The Gannet’s unmissable off-duty dishes of 2018

The Gannet presents his private, off-duty and unashamedly epicurean menu of the year

Leek, seaweed butter, tartare of Perle Blanche oysters, lemon and spring onion at Epicure
Leek, seaweed butter, tartare of Perle Blanche oysters, lemon and spring onion at Epicure

One of the joys of revisiting a favourite restaurant is that my notebook can stay firmly in my pocket. There are, though, a couple of dishes I sampled at old haunts this year so spectacular that no aide-memoire was necessary – and it would be a crime not to share them. These dishes, along with a couple of delicacies that might just enhance your festive table (or, as a gift, someone else’s), make up The Gannet’s private menu of the year. It is not, as you will discover, restricted by such petty considerations as balance or restraint.

I will start with a plate of ham, but not just any ham: in April, I made a pilgrimage to Jamón Reserva Ibérica in Barcelona, a cathedral of top-notch jamón. Dozens of pata negra legs dangle from the ceiling; beneath, two expert carvers lovingly, patiently and skilfully tease wafers of sublime, ruby-red, fat-streaked meat from the bones of a range of superb hams. I chose a Jabugo ham from a pura raza (pure breed) Ibérico pig that had feasted only on acorns. The art of carving ham is a process I could watch for hours; happily, the shop doubles as a wine bar, so customers can wait with a glass of cava and a plate of cheese while their ham is prepared. It also has an online shop. 

Next up is the most dramatic, audacious dish I have had all year. I ate it in the gloriously old-fashioned dining room at Epicure, Eric Fréchon’s Michelin three star at Le Bristol, Paris, about which I waxed lyrical a few years ago. It was a leek, scorched black on the outside (rather like Catalan calçots) and sliced open to reveal not just the meltingly soft innards of the leek, daubed with seaweed butter, but also a divine tartare of Perle Blanche oysters, singing of the sea, with a hint of lemon and spring onion adding savour. It is a magnificent dish.

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The côte de boeuf at chef Henry Harris’s The Hero of Maida, one of several pub/restaurants for which he now consults (I wrote about Clerkenwell’s splendid Coach in May), was advertised as “for two or three”: I will order it anyway. Beef is never so glorious as when a big chunk of it is cooked on the bone and Harris’s beef was very good indeed – pink, tender and richly flavoured – as were the lovingly burnished chips and unctuous sauce béarnaise that accompanied it. For the health-conscious, there were also sprigs of watercress.

And so – after a few slices of rich, nutty, faintly grainy three-year-old Comté Grande Réserve from the peerless La Fromagerie – to pudding. To round off this rather rich menu something light and cool is in order, and there is nothing lighter or cooler than the pistachio granita I ate at Da Alfredo, the legendary seaside café in Lingua, on the lovely Aeolian Island of Salina. After which, all things considered, I should probably try to burn off a few calories and swim back to London.

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