It's impossible to doze off in front of the telly these days without glimpsing at least one group of sweaty novices in chef's whites quaking before a disdainful food critic or scowling chef. I could make a decent living just by accepting every invitation I get to appear as a judge on one of these shows – and let's face it, some of my peers do just that.
Having always spurned reality shows because they're watched by "eight million morons", Raymond Blanc is currently doing a Marco, as it's known, by appearing on BBC2's The Restaurant, putting a group of would-be restaurateurs through their paces. It's relatively non-moronic, and offers some useful advice, for the tiny sub-sector of the audience who run restaurants but are nevertheless at home at 8pm on a Wednesday night. But one topic it doesn't touch on is how to hang on to your staff.
It's a subject M. Blanc might find a little sensitive right now, with the opening of Texture, an ambitious new restaurant almost entirely staffed by defectors from Le Manoir Aux Quat'Saisons. Former head chef Agnar Sverrisson and head sommelier Xavier Rousset have set up on their own in central London, and taken a crack squad of former Manoir employees with them. It's as though half the Chelsea players decided to start their own team. And then chose a really crap name for it.
Texture (what, was Flavour already taken?) opened quietly last month near Oxford Street in what was recently, and briefly, an upmarket Indian called Deya. In an Ozymandian touch, the old door handles are still in place, shaped like the swirly "D" of Deya's logo. As Deya's former backer, Michael Caine, might have complained, "You were only supposed to blow the bloody door handles off."
The interior has been remodelled, with any traces of the Orient blown away by clean, pale North European modernism. There's an attractive modern luxe bar, whose none-more-beige velvet chairs and high chrome stools positively beg to have a designer shopping bag slung down next to them while the owner sips something from the list of 85-plus champagnes.
The nibbles that come with aperitifs are the first sign that Iceland-born Sverisson has broken free from the exquisite modern French formality of his mentor. Alongside the Parmesan wafers, with wasabi emulsion for dipping, nestles a Nordic interloper in the form of crisp wafers of fried cod skin. Somewhere between a pork scratching and prawn cracker, they are surprisingly palatable, though we overheard another guest denouncing them in terms that would have brought a blush to the cheek of an Icelandic trawlerman.
The dining room continues the balancing act between the contemporary and the formal. The high ceiling boasts ornate Georgian plasterwork, and there are a few petrified trees scattered around, but otherwise there's not much to distract from the serious business of eating. And no tablecloths. That's unusual in a Michelin-star seeking restaurant, which it's clear Texture is, from the first mouthful of a pre-starter that combined celeriac and apple to sensational effect.
Starters explore variations on a theme, most notably in a dish described as "tomato and artichoke textures", which presents those ingredients in various intricately worked ways, including a phial of pale "tomato water " that delivers an incredible sun-drenched kick.
Anjou pigeon is partnered with two varieties of sweetcorn: fresh, and detonated into bacon-flavoured popcorn. Seared Scottish scallops were of such fantastic quality that the accompanying "cauliflower textures" were irrelevant; I could have been given a cauliflower sculpted into a scale model of Rolf Harris's head and I would barely have noticed.
The toasted grains that adorned a main course of roast breast of black-leg chicken triggered a realisation that Sverisson's cooking is lighter, brighter and healthier than most haute cuisine. There are traces of the mad perfectionism you associate with Heston Blumenthal, and something of Tom Aikens in the impastoed slashes of purée on the picture-perfect plates. But Sverisson is clearly his own man. His pairing of roasted Icelandic cod and crisp chorizo, with avocado purée and cocoa beans, elevated it stratospherically from the surf and turf cliché of the Noughties. Slow-cooked shoulder of Icelandic lamb comes with a side dish of barley-rich lamb broth, like an epicurean Scotch broth.
The lighter touch carries through to the desserts. A lemongrass and ginger soup brimming with strawberries, passion fruit and figs may have been the healthy option, but it was also the most delicious, though a "muesli" of milk sorbet scattered with cereals and seeds was too close to the breakfast original for comfort.
Service throughout is faultless, from a young team who combine precision-drilled efficiency with a warmth and personality rare in a high-end restaurant. Even my militant feminist friend, who initially rolled her eyes when one of the three sommeliers filled the ladies' glasses before the gents, was utterly won over.
The cheapest dinner option is a fixed £45 for three courses, but aperitifs, wine – a 2005 Rustenberg Chardonnay (£32) from the 300-bin list – and service pushed our total bill up to nearer £75 a head. Texture's new owners are obviously banking on attracting London diners prepared to spend serious money on good food and wine, but who don't necessarily want the stifling formality that usually accompanies fine-dining.
Good luck to them. It isn't often that I leave an upmarket London restaurant thinking: "When can I come back?" but that was the case with Texture. Though sadly the answer would have to be: "When someone else is paying." Unless, of course, I start taking on a bit more of that TV work ...
Texture, 34 Portman Square, London W1 (020-7224 0028)
£45 for three-course dinner menu, excluding wine and service
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