Bacchanalian Times

I fear the gout.

It all starts on Tuesday. One of those swan song days of summer when the sun drips golden Tate & Lyle tendrils and the air shimmers above the juddering road works in its glittering, maudlin way. I slip into Racine and am transported to Parisian bistro chic. The staff are kind and pretend not to notice that I have a man’s tartan tie in lieu of a proper belt for my Oxfam coat. PR and publishing women beam at one another in the private dining area and the air tinkles with light, pleasant conversation, as bubbly and sanguine as the citrus peel-infused champagne we delicately sip upon. I talk to Clotilde Dusoulier who has recently updated Ginette Mathiot’s tome “I Know How to Cook”. She is utterly lovely, and without a smidge of the jealous measuring up, so prolific in some of the more seasoned British food bloggers I have had the vile misfortune to come across. As we sit around the table Henry Harris talks us through what we are about to receive. I’ve heard much of his culinary prowess but this is the first time I’ve had the honour. As he describes veal bones simmered for long meaty days, I get the impression that eating here could well be the culinary equivalent of reading an Ian McEwan novel, i.e. I know I’m in safe and capable hands. He is reassuringly spattered with caramel sauce. There are ten of us – an assortment of broadsheet journalists and the fabulous women from Sauce and Phaidon. I am sat opposite Tim Hayward and next to Susan Smillie from the Guardian; I haven’t seen Susan for yonks and I suddenly realise half way through the meal how incredibly loud we are being compared to everyone else. At one point I am vaguely horrified to hear my own braying Sid James-esque laugh booming above the polite murmurs of conversation around me. As gout winks at me from the opposite table I blank him and eagerly sup down the most intense fish soup, deep, briny and a fine burnt orange hue. The bourguignon is served and as I spoon the soft, wine-blackened flesh into my cosseted cakehole I swear I can feel the purine begin its stealthy calcification in my joints. I finish with crème caramel and someone else’s apple tart – I’m a firm believer in rushing selflessly to the aide of my fellow diners when they appear to be struggling (I’m nice like that). My requests to take my leftover stew home (Susan’s encouragement fuels me on) are met with bafflement and “why not?” smiles, but I brazen it out as I cannot abide waste; especially not when the pickings are this rich. Gout grins at me as I leave, waggles his crystalline fingers.

The following evening I go to the opening night of Koffman’s pop up. A starter of lobster with avocado cream feels like the closest thing I have had to vegetable matter in a long time. It’s silky and perfectly balanced with fresh bites of apple and delicate lemon jelly. My veal chop is impossibly tender, like biting into bovine butter and the famed pistachio soufflé is a pale green nimbus of perfection, the finest fairy fare. Our waiter offers us dessert as soon as we sit down and gets our plates muddled up. When we ask him to describe what we are eating he has to go and ask someone. But it’s the first night. My dining companions complain that £75 is a lot of money for this. When Koffman first executed these dishes they were cutting edge back in the day, they tell me. But now, the rest of the industry has caught up, and you can get these dishes at a lot of other places for a lot less money, they moan. I silently eat my way through the lot and feel immature and ignorant for being so utterly bowled over at the sheer quality. We chat to Claire, his wife, about potatoes and her beautiful son.

There’s much rubbernecking in the glamorous surroundings, it’s the perfect marriage of fleeting, flirty pop-up and Selfridges glam. We spot Brett Graham from the Ledbury and his lovely fiancé, Henrietta Green, Fiona Simms and gout is there too, sat by the window with his darling companion weight gain. I stick two fingers up at them and plough joyfully through my second dessert.

By Friday the lack of vitamins has clearly mussed with my mind because I decide to eschew meeting Gordon Ramsay on the London Eye in favour of making my little sister a birthday cake. She is very pleased about this. I wonder what I am doing, exhausted and dusted in icing sugar at 1am. I lie awake in bed that night fretting about the levels of uric acid in my bloodstream whilst simultaneously mulling over what a luxuriously decadent thing it must be to contract this “Disease of Kings.”

Saturday and it’s the gourmet odyssey, a day on a route master bus starting off at the almost ironically uncool met bar for champagne at 11am then to Sake No Hana for starter of sushi, followed by a melting main clod of veal at Hibiscus (the clod is the section just behind the shoulder) and the best bit of all, dessert at Wild Honey. I’m not really a pudding kind of person, but this was the highlight, a fudgy, praline fondant perfectly offset with salted caramel ice cream and the syrupy petrol of PX sherry. Then back on the bus to the Met bar followed by a friend’s birthday dinner at Franklins (I order a woefully abused cauliflower cheese, shrivelled, stingy and as wretched as hospital slops). I’m starting to feel like an ungrateful oink eschewing the finest freshwater beauties in favour of acorns but I have an inexplicable urge to lie for hours on the sofa with a good book and a big bowl of pomegranate seeds. Sunday is the highlight for me, a truly epiphanic talk by Simon Schama on the history of food followed by a hearty Sunday lunch with him, Fay Maschler and various notable others (more on this to follow). The whole experience is deliciously surreal.

