Posts Tagged With: Medium-High

C’est une tête-à-tête: French one-upmanship at The Green Man & French Horn

Copyright of The Green Man & French Horn. Sourced from The Green Man & French Horn website

Copyright of The Green Man & French Horn. Sourced from The Green Man & French Horn website

Cuisine: French

Address: 54 St Martin’s Lane, WC2N 4EA

Area: Covent Garden

Nearest Station: Leicester Square

Tel.: 020 7836 2645

Website: http://www.greenmanfrenchhorn.co

Pricing: Medium-High

Good For: Smart-casual dining, Wine selection, Friendly conversation, Seasonal menu, Place for romance

And so the birthday celebrations continued… this time, with my mum doing me the honours. Being a true mummy’s boy, I wanted to show her that my birthday (and by extension, me) would be so much better than that other son of hers – as he had opted for a little bit of French bistro stylings at Balthazar, I thought that I would go one better and choose The Green Man & French Horn.

However, as with my brother’s birthday dinner, I was held up in getting out of work and turned up late. Yes, I turned up late for my own birthday dinner (shocking, I know). This did concern me a bit, as the online booking I had made did specify that we would only have the table for two hours… this did not prove to be a problem, as not only were we finished in just about that time, but we were not really hurried out the door (who was going to sit at our table anyway? The place was half-empty by the time we were done).

We were in for a ride down the Loire Valley for this meal, as that’s what The Green Man & French Horn is all about. For someone who’s a bit of a (ignorant) Bordeaux vinophile, this meant that I was completely stumped when it came to sniffing out a good wine from the extremely extensive wine list. But the chatty and knowledgeable Kiwi (?) waitress was on hand to offer her expertise; based on my instructions that I wanted a red wine that was a) not too tannic, b) was medium-bodied c) was not fruity and d) was easy to drink, she recommended the 2011 Le Cousin ‘Le Grolle’ from Domaine Cousin-Leduc, Olivier Cousin, which fit most of my criteria perfectly: it was indeed an easy-drinking, medium-bodied red, but it still had a nice complexity to it that finished with light pepperiness. I may have very visibly showed my delighted surprise when I tried it out, maybe even a bit too much, for I think she had a bit of a giggle to herself. Ah well, I just have that effect on women, I guess (*cough*)…

So, what is a culinary trip along the Loire like? To start with, I had fried sand eels, lemon, garlic and parsley, primarily because I’d never had sand eel before. They taste very similar to whitebait, and I’d presume that to the unknowing eye, it probably does look like whitebait. Crunchy yet soft on the inside, the garlic was subtle whilst the lemon added real zing.

Sand eels. Fried. Sand not included

Sand eels. Fried. Sand not included

Moving away from the estuary of the Loire and up into the wooded valleys, I moved on to civet of rabbit with girolles and fresh pasta. What I got was a wonderfully dark hunk of rabbit meat – almost black in the dim light. Rich and strong flavours of red wine, onion and aniseed (probably too much aniseed for my liking) came out of the succulent meat. This was all nicely countered by the plainness of the tagliatelle-like pasta, which also added some welcoming al dente textures to the whole affair. The girolles were rather pleasing too, let’s not forget them!

The dark lighting adds to the darkness of the meat

The dark lighting adds to the darkness of the meat

I managed to have a try of my brother’s Bourbonnais lamb belly with coco beans and girolles. The meat was tender but a bit softly-flavoured for lamb, and the coco bean and tomato stew was very hearty and warming. I’d imagine that this would be a great winter dish.

Lamb from the Bourbonnais. Beans from the coco

Lamb from the Bourbonnais. Beans from the coco

These were all traditional, simple dishes coming with good, mostly strong flavours. It was therefore rather suitable for us to follow up with desserts that were a bit lighter. I’d already made my mind up as to which three desserts we should get, but we had to go through the formality of deciding who would order which – our kindly waitress had to return a few times before we felt ready to tell her our deepest desires.

