Tuesday, 25 April 2017
There's a small (and it has to be said, sadly dwindling) group of restaurants in London which all offer a tasting menu (that is at least 4 courses, plus nibbles) for under £50 at dinner. I'm almost afraid to list them here in case Brexit-fuelled inflation makes a liar of by the time you read this, but at the time of print places like Picture (Marylebone and Fitzrovia), the Dairy in Clapham Common and the Manor just down Clapham High Street can all do a very - VERY - good multi-course dinner for the same price most places charge for lunch, and all come thoroughly recommended.
Hoping to join this exalted company is Anglo, a starkly trendy little spot just off Leather Lane in Farringdon, who are to be commended at the very least for offering an extraordinary amount of courses - ten if you include all the snacks - for £45. By anyone's standards this is a very decent price point, and it's this generosity of spirit - not to mention the lovely front of house - that went some way to cushioning some of the mistakes in the cooking, of which I'm afraid there were more than a couple.
It all started off well enough, though. "Mushroom & cep custard" was an interesting pile of sliced raw mushrooms, dusted with some kind of mushroom powder I think, hiding a little scoop of mushroom cream. With some good powerful flavours going on, and nicely seasoned, this was a great start.
Similarly this "burnt leek tartlet", a supremely delicate puff pastry casing containing a layer of savoury leek powder. I love things like this - a clever cheffy technique used to impressive effect, not just visually impressive but tasting great too, the powder collapsing in the mouth like candy floss into a thick, umami-rich paste.
I loved this, too, a layer of dashi gel resting on top of a few chunks of squid. The gel was just solid enough to hold its shape without being offputting, and the squid had a lovely fresh seafood flavour. Presentation was a bit odd, perhaps - thanks to the dashi being a very similar colour to the ceramic it was served in, it looked like you were being served an empty bowl at first - but still, clever stuff.
Anglo's excellent sourdough is served with something called "yeast butter", which I can best describe as being a bit like a kind of whipped Dairylea. Sorry if that doesn't do it justice, but there it is. London restaurants have had a worrying habit recently of adding ingredients to their bread & butter courses to make them as outrageously moreish as possible - great if you have the space for it, not so great if you don't have the biggest appetite in town and don't want to fill up before the main courses arrive. If you've managed to leave any of the Dairy's bone marrow butter, or the lamb fat-brushed bread at Perilla, then you're a better man than me.
White asparagus with duck egg was decent, but if I'm being brutally honest, not much more than the sum of its parts. I've never completely got the point of white asparagus; I know they go mad for it in France and Spain and I'm sure the very best examples are wonderful, but, well, so far I've always preferred the usual green. It could have all done with a bit more seasoning, too, especially the yolks.
Lack of seasoning was also the main issue afflicting the cod "Wellington". Good on paper perhaps, but a dollop of caviar was nowhere near enough salt to lift this from being a bland lump of watery fish wrapped in slimy seaweed, and I'm afraid it all ended up being rather unpleasant. A shame, really, because at the core of this dish is probably quite a good idea in need of decent execution.
Half of the lamb dish - the pink bit of (I think) roast fillet on the right there hiding beneath a sprig of fennel - was lovely; seasoned well, with a great texture and accompanied by some soft bits of artichoke. Unfortunately also on the same plate was a rock-solid-dry piece of slower-cooked (probably - look I'm just covering my back here) shoulder, underseasoned and borderline inedible. I did eat it, because I was hungry, but it wasn't very nice. There aren't really any good excuses I could come up with why a restaurant in London in 2017 shouldn't be able to properly serve lamb, so I won't try. This shouldn't have happened.
I did enjoy, however, this next course of cheese and onion mixture melting over a slice of house malt loaf, but then show me a person who doesn't like a bit of posh cheese on toast and I'll show you a person who's given up on life. This went down very well.
And then. Lemon curd and horseradish. I'll say that again, in case you think perhaps my spellchecker is playing up. Lemon. And. Horseradish. I don't want to be one of those people who turn their noses up at genuine innovation just because there's an easy amount of outrage to be wrung from it, but really, this use of savoury ingredients in desserts has just gone too far. Lemon curd - sweet, citrussy, soft - does not bloody go with bitter horseradish, it's as simple as that. It was like eating a cake that someone had dropped on the floor in the pub, and was genuinely horrible.
After washing our mouths out with Folle Blanche, we gamely carried on to the next course, chocolate and yoghurt, which was (fortunately) perfectly fine. Nothing groundbreaking or even particularly interesting, but pretty to look at and at least not containing any parsnip or yam or anything.
Then finally, a pressed coil of apple, slightly on the sour side but not overly troublingly so, and a dollop of Earl Grey ice cream which I quite enjoyed in a sort of ash-y kind of way but which my friend really struggled with. Maybe she was still trying to swill the remaining horseradish out of her system.
There was clearly plenty to criticise at Anglo, then, and indeed I have done. It's worth stressing that there was plenty to enjoy too - some courses were clearly worth the asking price, and things like the leek tartlet, the bread course and, well, one half of the lamb dish would be easy enough to recommend by themselves. The problem is that, in the evening at least, it's all or nothing, and I'm afraid to reach these treats you are forced to swallow the medicine of horseradish and lemon, and slimy cod roll, and other oddnesses. It's all a bit uneven, and unnerving.
And it's for this reason I'm afraid I struggle to wholeheartedly recommend Anglo. Their hearts may be in the right place and they may be one of the few restaurants in London offering a tasting menu for under £50, but even at that price I just didn't find enough to enjoy. Of course, if the idea of lemon and horseradish or the rest of it doesn't turn your stomach then there's every chance you could go and have the meal of your life. I'm not here to tell you what you should do, just what I would do. And I can't see myself going back.