To get to Salon, a little first-floor restaurant in Brixton Market, you need to walk through Cannon & Cannon, a delicatessen specialising in British charcuterie – until recently, a thoroughly oxymoronic phrase. Our damp and chilly climate is not best suited to salami and air-dried ham.
Except, of course, that temperature and humidity are now easily controlled, and a number of artisanal charcutiers are producing ever-improving examples of Continental-style hams and sausages; at Salon, I tried a very passable Kentish fennel and garlic salami. Salon does simple things well: I also sampled English asparagus with toasted hazelnuts and ricotta, and some slow-cooked ribs of Dexter beef.
A visit to Gilles Verot’s atelier in Paris’s 6th arrondissement, however, will show how far we have yet to travel on the road to piggy perfection. A third-generation charcutier, Verot grew up in Saint-Etienne and opened his first shop in Paris with his wife, Catherine, in 1997. This was also the year that Verot was awarded the prestigious Trophée Jean Carmet for his fromage de tête (brawn). It is a thing of beauty: scraps and cubes of meat set in a sparkling, golden jelly; alchemy for humble swine.
Residents of New York and London do not, however, need to make their way to Paris to sample Verot’s superb charcuterie. Chef and restaurateur Daniel Boulud, also from the Rhône Valley, started his collaboration with Verot in 2004, and the fruits of their labours can be sampled at Boulud’s various outposts in both cities.
Bar Boulud, beneath London’s Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park hotel, opened a couple of years ago and has rapidly become one of the most enjoyable places in town. It’s versatile, too: diners can nip in for a plate of charcuterie or one of the superb hamburgers, or they can settle down to some serious gastronomy. The encyclopedic and fairly priced wine list suits either approach.
My last meal there started with some especially sweet and briny Fowey River oysters and, of course, some charcuterie – a fine, textured, herby pâté grand-mère, some very good home-cured ham and a classic celeriac rémoulade – and moved on to a fine tranche of John Dory, cut from an estimable fish and paired with Jersey Royals, sweet brown shrimps, samphire and a buttery emulsion.
And you should leave room for pudding: Bar Boulud boasts one of London’s best pastry kitchens. I had a gloriously golden apricot clafoutis, topped with pistachio nuts, before stumbling up the steps to Knightsbridge, aware, not for the first time, that I had made something of a pig of myself.