For effect, I would normally say that we rolled out of the restaurant groaning and rubbing our bellies, but I would be lying…the main beautiful thing about eating high quality food and savouring it, is that I find you eat slower, you digest better, and all in all you don’t have that awful feeling of ‘being stuffed’ post nosh. So we could continue our night tout suite!
The poor lad was thus dragged across London to Notting Hill and a ‘good old British pub’, to meet two of my best girlfriends, and be subjected to a torrent of girly gossip and giggles. Sorry Chef. The pub though was perfect, with Alice in Wonderland tiny doorways, allowing him the chance of experiencing British ale. When wondering aloud why the ale was so warm he was informed by the Catholic priest (!?) sitting near us that it was ‘cellar temperature’ so that you could better get the flavour of the beer. I think the American was unconvinced, in spite of the fact that the news came on religious authority.
All in all, a thoroughly British day out.
What better way to spend a Sunday than to lounge in fuggy warmth for an entire afternoon with friends, being fed dish after dish of wonderful food. The ideal excuse as well, to showcase yet another brilliantly British brainwave: The Gastropub.
Or, to be more specific the Anchor & Hope in Waterloo. The spawn of our previous night’s feasting, St John, in a flash of wisdom I pre-booked our Sunday lunch, as it is apparently the only day possible to book at A&H, which otherwise experiences hours and hours of queues. We arrived at 12.30, already hungry from a brisk walk along the Thames, and our appetite was curbed with some delightful little crispy tantalisers, anchovy paste, pate and some fresh herb concoction. Nevertheless, by the time the rest of my amigos had arrived and lunch finally commenced at gone 2pm, it is fairly safe to say the group was like a group of thin, mangy lions waiting wild-eyed to pounce on the next passerby.
Thankfully we didn’t need to resort to pack hunting, as our waitress finally approached our table bearing the first of the day’s spoils. We ate our way through a simple yet savoury menu, frolicking joyfully from one dish to the next:
- Mussels, Cod and Saffron soup – I’m terribly fussy about my soups, as we’re all well aware, but this one, this one passed the stringent interview tests. I could almost hear the soup breathe a sigh of relief as I voiced my approval, and proceeded to revel in its rich flavours. It was creamy, thick and just filling enough to withstand the (leisurely) wait between soup and main, chunky pieces of cod and a generous dose of mussels cavorted playfully together.
- Braised Ox Cheek with buttered new potatoes and fresh horseradish – one of those occasions when I didn’t quite know what to expect from what I read on the menu, but I managed to glean some clues from our neighbouring tables. It all looked very promising indeed. All hands went eagerly and immediately on deck to clear our table and make way for the descent of an entire dark grey Le Creuset casserole. One of our table (probably, me if I'm completely honest) couldn’t bear the suspense, and grabbed the lid to open it with a flourish. All that was lacking was a drum roll and an applause, as a fragrant steam exploded jubilantly forth. It cleared like a dramatic mist to reveal a huge chunks of what were obviously the mysterious ox cheeks, in a dark, chestnut brown sauce. We tucked in. It was a novelty, this dark, succulent and exquisitely tender meat which wobbled obesely in its cloak of fat and turnip and carrot sauce. Its sidekicks were equally delightful, but in their simplicity rather than their decadence: a gangful of glossy potatoes slick with butter and cocky with their fresh parsley freckles. But it was a small, unobtrusive pot which added the finishing touch: a sneeze-inducing, eye-watering fresh horseradish sauce, made up with a tart crème fraiche.
- Watercress, St Tola and Pear – crunchy, fresh, bitter watercress; sour sweet smooth goat’s cheese and juicy slivers of pear. What better way to lift the palate post-ox?!
- Little Chocolate Pot – It was the perfect end to a perfect relationship. Hand me chocolate and it is almost like guaranteeing my undying affections. There was a collective sigh of bliss round the table. I was silent for a full two and a half minutes. Absorb the sheer magnitude of this. And it can’t have been entirely unrelated to its Lex-quietening properties that this little cuddle-in-a-pot earned even more brownie (‘scuse the pun) points from its adoring fans. Tiny and potent, a little jar of just-liquid chocolate with caramel overtones and a slightly toasted honeycomb aftertaste was topped with a thin slug of single cream, laughing in the face of any recommended daily calorie intake. It really was heavenly. Hands down the best (and no doubt one of the simplest) puds I've ever eaten that I've not cooked myself.
This time we really did roll out of the pub, like six tottering bowling pins, very late afternoon, for a much needed post-lunch walk along the South Bank to watch the sun set. London at its best.