Saturday, 19 February 2011

Le Pont de la Tour

36D Shad Thames London, £230 for 3

Now that the dust has settled and we have time to compose our thoughts and reactions, things have got a lot more confusing. So I’ll go for objectivity, present the facts straight, and leave long and difficult conclusions to someone else.

TOD arrived by taxi at my house at ten in the morning. He had some pink champagne for my family, a waistcoat which he struggled to put on for some time before discarding along with his hat, and was wearing pyjamas. These last were specifically ‘to give the impression that I’ve been to bed.’ A valiant attempt at subterfuge but more composure, less erratic behaviour and fewer stories about the visions he had of himself cooking bacon, would have completed the illusion better.

We were due at Le Pont de la Tour at Midday, though by 11 this was beginning to look unlikely, especially as past heroics mean TOD is blacklisted at Addison Lee. But arrive we did, at some point, via a pub, a cab, a members-only gym and a walk through the rain along the South Bank of the Thames.

Le Pont de la Tour’s opening salvo was by some distance the finest I have encountered in this country. They gave us frutos secos with the Martinis. Proper ones too: mixed, and with both sizes of corn.

The food is of the type that comes littered with technicolour smears, jus and garnish. Sister’s aubergine tower starter she said tasted like pizza. Which is probably a compliment of sorts. My own ‘Foie Gras Parfait’ (a special concoction dreamed up originally to make anyone who orders it sound like a prat), tasted like liver pate, the toast like toast, the garnish wasn’t bringing much to the party, and I left the smear of orange.

For mains TOD and Sister had a piece of accessorised Salmon. The chef's deconstruction of the other ingredients means I can’t tell you much more, but the fish was cooked to perfection.

I decided on 'Daube de Boeuf' because I didn’t know what it was, and was delighted to discover it means a large slow-cooked shanky bit of cow. Another diner may not have been so happy with the situation, as the internet has since informed that, of course, that’s not what it means at all.

I had noticed early on that this is one of those places that, rather pretentiously, does not give you salt or pepper. I’m not too keen on this practice at the best of times, but here it really serves to highlight the complete lack of flavour of everything that we ate. The ability to braise a bit of beef to melting perfection, but make both it, and the accompanying jus, taste of paper and water respectively is a peculiar skill to cultivate.

There are various reasons that my memory of the events is a little hazy, but I’m pretty sure that being unable to tell what most ingredients were using the traditional means of seeing and tasting it is quite high on the list.

Still, the obsolescence of sensory perception probably wasn’t making much of a difference to TOD who I established at one point was neither thinking about nor hearing what he himself was saying:

TOD – “Is everything OK man? There seem to be a lot of lulls in the conversation”
CV – “What? No there aren’t.”
TOD – “Well then I must have been asleep. Did I fall asleep?”
CV – “What? No. And when were these lulls?”
TOD – “They’re happening all the time. You know… when you and your sister aren’t talking.”
CV – “You mean when you’re talking?”
TOD – “Yeah.”

Our unblemished palates may not have required a trio of superb sorbets (rasberry, apple and a third which Sister correctly identified as Ribena), but these silences clearly needed filling. Initially I was a little concerned as they looked exactly like most of the other stuff we had just been served, but accompanied by homemade Lengua de Gato biscuits (not as good as out of a packet), they were brilliant.

A jolly post-prandial game involving throwing sugar cubes at each other was frowned upon by service which occupied a hinterland between frosty and hostile. Apart from the sommelier, who was quite good, but this was just as well because it was she who was tasked with the job of explaining the most staggering fuck-up of the day…

The week before we dined, D&D restaurant chain (of which Le Pont de la Tour is part) had spent a fair amount of time merrily issuing press releases claiming that they were slashing the prices of 100 of their top wines by up to half.

Needless to say that upon entering the restaurant I had commandeered the list from TOD, to prevent any daft choices, and set about it excitedly. Repeated assurances that it did contain up-to-date prices may well have been true, what it did not contain were any of the quite large selection of wines in their Top 100 which I was thinking about ordering.

Eventually we settled on a bottle of IGT Toscana (I do not use the ‘S-term' because I'm not keen on coming across as a tosser, and this one was pretty ordinary anyway) which was subject to their usual 400% mark-up. Not cool.

The very beginning and very end of our meal were pretty excellent, but the best that could be said of the middle was that it was extremely inoffensive. Mediocrity is a terrible criticism, but here I feel they've got away pretty lightly as the another way of describing it would be bland, souless, cynical, cold, outdated, imprecise, stuck-up and absurd.

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