Only the Running Footman - run far, run fast

Saturday, September 20th , 2008

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A mixed week of food. The Brilliant continues to deliver authentic Punjabi food at very fair prices, with vibrant spicing and excellent technique, such as in the rich methi chicken, the chicken tender and the sauce brimming with the flavour of fenugreek and other spices.
Whenever anyone complain about the price of eating in London I point them to Diwana Bhel Poori. We ate a generous meal of tasty Gujerati snacks here, with sweet lassi to drink, for £12 a head including a generous tip. The surroundings may be basic, but it is easy to see what this place was packed out, even at 10 o’clock on a Thursday night in Euston.
I had a very uneven experience at The Only Running Footman, the oddly named pub just off Berkeley Square. After a couple of pleasant starters I had a really inedible main course, and on sending this back to try again was told that the chef felt it was “perfect”. Indeed. Well, if his idea of red cabbage is a soggy, under-seasoned mess then that is up to him, but it was a bit Fawlty-esque for the manager to get into a row with the customer over it. Given the other dishes were mostly fine (except some raw beans with the other main course) it is hard to judge overall, but given the fairly high prices I’ll be sticking to places that treat their customers with a modicum of respect.
A lunch at Ambassade de l’Ile continued the pattern I have experienced there of decent amuse bouches, superb savoury dishes followed by weak desserts. Lobster (pictured) was lovely, and terrine of foie gras, figs and grapes was superb, pretty and with terrific flavour. This was followed by a rich pie of quail, duck and pigeon, flavoured with truffle, the richness offset by apples and pears, served with a lovely rich red wine and peppercorn sauce. These dishes were around 9/10 level, to be followed by a ropey apple soufflé that had a problem with the mix causing poor texture, served lukewarm. If they get a decent pastry chef then this could be the best restaurant in London. I have added some new pictures from this meal; pictures at lunches almost always come out much better than ones in the evening due to the better natural light.
I was lucky enough to be invited to the launch of Aiden Byrne’s first cookery book “Made in Great Britain”.  Aiden was the youngest chef in Britain ever to earn a Michelin star (at the tender age of 22 while at the now deceased Adlard’s in Norwich) and now cooks at the Dorchester Grill Room. I had a very fine meal there when I last went, and it seems very odd to me that Michelin have not granted him the star that he surely deserves for his cooking. His publisher and the Dorchester certainly know how to do a good old-fashioned book launch, with a private room at the Dorchester, endless champagne and canapés from the Grill Room. The book has some modern recipes, mixed in with discussion of Aiden’s background and sections on his obsession with good quality British produce. I look forward to trying out some of the recipes.
The 2009 Good Food Guide is now officially out. As you may be aware, it is the only guide in the UK I am aware of other than Michelin that features anonymous inspectors (others take money from restaurants either through undisclosed fees or advertising). Hence, while you may not agree with the assessments all the time, they are at least honest. I am glad to see that some of the most curious omissions in the 2008 Guide have been fixed, e.g. 1 Lombard Street, long a 6/10, disappeared entirely in 2008 despite no discernible change, and has now popped back with its customary 6/10 rating. 
For those of you following Masterchef The Professionals, the finals week was exciting, with a tight conclusion. I felt that Michel Roux Junior in particular came across extremely well as judge, with balanced, thoughtful comments and assessments. Congratulations to Derek Johnstone.  The food that he cooked for me in the quarter final was very good indeed. 
Next week, another jaunt abroad.