30 Jun 2008

Credit Crunch Munch Bunch

‘I am going to my room to masturbate before I have a light lunch, if you would like to come and watch…’
[Salvador Dali]
I HAVE been told that the descriptions I penned for a recent wine list are ‘too erotic’. Quite an achievement…
Anyway, I remember working at an event at ANdAZ last November. Formerly The Great Eastern, the louche new moniker referenced a change of ownership. Lord Conran gave way to Hyatt. The stylish re-launch took place that night and I amused myself by asking confused staff the name of their hotel. Stuttered responses ensued: ‘Andeastern’, ‘Grandaz’, and my favourite, ‘The Great Daz’. Cabbies were bribed with bacon butties to familiarise themselves with the re-branding. Grand idea.
I pass this great brick stack several times each week, but until now, despite an attractive menu, never ate within. I suppose we are in the throes of the 'credit crunch lunch'. As execs tighten their belts, a good number of their hallowed haunts invite reservations from concierge sites in their absence. A free flute of Champagne is the typical lure to civilian ‘punters’, and/or deals promising three courses for fewer then £30.
Under ANdAZ’s umbrella several eateries dispense a range of genres, from Japanese to seafood bar, pub, brasserie and the more upmarket 1901. As Oscar Wilde advised, ‘The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it’. So I headed to the latter. Formerly Aurora (what a terrific, urgent name), the painfully pedestrian new title relates to the year the hotel was extended rather then the first U.S. stock market crash...
My meal was ad-lib. I came unshaved, immediately greeted by a smart, smiling lady who confirmed there was space for my hairy face. Depending on your outlook, the elegant square dining room which seats 100, was half full or half empty (of glum city types). In my opinion, they clearly weren’t drinking enough. The centrepiece: a majestic dome diffusing grey London light through pristine stained panes. A beautiful venue whose only fault was the scratchy Job Centre fabric stretched over banquettes. Salivating, I spied a well endowed cheese cart, post-prandial trolley and a jauntily-legged mobile cloche showcasing the day’s roast. Meals on wheels for those doing deals.
Dining alone, I was lavishly fussed by French staff. But I am a sucker for first class service, maintained from start to finish in this pillared, mosaiced, in parts frescoed, tastefully mirrored hall. ANdAZ’s philosophy leans towards kind, seasonal, organic, hence Belu H2O swiftly landed.
After an amuse bouche of Penguin Cheek on Buckwheat Waffle (I joke, I cannot actually remember what it was) my Leek Vichyssoise with Truffle Chantilly was a tale in two acts. One waiter held a silver salver whilst the other transported a chilled bowl with a hardened scoop of chantilly. Diced leek cubes clung almost magnetically. A copper pan came next, its contents, creamy cold soup, sluggishly decanted. Like a Müller Fruit Corner, the process could have been done before it got to me, although I rate such theatre (as at Galvin at Windows).
I must say, the Vichysoisse did not live up to the promise of its surroundings, nor the entourage required to dispense it. Of course cream plays a part in the make-up of this dish, although my version was so tryingly dense that on my third politely sipped spoonful I began imagining the colour and texture of my sick, should my body refute the intimidating lacticity. A glass of Demi Sec Vouvray, recommended as collaborator on the menu, added more weight and viscosity rather than scalpelling acidity. A cricket ball of blue cheese bread made this look more and more like a one dish lunch. Indeed after the meal, shuddering at the thought of ingesting so much cream, I forced myself to march all the way back to London Bridge, a purge against the dairy overdose.
Dorade, Mussels & Clams, Grilled Potatoes & Sauce Bouillabasie followed along with a sauce spoon – the second to be encountered in a month after a decade mourning their absence. The tasty bream, quite generously portioned and blanket to the bivalves, was greaseless. The potatoes were boiled then grilled to aesthetic perfection, with crisp exteriors and moist, buttery, almost fluffy centres. The Bouillabaise certainly warranted the flimsy spoon. Another recommendation from the menu, a ‘neon’ rosé, Antinori’s Scalabrone from Guado al Tasso was too tannically rasping to complement the poor fish. I began to think that someone forgot to change the recommendations in Word since the last menu.
Being mostly British, it may seem a stereotype from me, but the absolute highlight of the meal was a pot of tea. More specifically, Green Sencha, chosen from an extensive loose leaf selection. Purifingly austere, crisp, nettley and healthily earthy. It arrived with flavoursome rather then fancy petit fours including a leaden, killer truffle, an explosively flavourful passionfruit jelly reminiscent of one enjoyed at The Ledbury and a crisp Madeleine, more petit and neater then Auberge du Lac. When the after dinner sweeties are this good, why plunge into pud?
My curiosity satisfied, I left, lethargically, filled with fish swimming in ghastly cream.
Incidentally, halfway through lunch, an ant fell from the coving onto an eyelash. I assumed it was just my vision giving way and ate another potato. I suppose that means the tubers were unusually good.
For fans of our culinary craftsmen, the Head Chef is Dominic Teague, formerly of Soho's L'Escargot.

1901 at ANdAZ - 40 Liverpool St. EC2M 7QN. T. 020 7961 1234
Nearest Station: Liverpool St.

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