Editor's note: in Octoner 2013 it was announced that Morgan M in Smithfield had been sold and would close. A shame.Morgan M had moved to 50 Long Lane, EC1A 9EJ. It is now an Italian restaurant called Puiia.
The notes below are from its previous venue in Holloway.
Morgan M is in a parade of shops in a rather run-down part of Highbury. Morgan Meunier worked at Monsieur Max and then Admiralty before opening his own place here in 2003. The dining room had no double door, which means that a cold draught of air wafts through the room each time a guest leaves or enters; not a problem in the summer, but distracting on a cold March night like this one. The décor was quirky but felt quite French, and the room was reasonably well lit.
The menu was rooted in classical French cooking, with a tasting menu at £50 or three course a la carte at £41. As a nice touch, there was a full vegetarian tasting menu at £45. Bread was from the large commercial supplier Delice de France, and the baguette and sourdough slices were decent enough, but it would be nice to see a French restaurant with some culinary ambition actually making its bread, or at least buying more skilfully than this (13/20).
The wine list was, not surprisingly, heavily French in its selections, though there are a small number of wines from elsewhere. Kientzler Pinot Blanc 2006 was priced at £32 for a wine that you can obtain for around £9 in the shops, Ochao Gran Reserva 2000 was £47 for a wine that will set you back around £22 to buy retail, and Lynch Bages 1988 was £280 for a wine that costs about £92 to buy. At the rarefied end of the list, Petrus 1983 was £950 compared to a retail price of around £580.
The meal began with a small bowl of chestnut soup with Stilton espuma. Oddly, for a dish with such inherently strong flavours, the effect was rather muted: the chestnut flavour did not come through strongly at all, while the espuma also had very subdued flavour of Stilton, and did not really add much to the dish (12/20). I began with lobster cannelloni with a cream of carrot and ginger and lobster cappuccino. The lobster itself was cooked carefully and was not chewy, but the pasta was a little overcooked and soggy in texture; however the sauce components were well made and the overall effect was quite good (15/20).
Next was seared fillet of John Dory, served with braised puy lentils, mushroom beignet and thyme beurre blanc. It was clear when the dish appeared that the John Dory was badly overcooked, the fish having curled up around the edges, and indeed it was dried out, a real shame since the fish itself seemed to be of high quality. I was disappointed that whoever was on the pass could not spot this pretty obvious problem; the lentils were fine but the beignet was also overcooked, though the thyme beurre blanc was fine (12/20).
Challons duck was served with a ragout of Israeli couscous, salsify, liver ravioli and sauce Grand Venuer (a sauce based on root vegetables traditionally thickened with hare blood). The duck was cooked pink, though I have had higher quality duck from this area, while the accompaniments were well made (14/20). On the vegetarian menu, a “tourte” (essentially a pithivier) of mushrooms had good pastry but was over-salted, even for me, though the beurre blanc flavoured with thyme that accompanied it was fine. Cheeses were supplied from Premiere Cheese and were mostly in very good condition (15/20).
Pre-dessert consisted of a rice pudding flavoured with vanilla, with an apple sorbet, orange tuile and a little pool of caramel; this was well made (15/20). My passion fruit soufflé and sorbet was capable (15/20), though one of my dining companions had a soufflé that was distinctly eggy in texture. A chocolate moelleux used good chocolate but was cooked too long, so was too hard, almost crispy, around the edge, with only a little liquid centre left.; this was served with Grand Marnier ice cream (13/20). Service seemed very stretched on this busy evening, with wine topping up quite hit and miss throughout. Overall this was a significantly less good experience than I recall from my first meal here many years ago, which is a pity.
What follows are notes from a better meal in May 2004.
Morgan M (after the chef Morgan Meunier) is situated in a desolate part of North London that has been optimistically labelled “Islington”. The number of police sirens coming past made you feel as if you were in an episode of Miami Vice, and when we came into the restaurant we were advised to move our car from just around the corner on to the main road, as there had been “problems” with cars parked in the quiet street next to the restaurant; we are not talking about parking tickets here either. It was an unlikely setting for a serious restaurant, but I guess the rent was cheap. Morgan came to the UK under Max Renzland and cooked at Monsieur Max for four years before moving to Admiralty. Max had a gift for picking out talented chefs (cf Bruce Poole) and this ability showed up in much of the cooking this evening.
