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Texture

34 Portman Square, London, England, W1H 7BY, United Kingdom

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Below are notes from my most recent meal, with more detailed notes from an earlier meal further on.

Bread is from Boulangerie de Paris and was fine (especially the brown bread slices, which had a nice crust). A strange nibble of a cold pumpkin soup with blue cheese and walnuts  did not work at all; the soup was over-chilled, and when the blue cheese flavour kicked in it overwhelmed everything else; a flawed concept (11/20). Yellow fin tuna with Asian flavours was very pleasant, the tuna lightly seared and with a soy-based sauce and a few Asian greens (15/20). Scottish scallops in themselves were nicely cooked and of good quality, but the Cornish crab with them was rather lost; these were served with a avocado (a natural match for crab) and passion fruit (far less obvious) with yoghurt (14/20). 

Fallow deer was cooked pink and had good taste, though for me could have been seasoned a little more. This was served with spiced red cabbage and a sauce thickened with chocolate; the cabbage was reasonable but I think would have benefitted from a slightly sharper contrast of sweet and sour (15/20). For dessert, Valrhona white chocolate with candy beetroot and passion fruit was a somewhat uncomfortable combination of flavours (what is beetroot doing in this dish?). Indeed each dessert on offer had a strident element: dark chocolate with parsnip, mango with lemongrass and basil (13/20). Service was very good throughout the evening. Overall I was a little disappointed with the meal, not that it was objectively poor but because I think that Agnar Sverrison is a better cook than this evening showed.

The notes below are based on a meal soon after opening, in September 2007.

Agnar Sverrison was the head chef at Le Manoir au Quat' Saioons, and this is his first venture. The dining room is in what was Deya in the unlikely setting of a Best Western hotel just off Portman Square.  Quite what the bargain hunting customers of the Best Western think of this is a matter of speculation, though as we left the restaurant we passed a couple who said "ooh - that looks posh".  Quite right too - the room has high ceilings, complex cornicing and a few examples of modern art on the walls, but otherwise the room is recognisably  the same as Deya, though they have sensibly shifted the bar to a better angle. 

The menu is unashamedly ambitious, which makes such a nice change after the seemingly endless string of cynical bistros that have opened in London in the last year or so. There are several tasting menus e.g. a fish tasting menu as well as a short a la carte, priced fairly at £45 for three courses. The wine list was extensive and very well put together, with relatively modest mark-ups and plenty of choice at both the basic end and the more ambitious level. Mas La Plana Torres 1995 was £65 for example, and there are plenty of options below £35. Service was from formally dressed staff who mostly know their trade, and dishes came at a reasonable rate even though this restaurant was less than two weeks old on the night we visited. Bread was from the Bread Factory (the same place that the Fat Duck uses). 

An unusual set of nibbles included Parmesan crisps and crispy fish skin, served with a wasabi mousse and a yoghurt and mint concoction with barley; the wasabi was much too subtle, almost entirely lacking in bite. An amuse-bouche of apple and celery seemed a little odd to me, the components fine but I am not sure about the combination (14/20). Better was the first real course, scallops with "cauliflower textures" which was mostly a cauliflower foam and a pile of cous-cous with a few salad leaves as garnish. The scallops were fresh and beautifully cooked, the cauliflower foam a classical taste accompaniment to scallops. The cous-cous was an attempt to provide some firm texture, though perhaps puy lentils might have been better?  Anyway, it is hard to argue with this dish in terms of presentation and technical execution (16/20).  Even better was char-grilled pigeon from Anjou, served pink with sweetcorn, shallot, a red wine essence and "bacon popcorn". I was sceptical about this on the menu but not only was the pigeon beautifully cooked, the popcorn worked surprisingly well (comfortably 17/20). This was better than a Cornish crab salad, which had very nice crab but whose pickled girolles and salad leaves were just not interesting enough to lift this dish above good bistro level (14/20).

Slow-cooked suckling pig from Lancashire was a success, the pork very tender, served with baby cabbage, squid and bonito sauce. The squid seemed to me a cephalopod too far, not really working that well with the rest of the dish, but the pork itself was excellent (16/20). Black-leg chicken was very nicely cooked and had real depth of flavour, served with radishes and a soy dressing as well as a rather tentative wasabi emulsion that lacked bite (16/20). Both meat dishes were better than Icelandic cod with avocado puree, chorizo, coco beans and sauce vierge (14/20) and  gilthead bream with saffron aioli and clams (14/20). 

Cheese was a very mixed bag, as happens so often with the supplier Premiere Cheese. A lovely Roquefort had with it a dismal, hard Manchega, unripe goat cheese and yet a very pleasant Stilton, for example (15/20). Chocolate mousse with fennel had an excellent rich mousse, with the caramelised fennel safely to one side, but the sorbet with this was overwhelmed by the chocolate. Lemongrass and ginger soup had summer fruits (high quality figs and raspberries) as well as a nice passion fruit sorbet. It was more successful here than a version served as a pre-dessert, which was rather watery. 

Ambitious petit fours included slightly greasy madelaines, good passion fruit macaroons, surprisingly bland "fisherman's friend" on a stick and chocolate truffles with a slightly off-taste. Personally I would have preferred there to have been at least some choice on the dessert menu that was more classical, for those who treat dining out as a pleasure to be savoured rather than a chemistry experiment. Coffee was classy, and overall there is much in Texture's favour. Presentation was very good, ingredients were classy, and there was little to fault in terms of technique outside the desserts. Many of the modern flavour combinations worked surprisingly well, and above all this is cooking that is trying for the top, not content to just churn out simple bistro classics with a high gross margin. Even in its early days, and despite some flaws, this seems to me the best new opening in London for soem time.

 

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  • alan fowle

    Second visit here last Friday evening. We were surprised on our first visit to find the food less pretentious than some other reviews had indicated and we liked it a lot. Second visit we found we liked it even more having the tasting menu, a series of exquisite slight dishes which in other hands might not have come off quite so well but all of which worked perfectly. The bar is very smart, the service is friendly and quite relaxed, there is an air of exclusivity here which we warm to. Washed down with a sublime Condrieu.

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