Monday, August 17, 2009

Le Café Anglais , London

Last week I had Lunch at Le Café Anglais and on leaving came to the same conclusion that I have had the two previous times I visited this restaurant. My conclusion was I really should eat here more often.

I have never met co owner and Chef Rowley Leigh apart from a brief exchange of pleasantries at Kensington Place some years ago but I am old enough to have eaten his food, in several of the restaurants he was involved in, including Le Gavroche Sloane Street, Le Poulbot, Kensington Place, probably, 192 on a week end night and who knows maybe even a Hamburger at Joe Allen.

Rowley Leigh's food could be described as Franco Italian bistro/brassiere-influenced modern British cooking but this man of impeccable taste is far more open minded and Spain and Japan clearly figure in his gastronomic melting pot.

Leigh like Alistar Little and Simon Hopkinson always produced perfectly executed simple food made with excellent ingredients. What all three have in common along with another contemporary Sally Clarke is that despite the simplicity of a given dish you somehow felt the personality of the chef coming through. One also felt that these chefs developed strong views on food and a vision about how it should be cooked and presented.

Along with Bibendum I think the art deco Le Café Anglais has the most beautiful rooms in London. At lunch the huge windows overlooking Bayswater Road and Porchester Gardens flood the vast room with natural light even when the sun is not shinning which of course is more often than not.

Like the room (170 covers) the Menu is vast with Hors D’Oeuvres, Starters, Mains many side dishes and puddings. There is a daily Lunch Menu and for Dinner a daily roast ranging from Venison to Gloucester Old Spot Pork along with the permanent Rotisserie Classics (Chicken, Beef, Game and Lamb)

Probably because my mother hails from Bologna I have never resisted the Mortadella with Celeriac Remoulade (well sourced) and Parmesan Custard with Anchovy Toast (perfect) and on this occasion we also had Pike Boudain, a little bland for me however the explosion of controlled flavour from Mackerel Teriyaki certainly made up for that,

Both my companion and I love Roast Chicken choose the option to have just the leg with it's jus and some beautifully cooked Chanterelles. This is an absolute bargain at £4.50 for what I consider to be the best part of any chicken including the UK's best, Label Anglais favoured and championed by Rowley Leigh.

I finished my meal with well-made Peach Melba whilst my friend chose the Queen of Puddings that also got thumbs up.

The wine list well constructed with both Old and New World fairly represented (therefore no New World :-) ). We had a pretty decent chilled Chinon ( I failed to note the winemaker or year) which served it's purpose of more or less matching our eccentric choices of food.

The service on a fairly busy Lunch service was perfect from the moment I set foot in the restaurant to when I departed two and a half hours later.

In terms of large modern Brassiere style Restaurants in London I prefer Le Café Anglais to The Wolesley primarily because the food is better but also this well run operation has leveraged the space to create a very pleasant environment that is perfect for a business lunch, treating your elderly parent or dare I say a romantic dinner or hot date.

Having reflected on why I don't go more often it's probably because of the location and as most of my lunches are business related I become a prisoner of the City and West End. However to paraphrase the words of the most famous of all guides, Le Café Anglais is certainly worth a detour.

Le Cafe Anglais on Urbanspoon

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Educating Teens at L'Anima

Many people ask both Mrs Gastro and I how we managed to get our two boys (7 and 10 respectively) to love food and try absolutely everything. Well the answer is simple education, education and on going education. We talk to them about food take them to great restaurants and involve them in growing and sourcing. Our boys are well known to our Butcher and Fishmongers as well as many chefs and restaurateurs both in the UK and abroad.

Today at L'Anima I witnessed a wonderful birthday gift offered to their daughter (Ellen) by Martin and Katie Wright a delightful couple from Suffolk.

Martin is a Partner in City Law Firm based a stones throw from L'Anima and is a regular customer. Francesco Mazei Chef and co owner holds regular cooking classes for adults on a Saturday morning when the restaurant is closed. Between them they came up with the idea of inviting nine of Ellen's teenage girlfriends as well as her ten year old brother Alistair to have lunch at L'Anima as a birthday treat. The twist as they found out on arrival was that they would have to help prepare the food with Francesco and his craque kitchen brigade! Also while lunch was being finished off they would have a special wine tasting session given by Head Sommelier and Wine Evangelist Gal Zohar.

@MsMarmitelover and I acted as provocateurs and in loco parentis whilst Mr and Mrs Wright went shopping and returned to join everyone for lunch.

The Menu

Aubergine Parmigiana
Fettuccine a la Bolognese
Chicken Milanese
Classic Tiramisu

Wine Tasting

Prosecco, Bisol
Pinot Grigio Ramato, Grion 2007
Rosso Picerno Superiore, Aurora, 2004
Solita Fattoria le Pupille , 2005

The children had a tour of the entire Kitchen set up and then participated in the preparation of all of the dishes from frying aubergines and making fresh pasta to how to make a classic Ragu Bolognese.

Francesco is a natural communicator and he was supported by Luca and Christian who ensured each one of the teens understood and participated fully.

As @MsMarmitelover mentioned at the time it was wonderful to hear and see the teens describe so vividly the wines they smelt and tasted.

After all the work every one sat down and enjoyed eating wonderful food and drinking the wines from the tasting with it. All the plates for each course came back to the kitchen clean!

Bravo Francesco and Martin !