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Sunday, November 30, 2003

MVH and Barnes, a nice long Sunday lunch

Eating week in London continues with a planned lunch at MVH, which frankly I wasn't entirely sure I would be able to keep after the huge dinner last night.

But the task master that is my friend Simon insisted that we kept the appointment with our other friends, so I met up with him in the morning to pick up a train at Waterloo out to Barnes. I'd been looking forward to this lunch, as anything that could get Simon to take public transport all the way out to Barnes just for a meal has got to be *that* good.

The train ride was lovely, but we had to get off one stop early as the stop nearest the restaurant was closed on Sunday. We had a rather nice walk along the river to Barnes, going through what was supposed to be one of the most exclusive suburbs of London. It was indeed true as we ran into Chris Patten, the last governor of Hong Kong walking his dog!

We got to the restaurant and met up with Martin and Gavin for some pre-lunch drinks. (Don't you love the English!) Vanessa, who lives the nearest to the place, was the latest, but since she lugged a pestle and mortar all the way to Wapping for my Thai dinner last night, I couldn't really blame her.

The restaurant was in a lovely small building right in the center of the village. The dining room is quite small with an understated kind of cool. We headed first upstairs for the drinks, and the look of the whole place changed. Martin said it was like being in Miss Faversham's house, I completely agreed. There were odd tables and chairs, somewhat morbid paintings of ugly naked guys on the wall (of which some are quite nicely done actually). The look was indeed one of surreal Dali-esque. The drink was a bottle of a lovely Australian Sauvignon Blanc, chosen by Simon, but without a snide comment about women and “those unused to wine” this time.

The meal was good, though everyone thought that it was a notch lower than their usual standard. We started out with a spectacular Reindeer carpaccio, nice morsels of flavorful cured meat with a bite from tiny bit of chilli spiked oil. I thought it was great.

The next dish was a let down. It was an overly salty duck confit. Almost everything about it was nice, the crisp skin, the tender falling off the bone meat, and the flavorful sauce. The only problem was a whole box of salt someone must have accidentally tipped over the confit jars! Quite a disappointment! Gavin chose the best of all of us, as he was the only one who had the boudin blanc rather than the confit. The bite that he was kind enough to share with me was quite tasty.

The chef had spent some time cooking in various parts of Asia, mostly in Indonesia, I was told. His experience was quite evident in his spicing and sensibility, not to mention the sweet layered cake that was given to us upstairs at the bar. My main dish was a roasted poussin with Indonesian fried rice. The poussin was great, lovely crisp skin and flavorful flesh. The fried rice was good as well, with a lovely toasty scent of a well seasoned wok.

Before we had a chance to taste our food the waiter came by with a universal sauce to pour on top of everything. The sauce was brown, with the color and consistency of dark Chinese soy sauce, and even shared bit of burnt flavor of the soy. He chuckled a bit when I asked what kind of sauce it was, answering with a preface that the chef was Ducth, and explaining that there was a pot in the kitchen into which scraps of meat and vegetable went. It was this that was reduced into the dark sauce, the specialty of the chef. Then he chuckled some more before adding that the sauce may have been a bit illegal in the UK. The chef is Dutch, you see, so his “pot” sauce actually has Pot in it.

Martin's lamb cutlet and Vanessa's curry salmon garnered a satisfying nod or two from each of them. Good, but not great as usual was their comment.

We shared the 4 desserts on the menu: a chocolate pot au crème with a chocolate spring roll, stilton served with a glass of dry white port, olives, bowl of cumin seeds to dip the olives in, some bits and pieces of crackers/breads, a pecan strudel, and a Kalamansi crème brulée. Martin was in love with the pecan strudel, was most obsessive over it. I didn't think too much of the crème brulée, which was a bit too liquid for my taste. The taste revelation of the day was the anchovy stuffed olives rolled in cumin. I would have never thought to mix those flavors, but it was most pleasant. I loved it.

During the meal Martin and I chatted about the plan to have dinner at Pierre Gagnaire and Comme Chez Soi in January. He was afraid that it might not happen after all. I told him of my somewhat uncertain plan to trek out to Paris to buy tea and eat, he was intrigued. By the end of lunch we agreed to take a day trip to Paris together. We'd try to get a reservation for a lunch a Gagnaire, and then he would let me loose in the afternoon to buy tea and other things before returning to London together in the early evening. This is going to be a fun trip!.

After the meal Vanessa, Simon and I took a walk by the river to Hammersmith bridge. The walk started out nicely, but grew increasingly dark and muddy, by which time it was too late to turn back. The sprinkle of rain that accompanied the earlier part of our walk turned into a full blown monsoon by the time we crossed the bridge. Poor Simon was soaked by the time he saw me to my door on Queensway.

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