My 7 Links

I was asked by esteemed fellow blogger @gourmetraveller to participate in a project called ‘My 7 Links’, which is organized by Tripbase. I haven’t really done a ‘meme’ post before, but thought this particular one would be a nice way to review my last two years of food and wine, re-focusing attention on some highs, some lows, and the unexpected. So, without further adieu, my seven links.

Most Popular Post:
The Fat Duck – A Blumen’ Great Day in Bray  

JELLY OF QUAIL, CREAM OF CRAWFISH: Chicken Liver Parfait, Oak Moss & Truffle Toast (Homage to Alain Chapel) … at The Fat Duck in Bray, UK

I guess it comes as no surprise that my most popular post is a review of one of the UK’s high temples of gastronomy: Heston Blumenthal’s three-star Michelin restaurant, The Fat Duck, which was also awarded ‘Best Restaurant in the World’ by the Restaurant Magazine / San Pellegrino ’50 Best’ awards in 2005, and has been in the top five since 2004. Given that a large portion of my readership still hails from the UK and that Heston Blumenthal has become a very popular figure on TV and in the country’s print media, it makes sense. Happily, it was also one of the better meals I’ve had the pleasure of eating since I started this blog. I also like the chef’s approach towards food and his concept of ‘the meal’, and think he’s one of the more consistent and genuine characters in the higher echelons of chefdom. I therefore have no qualms about the success of this post. 

Most Controversial Post:
Le Gavroche – Unfortunately A Very Mixed Bag

The Signature Cheese Soufflé ... at Le Gavroche, London (photo: goodtoknow.co.uk)

It is unfortunate that my most controversial post came from a restaurant that I so much wanted to like. You see, Michel Roux, Jr. was a new hero of mine at the time, and I desperately wanted to love his food and his restaurant, which I saw as an extension of him. Unfortunately, we did not have a pleasant experience at all – it was certainly not befitting of its dual Michelin-starred status. This was one of my first posts, back in the days when I didn’t take photos, so sorry for the lack of visuals, but this was probably the angriest review I have written (which just goes to show I’m a big softy). The anger wasn’t due to the fact that Mrs. LF annoyingly had a big crush on him (and still does), but rather the bordering-on-rude service we experienced. It put me off ever returning this traditional yet quirky subterranean dining room. The signature cheese soufflé and innovative wine pairings were the only things that mitigated what was generally a very disappointing experience.

Post Whose Success Surprised Me:
The Loft Project with Samuel Miller from noma 

Samuel Miller Plating our First Course … at The Loft Project in East London

I really didn’t expect my post about a supper club in the East End of London to get the attention it did. But I guess The Loft Project is a pretty unique concept, as they do get some of the most interesting young culinary talents from around the world to cook for a few nights for 12 or so lucky guests. It’s not cheap, but for what you end up getting (sometimes 8+ courses with a wine paring included), it can often end up being phenomenal value. Anyway, the meal that Yorkshire man Samuel Miller – who is second only to Rene Redzepi himself in noma’s kitchen – stands out as one of the best dining experiences I’ve had anywhere. It was a wonderful evening in every sense, and for all my senses. The technical reason why I think it got so many views is because there was a television show on one night about noma, and Sam featured prominently in it, so I got a lot of people coming to the post after googling his name alongside the word ‘noma’. As of now, it is my 7th most popular post.

Post That Didn’t Get the Attention it Deserved:
Morgan M. – You Can Go Your Own Way

Oven-roasted Suffolk Red Leg Partridge, Sweet Potato Purée, Poêlée of Grapes and Savoy Cabbage, Liver Croûton, Bread Sauce … at Morgan M. in North London

Maybe it was the signature cheesy title, but I was surprised that my review of Morgan M. – which is one of only two reviews listed on Urbanspoon in nearly two years – did not garner more attention. Although the service was a little uneven, the food was certainly beautiful to look at and tasted very good to boot. I had really wanted to highlight this little gem of a place, which takes advantage of cheaper rent in North London but produces traditional French food with ample flair that competes with many of the more popular (and much more expensive) French restaurants in central London. The natural light during our lunch also allowed for some great pictures, making this one of the prettier posts I have done, IMHO. I was pleased to learn the other day that chef Meunier is, after many years, opening a second restaurant near London’s Smithfield Market.