The crémet Nantais with figs was delightful – light fromage blanc mixed with whipped cream and then paired with fresh figs in a sweet sauce to produce a dish of contrasts. Next up was the white chocolate mousse with coffee and almonds – sweet but not overly so and smooth and creamy to boot. Completing the trio was baked peach, fromage blanc and sablé biscuit, which was I quite enjoyed, as the fromage blanc offered a slight tart creaminess against the caramelised pear.

Green Man & French Horn dessert

A trio of desserts. not all for myself, obviously (duh)

The Loire region is a (big) part of France I’m not too familiar with, so I appreciated the little introductory session we had at The Green Man & French Horn. Excellent wine, hearty food, friendly and helpful service; what a birthday dinner. It was definitely better than my brother’s (ha!).

VERDICT – A good place. There was a nice, grounded and personable atmosphere at The Green Man & French Horn that made this a rather welcoming place. Throw in a meal well-enjoyed and a wine recommendation much-appreciated, and I think you have the makings of a decent French bistro experience, right in the heart of London.

Currently listening to: Engel – Blood of Saints

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Working up an appetite: The Quality Chop House

Copyright of The Quality Chop House. Sourced from The Quality Chop House website

Copyright of The Quality Chop House. Sourced from The Quality Chop House website

Cuisine: British

Address: 92-94 Farringdon Road, EC1R 3EA

Area: Clerkenwell

Nearest Station: Farringdon

Tel.: 020 7278 1452

Website: http://thequalitychophouse.com/

Pricing: Medium-High

Good For: Fresh ingredients, Seasonal menu, Smart-casual dining, Friendly conversation, Wine selection

It was my birthday recently, don’tcha know (“Hooray, Happy Birthday Mark, we all looove you”), and you know what that means – fine dining courtesy of the parents, oh yeah.

First up was dinner with my father – being of good English stock, I thought that a good place to try out with him would be the Quality Chop House, a restaurant serving up good, honest, solid and hearty British cuisine (or so I’d been told) on the Farringdon Road.

Utilitarian spaces are soo hot right now

Utilitarian spaces are soo hot right now

It’s a fairly no-nonsense ethos that permeates what the Quality Chop House does – from the fact that it was, according to their website, borne out of Rowland Plumbe’s desire to make “utilitarian spaces for the masses that had a touch of glamour” (much of this working man’s café feel has been preserved, to the great benefit of the place), to the fact that in the Dining Room there is only one thing you can have – the set menu.

The set menu comprised of several sharing dishes that would be brought out one after the other, with the quantity tailored to the size of the dining group. As our lovely and obligingly informative waitress said, the whole point was to let patrons focus on the food (which changes day by day, dependent on what they can source from their suppliers), and leave all the messy decision-making to the kitchen.

Our set menu for the evening. Laconic, to say the least

Our set menu for the evening. Laconic, to say the least

Though there is an element of choice allowed: the Quality Chop House prides itself on having an extremely extensive and wide-ranging wine list. Whilst they do make pairing recommendations for the set menu, they were kind enough to let a philistine such as myself to choose our bottle for the evening – being a Bordeaux vinophile (a love gained from doing some volunteer work there some years back), we had a 2005 Chateau Bernadotte from the Haut-Médoc region. It was rather pleasing, delivering a smooth complexity that was not overpowering and was without a strong tannic edge.

Our drink selection for the evening

Our drink selection for the evening

And so, having made that choice, we were then ‘railroaded’ into our set menu:

Peas & lemon – this was a simple dish of fresh and crisp peas with real bite, served with two types of lemon sauce (one a cream and the other more syrupy) and sprinkled with flower petals. It was all about the peas, a vegetable which can be quite divisive I know… but it’s a great way to start the meal.

