Archive for August, 2008

Andaman by Dieter Müller, London

 

Andaman is a very big island. The people have no king. They are idolaters and live like wild beasts…You may take it for a fact that all the men of this island have heads like dogs, and teeth and eyes like dogs; for I assure you that the whole aspect of their faces is that of big mastiffs. They are a very cruel race: whenever they can get hold of a man who is not one of their kind, they devour him.”

I know you must be eager for an explanation; you must be dying to know what these opening lines are all about. Well, I shall explain. The above is an extract from Il Milione, also (better) known as The Travels of Marco Polo, the chronicle of the eponymous fourteenth century Venetian trader/explorer who gained everlasting fame for his trailblazing travels along the Silk Road between the occident and Orient. It was on one of these travels that Signor Marco noticed, if not actually visited, Andaman.

Be patient; here comes the important/relevant bit. Thus, aware of this trivia titbit, I was left curious, surprised and, if honest, maybe a little scared when Dieter Müller chose to name his new London venture Andaman. Then it hit me, Müller, a German gentleman, actually a German chef with three Michelin stars, is trying to be funny, but he just cannot help but do it in awkward, formidable German fashion.

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Zafferano, London (The Return)

This is the last meal W and I shall share before she jets off home, so in a final attempt to have London impress her with its edible offerings and also simultaneously sate her all-consuming appetite for Italian food, she decides on Zafferano.

I should have paid more attention to the omens; first, W was over thirty minutes late for lunch (traffic), then once actually at the restaurant, my lunch reservation had apparently disappeared, even though I had confirmed it the evening before (I had even been assigned a window table, or so I was told); fortunately, they still managed to accommodate us. Things brightened up a little when I was greeted by the now ever-smiling Constantino who showed us to our table and took our orders. Alas, the menu had hardly changed since my previous meal, so I let W steer today’s selection.

 

Stuzzichino: Parmegiani e focaccia. These were the same hors d’oeuvres as on my last visit; creamy chunks of parmesan cheese and soft cherry tomato-topped focaccia. What had changed however was that I learnt (at the end of the meal though and thus too late…) that this petite platter of cheese and bread was costing me £15. Rarely do I mention prices, let alone complain about them, but I felt especially aggrieved by this. First, these items come without requesting them; secondly, at no point and by no means is one made aware of their cost; thirdly and more importantly, I am not able to eat pork, but still paying full price; and fourthly and most importantly, it is simply not worth £15 – after all, a four course lunch is £39.50. Pour l’amour du ciel!

Il Pane: Grissini, ciabatta, olive bread and brown bread. The bread selection now differed; the white bread with tomato or mushroom filling had been replaced by ciabatta and olive bread. Unfortunately, this ciabatta was more like plain white loaf in masquerade; it had neither the requisite crisp crust nor porous middle to call itself anything else. The olive bread was decent, but the olives were simply sprinkled on, rather than infused into the bread.

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The Square, London

It is Bank Holiday Monday, but W and I forgot that. We had a couple of ideas where we she wanted to dine, but they were all closed. Then inspiration hit – The Square. It has been on my list for some time and I had already made a couple of abortive reservations over the last few months, never managing to actually enjoy a meal there. I was excited.

A welcoming smile greeted us at the front door and our coats and bags were taken swift stewardship of before we were escorted over the black-and-white mosaic floor, past the wooden bar, fresh bouquets of orchids and pussy willows and large comfy couches, into the surprisingly large, very aptly square-shapen main dining area.

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La Maison Arabe, Marrakech

La Maison Arabe is nestled within Marrakech’s medieval Medina under the shadow of the Bab Doukkala Mosque and though little known now, it was once proclaimed by critics as one of the greatest restaurants in the world. This is the charming short story of its rise, regression and restoration.

Parisiennes, Susanne Larochette-Sebillon and her mother, had been holidaying in Marrakech in 1939 when WWII broke out. They were suddenly stranded, unable to return to France. The family, who owned Le Sebillon, a restaurant back in Paris, managed to get just enough money out of France to afford a riad in Marrakech’s old Arab quarter.