Note: there was another post, which was somewhat controversial and also barely got any views, to which I would also like to direct your attention. It is an interview with the editor of Tong wine magazine, a publication that brings much-needed diversity to the global conversations taking place about wine. Read it here: Filip Verheyden is TONG – About Wine.

Most Beautiful Post:
The Sportsman – Captivating, Compelling, Complete

Cauliflower Tart … at The Sportsman on the Kent Coast

The food at The Sportsman, a one-Michelin star restaurant that could easily be mistaken for an unremarkable pub on an unremarkable stretch of England’s Kent coastline, is in many ways deceiving. It is presented simply and humbly, and you might not give it too much thought. However, the fact that a good deal of what you are eating comes from within a few mile radius of the restaurant, and that there is considerable technical skill and bounds of flavour packed into each bite, can take you by surprise if you’re not expecting it. One of the two brothers who own the pub is the (mostly self-taught) head chef and the other oversees the front of house. The interior has been honestly restored and locals still do come in for a pint at the bar, even if the bulk of the reservations now come from patrons living further afield. The tasting menu, which is available during the week, is well worth a visit, but requires special booking ahead of time. Although the dishes are certainly not as artistic as many other restaurants I have reviewed, I felt that overall, the images from this post were the most beautiful when taken together as a whole. The light was fantastic on the day, and for the most part, these images received almost no retouching. I hope you enjoy reading and looking at it. 

Post I’m Most Proud of:
noma – Northern Light 

break on through to the other side ... noma in Copenhagen

Not only was I proud of myself for simply finding a way to eat at what has now been ranked as the ‘best restaurant in the world’ for two years running, I was also pleased with the review I wrote. It was very long (hey, what else is new?), but it managed to synthesize my numerous thoughts and emotions about the restaurant and our meal. The food itself is also breathtaking to look at, and while my photos don’t really do it justice, this also made it a visually appealing post to me. Hopefully you feel the same. 

Most Helpful Post:
Lanka – The Perfect Little Place in Primrose Hill

Rum Baba ... at Lanka in London

I don’t know how truly helpful my posts are to readers – after all, I mostly just eat and don’t cook – though I did feel like I was providing a good service to the residents within walking distance of London’s Primrose Hill when I consumed copious calories over a number of visits to a cute little pâtisserie and café run by Japanese chef Masayuki Hara. These multiple visits confirmed that the pastries were generally very technically well made, plus some of them benefited from an injection of Japanese flavor (i.e. green tea features prominently in a few of the treats). They have also gradually expanded the range of food, which is simple but very tasty, and have a good selection of high-quality teas and coffee (they use Monmouth beans, or at least did on my last visit). If you are in the neighborhood, I’ve found it is normally worth the extra calories that a visit entails. The hot chocolate is also good.

I would now like to direct your attention to five great food-related blogs that I follow regularly, all of whom have agreed to do their on ‘My 7 Links’ post in due course. Look out for their reflections on their old chestnuts. The are listed alphabetically…like, duh.

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Morgan M. – You Can Go Your Own Way

Morgan M.
489 Liverpool Road
London N7 8NS
Website
Map
Online Reservations

  • For dinner and Sunday lunch, the 3-course à la carte is £41, the seasonal 6-course tasting menu is £50 and the 6-course vegetarian menu is £45 – wine pairings with the tasting menus are £26.50 or £29.50, excluding dessert wine
  • During the week, a 2-course set lunch is £23.50 and the 3-course is £29.50, with the tasting menus priced at £45 (seasonal) and £39 (vegetarian)
  • For the full set of high-resolution photos, please visit my Flickr set for this meal

I really enjoyed my first meal at Morgan M. The complexity and quality of the cooking was on par with many better-known London restaurants, but was much more affordable and a wholly more personal dining experience. It’s worth making the short trek up Liverpool Road to sample Chef Meunier’s food. Based on my meal, if the front-of-house experience can be smoothed out a bit, and if the kitchen can consistently turn out dishes as good as what we sampled, they certainly deserve consideration from the ever-elusive Michelin man.

