february 2004
Felix Hunt - gourmet at large

Greetings! I was most gratified to be invited by london-eating (why oh why can they not use capitals?) to contribute to their humble website.

Of course letting the hoi-polloi have their amusing opinions is all very well, but clearly they cannot bring to bear the critical gusto and savoir-faire, that I, a seasoned restaurant reviewer of over sixty fair summers, can provide. Was it not I who risked the wrath of Gordon Ramsay by opining, in my mellifluous way, that my starter was perhaps a little too hot? Of course Ramsay knew better than to challenge my opinion and the dish was immediately returned to the kitchen until it had cooled to the temperature recommended by Bocuse. It returned garnished with extra sauce, no doubt Ramsay's simple way of making amends.

But I digress. My purpose here is to balance out the vulgar opinions of the people, or vox-pop, as I amusingly refer to them, with a true gourmet's opinion. I am often blamed for being too critical, even being accused of being a connoisseur by my friends, but I am cursed with the finest palette in London and must accept my burden. Amongst the many awards that the restaurant industry has been kind enough to give me (unlooked for, of course, my vocation is its own reward) is the Grand Order of Cordon Bleu with Oak Leaves and the North of England Wine Writer's Golden Corkscrew. I of course I would not be so vulgar as to display these gewgaws in my living room, but instead keep them in the downstairs 'lavatory 'at my sprawling home in Surrey . Here they attract interested comment from visitors who are kind enough to tell me I have found the ideal location.

This week I have been to a delightful suburban restaurant in a place called Streatham, a long drive by hackney carriage but with the opportunity to observe the wonderful ethnic mix that makes up our fair capital city. My companion took the opportunity to capture some of the charming scenes on her camera as we passed, eliciting cheery waves and comment from many bystanders. 'To Sir!' 'To Sir!' they cried as we made our stately progress and so the journey passed agreeably.

The restaurant exterior of 'Jim's' boded well. Clearly designed by my old friend Sir Norman Fister, it attempted to impress by not impressing. The window, artfully obscured by ersatz condensation, looked out over a cunningly dressed front area where small cardboard boxes labelled 'chicken wings' had been carefully dotted about.

Not everyone would have appreciated the wit of the designer, nor the satirical implications, but needless to say it was not lost on me.

The menu, as is the fashion, nowadays was written upon a blackboard. I was unfamiliar with the language and so asked the charming waiter dressed, as my companion adroitly pointed out, in a delightfully whimsical off-white singlet by Gaultier, for his recommendation. 'The all day full English,' was his knowledgeable reply. This was a taste revelation. Ground pork mixed with unusual herbs and spices then encased in some kind of skin, char-grilled to an unctuous blackness. Borlotti beans slow-cooked in vine tomatoes until melt-in-the -mouth tender, a solitary hen's egg crisply singed at the edges topped with mushrooms of such perfect shape and form they can only have been freshly picked that very dawn.

Accompanying this extravaganza was a 'slice' of delicious home- baked bread and a 'mug' of Darjeeling tea. My waiter informing me that wine was not traditionally served with this type of meal. Instead he offered me an amuse-geule of a remarkable tomato concassee imported from the Heinz region of Italy . Apparently the region has over fifty seven specialities to offer the discerning gourmet such as myself. On another occasion I promised to try the rich brown sauce that many of the restaurant's other patrons were clearly enjoying.

I was gratified to note that there was no dread 'no smoking' policy in place here. As I lit my Monte Cristo, adding to the already smoky ambience, I remarked how the other patrons nodded endorsement - many pointing toward me and making, no doubt, approving comments to their neighbours in their delightful local dialect. My companion paid for our meal, for of course I never do anything as vulgar as to carry 'cash', and we left both sated and excited.

There was some difficulty in obtaining a hackney carriage,; no black cabs appeared to be about. However a Mr Hussein, who was passing in a delightfully odiferous retro Datsun Cherry, was kind enough to offer to take us back to 'civilisation' as I wittily called it. The charge of £60 was most reasonable I felt.

If time permits, and I am very busy at the moment with the boys' choir as well as breeding fine horses and Labradors , I shall return next month with more trenchant and perspicacious observations of the epicurean variety. Until then, Salut!