In the heart of the Westminster Bubble, a stone’s throw from Downing Street (and trust me, I threw stones*) and Trafalgar Square, and on the slightly undesirable pink Monopoly board square of Northumberland Ave (£160 to buy the whole road**), lies a historic monument to the Commonwealth history of our nation. Actually, they lie all around, but the one I’m talking is the Commonwealth Club. This private members’ club has recently thrown the doors of its kitchen wide open to the general public. They even let women in now too!
* metaphorical stones
** in real life, it’s an extremely desirable place. In fact, I hazard it’s one of the loveliest walks around the block you could take of an evening in central London, and certainly one of the most romantic, save for the omnipresent nature of the police clustering on every corner.
I rarely blog about non-photo things, but sometimes life and food are so good that they deserve a little space on here (hence the ‘life’ part of my blog title ‘photolife’).
Last night I was kindly invited by Qype (my favourite foodie reviewing site) to sample the tasting menu at Searcys at the Commonwealth Club – or the Commonwealth Kitchen. And what a find this place is.
At 6.30pm we checked in for a Champagne reception. I say checked in – they took our coats and we techie types hit a button on our iPhones to signify our arrivals… (it’s all the rage – honest):
You would be forgiven for walking past the Commonwealth Kitchen without even noticing its existence. It has none of the street presence you’d expect from a London restaurant (e.g. Prezzo next door has a big blue neon sign…) and such hidden gems are often the best.
The tasting menu consisted of four courses plus a perfect picking of palate cleansers and matching wines.
I absolutely love a tasting menu as it’s the chef’s chance to take the diner on a journey that he has thought about in great detail, and it’s his chance to show-off. In my perfect utopian world, people wouldn’t be allowed to choose dishes in restaurants at all. I have this sneaking suspicion that choice is the nemesis of genuine food diversity in the world of good dining.
I digress – here’s what we were given to start the evening’s food journey: scallops!
LJ had the non-fish option of a broccoli velouté:
Smoked Wild Duck with Curried Lentil Soup and a Pomegranate Salad. Duck and pomegranate is a clever combination.
Onto my favourite savoury course of the evening, a superb North Scotland Monkfish with Mussels and Orzo Pasta.
Monkfish is one of those foods that can be very bland indeed, and can be forced to rely on its surrounding ingredients, but the plus side is that it has an amazing buttery (excuse the cliché) melt-in-the-mouth texture.
The Commonwealth Kitchen really got it right here. Great variation of textures within the plate, perfect sidekick of shellfish, some zesty greens, and a creamy pasta.
It looks so innocent and beautiful here, but I photographed monkfish a week ago at Selfridge’s Food Counter and can confirm it is the ugliest beast imaginable. Google Images it.
And here’s the monkfish with baby gem purée, the alternative dish to the above for those selfish shellfish spurners:
Onto the more serious stuff of venison.
Ever since a fatal high speed encounter between my car and a deer on an unlit stretch of the M11 last year (fatal for the deer, thankfully nobody human was hurt), I have approached venison dinners with more glee than usual. It’s a shame, I’m sure not all deer are stupid as hell, but I was most pleased this one was cooked in more than one way; roasted and braised.
Chard Farm Venison ‘roast and braise’, Confit Celeriac, Red Cabbage and Bitter Chocolate Jus.
Or as I like to call it, “Take that, Bambi”
This next dish was another alternative to the one I ate.
So jealous. (of the bark. I wanted bark.)
Butternut Squash Risotto with Iron Bark Pumpkin Purée.
There’s a fine line between minimalism and vacuousness when it comes to this kind of food. I have especially found that wedding catering companies working to please a sophisticated palate often try way too hard, and end up producing mere fashion food (“H2O jus served on a bed of essence of lark’s vomit with an accent of deep sea fish shoulder” etc.)
Well, this gorgeous side dish of Romanesco Broccoli was exactly the right side of that line. It’s little details like this, when I bite into them, that make me understand why I am not a real cook, nor should I ever try to be one. This mathematically interesting vegetable (an example of fractals in food) was probably the tiniest most sumptuous thing I have eaten this year so far.
How to follow that? Here’s how. A pre-dessert dessert. Sorry, palate cleanser. (But we all know it’s a pre-dessert dessert.)
Blood orange sorbet with candied ginger. Two perfectly-formed bullet shapes of sorbet: tangy, but not sour and no strong aftertaste.
Despite the exceptionally well-controlled portion sizes (I mean: small), I am by this point happy.
Of course, we all know humans have a different, special stomach, though. A stomach that has actually remained completely empty throughout a filling meal. A reserve stomach, if you will.
Next up, a delicious Spiced Apple Cake with Blackberry Variations specially designed for the reserve stomach.
The photo speaks for itself; this dish was brilliant. The chef is a guy after my own heart. A dish that tells a little story.
I should like to recommend a new name for the menu (I don’t like the way the dish’s title fades away into the word “variations”. Rubbish!) It should be named: A Boat of Blackberry Sets Sail from Spiced Apple Island upon the Shores of Jus, Past the Rocks of Crouton, Guided by the Scent of a Blackberry Sugar, Alas, the Crunchy Sharks Are Biting at the Hull of the Ship! What to Do!
There’s so much going on visually here. The little rocks of tornaway Spiced Apple Island near the bottom of the plate. The delicious crunchy sharks surrounding the ice cream.
Virtuosic presentation, I think you will agree.
Who needs a dessert wine for afters when you have Ice Cider? The Leduc-Piedimonte Ice Cider is a Canadian treat, aged for 24 months and fermented, and was a huge hit with fellow diners.
It had a strange sweetness profile; a strong apple nose which was very dry in the mouth, but similarly there were medium-sweet vanilla notes and pleasing spice oak. As such it makes for a wonderful replacement of a dessert wine. You could almost imagine you are drinking a sweet wine if it weren’t for the overpowering apple.
As a huge fan of artisan apple juice, this hit the spot for me.
It tasted of real-real apples, I don’t mean your bottled-fresh-real-apple-juice-from-the-store, I mean your sourced-locally-and-found-in-farmers-market taste. If my knowledge of apples were better, I could doubtless have distinguished what varietal we were drinking, I don’t think it was a blend.
I met some lovely fellow London foodies. Here’s Chris, Qype’s resident London Guru. I fully understood the significance of this Guru status had when I indicated I liked cigars, and he began to reel-off his favourite twenty or so cigar lounges and terraces in London. (Maybe I exaggerate with twenty, but Chris is certainly the London food and drink equivalent of a London Cabbie; he has The Knowledge.)
Here’s a link to his blog.
I must admit I’m not a fan of New World wines. I know people who swear by them, but maybe my tastes haven’t matured enough for them yet. (I’m trying to be diplomatic.) There is no question the wines here were of a good standard, great clarity and depth, and they will leave drinkers with a happy organic glow as opposed to a slight headache. It’s just the flavours, they are a little unsubtle. Actually the Chardonnay was good, and I really enjoyed the superb Champagne (Champagne equivalent?) presented to us on arrival.
Either way, great line-up, and of course well-matched with the various courses of food.
And the aftermath of my tasting…
The service and hospitality we received as a large-ish group was wonderful, waiting staff and restaurant manager took time to chat with us about the origin of the foods and the restaurant’s values. Looking at the menu prices I will definitely be paying the restaurant another visit, and I cannot recommend Searcys at The Commonwealth Club highly enough.
Thanks Qype for an evening of great food and wine, and it is lovely as always to meet new lovers of fine dining in London. To the Commonwealth Kitchen, thank you for your hospitality.