French Can Be Easy (but Not If You're Vegetarian) ; to Find the Finest Treats on This Menu, Just Ask Yourself What a French Person Would Plump For
Maschler, Fay, The Evening Standard (London, England)
96 Draycott Avenue, SW3 (020 7225 2555).
Open daily noon-3pm and 6-midnight (10pm Sunday).
Lunch menu Pounds 14.50/Pounds 16.50 for two/three courses.
A la carte, a meal for two with wine, about Pounds 110 including 12.5 per cent service.
PAPILLON (French for butterfly) means to me the brutal best- seller by Henri Charriere about his horrific existence while sentenced to a life of hard labour in a penal colony in French Guiana. Even played by Steve McQueen - as he was in the film of the book - I couldn't quite see Charriere sitting happily in the restaurant of his nickname (linked to the tattoo on his hard-man chest) in Brompton Cross. I think the only aspect of which he would have approved was the absolute dedication to smoking among many of the customers.
Papillon, the restaurant, is a joint enterprise between Soren Jessen, owner of One Lombard Street as well as the much less impressive Kilo Kitchen and Bar and Graze; general manager and sommelier Philippe Messy; and chef David Duverger who, like Messy, has worked at L'Etranger in Gloucester Road.
The cooking is French de nos jours, a style which here, mercifully, doesn't mean entering the realm of fusion. In fact, in the menu descriptions written in French the word "traditionnel" crops up a couple-of times - with reference to the garnish for fish soup and steak tartare.
The vegetarian menu - Pounds 17.50 for two courses - is written only in English, presumably on the grounds that no French person would be interested.
To my surprise, one of my companions known for her abiding love of foie gras decided to go down the vegetable market route, starting her meal with pan-fried asparagus salad with Parmesan cappuccino and following that with pea risotto and rocket salad.
She fared least well of the four of us. The three measly spears of asparagus were limp, their salad was too vehemently dressed and the risotto managed to be both overcooked (soggy rice) and under- seasoned.
When in France, or that bit of London that yearns to be there, eat like a French person and order thyme-scented roasted veal chop with petits pois a la Francaise and a little casserole of mashed potato at Pounds 35 for two.
This was an exemplary and understandably expensive dish with the massive chop, cooked to retain a trace of pink, sliced and served on a board and the bone offered for additional gnawing.
The peas with lardons and onions were delicious, the mash smooth and buttery and the little pan of gravy a beautiful reduced veal stock. My choice of first course, crab-and-celeriac remoulade with what was called a shellfish bavarois (theoretically involving gelatine) but was more like an intense mousse of the crab's brown meat, was also first-rate. I liked the detail of julienne of crisp apple mixed into the root vegetable in mayonnaise.
The person sharing the chop had been bullied by those five portions that hang over our heads every day into looking to the vegetarian menu for her starter. Green pea soup was served in a huge soup plate with a poached egg, a heap of spinach and a potato cake served on a separate plate. All together, it was too much - a meal on its own - but the soup itself was extremely good.
Reg, the only man at the table, uncharacteristically lurched towards a list of salads, supplied, most people would have realised, for ladies who lunch.
Themed around the compass points of France, he chose East which was Cavaillon, a salad of leaves, melon and Parma ham. The leaves were mostly lollo rosso so they got swiftly dumped on a side plate, leaving what we usually consider to be an Italian first course.
It seemed the chef 's heart was not in the salads, but he can't be blamed for that. For one reason or another our hearts were not in the consumption of alcohol, which was a shame since a very strong suit at Papillon is Philippe Messy's comprehensive European wine list of over 700 bins, with a policy of ameliorating the mark-up on expensive bottles.
The look of the restaurant reminded me of the Conduit Street branch of Rigby and Peller - corsetiere with a Royal warrant - but with dimmer lighting. I suspect it would make Henri Charriere hurl himself off a cliff attached to a bag of coconuts, which was just one of the ways he attempted to escape imprisonment.
82 Hampstead High Street, NW3 (020 7794 6666).
Open daily, lunch noon-4pm, dinner 5-11pm. Set menus from Pounds 18.
Weekend dim sum brunch Pounds 13.80 (children under 12 half- price). A la carte, a meal for two with wine, about Pounds 80 including 10 per cent service.
