Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Le Café Anglais

I've heard many things about Le Café Anglais. A few friends went to the Taste of London festival last year, where they had their anchovy toasts with Parmesan custard. How good does that sound?! That put Le Café Anglais firmly on my 'must go' list, especially as I adapted a delicious recipe for lasagne from Rowley Leigh (chef patron).

Recently I met Charlie McVeigh, part-owner of Le Café Anglais at an ale and oyster tasting at his pub, The Westbridge. We've been talking on Twitter ever since and I was delighted when he invited fellow bloggers Niamh and Krista and I for dinner. The restaurant is situated in Bayswater, not a very well-known part of London for me. Upon arrival and having a drink at the bar, I was surprised to learn that the restaurant used to be a McDonalds. It certainly doesn't look like it. We were seated at a booth, upholstered in pistachio green and immediately presented with some delicious radishes and some tasty bread. Of course, we asked Charlie to do the ordering and he came up trumps.

We ordered a selection of Hors D'oeuvres, and thankfully two lots of the Parmesan Custard with Anchovy Toasts because it was everything I had hoped. The custard was silky and rich with umami with a strong hit of Parmesan. The anchovy toasts were perfect dippers, although some buckled under the effort of how much custard I was greedily trying to pile on.

Teriyaki Mackerel with Cucumber Salad was also excellent. I find mackerel a bit of a struggle unless it's paired with strong flavours and is really fresh, and this didn't disappoint. The teriyaki was sweet and the cucumber provided welcome freshness to an otherwise oily and rich fish. We were off to a good start. We also had some Pimentos de Padron, Oyster Fritters with Thai Dipping Sauce, and Salsify Fritters. If I'm honest, I don't think salsify tastes like much to me. These were expertly battered, without a hint of grease and light as a feather.

Next up came the first courses. We ordered four dishes, one of which was this Smoked Eel & Bacon Salad. It looked very familiar indeed, as Helen at Food Stories has recently made this recipe. I absolutely adore smoked eel, and the flavour pairings of this dish was excellent. The smoked eel was flavoursome and the beurre blanc sauce, delicately coating the leaves, had a perfect hint of acidity to slice through that richness.

I especially requested the Vitello Tonnato, purely because it intruiged me when I was reading up on the menu. Cold veal in a tuna sauce? I had horrible visions of being presented with a slab of grey meat languishing under a sauce of blitzed tinned tuna. These aren't natural pairings in my head. Apparently this is a classic summer dish - perfect for the driving rain outside then...

I'm really glad I asked for this, because it was delicious. Beautifully pink slices of melt-in-the-mouth veal in a dressing that had a strong tuna flavour. I have no idea how it tasted of tuna whilst still being completely smooth. The teeny tiny capers made me a very happy girl indeed.




Now this here is Pike Boudin with Fines Herbes and Beurre Blanc (Christ, how much butter did I consume?). Charlie tells us that there is a magical machine they have that strips the pike of all its many fiddly bones, leaving just flesh to work into this boudin. And what a wonderful sausage it was. Almost mousse-like in texture, it had a delicate but balanced flavour. Definitely a highlight. We also had a dish of Spaghetti with Wild Garlic which we got as I've never tried wild garlic. Unfortunately I couldn't detect a distinctly different flavour; it was delicious but to me it tasted of garlic, perhaps a touch fresher.


Speaking of mousses, it was insisted that we have a mid-course course - this Spinach Mousse with Sea Kale and Morels. It was perfectly smooth in texture and intensely spinachy (as one might expect). I remarked "ooh, it's got raisins on top!" I do wonder about myself sometimes. The morels were earthy and pungent, with the surrounding cream sauce so moreish - it reminded me of Charlie Nelson's Onion Sauce - I wanted to tip the remnants of the plate into my mouth. Luckily there was bread at hand to save my dignity.

As if that wasn't enough, we then had our main courses. Gorgeous suckling pig and roasted chicken breast with rosemary and garlic graced our table.

White Asparagus with Blood Orange Beurre Blanc was an unusual but gladly recieved side dish. Too often we have just the bog standard wilted greens / dressed leaves to accompany meals and I think it can get a bit boring.

I fell in love with white asparagus last during during a foodie jaunt to Brugge. Green and white both have their virtues, but I find that white is a much meatier and deeper flavoured beast.

Highlights of the mains were definitely this halibut. Paired perfectly with salsa verde, it was tender and perfectly cooked. I'm surprised we didn't fight over it.

Now, I know this is all rather gushing. There were a couple of dud notes, most notably the duck confit with swiss chard and pine nuts which was far too salty for my tastes. We also had an exteremely generous and mostly delicious cheeseboard, but one of the cheeses was so ripe it hurt my mouth - perhaps a bit too ripe.

