Part 4 of a 2011 London travelogue
by Thor Iverson
Maze – My dining companion is unwell. Exceedingly unwell, in fact. Against our better judgment, we go ahead and attempt to keep this (sometimes difficult) reservation, made ages ago and reconfirmed twice. It might be our only chance.
As soon as we walk in, I know we’ve erred. We order a few small plates, hedging our bets despite the increasingly green face across from me. Fifteen minutes later, we’re out the door. In an act of kind generosity, they rebook us for two nights hence.
In between the greenness and the hasty departure, here’s a bit of an aborted mini-meal on my part, which I scarf while paying the check and hastily draining a few glasses of already-delivered wine. The delicious-sounding poached duck egg with Jerusalem artichoke velouté and a persillade of porcini (which initially presents itself, somewhat unfortunately, as a giant bowl of foam) is terrific at bite one, tedious by bite four. There’s no balance here, just incredible richness. I like richness, a lot, but there’s no respite, and this dish needs one. On the other hand, there’s also tea-smoked salmon with cauliflower, radishes, and apple vinaigrette. Here’s all the spare crispness that the other dish lacks as its counterpoint. The flavors are clearly delineated, though of course a plate like this relies much more on quality shopping than it does on high-skill kitchen techniques.
Anton Bauer 2009 Grüner Veltliner Rosenberg (Donauland) – Open, but it’s a small opening, spreading tiny white petals to show the (nicely) vegetal greenness within. There’s just a touch of the lurid to the aroma, but it’s a luridness that exists mostly in a nearby room, rather than right in front of the taster. Simple, nice, not really more than that. (2/11)
Josmeyer 2008 Gewurztraminer “Les Folastries” (Alsace) – Off-dry, with its minerality delivered in a waterfall of crystallization. Sweet lychee verging into peach, but with a clementine counterpoint, even a little mirabelle as it lingers. There’s power here without overt weight, and also without relying too heavily on the common crutch of sugar. Extremely nice. (2/11)
A few nights later, take two. More small plates to start, this time starting with a rabbit and foie gras terrine with accompaniments from both the porcine and dried plum genres. It’s very good, if just a touch dry. Next are quail, kohlrabi, and cauliflower with the spice of the souq and a burnt onion reduction. The combination is extremely flavorful, but suffers from the same issue as the poached egg: too many intense flavors in the same narrow band, which ends up (due to a longer-lingering aftertaste) being dominated by the onion char. Even the kohlrabi doesn’t help. Again, it would be preferable in a smaller quantity than is offered here, and this isn’t exactly a big plate.
The only unmitigated brilliant dish I’ll have here is the next: daurade atop squid Bolognese and garlic, with some sort of citrusy counterpoint and a lump of chorizo. The squid Bolognese is a brilliant idea, frankly, bringing land and sea together, and though I’d have preferred better integration of the chorizo into the dish, everything works in both isolation and tandem. After this, the better-sounding (on the menu, anyway) pork cheek and belly mini-choucroute is a bit of a letdown. I expect the choucroute concept to be taken somewhere individualistic, but other than the meats used, it’s really not. I like choucroute, and I like this. But I wouldn’t have to come to a Gordon Ramsay restaurant and pay this much to get one I like equally well, and this isn’t exactly an Alsatian-sized portion.
Rice pudding with mirabelle finishes. It’s quite fine, but at this point I’m suffering from a bit of palate fatigue, so I’m not sure my faculties are in session.
Rereading the above, I see more carping than the restaurant really deserves. It’s good, service is attentive if a touch quick (they turn tables here, and it’s a huge restaurant with a lot of ground to cover), and while it’s expensive it’s not larcenous. But it is not, to borrow the Michelin parlance, worth a special trip. It’s more an “if you’re in the neighborhood” place…though it’s not a bad neighborhood to be in, for sure.
As for the wine list, it holds quality options for both conservative label-drinkers and wild-haired seekers of the alternative (naturalia, not so much), with the former of course being soaked for the maximum number of pounds, and the latter getting the better end of the deal. In other words, the normal state of affairs. Special note goes out to a more than decent by-the-glass selection.
Gosset Champagne Brut “Grand Rosé” (Champagne) – Simple and a little heavy, full of red-berry flavor but extremely linear and literal. Solid. (3/11)
Keller 2005 Spätburgunder “Selection” 38 07 (Baden) – Light-minded, with soft red fruit both yielding and a little plush despite an enveloping tan minerality. Just a touch of brett. Really quite beautiful and approachable, though it’s not blessed with much complexity. Maybe that will come. (3/11)
Trimbach 2008 Riesling “Réserve” (Alsace) – Sulfurous, though mildly so. Yet it does obscure. Underneath that sulfur there’s a heck of a wine…powerful, iron-cored, bracing…but I think this has been treated for the long haul, which it should have no problem enduring. Now, it’s just sulfurous. (3/11)
Disznóko Tokaji “Late Harvest” (Hungary) – Concentrated sweetness, copper, bronze, brass, molten candle wax, and amber. Some extremely concentrated apricot, as well, perhaps more as a honey flavoring than an actual fruit experience. Very clean, devoid of the style’s typical issues with volatility, and delicious. (3/11)
Ledaig 20 Year Scotch Whisky (Isle of Mull) – As broad a peat aroma as I’ve smelled in a Scotch. Not strong, just broad. Drinking this is to experience the sensation of consuming a Scottish woolen blanket. That, since it’s probably not clear, is a compliment. I really love this. (3/11)
Copyright © Thor Iverson