Tuesday, 20 October 2009

A blow-out at the pop-up; or Pierre Koffman's genius revealed

I haven't been able to even give a hint of what was to happen last Saturday, as it was all a surprise for my sister's birthday and she does - she says - read this blog. So for actual whole weeks - and it has felt like a decade - I have had to keep schtum over one of the most exciting restaurant events of the year... And now, dear reader, I can tell you that we spend Saturday night en famille at Pierre Koffman's pop-up restaurant on the roof of Selfridges. And it was everything you might have dreamed.

(A small background note: if you're not quite getting all the adulation and foodie-groupie-screaming about his 'return', know this: Tante Claire was the seminal restaurant in London until Pierre Koffman, genius 3-Michelin-starred chef closed it, turning the space over to big Sweary Gord - tant pis. He progenated the chef world with chef babies including Eric Chavot, Tom Kitchin, Bruno Loubet and Tom Aikens. He has been absent for some time; and now he has returned...). The great joke is his proteges are joining him in the kitchen - on the night we visited, we were treated to Bruno on carrot-peeling and Eric on potato-pureeing.

The entrance to the restaurant is one for the exclusivity-lovers. A dedicated -guarded - lift, a quick ascendancy into a simple white corridor. Simple but stunningly decorated with minimalist objets - the ghost-girl with her veil is gorgeous. There's a small bar area but with the American Embassy setting off fireworks just next door, they sweetly moved us to our table in front of the glass wall so we could watch with a glass of wine and the bread basket - choices included bacon & onion, tomato, brown or white.

Then we're in with an amuse bouche of two discs of boudin blanc and noir atop a tiny refreshingly crisp tangle of lightly pickled red cabbage It's a palate-teaser echoing his earthy Gascon roots and it's an indication of the meat-centric food to follow. Veggies beware - this is not for you.

The menu is adventurous for something that's only around for a matter of weeks. Starters: lobster cocktail with avocado and lemon jelly; scallops in a laguna of squid ink; a special of langoustine bisque with accompanying raviolo; snails and wild mushrooms with bone marrow; foie gras with potato galette; game pithivier with a sticky jus corsé... I had the scallops - 3 perfectly seared and cooked sweet, soft pillows of shellfish surrounded by sticky, intense squid ink. I tried some of the snails - I'm still not keen texturally but the flavour was dark, woodsy - a clever pairing of fungi and gastropod. The langoustine bisque was silky-rich but not too sweet.

But, you know, starters, schmarters.... I'm almost tempted to write about nothing other than Pierre's signature main dish of pigs trotters, stuffed with sweetbreads and creamed morels, served with a cloud of potato puree so ethereally light and buttery you could bury your face in it. It came with two translucent discs of pork crackling - a textural foil for the rich sweet creamy unctuousness of the trotter. The sauce was a concentrated but not too sticky veal stock reduction, but fluid enough to coat the potato rather than glue to it. There are other mains available.

Oh all right then... Challans duck with herbs and spices, perfectly roasted; a pave of wild sea bass with artichoke barigoule was saved from being too summery by the woodsy artichokes. I'm told the Hare Royale is autumn on a plate. Or choose from a roast veal cutlet or cod with ceps, but why would you when there's Pierre's pigs trotter...!!??

Desserts - not my favourite thing - are startlingly good. My only criticism of the pistachio souffle - that I heinously had without the accompanying ice cream because the combination does nothing for me - was that it was too big. But then I only eat half a chocolate at a time so what do I know? The Toscano chocolate mousse with muscovado ice cream was another silky confection and saved from over-bitterness and over-sweetness by the orange compote. I'm assured the Gascon apple pie is what Eve should have fallen with, being the absolute apotheosis of orchard fruit.

And there we have it. Some quite stunning petits fours, good coffee and a few bottles of wine - FYI an Italian white called Kerner that I had never heard of and a big French Segla which was a tad too cool, but hey, you can't have everything.

I wonder if a taste of being back in this kind of environment would be enough to persuare PK back behind the stove. But I suspect the fun is in the temporariness - take advantage while you can.


Lizzie said...

I gave up my reservation because I couldn't afford the eye-watering £75 just for the food. I expect it will be one of life's regrets...

Jo said...

Lizzie: It's a tricky one. Food is ephemeral, pop-ups even more so - it's where and how you choose to spend your hard-earned cash. There are extremes - Jay Rayner's view that nothing is too expensive as it's all about the experience vs a sober-headedness about where spending £75 a head will leave you in the morning if you didn't have the actual experience that kind of price tag is set up to deliver. We had a fabulous night, but if even one tiny detail had been out, it would have felt expensive and not 'value for money.'

As to regrets, my feeling is watch this space - and I wonder if any of the last minute sites might have cancellation tickets - I spoke to Pierre's partner Clare and he is loving being back behind the stove... And Eric Chavot has moved on from the Capital - where will he go next... Or you can do what I'm going to do and go chef-watch in Polpo, the new Venetian place-to-be in town...