Archive | June, 2011

Apsleys – a case study

10 Jun

Names have been changed to protect the identity of the people involved.

Martin had been offered lunch at Apsleys in return for a favour he had sorted for a member of staff called Iago. Martin was given the number of the concierge who he called the next day to secure the booking. Although Martin would never have considered paying for a meal at Apsleys due to the extortionate prices, he has always been happy to accept a free meal, be it a Michelin starred lunch or a jacket potato.

On Sunday 20th March at approximately 1.30pm, Martin and his girlfriend Natasha entered the Lanesborough Hotel and walked towards the entrance of Apsleys in order to claim their free meal. They were greeted by the a lady on the door who asked for Martin’s name, however, she was unable to locate his booking. She assured them that it wouldn’t be a problem and asked them to follow her towards a vacant table. Concerned for his bank balance, Martin explained “It should be a complimentary meal.” This threw the lady somewhat and Martin had to show her Iago’s business card so that the slight misunderstanding could be cleared.

Unfortunately, Martin’s action did not take immediate effect as Iago had to be contacted. Meanwhile, Martin and Natasha were asked to sit on a sofa in the long hall of the Lanesborough Hotel. Approximately five minutes passed before Iago appeared. “Martin! How are you? I said I could sort you out with a table, I never said it would be free mate.” He said. Natasha whipped her head away in horror and Martin began to stammer. He apologised for the misunderstanding and Iago asked if he would consider paying for his meal, Martin declined. Iago went away to investigate another option where Natasha took the opportunity to say to Martin: “Why would we need him to sort us out with  a table? I could have booked one myself. And he didn’t even manage to do that.”

Iago returned to inform them that they would be entitled to free food but they would have to pay for the drink. They accepted, but realised only moments later that the most sensible thing to have done would have been to decline. They followed Iago to their table like they were walking towards their execution.

Menus were placed in front of them – they both decided to order from the cheap lunch menu to cause the least offence. Natasha also decided to order a token glass of wine so that some money would be spent, though she was dismayed to find that the cheapest glass was £10.

Unfortunately, Martin and Natasha have found it difficult to recall what they had to eat – their levels of embarrassment overrode every other sense that they posses. The only comment Natasha was able to make is that she certainly didn’t taste salt as everything was devoid of seasoning. Martin has vague recollections of the plates of food being attractive in appearance.

Plates were cleared and desserts were ordered. Having enjoyed the slight numbing effect of her glass of wine, Natasha decided to order another. This time she recruited the help of the sommelier to advise her and he suggested a particular sweet red wine. As she did not want to attract any attention to herself, she accepted the advice even though said wine was £20 a glass.

When the wine arrived, Natasha made the decision to enjoy herself considering she had just spent more on one glass of wine than she had ever spent on one bottle. Martin too was encouraged to take light of the situation and the couple found they were able to smile and laugh, feeling less self-conscious with every minute. They even found they could enjoy their chocolate dessert, delighting in the smooth texture and light flavour of the mousse coupled with a crispy praline base.

Despite having had their spirits lightened, Martin and Natasha were eager to leave. Natasha immediately relayed her experience to many of her friends over the phone to achieve reassurance. After these discussions and another lengthy one with Martin, they both came to the conclusion that Iago was a manipulative and deceiving dick.

Spuntino

8 Jun

I was very excited when Spuntino opened. From the moment they first opened their doors, blogs were being updated left, right and centre filled with glowing reports and tantalising photos. One look at the truffled egg toast and I knew I had to go. So when Mark and I were walking around aimlessly after our three course meal at Alain Ducasse, there was only one thing on my mind – dinner at Spuntino. All it took was a three-hour stroll around Soho to marginally open the hunger gates and before we knew it we were waiting patiently for a table. In all honesty I wasn’t that hungry, but when the opportunity is there at the end of an hours wait for a seat, one would be foolish not to sit down.

Spuntino takes no reservations and seats are few so the only way to secure a bite is to wait for as long as it takes. I spent most of my teen years obsessing over the Lord of the Rings which often involved standing around for hours in the cold to catch a glimpse of the cast, so an estimated hour and a half wait meant nothing to me. Luckily for us, some people do not posses the same gift of patience as I and they left within minutes bringing us closer to the front of the queue. Before we knew it (20 minutes later) we were sat at the bar with a complimentary portion of eggplant chips with fennel yoghurt! I don’t even like aubergine, but there I was, devouring the lot. Forever a fan of the amuse bouche/canapés/extra free food, it couldn’t get much better than this.

