It was my friend Lindsey Bareham who first suggested the trip to Riva's. "He's right up your street," she said. "He's been in and around the London restaurant scene for years, but now has his own place. It's Italian, simple and, well, proper." Just the sort of place to drop in to and have a veal chop.
Recently, a friend of mine told me how he now found it difficult to experience the same satisfaction in many British restaurants as he enjoys in similar establishments on the continent: "They are all too designed now - too well thought out," he said. "Tables are not just tables any more; chairs are looked at rather than sat in; and waiters care more about where they are doing their job, rather than why they are doing it." He does have a point, you know.
I remember strolling into Lipp, in Paris, several years ago, for a solitary Sunday lunch before catching the plane back to London. I had been staying around the corner in rue Jacob, so bags had been packed, taxi booked, and only the Sunday papers needed choosing from the kiosk on St Germain en route.
I had not booked, although one must learn to wait if one wishes to sit nicely at Lipp: downstairs, back room, yes, but never, ever, "la haut". The favoured spot for the lone luncher is in the middle of the restaurant, across the way from the bar, itself overlooked by two immaculately coiffed and powdered ladies who do the adding up with a beadiness that beggars belief. It is pure entertainment to sit at these tables, watching the cashiers, the waiters rushing past, drinks being served, eavesdropping on lunchtime conversation from either side, improving one's French ...
It was veal that day, too - a fricandeau de veau roti (epinards ou lasagnettes) - and, my, was it good! Asked if I might like another tender slice, I replied, "Bien sur, c'est delicieux! Et le jus..." - for it delivered everything that it usually fails to do on these shores - "ca c'etait extra!" Well, they brought me a bowlful, those dear waiters. Enough to eat as a soup. Which I did.
There is nothing astonishing about a veal chop with butter and sage. Nor was the fricandeau de veau roti masquerading as a dainty piece of milk-fed veal, nestled upon a bed of spinach and anointed with a rich veal jus. No. Both were simply lunch. Delicious lunch maybe, but still just lunch.
A hot August evening, Milan, 1985. To Ristorante Alfredo-Gran San Bernardo on the outskirts of the city, for trippa and risotto alla Milanese. This is one of those restaurants that just sings its pedigree the minute you walk through the door: brightly lit, white linen tablecloths, white-jacketed waiters of a certain age, simple glassware, a formal welcome spiked by a gentle insistence that "you may wish to order quite quickly as last orders are at nine ..." We ate the risotto, both sloppy and al salto (fried into a crisp cake), and followed this with a plate of the tripe apiece. It was veal tripe - soft, tender, almost sweet and correctly smelly, just this side of a fine andouillette.
I find myself feeling more and more sympathetic to establishments that know they don't have to try too hard when offering good food. Memories of good eating flood back from places like these whenever I am urged to inform. The coming high summer months will, no doubt, stimulate me more towards sunny country kitchens, garden lunches, salad recipes, cold collations, abundant indigenous produce and a big jug of fragrant Pimm's. Who knows?
Veal chop with butter and sage, serves 2
2 veal chops
salt and pepper
a little flour
a good slice of butter, plus a little more
a slug of olive oil
10-12 sage leaves
2-4 wedges of lemon
Season the chops and dust lightly with the flour. Take a large frying- pan, and in it melt the butter with the oil until it starts to foam. Put in the chops and turn the heat down. Allow to sizzle quietly for about 5-7 minutes on each side, until golden and firm to the touch of a finger. Place on a serving dish and keep warm in a low oven. Add some more butter to the pan and turn up the heat a little. When the butter is frothing fling the sage leaves in. Stir until the leaves start to crisp up and curl, but be careful not to let the butter burn. Spoon over the chops and serve at once, garnished with the lemon wedges. Eat with plain boiled or mashed potatoes.
Le Fricandeau de veau aux epinards, serves 4-6
The veal was good at Lipp, but the spinach was memorable. That is possibly just because it was the first time I had eaten grey spinach. When you cook spinach leaves briefly, in copious amounts of butter until wilted, that is one thing - and delicious too. But if you stew, braise and let it simmer in the lowest possible heat for an hour or so - or the time it takes to serve a busy lunch chez Lipp - what emerges is quite a different vegetable. Slimy, soft, unctuous: a mess of deep olive slop. And what a fabulous taste! Bugger your bouncy bobby beans! On your bike you bright green peeled broad beans and miserable mange touts! That spinach was so tremendously good. But I forget, it was just lunch, wasn't it.
