Saturday, 10 May 2008

Ssshhh! A secret.... Foliage

So, anyway, what does a person do in London on a Bank Holiday? (Yes, I know Bank Holiday Monday was a few days ago now, but please. Indulge me. I've been busy.) Skip on out to the countryside? Go to an exhibition? Frolic in one of the magnificent parks? Take a boat ride on the Thames? Go shopping?

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:

menu 1, Foliage

and here are the latter 2:

menu 2, Foliage

I mean, what would you do? (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:

vichysoisse and goat's cheese amuse, Foliage

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...

crab and cucumber, Foliage

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?

sweetbreads and morels, Foliage

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...

sweetbreads and morels 2, Foliage

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...

lamb, pea puree, smoked tomato, Foliage

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.

milk chocolate, thyme anglaise, olive oil ice cream, Foliage

That anglaise was just the most lovely anglaise. Ever. A bit like a very superior thyme milkshake, I suppose. Beautifully cooling. The olive oil ice cream completely won me over. I know some of you have been banging on about it for ages. And you're right. You're absolutely right. The milk chocolate thang? That was strips of milk chocolate wrapped around a milk chocolate pot. A rather sexy thing, if truth be told - creamy and full-fatty and sweet (but not too sweet) in the mouth, without being the remotest bit sickly or cloying. To someone with a preference for dark chocolate - me - this was a complete revelation. Again, OUD readily agreed. Steady on.

So there you have it. Another rather good meal. Oh, except that we hadn't quite finished. Coffee, of course, and these:

walnut chocolates with balsamic, Foliage

... walnut chocolates with balsamic. Yes, balsamic. But as you've probably gathered by now, weirdness at Foliage tends to work, and these chocolates were no exception. The dot of balsamic was perfectly judged - any more and it might have been a bit too much. As it was, it was spot on, making an unlikely, but highly successful marriage with the dark chocolate and walnut praline.

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.

Foliage on Urbanspoon


missbliss said...

Enjoyed reading this :)

But you keep the prices under wraps! Tsk tsk!

Sylvie said...

That looks like a pretty good way to spend Bank Holiday Monday to me! Definitely beats mine, I had to get up at half three to catch a flight back to Britain, meaning I spend most of the rest of the day like a zombie. ;)

nicisme said...

Thanks so much for posting this - it looks like a great place to go, and reasonable too.
I don't know what I would eat because I am so picky, but the desserts look amazing. The soup plate made me laugh. The dishes that the food comes on are really interesting - great photos, thanks for sharing!

Manggy said...

No, tell us how you *really* feel! Hahaha. The meal looks completely out of this world. Thanks for sharing.
Based on the price of the "extra" course, I would assume the damage was in the range of £25-35?

Kai said...

normally I look at restaurant reviews and think "meh", but OMG I want to go there! It is high on the list to help me celebrate my first birthday in a decade with an 0 on the end!

Nina's Kitchen (Nina Timm) said...

I would think that I have died and gone to heaven with a meal like this...
I did learn a lot about plating though, so thx for sharing your experience.


what a splurge - this is the kind of dining we simply can't get where i live, so i do enjoy looking at other people's photos of it!

Helen said...

Wow! Thanks for the tip off! I might just have to pay Foliage a visit, well done for getting those pics too, I can never work up the nerve to do it. All the dishes looks so pretty, I especially love the starter with the 'foliage'!

Rosie said...

What a great post and such an enjoyable read.

I like this idea of spending a Bank Holiday :)

Rosie x

Anonymous said...

what a fabulous looking dinner!

Cakelaw said...

Wow, these are great pics - fantastic rundown on Foliage. The two things that caught my eye were the sweetbreads (I probably wouldn't have ordered these if left to my own devices, but having now seen them, they are a must!) and the walnut chocolates. Devine!

Pia K said...

Sounds heavenly (everything but the meat dishes then) and the photos are lovely as usual!

