When visiting a city for just 4 days, and not just a city, but a bustling global capital with an exploding gastronomic scene, a city that’s made up of an entire world of food, how do you ever begin to decide where to eat? Where to spend your limited time and dollars to maximum enjoyment? How to determine in advance if a meal has a chance of living up to its promise? We’ve been dramatically disappointed before, as we were after one well-researched, well-reviewed, but really awful 50th birthday dinner at Ian Begg’s old Cafe Majestic in San Francisco (note to all you readers: foie gras and creme brûlée is a truly disgusting combination.) And pleasantly, happily, deliciously surprised after wandering into a promising-looking spot like San Diego’s Craft and Commerce and being treated to what amounted to childhood comfort food served up in high foodie style (think gourmet Cracker Jacks!) This was my first trip to London, and I wanted a meal that wasn’t just tasty. I wanted epic.
And believe it our not, epic is exactly what we found.
Still at home, after poking around looking for likely dinner spots online for, probably for hours, it was a few words about mushrooms in Mark Bittman’s New York Times review of London’s Social Eating House was convincing enough for me to make a reservation:
The most popular starter, if word of mouth means anything, are mushrooms steamed in their own juices in a plastic bag (one might prefer CorningWare but yes, well, sigh), served with toast spread with mushroom purée; everyone I’d spoken to who’d eaten here before me told me to order these, and indeed I’ll pass along the same advice.
Mushrooms. Toast! How could that go wrong? And it definitely didn’t, not from the moment we walked into high hipster-reclaimed-industrial decor and sank into deep leather banquettes with glasses of sparkling wine. I’m looking at the menu where I scrawled all my notes about the meal, and I wrote, “I’m in love with everything about this restaurant and we haven’t eaten yet. Expertly distressed brick! dark wood, brass, leather. Grungy cool.”
And those mushrooms! Our server Morgane expertly sliced that plastic bag open for us, delivering an aroma-laded steam along with a rich mound of buttery, herb, mushroom flavor. The cep purée was slightly salty, the thin sliced of compagnon crunchy and toothy – a perfect combination of textures and flavors. Truly divine.
We sampled as much as we could muster. The duck fat chips were served super hot, very crisp, and cut steak fries style, just the way LL likes them. The house smoked salmon came aside a mound of with a bright, lemony fennel risotto.
I had to stop eating to swoon over my duck entree for a few minutes and savor the cherry sauce – so bright and tangy. It was also served with a bit of swiss chard and, cleverly, a russet potato core cooked al dente.
LL ordered a steak, a 42 day aged Native Cumbrian rump. The presentation was just as cool as the rest of the decor – a beautifully seared medium rare, rested hunk of meat served naked in all it’s glory on top of what looked to be a reclaimed wood cutting board.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the salad. This was a commitment to greens, a bowl stuffed with handfuls of soft and bitter, red and green, ribbon-edged lettuces lightly dressed with vinaigrette. Quite delicious and a perfect finish to the meal.
Send me back to London to eat here again one day.