Thursday, 24 November 2011

Restaurant Review: L'Etranger

L'Etranger is a dynamic and exciting restaurant, with each plate creating a harmony out of contradictory ingredients, techniques and styles. This is a review originally written for Blue Tomato magazine and is based on a special menu put together with Champagne Billecart.

Set on Gloucester Road, L’Etranger couldn’t be seen in more fittingly elegant surroundings. And the feeling of the quaint terraced street gently dotted with delis and restaurants continues through the door and to the table. Pale shades are airy and regal, whilst artworks and small attentiosn to detail give a slightly funkier edge. A hint, perhaps, at the refined yet daring menu, which merges French and Japanese cuisines.

An amuse bouche is the first thing to pass our lips, and a perfect way to introduce what would follow. Japanese style tuna tataki comes garnished with shavings of foie gras. Though the cultures may collide, the flavours simply meld into one mighty tasty mouthful, which well and truly whets our appetites.

Crab gunkan, a kind of sushi nori roll, follows and is accompanied by tobiko (flying fish roe) and wasabi. The Japanese influence is seen much more strongly than the French in this course, but drink its paired with addresses the inabalance in an instant. The restauant has worked with boutique Champagne house, Billecart to match dishes with their wines, in particular to celebrate the release of the new Cuvée Brut Sous Bois last month. This is what we drink with our starter, and in spite of any hesitation at the idea of pairing strong flavours such as wasabi with a delicate wine such as Champagne, the match is close to spot on.

Black & white roasted Chilean sea bass fillets follow as main course, served with rakyo – which are essentially slightly sweet mini pickled onions – and some chinese style leaves. The contrast of the white and black skinned sea bass is an interesting one, which we’ve never seen on one plate before, and teh crispy skin (whatever its colour) is a winner, though in a truly “simple things please simple minds” kind of way we’re most occupied by the fun of having pickled onion on our plate, and the umeboshi style pickled Japanese plums which act as a kind of relish. A dish that’s well constructed, well executed and genuinely memorable – we love it.

The Champagne theme continues, and the accompanying drink is a treat in the form of a Billecart-Salmon vintage from 1998. With age, the wine has gained depth of flavour and a more obviously yeasty edge. The bubbles ahve also died down, making it more like a white ‘table wine’ rather than a typical glass of fizz. This is excentuated by our wine waiter theatrically decanting the wine infront of us before instantly pouring it out. The effect of this is to aerate the wine, helping calm down the bubbles and coax out the more subtle flavours. Well, we’re impressed.

Pudding follows with a more European strawberry and black pepper pannacotta, and a glass of Billecart’s signature Billecart-salmon Rosé. Here it’s all about sweet, unctuous enjoyment rather than flashy flavours, though the subtle kick of pepper – and the not so subtle pepper laden wafer that accompanies the dish – add an exhilerating extra dimension that ensures L’Etrange keeps up its excitement levels.

We’ll certainly be back to see what else chef Jerome Tauvron has up his sleeves, and perhaps to spalsh out on an unusual wine recommendation or two from the restaurant’s vast and varied collection. The occassion doesn’t have to be too special occassion, though. If you’re in the area on a weekday you’ll want to make note of their exceptionally priced set lunch menu which offers two courses for £14 and three for £18. Worth a bit of time out of the office, if you ask us…

L'Etranger, 36 Gloucester Road, SW7 4QT

>> originally published in Blue Tomato magazine

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