Three months off work on gardening leave comes to an end. My last day of being a man what lunches. And why not end it all off by spending £300+ in the space of about two-and-a-half hours. Insert high-class prostitute comparison here. I'll admit here to being not particularly too bothered with "fane daning". Starchy tablecloths. The table de-crumber applied always by the most unsmiling member of the waiting staff. Just the bloody table de-crumber full-stop. The feeling you're being watched; monitored, even. Monitored for bad knife skills. But it was my last "working" day of 3 months off so why not spunk it up the wall.
Ushered into the main room at Claridges it was immediately obvious that two things were present. Firstly, a really nice buzz, flecked with excitement. Secondly, fuckloads of CASH. Lakshmi Mittal was centre stage on a table of ten people with plenty of staff and - latterly - Rene Redzepi cooing at them. Half of my table were also cooing at Mittal from a distance. Money talks?
The food arrived and first up were some "snacks". A selection of foraged plants with edible soil were very...planty? The soil was gritty and honestly, not particularly nice to eat. Then came the ants. The ants! Live ants desperately trying to escape from creme fraiche on lettuce. I'd read about these on twitter and opinion was divided, including my 2nd least favourite word, meh. It sits behind nom, in case you're even remotely interested. The ants tasted of lemongrass. There we are. I'm not even going to put a photo up. You know the score. Ants.
Then the real dishes came out. A raspberry soupy thing in a teacup was pleasant. I that all I can muster on the subject? I guess so. It was very pretty, though:
Better was the caviar and clotted cream alongside it that was served with Claridges own scones. Savoury delight. Try not to use umamj here, Richard. I Next up was an oyster poached in buttermilk for a short while. I've tried oysters twice. Both times I daren't chew. Both times I just tasted the vinegar and shallots with which I washed them down. I'm not going to bollock on about loving oysters and then only ever swallow them without chewing, so I tried chewing. Nope, I still don't like oysters and their mineralness. Not even when Rene tries to tease me into liking them.
Things then took off. The best sourdough bread - heck the best bread I've probably ever had was served with very light almost cream-like butter and a punchy goat's butter. I'd jested to my host that I didn't like goats cheese before the meal and he took it literally; a pungent rapeseed oil was brought out for me. Bless. Beef tartare, which we ate with our hands and came with a wipe of tarragon was beautiful and perfectly seasoned and gave a first glimpse into why Rene bloky is popular.
A lump - yes a lump - of celeriac was next, poached in goat's butter and served with a slick of truffle sauce and was nice for two mouthfuls. But after the 4th and all the way to the 8th it became overkill, but I'm not helped by thinking that truffle reminds of stale sweat. Still, things were end on a high. The 48-hour cooked neck of lamb served in hay and with a pea broth (that was suggested should be mixed with creme fraiche when we'd finished the excellent spring vegetables in it) was tremendous.
Several of the table thought it was the best lamb they'd tasted. I wasn't arguing and it got me thinking about working out how to set my oven to 75c to invest in some serious slow-cooking at weekends. All weekend. I couldn't help thinking "expensive meal....cheap cut of meat", but maybe I'm just a tight-arse who wants value from his sizeable outlay. A cheery bunch of elderly gentlemen on the adjacent table were dismantling the lamb with their hands on the next table and knawing on the neck-bone. Maybe this sort of thing happens every day at high-end restaurants. Does it?
Not having a sweet-tooth, the dinner surprisingly peaked at dessert. Walnut ice-cream came topped with frozen dust-like cream and frozen berries. I'm assuming here that someone was having fun with some dry ice. It worked, oh how it worked. Nothing on the plate was too tart or too sweet, a glorious gentle dish. Apparently it comes from the menu in Denmark: no wonder they wanted to show it off.
Would I do it again? Probably. Was it mind-blowing? Nope. Were there some really memorable dishes? I reckon so. Did you not enjoy some aspects? Yep. Oddly enough, the one thing I'll take with me was the hum in the room and the cheery, chatty staff that Claridges offered up, both of which helped to dispel my disinterest of high-end eating out - at least for the afternoon.
When I walked out, a group of people were cooing over Rene Redzepi and asking him to sign all manner of things. I briskly walked over, offered him my hand and simply said "Thank you". He looked touched and held his heart. I suspect I'll be doing similar when I dare to look at my bank account.
Scores on the doors, Miss Ford: somewhere between 6 and 7.