We were seated in the private dining room and the evening kicked off with some seaweed crisps, like huge black prawn crackers with a taramasalata-like sauce to scoop up. Mini cornetto-shaped cones filled with a foie gras mousse amused my bouche, and then we got stuck into the tasting menu proper.
One of the main highlights for me came early on. A slow cooked quail's egg bobbed about in an 'Autumn minestrone', the broth made from Montgomery cheddar. It managed to be light yet cheesy and rich, taking on just the flavour of the cheese rather than the texture. The egg popped in the mouth like a little balloon - is there much better than slow cooked eggs? I don't think so.
The rest of the menu was a Michelin man's tick box of dreams. A lobe of foie gras was seared at a high heat befitting it, glazed and bronzed and served with a crab apple galette. I couldn't tell you what a crab apple tastes like, but in this instance its fruity tartness played off well against the rich liver. Langoustine tails sat on an emulsified bed of potato and truffle; the latter luxury ingredient so loved at this time of year made another appearance with a perfectly cooked slab of turbot, made unusual and disarming but delightful with a bay milk puree.
I am sorry to say that grouse isn't to my taste. I keep trying it in the hope that I will change my mind - after all, I started liking bananas on the day of my last birthday - which is why I didn't ask them to swap it out of my menu. Still, I can appreciate the technical skill that had gone into this dish. Cooked to an even pink throughout, the meat was butter-soft, the turnip and celeriac tower working in those Autumnal flavours and boosted by the blackberries. (Urgh.)
The cheese course was cleverly presented as a wedge of Barkham Blue stuffed into what looked like a pain au chocolat. A cheesecake with currants was such a sharp slice I could have sworn the edge of it could poke my eye out, and just when I thought I was fit to burst, a tall plum souffle, edges well clear of its ramekin was set before me, a scoop of almond ice cream slid inside it table-side.
There's no doubting the immense skill of Howard and his kitchen. He came to have a chat with us afterwards and told us that this cookbook was 10 years in the making, and having had a flick through I can see how that's possible.
I've been moaning recently that all we get these days are XYZ Made Easy, or whoever's meals in 15 minutes, or some bastardisation of a cuisine to make it simple and quick. None of us have much free time (or don't want to spend it cooking, apparently) but unless you want Heston and his science, books and TV shows these days don't cater for us food nerds who like learning about in-depth techniques and the dishes, made up of many components, that go with it. Which is why I was pretty pleased when I opened Howard's Part 1: Savoury. He makes no bones about it; a lot of it would be hard to do in a domestic kitchen, or one with basic equipment. But thumbing through cook books, ooh'ing and aah'ing over the incredible effort that goes in these dishes is pleasing to me, especially if I've eaten one (above, smoked mackerel with prawns, sea water jellies, cucumber and caviar). I find it all very inspirational and I might even get round to making one of the dishes, so hats off to Mr Howard and the gargantuan effort it must've been to write it all down.
The cookbook is on Amazon if you which to purchase.
You can see all my photos from the night if you wish, here.
6 - 10 Bruton Street
London W1J 6PU
Tel: 0207 495 7100