Friday, 7 December 2012

Comfort and joy

Dining out sometimes seems to be like the London bus of legend – after an age without a single restaurant visit, a glut of such opportunities present themselves.

Today, I was faced with a choice. With an evening trip to the theatre atop the schedule, something more substantial than my usual homemade lunchtime fare was required, either at noon or later.

So, what was it to be?

In the back of my mind for a year or so – since it opened – has been the Gilbert Scott, Marcus Wareing’s restaurant in the newly-renovated St Pancras Renaissance hotel.

And it’s pushed it’s way to the front in the last few days, first as I was considering retro food, and then as a result of Wareing’s own appearance on Masterchef: The Professionals.

A quick glance at the website convinced me that the ‘express menu’ was the perfect option, at £19 for two courses and £23 for three.

This means that you get to select each course from two options drawn from the full à la carte version.

So, since it’s served between midday and 1pm, I headed into the cold, clear day a little before the clock struck 12.

The first thing to say is that the renovated building is just a glory. It really is a step back in time and has been wonderfully restored. The restaurant itself is housed in a curved room with an incredibly high ceiling that has a great sense of light and space.

The name of the restaurant is, incidentally, that of the architect who designed this gothic icon, which so very nearly disappeared altogether. A nice touch.

And the entire ethos of the restaurant is also one of looking back to our culinary heritage.

The starter was a choice between haslet – an old-fashioned English meatloaf – and a broccoli and stilton soup.

Now I don’t often have soup as a starter, because I usually find it too filling – and I’m also, even as a cheese lover, sceptical about the use of blue cheese in savoury dishes.

So … I opted for the soup. Well, if a place like this isn’t going to convince you of the merits of something, nowhere’s likely to.

It arrived in a small pan, to be poured smoothly onto the air-light crispy, cheesy croutons waiting in the bowl. A lovely moment of dining theatre.

And as well as being a glorious colour, the taste was heaven: smooth and thick as velvet, it had a wonderful, fresh fragrance and a delicate flavour, seasoned by the salty cheese that never overpowered the vegetable.

For a main course, I’d chosen rainbow trout on purple sprouting broccoli and with a caper vinaigrette.

Trout is another food that has been badly served over the years, treated as a poor relative of salmon and, like duck with orange, suffering the ignominy of being lazily linked with almonds.

This was superb: buttery and moist as anything, with a full taste and a crispy skin that simply melted away in the mouth.

The capers gave the whole thing a tart lift that was as astonishingly subtle as it was effective.

For dessert, a lemon posset with rosemary shortbread – the former, light and rich with a hint of vanilla on top; the latter, light and crumbly and with the herb just adding a note of wonderful sophistication.

On the side, a small glass of 2011 Riesling Brauneberger Juffer, which gave off a heady aroma of citrus and gooseberry, and tasted of honey, shot through with grapefruit.

This might not be ‘cutting edge’ food, but it’s fabulously classy, everything looked so beautiful and smelled divine. Quite simply, the cooking is so, so precise.

So often, when you eat out, there’ll be something, somewhere that you think is great, but something else that doesn’t quite hit the same heights.

This, however, was not only wonderfully comforting, it was flawless. And it’s not often you get to say that.

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