By definition, a signature dish is something unique, indelibly linked with a particular chef or restaurant. Sometimes it is an inadvertent icon, becoming a "signature" through the sheer number of times it is written on the order pad.
The London dining scene is graffiti'd with such signatures: St John's roasted bone marrow, Nobu's black cod and miso, Gordon's cappuccino of white beans with grated truffles, McDonald's Big Mac.
At Angelus, a new French brasserie from Thierry Tomasin, best known from his days as sommelier at Le Gavroche and general manager of Aubergine, the " foie gras crème brûlée with toasted bread, £7" looks set to make its mark. The light, whippy foie gras mousse is set in the well of a shallow white bowl, encrusted with a crunchy sugar topping, dramatically flecked with poppy seeds.
While the idea of the dish has been bumming around Paris and New York for 10 years, Angelus' chef Olivier Duret's version has impressed several of my fellow critics, prompting such responses as "devilishly good", "stellar" and "an It starter".
I'm a bit shattered to discover that I don't particularly like it, finding the texture of the livers too wet and mushy, and the crust sweet and soft. It seems a dish made more for the sound-bite than the mouth bite.
Angelus is named after the historic bell passed from father to son in the Tomasin family. Indeed, the idea – seasoned professional converts an old Lancaster Gate pub (the former Archery Tavern) into an upmarket French brasserie with an experienced Parisian-trained chef in the kitchen – has a promising ring to it.
It doesn't feel quite settled yet, as if torn between being a neighbourhood brasserie or something more upmarket. Tables are set with white cloths, fine cutlery and glassware, and ornate glass chandeliers float above bare wooden floors and the predictable art-nouveau-style mirrors. There is an adjoining bar with stools of crushed purple velvet, and a large lounge to the rear with no atmosphere at all.
The menu is modern French on holidays, by way of a Spanish chorizo crust on yellow pollock, a Moroccan spice crust on a rack of lamb, and a Japanese salt and sesame seed mixture (gomasio) with an otherwise traditional duck terrine. It's essentially French cooking, however, as any Italian would tell you who tried the "open ravioli" of poached egg and artichoke purée with walnut oil (£6). The bedspread of pasta is soft and wet, and the flowing egg yolk beneath it further moistens the purée, so it's all a pool of mush and bland to boot.
The wine list is the real drawcard, but seated as I am with my back to the room, I haven't succeeded in being able to order a wine before the first courses land on the table – a cardinal sin. Eventually, I get a 2005 Domaine A & T Villaine Mercurey Les Montots (£39), a meaty, sappy pinot from the Côtes Chalonnaise that works well with oven-roasted Anjou pigeon (£19). The bird is unfashionably well-cooked and nicely matched with soldiers of bacon-wrapped salsify. It's the wine-friendly dish of the night.
Hoping for a gentle vegetable stew, my guest looks askance at his vegetable and wild mushroom casserole (£14). It's a dry fricassee, if there is such a thing, of bitsy chopped-up veggies that is not, he says, a million miles away from a stir-fry.
His cherry clafoutis (£7) is a cute batter cake with a bright-as-a-button fromage frais sorbet and poached fresh cherries on the side. Cheeses (£9) are uninspired.
It has been a spotty performance, but the chef can cook, the wine list is praiseworthy, and Tomasin's theatrically Gallic maître d' performance is additional to his professional commitment, not instead of it. You get a classy restaurant experience at neighbourhood brasserie prices, and that's something that would ring most people's bells.
Scores: 1-9 stay home and cook 10-11 needs help 12 ok 13 pleasant enough 14 good 15 very good 16 capable of greatness 17 special, can't wait to go back 18 highly honourable 19 unique and memorable 20 as good as it gets
Angelus, 4 Bathurst Street, London W2. Tel: 020 7402 0083. Lunch and dinner daily. Around £100 for two with drinksand service
Second Helpings: Le Gavroche alumni
Vowels Lane, East Grinstead, West Sussex, tel: 01342 810 567
Owner/chef Mark Raffan was chef de partie at Le Gavroche from '85 to '86. Today he oversees a country house menu with all the trimmings.
Restaurant Martin Wishart
54 The Shore, Leith, Edinburgh, tel: 0131 553 3557
Wishart was commis chef at Le Gavroche from '93 to '94. His assured, refined technique shows in dishes such as lobster and smoked haddock soufflé.
68-69 Royal Hospital Road, London SW3, tel: 020 7352 4441
The two years our Gordon spent at Le Gavroche ('88-'90) helped shape the cooking that was to create London's only three-Michelin-star restaurant.Reuse content