Monday 8 June 2009

School Holiday Treat - Le Cafe Anglais

For our latest school holiday treat Jude and I went to Le Cafe Anglais in Bayswater. It's tacked on to the side of a shopping centre, which seems a bit odd, and the woman doing the meet & greet downstairs didn't seem to be particularly interested in being charming, but once upstairs in the airy, art deco-styled dining room everything got better.

After a very restoring gin & tonic, and a few little olives, we were shown to a large oval table at one of the pale eau de nil leather banquettes.

We didn't recognise the man at the table next to us, but we probably should have - everyone else in the restaurant was greeting him like he was Someone, and Jeremy Lee (flamboyant Scottish chef at the Blueprint Cafe ) greeted him like an old friend when he arrived for lunch.

Some lovely chewy bread, really good butter, excellent fresh crunchy radishes and fizzy water helped while we perused the menu.

We'd had some fairly definite ideas (god bless the internet and restaurateurs who put their menus on it) about what to have, but we realised that neither of us actually had a big enough appetite to follow through on those ideas!

The menu opens with hors d'oeuvres, so we decided to skip a starter in favour of a few of these to share. When I saw oeufs en gelee I knew I had to try it in honour of my mother, who introduced me to Elizabeth David. In French Provincial Cooking, David writes "This is not at all so easy a dish to get right as might be supposed. It is not common to find it well done even in a good restaurant. But when perfect, the egg yolk just soft enough to run when you break into it, the jelly firm and clear and delicately flavoured, it is an exquisite dish." This was perfectly executed. The jelly was well-flavoured with a hint of tarragon, the egg yolk flowed softly and the little salad of tomatoes that it sat on accompanied it very well. But I didn't particularly like it. I hadn't really thought through the fact that to encase an egg in jelly the egg has to be cold, and I find cold runny egg yolks a bit weird. But still, I am very happy that I tried it!

The other hors d'oeuvres we tried were much more to my taste. Some fat, crisp oyster fritters showed just how good a cooked oyster can be, and the minty Thai dipping sauce they were served with was just perfect, but they didn't rate a picture of their own. The parmesan custard with anchovy toast, however, was so good that Jude and I agreed we would be hard pushed to order anything else if we saw it on a menu. It was a baked custard (but with the texture of a bechamel) with just the right amount of cheesy crust on top, served with crisp fingers of toast, sandwiched with anchovy paste and flattened in a sandwich press. Oh my god it was good. We dunked the toasts in the custard and swooned at the flavour.

We also rejoiced at the fact that we hadn't tried to order starters as well - the hors d'oeuvres were really very substantial.

As our main courses we both chose fish. I am a sucker for fish & chips, so I ordered the battered haddock with tartare sauce, and some chips. Jude ordered the roast skate with sorrel and Jersey Royal potatoes. When the dishes were delivered we realised that we should have ordered some salad, but the busboy's English wasn't equal to the task. We thought he said he'd get salad, but he must have said he'd get a waiter - and then when the waiter arrived we said everything was fine because we thought the salad was on its way. The upshot being that we got no salad.

It didn't really matter though, because the fish was so damn good. The perfect light, crisp, thin batter, flapping-fresh, firm white haddock, breaking up into large, moist flakes. The good, chunky tartare sauce was perfectly seasoned. The chips were thinner than I like them, but still very good. Jude's skate was also lovely - it is such a good fish!

We both ordered glasses of dessert wine to go with our puddings. Jude had a 2005 Domaine de l'Ancienne Cure Monbazillac, I had a 2002 Chateau Delmond Sauternes. Both were lovely, but quite different.

I really liked that the dessert menu featured fruit. The notion of just ordering some Cox's apples seemed so chic... and I was very tempted to get mango with some coconut sorbet, but I realised that it wouldn't be beautiful, fragrant Kensington Prides so I ordered the pannacotta with rhubarb and strawberries. I have never had rhubarb that good before. It was perfectly tender, but firm, not the slightest bit stringy or mushy. The strawberries were sweet and delicious. Both fruits were complemented by the hint of ginger in the syrup. And the pannacotta was just lovely. Not too sweet, nicely vanilla-y and with the perfect amount of wobble to it.

Jude ordered the chocolate souffle with pistachio icecream, after some time kicking around some other options. And it was a very good decision! The souffle was perfectly light and warm and luscious, with a very good dark chocolate flavour, not at all too sweet. The icecream was incredibly nutty in texture and intensely pistachio-y in colour and flavour.

I finished with a pot of fresh mint tea. Just the thing to finish a large and rich meal.

Definitely one to go back to.


Bettina Douglas said...

I have never had oeufs en gelee. The description of the degree of difficulty (and memories of attempting jambon persilee) put me off trying to do it myself and I have never seen it on a menu.
What a delicious looking meal.

HH said...

Wow, that all looks and sounds lovely! What a wonderful treat! Both the desserts look amazing, and I am now craving them both.

Alicia Foodycat said...

Mother - I couldn't even begin to make it myself! The thought of shelling the eggs if nothing else. It was so good. Next time you come over it will be on the list!

HH - if you succeed making a warm chocolate souffle I want to hear about it!

kat said...

That meal certainly does look like quite the treat

Jude said...

I'm going back there for lunch on Saturday!

Alicia Foodycat said...

Kat - it was amazing!

Jude - you lucky thing! You know what to have as a starter now.

Jude said...

I think the oeufs en gelee were definitely worth trying but I won't be ordering them again. They seem "of an age" but that age is definitely not the noughties.

Darius T. Williams said...

Oh my - just good eats all around!

Alicia Foodycat said...

Jude - agreed. I can see the skill and technique and whatever, but I'd rather eat something else!

Darius - it was wonderful!

Just Cook It said...

I have the jealous. I hear nothing but good things about the place.

Not sure about the cold egg jelly thing though.

NKP said...

What a great meal, you guys have some wonderful restaurant experiences. The cold egg in jelly would be difficult for me too..


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