AN experiment by an Australian vet has demonstrated that goldfish do have memories longer than a few seconds. Forced to nudge switches to obtain food - which was only made available for the same one hour in a day - they soon remembered which hour that was. I thought it was worth mentioning this small tribute to our most innocuous household pets in reviewing the new Chinese restaurant Goldfish in Hampstead.
In what was previously China Dream - and remains under the same ownership - the doubtlessly lucky goldfish motif is painted large and bright as part of a mural in the front dining room. Falling water also brings good fortune, so there is a waterfall streaming down a slate wall on the right of the door.
The dark wood panelling of previous restaurant incarnations - a strip of bare brick wall remains like evidence of an archaeological dig - still exists in the back room where the bar is situated.
Dinky Chinese knickknacks occupy the shelves.
Head chef Kelvin Chong has come from Cocoon in Regent Street, but he previously worked at the Shangri-La Hotel in Singapore.
Lam Ming Wah, the dim sum chef, is said to have been one of the most famous dim sum chefs in Hong Kong. The Malaysianinfluenced menu is different to the usual Chinese list although the descriptions of some of the specialities, such as award-winning Mocha Ribs (deep- fried ribs in a chocolate-andcoffee sauce) and home-made Mayonnaise Chinese Bacon, struck me as not very enticing.
We did like A Nest of Imperial Jewels, diced shellfish and mustard greens in yuzu dressing with more than a hint of ginger served with lettuce leaf wraps.
Szehu Opium was a fine soup with minced beef, egg white and truffles in an otherwise clear broth. Wind Shelter Bay Prawn, a dish apparently once prepared on the boats in Causeway Bay in Hong Kong, featured immaculately crisp and crunchy prawns.
Excellent green beans provided the undercarriage for steamed sea bass with minced ginger and spring onions. A sumptuous spicy aubergine, water chestnut and shitake mushroom assembly was described as Sichuan - a culinary influence that is currently all the go. The dessert of creamed-avocado-and-coconut ice cream called Earth Angel was brought unbidden, and I have to say it was not my sort of thing. I appreciated the fresh fruit more.
Service, led by Michael Tran who has worked at ZENW3 next-door, was friendly and solicitous. And just like goldfish, Hampstead residents know the hours of the goodvalue dim sum brunch buffet (Saturday and Sunday, noon-4pm).
Shoals of them evidently swim in at weekends.
5 DIM SUM PLACES WORTH A NIBBLE
OQO, 4-6 ISLINGTON GREEN, N1 (020 7704 2332). Pounds 28.
A "contemporary interpretation" is how owner Mark Chan describes items like sui mai croissant, mozzarella-and-Stilton dumpling and roast-duck-and-goat's-cheese pizza, but I prefer chef Law Chi Lung's traditional dim sum.
ROYAL CHINA CLUB, 40-42 Baker Street, W1 (020 7486 3898). Pounds 30.
In premises where they couldn't make a modern Japanese restaurant work, the Royal China group has gone back to presenting an innovative Sunday lunch trolley including suckling pig, spicy quail, sautEed duck's tongues and ribs.
HAKKASAN, 8 Hanway Place, W1 (020 7927 7000). Pounds 30.
One difference is the prowess of the in-house dim sum chefs, another is the sultry, seductive look of the deep basement premises. Daytime renders Hakkasan more accessible - in terms of booking, cost and the chance to hear yourself speak.
DRUNKEN MONKEY, 222 Shoreditch High Street, E1 (020 7392 9606). Pounds 18.
Serving dim sum all day and all night in a City pub is a smart idea, and the owners do it better than the emphasis on dumplings' drinkaccompanying potential suggests.
PING PONG, 45 Great Marlborough Street, W1 (020 7851 6969). Pounds 16.
Kurt Zdesar is aiming to "touch the heart" (a definition of dim sum) of the masses with modestly priced morsels and well-made drinks..
Prices estimate dim sum and tea for one.…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: French Can Be Easy (but Not If You're Vegetarian) ; to Find the Finest Treats on This Menu, Just Ask Yourself What a French Person Would Plump For. Contributors: Maschler, Fay - Author. Newspaper title: The Evening Standard (London, England). Publication date: May 31, 2006. Page number: 34. © Not available. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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