29 Jul 2008

What Credit Crunch?

EVERY FLOOR of John Torode’s Farringdon meat mall convulsed with commerce last Tuesday. Its predominantly male, pinstriped contents poured (and roared) onto the pavement. Seven sommeliers cut to the terrace at the top via a padded red lift. We were armed with a wheeled case containing splendid bottles, and an appetite to sample the charmless Australian’s fabled protein.
From evening to night, the view of the Barbican, St. Paul’s and the verdigris turrets of his walk-in (the meat market) varied in shading. Lights in the large, glass walled, open (but not airy) rectangle were dimmed almost to darkness. As the sun-set, it felt like dining in a powercut.
After unintentionally tepid Rock Oysters (an experience up there with warm Champagne) false hope landed in a promising starter of Smoked Eel, Potato Pancake, Horseradish Cream and Pancetta. The half a dozen morsels had more texture then L’Autre Pied’s regurgitation. Salt & Pepper Squid with Roast Chilli Dressing and Coriander was tasty: crispy crust, meaty innards, spurred into life with the occasionally poignant chilli. It was not as fine as maze Grill’s (yet more expensive). Steak Tartare was peculiar (globular and slippery). Courgette Flowers reeked of antique oil.
Bread remnants were dispensed from a depleted basket straight onto the table. No side plates. I suppose Torode’s too cool for school for those. How brashly Bohemian.
The main courses seemed to take hours. Clearly staff were strained. And when it eventually arrived, my friend's Salt Beef was boomeranged back. The accused was charged with excess saltiness. You might be thinking, “of course Salt Beef is salty, stop finding fault!” But you weren’t there. The coarse, salt-blast rawly evoked something preserved for Captain Cook. He didn’t want to discuss the replacement Braised Rare Breed Beef.
Whilst lacking precision, my Quail stuffed with Foie Gras, (which must be a loathsome job) had potential, but lacked a lick of alcohol.
Those who stuck to steak did better. An outrageously overpriced South Devon Côte de Boeuf got 8/10 from our Burgundian representative but took some hacking.
A plate of cheese from Neal’s Yard was presented carelessly informally.
Poorly tended loo cabins led off a neon atrium.
If the venue was anything other then a come-down for the office crowd, I might care to be constructive. For the foreseeable future though, I guess it satisfies the accountant: catering for a clientele with more appetite then taste.
Of the bottles we brought, the Corton Charlemagne ’85 (Louis Jadot) was the most memorable. Sun struck hay bale in colour with flint, distant oak spice and white nuts on the nose. On the palate, white butter, sharp citrus, with plentiful, cleansing acids, a little honey, and a complex, elongated aftertaste. It is not yet at the end of its life.
Top Floor, Smiths of Smithfield - 67-77 Charterhouse St., London. EC1M 6HJ
Nearest Station - Barbican
I tallied up a total of seventeen hours at ‘Rock The Polo’, a social extravaganza hosted by Chinawhite/Cartier, Sunday. The focus appeared to be thirst-quenching Laurent-Perrier, Cristal and Pimms rather than goals on horseback. Presumably the streakers on the course were protesting against the vicious heatwave? Tickets came in at a whopping £475. Fellow sommeliers got to the uniforms first: armless linen smocks with Dynarod orange sashes, long shorts and flip-flops. There being none left, I was allowed to stay all in black. Conventional, but not laughable. Thank goodness.

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