Hélène Darroze at the Connaught
After four blood tests and x-rays through the NHS I get diagnosed with a completely normal un-fractured foot but with possibly pseudogout, which is gout, but not gout. Yes, thank you Dr. GP, but a “possibly” diagnosis is about as useful as a braille heavy machinery manual. So can I get on a plane and fly to New York this weekend? “Oh of course, I don’t see why not.” And can I wear heels? “Ummm, I would say that’s probably ill-advised, but why don’t you just give it a go for an hour on Thursday? Have fun at your hen-do!” What I interpreted from Dr. Possibly Probably was, “Oh of course, I don’t see why not? Give it a go! Have fun at your hen-do!”
New York was a lot of eating, shopping, drinking, and by the end of the trip I got quite good at the high-heeled-hobble. But the foot was red, throbbing, balloony and very angry. To avoid myself getting worked up angry red I booked myself in with a private podiatrist instead of going back to useless Dr. Probably Possibly and finally got shown through some x-rays a Tibial Sesamoid Fracture. Not gout. Not pseudogout. But a fracture. A tiny, stupid, unimpressive fracture, one that the NHS doctors failed to spot and I had to go dishing the pounds out from my wedding shoe budget to figure out. In any case, it’s very likely I’ll have to be a barefoot bride.
The broken foot and the stress of the wedding paperwork being lost in translation between Spain, United Kingdom, Kuwait and India, bunged together with another impending househunt and putting the business plans on hold has found an outlet – my face. With all the medication, lotions and potions I’m on now, I’m less the glowing bride-to-be and more a glow-in-the-dark bride-to-be. Thankfully I have a decent support network to pick me up when I’m wasting away in a sweaty corner of my couch – a mum that calls me to natter and gossip, a cracking group of bridesmaids that organised the best hen-do ever in NYC and pop around to check on my loo roll stock, and a thoughtful, culinary-gifted fiance who treated me to many home-cooked meals, an awesome anniversary breakfast at the Langham Hotel and to one of the best anniversary dinners at the Connaught. It has been a very good food week.
Roux at the Landau, Langham Hotel, does some interesting breakkies inspired by everywhere in the world. Lebanese, Chinese, Japanese, and obviously the Full English. Since it was an occassion and I was feeling adventurous, I decided on the Lebanese in lieu of the usual Eggs Benedicte, with a sausage on the side.
I was initially getting a real bout of food-jealousy as N&D ordered the Chinese breakkie and I adore dim sum. Probably quite mean, but I was so smug that my Lebanese breakfast, with zaatar fried eggs and manakeesh, basket of fresh warm viennoiseries, sausage, grilled halloumi, labneh and foul moudammas, actually looked a lot more appetising and substantial than N&D’s tiny little bamboo trinket box of little goat dropping sized dumplings, some bowls of unidentifiable foreign pickled objects, saline hard-boiled duck eggs that looked gnarled by two-inch drag queen gel nails and a hunk of chicken on a skewer.
After a heavy breakfast, I doddered on to a MAC Bridal Technique class where the maid of honour and I plastered and painted ourselves with various creams, lotions, serums and powders with brushes of every colour, shape, and size. After two and a half hours I emerged triumphant, rising over the ashes of the havoc the past months had created on my mug, and feeling less ming-mong for dinner at the two micheliner, Hélène Darroze at the Connaught.
I love the Connought. It’s all very old English – doorman with tails and top hat, deep leather chesterfields and wingbacks, amber lighting. One would think the restaurant would reflect this, but there was nothing Ye Olde English about it. The decor composed of plush colour furnishings, large Damien Hirst-esque butterfly wall displays, contemporary lighting and modern cutlery. Very surprising and refreshing, as was the service. No extremes of stiff-lipped scoffing obnoxiousness or obsequious brown-nosing here. Just friendly, French and thoughtful. The Maitre d’ noticed my fancy non-weight-bearing footwear and set me up on a couch with a stool, normally reserved for handbags, and a cushion to perch my broken sesamoid on. The only thing left to make me feel right at home was my blankie.
