No, my friend. What one does is go to a very fine restaurant, take advantage of its very keenly-priced lunch menu (£29 a head), and enjoy a very pleasant couple of hours or three away from the hordes.
Well, it's what this one does, anyway.
I've been eyeing up Foliage for some time now. Not only does it have a Michelin star, which is usually - though not infallibly so - a good sign, but it's often spoken of in hushed terms as one of London's (whisper it) hidden gems. What that really means is that it isn't headed up by a chef who spends more time on TV than he does in the kitchen.
Actually, it's a bit of a wonder that Foliage can be called 'hidden' at all, located as it is within one of the most well-known hotels in the capital, the Mandarin Oriental, in Knightsbridge. Try finding it once you're inside, though. I needed a personal escort to the restaurant and then to my table. (No, not that kind of escort.)
Anyway, we made it, me and the Other Undercover Diner. True, we didn't have the loveliest of views - the restaurant usually looks out over Hyde Park, but thanks to current building works on a horrendously gargantuan scale all around it, the view now is mostly over rather unlovely hoardings, portakabins, and other buildery stuff.
Still, we were rather more concerned about what was going to be in front of us and in our mouths than the outside scenery, so it was time to take a squiz at the menu.
And it's not just any old menu. Foliage offers five courses, from which you can pick any 3 or 4 items (if you want more than 4 courses, an extra is £7.50), in any order. You can have 2 things from the same section, or, for example - and I pondered this reasonably seriously for a moment - have 4 desserts. For a sweety lover like me, this is possibly quite dangerous.
Still, there were so many other tempting options from the other sections that I came over all conventional. (I haven't entirely ruled out going back and having a dessert orgy one afternoon. Hell, if I'm paying, what does it matter? I'm not hurting anyone.)
Here's the first three sections:
? (Actually, don't answer that. This is my blog, so it's all about me, ok?)
The other incredibly wonderful thing about this place, and the lunch menu, is that for an additional eight quid you can have the sommelier choose you a couple of wines to go with your meal. (That's a couple of glasses, not bottles.) As much as I love wine lists, this was actually quite fun to do, because (a) you don't have to sit there for hours pondering what to have, and (b) given that the sommelier's choosing for you, the wine should be pretty decent. Of course, if you're dining with someone you don't like, and you actively want the wine list so that you can hide behind it for a while, then this won't suit you so much.
Anyway... for me, there were some tough choices to be made, viz. I loved the sound of everything on the menu. But I had to decide on something. It being a pretty warm day, I chose the crab to start. And then, because I just wanted damn good stuff to eat regardless of the weather, I went for the sweetbreads followed by the lamb.
First up, though, an amuse of vichysoisse with a goat's cheese mousse, like so:
The photo makes the bowl look enormous - it wasn't. It wasn't tiny, but it was definitely amuse-size rather than full soup bowl size. The soup was delish. Very leeky, rather than potatoey, and all the more surprising for that. But it contrasted and worked very well with the goat's cheese mousse, which was faintly sweet. Probably doesn't sound that great, but it was. Powerful but delicate at the same time. A wakey-wakey amuse, like all amuses should be. A good start, then.
It got better when, at about the same time, my wine arrived, a lovely Viognier, drier than most, but definitely with that Viognier sweetness about it. Yep, that would be a fine match with the crab. So bring it on...
Oo-er. If ever a dish was designed to herald the start of summer, surely this is it? Fabulous colours, lots of swirly bits (foliage??), and cucumber. I did wonder for a second whether I should stick a glass frame over it, take it home and put it on the wall, but greed got the better of me. It was very nice, very fragrant, very light. Perhaps the crab was a shade more delicate than I'd expected, but that's not meant as a criticism. And it went extremely well with the wine. Thank you, Mr Sommelier.
OK, so now for the intriguing dish. Sweetbreads with.... salted peanuts. Come again? Er, right. Okaaaaaay... I have to admit that I chose this specifically because it seemed so weird. Weirdness attracts me. I'm like that. But more of that some other time. The question was - was it any good?
Huh. Had I any idea it was going to be as good as it was, I would have ordered it four times over. It was superb. Those brown splodgy bits? They're like a peanut coulis. The morels? Fabulously meaty things. The sweetbread? Oh. My. Word. Something like a cross between the best liver and the best foie gras you've ever had, and then some. Creamy, melting, delicate, and tasty all at the same time. Quite a feat. And just AMAZING with the peanut stuff. Oh, and perfectly cooked, obviously. Not that I'm any expert, but really, I couldn't fault it. I foolishly offered the OUD a mouthful, too, and got pretty much the same response. Crikey. Must be good, then.
Shall we zoom in and linger a little longer? Mmm, I think so, too...
Oh baby, baby....
By now my second glass of wine had appeared - this one, a Tempranillo. Yep, well, I'm having lamb, so that makes sense. Great on the nose, but even better in the mouth.
My lamb, please, waiter...
The chef's done it again. Another extraordinarily worthy dish. That pea puree was something else - a bold blend of pea and mint. Nothing subtle about it, but oh, so fresh and lovely. The lamb was superb, all pink and melty. The pressed shoulder? Terrifically no-holds-barred meaty and rich. The smoked tomato? (You see, more weirdness...) Imagine a roasted tomato, except with an unfamiliar edge taken off (or was it added on to?) the tomato-eyness. Something like that. Really, I don't have the words. But it was all perfect.
Ahem. To have dessert may seem a little greedy at this point, but the whole intention of a menu like this is to not leave you over-burdened and struggling for breath by the end of it. So the portions are sized accordingly. Which is great, because it means that if you're someone like me, whose belly would normally be doing full-blooded battle with my eyes at this point, you don't have to suffer. You can have dessert.
I've heard a lot about olive oil ice cream lately without having had the chance to try it, so I thought I'd better put that right. The fact that it came with something in the milk chocolate line didn't influence me at all. Really. The thyme anglaise also sounded intriguing - there seems to be a real cheffy trend at the moment to use herbs in new ways like this. So again, I was up for it. The things I have to do.
So there you have it. Another rather good meal. Oh, except that we hadn't quite finished. Coffee, of course, and these:
So now you know what to do on a Bank Holiday in London. Trust me on this. For some reason, people just don't think to go out for lunch, so many of the top restaurants have tables available. Foliage is one of them.
There you are. See how generous I am. Not one secret, but two.