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Exploring the Boundary

Saturday, August 15th , 2009

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Last year Terence Conran sold his chain of restaurants to D&D, but he is back on the scene again with Boundary. Conran’s restaurants have often been on a large scale (such as the iconic Quaglino) and here we have not only a large basement dining room, but a café (Albion), a food shop and a rooftop restaurant/bar all in this old Victorian warehouse in a particularly quiet part of Shoreditch.   As one might expect from a design guru, the place is very pretty indeed (see picture), and is a case study in how to make something of a basement space.  The large menu is full of classic dishes that you want to eat, and the waiters we encountered were friendly and mostly efficient. Yet as with the older Conran restaurants, by the time you finish the meal and look at the bill, you have a feeling of, to use a Jay Rayner’s phrase, being “gently mugged”. There is very little to dislike (though in our meal, there was a borderline burnt tarte tatin), yet somehow the bill seems abnormally large for the level of food that has been delivered. It is already a clear success, with the restaurant packed, as was the ground floor café, and this is an achievement in a recession in a particularly unappealing part of London. Yet somehow it feels formulaic to me.
Rasa Samudra is, for me , the best of the Rasa mini-chain, which started off in Stoke Newington. This branch served seafood in addition to the Keralan vegetarian dishes that characterise the original Rasa (Rasa Maricham also offers some meat dishes). The skill that the kitchen demonstrates is its careful use of spices, which are fresh, vibrant and very carefully balanced for each dish. I have been here many times over the years and it never seems to have an off-night; indeed the meal this week was as good as I have had here. It seems to be populated heavily by passing tourists, who should hardly believe their luck at wandering into a place with cooking as skilled as this.
My regular haunt Zafferano sails along oblivious to any pesky issues with the economy: the denizens of Knightsbridge continue to pack the place out. The menu changes regularly here, which is obviously nice of you come here frequently, but I usually end up ordering the seasonal salad followed by one of the pasta dishes, since that shows off the excellent ingredients that they use here. The wine list is less attractive since the prices were jacked up around a year ago, but there are still some relatively decent value wines. A Barbaresco Rivella is an excellent all-purpose wine that is on their list for £75 yet costs around £38 in the shops, for example. Service was a little less slick than usual on this visit, which may be because the maitre d’ was away on vacation.

Shane Osborn was on holiday when I went to Pied a Terre this week, but the kitchen was on good form. I tried the tasting menu. Tuna was of high quality, seared and coated with Acacia honey and black pepper with a salad of walnut and celery, walnut mayonnaise and puffed wild rice. The combination worked well, though the pepper seasoning was a little more robust than I had expected. Marinated scallops with salt cod mousse, cauliflower and truffle salad, lemon oil and baby wood sorrel was a refreshing interlude. I particularly enjoyed seared and poached foie gras in a Sauternes consommé with borlotti beans, smoked bacon and fresh almonds. The foie gras was smooth and the consommé had wonderful rich flavour. 

Poached lemon sole with petit pois with smoked eel, lemon thyme velouté and pomme soufflé was next; I never find lemon sole to be a very exciting fish to eat, but it was cooked correctly and the other elements of the dish were well balanced; for me, a little more eel relative to the sole would have been more interesting. Best end of salt marsh lamb was served pink and had very good flavour, served with enjoyable aubergine caviar, red pepper and aubergine sandwich, roasted garlic with a jus of rosemary and red pepper. Cheese from Premiere cheese was a small board in good condition, with selections such as Colston Basset Stilton and Epoisses. For dessert, an apple and gooseberry compote with lemon verbena granite was pleasant, though I am always averse to seeing verbena in my desserts. This was followed by the old Pied a Terre stalwart, bitter sweet chocolate tart, stout ice cream and macadamia nut cream. Service was excellent throughout the evening.

In other news, it appears as if US chain Whole Foods in Kensington is not only over-priced and over here, but over-stocked, bleeding red ink in its accounts. 
Eric Chavot is to leave the Capital Hotel today, but it is unclear where, if anywhere, he is moving to (hat tip to VY for the tip). I have enjoyed Eric’s cooking over the years ever since he was head chef at Chez Nico. The last two measl I had at the Capital seemed to me to have lost their spark, however, so perhaps it was time for a change.  For the last six years the head chef under Eric has been Richard Hondier, and he takes over the reins.
Finally, if you are in search of good fish and chips then London currently has one less venue, as the venerable Sea Shell found that more than the salmon was smoked, and sadly burnt down this week; I hope they are able to recover in due course. 
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