Rules are made to be broken
Part 1 of a 2011 London travelogue
by Thor Iverson
British Airways – Along with a typically horrid procession from English breakfast (I’d still like to know how they induce the “tomato” to become a fusion reactor) and some weird sort of pastry that I just can’t face, there’s a little stealth bubbly courtesy of the overbooked business class folks moved to the steerage seats in front of me and a charitable flight attendant, who sighs that she “knew this bottle was going to be trouble” while she pours me the rest and holds a finger to her lips. Their loss, and compensation, is my gain. Despite the frequently dismal food, I do like this airline.
Lanson Champagne Brut (Champagne) – Sprightly with deeper tones. Not complex. Just basic, direct, flavorful bubbly. (2/11)
Rules – The oldest restaurant in London, is it? The oldest restaurant back in Boston is a disaster at which no one should eat, with a reputation (earned or no) for serving inedible food followed by a complimentary dessert of food poisoning. So the fact that this establishment is not only overloaded with character, but actually good, is rather shocking.
Dining late – right off the plane – is a disadvantage in that they’re out of quite a few things. Once the preemptive menu deletions have been dealt with, there’s also a missing oyster among the three we order. Between the duo that remain, the Brownsea Island Dorset Rocks, globular and intense, are so much more interesting than the dull and slightly bitter Wild Cumbrae Rocks oysters.
A rich, rich, rich Cornish shellfish soup follows, thick with ground-shell texture (this is increasingly apparent as one reaches the bottom of the bowl, where the broth is quite frankly crunchy, though I wouldn’t wish to sacrifice the flavor just because I’m afraid of a little chitin) and made even headier by the addition of apple brandy. Then: fillets of red deer with chanterelles and a trio of roasted beets. This is delicious food, but it’s extraordinarily heavy. It does, however, help prove modern English chefs’ argument that the “problem” with English food was never that the cuisine itself was bad, only that the cooking was atrocious.
In lieu of dessert, I choose herring roe on toast. This has to be something a Norwegian would like, doesn’t it? Ah…but this, too, is absent from stockage. After some whispered discussion between our waiter and his manager, we’re offered a compensatory plate of British cheeses, with what must be at least a cup of a delicious, creamy Stilton. The rest – a cheddar, a goat, a double-cream – are mostly forgettable, but the Stilton is terrific, especially countered with quince paste and an intriguing chutney-like condiment.
Service is attentive without fawning, and the décor can hardly be surpassed for mood-setting. The walls are filled with portraits and line-drawings of people that, by their pose and their visage, must have been important in their time, or at least considered themselves so. Now? They’re just art on a wall, forever gazing across the room at someone else who has suffered their lost-to-history plight. Thankfully, the food below has not fallen victim to amberization, and though it remains extremely rooted in the past, it’s full of life. This is a pretty fabulous experience, with an omnipresent sense of eating history that’s more enveloping than it is overwhelming. I kinda love this place.
Pierre Usseglio 2000 Châteauneuf-du-Pape (Rhône) – Aging in a clingy, somewhat sloppy fashion, not bringing much of tertiary interest to replace a fading fruit goopfest. It’s good, but it’s decidedly not very good. Dark berries, soil, black pepper, and simplicity from start to finish. On the positive side of “eh,” but still “eh.” (2/11)
Glendronach 33 Year Scotch (Speyside) – Cream, pepper, spice, old-growth forest. An electric zap of front fades, then re-emerges to a low-level fuzz on the finish. Quite compelling. (2/11)
Copyright © Thor Iverson