Sunday, 7 March 2010

A Date With Douglas Blyde

I love Marylebone, London's your doorstep yet it feels like a place in itself. It would make a very nice Principality, one of those oddities the Europeans seem so fond of... like Monaco, Liechtenstein and Andorra. Of course it would require a Prince and something else quirky like it's own number plates, but once in place think of the benefits, tourists and tax dodgers would love it.

We were staying for a week with our lovely and very tolerant friends Jane and Andy, on Dorset Square, once home to George Grossmith, co-author of that brilliant satire on the aspiring middle classes, 'The Diary of a Nobody'. It was also the original site of Lord's cricket ground.

Douglas Blyde would make a good Prince of Marylebone. He certainly shines as an ambassador for the place, although he may need to swat up a bit on the geography. He recently spent time strolling and extolling it's foodie virtues to a Belgian journalist and suggested re-running some of the tour for our first formal meet up.

I've been a fan of 'Intoxicating Prose' since first stumbling across it, but you always wonder if you're going to meet the same 'person' in the flesh.

On arriving I could have sworn the woman at the desk of The Providores Tapa Room almost curtsied when we said who we were meeting. Douglas himself was ensconced in a large high backed banquette surveying all before him. I resisted the temptation to bow.

After shaking hands on the stroke of midday his first suggestion was a Wasabi Martini, my kind of ruler... and it was superb. The kick of the martini disguising the heat of the wasabi, what's left is a lovely earthy lick. I must find out how to make these.

The Providores belongs to Peter Gordon, fusion's original London practitioner and the food in the Tapa Room is very good, but we had other fish to fry so wandered off to Fishworks for some oysters.

... only to be informed there was a ban on British oysters because of poisoning incidents. Douglas was sceptical, so was I. Just two days before I'd been wolfing them down in Marylebone Farmers Market. Native, rock and a new find for me, hard shell clams, which I thought were quite possibly even better than the incredibly fresh oysters. All from the Maldon Oysters van, half a dozen for a fiver.

Anyway, Fishworks wouldn't sell us any, so we wandered down Moxon Street to visit La Fromagerie, a veritable temple to fermented milk.

As the name implies, it's the cheese you come here for, although they do good bread, food and wine too. The star attractions are kept in perfect condition in a giant walk in humidor. You can eat in, but at weekends the queues can be long.

Being rather obsessed by the Cathars I recognised this cross straight away. The label said it was mild and gently nutty... rather like the Cathars themselves. They were dualists who'd observed the world around them and concluded, not entirely unreasonably, that it must be the work of an 'evil' god. Their priests lived in holes in the ground and were determined to be unsullied by his evil matter. Hopefully this cheese came from a 'good' god's matter.

It was raining heavily by now and we were very hungry but still couldn't make up our minds about lunch. So we opted for a place where we didn't have to. Le Relais de Venise L'Entrecote on Marylebone Lane doesn't take bookings and the only choice is how you want your steak cooked.

You get a basic walnut salad first, followed by steak with very authentic frites and a bizarre sauce which had a whiff of Thai green curry about it. The waitress said it was made in France and heated up here, so no-one knew what was in it. Not terribly reassuring. According to the menu the beef comes from Donald Russell and it was very good. All this for £21 which is pretty good value in central London. Douglas chose a Corbieres from the short list, it had a slightly metallic tang which worked well with the bloody beef.

Le Relais de Venise is essentially a British teenagers take on a Parisian brasserie. All the 'yucky' French stuff is off the menu, just steak and chips remain. Nice steak and chips right enough and the place does have a lovely, buzzy atmosphere.

We popped down Thayer Street for ice cream and coffee in Cocorino.

Amazing ice cream. I tasted a few, incredibly the Sesamo was like an ice cream version of Nutrageous. Despite loving this particular confection, cold and melty seemed wrong, so I went for Pannacotta Caramello, coquettishly the Italian waitress said it was her favourite too. She's not daft.

Bouyed up on sugar and booze we slipped off to Farringdon.

I've wanted to visit St John for years. Founder and chef Fergus Henderson's mantra is if you're going to kill something for food then you'd better give it the respect of eating it all. Admirable, and in his place as it turns out, damn tasty too.

We weren't hungry but had to order one of his signature dishes.

Roasted veal marrow bones, spooned out onto toast and sprinkled with salt. Delicious.

Douglas chose a Minervois which I rather liked but he described as smelling like an excited Labrador. Inscrutably not offering whether he thought this was a good or bad thing. I suppose it depends how much you like sniffing dogs.

We had a nosey at the salting pigs livers, admired the genius of the tapering table in the very public private room then headed across the road to Vinoteca.

We finished off a great afternoon with a delicious Portugese number. They have a really fascinating range of wines in Vinoteca, almost too good, I'd have been ages choosing on my own. As we chatted, not in the slightest bit hungry, I glanced at the menu... it read so well I very nearly ordered something. All the dishes came with wine recommendations too. Nice touch.

Many thanks Douglas, we had a lovely afternoon, so good to finally meet up, but watch out... because when a London wine bar boasts a menu more apetising and imaginative than any place in Glasgow just now... there may soon be a pretender to the Marylebone throne!


  1. Hello,

    So glad you enjoyed your day in London, and that after such a busy day you still had enough energy to visit us at Vinoteca! Hope you'll be back one day soon, with enough room for dinner!



  2. I know Douglas quite well; I dont recall him every sniffing a dog though...

  3. Ah. You've been Douglassed. My first Douglas dinner date was at Providores for a fantastic meal and a vast amount of wine.

  4. Hello all,
    Caitlin, I'll be back, if a menu makes me hungry after so much imbibing, I have got to try it.
    Andrew, maybe society's scorn forces those who still go 'dog sniffing' to carry out their guilty pleasure in secret?
    Paunchos, I was indeed Douglassed and would do it all again in a shot. Or maybe that should read 'with a shot'.

  5. WoW! I get the impression that at the end of your day,you looked back down the hill and raised your sword in triumph..splendid!!

    please stop by and suggest a wine with my artichokes vinaigrette!

  6. is that brie in the shape of hearts?! amazing!

  7. I think the good wine feels from the first sip. I love to drink wine in a dinner or an speciall reason. Actually i am reading about it . This blog is very interesting. costa rica investment opportunities is a site that i wanted to share with you.