Monday, June 25, 2012

A Very London Summer: Two Worth the Trip

Pappardelle with Duck Ragu at Ducksoup
The Queen’s Jubilee has come and gone.  The Olympics are around the corner.  And today Wimbledon, arguably the greatest tennis tournament of the year, got off to roaring start complete with the usual ladies in big hats nibbling on strawberries and cream at Center Court.  It’s turning into a very London summer indeed.

In the spirit of public interest for those of you crossing the pond in the coming months, I’ve recently made the journey myself and returned with a couple new restaurants to add to the “must eat” list.

Sea Trout Carpaccio with Fennel Salad
Last summer I spent a bit of time in Soho checking out the delicious small plates at no-reservations Polpo, the intoxicating lamb curry at CâyTre, and the toothsome udon noodles at Koya.  I found myself back in Soho this year (same charming beau in tow) this time to checkout the fantastically named winebar-cum-restaurant Ducksoup

Walking up to the restaurant on a balmy Saturday night, English chaps spilled out the doors of the pubs and onto the streets, a sure sign that a wait was ahead for us given Ducksoup’s no reservation policy for parties of two.  It was a pleasant surprise then to find several open seats at the 9pm hour, particularly given that the narrow room can seat no more than about twenty people at a time.

We started out strong with a plate of wild sea trout carpaccio the color of ruby red grapefruit served along side a crisp fennel salad.  Two perfect lamb chops followed, redolent of oregano.  The side of bread was worth the £2 extra as every last drop of the lamb juice had to be slurped up.  We were happily encouraged to a save a bit of bread for the quail course, as the tiny bird arrived roasted in a bath of white wine with fresh bay leaves, lemon, and olives.  The pasta of the night, a homemade pappardelle with yes, duck ragu, was better than a pasta we had the previous night at a far fancier restaurant down the road in Mayfair.

Dining Room at Ducksoup
The wine list was a bit hit and miss and prices were out of synch with the otherwise affordable menu.  But we made due, sampling a few and sharing before settling on a light red Burgundy, a perfectly quaffable beverage for pairing up with the game meats or sipping by itself, staring out the open window at the jolly pub-goers across the way.

Upon leaving dinner in Chelsea the following night, I shook my head and said to John, “I’m not sure how they stay in business feeding people like that.”  Whether I was contemplating the slabs of foie gras that came tucked between the breast and leg of my wood pigeon, or the fried balls of bone marrow that garnished John’s blade fillet of beef, or the complex sauces that came with each of our dishes of the sort that require a diligent, exclusive saucier- Medlar had all the elements of high-end French dining utilizing mostly local ingredients at a price so low as to be dumbfounding. 

English Asparagus and Goats' Curd

I wanted to throw money at them!  Here!  Take it!  We had been fed so well, served with such genuine care, I simply could not get over that all of that could be had for only £30 on a Sunday night (£39.50 Monday-Saturday dinner, £30 weekend lunch, £26.50 weekday lunch).

Wood Pigeon with Foie Gras
Many prix fixe restaurants limit choices and then charge additional fees to recoup the cost of expensive ingredients on certain menu items.  Not at Medlar.  It is one price fits all.  For that, on a recent Sunday night you could get a choice of seven different appetizers like English asparagus with goats curd, pea mousse, black olive, and pickled Japanese mushrooms, or one extra large raviolo swimming in a sauce of melted leeks and seafood bisque.  Of course, one could choose to eat lighter, but when foie gras, filet, game birds, and bone marrow are in such expert hands, why hold back?

Chocolate Delice with Milk Ice Cream
Desserts were simple and nice though nothing much to remember.  Perhaps the passion fruit sorbet with coconut tuille would have shined at another restaurant but even my brick of rich chocolate delice with milk ice cream seemed a tad banal in comparison to the previous courses.

I am told that the end of King’s Road where Medlar resides is the bad part of the street, well beyond Chelsea’s hipper restaurants.  I can imagine once word of Medlar spreads that will not remain the situation for long.  Even in merry old England, less than two and a half miles from Buckingham Palace, there are still trails to blaze.

Note: Many thanks to for always pointing me toward some new and interesting eats in London- a great resource for anyone living in or traveling to London.

Amy Powell is a food and travel writer based in New York City. She is a graduate of Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration and the French Culinary Institute. Follow her on Twitter @amymariepowell

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