These days people eat out for entertainment and restaurants are presented as high-cost theatre with elaborate sets for those who donÕt want to buy a programme. However, dining on a film set is something of a first, even for me. Neverthless, after being squeezed in for a seven oÕclock booking (and told to leave by nine) at the already packed new restaurant, The Providores, in Marylebone High Street, there we were playing out of-focus extras in Peter Gordon, The Movie. The excellent, knowledgeable and coolly efficient staff couldnÕt have been more conciliatory Š twice coming over to assure us that we wouldnÕt be visible in the shot (lest you are dining tete a tete with someone other than your official life partner when supposedly at a late business meeting, perhaps). Not that his would have been much comfort, in all senses, to the people wedged into the table next to the one where Gordon et al pretended to eat food that had been posing untouched for half an hour before action, and where a microphone waggled overhead like a gnomeÕs fishing rod.
Not that they seemed to mind, studiously ignoring it all the way you do Damon Albarne standing in the street outside his house in his pyjamas (or is that just me?) but it was a tad obtrusive (like pjÕs, Damon, are just a tad uncool). Food was just as surprising as the presence of the film crew, but much more welcome. Peter Gordon is yet another antipodean chef who has relocated to London, but no newcomer to the restaurant scene. IÕve been a big fan since his early days in the slightly up-itself Sugar Club in All SaintÕs Road, where you could dine like a king, score drugs, and be mugged all on your short walk from the restaurant to the mini cab office. When the restaurant moved to the West End, we followed whenever the occasion; birthdays, quarrel reparation, visiting Americans and the wallet, allowed. When he left the kitchen, so did we. So itÕs particularly welcome to see him starting out afresh in Aveda-land with his signature, knock your socks off, zingy pacific rim cuisine where New Zealand wines are interesting and very modestly priced, each dish has to have at least one unfamiliar and exotic ingredient and the current PC insistence on using seasonal, local produce is swept away in the whoosh of air freight.
For example, the menu include grilled scallops on kohlrabi, jicama, papaya and cabbage salad with crispy fish; plantain and cassava fritter with oven dried tamarillo; tamarind-coconut relish; or was roast halibut with wing beans, box choi and shiitake with yuzu dressing (which I thought was an 80Õs pop duo). If this was any other quirky, designer restaurant youÕd be running for your life, and IÕd be handing you the trainers, but Peter Gordon does have the pedigree to pull it off, so sit down Š if you can find a place. The restaurant and the Tapa bar (named for the Maori cloth hanging on the wall but serving Š yes, youÕve guessed it, tapas style snacks) are both heaving. Gordon runs a tight ship Š so tight that if every one exhales theyÕd adhere to their neighbour like balloons in a box.
We had chilled roast beetroot, basil and lime leaf soup with a dollop of cr¸me fraiche, which had a thick, grainy, home made pureed texture. I had the taste-bud wake up call of grilled cinnamon quail on an assertive roast carrot, pomegranate and ginger salad, which gets its bracing acerbic twist from the strong citrus notes of Australian wattleseed.
Next up I decided on miso and sake baked aubergine Š the fillet steak of the carniphobe Š served on taro rosti (a potato-like root), strewn with edamame(fresh soya beans). It was a satisfying but deceptively hefty dish, more suited for cold winter evenings than the dying wheeze of what we Brits laughingly call a summer.
Husband (I had nothing to fear from the camera - this time) was drooling over his roast Trelough duck (an unfortunate habit of his), buttered cabbage and roast chioca (a crisp tuber resembling Jerusalem artichokes). ItÕs wonderful, he enthused, passing me a forkful to savour, as you do when youÕve shared worse things than a used fork. But, no, definitely not for me. I hadnÕt reckoned on the vanilla jus which jarred horribly with duck and which I found too overpoweringly perfume. He thought the flavour acceptably blunt, as did the person wolfing it down at the next table. ThereÕs no accounting for taste. Apparently.
Pudding offers a selection of novelties, which feature Hokey Pokey, ice cream (a New Zealand favourite, IÕm told) or a simpler plate of biscuits and chocolates. Alternatively, thereÕs a fine selection of cheeses. We had a green tea pannacotta with an acid yellow dome of lychee jelly wobbling on the top, not unlike a prosthetic device for those who are familiar with them. You could have eaten it or stuck it in your bra. The whole dish resembled a lurid jellyfish, but tasted subtle, delicate and was refreshingly light. Better to eat it, then. Well unless you have a pair.