This is a long overdue writeup about our American Express 10-10-10 lunch at Blueprint Cafe at London's Design Museum, a wee bit east of the southern end of Tower Bridge, and thank you note to our friends Dom & El for organising the booking while we were still on the road.
The event was part of a month-long London Restaurant Festival, and the 10-10-10 event in particular paired 10 London host chefs with 10 out-of-London UK chefs to create a set of bespoke Sunday lunches, for 10 October 2010. Blueprint Cafe's Scottish head chef Jeremy Lee -- well known for gorgeous unfussy food -- teamed up with fellow Scot Michael Smith from The Three Chimneys in The Isle of Skye. The 2 Scotsman had worked together before -- a decade and then some ago, Smith had worked as Lee's senior sous chef right here at Blueprint Cafe. I imagine it must have felt pretty good for Lee to now return as a chef-collaborator.
It was a crisp sunny day on October 10, a perfect day to be seated by the window-wall. The minimalist, sunlight-flooded dining room was packed and very buzzy. We settled in with some bubbly, caught up a touch with our friends after not having seen them for 15 months, and took turns checking out the riverside view with the cafe's toy binoculars.
Service began with baked salsify, parmesan chanterelles, girolles and goat's curd flory. So light, so crispy, so savoury! We were served 2 such small plates initially, so thought it was just going to be 1 mushroom canape and 1 salsify cigar each. Imagine our utter delight when another 2 platters appeared some 10 minutes later, long after our initial plates had been cleared!
Was service slow, or did they forget that we had already been served, and gave us extra?
"Eat fast and don't say anything," I decided, "I don't want to find out!"
Next up was a single Colchester native oyster, served naked, paired with a grape-sized black pudding (first photo above). Did they make the black pudding themselves or source it from Scotland, I wonder. I could've sworn the DIY morcilla pack from Brindisa looks exactly the same.
Everyone else at my table wolfed this down quickly, one then the other, commenting on the oyster's sweetness and the black pudding's rich savouriness. Meanwhile, I was (as usual) fiddling with my camera. I'm glad I did, because it gave me time to think about how best to eat this dish. I have previously very much enjoyed oysters with chorizo at Rick Stein's in Padstowe, and oysters with beef and ale pie at Wheelers in Whitstable (read about it here). There is something about the sea-sweetness of oysters that pairs perfectly with slightly greasy pork or beef.
So what if I... place the black pudding on top of the oyster... and nudge both into my mouth ... and bite down on both at the same time?
Fireworks go off. A marching band starts up at full volume. Glitter and confetti explode and rain down from the sky. The entire museum melts like a Dali painting into the ground.
Oh wait. That was just in my head.
I pick myself up off the floor and rejoin the conversation at our table.
Could anything top that last mouthful? Should I just go home now?
But Chef Lee and Smith were damn well going to try to keep me seated. And they did. Next up was a ridiculously understated "clam and mussel broth". Whoever made this must have watched the shellfish like a hawk because they were still sweet and tender compared to the usual lifeless chewy bits you usually find in such dishes elsewhere. The broth was sweetened further by onions, celery and leeks, and fine-chopped parsley was a refreshing garnish. I wonder what contributed to the cloudiness of the broth. Was it just clam brine, or was there a touch of evaporated milk, the same way some famed fish-soup hawkers in Singapore make their signature dish?
Between the last 2 dishes, I think it might be time to do a seafood expedition in Scotland. Meanwhile, El demonstrates the best way to eat this soup.
The meat of the day was rump of venison, with pickled prunes, damson and sloe, garnished with a pinch of cress. Or maybe it wasn't just a pinch -- just that the three slabs of venison were Midwest American-sized in comparison. And all a very respectable shade of pink. Impressive when you're serving over 100 diners all at the same time. The earthy sweetness of the prunes and the tartness of the damson and sloe really helped me to get through all my meat. Personally I think the chefs could have gotten away with just 2 slices per serving, but I don't believe in faulting a restaurant for being over generous.
If this is how people eat far up north, it may explain their ability to stand around in kilts in the bitter Scottish cold.
On the side: crispy golden roasted potatos with rosemary and roast garlic (mine mine mine mine MINE!) and a plate of golden beetroot, chard and carrots to share. The latter was the meal's ugly duckling in the plating department compared to every other dish, but boy was it tasty and fresh. See how it's still a lively green as opposed to a sad drowned shade of swampy muck, seen too often at many other restaurants?
To maintain the symmetry of 3 starters, we now start on the third act of 3 desserts.
I really enjoyed the very light lemon posset with blaeberries, even though the compote coloured the curd a scary shade of fresh lung.
I could've been happy stopping right there, but up next was a monster-wedge of a hot marmalade pudding with way-too-much-Drambuie Drambuie custard. Bloody hell, generous is one thing, but my wedge of pudding wouldn't look out of place next to the pyramids of Giza. I surrendered after a few mouthfuls (oh the shame).
Last but not least, home-made chocolates with a much needed coffee.
There are a few nitpicks here and there, but that's all that they are. You know the true extent of how much I enjoyed my meal? Just last week my new-found foodie friend Sue told me about a scuffle that broke out during that lunch between a rather grumpy food critic and some Italian dude. Something about somebody leaning too far back in their chair and accidentally touching the other, more than once. There was apparently some shouting and gesticulating and huffing and puffing and then one of them eventually stormed off, meal unfinished.
I was sat in the far corner of the dining room, facing the entrance, and therefore had a view of the entire space. How did I not catch any of this drama?
I can only surmise that it must have happened at the exact same time I was biting down on my oyster and black pudding.
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