Not just any given Sunday

So I’ve moved to the US. I’ve been here two months and I’m still posting from my backlog of London meals. Because of my penchant for being anal, I am trying to write about all of the memorable meals I had during my last few weeks in London…before posting about anything I’ve had so far in the US. Clinging to the past? Maybe. There are three UK meals left that I’d like to write about – all of which took place in my last week in the country.

But first, something else, although also from the UK. You see, I had the opportunity to swing by London en route to Sweden a few weeks ago. I only had one Sunday, so I was determined to make the most of it. It turned out pretty much all of the places I wanted to have lunch at were closed on Sundays, except for one little place which had always intrigued, yet continually eluded, me. It was the mysterious Morgan ‘M’. It’s not really that mysterious after all, as when you google ‘Morgan M’ the chef’s name, Morgan Meunier, comes up in the restaurant’s site’s metadata…but I digress.

It turned out Mr. Meunier’s gaff was open and, even better, they had a table for me. So I had my plan:

  • Lunch at Mr. M with Ms. P
  • A leisurely, and it turned out much-needed, walk to Paul A. Young’s shop in Camden Passage to pick up supplies for my better half (they make the best brownies either of us have ever tasted, amongst other wonderful and imaginative chocolate concoctions – visit if you haven’t)
  • A long stroll into town to have cocktails with some foodie friends at one of my favorite London haunts, Bob Bob Ricard
  • And finally, a short walk to dinner with the non-foodblogger, food tweeter @jezmd at the newly opened Les Deux Salons (it had only been open a week when we visited), which has quite a pedigree, and then fly out to Sweden the next day

But you probably want to read about my review of the restaurant. This is a food blog after all, not a review of my travel itinerary. So, without further adieu…

On the outskirts of Paradise

Opening to critical acclaim in 2003, French chef Morgan Meunier has been going strong at his small haute cuisine restaurant in the somewhat unlikely location at the top of Liverpool Road in North(ish) London.

Meunier was formerly head chef at the Admiralty, and prior to that cooked at the Michelin-starred Monsieur Max in Twickenham. He has been going strong since 2003 with mostly positive reviews, yet without much publicity, so I was definitely interested to see what this Frenchman had up his sleeve.

We cabbed it to the restaurant from (real) North London and arrived on time for our table.

Formerly a corner pub, now home to modern French restaurant Morgan M.

If I had not seen a picture of the restaurant’s facade beforehand, I could have easily confused its corner location for a pleasant local pub, which it in fact used to be prior to its conversion to the present fine dining restaurant.

Well spaced tables and tasteful decor define the charming little room

However, once you step inside, everything changes. Meunier has succeeded in producing a lovely setting within the somewhat awkward space. The colors are warm, soft and comforting; the tables well spaced; the mood refined yet not too stuffy. Apparently the artwork which adorns the walls (and is on the cover of the menu) is painted by the chef himself.

Our table for two lay at the end of the side that was sans windows

The restaurant was about half-full and we were given one of the larger tables for two near the back of the restaurant along the wood-panelled wall.

Our places were set, and our appetites whet(ted)

A pretty decorative place setting was there to greet us as we sat down, and I slowly began to notice the attention to detail throughout our environs. The green pattern on the plate matched the scarves of the waitresses, and similar green accents were present throughout…on the wall, on the chairs’ upholstery, on the menu, and so on. Although teetering on the edge of obsessiveness, it was all tastefully done.

But what to order...

