Wednesday, June 01, 2011


It is a rare thing indeed that I get all effervescent and radiant about something as simple as lunch. I am in the very fortunate position that I dine out excessively, something I enjoy, but it takes a lot to get the wibbles wobbling, to coin a phrase.

At lunch today, my utterly charming Good Lady had taken the unusual step of booking somewhere we hadn't been. I'm not a creature of habit because I travel like a maniac but I do tend towards the same places around town of an evening or quiet day. Lunch is usually something simple at home anyway.

The joint in question is expensive, overly so, has been patronised by Michael Winner (in both senses of the word) and other famous luminaries. You sit in a greenhouse, on furniture straight out the jumble sale, on an earthen floor, surrounded by plants and yummy mummies. It is not the kind of place where I'm usually to be found. Any time I am, there's a mental note being made, to sit it out, enjoy the bits I can, and get out, never to return.

As I read the menu, a familiar voice was making such mental notes.

The prices are a shock. A starter of a couple of tomatoes was over twelve quid. A main of salmon was 35! Thirty Five quid for a piece of fish!!

The little voice was now talking out loud. I could hear my own voice saying across the table "Jesus H Christ, have you seen these prices!!" in a tone not normally used outside a loud pub. The Good Lady smiled beatifically.

I ordered the tomatoes, then I ordered another starter, peas and cheese lets call it - that was fifteen quid! TGL ordered more conventionally , a starter and a main.

The wine was only ever going to be house but to be honest the wine list was very inviting. We had a sauvignon blanc, from the Languedoc, La Croix, which was sharp and summery, dry but floral, with a zing and a blast on the tongue. It stood out from the normal stuff consumed chez nationwide. It was under £20 and worth it.

My starter of two tomatoes arrived. They were, I was told, Camone and Cuore de Bue, two types of which I've never heard. This is mainly because I've never paid the slightest attention to anything beyond "cherry" and "plum" although I did find myself baulking in sainsburys one day when I saw a sign saying "grown for flavour". What are the others grown for? Fun?

The tomatoes were good. Very good. But they were tomatoes. There was a little light white cheese, or more accurately, goat's curd, which was light and almost fluffy without a trace of acidity, but with a very piquant flavour which lingered long after it should. I silently scoffed.
But it was the oil that did it. Now here's something that I know a teeny bit about. We choose our oils with care and, when we can afford, splurge. I bring back various olive oils from abroad and mix and match in dressings with a variety of ingredients.

This was a smooth, green Italian oil which just rolled around the mouth with an elegance that is rare. An oil slick which I began to savour more than the tomatoes, more than the goat's curd.
My God, I was enjoying it! Twelve quid for two tomatoes and I'm enjoying it?

More than that, I was loving it. I didn't want it to end. I nearly licked my plate. I certainly ran my finger round it just before the charming waitress took it away. "That was something else, " I muttered, "That oil was incredible"
"Good, isn't it?" she smiled back, "It's a tuscan, Fontodi, it's right in season right now"

I stared at TGL. "In season?" And the waitress knew? What is this place, foodie heaven?

My second starer arrived. Peas and cheese. To be fair, it was fresh peas, picked just an hour or so ago, with fresh beans, fresh asparagus and decorated with pea shoots, the spindly wee growths that children chuck away and adults now prize (they taste good)

All dressed in more Fontodi oil, a slick way too small for me, sprinkled (sorry drizzled) over and lying in a puddle underneath. It was very welcome.

But this time it was the cheese. It was fresh buffalo mozzarella. Now you know what mozzarella is, they sell it in the supermarket, put it on pizzas, and if you're lucky it won't be rubbery.
This was different.
I've given up on mozarella in this country. Like ricotta, it can't be transported. I had a conversation in Puglia last year, about this very thing, with a small cheese producer. I asked if he exported (he laughed) and then I asked if you could even get it in Rome. He looked at me and said it didn't go beyond twenty miles of the farm. "It would taste different" he said.
And he's right, it does.
There's a very special mozarella in Puglia - Matera produces the best - which is actually cheese and cream. It's called Burrata, and although a few places in the UK have an imported version, there is nothing like the real thing. Nothing, I tell you.

But this mozarella was so soft and creamy, stringy and mellow, it was like being in Italy. In the south, where under some vegetation, I'd be in the sun, on a terrace, eating the food of the Gods, using a spoon the mozzarella would be so soft, so light and delicious......
Hang on, I am on a sun kissed terrace, I am surrounded by fresh air and creeper plants, this is the food of the Gods.

I stole a taste of TGL's scall0ps with borlotti beans, my gawd it was good - run through with garlicky pesto and fresh tasting herbs (which were fresh because they grow here, in the greenhouse next door) .

A finale of gorgonzola was soft, tangy, unctious, saddled with figs preserved in red wine. I could barely bring myself to share it.

It is summertime. It's a sunny day. this place has been open a few years and apparently slebs go to slum it with the yummy mummies and drop a ton at lunch.

By God it's worth it. Every penny.


Kavey said...

I keep meaning to go. I really must.

Nationwide said...

It's Petersham Nurseries btw.