Desserts were perhaps a bit foolish, given the amount of food we'd consumed but we couldn't resist. In particular, the Chocolate Souffle with Pistachio Ice Cream stood out (literally). The souffle was light and expertly made. My Custard Tart with Prunes was smooth and silky with just the lightest dusting of nutmeg. Or was it cinnamon? One of them.

All this was washed down with a light, off-dry Anjou le Clos des Rouliers 2006 Richard Leroy (my favourite of the evening), a Dolcetto d'Alba 2006 GD Vajra - apparently the first bottle was corked. I couldn't tell. I need to give up smoking - and a lovely dessert wine, Vouvray Moelleux Cuvee 1990 Didier Champalou.

All in all, a most excellent meal with a great host. When we arrived the restaurant was virtually empty. By 8pm, the dining room was buzzy and filled with pleasant chatter of fellow diners. Interestingly, Rowley Leigh prefers not to play music in his restaurants and while this can make the atmosphere slightly stifled, it did nothing of the sort here. Waiting staff was attentive and friendly and I fell in love with our server a little bit when he proffered a napkin to hide my embarrassing red wine spillage on the white tablecloth.

Now, I know my review may be biased due to having dined with Charlie, but I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this place to people. That Parmesan custard. That spinach mousse. That halibut. That waiter. All things that would have made me wonder when I can go back.

Le Café Anglais

8 Porchester Gardens

London W2 4DB

Tel: 020 7221 1415

18 comments:

Fat Les said...

Lovely write up and the last paragraph defines the sincerity. If only Charlie can improve on the service whenever I'm there!

Douglas Blyde said...

Great stuff. The souffle was a wise choice - other desserts are often less successful.

Helen said...

Yum yum yum! I am drooling at the very thought of that parmesan custard with anchovy toasts. Interesting the way they have done the toasts. I have a post coming up that's a bit similar - me and the Anglais are on the same wavelength! And suckling pig - yum! That spinach mousse cake thingy is interesting too - I've not seen anything like it before - and with raisins on top! ;)

Gourmet Chick said...

Sounds amazing Lizzie. You had me at chocolate souffle with pistachio icecream.

Niamheen said...

Great post Lizzie on a lovely evening. We disagree on one thing, the duck confit was one of my favourite dishes!

eatmynels said...

cheers for yet another linkage!!

Dan said...

Great Post.
Anchovy toasts with Parmesan custard, wow this sounds amazing. Looks like your not called Hollow Legs for nothing - thats a hell of a lot of food going on there! I'm also pretty impressed with the Pike dish - I've never tried Pike, what does it taste like? - super Fishy? subtle Fishy? errr Fishy-Fishy?

Andrew said...

Sounds really excellent.

Ref Smoking - you shouldnt need to give up (although you should) as the palate adapts to the ciggies flavours; it shouldn't influence how you taste wine.

Kavey said...

Oh my fucking god. Does anyone still wonder why they say food is the new porn???

Lizzie said...

Dan - mildly fishy in a good way, I'd say.

Andrew - Hurrah! I'll keep puffing away then. I don't actually smoke that much, it's just the 5 a day I struggle with giving up.

An American in London said...

When did you visit? I was just there again last Saturday and I, too, esp. enjoyed the parmesan custard and anchovy toast (always a winner there) and chocolate souffle. Oyster fritters were slightly disappointing this time around, but otherwise, it was a pleasure to eat there, as always.

Kang said...

oh yeah yummy yummy yummy. I really enjoyed it when I went there and I'd happily recommend it too! Really top notch food.

Helen Yuet Ling Pang said...

Yum! I also went to Le Cafe Anglais after Taste of London last year. Absolutely loved the Parmesan custard and pike boudin too! And my heavenly champagne jelly...

Boo said...

Looks so yum. I love white asparagus too, I once had it served cold with a blue cheese sauce, never see it to buy though.

Just Cook It said...

Looks, and sounds, wonderful. Am a big fan of Rowley Leigh a cook after my own heart. Or vice versa, probably. He's a mite more experienced than I

Browners said...

I couldn't be any more jealous. This sounds like my idea of sheer heaven. I've been dying to go here for ages - ever since trying the parmesan custard and anchovy toast that you very kindly linked to.

The halibut looks simply amazing.

You've elevated it to the top of my list.

The Ample Cook said...

What an amazingly appetizing array of food. Great blog

aninalos said...

Sorry Liz but I had the confit de canard last Monday, and it was far and away the very best I have ever tasted (or cooked). I am about to emulate it this morning.