A chef, a rat, a hit

We went out last night to Helene Darroze’s new restaurant at the Connaught. A little background is required to paint the scene: Helene Darroze trained under the legendary Alain Ducasse, is widely acknowledged as one of the top-ranking female chefs in the world, and her cooking at her Parisian restaurant won 2 michelin stars. And the was the lady in charge of cooking our dinner last night. Excited? Oh you bet!! Just thinking about it makes my mouth water! No rats in the kitchen, at least not in real life. You see, Helene Darroze was also the inspiration for Colette in Ratatouille. We were definitely in for a great night.

The dinner was a celebration for a friend – she ended 10 months of gruelling radio and chemotherapy 2 months ago – and journeyed through it with dignity humour and determination. And come out the other end very hungry.

We toasted to her health and to the fact she can enjoy all her favourite foods again (not to mention lovely wine!).

The restaurant itself was beautiful – grand old english manor of deep red mahogany, but with modern colours and touches, uncluttered yet cozy and welcoming. Rich woods, clean vanilla colours and irridecent glass vases. buttery velvet armchairs and red baubles here and there hanging on cotton bud branches added a touch of festive spirit.

Service was impeccible right from entering the hotel. 3 staff offered to assist me, the front desk whisked my coat away and showed me to the table, and the maitre’d came to offer me a drink. the waiters all had the requisite french accents, young and ready with a smile. Sometimes this level of service can be a little stiff – unsmiling, terribly formal – but the team we had was ready to laugh with us, and offer words of courage when we quailed at the never ending trays of food that arrived at our table.

So on to the food – we started out with a veloute of artichoke served in glass cones. Creamy – a nice little kick start to the palette. We had finger food – parma ham (jamon iberica? serrano? something yummy) shaved at the table on a huge red machine, served on slate squares. Some kind of cheese cracker straw with chorizo and slow roasted tomato in the middle, and corn bread with chorizo and herbs on top. The ham was gorgeous and the the sticks were yummy. They brought us salted and unsalted butter, cut in pie slices – we thought it was brie! The bread was gorgeous, of course. But having learned from experience, bread is a stomach filler… best to be avoided on marathon dinners. I couldn’t help it though and had to have a very crunchy looking roll, it looked too yummy and of course it was.

We then had our starters – I had artichaut epineux (thorny artichoke) which was part of the heart quartered on a ravioli of a soft ewes cheese and herbs. Nice layer of flavours and textures for the ravioli. the hearts yummy but the weird tentacle things on them rubbery. David had squid on rice cooked in squid ink. Looked very cool, though I can’t remember how it tasted. Maybe he might pop in with a comment…

We had another amuse bouche – something peanutty and cheesy with cereal flakes and foie gras at the bottom. This one came in a squat test tube perspex glass. Quite nice but a little too rich and gloopy (very much like peanut butter – but maybe that was the point?)

My main was palombe (pigeon) & foie gras with caramelised pumpkin. Gorgeous. Really pink, rich meat, the foie gras was delicious with the pigeon, but also nicely offset by the sweetness of the pumpkin. A crunchy long cracker with pate or something on it was presented on top. This combo is an old french favourite – pigeon and foie gras – but this one didn’t feel overly rich or heavy. Yummmm!

Oh I’ve forgotten the wines – we started with a Kabinett Riesling – 2005 – “Scharzhofberger” from Egon Müller. Very balanced, acidic wine with a good amount of sweetness. A little too sweet though for my artichoke dish, I think an Alsatian Riesling would have been better as they are generally quite dry, but still, lovely to drink. For the mains we had a Bergerac Moulin des Dames 1999 from Chateau Tour des Gendres, half merlot half cab sauv. The wine was rich and berry like, not at all dissimilar to bordeaux, and perfect foil for the meat.

After the main we had another amuse bouche to refresh our palette – I liked this one the best. It had lime granite on top, vanilla and pineapple pieces with lime zest and black pepper. gorgeous, and yup, very refreshing! Then came dessert…

The pannacotta had space dust in it (the candy that pops in your mouth!), but I opted for marron d’ardeche.. a sugared chestnut and two flutes with cream and green apple sorbet and a couple long biscuit sticks. Mmmm! This was followed by a plate of petit fours (chocolates – with more space dust) and then tea. Bursting bursting like a cream filled donut by this stage. Some tea to finish off, and then they presented us with a little take home goody origami box. I groaned when I saw it. By this point I was about to crawl under the table for a nap. I peeked inside the pretty blue box…to find another little chocolate cake! A little traditional french cake thingie to take home. Very thoughtful touch, particularly since none of use could contemplate another bite.

All in all a fab dinner and evening. And tonight! oooh !

Tonight David is taking me to see

TWILIGHT

I am crazy excited to see it. Have been waiting since coming home from Vegas in September for this movie. Yay!

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