October 2009


Last Monday, my parents, Paul and I had lunch at Pierre Koffman’s pop-up restaurant on the roof of Selfridges.

For those who don’t read food blogs and restaurant reviews (where it’s been documented obsessively over the last month), I will provide a synopsis:

Pierre Koffman is probably the world’s greatest living chef.  He is a man of huge renown and worthy of great respect. London Restaurant Festival ran from 08 – 13 October and as part of it Koffman agreed to come back from one week only; to cook at a restaurant on the roof of Selfridges. The restaurant ended up staying open for a few weeks, due to the unrelenting demand to eat the legendary food of this French chef, who has 3 Michelin stars.

So, we were very fortunate to get a table. I have my dad to thank you from the bottom of my heart for the experience.

We met at Selfridges at 12.30. I had barely slept, terrified that I would get sudden food poisoning and not be able to go.  I was a nervous wreck because I wanted to take a jacket back whilst on Oxford Street – the shop had left the security tag in – and it kept setting of the alarms in Selfridges.  I had visions of missing the meal, sat in a windowless security room explaining how I was not a shop-lifter.  Then the improbably calm and pretty lady on the private Pierre Koffman lift didn’t have our name on the list. Oh, there we were. And then the adventure began.

I felt like Alice, falling up rather than down. As the lift went to floor 5, I left behind the London I knew and entered somewhere different, somewhere way above the rooftops, resting on the clouds. I was nearly delirious.

We started we cocktails, I had a Cosmo 150. A sharp but sweet pink number that settled my nerves.  Mum and I trying discreetly (craning our necks and barely refraining from standing on the chairs) to see if any celebrities were tucking in.

An amouse-bouche of salty cod told a promise of savoury deliciousness yet to come.  I chose the two most challenging dishes (snails, bone marrow, pigs trotters – I felt brave to order them). I read on the many, many blogs and columns about Pierre that pig trotters were his signature dish – many wrote that they were the most incredible thing they had ever eaten. It was too good a chance to miss. Although it did set the bar a little high.

My starter arrived. Succulent snails and morels cooked in meaty juices, served on a piece of bone, with a couple of unctuous lumps of bone marrow dotted about was very tasty. This was not a place for plate licking, so I did my best with a piece of bread.

I was so determined to enjoy every moment that I refused to be annoyed by the hurried service.  At this stage in the meal it resembled a table-turning waiter on Brick Lane, as my main arrived nearly on top of my starter.  And there it was – a pigs trotter – no fancy camouflage or towers or trickery to hide it actualness as a pigs foot. Wow, there are the toes, I thought as I tucked into its soft skin (ankle end first). The skin was yielding, fatty, the texture good in a way pork fat has never been good before (and probably never will be since). I cut away more of the fat, to reveal tucked inside the foot creamy veal sweetbreads. It was incredibly rich. Dense, warm, meaty, salty. I went through it slowly. If I zone out for a moment I can still just about taste it.  At the time of eating I wouldn’t have said it was the best thing I had ever eaten. It was too alien, too disorienting an object. But now I can’t stop thinking about. It has had a profound impact on my palate.

Pudding was an eggy, sweet pistachio soufflé, mercifully served a good twenty minutes after the main courses. I couldn’t have managed it any quicker. I shared Paul’s cheese, which were better than the soufflé.  Although they were nearly crawling across the plate they were so blue and runny. Not his idea of a good cheese (red Leicester is a bit exotic).

All this was washed down with one bottle of exceptional white wine, and then another, this time of red. I also had an espresso martini to finish up. Bare in mind my mum doesn’t drink, and you can see why the whole thing has started to take on the air of an alternate reality in my memory.

The abundance of wine, the party atmosphere in the room on Monday lunchtime and the vaguely chaotic service added to the feeling of being at a very fancy mad hatters tea party.

At work the next day, I could hardly talk about it. It felt like I’d experienced something other-worldly, as if I’d played at being princess for the day.  Transported to foodie heaven, never quite the same again. (I’ve eaten pigs trotter for God’s sake!)

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Let’s start with the worst, and get that over with. On weekends we like to eat breakfast at either Hackney City Farm (top quality sausages) or The Premises (proper greasy fry-up). But we’ve eaten in both of them a lot recently and I wanted to try somewhere new. The Book Club opened last week so I thought that would do.

