Sunday, 10 August 2014

Dinner a la Giles Coren.

New shoes

I've never written a restaurant review before but inspired by a wonderful meal in a local restaurant last night and by my love of Giles Coren's restaurant column in the Saturday Times magazine, (in fact by my love of Giles Coren's writing per se) I'm going to give it a whirl. I mean, how hard can it be?

Okay, so my first problem is that although the food was delicious and the ambience warm and convivial and the service friendly and informative and efficient, I realise I do not now, only the very next morning, have a detailed recollection of what I actually ate. Does Giles Coren take notes, I wonder? Already my lack of experience in the restaurant critic department is showing.

In addition to this, when I think back about what made last night such an enjoyable evening, my memory is dominated by the fact that I wore my new wedge shoes (Paul Smith, half price, photo above) and my new dress (Oliver Bonas, photo below) and that the night was balmy and warm and the restaurant not too far from home and so I was feeling sassy and sexy and wide-awake, and I do know that none of this has anything to do with the food I was about to eat and everything to do with me.

So already I am tumbling at the restaurant critics first hurdle here, aren't I? I'm not looking back at the restaurant and its food in the spirit of a dispassionate observer. But then, does anyone? We take our baggage with us restaurant-wise, even life-wise. Mine, as it happens, was all inside a new Orla Kiely inspired fabric handbag last night (from Tickled Pink, on Bellevue Road).

Nevertheless I hope you are gleaning something of a picture, even if it is only of me in new sexy wedge shoes and an Oliver Bonas dress about to be dazzled by excellent gastronomy at a restaurant called Gastronhome on Hildreth Street, Balham, SW12.

So, first things first: the waiter - actually it feels a bit rude to call him that because he was so much more and may well have been the proprietor, he certainly had the authoritative air of one - was everything you want a waiter to be: friendly, but not too much so, attentive, but ditto, knowledgeable, young and handsome, and in possession of a very sexy French accent. In fact his accent was so sexy and French, and his air so smooth and assured, that at the end of his lengthy and detailed explanation of the menu, so dazzled was I, I could not actually recall anything he had said and my lovely friend, sitting to my right, had to give me a quick précis.

After she had done this the four of us decided on the five course tasting menu. To be honest I was not that keen on the five course tasting menu because the last time husband and I had one it was the most pretentious load of 'wild grass' with 'edible soil' claptrap we have ever eaten, in Denmark, and no, not at Noma, but a cold and stiff restaurant at the top of a Godforsaken tower block on the edge of a sports pitch, hanging off the coat-tails of nearby Noma's reputation, in fact Copenhagen's reputation as the world's foodie paradise. And paradise it was not. But I'm digressing wildly here. Suffice to say I don't generally like tasting menus because 1. of the lack of control over what you are going to eat, 2. the length of the meal, 3. all the wine, and I'm currently not drinking alcohol, and 4. the price. Still, it seemed churlish not to go along with what the the other three people wanted (husband and our husband and wife friends) and so we all agreed to give it a go.

Shall I get on to the food now? Have I set the scene sufficiently? Probably not, and so in the spirit of Giles Coren I should give you an idea of the setting...

Hildreth Street in Balham. It's a pedestrian cut through, lined with high Victorian, gabled buildings, spanning from Balham High Road at one end to Bedford Hill at the other where during the week there is a workaday fruit, flower and veg market and now at the weekdays there's a much more chi-chi foodie/farmers' market.

For years it's had a grotty run-down 'Brixton in the 80's' air to it, replete with shops selling Afro-Caribbean hair products and dried fish (not the same shop, obviously) plus nail bars and Halal butchers. But gradually, gradually, in the twenty years that husband and I have lived in this area, it has changed and now it is on the cusp of something very different.

Just to give you an idea of how very on the cusp it is, the street is currently being renovated by Wandsworth Council, the actual street, that is the paving upon which you walk. I reckon it will shortly transform into an identikit Clapham Venn Street, cafes spilling out on to the pedestrian walkway, with that ubiquitous modern urban street backbone, a line of olive trees, planted down the middle. I hope so anyway. In short, there are areas of south London which are now turning into Shoreditch, not that I've ever been to Shoreditch but I hear tell of what it's like, and I think this area will be one of them.

