I am spoilt. No two ways about it. Spoilt and possibly a bit stingy though I’d prefer to call it prudent. Or, even better, keen to get value for money.
I was all excited about getting a table for the Koffmann pop-up on the roof of Selfridges, and on Saturday night, no less! (this thanks to obsessive checking of food-obsessed twitterers and emailing Selfridges practically before the ink had a chance to dry on Koffman’s contract).
The man was a culinary legend, his signature dish were pork trotters stuffed with sweetbreads and morels, and the preview reviews (my god, whatever next?) were great. What is there not to like?
Well…quite a lot, as it turns out.
Don’t get me wrong - there wasn’t anything wrong with it, as such. The food was better than good. But I could think of other ways we could have spent that money. Quite a lot of money. We could have eaten at Tom Ilic’s place at least three times. Damn, I probably could have got Tom Ilic to come to my house and cook for me. (Tom, if you‘re interested, my door is always open. There must be pigs to be had in London.)
Basically, the issue is that I am over expensive French food. I am not entirely sure if I was ever IN it but I am definitely over it.
It all seems so pointless, somehow. The difference - in terms of my enjoyment - between that and, say, any of the main courses at Ilic is not large enough for me to want to spend the extra cash.
We both had scallops with squid ink for a starter. I’m sure there is some serious technical mastery in getting the perfectly-cooked scallops to sit in a pool of perfectly-textured ink but it tasted no better and no worse than the scallops we rustle up at home.
I then had the trotters - I just had to, of course. Now that was lovely, the sweetbreads a particularly pleasing revelation, and the sauce that made you want to lick the plate clean: rich but cutting through the fatty, melting boned trotter (with a few little piggy bones that had t be spat out). But Rich’s duck was not, in my opinion, a product of a Michelin-starred hand - I’ve definitely seen its equivalents in a less grand restaurants in London.
I forgot which pudding I had but Rich’s apple pie was pretty hideous - cloyinging, teeth-rottingly, diabetes-inducingly sweet, the kind of thing I can imagine being served in a Pizza Express (where it would be appropriate and presumably appropriately priced). Nice pastry, I suppose, but reckon my granny’s was no worse. It came with a dollop of nice ice cream though I couldn’t tell you which flavour it was. The whole thing went back unfinished.
We also had some nice petit fours but by this time, we were both in a bit of a sugar coma, so most went uneaten. The ones I did eat were nice, to give credit where it’s due.
On the plus side, we had a good bottle of Italian wine, expertly poured - if there is one thing I hate in restaurants, it’s when waiters hover around your table wanting to top up your glass every 67 seconds, and to the brim. In this instance, her timing was immaculate, as was the quantity dispensed.
I had other issues with the pop-up. Whereas other reviews have raved about the décor, I thought it looked like it’d been done by a provincial art student let loose in a poncey London furniture shop for the first time. Likewise, whereas some had found the bouncing floors and fabric ‘walls’ charming, I thought they were a pain in the arse. The fake floor felt like the waiters were trampolining along and I kept threatening to fall through the beige, tent-like fabric that was masquerading as a wall on my left. The lighting was all wrong too - it was too bright and felt like eating in an institution of some sort, or a canteen, complete with the smell of new furniture and glue.
And the people…well, the majority looked like they’d been shipped in on a special bus from West London - all identikit blondes in Philip Lim dresses and expensive shoes, and men with double cuffed shirts (I like a cufflink but on a Saturday???) and blazers, sniffing at wine and examining labels like they were born in the Loire valley and not Kensington.
So there you have it. It was a moment of self-revelation in my culinary journey. Give me small, unpretentious, authentic, local, give me Mark Hix’s and St John’s of this world, give me proper portions and seasonal ingredients, give me good food by all means - but don’t bother with Michelin stars for roast duck breasts or apple pies. If I want to spank hundreds, I’ll go elsewhere.