At that time, the ‘restaurant’ concept did not yet exist in Morocco, “I invented the restaurant in Marrakech. Before me there were no restaurants,” Madame Suzy has modestly claimed. However, as female foreigners who did not understand the language nor know the cuisine, they needed help. This help came in the form of Rhadija, a harem slave to the pasha of Marrakech, Si Thami el Glaoui. Luckily for the Larochettes, the pasha was a patron of Le Sebillon, so he was willing to hand them over Rhadija as a teacher, stipulating only that she return to his household to cook special feasts. Thus in 1947, complete with cook, their home became La Maison Arabe.

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Bô & Zin, Marrakech

A short stretch outside the city walls of Marrakech, on the road to l’Ourika valley, sits Bô & Zin. One needs a taxi and a guide to get there; the first, because of the distance and the second, because one would certainly not find it unless they knew exactly where it was. Though upon the main road, one of Marrakech’s most exciting nightspots is concealed within an ochre-red brick walled bunker. From without, like most Moroccan riads/restaurants/buildings in general, it is nothing to behold, but from within, it is contemporary, capacious and chic.

 

Actually it is more than capacious, it is colossal: there is room for around 400 guests spread between a pergola (fitting 50-70), a bar (50-80), two verandas (40 each), an interior lounge (70-90) and a garden (100-120). Inside, there is a laid-back cool emanating from plush sofas, fireplaces, candles and dim lighting. The mood changes as, walking through the more rustic verandas filled with bamboo cane armchairs, white linen liveried furniture and large earthenware pottery, one reaches the exotic gardens. Out here, on one side is a long bar, on the other the dining area and in between a litter of torches, tents and braziers.

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Dar Marjana, Marrakech

We hesitated when an elderly gentleman, dressed in dusty robes, asked us to follow him down into what resembled far too closely a dark, decrepit and disused mineshaft. Following strangers into shadowy caves is pretty much a major no no in itself, but in Marrakech, with every other person desperate to help show the way to this place or that, one must be doubly vigilant. Mercifully, at the mouth of the murky passage, our guide then lit a gas lantern he had found, thus enabling us to see down the pass and descry Dar Marjana’s front door. We decided that this fellow was kosher after all…and followed.

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Locanda Locatelli, London (The Return)

Yes, I know. I too remember the fuss I made over these ‘returns’, but brace yourselves audience for this shall not be the last! You see, this week, W, a friend from a mystery overseas destination is visiting London and so, as she is on holiday and because she was my maiden fine-dining companion, my prime paesan of the dinner plate, particeps criminem initialem meum even, she gets to pick where we eat. However, after following this little diary of mine, with intense interest no doubt, where else does she want to go, but to those places she has already read reviewed here!

It was Saturday night and signorina fancied some Italian. Therefore, as we had a very early flight out the country the next morning (I shall not be giving away the location just yet), we scheduled an early dinner at LL. It was a reservation for three as a friend of W’s, C, joined us. In the taxi, I tried to recall the dishes that appealed to me the first time round, but which I had been unable to order (and Lord knows I did order a lot); a couple stood out in my memory, but I also hoped that the menu would have since been updated. The chances of this were somewhat slim, given that it had only been six or so weeks since my last visit, but in truth, I was not too concerned; after all, tonight I had the delightful company of two charming young ladies, so the food was to be only the facilitator/catalyst/grease for tonight’s entertainment and not the distraction itself.

Arriving at LL, I was delighted to be greeted by Daniele, the gentleman who took care of me before. He had been an invaluable source of suggestion when ordering and seemed to possess a good understanding of my tastes and preferences already. He promptly seated us at a large table under those large, latticed street windows in a corner booth that would have comfortably held a couple more. Shortly, a plate of bresola e rucola was delivered to our table together with that basket of bread.

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