Our menus were soon presented and we concerned ourselves with the not so easy task of deciding what to eat. ‘Not so easy’ because, firstly, the dishes all had very complicated descriptions – not a bad thing in itself as it all sounded delicious and there were certainly some interesting combinations – and secondly, we weren’t sure how much we wanted to eat.

Choices, choices, choices...

Therefore, we hand the quandary of à la carte or choosing one of the two set menus (seasonal and vegetarian). In the end, we decided we weren’t hungry enough to take on either of the tasting menus which sounded a bit too ambitious given the rest of the day’s plans.

Meritorious Mastication

As we sat chatting, eagerly awaiting our first dishes, we decided we really liked it in here – it had a nice air about it.

Initial offerings

After our orders had been placed, we were greeted with an inviting tray of homemade bread.

Baguette

My choice of baguette was perfectly nice, with crisp and flakey crust and was even better with the high-quality salted butter, which came on its own silver pedestal. A quick note about the bread: strangely enough, this was the only time we were offered bread throughout the entire meal, even though we ate our single pieces of doughy goodness very quickly after receiving them. This certainly wasn’t a bad thing for our waistlines, but I found it very odd, as with some other of the front-of-house experience (more on that later).

Amuse Bouche: Turnip Cream & Trompettes

The amuse bouche was simple yet delicious. It immediately displayed the kitchen’s ability to handle vegetables as the cream effectively drew out the rich taste of turnip on the palate. The trompette mushrooms nestled within were also clearly expressed as a complementary secondary flavor. There were deep flavors going on here and I was interested to see what was to come next. 7/10.

Starter 1: Seared Diver-Caught Scallops, Poêlée of Cèpes, Glazed Pumpkin & Nut Biscuit, Butternut Coulis

This strikingly presented pair of trios was a wonderful beginning to the meal proper, no?

Starter 1: Diver-Caught Scallops Detail – Seared to Perfection

Each scallop had been delicately handled and perfectly seared, revealing a fragrant sweetness that was enhanced by the succulent carrots and the crunchy biscuit below, which provided a good crunch in contrast to the fleshy feel of scallop and carrot.

Starter 1: Cèpe Detail – The Best Things Often Come in Small Packages

The cèpes themselves were excellent – intense, meaty, not at all overcooked – and might just have been the best thing on the plate. I personally didn’t think the butternut squash coulis added that much to the mushrooms (or the scallops for that matter), but it did create certain visual flair in the plating of the dish and represented autumn strikingly well on the plate. 8/10.

My starter was paired with the Sauvignon suggested on the tasting menu (Paul Buisse, Sauvignon Touraine, Cuvée Prestige, 2008) and was very good. But what we found very odd was the awkwardness in communicating with our waitress in trying to select a few glasses of wine to go with our meal. As all of the dishes we had ordered were included in the Autumn tasting menu, and therefore had suggested wine pairings, she simply told us to order those wines. When we tried to politely ask why (and maybe try to get her to recommend an alternative), she couldn’t really express any reason and just pointed at the menu, saying that this is what they recommend. We found this to be a substantial shortcoming for a restaurant whose food certainly seemed to be sophisticated, and we were pretty frustrated with the whole experience in this regard.

Starter 2: Cream of Puy Lentils with a Parsley Coulis, Garlic Beignet

My dining partner enjoyed her starter, which was straight-forward and let the lentils speak for themselves, so to speak. I was graciously offered a spoonful and thought it was very good, though not particularly memorable – the beignet was a nice addition, though. I did enjoy the visual aspect, and likened it to a little island of golden sand replete with its own green forest, floating on top of autumn-colored seas.