The restaurant concept sounds a lot like at one place we have here in Stockholm, that's simply called Restaurangen /The Restaurant -
Haven't been there myself yet, heard good things about it.

And having a dessert orgy sounds just right btw!

jen said...

Oh my giddy aunt, that all looks so good! Especially dessert... That's making me drool in a rather unladylike way.

That's another place to add to the list :-)

lorraine@italianfoodies said...

nom, nom and NOM!!!! My lord this looks amazing and of course you have to have dessert, forget the belly:)Do you tend to get strange looks when taking photos of your food cos I do:)

Heather said...

Wow, I am without speech.

But seriously, how did you get such perfect photos? If you didn't have a window, is your flash really that good? I'm dying over here.

Cynthia said...

I enjoyed reading this too :) The I like the plates they use, the out rims are definitely canvas for creative artwork.

Now this is the way to spend a bank holiday, particuarly a MONDAY bank holiday.

Margaret said...

The food looks amazing. If you can eat a meal, such as this at lunch time, then they are always really good value and give you the opportunity to experience wonderful restaurants.
Love the photo's.

Gigi said...

Great post! I loved all the photos and how eloquently you described each dish!

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

That looks like a fun restaurant. I love the idea of being able to select any old course you want.

The photos are beautiful.

cook eat FRET said...

hooray for you and that lunch

serious stuff

i love it

nothing a lunch for better photos... that natural light makes all the diff...

Browners said...

Wow. This looks sensational. Incredible photographs.

Reminds me of Bras in Southern France that I really want to visit too.

Lizzie said...

Gosh - what an exquisite meal! I love the idea of being able to choose all desserts - I would choose all starters as I love them, they seem to trump the main courses so often.

Zoe Francois said...

If only I lived in London and could have this meal, I would be so much happier. I hope you get many more bank holidays like this one and you'll share them with us.


RecipeGirl said...

This pretty much looks like a most amazing meal!! I'm so jealous. Those brown splodgy bits look like pollywogs :)

tigerfish said...

Look at all those plating and presentation! Awesome. Really, you eat with your eyes first :D

Nilmandra said...

I'll take your word on the deliciousness, since I can't taste it, but it sure was a pretty-looking meal! Lucky you :)

Sheltie Girl said...

Wow! You had a simply fabulous meal. Every plate looked gorgeous and I'm so glad to know they tasted just as wonderful.

Natalie @ Gluten a Go Go

Pannifer's said...

That looks so delicious! Great job with the photos!

michelle @ TNS said...

whoa, that plating! those chocolates! that anglaise.

foliage is now on The List for the next time i'm in london. although i might have to go more than once to taste all things things on that menu i want.

David Hall said...

You do some posh things! Looks amazing. A little over dressed for me but I am a scabby northerner!


Sarah said...

Looks like a truly beautiful meal. My mouth is watering!

Pete said...

Oh no, another restaurant to add to the list! You've already sold Launceston Place to me and now this one. By the way, I keep seeing this crockery (concentric circles) in various restaurants and I really like it. Anyone know who manufactures it or where I can get it?

Kat said...

How much when compared to the US Dollar? I can never figure out exchanges!

Everything looks so pretty! I'm glad that you went there equipped with a camera...

Pixie said...

Ghetti, you are just one big tease. ;) I'll sit back and drool as always.

Holler said...

Pretty presentation! We could all learn a thing or two :)

Carmen said...

wonderful recipe thanks

aforkfulofspaghetti said...

missbliss - edited, just for you

manggy - £37 a head, inc wine

pia k - I'm so going to follow that up next time I'm in Stockholm!

heather - without speech? Surely not... Oh, and we had good natural light, if truth be told

lorraine@italianfoodies - I don't know if I get strange looks, and frankly, I don't care!

browners - totally with you on that

everyone else - thank you for dropping by, and glad you enjoyed the meal!

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