1 tbsp olive oil
a good slice of butter
1 piece of veal topside, or a boned, rolled and tied rump of veal - about 1.5kg
salt and pepper
2 tbsp flour
2 small onions, peeled and quartered
3 flat, dark-gilled mushrooms, cut in two
approx half a bottle of white wine - not less
Pre-heat the oven to 275F/140C/gas mark 1. Take a heavy-bottomed, lidded casserole (an oval Le Creuset is ideal here), and in it melt the butter and oil. Season the veal all over and roll in the flour. Allow the fats to froth then put in the meat. Over a gentle heat, colour the veal all over until it is a rich golden brown. Lift out and put on a plate. Add the onions and mushrooms and cook until these, too, are well gilded. Spoon out any excess fat and replace the veal on to the bed of vegetables. Pour in the wine and let it come to the boil. Turn the meat around once, put the lid on and place in the oven. Cook for 2 hours, turning the meat over occasionally, and checking from time to time that there is enough liquid in the pot. Add more wine if need be.
Carefully lift the meat from the pot, and strain the liquid through a fine sieve. Cut the string from the joint and carve into thick slices using a very sharp knife. Re-heat the strained jus and spoon over the meat.
To make the epinards, take two bags of washed supermaket spinach (no need to trim the stalks) and dry well. Take a large stew pan and in it melt half a packet of butter. Put in the spinach and cook down until it is still bright green but soft and well coated with the butter. Season with salt, pepper and freshly grated nutmeg. Transfer to a smaller, lidded pot and put in to the oven for one hour alongside the veal, stirring occasionally, and to coincide with when the veal is ready to serve.
Il risotto alla Milanese, serves 6
Sadly, I cannot furnish you with a recipe for the tripe, as it is not possible to find veal tripe here in Britain - more's the pity. But you have two veal dishes already, so a third might be overdoing it. The following recipe for this risotto comes from The River Cafe Cookbook (Ebury Press, pounds 15). It is here because I recently ate a very fine example - if the tiniest tad salty - at the new restaurant Sartoria, in London's Savile Row.
Darren Simpson, Sartoria's exceptionally talented chef, worked well with the River Caff Girls (he used to work quite well with me, too) and has clearly mastered the art of stirring the arborio to make it into that special ... ooh... just into that yellow, yummy, cheesy stuff.
1 litre chicken stock
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
150g butter, at room temperature
2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium red onion, peeled and very finely chopped
300g risotto rice
1 tsp saffron threads, soaked in a little hot stock
75ml dry white vermouth
175g Parmesan, freshly grated
Heat the chicken stock and check for seasoning. Melt 75g of the butter and all the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan and gently fry the onion until soft, about 15-20 minutes. Add the rice and, off the heat, stir until the grains becomes totally coated; this takes only a minute. Return to the heat, add 2 ladles of hot stock, or just enough to cover, and simmer, stirring, until the rice has absorbed nearly all the liquid. Add the saffron. Continue to add more stock as the previous addition is absorbed. Nearly all of the stock will have been absorbed by the rice; each grain will have a creamy coating, but will remain al dente. Add the remaining butter in small pieces, the vermouth and the Parmesan, being careful not to overstir. Serve immediately.
In its introduction, The River Cafe Cookbook mentions the inclusion of bone marrow but does not include it in the recipe. I would include it, but these days, I suppose it would have to be veal bone marrow which you could add, chopped up with the butter and onions, omitting the olive oil - which is hardly necessary anyway. The vermouth is a brilliant move
Riva, 169 Church Road (entrance in Castelnau), London SW13 (0181-748 0434); Brasserie Lipp, 151 Boulevard Saint-Germain, Paris 6ieme (00 331 45 48 53 91); Ristorante Alfredo-Gran San Bernardo, via Borgese, 14, 20154 Milano (00 392 331 9000). Sartoria, 20 Savile Row, London W1(0171- 534 7000).Reuse content