September 08 2011
Where, the Gannet is often asked, is your favourite restaurant? A straight fight between Noma, El Bulli and The Fat Duck, you might think, and in purely gastronomic terms you might be right.
But, worthy though those contenders are, it is a little place in St John’s Wood that gains The Gannet’s laurels. Its chef, Steve Smith, trained with Gary Rhodes and Chris Galvin, and his menus are rooted firmly in classic technique and seasonal British ingredients. The wine list is short but well chosen, service is friendly and the atmosphere has a unique buzz.
It is the view, however, that clinches it. At the Warner Restaurant, huge windows overlook the outfield of Lord’s Cricket Ground; you don’t get that on Bray High Street. On major match days, MCC members and their guests can take breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea there, cricket being the only sport sensible enough to construct itself around meal breaks.
Sunday September 11 sees the final international action of the season at Lord’s – England taking on India in the penultimate match of the NatWest one-day series – but, thanks to the lure of the “Home of Cricket” for the corporate world, Lord’s is as busy in winter as in summer.
It now has its own gastropub too: Lord’s Tavern, open to the public all year round (except major match days), dishing up battered haddock and triple-cooked chips, soft-centred Scotch eggs, Sunday roasts and a clutch of traditional British puddings.
The latter have led to good-natured rivalry between Smith and his maître patissier, Thierry Besselièvre, who produces cakes, sweets and puddings for all Lord’s eateries, including the Warner restaurant. The Lord’s Tavern nursery puddings are beating Besselièvre’s gâteaux, croquembouches and millefeuilles hands-down: hardly a fair contest, given the matron-tinged nostalgia of the average Lord’s patron, but still amusing.
MCC members are an old-fashioned bunch – ravens will flee the Tower before roast-beef sandwiches in the Pavilion leave the menu – but there are compensations: the standard match-day order for 50 ribs of beef yields plenty of bones for stock and mounds of dripping for roast potatoes.
It’s the scale of the Lord’s operation that is so impressive. Smith buys directly from his suppliers – pre-ordering a tonne of cherries every year, for example – and champions smaller producers: Montgomery cheddar, Laverstoke Park’s excellent ice cream and smoked fish from the Severn and Wye smokery, to name but three.
Food at our great sporting venues is rarely as exciting as the action it seeks to complement – burger vans and soulless contract catering are the norm, sadly – but the revolution that Steve Smith and his team at Lord’s have inspired has made cricket a more appetising sport than ever: pushing the boundaries, you might say.