And, given my outrageously naff post title, you've probably already guessed where we went. Yip, Maze. Ever so well done of you.
Maze, then. Home of Jason Atherton - he of Gordon Ramsay Holdings, now that company's most brightly burning star since the recent departure of Marcus Wareing. Having lost Wareing (and therefore also Wareing's 2 Michelin stars), The Connaught, and La Noisette from his stable in the past few months, Gordon must be hoping for ever-greater things from his young protege.
Things have certainly been looking good. Maze has hardly been in out of the spotlights ever since it opened in 2005. Atherton has already won his first Michelin star, and is widely expected to win his second soon. In the meantime, he has a new recipe book out, and was a prominent finalist in this year's Great British Menu, winning the right to serve 2 out of 4 courses at a dinner at the Gherkin hosted by Heston Blumenthal for some of the world's most celebrated chefs. No pressure there, then.
But could he handle a real test? (That's me and The Other Diner, by the way. Do keep up.)
Only one way to find out. So - we booked a table for lunch on 27th May. No problem. And when the due date came around, we were very glad we'd been so darned organised for once. Since it absolutely p*ssed it down with rain ALL day, spending the best part of the afternoon munching on incredibly wonderful food from the Maze kitchens seemed like a very sensible idea indeed.
Anyway, enough of the natter. Onto the meat, so to speak.
The menu? Well, to start with, you have to choose which menu. Set lunch? A la carte? Or the tasting menu, as follows?
Crab salad, pickled mooli, apple jelly, Bloody Mary sorbet 8.50
Pressed marinated foie gras, Lincolnshire smoked eel, baked potato foam and dill 9.00 Jerusalem artichoke velouté, braised Gressingham duck leg and cep brioche 7.00
Cornish crab mayonnaise with avocado, sweet corn sorbet and Oscietra caviar 8.50
Roasted sea scallops, cauliflower purée, Muscatel vinegar dressing 9.00
Arbroath smokie with soft boiled quail’s eggs, chive and potato salad, native oyster cream 8.50
Slow roasted prawns with pumpkin purée, rye croutons, crab bisque and vanilla oil 9.50
Marinated beetroot, Sairass cheese, pine nuts and Cabernet Sauvignon dressing 7.50
Assiette of sandwiches ‘BLT ’and Croque monsieur 8.00
Honey and soy roasted quail, Landes foie gras and spiced pear chutney 8.50
Braised shin of veal, pumpkin risotto and aged parmesan 9.00
Roasted red mullet, bouillabaisse consommé, saffron and olive tapenade 10.00
Halibut with saffron pasta, braised carrots, gremolata, and veal vinaigrette 10.00
Steamed daurade Royale with candied aubergine, spicy ketchup and bok choi 10.00
Monkfish, roasted scallop, dehydrated black olives, and mussel reduction 10.00
Roasted rack of lamb, confit breast, lamb bolognese and provençale vegetables 10.50
Roast squab, Peking leg, marinated turnip and date sauce 10.50
Beef ‘tongue ‘n’ cheek’ caper raisin and ginger carrots 10.50
Rare breed Sussex pork ‘Head to toe’, parsnip and spiced lentils 10.50
OK, so the tasting menu it was. Greed prevailed. I feel no shame.
Actually, it's not so sinful as you might think. Partly why Atherton has been such a hit is that the food is served in tapas-sized portions, so that you can sample more than you might ordinarily and not suffer horribly ever after for it. Our waiter recommended that we have 2 dishes each from the starter section, and then 2 dishes each from the mains. Well, since he insisted...
It was a tough decision, but I went for the crab salad and the BLT, followed by the steamed daurade and then the beef. Oh, and a flight of revelatory wines (3 glasses chosen by the sommelier - in this case, a Gewurztramminer, a contrastingly dry Italian white, and a luscious Resalte Crianza).
First up, the crab:
Was it any good? Er, yes. Yes, it was. Very good. Each element - the cucumber, crab, sorbet, mooli, and jelly was about as perfect as you could imagine it to be. Together, they made for a simply delicious starter - light, fragrant, fresh, delicate, but full of zing and taste at the same time. Crab starters can often be a tad on the insipid side - but not here.
On, then, to the BLT. In case there's anyone out there who's not familiar with a BLT - it's a bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich (usually with mayo, sometimes with onion) - a veritable bastion of British workday lunchtimes. In Atherton's hands, though, the humble sarnie became something altogether different...
