Saturday, December 29, 2007

Not bad for starters...

Nationwide has two alltime favourite restaurants, a different category from flavour of the month you understand. The Ubiquitous Chip in Glasgow and the Union Square Cafe in New York. Which is a bit awkward really when you lives in London. Like wot I do.

We certainly do have choice in London, but it's thrown up what exactly? The Ivy is brilliant but of course you can never, ever get in even though it's now past it's sleb prime and you're more likely to be sat next to a party of Essex or Japanese tourists rather than Stephen Spielberg. The Wolseley is fab too - never book, just walk in - and I've never eaten anything bad there at all. The Americans love it.
Scotts and St Aubin are beyond my reach sadly and there's, um, well, there's er......well there's about 2000 out there, all listed in Harden's and Time Out and all serving varying degrees of scoff dished up to your table by the population of Poland. Top places, bottom feeders, middle of the road Italian tratts. The only really bad meal I've had recently was in the Bush Bar and Grill in Shepherd's Bush but that was Sunday lunch with 50 brats at the next table all wolfing pizza and chocolate cake. By "bad" I mean so-bad-it-has-to-be-sent-back-bad, not just ordinary, which is what a lot of places get away with in London.

But we're talking favourite here. Outstandingly brilliant. And guess what? There's a new one - a fave - right here in London town. The guy that used to run Kensington Place, Rowley Leigh has opened up in Whiteley's shopping centre, in what used to be McDonalds. Behold, Le Cafe Anglais, my third favourite place in the world. Not including Japan, obv.

It's a large, light airy room, with a quiet buzz (good), big high windows (v good) and lovely staff (vv good) some of whom are probably Polish. It's also got very good food. (star plus good) and doesn't cost an arm and a leg (done deal!).

It opened a few weeks back and our first dinner there for ten cost peanuts because they had that 50% off thing in the opening week. So I greedily tucked into foie gras and pheasant, both of which were fab, and about a fiver each or something. The rest of the table ordered just about the entire menu and devoured the lot and were so enamoured with the fare that there was very little of the plate passing going on that my own family used to indulge in, with my mother refusing to order anything that anyone else had ordered so that we could all taste something different.

They have proper aperitifs, not just that have-a-drink-at-the-bar scam to part you from your money (hello Soho Hotel, are you listening?? I will never fall for that "glass of champagne sir?" thing again - three of us at the bar before dinner in fuel or refuel or fool or whatever it's called
100 quid before we sat down!), no they have things like gin fizz and white ladies and, er, champagne. And you get fab little hors-d'oeuvre too - rabbit rillets, salsify fritters and a mussel thing which at lunch with a journalist we sent back. Not because there was anything wrong with it - quite the contrary it tasted perfecto - but it was a freezing cold day and it was cold. So we decided we wanted it warm. So they did. And it was delicious warm too.

The big dinner was virtually alcohol free but the lunch with the journo wasn't and we spent some money there but even so the bill with everything - the champagne, full four courses, coffee and wine - was still only £70 a head. I say "only" because we were there all day, drinking and stuffing our greedy faces and that's the kind of boozy lunch where the bill can go through the roof. But it didn't (more plus points again)

Rowley came round and said hi, pretending he knew who we were. Honestly, the sea of faces that must have passed before that man at Kensington Place, pleading for a table - and invariably getting it - determines that he either has a photographic memory for twenty thousand people or, like the rest of us, he's just charming and gracious and wants people to like his place. The consortium that backs him all have history, from the Groucho Club to the wine business to the aforementioned Bush Bar and Grill, by an unfortunate coincidence.

And I find myself going back. With chums. With family. With work people and each time it just gets better and better, more and more comfortable, and the prices still aren't going up to any great degree that I've noticed. I may live vaguely near, but Whiteleys has never really been much of a draw before.

Last week the special, venison, was "off" but that was because it was bought properly, cooked properly and - just before serving - was discovered to be not quite right in the sense that after resting it was discovered to be slightly overdone. Rather than risk a complaint or two, it was dumped. Having now worked my way through the menu, and never had anything bad yet, I wonder if I would have complained about slightly overdone venison. Possibly not.

And as if by magic, my newspaper diet was swelled today while waiting for someone fighting their way through the Holiday tourist hordes of Portobello Road street market and I read not one but TWO connected articles. The first, a column (weekly) by the chef himself in the FT explaining the value of black truffles at this time of year which seemed to make perfect sense. And then secondly a very kind review in the Times by Giles Coren, who I regard to be the doyen of food writers right now, who liked the place for all the reasons outlined above, but written in a more elegant manner, as you would expect from a food critic rather than a blogger oik.

So there we have it. The new Nationwide fave restaurant. If you see me there, wave and I'll buy you a drink.



Dame Lush-Life said...

The Polish Club too

Kensington Place table behind the door ..ah them were the days Rowley smiling and M Winner grinning.....

Nationwide said...

Flash fried foie gras with sweetcorn pancakes. Scallops with pea mash. Yum.

Dorothy Parker said...

"Flash fried foie gras"

I shall out that on you epitaph
With a soup,con of Chablis of course

Nationwide said...

"I shall out that on you epitaph"
You're not Dorothy Parker at all, famed wit of the Algonquin. Why you're, you're the world famous Melanie Bellamy, scourge of the media classes and terror of the Tristrams, as AA would say.

Suzy Sushi from Shepherds Bushy said...

Quote from Bill Buford - I think ?
"You should always know the first name of the person you buy your meat from."

Nationwide said...

Or as the late great Pete McCarthy was wont to say. "Never pass a bar which has your name on".
He then wrote "McCarthy's Bar"

Wee Bairn said...

Happy New Year Monwide
Lang may your lum reek.

Nationwide said...

A Guid New Year to you too, and all my merry band of readers. You know who you are, but I sure as hell don't. I just know where you come from.
Hello Nigeria!

Darcus why said...

Cheers from the Congo ..Bongo

John said...

How is Edinburgh's 'The Pompadour' these days?

Had The Best Meal of My Life there back in the late 80s - my first and only 'Degustation' menu. Terrific.

Ambitions this year are 'Roussillon' and 'La Tante Claire', but these have been on my wishlist since 1998. I shall make do with Pizza Express and be happy.

Nationwide said...

John, sorry, got me there on the Pompadour (in the Caledonian Hotel?) Never set foot in the place. As for La Tante Claire, now relocated to the Berkeley Hotel - make sure someone else in paying!
By a spooky coincidence the star of the Edinburgh firmament right now is a young chef called Tom Kitchin who trained in the old Tante Claire (now Gordon Ramsays) in Royal Hospital Road. In his place, Kitchins,all the crockery, cutlery and napery is from La Tante Claire so maybe you could kill two birds with one credit card, to coin a phrase.

Dorothy Parker said...

So what's on your *afters* menu ??


Nationwide said...

Sponge pudding and Birds custard. What else?

Dorothy Parker said...

Cling peaches and carnation milk would be a change !