N&D and I opted for the nine course Inspiration Menu, and matching wines.
The amuse bouche came in three bits: Ham, Aubergine veloute and salmon rillette. The aubergine frothy soup was very light, and subtly auberginey. The ham was like see-through silk, but unfortunately N&D got some fat stuck in his throat and spent a few minutes heavily peristalsing. Usually not one for cooked salmon, but the salmon rillette was so smooth and delicate without a hint of the oily slimey smell. The tomato brioche, although tasty, seemed just a bit dry suggesting it may not have been baked on the day.
I could just imagine being on a little yacht bobbing along the riviera with my flute of pink champagne, hair all matted with sea water and the wind. Except I was in a posh Central London restaurant, dressed in my high street ensemble, made-up and blow-dried, strapped into my orthopedic sandal, tucking into our first course. The slight hint of sea water in the delicate combination of the three components was just right. N&D thought it tasted rough and left it at that.
Very amused to find faces on our wine bottles. The one on the right is a Corsican white with funky rare grapes represented by Napoleon, and the one of the left is a smooth satin white represented by an Austrian Granny.
I swapped the second course from the foie gras to an asparagus risotto. Rather pedestrian, but very well cooked with that precious “bite”. N&D seemed to finally get into his element with the foie and sangria jelly.
We spotted a theme here…veloute this veloute that. Everything veloute veloute. The gentle, light, infused soupy things are a great touch, but by this course we were revving for something to get our teeth stuck into. The pea veloute was a lovely cheery colour, and the chorizo was perfect with the salt cod, but with everything so subtle, sweet, and docile, we were looking forward to an assault. This is just course three of many. Perhaps there’s an assault somewhere along the way.
We had never tasted such tender calamari. It was melt-in-mouth buttery soft and the dumpling with chards was wrapped all precious and had a much-needed kick from the capers. Despite getting surprisingly fuller with each small course, I was still hankering for a crunch, bite, slap and a punch.
This was the assault on the tastebuds I was waiting for. The spicy tandoori crust on the tender Scottish scallop. The bite and sweetness of the carrot with the freshness of the spring onion and coriander. And then this funny little orangey lemony citrus thing that blew it out of the park. I was scooping up the sauces with the knife and licking it clean. NOT ENOUGH!
And now something to tuck our teeth into. I swapped the pigeon for chicken. N&D thought this was bad karma. Why would anyone swap anything for something as dry and vanilla as chicken? Let me tell you, this chicken had the craziest crispy skin, with a lovely succulent meat under, stuffed with these earthy morilles and girolles, even mushroom haters such as N&D could not resist. The sweetbreads were little sweet nuggets that I would happily replace my popcorn at the cinema with. N&D’s pigeon looked so pink, it looked alive. Enough to put me off and enough to make N&D deliriously dance around in gastro-heaven.
CHHEEESSEEE!!! This course really excites me because we’re that much closer to the DESSEERRTTTSSSS!
A pre-dessert dessert? I felt detoxified and cleansed with the fresh tang of the vanilla and raspberries. This is my new yoga.
This dessert was so pretty. I stared at it for ages until the pretty spiral strawberry sorbet started melting into the jelly, which would then melt into the pana cotta making it one big melty mess. It tasted as good as it looked. The almond biscuits were hidden inside along with the teeny tiny cutesy stwawbewwies and was a lovely surprise with each bite.
I wish I had another serving of the pana cotta and sorbet instead of this mismatch. The ganache had a Terry’s chocolate orange vibe about it but the texture was too heavy and fudgey, and coupled with a rock solid non-crumbly shortbread it just felt too leaden. Saying that, N&D liked this a lot, and we really liked the word Tonka.
A very happy anniversary indeed. With all the other bits and bobs it really mounts up to twelve courses and two bottles of wine. This has been an indulgent day. But hey, I haven’t got gout, so it’s all good.