Main Course 1: Seared Fillet of John Dory, Jerusalem Artichoke Soubise, Poêlée of Swiss Chard, Girolle Cappuccino

I also loved the presentation of my fillet of John Dory. The skin of the fish was nice and crisp, and the fish was well cooked, though ever so slightly too firm for my liking (and I am being finicky here…we’re talking maybe 10-15 seconds too long). What stood out again here was the deep flavors present in the vegetable components of the dish. The creamy Jerusalem artichoke was an excellent marriage with the slightly buttery fish, and there was an extra layer of luxury provided by the light foam of girolles that was poured on one side. Despite its visual impact on the plate, the taste of the chard did not overpower the fish and was a clever addition for the texture it lent the dish. The mushrooms on the side were also full of flavor and I thought the dish was well thought out and executed pretty precisely. 7/10.

The John Dory was paired with the suggested Sancerre (there seemed to be no other option! :)), which was okay as far as Sancerres go, but certainly not one to write home about.

Main Course 2: Oven-roasted Suffolk Red Leg Partridge, Sweet Potato Purée, Poêlée of Grapes and Savoy Cabbage, Liver Croûton, Bread Sauce

My dining companion much enjoyed her gamey main course. The meat was initially brought out a tad too pink for her liking (I am no game expert, but think it was probably fine except one particular spot which did seem too reddish to my untrained eyes), and it was sent back. It reappeared a few minutes later, as beautiful as it had been the first time around.

Main Course 2: The View from Behind

She really liked the dish, although felt that the portion size was very large, especially given the quantity of rich liver on the plate, which she loved but couldn’t finish. I had a few bites and thought it was a very tasty dish (I agreed it was very rich) that had been elegantly presented – it was a nice snapshot of the autumn season on the plate.

Pre-Dessert: Rice Pudding, Mango Sorbet & Orange Tuille

The pre-dessert was both beautiful and satisfying. It consisted of a central core of rice pudding that had been wrapped by a caramelized orange tuille, topped with mango sorbet, standing at attention in a pond of mango syrup. The tuille itself was good and, while not the best I’ve ever had, it performed its function of providing crunchiness. The rice pudding itself was a little too cold (maybe due to proximity to the sorbet?) and got slightly lost in the strong fruity flavors, but I must say that the combination worked well and it was a pretty delicious few bites that simultaneously stimulated and cleaned the palate. 7/10.

Dessert 1: Apple and Lime Soufflé & Coulis, Granny Smith Sorbet

As readers of this blog may recall, I am not the biggest fan of dessert soufflés, but I liked the refreshing sound of this one, and figured that since their seemed to be some serious precision going on in this French-led kitchen, I may as well give it a whirl.

I can happily say that I wasn’t disappointed; to the contrary, I loved my dessert. It was presented in textbook perfection, with good height, and was extremely light and fluffy. The waitress poked a hole in the top with her spoon and poured in some of the bright green coulis and we were off.

Dessert 1: Soufflé Detail

The soufflé itself was to my liking and not overly eggy or chewy (i.e. not the texture of scrambled eggs) – and as I said before, it was exceedingly light. The crisp and zingy flavors of apple and lime were an excellent match and I really enjoyed the overall effect, although I think they could have poured a little less of the liquid into the center as it was on the verge of overpowering the delicate soufflé.

The accompanying sorbet was Granny Smith herself frozen in a cryogenic state and was again nice and crisp, with the sorbet not being overly watery. The beautifully presented apple crisp was a nice touch, too. I thought this was a really accomplished traditional dessert, especially given that the cards were stacked against it given my personal biases. 9/10.

Dessert 2: Warm Red Wine & Fig Soup, Roasted Fig

My friend immensely enjoyed her dessert too, which she ordered without the accompanying Pain d’Epice ice cream due to dietary restrictions. I had a bite and agreed that it was wonderful. It was the kind of dessert I could imagine enjoying on a brisk night in a log cabin high up in the Alps (we can dream, right…), and the red wine soup displayed a perfect balance between sweetness, acidity and spice. I am sure it would have gone perfectly with the ice cream, and I was slightly disappointed not to be able try it – but hey, it wasn’t my dessert after all!

Déjà vu?

