Friday, November 06, 2009

Jamie Oliver: an Essexman in New York

I've been leaving the holiday blogs to Tim because, frankly, it's all I can do to stay awake enough for basic conversation, let alone typing. But something so unlikely happened today that I have returned, briefly, to the typeface. Relish it, people.

As a restaurant critic I have a childish fondness for seeking out the new. I've put that into practice over here despite the fact that pretty much every restaurant they've got is new to me. So we went for lunch at The Breslin, a new venture from British-born chef April Bloomfield, who co-owns the Michelin-starred gastropub The Spotted Pig. It's part of the almost comically cool Ace Hotel (pictured, plus stranger hailing taxi), styled pubbily with tartan overtones and a bit of shabby chic. You'd know you weren't in England, it's very dark, and you can't tell the staff from the civilians, but there's something very satisfying about the whole business.

We'd just ordered lunch when Jamie Oliver came in. He's apparently working on a primetime eight-part American show which weaves his campaigny threads into one rich, slightly bolshy tapestry. He knows April and needed a kitchen to film in. What are the chances? Small, I tell ye. Anyway, he sat a foot along the banquette with his people and his big hat, trying dishes and explaining that the UK doesn't really have Iron Chef, while we had lunch.

It's a raw, rich, meaty menu and for me, the options were limited - everything seemed to involve goats' cheese, mayo made with raw eggs, and tantalisingly rare meat. I was pleasantly surprised by what I had dismissed as the ladies' option, to be served with a glass of fruit juice and a smirk. Sea bass with wilted, caramelised treviso and a punch-packing anchovy sauce was done well and, as they say on the Food Network, 'flavorful'.

Tim's lamb burger with cumin mayo and thrice-cooked chips (stolen, we heard the boss confide in Jamie, from the Hinds Head. No surprises there) worked very well as a kind of Middle Eastern slant on a Western classic. To finish, we shared an Eton mess quite unlike any we'd had before in that, being a whole meringue with a drizzle of lemony cream and a sprinkling of crunchy pistachios, it was categorically not an Eton mess. Good, though.

As we left, we noticed a huge SUV parked on one side of the road, and a sporty, sheeny pale blue scooter on the other. I imagine his Joliver a bit like David Cameron, wheeling along carefree while a big car follows with all the necessary equipment. But we'll never know - unless he turns up at dinner time, too.

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