I try l‘Etranger

Saturday, May 02nd , 2009

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l‘Etranger manages to pull off that trickiest of balancing acts, fusion food, and do it generally pretty well. I enjoyed the way that a Charolais steak was served with both a mash enlivened with wasabi and also a classical French bistro pepper sauce, which worked well. Ingredients seemed generally good, and the Japanese elements of the meal, such as tuna rolls, were enjoyable. No sign of a recession in Kensington, with every table taken on this mid-week evening.
The High Road Brasserie is a remarkably successful venture that happens to be a short walk from where I live. It is constantly packed, from breakfast through to dinner, and so has clearly got the formula right. Key to its success are a pleasant ambience with outside seating, an appealing menu which does not try anything too ambitious (and hence tends to be consistent) and well-trained waiting staff. This week a lunch (£14 for three courses) included a salad of goat cheese and heirloom tomatoes, which I have to say did not have very great flavour, but a better main course of Cornish sardines with salsa rosso, which was simple but nicely seasoned.   
The Brilliant is an old favourite, which this week provided particularly good chicken tikka, succulent and quite spicy, tasty fish pakora and a pleasant masala egg. The Brilliant is an example of a restaurant that is going against the economic trend; business is actually up 30% over the last six months, a testament to its value for money and high degree of consistency.
The Sportsman is not the most conveniently located pub to pop into if you live in West London.  It is a trek involving a train from Victoria, a taxi and a husky sled team. However the reward at the end is produce of a quality that you rarely if ever see in the UK, picked out by a seriously obsessive chef. The simple pub setting mirrors the cooking style, with nothing on the plate that need not be there, the idea being to allow the terrific ingredients to shine without distraction. An example of this were lovely scallops (pictured), a stunning fillet of brill, not the grandest fish yet utterly fresh and perfectly timed, served just with a smoked herring sauce that added just an element of richness to the dish. Another example was a crab risotto where the brown crab meat was used to thicken the stock, while the white meat acted as the garnish. Both dishes were lovely examples of cookery at its best. I could go on, but just read the review or, better, take the train down to Kent and experience the cooking for yourself. 
In other news, it seems that Michel Roux Junior is planning a venture in Westminster, due to open in September. So far Michel has resisted the multiple-venue approach, which doubtless has helped Le Gavroche keep its excellent reputation. Just as with last week’s rumour of Heston’s plans to open in London, I am torn between excitement at a new high-end venue in London and a twinge of anxiety about whether this can be pulled off without affecting the flagship venue of the chef. We shall see.
In terms of the rumour regarding Heston opening at Foliage that I mentioned last week, this was given considerable credence by the fact that chef Chris Staines has now left Foliage.