My parents were obsessed with guide books. Michelin guides, Egon Ronay, The Good Food Guide - they were annually updated and perused to find the most suitable restaurant wherever we were going (with greatest emphasis usually on the wine). Over the years I often found myself "reviewing" dinners to my husband as we ate, praising and criticising and occasionally, if I was really angry, posting a review on an online forum.
So when my darling husband presented me with my Christmas present - the opportunity to accompany Tracey MacLeod on a restaurant review - I was speechless. At last, the chance to take part in a real review. What an honour.
It was decided that our venue would be Marcus Wareing. His restaurant at the Berkeley is now Number 52 on the St Pelligrino list of 100 Best restaurants in the world. Just think about how many restaurants there are - and this is considered the 52nd best on the entire planet. What an opportunity!
I learnt a lot that evening. Firstly, that a combination of cod and black pudding is rather good. The other canapés were a bit on the nothing side. A big no-no was the smoked tomato puree/pate; imagine tomato puree mixed with ashtray; not good. But I had already ventured into uncharted culinary waters and for that I was happy.
My starter was an extraordinary mixture of tastes and textures, perfect scallops accompanied by a cauliflower puree which is always a winner, pretty well cooked cod with a slightly overpowering macadamia nut element, some fourme d'Ambert cheese which I could not detect, tiny nasturtiums and white chocolate which, even though it was a minor part of the dish turned it all into something far too sweet. My husband’s starter of ravioli of quail was so good he wasn’t prepared to share it, but Tracey gave me a taste of her veal sweetbreads, and you know what? Scary but delicious. A sort of foie gras/meaty veal combination which I know I will eat again. Once again, I am learning.
Our main courses were all a bit on the "Oh dear me" side.
Mine was Rhug farm Welsh suckling pig, cooked for twenty four hours, with braised chicory and pommes mousseline. Elements were stupendous; it was, I think the shoulder cut which made me think of dancing on little fluffy clouds of baby pig but all I could think was "Where's the jus"? It was too dry, the pommes mousseline were lacking in seasoning and to be honest I can’t even remember the braised chicory! Roger's lamb was a sad dish, the caraway far, far too overpowering.
Tracey once again sent us into uncharted territory when she insisted that we both try our first frog’s leg. Roger bravely led the way, and decided it was a bit like "crap chicken". I took the coward's route and sliced off the smallest piece I possibly could; as it sat in my mouth all I could think of saying was "pondy." This part of the meal was not helped by Tracey's impression of a frog, which led to talk of Shrek's father-in-law and that song by the Beatles man.
We asked for a selection of cheese, and we got one; possibly enough cheese to keep an anorexic miniature mouse going for about half an hour.
Puddings, what can I say? Banana Jelly - interesting; chocolate fondant-type thingy - crumbly and rich; Roger's deconstructed Eton mess - predictable.
Despite these quibbles, we had a great night; great wine, great conversation and great, great laughs.Thank you for such a thoughtful present, my dearest Dodge.