The festival is rounded off with a brilliant awards ceremony at Shoreditch house with categories like “warmth and welcome”, “bravery” and “understanding of ceremony” followed by a feast at Pizza East. The place is filled to the rafters with chefs, PR, critics and industry folk. I tuck in to addictive meatballs in tomato sauce, chicken cacciatore, Caesar salad, churros and salted caramel tart. On the way out I clock gout eyeing me up again and laugh at him. Bacchanalian excess or not, this has been a week of sublime feasting – one I shall never forget.

The inaugural London Restaurant Festival ran from 8th-13th Oct

http://www.visitlondon.com/londonrestaurantfestival/

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22 comments

  1. Dan

    Thought I had an exciting week Reg, but yours takes the piss. Seems like you managed to get into everywhere that’s worth visiting, and meet a virtual ‘who’s who’ of the London dining scene.
    Couldn’t happen to a nicer girl ;)

  2. Cor blimey well done girl keep it up !

  3. I think with gout, you’ll feel it in your feet first. So if your feet are fine, you’re fine!

    So dying, of course, to know who’s been doing the jealous measuring up!

  4. Holy moly – what a fantastic week you’ve had! Brilliantly written; I’ve really enjoyed this post.

  5. Strangely, the one thing I am jealous about is that you had lunch with Simon Schama! :D We watched his Power of Art series not long ago (repeats, methinks) and they were fantastic!

  6. I am danger of becoming awfully repetitive, in your blog comments, but – as always – a great read. What a fantastic week!

  7. Wow Regina that is an action packed week and you have managed to go to every foodie event known to man/womankind. I was keen to go on the bus tour but thought the prices were pretty expensive so settled for just eating at one of the restaurants offering a restaurant week menu.

  8. oliverthring

    This was fantastic, Rej. What an incredible week you’ve had.

  9. Foodallovermyface

    Your anthropomorphism of gout is exceptional.

  10. That is certainly a hell of a week. I loved Koffman too – I really hope he comes back permanently.

  11. That pesky gout! Don’t worry though, it hardly ever occurs in women. Then again, with your diet… ;)

  12. R, your writing is one the reasons why I tempted to stall on my blog. Brill and edifying.

  13. Wow, what a marathon of a week, and so expertly recounted. The feasting sounds worth flirting with gout for, speaking of which, I am pretty sure that his cousin indigestion was in my Eurostar carriage on Sunday.

  14. rosiebirkett

    Lovely post Rej. I am something of a gout-dodger too – many times I’ve felt its yellow fingers drumming on my plate. Maybe the answer is buying a juicer?

    Was nice bumping into you at the awards – I lost you after that in a haze of Mumm but no doubt I’ll see you again soon at a quaff-fest of some sort.

    I adored Koffmann too – it was a bloody wonderful experience and I’d happily do it all over again. I went for the trotter and even found myself sucking on the toe nails: http://tinyurl.com/yf8ee4g

    Well done and see you soon x

  15. Did you get to drive the bus?!

    A humdinger of a week there Rejinald ;) have been a long-time devotee of all things Racine, so glad you liked it too!

  16. Dan

    I suggest you purge, detox, rinse, flush, run, sweat and self flagellate with a bushel of bay leaves. It will be painful but it’s the very least your body deserves after a week like that.

    Super post Rej.

  17. gastrogeek

    Dan, Dino, Lizzie, Krista – thanks!
    Su-Lin – it’s fantastic isn’t it? I particularly loved the Caravaggio episode.
    Kavey – thank you, it means a lot:)
    GourmetChick, Ollie, FAOMF, Chris – thank you!
    Helen – I’m perilously close…:S
    FatLes – that is praise indeed, especially from someone of your calibre. Thank you!
    SarWW – “his cousin indigestion” – love it
    Rosie – So nice to see you too x
    Sig – what a place! We must go back for the steak tartare…
    Dan – Cheers! And oh yes. I could certainly do with a detox…

  18. Gosh, I hope I wasn’t one of those bitchy bloggers(!)

  19. you’d be amazed at the number of people who’ve messaged me asking if I meant them….(no

  20. Beautifully poetic post, R.

    As for your your week – I am wistful and jealous *sigh*

  21. Well, I am just going to echo what everyone else has said – WOW! And Clotilde, must have been lovely to meet her.

    Fear not the gout and weight gain, they hang outside my door too, although weight gain has lately been allowed entry. Must get her out! ;)

  22. No gout, but weight gain like a vampire round my house, and one that I accidentally invited in years ago. Buggery bollocks! Intrigued by the sizing up aside – I’m with Krista – spill the beans ;-) I agree that Clotilde is indeed lovely in the flesh – her blog encapsulates her real-life personality exactly.

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