Again, not the best photo - not just for reasons of the light (or lack thereof), but also because I've completely failed to show the tomato consomme jelly lurking at the bottom of the glass, and the 'mayo' layer underneath the lettuce veloute. But you can at least clearly see the veloute, the lardons, and the most-delicate-ever tempura onion rings. Oh, and in the background to the left of the plate is a mini croque monsieur.
Yes, I know it sounds a bit, well, unpleasant, frankly. But it wasn't. And I knew it wasn't going to be, either, given that the judges on the Great British Menu had already hailed it as a triumph. I have to say, not that I have their years of expertise, I entirely agree with them. Again, every element was delicious. The soft, just-set jelly had the right tad of tomatoe-y acidity about it, the cream 'mayo' wasn't cloying or sticky, the lardons were porcinely perfect, and the lettuce veloute gave finished the whole thing with an alluring grassiness. And the onion rings were amazing - for all their minuteness, they were indubitably still onion rings, their taste and pungency wholly in proportion with the rest of the dish.
And the croque monsieur? My God. Cheesey wonderfulness - the crispest, softest, fluffiest, most flavoursome toast I ever expect to eat. When I gave The Other Diner a bite to try, it looked for a moment that I might lose the whole thing.
Mmm. Wow. I was beginning to understand why Jason Atherton is mentioned in awestruck tones.
But, you know, we had another 3 courses to think about. I mean, to eat. So breaking off from my BLT reverie, I continued on...
... the steamed daurade. Not an obvious choice, this, for me. I usually prefer my fish to be crispy-grilled, or roasted. But I know there are many advocates of steaming, so I thought I should give it a whirl.
The photo simply doesn't do it justice. It looked so pretty - all silvery and quite without a single flaw. Really, it looked as though it had been just that moment plucked from the sea by someone wearing kid gloves. Which, given how fresh it tasted, it might well have been. I'm not particularly familiar with daurade (or gilt-head bream, as it's also known), but this was succulent, delicate, and very more-ish. The ever-so-slightly sweet and tangy candied aubergine and tomato sauce not only went well together, but served as perfect foils for the milder-tasting fish. I thought they - particularly the tomato - might overwhelm it, but no.
OK, so I'm going to have to give steaming a try when I get my kitchen back. I suspect supremely fresh fish is the ultimate key, but I can always give it a go.
Mmm. What next? Oh yes, the beef 'tongue 'n' cheek'. I'd seen one element of this - the ox cheek - in Atherton's main course offering on The Great British Menu. Prue Leith had declared she'd be happy to eat it 365 days of the year. Quite some recommendation, then. But could it really be that good?
Ahem. Yes. It could, and it was. I'm sorry, but you really need a close-up of that cheek...
Can you taste that? That deeply meaty, unctuous, melty cheek? Richly marinated, then caramelised and cooked till falling-apart point? You can? OK, good. Job done.
Just for good measure, I should add that the tongue and the carrots were the best I've ever tasted, too.
So that leaves, uh, dessert. What shall we have?
Selection of British cheeses 5.50/9.50
‘Pain Au Chocolat’ chocolate ganache with café latte sorbet and milk mousse 6.00
Pineapple carpaccio, coconut sorbet, seaweed croquette and Malibu lime jelly 6.50
Texture of pear with chocolate mille feuille 6.50
Madagascan vanilla rice pudding, raspberry and lemon thyme jam, mascarpone and pecan ice cream 6.00
Chocolate Moelleux, pistachio sabayon with milk and honey ice cream 6.50
Peanut butter and cherry jam sandwich with salted nuts and cherry sorbet 6.50
Coconut panna cotta with black olive caramel, white chocolate granité 6.00
Selection of ice cream and sorbets 4.00/6.00
Oh, and I have to pick one? Jeez.
Actually, you don't, of course. This being a tasting menu, you can have whatever you like. And since just about every one of those desserts beckoned me, I was sorely tempted. But, unlikely though it may seem, modesty finally won out. The coconut panna cotta got the nod.
This was such a lovely way to end the meal - all cool, silken, creamy coconut panna cotta with even cooler granite, all topped with a dash of salty olive caramel. And a bit of mango coulis thrown in. Joyous stuff.
No, it wasn't the cheapest meal ever, but I thought we deserved it after enduring so many weeks of being kitchen-less. And it was worth absolutely every penny and more - the kind of meal that lingers on the memory and the tastebuds for a long, long time.
Jason Atherton - we salute you, and long may your (Michelin) star shine. If you haven't got two by this time next year, I'll be writing to the Michelin gods myself to complain.