They used to say never trust a skinny chef. Now you can't trust a fat one. We are witnessing a sea-change in gastronomy; gone is the cream and butter, foie gras and rich, fat-laden charcuterie. In their place come the concentrated flavours of highly seasonal produce and new techniques such as gels, mousses and foams that give us flavour without the fat. Portions are smaller, presentation simpler and the effect on the body lighter.
Chefs such as René Redzepi of Noma in Copenhagen, Sergio Herman of Oud Sluis in the Netherlands, and Alain Passard of Arpège in Paris have been advocating this lighter eating for some time. Now Agnar Sverrisson enters the fray with his own Nordic-influenced cuisine.
In his new-as-paint Marble Arch restaurant, the Icelandic former senior chef of Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons has gone back to his roots with a menu representing the icy-clean flavours of northern Europe without the pickled-herring clichés. So Icelandic cod is served with avocado purée and chorizo; Icelandic lamb comes with a broth of barley and root vegetables; and pan-fried scallops accompany a variety of "cauliflower textures".
The extremely textural appetiser of paper-thin crisps, fashioned from cod skin, potato and seaweed bread, evokes memories of Redzepi's Noma, coming here with dips of herbed yoghurt and puffed barley, and a vibrant green wasabi and gem-lettuce mousse.
There is a lightness and texture in the décor as well as the cooking. Sverrisson and co-owner Xavier Rousset, the former sommelier at Le Manoir, have transformed Deya, a flamboyant Indian, into an understated, confident space of white walls and milky coffee tones, punctuated by vivid paintings by Icelandic artist Thorlakur Morthens. A large, relaxed champagne bar gets all the views on to Portman Street, with the restaurant feeling a little divorced from the action.
The first course of tomato and artichoke textures is a riff of bits and bobs of confited, roasted, dried and raw tomatoes and artichokes strewn with flower petals and baby green leaves. It looks lightweight, but flavours are focused and it's a joy to eat. Cornish crab with champagne dressing and pickled girolles is a more conventional dish on the surface, with all sorts of tongue-tingling complexity lurking behind the freshness of the crab.
Rousset's wine list is massive, running to 420 wines, including a 1992 Petrus for £1,300. Back in the real world, a meaty, mouth-filling 2005 Akarua The Gullies (£39) is everything that is good about New Zealand Pinot Noir.
Suckling pig may not sound terribly healthy, but Sverrisson's slow-cooked Lancashire piglet is rich in finesse and flavour while being small in portion. The addition of little puddles of baby cabbage, squid legs and jellied noodles taste, surprisingly, like natural companions. There is also a gnarled, fossilised clump of pork crackling that pushes the crunchy texture idea too far.
Icelandic cod gets the full glamour treatment, roasted until it peels off into tender, juicy lobes, and teamed with delicately crisp olive bread, chorizo-studded coco beans, and a swirl of brandade and avocado purée.
A dessert of cereals, seeds, raspberries and breathtakingly good milk sorbet is a chic rework of my breakfast, followed by a polished array of petits fours.
There is something rather dreamlike about Texture. Textbook tall, slim staff glide from table to table. The cooking, while technically complex, appears effortless and the flavours pure. In spite of the generosity with little accompaniments throughout, I don't feel force-fed at all.
Texture is proof that gastronomy is changing to accommodate people who love good food but don't want to be punished by it.
SCORES: 1-9 STAY HOME AND COOK 10-11 NEEDS HELP 12 OK 13 PLEASANT ENOUGH 14 GOOD 15 VERY GOOD 16 CAPABLE OF GREATNESS 17 SPECIAL, CAN’T WAIT TO GO BACK 18 HIGHLY HONOURABLE 19 UNIQUE AND MEMORABLE 20 AS GOOD AS IT GETS
Texture, 34 Portman Square, London W1, tel: 020 7224 0028. Lunch and dinner Tues-Sat. Set price £45 per person for three courses (lunch, all dishes £8.50)
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