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.
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.