Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Kitchen confidential

Gosh! Aren’t I the lucky one? Called, last minute, by my brother Ben who let me know that Villandry have opened a new bistrot and café in Chiswick and I should check it out (where he gets that knowledge from I have no idea). So instead of going back to the darkest depths of Somerset, I delayed… I deferred… I… well, I let my stomach take over my thought processes. There is a childish joy at being a ‘first’ customer. I was so excited by the thought of a free meal I was bouncing like Tigger… no really, I was.

Smells of paint, comfortingly and reassuringly imply newness, cleanliness, never before touched freshness; contrasting, the second hand rustic pine and oak furniture, zinc topped tables, and café lights of glass and steel. Light and airy arched windows, denuded walls and wooden floors give a ‘loft’ atmosphere upstairs (where downstairs seemed a bit darker, even though it had ceiling to floor windows… strange).

Open kitchens and on-display chefs give me a childish sense of anticipation, excitement and entertainment. No nose picking or inappropriate scratching, as graphically described by Anthony Bourdain in Kitchen Confidential, but I still crane my neck to see what they are doing and if it is my plate they are doing in places like that (Union Café in Marylebone is the same).

I ordered duck confit with haricot beans (well if they can’t get the classics right then there is no point in trying the ‘trendy’ stuff). It arrived, perfectly cooked and piping hot. Haricot beans, the larger Tarbais variety (?), slightly soft, mixed with tail clipped crunchy Kenya beans, small strips of roasted red pepper for variety, and a stock and tomato based burnt sienna coloured sauce, thickened with a beurre manié. Sat on this, knife tappingly crunchy, salty skin hid a treasure trove of fresh succulent dark duck meat, sweet and rich, easily pulled apart from the bone with just the slightest touch of the fork. Earthy, gamey, slightly saline duck flavours lifted up by the sauce. Meaty succulence mixed with golden skinned crispness; velvet powdery softness of the haricots shocked by the crunch of the green beans. Visually and texturally, this was good.

A glass of Pinot Noir by J C Boisset Bourgogne was meant to compliment the dish, but it was a bit too cold to show its fruitiness at first and needed to be warmed up (I understood that all the windows had been opened to quicken the paint drying).

Pudding? I had room… no, I made room! I definitely had to make room for pear and almond frangipane tart.

And WOW! The almond frangipane was sublimely light and eggy buttery, sweet as sweet sugary eggy almond frangipane can be: a golden crust; an interior, light and cloudy fluffy and hinting lemon. Although the pears had coloured brown grey (so not seasoned with lemon?) they had a nice bite, and I have always loved the graininess of pears. The crème fraîche, soured and thickened to an almost ice cream consistency, perfectly balanced the sweet fluffiness of the almond base, the smooth unctuousness contradicting the pear grain and the fluffy frangipane.

Washing this down was a lemon-cream Charles Frères, Cuvee Jean Louis Brut, Crémante de Bourgogne, wonderfully smooth, young and petillant.

Slightly nervous service (well it was opening night) and a couple of tweaks (the slightly too soft haricots, the below room wine; peripheral stuff) aside, would I come again? Yes. Recommend it to friends? Yes. Pay? Oh if I have to.

Villandry Kitchen, 217-221 Chiswick High Road, London W4 2DW. T: 020 8747 9113. E:

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