Friday, 16 December 2011

'Too much' Masterchef?

It’s apparently the case that I have been watching too much Masterchef. Now I should point out, after yesterday’s lengthy tirade against the dominance of TV in family life, that this is currently one of only a very few TV programmes that I’m watching.

Okay, there’s usually a bit of football most weeks, but other than that, in terms of programmes that I myself select, on a regular basis, there might be University Challenge and very little else.

Nor do I usually follow such competitions as this, but it has been fascinating – not least because of Michel Roux Jnr. He shows respect to all the contestants, he actually knows the difference between objective and subjective opinions – and lets the former rule his judging – and his demonstrations of various classic dishes are just fascinating and incredibly educative.

But how can I have been watching ‘too much’ of this?

Wednesday saw our department Christmas lunch. After the culinary disappointments of the last two years, at gastro pub Harrisons and then Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, I was looking forward to something rather better on the food front.

This year, we were booked into Blacks, a club in the heart of London’s Soho, courtesy of a colleague who is a member being able to book us in.

It was a very pleasant setting, with a small dining room and open fire (not real, but very convincing). There was plenty to be optimistic about.

The menu wasn’t a specifically Christmas one either, which also seemed like a good thing, since that should surely mean that the chefs would be cooking dishes that they were much more familiar with.

I opted for a squid ink tagliatelle, with Cornish crab, chilli and parsley to start.

There could have been more crab and less pasta; it could have been hot, rather than a case of the pasta being barely warm (but cooked), but it was really quite pleasant.

I’d also chosen the pheasant – another chance to continue my game education by having it properly cooked for me. But it was not to be.

My half of a bird arrived in just that condition in a bowl – to look at, that was the dish: just a rather large chunk of meat in a bowl.

A little searching revealed that there was some cavolo nero, the Italian kale, and some pancetta underneath, but the presentation was distinctly lacking.

‘Hey ho,’ I though and dug in. It was woefully overcooked and, as a result, very dry.

Even I know that the biggest difficulty with cooking game birds is keeping them moist. You need it to be a little pink – this was the colour of roast chicken.

It wasn’t helped by comparison with Sunday’s partridge at Bistrot Bruno Loubet either.

By the time a colleague on our table, who was having the same thing, had walked to the kitchen to request some gravy (she’s German, incidentally, and loathe though I am to do stereotypes, they’re bloody good at taking this sort of action), I had grown tired of it and wasn’t in the mood to eat much more.

I stuck with simple caramel ice cream for dessert, which was perfectly tasty – although presented a tad poorly again, being nothing more than the ice cream in a small dish.

A short while later, the maitre d came over and was asking him how the meal had been. I said that the starter had been nice, but also that the pheasant had been overcooked, dry and poorly presented.

He apologised – and gave me an extra glass of wine to compensate a tad.

Later, I told The Other Half what had happened. It was when I got around to mentioning that I’d criticised the presentation that he said I’d been watching too much Masterchef.

Which is not entirely fair. I didn’t expect haute cuisine along Roux lines, but it didn’t take any sort of an expert to realise how poor the presentation was.

At the simplest level, it could have been helped enormously by being jointed – as my partridge had been at the weekend – leaving the cavolo nero and pancetta instantly visible.

Personally, I’d not have served it in a bowl either, but on a plate – again making it easier to see beyond the meat.

So, Masterchef or not, I’m sticking with my critique. And I'd be prepared to wager that Michel would agree with me too.

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