Quite evidently not just "Peas and Lemon"

Quite evidently not just “Peas & lemon”

Grilled squid, smoked spring onions – large, smoothly-textured and meaty hunks of squid cooked in a warm and earthy chipotle sauce, served with slightly-sweet fried and smoky spring onions. Does that sound good? Because it tasted amazing; each piece of squid was delectably more-ish and gave a real sense of satisfaction with each hefty bite.

Squid - how I enjoyed thee

Squid – how I enjoyed thee

Pressed lamb, pickled walnuts – essentially a lamb terrine. Unusual, I know, but quite a plucky concoction. The meat was soft and easy-going, and melted in your mouth. The pickled walnuts added something different, with the acidity going a little way to cutting through the richness of the terrine.

Lamb pressed into service

Lamb pressed into service

Duck hearts, girolles, chicken liver – initially this was a dish we were fearing, being none-too-keen on eating heart, but we were pleasantly-surprised. Served in a rich gravy, the duck hearts packed a really umami punch and were soft and savoury; the girolles added further to this taste sensation and also added a contrasting chewy texture; the chicken liver parfait was smooth and extremely flavourful, but was not rich and overpowering at all, making it a perfect accompaniment to the duck hearts and great for spreading on the hunks of bread we were served.

What a 'hearty' dish that will warm the cockles of your heart

What a ‘hearty’ dish that will warm the cockles of your heart

Middle White pork, beetroots, runner beans, boquerones – this comprised of two cuts of pork (one was shoulder, I’m sure) that were roasted until juicy and tender, with such superb crackling, topped off with boquerones for an extra savoury hit, with perfectly-cooked runner beans and beetroot. A very good combination indeed, one that relied on quality ingredients thrown together in a simple dish. Do you really need anything more?

Does what it says on the tin

Does what it says on the tin

Pink fir potatoes – not dry, not over-cooked; good starch to accompany the pork.

Chocolate, blackberries, smoked walnuts – what a classic and straightforward combination: chocolate, berries and nuts. Think Black Forest gâteau, think pralines; and then think of creamy and dense dark chocolate parfait, sprinkled with ground walnuts packing a smoky punch, surrounded by a very berry sauce and generous offerings of blackberries. Despite all that, it still seemed like a rather light way to end the meal. And afterwards, I was able to wash it down with a glass of 2005 Robert Weil ‘Kiedricher Gräfenberg’ Spätlese, a Riesling from the Rheingau that served as a decent palate cleanser.

Chocolate, blackberries, smoked walnuts. Loquaciousness is not a quality much-appreciated here

Chocolate, blackberries, smoked walnuts. Loquaciousness is not a quality much-appreciated here

Once done with the eating, the drinking, the post-prandial chit-chat and the settling of the bill, we were approached by one of, I presume, the managers. A rather charming and friendly lady, she said she’d heard that it was our first time here, asked how our evening was and even explained a bit about what they were trying to achieve with the Quality Chop House.

That was a nice and warm touch, capping off what had been a fine and welcoming performance by the staff all evening. There was even one point where our waitress conspiratorially leant in and enquired whether the ‘ambient noise levels’ were okay with us (in reference to the rather loud and excitable crowd sat behind me); although we said we were fine, we were pleasantly surprised by her kind enquiry.

We tumbled back onto Farringdon Road, appetites sated and our taste buds delighted. Thinking back on it, I’ve become a bit melancholic that the chances are I will never have that meal – those exact ingredients, that combination of dishes – ever again, as the Quality Chop House’s menu will change and change again. At least I will have the fond memories of a birthday dinner thoroughly enjoyed.

VERDICT – A good place. The Quality Chop House is a gem of a place – lovely historic atmosphere, friendly and helpful staff and some good quality food and wine. The set menu we had contained some superficially-simplistic dishes that turned out to be excellent; on that note, I would say that you should not be put off by the straightforward nature of the Quality Chop House, as it is one of its greatest strengths.

Currently listening to: Cancer Bats – Old Blood

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