Magazine article The Spectator

Club Gascon Wiz

Magazine article The Spectator

Club Gascon Wiz

Article excerpt

NOBU won't let you book after 5 p.m. in the evening. The Pharmacy only has sittings at 7.15 or 9.45 and the River Cafe requires faxed confirmation for its beans on toast. You don't need to be an astrologer to spot the approaching peak of London's foodie feeding frenzy. All this pride must come before a fall.

Opening a new London restaurant today is as big a gamble as dabbling on the Bangkok stock exchange. So we should be grateful to those intrepid restauranteurs who are still prepared to break new culinary ground.

Six restaurants have just been nominated for Carlton's newcomer of the year award. But how many of them will thrive in the millennium? Mirabelle and J. Sheekey have given omelette Arnold Bennett and potted shrimps an inspired new twist for the next century. The judges had to include a Conran, and One Lombard Street, in the City, proves that the designer Doge is not yet worried about swamping London with his trademark lemon tart.

But it is Club Gascon and Wiz which are taking the real risk with the punters' prejudices, introducing London to micro-cuisine, a procession of diminutive dishes with big flavours. The Spanish may think they'd already done it with tapas and the Chinese with dim sum. But millennial micro-eating is different.

To help judge this new departure I went to a professional. Emily was eating at Tante Claire and drinking watered-down Chateau Latour aged five. Her father would make her souffles with soft poached eggs inside for nursery tea, and Hebridean holidays would be spent scavenging for fresh scallops and mussels. She only discovered frozen peas last year, and reduces her own tomato sauce for baked beans. Any food Emily doesn't poach, steam or batter, she illustrates. Newspapers, magazines and wine books are filled with her designs. Her latest creation is a set of exquisite foodie watercolours for Chile's food bible, La Bueno Mano, by Lucia Santa Cruz.

Club Gascon could win on location alone. This old Lyons coffee house in Smithfield market is humbled by the spire of St Bartholemew the Great and elevated by a rather seedy sandwich shop. It is London at its most varied.

Emily is already a regular. `You must look at the plates,' she said. `Each one is individual.' I explained that I was more impressed by the ten different ways of doing duck, including foie gras, magret, carpaccio, confit, sushi, rillettes, kebab and ravioli.

By 8.30 p.m. the place was packed with middle-aged intellectual types in polo necks or ballet pumps. With its petite, blue velvet chairs, Victorian marble and smudged mirrors, it could have been intimate and seductive, but the waiters kept tripping over our legs. We forgave them, as they were the genuine, good-looking, arrogant French article. They refused to bring a Diet Coke, on the grounds that we should have bubbles only in champagne, and insisted we order chips as our only vegetable.

The menu was divided into La Route du Sel, Le Potager, Les Foies Gras, L'Ocean, Le Marche and Les Paturages. Diners were expected to choose four or five plates. Twee? No, conspiratorial. The menu was so enticing that we spent 15 minutes plotting our route.

A smooth veloute of pumpkin arrived unannounced. `The orange of the pumpkin sings out in these tiny crucibles of black ceramic pottery,' Emily raved. …

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