Sunday, 20 January 2013

The Green Man and French Horn: Gem of St. Martins

London has always felt a great amount of envy towards its culinary superpower across the channel. While the French sipped their cafe au lait and nibbled warm buttery croissants; Brits shoveled down ham and cheese toasties washed down with milky tea. We have always been defensive about our traditional cooking, the French usually guffawing at our attempts at bold flavours and delicate desserts. London has been hit by the food revolution and it seems we have more French restaurants than Paris. Typically, the market is skewed towards Café Rouges and Chez Gerards - serving over-cooked, toughened steak frites and pre-made deserts straight from the fridge. The top of the market is well-catered for by the Rouxs, Ducasses and Koffmans. What has been missing is the simple, passionate cooking reminiscent of the brasseries and auberges. Recently there have been some strides in the right direction such as Brasserie Zedel dominating the Piccadilly area. 

The Green Man and the French Horn is nestled down in St Martin in the Lanes, a stones throw from J.Sheekeys and Asia de Cuba with Le Garrick just round the corner. It's somewhere I've had had my eye on ever since reading The Perfect Trough's review. The venue was formerly a pub and it has the usual narrow entrance which makes for a slightly awkward wasted space. The interior isn't too far off some of the auberges of the Loire region, each table is different design and the plates seemingly odds and ends. This is a deliberate design plan, not a lack of money (the owners are behind Terroirs and Soif), however it still has a sense of charm. The ambiance suffered due to it being midday on a wet and cold January, but when full during a dinner service, it would undoubtedly be a cozy bolt-hole busy with chatter.

The menu is traditional rustic French fare. Rustic is usually synonymous with lazy, "Oh no, its meant to look like that. Didn't you know, its rustic." Here however it is a celebration of home-style cooking. Ingredients are restricted to three, four at a push, shown some love and simply plated on those beautiful plates that remind me of my grandmother. And when food reminds you of your grandmother, its never a bad thing.

Rillette was soft and creamy, one of the better I've had in London, but paled a bit in flavour compared to the duck rillette we had recently in Paris. The rillion was superb; warm pork belly is one of those things that speak to my soul when the trees have discarded their leafy coats. The mustard endive was a classic accompaniment giving both warmth and bite to the fatty belly. Id also echo Perfect Trough and say that the higher meat to fat ratio makes for a lighter starter. Its a dish that January was made for, and I couldn't stop smiling.
Pork Rillette with Cornichons

Rillons with Endive, Mustard and Chives
The braised oxtail stew was another warm blanket of a dish. Deeply meaty, with fresh parsley to give it a push towards spring. The sauce was a little thin, but it made the dish a little easier on the arteries. Bread mopped the last drops of sauce. The humble gurnard is a fish that long ago fell out of favour but has made a comeback in last few years and so have its prices. However, £14 for two medium-sized fillets is pretty reasonable. It's a firm white fish that has a blander flavour than cod or turbot. The fennel and parsley sauce was fresh, and helped lift the fish without being too overpowering. The dish didn't exude the usual summer feel usually associated with simple pan-fried fish and felt perfectly in step with January.  

Gurnard, Fennel and Green sauce

Braised Oxtail, Root Vegetables & Mogette Beans

Dessert choices were most certainly not pre-sliced fridge jobs, with tarte Vigneron, a bitter chocolate and meringue number, and a cremet Nantais. We shared a poached pear in salted butter caramel and sable biscuit. The pear was sweet and almost meltingly soft, with a little surprise of piped cream in its bottom. The caramel was a little overly salty but addictive and perfect dunking for the butter biscuit.

Pear, Salted Butter Caramel, Sable Biscuit

Overall, this is a gem: French cooking at its simplest. Traditional dishes actually done traditionally and served without fanfare. Its somewhere that I will no doubt finding myself back there again and again when my stomach starts rumbling in the heartland of awful restaurants that is Leicester Square. 

How much: Starters £6-9, mains £12-18. Meal for two with beers - £65.

54 St. Martins Lane, WC2N 4EA, London - 0207 836 2645

Food: 8/10
Drinks: Wine list was varied and reasonably priced. Can order quite a few by the glass, carafe and bottle. 7/10
Service: 8/10
Value: 9/10
Square Meal Green Man & French Horn on Urbanspoon

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