The room itself is unprepossessing, with bare wooden floors, plain white walls (apart from opposite sections that are, rather oddly painted green – see diagram) and ceilings, and no distracting music (the bare boards ensure it is noisy enough). Lighting was pleasantly bright, from overhead ceiling spots. On the walls there was a wood-framed mirror on one side and two shelves of Michelin Guides on the opposite wall (a none-too subtle hint). Otherwise the decoration is restricted to several pieces of art, a couple of which one would describe as abstract landscapes; the eagle-eyed will recognise the signature on the paintings as Morgan’s own. Chairs were much too narrow, low backed wooden chairs with green upholstery that are uncomfortable unless you are a dwarf. Windows surround the front of the building (top of the diagram) and these are frosted at the bottom, clear at the top, with white blinds. A reasonable amount of natural light comes through. Tables had white linen tablecloths and napkins, and crockery was plain white. The cutlery was an unusual style from Robert Welch. The tables were uncluttered and indeed were not that large, with no distractions like flowers, candles or condiments.
The wine list was entirely French except for a lonely bottle of Rioja, and I have to say that the prices are steep but the choice of growers and balance of the list leaves something to be desired. This was a long, eight page list only from France, yet there is just one wine from Alsace, a Gewürztraminer from an obscure grower. There was very little under £30 (just five whites and seven reds) with the cheapest white at £19 and the cheapest red at £18. There were three white and three red wines by the glass (and three dessert wines) with either obscure growers, or good ones that are very costly e.g. Mas de Daumas Gassac white and red was a chunky £54 while Ramonet 1997 Chassagne Montrachet was £180. A wine list this expensive could at least spell the best dessert wine in the world correctly: “Chateau Yquen” is just careless. Water is Hildon at £3.50 for a 75cl bottle.
Waiters are smartly dressed in dark suits and ties, with the solitary waitress in a smart black suit with a red tie. Service was very good, attentive and friendly. Our dishes arrived at a steady pace, though the people at the next table were getting restless. Three types of bread are offered: classic baguette slices, or slices of either soda bread or multigrain. The baguette was ordinary, but the other two breads were excellent, with a nice crust, good seasoning and flavour and fluffy texture; they are actually bought in, but you could easily think they were made on the premises. 17/20 for the multi-grain bread, 16/20 for the soda bread and 13/20 for the baguette. The menu had very few choices, though there was a complete vegetarian menu (though you cannot have a dish from one of the tasting menus if you are ordering a la carte, which seems unnecessarily restrictive). Mr Meunier has a very French style of writing. On the menu is printed a line which is beyond parody: “Only when a guest is touched by the spirit of my dishes have I succeeded – Morgan M”. Maybe this works in “Islington”, but don’t try this in Yorkshire.
An amuse-bouche was rather odd: a blob of crème fraiche laced with horseradish on a smear of balsamic vinegar and topped with finely-cut chives, around which was poured a warm beetroot sauce. This lacked any real substance to get one’s teeth into, so was an odd conception, though the sauce itself was fair though a little over-acidic (13/20). A ballotine of foie gras was a tasty cylinder, the ballontine silky smooth and topped with a little Sauternes jelly, the liver taste coming through well but not as intensely as the very finest examples of this dish. Served alongside was a leg of tender quail, grilled but still pink inside and resting on some strands of what were essentially noodles which turned out to be made of celeriac. This was an excellent example of kitchen over-technique. The strands were cut so fine that I would challenge anyone to identify them; even such a strong and distinct flavour as celeriac was entirely lost. A correctly-toasted slice of brioche (which could have been warmer) was served with the ballontine, which had a smear of rather superfluous “fig caviar” next to it. Overall 16/20, as the quail and foie gras itself were pretty much 17/20. but the tasteless celeriac deserves to be punished.