It was absolutely dire. The worst. And we didn’t even eat the food.

The ambiance was all so Shoreditch, so forced and pretentious. But I was willing to forgive all the edgy décor if the food was good. We ordered freshly squeezed orange juice and the full English. It came to £17.50. The bar lady poured out the orange juice from a carton, which said ‘From Concentrate’ across it. It was the kind of juice you would expect at a Travelodge bar or local football match.

I was furious! £2.75 for Sunpride! Not a good start. We waited 40 minutes for the food. We expected the worst, but we also expected to be fed.  So I complained and we got our money back and left, never to return.

We went to Canteen in Spitalfields and had Bloody Mary’s with bacon, eggs and bubble & squeak. On the menu there’s lots of hype about their pure-bread organic well-educated elite cattle, but the food actually delivers. It’s nice. It’s cheered us up anyway (although that could have been the vodka).

It was to be a day of false starts followed by successful surprises.  Next up: the queue for an exhibition I wanted to see was horrendous, so we ditched the culture in favour of Ice Cream Sundaes at Fortnum & Masons. Oh what fun!  We chose the Beekeeper, which came with three big scoops of ice cream, honey, crystallised ginger and honeycomb pieces. It was a very adult way to enjoy children’s food. We spent the next hour in a dizzy sugar high perusing gentleman’s accessories and food hampers.

Honeycomb, honey, ginger, icecream, a wafer! Heaven in a cut glass crystal bowl? Probably

Honeycomb, honey, ginger, ice-cream, a wafer! Heaven in a cut glass crystal bowl? Probably.

So, food for thought, if I may; tried and tested works.

I must apologise, I have been away for a while. Mostly, I have been eating and drinking in Barcelona. A nice long blog with lovely photos to come all about that, I promise.

In the meanwhile, this post is dedicated to dumplings, booze and my darling friend Sinead.  I love eating with Sinead; together we go to the edge of gluttony and beyond – sod the bill and calories and everything else. Every dish we consume together is thought about, discussed and then wolfed. She was the first person I met who I could fully share my obsessive love of food with – from oysters to mini chicken kievs – we share a passion for that YUM factor. I miss not living on the same corridor as her.

When we decided to meet in Chinatown, I knew I had to take her to Fushia Dunlop’s resturant; Ba Shan.  I was looking for an excuse to go after a delightful dumpling feast there with Paul many months ago.

Sinead and I surpassed ourselves: gobbling down a dizzying array of Chinese small bites and traditional street food. We talked about flavours, we dipped in chilli oil, we downed tsingtao beer, we had a Sichuan pepper-eating contest – I think we drew at 3 in one go each. (For those not acquainted with the Sichuan Pepper; they are devilish little peppercorns that are both hot and cold, numbing your mouth in an addictively painful tingle).

Neither of us cared much for the other people dining, as we giggled, shouted and (accidently) threw food all over the floor. We both finished the meal with a loud, proud burp. I’m sure I remember being told in China that eating nosily and belching were considered good manners – a sign that you enjoyed your meal and a compliment to your host. I think we displayed the best manners Ba Shan has ever seen.

 Here are a few of the dishes we sampled. The photos are terrible I’m afraid;

 

Chinese Burgers

Chinese Burgers; little greasy pockets of slow cooked pork and pickles

Pot-stickers dumplings. Chicken and chive finger shaped finger food.

Pot-stickers dumplings. Chicken and water chesnut stuffed into crispy dumplings; finger shaped finger food.

 

Pork and chive dumpling, with chilli and garlic sauce. Oh, sweet dumpling joy.

Pork and chive dumpling, with chilli and garlic sauce. Oh, sweet dumpling joy.

 

Dan Dan Noodles, and in the background garlicky chilli aubergine with minced pork. Sloppy spicey meaty goodness.

Dan Dan Noodles, and in the background garlicky chilli aubergine with minced pork. Sloppy spicey meaty goodness.

 

As you see with this photographic evidence we really put some food away.  What the photos don’t show is the mini sweet and sour pork ribs, the spicy pickled cucumbers, the deep fried king prawns, the extra round of dumplings and the bright blue jug of cocktails that finished the night.