I know what you're thinking. Twickenham. Oh dear. Twickers. Rugby. Hearty blokes quaffing warm ale in riverside pubs.
I know what you're thinking. Twickenham. Oh dear. Twickers. Rugby. Hearty blokes quaffing warm ale in riverside pubs. Boring. Move on. But let's give the place a chance. After all, things were once really rocking down there in the badlands of Middlesex. English rock'n'roll was practically born in Twickenham. The Stones and The Who played early gigs on Eel Pie Island. The Yardbirds were hatched there. And Rod Stewart was discovered busking on Twickenham Station. Just last week.
It may no longer be the centre of English rock, but there's a happening little food scene nowadays, led by one-man band John McClements, who in rock'n'roll terms would be Twickenham's Beatles and Stones rolled into one. Originally from Liverpool, he's been cooking in the area for 25 years. His ever-popular restaurant, McClements, won a Michelin star this year, more than 15 years after opening. And a second branch of his side project, Ma Cuisine, has just opened in nearby Kew, serving authentic and reasonably priced French bistro food to grateful locals.
Admirable though Ma Cuisine sounds, it was McClements that drew me to Twickenham, and the news that one of Tom Aikens' top chefs, Daniel Woodhouse, had recently taken over in the kitchen. Now the McClements team have their sights set on a second Michelin star.
Given its heavyweight reputation, McClements is modestly proportioned, and even more modestly positioned, in a suburban parade of shops on a roundabout not far from Twickenham station (altogether now, "We are sailing ..."). It's the kind of location in which you might expect to find a Michelin garage, but not a Michelin star. Two doors down the road, Ma Cuisine is doing good business, while big brother McClements feels comfortably full, though we were able to get a same-day booking.
Behind an art deco-ish façade extends a plain, elegant room, holding maybe a dozen tables (and not a single rugby shirt between them). It's smart, rather than posh. A seven-course Menu Degustation is available for £60 a head, while the regular menu offers three courses for a fixed price of £48, with no supplements.
McClements treads a careful line between dazzling modern-French refinement and the satisfying indulgences of the brasserie. A hearty selection of superb breads - rye, rosemary and rock salt, olive tapenade, and one variety introduced as "ordinary self-raising" - ushers in the arrival of a dainty amuse-bouche, a tasting spoon of celeriac remoulade, with a disc of foie gras.
My guest was one of the true gentlemen of west London's rock aristocracy (I know I've flogged the rock'n'roll theme to death, but it really was Nick Lowe, OK?). For some reason, from a selection of starters that encompassed such delights as wild salmon cured with beetroot, and scallops with deep-fried baby squid, he chose a meditation on the theme of carrot and tomato. The dish was a technical tour de force, in which carrots appeared jellied, pickled and oven-baked, alongside tomatoes spun into a fine white foam which wobbled on the plate like panna cotta. For a vegan, this explosion of summery sweetness would be seventh heaven. But an old rocker needs something a bit savoury to get the juices flowing.
My own starter showed what terrific results could be achieved when technical excellence combined with something you might actually want to eat. A single, lobster-crammed raviolo, all slippery luxury, came with a skewered claw, in a lightly cappuccinoed vanilla-scented sauce. On the page, both main courses read a little autumnal for a hot August night, but were delivered with an impeccable lightness of touch. Veal sweetbreads, pan-fried and finished in the oven, came with tiny lyonnaise potatoes and pickled baby turnip, carrot and onions. Nick's faultless sea bass fillet, with girolle mushrooms and garlic scape, inspired him to announce "They don't call it the managing director of fish for nothing!" There must be something about Twickenham.
Service is friendly and attentive, if not always in a good way. The exhaustive explanation of exactly what garlic scape is (the mild green stalk of the plant, in brief) and how it's prepared was only terminated by me hissing, "You can get it in Waitrose!" Still, our faith in the front-of-house team was reinforced by the fabulous condition of a board of French farmhouse cheeses in various stages of liquidity and stinkiness. Our waiter talked us through the selection like Serge Gainsbourg telling Jane Birkin exactly what he was going to do to her when he got her home. With pre-desserts, and a generous dish of petit fours, there wasn't really any need for a dessert, but what the heck, it's included in the price. Mine was a wonderfully subtle composition, featuring almond pudding with malted milk, pistachio mousse and honeycomb tuile.
McClements isn't cheap, and if you want to indulge in a spot of rock'n'roll excess, the wine list goes all the way up to 11, with a top end of £2,000. But it's a special-occasion place, and this was one of the best meals I've had all year. Certainly the best I've ever had in Twickenham.
McClements, 2 Whitton Road, Twickenham, Middlesex, 020-8744 9610
SECOND HELPINGS: SPORTING GREATS
By Christian Broughton
After watching Man Utd or Lancashire, head into town to celebrate. The décor here is 1950s Little Italy, and the menu has something for even the fussiest mobster: from pizza and pasta to sea bass in gremolada, with a pint of Sicilian Messina beer.
8 Clarence Street, Manchester (0161 835 9860)
When the whistle blows at the Millennium Stadium, make your way to Cardiff Bay for unstuffy fine dining. Food ranges from John Dory with parsnip purée to Thai beef salad, and desserts such as sticky toffee pudding are irresistible.
Stuart Street, Cardiff (029 2049 2400)
60 Hope Street
When you get your Anfield tickets, book here too. Down by the cathedral, this restaurant/bar/café is one of Mersey's finest. It's ever-so modern European (roast duck with spiced pumpkin, chorizo and thyme jus) in an unpretentious way.
60 Hope Street, Liverpool (0151 707 6060)
Le Champignon Sauvage
A big win at the Gold Cup is well spent at this serious gastro temple. Forty-four pounds buys three memorable courses: from a red mullet, roasted buckwheat salad, almonds and wood sorrel starter to frozen prune and burdock root mousse.
24 Suffolk Road, Cheltenham (01242 573449)Reuse content