Monday, October 19, 2015

Food Reviewed: Primeur

I have been honing my platonic ideal of a restaurant for years. My perfect restaurant is warm and buzzing with quiet conversation and laughter. It isn't too loud and it has nice cutlery and gimmick-free plates. Personally, I like mismatched crockery but that isn't a deal-breaker. I don't mind a restaurant that's a little overcrowded, that doesn't want to turn a group of friends away, but I don't want to be sitting in my neighbour's lap and I want to maintain some privacy. Comfortable chairs are essential and I like a soft furnishing, cushions or plush fabrics. I like wood but never pine.

I want the food to be brain-meltingly delicious without being fussy. I appreciate food that looks like art, food that has been painstakingly assembled with brushes and tweezers and an eye for the aesthetic, but I don't find it relaxing. I don't want silver service - I just want friendly, relaxed discretion. I want someone who is going to be able to translate my garbled wine speak and help me find something that I'm in the mood for without foisting the most expensive bottle on the menu onto me. I want a menu small enough that it pushes me to try something new and large enough that I don't have to eat salmon or cauliflower. I want good quality ingredients that haven't been messed about and food that tastes like love. I don't think it is too much to ask.

There are restaurants that come close to this ideal. The buzz and the homeliness of the food at Bocca di Lupo. The simultaneous perfection and lack of pretension at The West House. The warmth and seasonality of The Gardener's Cottage. The wood-fired oven, chaotic plants and smoky goodness of Ned Ludd. 10 Greek Street, Les Enfants Perdu, Mayfields (tragically deceased), Green Man & French Horn (tragically deceased). None of them are quite everything I'm searching for but all of them are wonderful and I always keep my eyes open for the next.

Primeur ticks a lot of my boxes. It is going on my favourites list with the above. It feels like a neighbourhood restaurant. The chairs are upholstered in a grubby mustard velvet and the tables are long and wooden. There's only a blackboard menu and on a wintery Friday night it is warm from the heat of happy bodies and an open kitchen. Candles flicker across the room and your wine tastes better in the gentle gloaming. Our wine was excellent for which Laura must take most of the credit. She is an excellent chooser of wine and a top notch restaurant companion - 10/10 would recommend. I have no idea what the wine was or who made it but it tasted strange and apply and oddly delicious with red meats that I can't imagine it was intended to be paired with. It had a drawing of a girl on the bottle. She was the daughter in an imaginary family, I think, and the wine tasted like her, like an awkward teenage girl in all her idiosyncratic magnificence. I want to say that her name was Therese but I am only about 15% confident on that and no amount of googling wine + girl + therese + german? is proving successful. She had a grandmother and a brother and other family members and now I want to collect them all like alcoholic, liquid Pokemon.

We had a terrine, I think, and some fried fishy thing. There was a strange, sweet puddle of sweetcorn mush that could, conceivably, have been a pudding and which was still somehow moreish and enjoyable. There was a pork belly that was delicious in the way that pork belly always should be, fatty and salty with shards of crackling and greasy fingers, and green beans and, perhaps, a lemon-mustard sauce thingy. All of this was good but it was eclipsed by the perfection of the beef rump with roasted onion puree and brown butter. It was a perfect dish. I could have eaten five. Laura could have eaten five. Our other dining companions seemed less emotionally involved with their dinner but I can only imagine that, given half a chance, they too could have eaten five. I haven't studied maths in many a year but I'm pretty confident that between us we could have put away at least twenty. The beef was tender and well cut, the onions were sweet and sticky and a little smoky. The brown butter was a dark pool of nutty glory. Together they were rich and warm and a little syrupy and a little ferrous and a lot irresistible. It was a dish to remember and if there wasn't enough room at our table to use my knife and fork and if I heard far too much of my neighbour's conversation then those were relatively small prices to pay.