Every now and then, I eat in a restaurant where I have an absolutely perfect meal. Recently, it was at Lyle’s where James Lowe cooks beautiful dishes that are light, elegant and totally exquisite. A year or so ago, I finally ate at Faviken and Nilsson’s food was just as light and elegant and possibly even more pure than Lowe’s. In between, I went to Blue Hill at Stone Barns where I have been wanting to go for years but never got round to it until, that is, my new wonderful agent, Nicole, took me there to celebrate my joining her agency. Our meal there was also memorable, for the setting, the company and of course the food which was delightful, starting with this lovely arrangement of freshly picked radishes, each individually spiked onto a long wooden log. They were served alongside the crunchiest and most delicious ice lettuce (or ficoïde glaciale) which I was tasting for the first time, tiny baby carrots with their tender stalks and leaves on, asparagus, greens spiked into edible earth, a delightful drink and various delicate sauces to dip this incredibly fresh bounty into. Below, you can see some of the selection arranged on my plate — the dark blob is beetroot jerky — and I have to say vegetables never tasted so good, nor looked so pretty!
I will always regret it. The year must have been 2002, perhaps even earlier. I had rented a flat in Barcelona to test recipes for my offal book and was there for 3 weeks. During that time, I could have easily gone to El Bulli whenever I wanted. I had a well-connected friend who would have organised it for me — in fact he had organised an amazing offal dinner at Can Fabes and an exquisite lunch at Ca L’Isidre where the owner gave me their recipe for tripe. But El Bulli was far and I was not so taken by molecular cuisine after a disappointing meal at the Fat Duck. So, I didn’t even try to get a booking. Then it became incredibly difficult to get in and now it is closed. Since then, I decided never to miss eating at a restaurant I was interested in even if it means travelling. Last year I went to Noma and I am just back from Faviken where I had the most amazing dinner followed by a terrific breakfast in the most serene if slightly ascetic atmosphere.
I hadn’t been to Beirut for nearly two years and in that time many new places have opened, including my new favourite, Villa Clara in Mar M’khayel where owners Olivier (ex pastry chef at le Grand Véfour) and Marie-Helene have created the most delightful restaurant, inside and outside where friends and family mingle over simple but exquisite dishes, made with locally sourced ingredients. Olivier cooks these expertly and with great precision but without any fuss. Just how I like to eat, at least most days! Anyhow, what made our lunch even more memorable was the wedding that was happening across the road which took me all the way back to when I lived in Beirut even if I never saw a similar wedding. Here are some fun pictures of our gorgeous day, both at Villa Clara and from across the road! And for those of you interested in my culinary tours, I will be doing one in Lebanon next fall with Villa Clara as our base! Details to be announced soon on my travel page.
Today is the official opening of Mark’s Tramshed, a fabulous space and fortunately just round the corner from where I live. I ate there yesterday. Very simple menu: a starter made of three different dishes (love the idea of the yorkshire pudding with chicken liver mousse) followed by roast chicken or steak served with French fries and a small selection of puddings. I am trying the steak tomorrow and will probably have it on a regular basis after that. I love going out for a quick lunch on my own and I am lucky to have several lovely restaurants near me where I can do just that. Anyway, the Tramshed is a great addition to the neighbourhood. Beautiful room, cool diners (lots of local British artists — I spotted Julian Opie and Tracey Emin) and a lovely owner!