For the BSG and me, seminal moments and special occasions are unquestionably commemorated with food. Our first date – back in 2005 – was on an internet meal-deal at Sugar Hut near Fulham Broadway. It wasn’t awful, especially if you like crispy-fried-sweet battered things with neon dipping sauces and feel like more of that for afters. Since 2005, things have gone uphill (and – largely – further east); our dining excursions and dates carry more purpose: there is always somewhere exciting atop our must-visit list.
Our last date before I became Mrs BSG was no exception; where better to go for this landmark scoff than Bruno Loubet’s new gaffe at the Zetter. His hugely successful comeback had been sparklingly Corened, Gilled, Twittered and blogged about, so we had to pay a visit, it being mere minutes away from our front door.
We arrived in timely fashion for our table which, due to a disastrous hiccup with the online booking system(read human error) I had booked for seven o’clock. Seven? Anywhere else in London and the place might have been full of pre-theatre deals and dribbling toddlers hurling plastic at the echoing walls, but to our relief we arrived to find the place three-quarters full with a fairly normal-looking bunch of diners already enjoying themselves. In the high-glassed modern shell of the Zetter hotel, the Bistrot awaited us, unprepossessing and rustic, flooded with the green sunshine and good humour of early summer.
There had to be champagne, and anywhere that serves it in coupes is my kinda place. Makes me think of Frank, Bing, Gene and Grace. There has, in the past, been some disdain for these BSG-side due to the fact that the bubbles have a better chance of escape, but just this once I spied a flicker of High Society in his eyes: he was enjoying it, further buoyed by the introduction of a warm loaf baked in a small terracotta pot with pale French butter. Its stay on the table was very brief – and another gratuitous pluck at our happy strings.
In this sunny corner of Paris (in Clerkenwell) the BSG tucked into a starter of snails and meatballs: a classic dish with a mushroom concoction apparently inspired by the chef’s mum. I’d never before tried snails out of their ubiquitous garlic/butter guise, but these were fine specimens, standing up to the meatballs, in deep red orbit of a magnificently rich mushroomy star. Merci, Maman Loubet. I had the revised Lyonnais salad, predominantly salty and crisp, from the crunchy crumbed fingers of unidentified pork bits to the electric frisée leaves, brittle bacon shards and crackly rind. Like a firework display of porkiness, it all exploded around a perfect soft-poached egg, reclining gracefully like a delicate debutante on leaves of soft emerald mache. I must admit that, usually, if somebody tells me I’m to eat ‘other’ parts of an animal I’m a bit of a wimp so the crispy sticks, two meaty golden dance partners for the yolk were the perfect disguise. Wherever the meat came from, I loved every bite.
Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, my confit of lamb shoulder arrived. The dark, sticky golfball of meat on a white bean and preserved lemon puree with green harissa – which I thought at first to be a little on the mean side – turned out to punch way above its weight in the flavour sense, the richness of the meat perfectly cut by the souk-inspired notes. My mouth was on the Marrakesh Express and not wanting to get off. It was all I could do to stop myself leaping over the pass and taking Monsieur Loubet in my arms – I could tell that the BSG felt the same: his daube of beef was so soft it needed to be eaten with a spoon, and as far as I remember he didn’t once proffer the mousseline potatoes…
Pudding was superfluous and sublime, a dusty bitter chocolate tart with salted caramel and butter ice-cream just to threaten the arteries and a rice-pudding pannacotta with marmalade. The wedding diet had the night off.
Waddling happy and satisfied through the fading violet evening, the BSG and I smiled to ourselves that we were now in on this particular food secret, plotting as to which of our friends we most wanted to divulge it.
Mr and Mrs BSG will be back. You bet, Loubet.