Tuesday, 12 June 2012
Time Out recently released a list of the "top 100 dishes in London". It's an interesting read even if (in fact, as ever with these lists, particularly if) you don't agree with every choice, but if nothing else just goes to show the astonishing diversity of dining out in the capital; you can question the quality of food here if you like, but there's absolutely no arguing with the variety. Anyway, amongst the lobster rolls and salt beef beigels and lamb chops is the Duck Egg Tart from Medlar, an artistic arrangement of moist, sautéed duck hearts and crunchy lardons orbiting a perfectly spherical duck egg on a thin layer of puff pastry. I had it for my starter on Saturday evening, and it's absolutely lovely - a supremely accomplished mixture of textures and hearty (sorry) flavours, the kind of thing that on most other restaurant menus would be an obvious highlight.
Except, the meal we enjoyed at Medlar was just so good in every respect that even this astonishingly good dish wasn't the best thing we ate. Perhaps its inclusion on the Time Out list is because it appears more regularly than other dishes on a menu that is admirably and flexibly seasonal. Perhaps - and I have to acknowledge this possibility, even though it pains me to do so - we just struck gold with our other choices and the duck egg tart is usually the best thing they do. Or maybe - and I like to think this is the case - everything Medlar ever do is just so brilliant that picking a best dish to feature on a Time Out article was just a case of sticking a pin in the menu and submitting that.
OK so enough general gushing, some details. Service, from the moment we entered to the moment we left, was utterly perfect. Nothing was too much trouble; a request for a single cheese course shared between three (I've had this refused in other places before) was granted in a flash, and even the presentation of (free, take note Bistro Union) tap water showed meticulous attention to detail, ice and lemon brought in separate containers to leave it up to the customer which to use.
There's the food, too, of course. A Square-style crab raviolo with samphire, brown shrimp and seafood bisque was, if not presented in that exacting Multi-Michelin-starred way, surely still deserving of the same kind of attention for the incredible fresh flavours and skill with pasta. But best of the starters, in a very competitive field remember, was an incredible halibut ceviche, the gently citrusy raw fish providing a base for salty salmon roe, neat swirls of mousse-like avocado and - a stroke of genius - crispy nuggets of tempura squid.
Mains kept up the ferocious level of quality. Artichokes with soft burrata, butter beans and rocket pesto had a great variety of textures, using the same trick as the halibut starter with its topping of tempura. Bream with razor clams was superficially quite a rustic-looking dish before you noticed they'd cooked these delicate thin fillets of bream just so and still managed to get a good crispy skin on (a bit of a bugbear of mine I admit), textures added elsewhere with lovely gummy gnocchi and soft clams. But my own dish of pigeon, girolles and foie gras - is there any more beautiful thing than those three ingredients on one plate? - was world-class. Every single element of it was perfect, from the soft red pigeon to the fluffy potato cakes (sorry, "crepes parmentier") to the liberal scattering of earthy mushrooms, a time-tested combination of ingredients perhaps but one that only works if you know exactly what you're doing. Oh and yes the foie gras was as good as I've had anywhere, creamy and crunchy and dissolving in the mouth like meaty butter. Mmmm, meaty butter.
I'd love to point out something that wasn't perfect, some aspect of the room or food or service that I could attempt to squeeze some criticism out of in the name of balance, but I'm just drawing a complete blank. A cheese course contained seven generous portions of well-kept, well-selected cheeses for a measly £4 supplement between three people and was a joy to work through, particularly a 24-month aged Comté studded with delicate crunchy crystals of calcium lactate, and a wonderfully strong Livarot that tasted of rural France and summer grasses. Desserts (two between three but we were struggling by this point) of a Louis-XV style chocolate pudding topped with gold leaf, and a parkin and roast pineapple that was like sticky toffee pudding, were equally faultless. Sorry, but they were.
Ah! There is one thing I can qualify my embarrassingly effusive praise with, thank God. Medlar is not the cheapest restaurant in town. It shouldn't be of course, not by a long way, but the bill with a bottle and two glasses of the cheapest wine came to £178 for three, so this is not likely to be a regular dining spot to anyone outside of the confines of SW3. But the thing is, I still can't think of a better way of spending £60 on dinner in London, and in 2012, given everything that's happened in the last few years and given the kind of variety of incredible dishes available on that Time Out list, I'm sure you'll appreciate that's quite a thing for a jaded blogger like me to claim. For one of the best meals I've ever enjoyed in the capital, then, and for food and service of purest gold, I give you Medlar of Chelsea. Yet another reason that London is the greatest place to eat out in the world.