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The 7-course tasting menu that will leave you wanting more
[LONDON] Tasting menus can be boring.
They often feature a beetroot dish you don't like and multiple desserts you don't want. And sommeliers love natural wines that smell like cows, so why let them decide what you drink?
I usually like to pick my own dishes, wash them down with wines I like and be home in time to watch MasterChef. But Anglo, a restaurant in the Farringdon neighbourhood of London, is making me give the tasting menu another chance.
Many smaller restaurants in London now serve tasting menus - once largely the preserve of fine-dining establishments with Michelin stars. This isn't just so chefs can show off the repertoire: They ensure a minimum revenue from each guest where margins are narrow and there are few seats. There is no room for a diner who just wants a salad and tap water.
Chef-patron Mark Jarvis's spread is exceptionally good and offers even better value. It's £45 (S$78) for three snacks and seven courses. The drinks pairing, an additional £25, includes three glasses of wine, two beers, a stout and a cider. Hic.
Mr Jarvis has worked at some fine UK restaurants, including Raymond Blanc's two-Michelin star Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons. At Anglo, the modern British menu echoes his French mentor's love of local, seasonal ingredients. Chefs sometimes struggle with fish, but Mr Jarvis had a great mentor in the Icelander Aggi Sverrisson at Texture, in London. There's no overcooking or under-seasoning at Anglo.
Here, in a small room looking out onto a street market, the setting is stripped down to the Spartan chic favoured by chefs on a budget. The serving staff, while informal and friendly, are professional in their knowledge of each dish and of the wines. Only the food is colourful and exuberant. Each dish looks so good you want to photograph and eat it at the same time. (Which is difficult.)
The menu starts with three snacks that are a fair indication of what is coming: English peas, girolles and egg yolk, featuring dehydrated egg and a custard made with ceps; salmon tartare, served on lettuce leaves; and burnt leek tartlet - the vegetables roasted until they caramelise, then pureed.
There's a lot of pickling and drying and other processes going on in the tiny kitchen, but what appears on the plate looks relatively simple. The flavours are clean and balanced. One of my favorite dishes at Anglo (I've eaten it three times in three visits) is the tomato salad: pickled seaweed, grilled courgettes and a tomato foam, with flowers sprinkled on top. It's a pretty plate of food whose flavour rightly starts with the Isle of Wight tomatoes but is layered and diverse.
Other options include cod with smoked potato and sea fennel, featuring vanilla oil, squid ink and herring eggs. The fish is beautifully cooked, the sweetness and bitterness balanced with a hint of acidity.
The three desserts (yes, sorry, there are three) are so good that I ate them all, even though I am avoiding sugar. The cherries with horseradish ice cream and hay is particularly good, the sweetness undercut by a delicate heat and a hint of smokiness.
The short wine list - six whites and six reds - contains unusual gems. There is a rich Moroccan Chardonnay (Epicuria, Domaine de la Zouina, 2014) at £44; and a very reasonably priced light Austrian red (Beck Ink, Judith Beck, Burgenland, 2014) made with the Zweigelt and St Laurent grapes for £34. Wine by the glass starts at £6.
Dinner bookings are hard to come by at Anglo, though the restaurant is about to start opening on Mondays, which should free up some tables. It's tasting-menu only in the evening.
I'll be surprised if it takes long for that roly-poly Michelin man to show up. (This year's UK guide will be published on Oct 3.) I'll also be surprised if the prices at Anglo don't follow train fares in a northerly direction.
So now would be a good time to book in for a tasting menu that's nice enough to eat.
30 St Cross Street, London, EC1N 8UH; http://www.anglorestaurant.com