Until last night. Yesterday I turned 28 and part of my Birthday present from the boyfriend was dinner at Le Champignon Sauvage which I think translates into The Stripy Mushroom. The Stripy Mushroom (sorry, it’s stuck now) has two Michelin stars and I had never eaten at a Michelin starred restaurant. I was very excited but I actually found it a bit bewildering.
I’m a foodie. I love ingredients, I love the processes of cooking and I love to try new things. I create new dishes at home regularly and often buy things simply because I’ve never cooked them before. This autumn I’ll add wine making (elderberry) to my chutney and Christmas cooking (mincemeat, Christmas cake, Christmas puddings) and next year the boyfriend and I are going on a bee keeping course. When we buy a place I plan to adopt some former battery chickens. As the feather in my cap, in 2008 I made the semi-finals of Masterchef.
I think of myself as being relatively cultured and having a reasonable palette but it seems that I’m not quite (Michelin) star material.
It was difficult not to compare the meal to the one we had recently at The Daffodil. I loved The Daffodil and rate the meal I had there as one of the best in my life. Of course, the wow factor of The Daffodil is difficult to beat but The Stripy Mushroom seemed a bit blah upon arrival. It took me a few moments to work out what was wrong. There was no music!
Normally I’m unaware of background music (I talk a lot) but at The Stripy Mushroom the silence seems loud. I found myself whispering which was awkward for the boyfriend who is a little bit deaf and still struggles with my accent on occasion. This made me feel really awkward. The tables were laid out American movie style so rather than sitting opposite my beloved, I was sat to his side. This was fun at The Daffodil as you face the kitchen but at The Stripy Mushroom we faced the room. I almost wished I was part of the table of four who got to sit opposite each other.**
Anyway, enough of the socially awkward pikey Northerner act. We were there to eat. We picked three dishes each but there were six courses which was quite exciting. We began with some appetisers. A mini muffin was pretty forgettable, a cube of something chorizey made me gag but a parmesan wafer with goats cheese and marjoram cream was lovely. Of course cheese dipped in cheese has all the makings of win but what I liked most was how my mind started whirring about ways I should use marjoram more and how a replication of the cream on an oat cracker with slivers of beef could be divine.
My starter was based on rabbit although I couldn’t have told you that from taste alone. There was lots of raw raddishy things that didn’t taste of much (other than raddishes – which I don’t like). The boyfriend had a dish of carpaccio and corned beef. This was much better with wonderfully developing mustard and pickle flavours. The bread was nondescript although I liked that the butter came on a pebble, even if it did waver precariously, threatening the sparkling linen (you sense the stress of the place).
We then received a shot glass of white asparagus vichyssoise with coconut foam. Ah, the foam. It tasted of coconut. I appreciate that that is the point but it looked so much like the foam on a cappuccino that I was still confused. I can’t say I liked it but it was very interesting. The vichyssoise tasted of leek and potato and since I’ve never had white asparagus before, I don’t know whether it is an amalgamation vegetable or not. The combination was interesting, not unpleasant but not exactly food if you understand me.
I ordered a main course of Gloucester Old Spot. The belly pork was perfect. The pigs cheek an absolute revelation. Pigs cheek now rivals venison fillet for my affection. It was all the soft texture of good pork with the flavour of red meat. Exquisite! Eagerly I delved into the pigs head anticipating more good things...
... is it rude to swill your mouth with your red wine? Well, I hardly had time to reflect on social niceties. The only thing I’ve had a worse reaction to was the first time I tasted blue cheese and that was only because I was in a supermarket with nothing to drink to wash the taste away. Eugh! I’m really not convinced that pig head is edible. There were other things on the plate; some little beads that looked like the semolina beads I used to have in bubble drinks in Malaysia but I only listened to part of the waitresses explanation to the next table as to what they were. They didn’t taste of much so I couldn’t see the point. Therein lays the limits of my sophistication I suppose, for me it has to be about nice plates of food.
The boyfriend had lamb (perfect) served with its sweetbreads. Sweetbreads are ok. I’d never choose to eat them but they are palatable enough and if I was buying a whole lamb for the freezer I’d probably elect to keep them and have a go at cooking them myself.
The pre-dessert was fabulous. The layered cream, jelly and foam concoction of elderflower and raspberry was wildly different but also delicious. I scraped my glass out.
Actual dessert for me was a bergamot mousse that tasted of the flavourless jellied puddings you get throughout the far east, a liquorice cream that didn’t taste particularly liquoricey and the most amazing orange jelly. Oh and there was lettuce sprinkled over it all. The boyfriend suggested it may have been bergamot (Google disproves this) it looked like pea cress. The orange jelly had me waxing philosophically – it was the form of orange. The boyfriend’s rather ordinary lemon meringue came with a similar lemon jelly (although coming after the wow of my orange simply seemed a different flavour) and a basil icecream. As a dessert I didn’t like the icecream but it made me want to make it myself nonetheless.
By this point I was tired and elected to go home rather than try the coffee (what would they put in it).
I’m glad I went, I ate some amazing stuff but it was a bit like a trip to TK Maxx. Even though I have a beautiful suede coat that I bought for £60 down from £570 among my bargains, often I just want something to wear and I don’t want to wade through a bewildering mess to find it.
* I’ve read the first chapter of Mad Dogs and Englishmen: Rabies in Britain 1830-2000 and am keen to read the rest. But that’s just one wish list book on rabies; most subjects warrant multiple books.
** I wasn’t because the sleazy guy (my fault for wearing a low cut dress) was bad enough from across the room. Sitting opposite him would’ve been horrible. Plus, they were American.