I lived in England for nearly 15 months during the late 1980s. Whether it was Oxford or London, I had never thought of it as a culinary centre in any way. Being a real foodie even during those student years, I spent all my money and my breaks travelling to France, Italy and Spain – it was under the guise of exploring historic sites but in reality, I spent far more time in restaurants, bistros, tapas bars and trattorias than in the museums. The food at the local pubs in England were heavy, greasy and tasteless, even the more upscale restaurants did not excite me. I traveled outside of England to eat well during those days.
Forward two decades later the dining and food revolution has completely transformed. It is not just the advent of numerous Michelin star restaurants and celebrity chefs that have changed the scene but even the local pubs and casual everyday eateries that now offer delicious food. In my recent trip to London, I was invited to dine with friends at The Ledbury . It just received two Michelin stars and is now difficult to get a table without a long lead time. The young Australian chef Brett Graham has a light touch and his dishes balance wonderful flavours with contrasting textures using fresh ingredients.
Roast scallops seems like a mundane starter, but Brett adds blood orange seasoning before roasting then garnishes the dish with crunchy toasted pine nuts and shavings of parmesan. A simple but delicious combination – I loved the crunchy pine nuts which accentuated the sweetness of the scallops! His second starter was thinly sliced raw deer meat with beetroot, walnuts and rye. The meat was delicate and more tasty than beef carpaccio and had no hint of gamey flavours. The beetroots along with walnuts were in a puree and had a softened mashed potato texture which worked very well with the softness of the sliced deer meat.
The roast sea bass accompanied by puree of peas and morels was incredible fresh – the white meat was filled with juicy delicate flavours. The loin of lamb with new potatoes is a classic dish and here again, Brett did very little and allowed the freshness of the high quality ingredients to shine through. This was followed by a creative dish of poached breast of pigeon and a confit of pigeon legs served with black pudding and braised turnips. What a glorious dish this was – the dense pigeon meat was tamed by slow and gentle cooking methods, adding lightness to a dish that could have been heavy.
Yes, it is possible to eat all this food in one sitting, which is what I did on one sensational memorable evening in London. The six course meal was accompanied by ten vintages of California cult wine Araujo Eisele Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon and three vintages of Eisele Vineyard Syrah. The wines were as impressive as the food. The evening was a reminder that I should now plan my meals in London in advance and take its dining options more seriously. Next on my list: The Fat Duck.