Goode & Wright, 271 Portobello Road, Notting Hill, London W11
Prolific writer and commentator John Walsh contributes columns to the paper as well as writing features, interviews and restaurant reviews. He has been editor of The Independent Magazine, literary editor of the Sunday Times and features editor of the London Evening Standard.
Saturday 12 January 2013
Did I dream it all? The clothes pegs, the pink rabbit, the raw duck, the Magritte painting (Ceci n'est pas une pipe) and the Amelie connection? I woke at 2.15am, sweatily alarmed that I might have hallucinated the whole thing. But no, I'd been to dinner at Goode & Wright, where it all really happened. Mind you, I'd had my first shot of absinthe while I was there, so you can understand my concern.
Absinthe is, of course, the drink of decadence, the wildly alcoholic, wormwood-and-anise spirit beloved of Rimbaud and Verlaine, Wilde and Hemingway. It was banned in France in 1914, after being accused of ruining lives. "It makes a ferocious beast of man, a martyr of woman, and a degenerate of the infant," wrote one critic. "It disorganises and ruins the family and menaces the future of the country." So, naturally, I brought my older children along to try some with me.
They make a big fuss of preparing the stuff at Goode & Wright – 'they' being Jimmy Tardy, the charismatic Parisian waiter who presides over the restaurant like a cabaret turn (he even sings) and once worked at Les Deux Moulins in Montmartre, made famous by the film Amelie.
Jimmy brings a whole off-licence of paraphernalia to your table – four thin bottles of the spirit, plus cordials, schnapps, sugar, champagne – and an absinthe 'fountain', a samovar with four taps, which drips cranberry-flavoured water over a flaming sugar cube on a slotted spoon over a glass of the toxic syrup to make a classic 'Green Fairy'. I tried one. It was damnably strong and very like pernod, except for a fugitive aftertaste of grave-soil and charnel houses. Sophie's Fontaine Flower added elderflower and champagne, and tasted tart and serious. Max's Crazy Bellini (with added peach and champers) was softer, sweeter and delicious.
The cocktail-making theatricals brought other diners to our table to see how it worked. It almost eclipsed the fact that Goode & Wright is a restaurant. Located at the grim end of Portobello where it meets the Westway, it's a cute, mignon bistro, starkly designed with wood-panelled walls, dangling globe lights, monochrome diamond floor tiles, half-curtained windows (below which sits a fluffy pink lapin), a handful of Magritte paintings and lots of clothes-pegs. A gypsy theme? No, it's how they serve the bill, pegged to a business card.
The food, prepared by Finlay Logan, is remarkable. Mr Logan is a Scot of precision and flair. He's a whizz with oysters. A buttermilk-fried-then-grilled oyster served with spinach on a sourdough bun to resemble a 'slider' was a delightful miniature. My duck tartare with oysters was served with raw egg yolk to mix in – it was slimy and slithery in texture but tasted delicious cut with cornichons, capers, parsley and pickled chilli, the whole assembly offset by the crunch of sourdough toast. Duck foie gras poêlé, another touch of decadence, came anointed with truffle honey and served with a brioche – and a shot-glass of sauternes. "Zere needs something sweet to welcome zer foie gras," muttered Jimmy. (Pretentious, lui?)
Main courses brought a smoked haddock brandade – a familiar winter dish, but served here in a whiskey tumbler, with a poached egg lurking in the middle of the mash and some roundels of chorizo, surmounted by grated pecorino cheese. Such boldness. "It's superb," said Max, "but you don't want to find the egg halfway down, you want it all over the place at once – you know, like Juan Mata." (He's a Chelsea fan.)
A plate of grey mullet, pan-fried with butter and finished with a langoustine reduction, came accessorised with langoustine legs, a celeriac remoulade and mustard mayonnaise. The mullet was on the dry side, but the shellfish made a toothsome bonus. My pork belly was the most conventional dish of the night – a huge tranche of pork roasted to the consistency of a barn roof post-fire (the crackling was fantastic), it was fibrous, peasant comfort food on a bed of caramelised mash and 'gravy'. Did they mean jus? "Zis is a bistro," said Jimmy sulkily. "We do gravy."
Full to the brim (with a carafe of viognier and a bottle of beaujolais) we tried but failed to ignore the pudding menu. Dark chocolate mousse with salted caramel ice-cream was splendid, but topped by what seemed to be an unannounced granita. Max's Café Gourmand was a childhood treat – a giant vanilla marshmallow – drenched in serious Monmouth espresso, and was heaven. My crème brûlée (served in a grubby, backstairs tin bowl rather than a ramekin dish) came with a crème de praline on a palmier biscuit that it didn't really need. But it summed up the ethos of Goode & Wright, which is to give you more of everything than you expect – including charm, welcome, flavour and allegedly addictive psychoactive drugs. I enjoyed it all. There's (sorry about this) nothing bad & wrong about Goode & Wright.
Goode & Wright, 271 Portobello Road, Notting Hill, London W11 (020-7727 5552). Around £100 for two with wine (and absinthe)
Tipping policy: "Service charge is 12.5 per cent discretionary. All tips and service charge go to the staff"
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