Sunday, 19 December 2010

Brasserie Toulouse Lautrec

140 Newington Butts, London. £35 pp including wine.

It seems the game wasn't rigged, or at least, not rigged very well.

This unfortunate fact resulted in the Russian losing the best part of £1000. Which in turn led to a decision that the best medicine would be a day-long bender involving a little sherry, a lot of ale, a trip to a casino to lose some more money playing games that definitely are rigged, several abortive efforts to find dinner, and finally a superb meal in Kennington piano-bar-cum-restaurant Brasserie Toulouse Lautrec.

The place is a recently opened sister restaurant to an old favourite The Lobster Pot, which it is next door to and run by the two sons of extravagantly moustachioed Frenchman Herve Regent, the owner and chef there.

The restaurant was amazingly busy for a Sunday night, though son #1 made an heroic effort as front of house, and, seemingly, the only waiter.

After settling down we set about examining the nicely priced, £20 for two courses, set menu. I was enthused to see a glut of French brasserie classics give little more than a passing nod to vegetarianism, though I did have to spend quite a while trying to explain to the Russian what an endive is. I appear not to have excelled in this matter as he promptly decided on the 'Endive Gratin' to start. Being a salad vegetable the endive obviously doesn't take well to gratin-type situations. This particular example was a predictably sloppy affair, and barely enlivened by the addition of some ham/bacon.

My own starter of half a dozen snails was noticeably superior. I side-stepped the £4.50 supplement for the full dozen, though I'm fairly certain they brought me more than six anyway. They were authentically chewy and tasteless affairs floating in some excellent garlic butter, and went well with the (entire loaf of) cracking bread we had been brought.

The Russian stepped up manfully to the £8 supplement for the Cote de Bouef main, which was good, but served with a side of those increasingly common hunks of fried potato that masquerade as a sort of posh 'chip.'

I am unable to ignore the presence of braised lamb shank on a menu, so went for that. It was a lovely, big, soft piece of meat, served simply with some crunchy, run-of-the-mill veg (broccoli, carrot &c.). This was so precisely what I wanted that even the menu's absurd lie that my meat had been cooked for 24 hours failed to bother me.

I navigated a peculiarly assembled wine list to emerge with a good Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon, which worked well with the two mains, though with the suspicion that the £26.60 price tag may be dipping its toe a little over the 300% mark-up threshold.

I'll go out on a limb and say that the food here is possibly even better than The Lobster Pot, though it's a close run thing, and it's certainly better value.

We retired to a largely empty upstairs for a small digestif; a Leffe for me and a carafe of Malbec for the Russian. I have faint recollection of a funny-looking man singing, who I assume was meant to be there, but it's testament to the knowing eccentricity of the place that this beardy prescence seemed to cap a charming evening rather well.

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