Coats, perhaps? Jackets maybe? Given the humid stickiness maybe just jumpers, or the full medallion look? These are the questions I ask myself as I head across London to meet L, my Canadian friend on a stopover in London and en route to sunnier climes.
Can this really be October? Here and there, evidence of seasonal changes; a weaker sun, a bone cutting chill to the wind, patchy skies and grey, damp streets, and a millefeuille of leaves that crunch and mulch under foot. A tall, leggy blonde vision stands before me looking, as the advertisement might say, like she has just stepped out of a salon, 36 hours up and not a sign of jet lag. I, on the other hand, 36 minutes into my journey, am dripping, agitated and in need of a shower, and a cool refreshing drink!
I suggested heading to Covent Garden: given the layers of foliage underfoot and the array of autumnal colours I wondered if an appropriate choice for the time of year, would be Kopapa; fusion food with contrasting textures, plates that give a spectrum of flavours that appeal to the taste buds as well as the eyes.
Sticking with the house Momo Sauvignon Blanc 2010 (Peter Gordon’s own label), a zesty, fruity and refreshing light wine, not totally compatible to our dishes (but that was our choice, rather than the Restaurant Festival Menu’s wine suggestions), we began our meal. L and I take a swig to cleanse the palate.
A dish of Scallop velouté with a tempura cod cheek comes our way. Small bites to get our palates warmed up. This had the lightest of light tempura shells, crisp to the tongue and tooth (though slightly salty for me). Inside, the white fleshed cod’s cheek released a spectral steam, and promised an intense and lovely flavour (slightly dry flesh). The scallop, in contrast was the lightest meltingly creamy bite, a comfort food richness to the velouté, a delicately light amuse bouche (I now realise exactly how Tom Hanks must have felt kissing Daryl Hannah in Splash...no, honestly!) A glorious shellfish stocky flavour, a saline smacker to get the palate aroused.
A swill, a glug, and enough time to digest some news before the tempura soft shell crab with pickled green mango and cucumber salad, with tamarind dressing arrived. Visually this had me green with envy, a perfect julienne of cucumber (my knife skills are more 19th Century East End at the moment.... think about it!) and crunchy green vegetables sharply contradicted the earthier and muddy water flavours of the soft shell crab. The plum sauce was rich, soft unctuously plummily rich, contrasting nicely with the peppery rocket and crunchy and perfect tempura, its sweetness, with the spiciness of the chilli and tamarind. The acidulated mouth, the sweetened lips, the longer earthier finish to the palate: delicious (though all that lascivious lip licking, it’s a good thing we are old friends!)
A top up, a refresh, a glug, a swill: Yellow fin Tuna tartare with sesame and ginger, nori puree, yazu saffron tapioca. This was decidedly L’s favourite. A soy saucy fishy gingery ceviche- like tartare of tuna, strong on impact thanks in part to the ginger, but this appeared to be more of a textural dish; smooth, raw flesh-like tuna, rounded bubbles of tapioca, a greeny yellow ‘caviar’ gently popping on the tongue, real textural healing (didn’t Lionel Ritchie..? Er, no!) The sesame flavour so subtle it teased the tongue to find it. I have to admit, I really enjoyed it; truly delicious and refreshing, subtle flavours slowly coming out after the initial spicy impact has eased off.
Another glass? Why not?!
We had been teased and tempted, our tongues caressed by the flavours and aromas of the dishes so far, but here is where the relationship began: Pumpkin Panna Cotta with spiced Orange Jelly, chevre truffle toastie, salt’n’pepper pecans, a Turkish treat from the sous-chef.
The cheesy, cheese straws left a lickable scented buttery residue on the finger tips, the pastry was perfect, the truffle was not so apparent (the nutty and peppery black truffle perhaps?) Either way, who can resist the salty peppery pecans for added crunch?
But it is the panna cotta that plunges me into memories of the Bosphorus, of the Blue Mosque and the electric and electrifying call of the Muezzin over the rooftops of Istanbul. Vanilla, cinnamon, star anise are blended with the pumpkin each sweet and each savoury to create a truly exotic dish. Another bite and a saline kick breaks from the eggy sweetness of the panna cotta. Sharpness of orange spice cuts through the cream and in turn tempers the salt. Clever, and yet... This plate is the dance of the seven veils, layer upon layer of exotic and delightful, flirtatious aromas and flavours that are playful and frivolous, but sadly this is a one night stand not a lasting relationship...it is time to say adieu...
