Thursday, 2 December 2010

Roux at Parliament Square

Parliament Square has been hitting the headlines this week, for all the wrong reasons. The day after my visit to Roux at Parliament Square, hoards of disgruntled students descended upon the square to protest against Government plans to raise tuition fees. The result? A hostile protest ending in 150 arrests.

My excursion to Westminster was mercifully drama free, save for a touch of slipping and sliding along icy paths to get there. I arrived wind-slapped and with grit-filled boots, but was soon swept from the icy outdoors into the warm, beige bosom of the restaurant, which is housed in the premises of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors.

The evening began with a glass of the exceptional Nyetimber 2005 in the restaurant bar – a strange, grape-hued space stuffed with law books either side of a shrine to proprietor Michel Roux Jr, whose face beams out of multiple covers of his latest cookbook. Son of Albert and nephew of Michel Roux Snr, Michel Jr can usually be found heading up Le Gavroche or grilling contestants in MasterChef: the Professionals, and is widely regarded as London's pre-eminent classical chef.

Alas, Roux is decidedly absent from Parliament Square. And so is his protégé Daniel Cox – who left just 10 weeks after the restaurant opened in May. Toby Stuart from Galvin at Windows has since taken the helm. The spacious main dining room is somewhat lacking in character. A paean to purple and greige, the lighting is too bright, and the conversation too hushed. The private dining room however (pictured), has far more charm, from its stained-glass windows, sculpted chairs and art deco mirror, to the curious old menus furnishing the walls.

The main room may be dull, but the food is certainly not. Perhaps the bland decor is a deliberate device to allow the food to take centre stage. My dining partner - eminent London food critic Douglas Blyde, and I opted for the seven course tasting menu, priced at £65 per head, with an additional £40 charge for the matching wines – incredibly good value compared to the £55 three course á la carte.

There were so many highlights worthy of mention, and overall I found the food – served predominantly on circular black slates – well considered, well executed and extremely elegant. We began with a creamy, comforting parsnip soup amuse bouche, followed by a warm salad of Cheltenham beetroot (who would have thought), goat's curd, orange and pine nut. Delicate, fresh and exquisitely put together, the edible forest married well with the accompanying Alsation Pinot Blanc, which brought out the orange in the dish.

The following lasagne of Cornish crab and leek with Avruga caviar in a Champagne velouté was my standout dish of the evening. Soft, creamy and rich, the meaty crab, spliced with layers of crunchy leek, was lifted and fresh – a navigable island within a Champagne bubble bath, and worked well with the crisp, limey Rheingau Riesling. Next we were presented with a crunchy, textured, foie gras, pomegranate and radish salad with hazelnut crumble, which was bursting with flavour, but slightly overpowered by the honey heavy Château du Levant Sauternes.

We were then treated to a bite-sized chunk of silky soft, slow-cooked North Atlantic Halibut served with a mussel mousse and doll sized, mushroom strewn pancakes, which was matched with a closed and astringent white Rhône. The succeeding rump of beef with a croustillant salt brisket in a bone marrow sauce shone. The coin-sized circles of beef were tender, juicy and moreish, as was the salty, crunchy brisket, which harmonized well with the juicy, rum and raisin fuelled Thesaurum Corvina Cabernet Sauvignon 2006.

A duo of puddings rounded off the night, one of which succeed and one failed. The tiny cube of lemon tart was zingy and refreshing, while the chocolate mousse and peanut parfait with caramelised banana was sickly sweet and cloying, but redeemed by the peanuts. The final wine pairing was an opulent, heady, black fruited Dom. Lafage Maury from the Languedoc – an exciting discovery. Despite the disappointing final course, I found it hard to find fault with the food. Beautiful, precise, and packed with harmonious flavours, this is classic cooking at its best. I only wish the decor tried harder to stir the soul.

1 comment: