I have a confession to make. For the last 2 or 3 years, I've been eating on the cheap.
Nope, I haven't been deluged with freebies, much as I would like to be. No, I've simply been taking advantage of very competitive set lunch pricing at some of London's best restaurants. It's a great way to try top-notch cooking without having to remortgage your house.
My recent visit to Texture, an Icelandic-run resto in the heart of swanky Mayfair, was one such occasion. As with so many places, it's been on my list for some time, but was recently given a gentle nudge back towards the top of that list by my recent reacquaintance with Scandinavian food. Texture's head chef is Agnar Sverrisson, formerly of Pétrus and Le Manoir - a man of evident ambition and vision who, since Texture opened in 2007, has been bringing a touch of Nordic style to the capital. His efforts have been well recieved - numerous accolades have already come Texture's way, including its first Michelin star just a few weeks ago.
High time, then, for me to pay a visit. And, for the first time in a while, I remembered to take my camera along with me. Unfortunately for me, we were then seated at a table away from any natural light. C'est la vie.
Still, I had my camera and I was going to use it, as you will see... ;-)
So, what can you expect for £22 for 3 courses? Well, for a start, our meal was littered with more than just the three courses. Unlike some places that offer set price menus, and which serve up a mealy-mouthed effort devoid of all the extras that make a venue like this a bit special, Texture does no such thing. We had exactly the same frills and fripperies as those eating a la carte.
We kicked off with an array of 'crisps' for want of a better word...
These included the obligatory parmesan crisp, but also a thinner than thin potato version, a pungent seaweedy variety (think cat's breath, and you're halfway there - but it tasted way better than it smelled, for which I'm hugely thankful), and a couple of others which now escape my memory. And a dip which we largely bypassed, not least because the crisps were so delicate as not to need it.
Next up, our amuse bouche, a cold pea and mint 'soup' topped with a granita comprising the same ingredients. Sadly, my camera nearly went into meltdown at this point, struggling valiantly as it was with the low lighting. Trying to get a shot of the amuse from above the little cup just wasn't going to work. This, I'm afraid, is the best I could come away with...
... which I hope gives you at least some semblance of the idea. My (and no doubt, your) frustration at the photo isn't eased if I tell you that this little concoction was stunning. An amazing, lighter-than-light granita on top of a rich, creamy, very pea-y-and-minty, smooth-as-you-like gloopy soup. The Other Diner and I agreed on its fabulousness, and would have been happy paying our respective £22 just for that. Well, almost. How Sverrisson achieves the creaminess of the soup without using butter or cream (one of the hallmarks of his cooking), I would dearly love to know. Perhaps I should have asked him - he was much in evidence at the pass throughout the lunch service.
It was hard to imagine that our amuse could be bettered by our starters - and, arguably, it wasn't.
Mine, of beetroot, goat's cheese, and chervil ice cream, was beautifully prepared, fresh and lovely to eat, but it just didn't reach the heights of the amuse. That said, it was infinitely better than most beetroot and goat's cheese starters I've eaten to date, so I guess I'm being a bit picky.
The Other Diner said much about our other starter, described on the menu as 'Icelandic line caught Haddock - Smoked, confit, mustard, hen egg'. It did, indeed, seem to include all those things (my photo was so appalling, I've spared you - so you'll have to take my word for it), but somehow it didn't quite grab us.
Having booked in for a late lunch as we had, I suppose I wasn't wholly unsurprised to be told that they had only one portion of one of the mains left, the lamb - which, of course, I'd been intending to have. Still, out of the goodness of my heart, I let The Other Diner have it. In its place, the waitress offered me five-spiced duck - which I might well have opted for had it been on the menu in the first place. Hardly a shoddy substitute.
Enter, the lamb...
... and the duck...
... and now, another confession. I didn't take notes, and neither the lamb nor the duck are mentioned on the current menu. So I can't tell you what they were accompanied by, and nor can I dredge anything helpful from my age-eaten memory. I CAN tell you that the duck was very good - cooked to perfection, with a crisp coat giving way to tender, tasty meat. The spicing was perfect, and notable for its restraint - there, but in no way overwhelming the duck.
And that last portion of lamb? Equally good, apparently, and wonderfully tender and moist. Like my duck, not a morsel was left on the plate, so I guess that tells its own story.
Dessert was a shoo-in for Iceland's very own Skyr, on this occasion served with poached forced rhubarb, muesli, and granité.
The Other Diner and I were both rendered speechless again. The lemon-tinged creaminess of the Skyr was the perfect foil for the rhubarb and, together with the muesli crumb, and the icy granité went to make up a gorgeous, refreshing, palate-tingling dessert. It was simply quite stunning.
For me, a good meal isn't complete unless finished with a good coffee. But so many places fall down on this element, serving watery, bitter, under- or over-brewed, lukewarm or super-heated brown stuff instead. Not here, I'm pleased to say.
Coffee to treasure... smooth, dark, mellow, with champion crema:
oh, and ably assisted by coffee macarons (not my thing, but these were admittedly rather good), and some uber-dark chocolate truffles.
Yes, ok, so we chose to spend more than £22 by virtue of indulging ourselves with the wine list (for which Texture has also received considerable acclaim), but the point is, we needn't have done.
We could have had all the above, a bottle of water, and coffees for little over £50. For the overall standard of food you get here, not to mention the superb service, the relaxed ambience and lovely room, it represents an absolute bargain. True, the actual meal didn't dazzle absolutely all the way through, but there were more than enough sparkly highlights to leave us feeling happy and satisfied.
So, when you next have £22 or so in your pocket, you could do worse than to give yourself the afternoon off and toddle along to Texture, just as we did, and bear witness to its Northern (de)lights.