I don't usually go for the menu gastronomique, or tasting menu. So
many courses, so many calories and often a different wine served
with each dish. By the end of such a meal it can feel like being
blindfolded and slapped across the cheek with a wet fish - and then
being asked to identify it. After so much food and drink, I'm not
sure how diners can even identify their own face in the mirror.
Certainly, after spending an evening at Orrery last week I came out
convinced I was with my own twin sister. However, since there were
two of us came, it was nice to have company in the cab home.
Though I seem to have paid for both of us.
Yes, I've changed my hair colour again - this time to a Bride of
Dracula shade of knife-handle black - and it does get confusing. I
haven't quite got used to it myself. I've had so many different
shades this year that I'm sure my neighbours think I'm in a witness
protection programme. Every time I look in the mirror I think I'm
starring in a low-budget soap opera where an actress wears a black
wig and plays her long-lost sibling, exhumed from the grave.
So there we were, myself, (the evil Goth sister joined us later) and a
couple of friends pigging out on the last of the season's truffles at the
recently Michelin starred Orrery in trendy Marylebone High Street.
It is a Conran restaurant, but apart from Bibendum across
town in the Michelin building on Brompton Cross, this is the only one
with food of real character, the others are all impostors wearing wigs.
We went at the start of Lent, a time of abstinence and good
intentions. I've stopped smoking (twelve days and counting),
rejoined the gym (though having a gnat sized Gerry Halliwell on the
bike next to you does not make you feel good about your thighs) and
vowed to forgo alcohol. So what the hell am I doing snuffling my
way through the truffle menu and enjoying the sommelier's selection
of accompanying wine by the glass? Oh well, March is the month one
must kiss black truffles a long good-bye until the more expensive
and glamorous white variety appear towards the cold end of October.
First came the amuse bouche - a delicious truffled ballotine of foie
gras with Sauterne jelly - just the tiniest sliver and served with its
very own glass of non vintage fizz, This was followed by a delicate
veloute of Jerusalem artichoke, the gourmet gift that keeps on giving
- sprinkled with a few confetti flakes of Perigourd truffles. The
third course was sea scallops 'black tie' - a scallops layered with
black truffle and served in a little pastry jacket, with a truffled
sauce. A lemon thyme granite arrived next as a palate cleanser and
this was followed by black leg chicken, a layer of truffle inserted
under the roasted chicken skin and a large ravioli stuffed with
chicken, foie gras and yet more truffle.
Despite the abundance of shaved truffle throughout the meal, the
most odiferous dish was the truffle oil sprinkled over the walnut
salad served with a wedge of triple cream cheese with a sweet
quince paste. And if this isn't wasn't enough the final dish was
truffle and honey ice cream on a bed of diced strawberries, a strange
confusion of creamy, earthy sweetness, though the first two
unsuspecting mouthfuls, heavily laced with truffle morsels, tasted a
little like eating dirt, which was not as unpleasant as you light
imagine. Interesting, I would say, and strangely compulsive. Like
your first pint of Guinness. Or men who don't shave.
Now, I know, I sped through this feast faster than a trucker in Drive-
thru MacDonald’s, but if I had to take as long to describe it as the
meal did, I would be back next Saturday with the sequel. Portions
are perfectly judged - neither to much nor too little, but the space
between courses seemed lengthier than first time labour - though
thankfully significantly less painful thanks to the wine. Each glass
we were offered by the sommelier, complete with short explanation,
came from the same region as the truffles and due to the harmonious
nature of the menu, the individuality and character of the different
wines were evident.
Our own characters, in the meantime, became increasingly blurred .
Of course you are supposed to drink the wine which under
normal circumstances would probably pass the interval between
courses in a more congenial fashion than yawning noisily until tears
run down your cheeks leaving tracts in your soin de mort foundation,
but being Lenten-minded, we merely sipped. The table was littered
with a profusion of glasses, each containing a varying amount of
different coloured liquid, like a novelty orchestra for contestants on
The Generation Game. Nevertheless, even with sips, and no
distracting cigarettes, there is a lot to get through.
For those with restraint, the Connaught also has a truffle menu
- five courses with coffee for £75, but each dish can be ordered
individually, leaving you feeling righteous yet replete, and more