Friday, 11 January 2013

Northern Food on tour: New Year in London part 2

Here's part two of my round-up of our trip to London over new year. In addition to the meatballs, skewers, bao, bacon, coffee, pizza, pasta, French toast and fry-ups we managed to squeeze in a couple of meals in swankier establishments.

Clos Maggiore, Covent Garden

Clos Maggiore is a rare beast, especially in this part of town. A restaurant that's obviously chasing the tourist pound, but that hasn't lost sight of what makes a good restaurant in the first place: good food.

If you're lucky enough, as we were completely by chance, to get a table in the conservatory, then it lives up to the 'most romantic restaurant in London' hype. The prettiness of the room is backed up by service that's formal without being intrusive.

The food is French, but not very French if you're ordering from the set menus which could just as well be British, in that they wouldn't look out of place in any pub with aspirations to quality food. Beef cheeks, sticky toffee pud and so on.

Which is exactly what I ate for main and dessert, after a starter of house pickled herring with potato and dill salad. The herring was a fine plump specimen, bigger than any rollmop I've ever seen, pickled very assertively, the acidity balanced by a very creamy potato salad.

Across the table Jerusalem artichoke soup with a poached egg and truffle oil didn't have quite the same balance, being rich and creamy with extra rich and creamy. I only had the one mouthful, any more would have been too much for me and A couldn't manage half of it.

The aforementioned beef cheeks followed by sticky toffee pudding were both exemplary, if unexciting. The cheeks were excellent, collapsing into gelatinous shreds of loveliness at the touch of a fork.

Ice creams, served on a slightly unnerving bright green meringue, were well made as were the petit fours served with coffee. The blueberry financier was the pick of the bunch, my least favourite the pineapple macaron. There was nothing wrong with it texture wise, it just didn't taste of pineapple or anything much.

At £23.50 for three courses with half a bottle of wine (red, French, drinkable, can't remember the details) this really was exceptional value for the standard of food and service in this location. As I mentioned earlier the food on the set menus isn't dissimilar to what you'd get in a good food pub, with one notable difference: it would cost you more in the pub.

A fifty-odd quid bill was of course ratcheted up to closer to £90 by the time we'd added a couple of glasses of fizz, sides and coffees, but what the hell we were on holiday. Worth it and recommended.


33 King Street
Covent Garden

Clos Maggiore on Urbanspoon

The Delaunay, Aldwych

The Delaunay, sister restaurant to the more famous Wolseley with which it shares virtually the same menu, is a splendid place at which to take afternoon tea. I would imagine it's also a splendid place to go for a burger, or for breakfast, or for a platter of oysters, or for apple strudel and ice cream, or for any one of the myriad options available. Being such a jack of all trades can be problematic, but these places are on a scale grand enough to pull it off.

Afternoon tea for us, and it was very nearly the best I've ever had, the crucial matter of the scones letting the side down. They were fresh, and very light, but sort of disintegrated into a very claggy mush in the mouth, sticking in your teeth like Wotsits (just the texture, they weren't cheesy). The strawberry jam was also lacking in flavour.

Everything else was wonderful. The sandwiches, all five varieties, demonstrated good attention to detail, and were worth the effort in their own right rather than being pre-cake filler as is often the case. Lovely soft bread, delicate fillings and high quality butter. We had an extra round of the cucumber just because we could.

The cakes were also all spot on, with some unusual variants like a rosewater and lemon battenberg and a clementine tart. If I had to pick a favourite it would have to be the chocolate hazelnut eclair, an absolutely delightful confection of feather-light choux pastry and  creamy, nutty (like Nutella only better) goodness.

At £22.50 per person the full afternoon tea isn't cheap, but is far better value than the equivalent at any of the top hotels. The quality here is just as high and the atmosphere a lot livelier and more fun than the sometimes ossified environment of a posh hotel dining room (I think they would call it refined, at times such places feel more like 'funeral parlour' to me). Exceedingly good, except for those scones.

Oh yeah, and we drank Earl Grey, which was nice, and they had cool tea strainers with the little cup to catch the drips on a hinge. Nifty.


55 Aldwych

The Delaunay on Urbanspoon

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