Our stomachs ordered us not to push our luck so we ordered a modest four dishes. Food arrived thick and fast and our small bar space was soon taken over by plates of wonderful looking American tapas.

The Truffled Egg Toast was the first to catch my eye – cheese dripping off the side of the bread, the circle of yolk in the middle like the sun, radiating rich smells of truffle oil. I could taste it and experience the textures before I had even tried it.As reality would have it, it was a bit cold. And because of this it was all a bit chewy. The cheese had lost its ooze and the toast was not as much crisp as it was soggy. The sacred ceremony of cutting into the yolk had a rather poor result as only a few drops of orange dripped onto the plate. I have a feeling I caught this particular dish on a bad day, so I do not want to write it off as something not worth trying. Go for it, I might do so again one day.

Much more successful was the Softshell Crab with Aioli. I could eat anything dipped in aioli, a stapler for example, but it really is something special when the dippee is perfectly tasty without said garlicky magic. The flavours were fresh, making the whole dish incredibly easy to eat.

The beef and bone marrow slider was another winner. Small brioche bun, rich and almost creamy meat, the compulsory layer of melted cheese… I could have done with a big version of this, unfortunately sharing with the other half meant that I only had two bites.

Though our order was relatively small, my painfully swollen belly cursed my masochistic appetite, but I was not done yet. “Thinking of having a pudding? There is no thinking to do – Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwich” the waiter told us. My appetite was charmed by his wit and before my belly could clog on to what I was doing, I had taken his advice. And what advice that was.

Two layers of peanut butter parfait cemented together with raspberry coulis and topped with crumbs of sugared peanut. I don’t think I have ever eaten anything with as perfect a combination of flavours and textures than this dessert. The parfait was both salty and sweet as well as creamy on the tongue, and the coulis sliced through with zingy fruit pang and sticky finish, not forgetting the surprise crunch from the scattered peanut brittle. Though bursting at the seams, my stomach forgave me.

This would usually be the point where I would conclude my blog entry with a few pithy sentences about the great time I had. However, I found myself a few weeks later wandering through Soho after a Wayne’s World shwing-along desperately looking for a bite to eat. All that head banging and air guitaring unearthed my masochistic appetite, and like a magnet I was drawn back to Spuntino with the idea of ordering completely different dishes but to end with the same sublime pud. And so my adventure continues.

Complimentary cup of popcorn covered in chilli oil started us off this time. Bit greasy and not as exciting or substantial as the eggplant chips, but it was in my brief of eating only the untried. Our first plate was another dabble with egg, this time in the form of a sesame crusted egg with toast. A boiled egg and soldiers is a classic for a reason, though Spuntino’s version wasn’t much more than that. If even I can make it at home, I don’t think it is worth spending money on.

Our slider of the day was salt beef with gherkin. There was a lot of meat and a good layer of schnoz burning English mustard. Nice, but nothing beats Gabby’s in Leicester Square for salted cow.

No, the real winners of this round were the steak with eggs coupled with shoe string fries. This, my friend, tops the PB&J Sandwich.

“I am not sure why this is so good, but it is” Mark said. I am not sure either, how something so simple can be so delicious. I used the shoe string fries to dip in the runny yolk and then to mop up the remaining meaty juices once I had finished. I know that I am going to return to Spuntino many times over so that I can scream “BINGO” once I have tried every single dish, but I also know that I will not be able to resist ordering this every single time.

We had a bowl of grits on the side which Mark rejected after a couple of mouthfuls, but I finished the lot, finding the texture utterly comforting that only a cuddle with my old teddy bear could inspire. I wouldn’t mind ordering that again too.

Of course we finished with the dessert we planned to finish with and of course we enjoyed it. I might order the liquorice ice cream with pineapple carpaccio next time instead. I will probably not enjoy it as much, but you live and learn. And if I am to live and learn I may as well do it at Spuntino.

 

Spuntino
61 Rupert Street, London, W1D 7PW
http://www.spuntino.co.uk/