and in particular a wonderful (and stinky) Livarot. That's it there, second on the left, looking innocent enough through the gloom of my photography but believe me, if there was such a thing as food blog smell-o-vision you'd have environmental health officers knocking on your door.
Pre-dessert of rice pudding with winter berries was good, and a refreshing change to just have a mouthful of rice pudding without having to wade your way through an entire bowl. I feel the same way about rice pudding as I do about risotto - less is more.
Finally, a decent pineapple soufflé which while slightly on the eggy and greasy side still had plenty of flavour and came with a blob of pineapple coconut ice cream which was a bit like eating a piña colada. Which isn't a bad thing, by any means.
To reiterate my earlier point, that eating out is a deeply subjective experience is perfectly illustrated in the fact that Morgan M already is a success - this Barbican branch is an offshoot of the original site in Islington, which presumably has been doing such a roaring trade they've found themselves in the position where they are able to expand. And good luck to them, too - God knows I'd rather see a proliferation of solid French restaurants, even Michelin-chasing ones, than yet another bloody Cafe Rouge. It's staid and stuffy and anachronistic but these are my particular bugbears and not necessarily anyone else's, and I'm sure they will find just as many fans in EC1 as in N7. I'm not one of them, of course, but then what good would it be if we were all the same?
I was invited to review Morgan M