A gossip, a swill, a glug... And then comes the seductress... OMG! Braised beef cheeks, chilli and galangal consommé and garlic puree. A sublimely slow cooked, slow, slow, so very slowly cooked nugget of fibrous beauty (I could kiss the cow that died for this deliciousness, though Darryl Hannah would be better!) The meat is knife pressingly fall apart, so beefy, so stocky, so beautiful: the prize bull. (Was the beef wrapped in caul I wonder? I don’t care, I am in love) Hints of smoky lard melded with garlic puree tempt the tongue, the consommé to the side a warming chilli and electric galangal added zing to add spice to the refreshing soup. If the panna cotta was the one night stand this is the smouldering vamp, older, wiser. Rich, seductive subtle spices warm and caress the palate, and so, you want more... mmm... Why Mrs Robinson..!!
I put my hand over the glass, these flavour are staying with me for a bit longer. Well only a bit. The perry braised middle white pork belly on parsnip puree, preserved lemon and prune chutney, kale, cider jus arrives to take the beef’s place, and so, I have grown and have to find another love, but I am picky...
A refreshed palate (yes, a swill, a glug, but I thought you might have assumed...) and I start with the bit I least like; the kale. Soft but with the cabbage crunch that should be there, very irony, very nicely done, I am just not fully converted. Contrasting this brassica high is the natural sweetness, smoothness and glossiness of the parsnip puree (I bet they didn’t have to sieve it like I did the mash this week!) But wait! The chutney knocks me off my seat, it is so sexy, the salivatingly sharp preserved lemons balance against the rich and sweet velvety prunes in a sticky preserve (imagine Nigella saying ‘oooomahmee’, a licked finger, a pout, a wink - yes, you’ve got it!) Brine and acidity meets syrupy toffiness, sweet meets sour.
Now add that to the melt in the mouth pork, beautifully cooked, translucent fat just disappears on the tongue; a chunk, a dollop, a touch of the puree (ok I have a big mouth and people are looking!) This is bliss. I can just about mouth “oh!” as my best exclamation. I don’t really want to swallow but instead to just savour the flavours, though the strength of the lemons does slightly weaken the porky meatiness; either way, this is deliciousness to savour. I blush.
We slurp... (you know us by now).
The final dish comes: Pan Fried market fish on braised fennel, borlotti, cavolo nero, brown shrimp and yuzu dressing.
For me, this is the moment in the film “Oh What a Lovely War” when Maggie Smith, all legs and basque, flirtingly offers a kiss and a shilling to the recruits if they sign up, and when they get on stage for the kiss they wish they had not as she is not the sex bomb they were expecting? That was how I felt. Seductive sounding, fennel and fish always a winner, brown shrimp and yuzu dressing (well I have not been there before). So when this light and lovely sounding dish arrived, and the beans looked a bit grey and dull and the shrimp sauce a bit underwhelming in flavour, I only wish I had had this dish first so my food love-in could have ended on a Wagnerian crescendo.
Don’t get me wrong, the fish was beautifully cooked and melt in the mouth flaky, the fennel gave it that beautiful smoothness that the dish needed but after trying all the other plates I wanted a bit more contrast, a bit of a flavour slap then a tongue caressing taste bud kiss. This was in need of a bit of the same saline punch that the amuse bouche gave, only the skin had that.
L and I had another gulp and swill and slurp and gossip before we left, it was a heady evening of seduction on the part of the food and a marathon for the tongue, I needed to lie down with my thoughts (though before I left I managed to have a short gossip with Frith before whacking here with a request for work experience in April, so I apologise for being a cheeky beggar).
The chill outside required a night cap or two and then thankfully the jet lag had kicked in and L was keen to depart, the eventual shock of the night air bringing the evening to a sharp and cruel close, but then again, Kopapa is such a seductive place, the menu always evolving and yet, always managing to excite the senses and tease the palate as well as the mind. My next flirtation with flavours is very near.
PS Apologies for the lack of photos this time, my phone battery was flat.