After we had finished desserts, our table was once again dressed with a decorative plate in-keeping with the design scheme – although this time it was petit

Petit Fours

…presumably because it was making way for the seven fours. 🙂 The narrow silver tray of dainty treats was both generous and tasty. I ended up ‘having’ to eat most of them as my companion was completely stuffed by this point – I know, poor old me.

Petit Fours: Chocolate Truffle and Financier Detail

The financiers were particularly good (perfectly cooked with the right consistency), as were the nougat and the dark chocolate truffle (with the chef’s signature on it, as with most things in the restaurant).

Petit Fours: Lemon Tartelette Detail

The real stand-out here, though, was certainly the miniature lemon tart. It was perfection in a single bite. I wish I could have had a full-sized one to take home with me! These were much better than your average petit four offerings. 8/10.

Single Espresso

I finished this excellent meal off with a very good single espresso. Or so I thought…

An ice cream cone for the road

It seemed the kitchen had other ideas, as we were given one final parting gift, a miniature ice cream cone! It was a nice touch 🙂

The omnipresent signature of the chef

The overall damage was fairly reasonable given the quality the food, totalling £150 for two à la carte menus, with a supplement for the scallops, three glasses of wine and service.

Dial M for Meticulous

I really enjoyed the food and ambience at Morgan M. His complicated yet clean modern dishes were generally a delight on the palate and stunning to look at. It is evident that this is a very personal restaurant where the chef is attempting to project his personality and vision throughout each element of the dining experience. I would imagine that the precise execution of the dishes is pretty consistent as Meunier himself is normally there cooking each day.

This M. is not as secretive as Ian Fleming’s...he came out and greeted each guest after their meal

He makes a point of greeting each table after they’ve finished their meal – it’s not just something he does for visiting critics or bloggers who identify themselves through their photographing of the food. While this can be a slightly awkward experience – for example, what if you have something not particularly nice to say? – it is a nice gesture and confirms that you are not eating in a ‘celebrity’ chef restaurant, but in a chef’s chef restaurant.

An easy comparison could be made with Alexis Gauthier, another somewhat iconoclastic Frenchman who held fort in the slightly odd location in Pimlico at Roussillon for many years. He too has an amazing ability to bring out the best from vegetables and gained quite a reputation for his careful and refined cooking, holding a Michelin star from 2000 while at Roussillon. He focuses on timely British produce and his menu changed with the seasons, and once he broke out on his own, he never went back to the establishment – almost eschewing the central London celebrity chef gang in favor of his own unique culinary expression. He has now moved in closer to town (Soho, see review here) but is still very much an independent spirit and operator. The parallels are obvious to see.

Whether or not Morgan M.’s location is strange or not is sort of beside the point, as his food is certainly worth seeking out. Possibly in part because of the location and the small size of the premises, he is able to offer very substantial a la carte and tasting menus at very reasonable prices (none are over £50) compared to other French fine dining affairs in the center of town.

The only thing that let us down was the awkward and uneven service provided by our waitresses. While they were warm and tried to be professional, we were not offered a refill of bread, the whole ordering of wine experience was very odd indeed, we waited for them on many occasions and not the other way around (especially when trying to get the bill), they almost gave my bag to another party who departed before us, and so on and so forth. I hope that this was merely a one-off, but who knows.

What I would say is that, if the front-of-house experience had been smoother and if the food was turned out consistently as good as what we sampled, the restaurant is certainly as deserving of a Michelin star. But that is another matter altogether, with many deserving London chefs still waiting for their fabled macaron to arrive.

Oh, and if you’re wondering about the second subtitle, the restaurant resides across the street from ‘Paradise Park’ – no joke.

Rating

Ambience: 7/10

Service: 5/10

Food: 7.5/10

Wine: I barely got a chance to peruse the wine list, but noted it was French-dominated and seemed to have some interesting and good value options.

For more about my rating scale, click here.

*Note: I have dined at Morgan M. once, and it was for lunch*

Morgan M on Urbanspoon