We already have a great cafe called Milk on the corner with Bedford Hill there, run by Aussies of course, and serving perfect Flat Whites and eggs on Turkish bread, and a new florist, and one of those shops flogging bits of knackered French furniture and tat at exorbitant prices, and a shop selling upmarket wine, Oh, and a studio where twenty-something young women go to do Hot Bikram Yoga, whatever the hell that is, "On the weekend", as they would have it (this phrase really upsets husband, "At the weekend!" he chants, "At!").

And now this new little French restaurant, run by very young and very dishy and very earnest looking French men, is slap bang in the middle of all that. Actually husband and I can remember what was there before, a pretty rubbish cafe which soaked up the overspill from Milk (nice image there), where we had a memorable (but not in a good way) coffee with a bacon sandwich a while back because we weren't prepared to queue with all the more energetic young things to wait for a table at Milk. And it hasn't changed much inside. Still the white painted wood-clad walls and banquettes to sit on against the wall, but now with different plain wood tables and 'art' for sale on the walls.

That was the only bit I minded about the whole evening actually, the dreadful art and the fact that our charming waiter described it to us, presumably in a bid to sell it to us, before going on to describe the menu. Restaurants are for eating in, not for buying paintings in. Call me old fashioned. So, finally, I'm on to the food, I don't think I'll be much good at this bit.

First we had beetroot four ways, I think, with wonderful smooth creamy horseradish and other dollops of green stuff and it was delicious. I think there was more than one variety of beetroot, did he possibly say golden beet? I think he did. All perfectly cooked, not too hard, not too soft, and one of those lovely beetroot crisps with it too. As our friend J said, the male one, (both these friends have names which begin with J so it won't suffice merely to supply the first letter), "Beetroot has that lovely earthy taste," and I agree.

Then there was carpaccio of sea bass, that I did not like the sound of at all, but was kind of spicy and strong and oniony and I have no idea what was in it. It came with some sort of white froth and some sort of sauce on the side and that was delicious too.

Then meat and potatoes. Two large chunks of melt-in-the mouth beef, soft and smooth and lovely, with chanterelle mushrooms in a creamy yellow sauce (not enough of these), and another red sauce, no idea what that was but it was also delicious, and two gorgeous - crisp on the outside, soft on the inside - potatoes, which I could have done with more of but it didn't really matter because we were having five courses and so there was absolutely no chance of going away at the end of it all still feeling hungry. In fact I worried I would not be able to do justice to it, and shouldn't have. I ate everything single scrap except for the chocolate mousse thing at the end, which I gave to husband.

And now I'm bored of describing food (I have no idea how Giles Coren does this week after week and now know why he digresses so wildly on other topics and tells us all about his private life, which I love by the way, all that stuff about his babies and his wife makes him sound so New Man). 

Lastly we had a selection of cheese and one of them was Corsican, I remember, and when I mentioned to the waiter that they eat blackbirds in Corsica he genuinely did not appear to know this. Surprising. And there was chocolate three ways, which was fine but just a lovely bit of chocolate tarte and a mousse and a bit of ice-cream at the end of the day. Give me savouries any time.

So there you have it, my first and possibly last restaurant review. I'll give Gastronhome 9 out of 10 for food and service and bet you anything you won't be able to get a table there for love nor money in six months' time because there are only 20 covers and it really is very good indeed.

Marks for this review? Probably far too many 'lovelys' and 'deliciouses' and not enough knowledge of the, you know, actual cooking. Well there's space in the comment section there at the bottom of the blog so do feel free but go easy on me coz I've never done this before.

Love E x

New dress with new shoes in new(ish) kitchen

Gastronhome, 9 Hildreth Street, Balham, London, SW12 9RQ
Twitter @Gastronhome1

P.S. If by any remote chance Giles Coren ever actually reads this I know my writing is not one patch on yours and in my defence I went to a comprehensive school in the 80s in North Yorkshire and so have absolutely no idea about grammar and punctuation, about which I know you are an expert and famously tell off the Subs for getting it wrong. I just make it all up and hope for the best.


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