Thursday, 16 July 2015

Going Solo: Morden and Lea

Normally, I'm a pretty big fan of being left on my lonesome. As Woody Allen knows, lots of things are better on your own. I've travelled around Oz, got tattoos, got drunk (thankfully not together) gone to the cinema, eaten kebabs on Primrose Hill, pork pies in Birmingham and coconut ice on Bournemouth pier, all quite happily sans company. The one thing, however, I've never really got into is dining on my tod. 

But, with life being fleeting (and, more importantly, Stealth off gallivanting and leaving me at a loose end), I decided to brace my self for the horror of Piccadilly Circus on a sunny Friday evening. Eschewing the glistening ducks suspended in the windows of Wardour Street and the serving hatches peddling flaccid slices of pizza for a pound, my destination was Mark Sargeant's first solo London venture, Morden and Lea.  

The restaurant - named after cartographers Robert Morden and Philip Lea, who were the first to map out the what's now known as Soho - is split into two; a casual all day dining area downstairs and an upstairs restaurant offering a la carte, with two or three courses for £29/35 respectively. I wanted to sit at the bar, which was upstairs, but asked for the downstairs menu, with it's list of trendy small plates and tartines (posh things on toast) much more suitable for nibbling solo whilst perched precariously on a stool.

Of course first drink of the weekend - traditionally after my cousin Will has given his Facebook klaxon - is always the sweetest, and this cold glass of Picopul got things off to a good start. Buoyed by the Friday feeling (and possibly slightly pissed), I even gave a few chapters of my book a go (now minus its Burger Bear bookmark).

First out of the kitchen was a salad of flaked smoked mackerel , peppered with punchy capers, red onion and grassy parsley. All very light and sprightly, if a little uninspired. Smoked mackerel still remains a favourite, though; which is handy, as I could still taste this come Saturday afternoon.

Better was the 'heritage carrot salad', a humdrum name for a beautifully bright mix of roots. Pureed, picked and otherwise jazzed up with liberal applications of olive oil, micro leaves and crunchy pine nuts. I can quite see why Peter battled with Mr MacGregor for the spoils, although I did pause over ordering when Time Out (rather less than palatably) described it as 'misconceived... presenting the uber-fash veg du jour in three different forms, (that) fell into the fail-zone'. Just goes to show you shouldn't believe all you read (says someone working in policy and comms).

Next up was Insta-favourite, the crab sausage roll - a white crab meat packed tube of pastry served with a brown crab mayo and watercress. This bronzed and shiny crustacean-stuffed delight deserves all of its plaudits. The accompanying mayo would be the stuff of dreams slathered in a sandwich, although here I would have preferred something a little sharper as a lubricant.

Now, when I had looked at the bar menu, I had noticed one glaring absence; no gypsy tart. This tooth-achingly sweet confection, that is much beloved in the Garden of England where it originated, is already rivaling the Hackney's Marksman and their honey and butter tart in the best of the sugary pastry stakes this summer.

Having not had the pleasure of sampling the latter yet, I can confirm the former is a very fine thing indeed. The wobbly mousse, made from evaporated milk and brown sugar, is cradled in a impossibly thin pastry crust, the burnt toffee sweetness cut through with a cricket ball of clotted cream balanced on crisp biscuit crumbs.

Wine, seafood, a sugar rush and some fascinating company (that never answers back). What more could you want on a Friday night? (errr....your wife sat opposite you, you fool - TE)

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