Ewan McDonald: Eating My Words
KICK BACK for the latest ramblings. If you’re struggling to connect with the writer’s trail of thoughts, a decent Chianti should help connect the dots. It’s what fuels the whole shooting-match. Locked, loaded, ready? Here we go.
First to Spain, or more correctly Catalunya, where Ferran Adrià, celebrated for turtledove with blackberry caviar and duck foie gras candies, has decided to permanently close his famously experimental elBulli restaurant.
The palace of deconstructed degustation holds three Michelin stars and has been Restaurant magazine’s top of the pots for four years. You’re probably too late to phone for a table: elBulli will open for six months this year and next, closing in December 2011, and the ballot of 2 million wannabe diners for this year’s 8000 lucky dinners has been drawn.
The great chef’s reasons seem as whimsical as his food. Last month he told an international culinary conference that he would shut the doors temporarily in 2012 and 2013 due to the difficulties of working 15 hours a day (and, presumably, not being able to charge 15% surcharge on public holidays).
Now he says it’s because he and his business partner, Juli Soler, have been losing $NZ975,000 a year on the restaurant and cooking workshop in Barcelona. He plans to establish a new culinary academy and to fund scholarships.
Foams, schmoams. I wouldn’t mind having a chat with Adria – preferably over a 30-course dinner with accompanying Catalan wines and cheeses, preferably not deconstructed – because I have an idea about where he went wrong.
“So, Ferran … you don’t mind if I call you Ferry, do you? … you’re not a cook, you’re an artist, right? Like Picasso, like Dali.
“So why did you change a perfectly good name, El Bulli, to elBulli, a couple of years back? Sounds like PostBank or KiwiRail. Has it all been downhill from there?”
“And the cookbook. You held hands with a supermarket chain and did a cook-at-home book with store-bought chicken, mayo and potato chips? Just a tad Jamie Oliver, Ferry.”
MOVING ON … Britwell Salome, home to 200 people in the Chiltern Hills near Oxford, looks rather like the sort of English chocolate-box village that should feature in one of those gentle Sunday-night thrillers like The Midsomer Murders, possibly because it does. Over the past few weeks it’s become the setting for another, peculiarly English, mystery.
For Britwell Salome’s other claim to fame is its Michelin-star gastro-pub, The Goose. It was just another village pub 10 years ago, until Chris Barber, former chef to the Prince of Wales, bought it and decided to try serving something more than pies and mushy peas. Barber moved on and his young sous-chef Michael North took over. He was awarded the gold star five years ago, on his 26th birthday.
Fast-forward to this year’s Michelin announcements in January, and The Goose – now with 27-year-old Ryan Simpson in the kitchen – retained its ranking. For a whole three weeks: he and his brigade downed pinnies when the current owner, Paul Castle, told him his food was “too poncey”.
Castle said the restaurant wasn’t viable, and instead of muntjac roasted in hay it needed to serve food that local people wanted. “Pub grub.”
Simpson’s cooking “is fantastic but he should go back to Paris and play at cooking there. All I wanted was to be a local good food place. Ryan never even had steak on the menu. In a farming area, people want a hearty meal … I know what the locals want.”
Simpson replied, “He’s painting me as a pretentious chef who threw his toys out of the pram. That’s not true, I understand the business side, we had built a reputation and I wasn’t going to do burgers and baguettes.”
So what was on the menu at this village pub?
From the entrees:
Slow-poached Britwell hen’s egg with smoked pork belly, chicory, mustard $17.95
Pan-seared Lyme Bay scallops, with veal sweetbreads, butternut and date chutney, sherry vinegar jus, $29.15
From the mains:
Roast saddle of Yattendon Sika deer with spinach, potato, chanterelle mushrooms, huntsman’s sauce, $48.25
Angus beef fillet steak with chunky chips, sprout tops, spiced carrot $51.50
Chocolate and olive oil truffle with banana, salted caramel and balsamic ripple ice cream
Carrot and cardamom panna cotta with carrot carpaccio, blood orange
See, despite what mine host says, Sir could have had his steak and chips, washed down with a decent claret. So what if it cost over fifty quid? Have you got any idea what it costs to fill the Range Rover these days?
Hat-tips: The Times, The Guardian