For Christmas, my mum sent us some money to go out for a really nice meal. So we did.
As you know, I've been looking for an excuse to go back to Le Cafe Anglais for another taste of the delectable parmesan custards, and it didn't take all that much effort to convince Paul that he wanted to go there too. It only took a look at the menu, actually.
Of course, I began with the parmesan custard and anchovy toast! It was just as good as I remembered (i.e in no way like mine) with a velvety texture and strong cheese flavour, complemented by the salty, crisp, gorgeousness of the anchovy toast.
I also had a portion of salsify fritters, because I wanted to see how mine stacked up. And I have to say I totally won that battle. The slivers of salsify were so thin you couldn't taste them at all! There was about 4 times as much batter as vegetable, and although it was a very light batter, it was a bit greasy. My marinated chunks of salsify in cornflour are much nicer.
As his starter, Paul had pike boudin. For as long as I can remember he has been talking about seafood sausage. I don't know where he came across the idea but they really captured his imagination. And he has been looking at some winter pike fishing at one of the lakes around our house, so it only seemed fair that he should taste them. This was an amazing dish. At first sight I thought it looked like a baked banana, but it was a magnificently light fish mousseline. It almost had the texture of a souffle, it was so light and airy, and the flavour was subtly fishy without being bland. I don't know if it was in a skin; if it was the skin was the most delicate I have ever tasted.
For our main course, we shared a saddle of roebuck for two people. Where we were seated in the restaurant we had a really good view of the rotisseries in the kitchen, and it would have been a crying shame not to eat something cooked on it! It was fascinating watching the grill chef hook skewered birds, meat and big pieces of lavender-coloured aubergine onto rotating vertical hooks.
The venison was very simply presented, on a large copper dish, with a bunch of watercress, a bowl of celeriac puree and a little jug of sauce Grand Veneur.
I have subsequently discovered that sauce Grand Veneur is one of the classic accompaniments to furred game meats - it's based on a game stock, thickened with the blood of the animal, enriched with cream and redcurrant jelly and seasoned with pepper. I hope they didn't go to as much trouble making it as the recipes imply, because it wasn't really worth it. It was a pleasant creamy sauce that didn't taste of much, and neither the meat nor the vegetables needed moistening.
The meat, on the other hand, was absolutely superb. Paul and I have this joke that whenever people are trying to say that meat was good, they describe it as "melt in the mouth" - and it's frustrating for people who actually like to chew their food from time to time and relish the crunchy bits, but there is simply no other way to describe it. It really was melt in the mouth. But at the same time it had the most wonderful flavour. It wasn't deeply gamy, it just had a really rich, pure "meat" taste, brought out by the coarsely ground pepper it was rolled in.
The celeriac puree was also extremely good - the combination of celeriac and venison is one we enjoy at home quite a lot - but I have to say I prefer the rougher, firmer preparation that we make for it than the silky, smoothly flowing one that was served here.
Paul decided to finish off the lovely bottle of St Emilion while I had dessert.
My decision to try the Mont Blanc was based on my mother's cook book collection. She had a very elegant series of Time Life cookbooks and there were step by step instructions on making a Mont Blanc. Which in the pictures was just a riced mound of sweetened chestnut puree, topped with whipped cream, like this recipe. That was not what this turned out to be. This was a meringue base, filled with a scoop of icecream, topped with chestnut puree and cream and surrounded by chocolate sauce.
It was a very nicely constructed dessert. Somehow it managed to avoid being too sweet or cloying. The chocolate sauce was lovely and bitter, the icecream was milky and light rather than creamy or eggy, and I think it had a little bitter almond essence in it or possibly a chestnut liqueur as well as vanilla. The only thing that let it down was the lack of chestnut! The chestnut flavour and texture was out-competed. And I still want to try a traditional one.