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Last Monday was the August Bank Holiday here in England and as a result I decided that my wife and I deserved a little gastronomic indulgence.
We started off the weekend with a seven course tasting menu at one of our favourite London restaurants, L’autre Pied. We have been there a couple of times before but when they told me that they were running a special tasting menu during August where you could try seven of their delicious courses for a wallet-friendly £29pp, we couldn’t really say no. The stand out courses for me were: the Salad of Radishes with Black Quinoa, Crème Fraiche, Fennel, Dill and Kaffir Lime, which was a brilliantly balanced dish with the pickled fennel being particularly delicious; the Poached Cod with Brassicas, Squid Ink and Pine Nuts, where the poaching of the fish (as opposed to pan frying) gave the cod a very pleasing textural structure; the Haunch of Sika Deer with Black Pudding, Beetroot and Peanut, where we star of the show was (predictably) the various venison elements of the deer were cooked in differing styles; and the English Raspberries with Passion Fruit and Basil, where the delicious and juicy raspberries were complimented beautifully by the basil in particular.
For wine we decided to take a couple from the restaurant’s by-the-glass menu. I started with a glass of 2011 Áldomás Dry Furmint from the Bodvin Winery which was an extremely interesting wine. It started off very aromatic, but changed flavour profile completely sitting in the glass, becoming a lot more musty, with a slight citrus nose. On the mouth it was crisp, dry and fresh; it was nicely balanced, elegant with a long, fresh finish. When the deer came the sommelier suggested that I try the 2011 ‘Estacion 1883’ Cabernet Franc, Mendoza, Argentina. In the glass it was a deep, intense black/purple with some serious legs – think Gisele Bündchen. On the nose it had a slightly sweet aroma reminiscent of menthol and had bags of blackcurrant fruit. On tasting it was brilliant and vibrant, with elements of acidity to balance that fruity power. This was a serious wine and a great accompaniment to the venison.
All of the above made for an extremely delectable Friday evening and reminded us just why L’autre Pied is a firm favourite of ours and a restaurant that we will keep coming back to as often as we can.
On the Sunday we decided that we would risk the legendarily bad British Bank Holiday weather and do a walk from Canterbury to Whitstable on the Kentish coast. We had, after all, discovered our wanderlust on our recent trip to the Amalfi Coast. The walk itself was very pretty and took us through some beautiful woodland, however we did manage to get spectacularly lost at a couple of key moments, meaning that the walk took probably about 50% longer then it should have. Notwithstanding this, when we arrived into the pretty and picturesque seaside town we felt that after six hours’ solid walking we had earned a proper seaside supper – fish and chips! I went for the large cod (which they did fresh) and a generous portion of chips; certainly not healthy, but very well deserved. Fortunately the weather held, but as evening came in it became pretty cool so we retreated to our bed and breakfast which was fortunately situated next to The Wine Room. I picked up a bottle of 2012 Valpolicella Ripasso Superiore from Casa Vinicola Zonin which was smooth, rich and powerful and perfect for perking us up again after our trek.
The next morning we were greeted with the customary Bank Holiday squall of rain and wind, which dampened our spirits a little (both literally and metaphorically). However, being hardy British/German folk we zipped up our rain jackets and unfurled our umbrellas and set off to explore Whitstable, which is a very charming seaside town with a rich history. It is renowned for the quality of its seafood and in fact had the world’s first commercial railway built connecting it with Canterbury for the transportation of crabs and winkles (how we could have done with that railway the day before…) Every July Whitstable has a world-famous Oyster festival, something that I would very much like to go to one day. After a bit of wandering it was time for what I had been most looking forward to all weekend – our lunchtime booking at Wheelers Oyster Bar.
Wheelers is a Whitstable institution and is celebrated for its seafood. Getting a booking in the restaurant can be quite tricky as they can only cater for around twenty people at any one time in their cosy dining area which is reminiscent of someone’s living room. They don’t have an alcohol licence, but they do operate a Bring Your Own policy and fortunately there is an excellent wine shop around the corner (more on that later). Given the name of the restaurant there was clearly only one starter that I could have – six Rocky Oysters with a Bloody Mary Granite, Cucumber and Mico-celery. I wanted to have the oysters the way that I have always liked them best – raw. The oysters were of impressive size and the slight spice and coolness from the Bloody Mary Granite complimented them nicely. I was a little disappointed to know that these weren’t Whitstable Bay Oysters (as they weren’t available yet, they were starting to come next month) and that the ones that I had eaten were from Ireland. Still, just means I’ll have to come back another time to taste the Kentish ones!
For the main courses I thought that we should push the boat out so to speak. We ordered two dishes which we shared between us. The first was undoubtedly the star: a Lasagne of Kentish Lobster, with Leek and Wild Garlic Ragout, Lobster Bisque, Wild Mushrooms, Tenderstem Broccoli and Shavings of Aged Parmesan. Wow. We went for the medium size of this dish so it came with two Lobster Tails and two Lobster Claws. The Lobster meat was impressively meaty, juicy and sweet and delicious. The Bisque was intensely and deeply flavoured and the Wild Mushrooms were a wonderful addition. I would say that I would walk back to Wheelers for this dish, but considering I had walked there in the first place I’d probably settle for getting the train. For the second dish we chose the Halibut Roasted with a Chorizo Crust on a Smoked Prawn Paella with Squid Ink Paint, Piqiou Pepper Puree and Crispy Squid. The Halibut was beautiful and tasty as would be expected, but the most interesting part of this dish for me was the smoked prawn paella. I’d never had prawns that had been smoked before, but they really added an interesting depth to the dish. The little rings of crispy squid were light and delicious too.
As mentioned above Wheelers do not have an alcohol licence, but they recommend visiting an off-licence across the road called The Offy. This is not your bog standard off-licence peddling Blossom Hill and Jacob’s Creek, it had a seriously interesting selection of wines. Given the fishy theme I was looking at the whites and saw very decent white Burgundies (including Premier Crus Chablis and Puligny-Montrachet), exciting Rieslings (Germany and Australia), but I decided to try a 2012 Sepp Moser “Rohrendorf” Grüner Veltliner Kremstal DAC Reserve (partly influenced by this great article on GV I read recently on Frankly Wine’s blog). The wine was almost translucent in the glass and had an almost saline-like minerality on the nose. On tasting it came alive, beautifully crisp and balanced with notes of citrus fruit and green apples. The finish was long and fragrant. It worked very well with the fish dishes that we’d chosen, but it didn’t have so much flavour that it competed with them and infact it’s mineralic and subtle character helped to augment the flavours of the food. I was very pleased with this match.
There you have it – a truly decadent weekend with some great food eaten and some memorable wine drunk. If only every weekend could be like this!