It's that time of the year again: the biannual Boxer Show. You may recall that, once every six months or so, this critic has dinner with the most erudite, passionate and inspiring gastronome I have ever had the pleasure of sharing a table with. Then again, Jackson Boxer and I, being ancient comrades, have shared plenty else, too. The format is simple: I ask him what's new and must be tried in UK grub; he, in return, promises brutal honesty about what we're eating.
And so to Leandro Carreira at Climpson's Arch in east London, whose alumni include Dave Pynt, now at the lauded Burnt Ends in Singapore, and Tomos Parry, who has since done remarkable things at Kitty Fisher's.
Carreira is Portuguese, charismatic and sous-chefed at Andoni Luis Aduriz's Mugaritz in Spain, which is one of those world-beater types of place. He came to London to cook with Nuno Mendes at Viajante and has also worked with James Lowe at Lyle's and Junya Yamasaki at Koya. All places, and people, that the food mafioso revere.
The one time I went to Portugal, on my first foreign assignment as a journalist, I was so busy looking for Madeleine McCann that I forgot to eat. I won't, therefore, feign expertise of Portuguese cooking. But in Jacko's words (and running the excellent Brunswick House in Vauxhall, he knows what he's talking about), you will see just how thrilling, intricate and nourishing it can be.
The rose prawns with seaweed and sorrel are steamed to a soft, whitish puce, and have heads full of succulent brown meat that begs to be eaten whole. Thick, gorgeous ribbons of black squid are drenched in their own ink, have the sweetness of attendant alliums, and come in sturdy chicory boats. A serving of pigs' ears – braised, fried, chopped – come in a sticky glaze and reclined over a generous slop of julienned raw apple. The beef with clams, juices and cured radishes is a straight-up dose of perfection on a plate. I've no option but to hand over at this point to Jacko and his stunning description: "The beef is an aged marbled rump cap, quickly charred over aggressive coals but left raw internally, to be coarsely chopped, covered in small sweet clams, lacto-fermented radishes, coriander oil, nasturtium leaves and a sauce of the most intensely flavoured, kudzu-thickened clam juice. It is rich, light, beefy, mineral, saline and immensely satisfying."
You said it, mate. But there's more, much more. Back to Jacko: "Cod's tongues, grilled, and melting into a sharp green broth, dotted with creamy coco beans; firm chunks of squash, melon-sweet, in a pumpkin-juice, miso-spiked broth, topped with slices of pickled pumpkin and grilled cime di rape; and rounds of sweet, raw Hispi cabbage, paddling in a citric broth about a poached egg yolk, strewn about with a savoury powder of trompette de mort."
See what I mean? It's elevating, energising, each dish a Portuguese orchestra melding so many different chords into a just-so harmony, not one dish overseasoned, everything where it should be and on time.
Cam, the sommelier, takes us on a tour of Iberia's finest soils, bringing out glasses with a rich minerality that complement the food consistently. We have a very good white port to go with salty, strong Portuguese sheep and goat's milk cheeses served on a trolley with rusty wheels. And dessert is brioche, soaked and grilled, resplendent with toffee and piled with caramelised hazelnuts.
In exhibiting its latest special talent, Climpson's Arch has secured its reputation as a laboratory for entrepreneurial excellence. And as your reporter on the frontline of British gastronomy, I can do no better than leave the final word to my expert friend.
"Leo is a cook's cook," says Jacko. "He cooks with charm, soul and generosity. He repeatedly hits that balance of rich, gutsy flavour balanced with delicate textures, heavy bass notes with ethereal acids and aromatics dancing high above. He sends out pigs' ears and ducks' hearts, prawns to eat whole and beef to eat raw, and it is all done without any posturing, any sense of challenging the guests, any sense of self-aggrandising gastro-adventurism. It is just because it is delicious."
Leandro Carreira at Climpson's Arch, Arch 374, Helmsley Place, London E8, £100 for two, with wine
Four more foodie notes from the past week
In garlic butter and parsley, from Lobster Alive in Barbados, the first of this four more from the Caribbean. Just about perfect.
This Jamaican fruit might look like scrambled eggs, but it is pure breakfast heaven. Why don't more people sell it here?
A bit like spinach, this green-leaf vegetable often combined with saltfish is a Jamaican staple, and is nourishing and versatile.
So named by Hawaiians, this meaty fish is cheap, healthy, and likely available from your local monger.
- More about:
- Leandro Carreira
- Andoni Luis Aduriz
- Nuno Mendes
- Kitty Fisher
- James Lowe
- madeleine mccann
- Tomos Parry
- Junya Yamasaki
- Brunswick House