29 Jun 2009

A Taste of Personality

ASIDE FROM Bayswater’s graceful ‘Café Anglais’, I rarely get ‘keyed-up’ at the thought of a meal à la mall. Restaurants are havens. Banked between feet, bags bulging with fevered purchases bring commerce into calm. But the prospect of an Australia week showcase of two of its greatest culinarian exports - Shane Osborn of ‘Pied à Terre’ and ‘The Ledbury’s’ Brett Graham - made an in-store eatery suddenly irresistible. Alongside the ladies who lunch here as an interval to shopping, I took my cream leather chair at Selfridge’s ‘Gallery’. Framing the view of horrifically pricey handbags, Corinthian columns rose to the roof of this cool, catwalk-like space.
From the ‘island of inspiration’, flutes of Tasmanian Brut were an ideal tone-setter - ripe, bright and furiously bubbly. Taking in the menu, we broke granular multiseed, fleshy green olive and dusty baguettes from ‘Armani of bread’, Rocco Princi. It read like a cook-off: designer dishes by Osborn and Graham versus those of Gallery chef, James Newton-Brown.
To open, O&G’s ceviche of kingfish united silky slithers with the freshness of verjus, orange and lime-spiked avocado crème fraîche. Almost sliced to translucence, radishes matched the colour of the fish. Combined with shaved carrots and coriander knots, the sprightly effect built gently - and lasted. The suggested match, a wet slate, lime flower and key lime scented Eden Valley riesling, wove beautifully.
If the kingfish was feminine, then you can probably guess the gender of Brown’s bush boar ‘salad’ with nutty faro, lightly toasted Macadamias and plate and palate staining roast beetroot. Incidentally, my friend, an Argentine, knows his beasts. As a teenager, his dad blanked him for days after he illegally slayed a deer. He described wild hog as ‘stunningly ugly’ and ‘hard to cook’. But with moistness and ‘a whiff of game and tobacco’, the yielding, dark medallions delighted him. The dish also stood up to a lush Dolcetto/Lagrein from South Australia’s Limestone Coast, by protégé of über critic/Bacchus incarnate, Robert Parker JNR. Regardless, round one over, it was for the kingfish that we felt love at first bite.
Considering the good value of this lunch (£23 for three courses) I dared not expect much from O&G’s rump of Australian Wagyū, it being considerably cheaper up here than as a raw ingredient from the food hall. But it was grilled to perfection. Beneath a 1mm crust, the blushing flesh was meltingly tender. Expressions of ‘oleaginous’ and ‘unctuous’ escaped between mouthfuls. Bathed in a heady truffle mayonnaise, then scooped with butter-sodden racing green spinach, the effect verged on being erotic. And what lustrous gravy! But a pouting Barossa Shiraz seemed overweight and simplistic a match, landing us again in reality.
Despite exotic sounding ingredients and a tasty salt crust (courtesy of the Murray River where I determinedly kept a dinghy horizontal when all around others capsized) Brown's fillet of sea bass felt far from brave new world Oz. Curiously, the overall taste from pools of wild blood-lime olive oil with crunchy basil was ketchup... A Sauvignon/Semillon from Western Australia was fittingly bland. I suppose most must opt for the wagyu.
We had arrived at the final act and I wondered who would secure sweet victory: O&G’s bush thyme crème brûlée or Brown’s Tasmanian honey and ginger tart?
Whilst the delicately torched brûlée satisfyingly crazed to light custard, Brown’s exuberant Queensland ‘Buderim’ ginger and eucylptus honey tart, with creamy, pudgy lemon myrtle posset, was clearly outstanding.
A retail lunch had become a sensuous journey: not only a celebration of the flavour in geography, but a taste of a trio of personalities. Where Osborn and Graham’s creations were artistic and refreshing, Brown’s represented a mainly moreish, idealised take on home cooking.
To borrow the slogan of ‘Foster’s’ lager, and only because it works, I would strongly advise going to the Gallery and ‘getting some Australia into you’. But don't hesitate too long: the ‘G’dayuk’ menu runs until Friday…
GALLERY at Selfridges, Ground Floor Mezzanine, 400 Oxford Street, London. W1A 1AB
Selfridge's Gallery Restaurant on Urbanspoon