London Day Three: Roux at the Landau; Quo Vadis; What’s it All About, Alfie?

Just to be absolutely clear, we Pricks have nothing against wealthy late-middle-aged types hanging out in luxury hotels as they cruise comfortably into their emeritus years. Indeed we hope to be among their number one day, in a few decades time. But just as walking into an Asian or Indian restaurant and seeing it full of the owners’ countrymen is generally taken as a good sign, strolling into a high-end dining room where the crowd looks like extras from the Fourth of July Ball scene in Caddyshack before Rodney Dangerfield decides to throw some money around and “bust up this joint” just screams danger.

Thus it was the other night when we fronted up for dinner at Roux at the Landau, widely spruiked as the first time Albert and Michel Roux Jr have ever gotten together to do a father-son collaboration turning out old-school French cuisine. This site has long banged on about the need for chefs to preserve the classics for the same reasons teachers need to teach history: they are objectively good, and does anyone want to go through nouvelle cuisine or totalitarian fascism again? But as always the devil is in the details.

Mrs Prick teed off with a sort of prawn-and-avocado (!) number which certainly took us back in time – to the 1970s. The dish was more a high school sax player oodling his way through an out-of-time Kind of Blue more than the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields offering up a tight, bang-on Brandenburg Concerto. Meanwhile a ballotine of chicken was just a cold terrine. Sigh.

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On the bright side, there was a finger bowl. Solid.

Mrs Prick, as part of the trip’s edict to eat things we cannot get back home, went the sole meuniere for her main course, sadly overcooked and under-seasoned.

A grouse died for my sins, but despite a nice blackberry sauce, I still feel distinctly unredeemed.

There was an absolute king-hell cheese trolley, though, which saved the night:

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Blessed are the cheesemakers, etc…

Yes, we should have gone to Gavroche, but we couldn’t get in. One suspects Roux at the Landau is more of a “name” deal than anything else; the whole vibe was get ‘em in, get ‘em out, and save for one poor couple who’d clearly just booked either a wedding or a conference at the hotel and couldn’t shake the events co-ordinator who’d come to drop off a bouquet of flowers, there was no sense that anyone cared about engagement, or repeat business. Everyone in the room would soon be heading back to their home cities, and if they returned, it would be because they didn’t know any better anyway.

Those who do know better would be far better to drop into someplace like Quo Vadis in Soho, where we’d lunched earlier in the day off a recommendation from Darren at the Ledbury. Quo Vadis is all about simple, honest cooking and welcoming a couple of shopping-laden tourists as warmly as their fairly obvious coterie of regulars. (In other words the sort of place Sydney needs more of, but then again, we Australians don’t do lunch beyond our desks very well any more it seems).

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Rich, shellfishy goodness — like a boulliabaise without the mess

Everything is just a little whimsical at Quo Vadis but not in any overbearing or twee theme park sort of way. The menu looks to be a more or less daily affair, and not quite organized along the usual lines. The floor manager greets you resplendent in a three-piece, red-and-blue checked suit. Dishes can be as simple as a bowl of the best picked crab meat you have ever had paired with a dish of the best home-made mayonnaise you have ever had. Those crabs’ bodies can then go into the making of a rich shellfish soup with a bit of chili-laden rouille on the side or one can have a simple dish of, say, hake, gently treated with a parsley and anchovy sauce. Simple, happy-making, life-affirming stuff, especially washed down by a brisk half-bottle of Sancerre.

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For Christ’s hake, enough with the puns, Prick

While we are on the subject of stuff that makes one happy, the Prick would be remiss not to mention our other happy discovery of the day, the City of London Distillery, a combined working boutique distillery and a basement speakeasy with one of the biggest gin collections in the world. This is really where a picture is worth a thousand words so let us not go any farther than to say that if you have the opportunity turn up around 4 before things get busy and put yourself in the capable hands of Alfie, a young gentleman of the old school, and let him start pouring.

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Army-Navy cocktail, with army-man garnish

COMING UP: Dinner by Heston Blumenthal. Spoiler alert, it wasn’t half-bad.

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