Thursday, 13 December 2012

House of Wolf houses Cubs

House of Wolf took me to Islington. My very first visit and I was so impressed by the high street lined with ultra sexy-looking restaurants. I've made mental notes to check out a couple. HoW advertises itself as a multi-functional, multi-sensory experimental pleasure palace. I wasn't sure what to expect except for a special evening full of surprises. The Apothecary molecular cocktail bar definitely sounded promising, but I had to give it a miss as I was already running late for dinner.

Guest chef for November in the restaurant was Blanch & Shock, offering a tasting menu at £45 each and we opted for the matching wines by course for an extra £25. Our waitress told us all the wines were English and like all the ingredients in the menu, were all sourced from selected producers with limited supplies. Can't say I like English wines, but Mary Ann wants to give it a go, and so we all obliged.

Double Malt Bread with Hay Butter
Coriander seed water 

It doesn't matter what the piece of paper says, it was malt bread, butter and water. And tasted nothing more than malt bread, butter and water. Except it was better than usual butter.

Raw Atlantic Prawns and Trealy Farm Lardo with Mallow Oil, Salad Burnet and Hogweed Salt
Lillet Rose with prosecco 

It's a long name for two prawns under a sheet of lardo, I know. That said this dish was bold and modern. The simplistic combination of savoury cured meat fat and sweet raw prawn has brought the land and sea together.

The nuttiness from the lardo worked well with the subtlety of the prawns; both flavours were delicate, but the weight of the lardo helped to protract the sweetness. The four leaves of burnet has a crisp, cleaning effect, and everything on the dish had a small part to play. It was a promising start.

Prosecco was pleasant, it tasted very similar to Martini Asti, but pink; sweet, gentle sparkles and mellow on the palate. It's a girly drink that complemented the prawns and fizzed out the pork grease.

Wild Sea Bass, Pickled in Dill Vinegar with Sea Lettuce, Chervil Root, Celery Cress and Oxalic Leaves
Picpoul de Pinet 

When they leave such a massive space on the plate, I sometimes half-expect them to bring something else to fill it.

The three lumps of sea bass was exactly like ceviche, thicker, minus the citrus touch. The mass of leaves and cress was battling over each other with overwhelming bitterness and pungency, numbing my taste buds senseless. Not sure how the chevril root was contributing, it was like uncooked button mushroom, damply crunchy and tasteless.

As for the white wine, it could have been cold water. It was just loaded with minerality that was clashing fiercely with the salad, as if the fish was banging its head against a brick wall.

Wild Mallard Duck and Chestnuts, Hawthorn Jelly, Jerusalem Artichokes, Melilot and Scurvy Grass
Omrah Pinot Noir 

Luckily this dish was more exciting, not bigger, just more effort. Three strips of duck breast fillet was beautifully cooked to medium rareness, and some leg meat was chopped to mix with diced chestnuts.

The duck was powerful and gamey, and serving the meat on a burnt-through plank of wood gave the dish a special wintry touch with heart-warming smokiness. It was carefully assembled and absolutely gorgeous. I just wished there was more of it. All the bits and pieces didn't play much of a part, more for visual effects. The chopped duck had a bit of oriental touch to it, adding another dimension to a very compact ensemble.

The pinot noir was still leaning on the mellow side, I think I was supposed to taste autumnal flavours and complexities, the bloodiness drowned the delicacy. I think this light wine would have worked better with the ceviche above.

45 day-aged Beef from The Butchery, Salsify, Oyster Emulsion, Dandelions and Turnips in Yoghurt Whey
House Black 'n' Tan 

It's never great when they don't tell you which cut of beef you're getting. This was poor man's rib eye, chuck eye steak, the upper sections of the rib behind the neck. Despite a cheap cut, the kitchen has done a fab job of transforming it into a high-end dish. Steak was of a deep blood red with strong meaty flavours from the lean muscles, just a small lob of fat attached to keep the meat well juiced.

The oyster emulsion was also very well made, powerful minerals that worked with the the rawness of the beef.

Black 'n' Tan is a dark beer, not dissimilar to Guinness but much sweeter. I quite liked it with the steak, it brought a rustic feel to the course.

Apple from the National Fruit Collection at Brogdale with Quinces, Yoghurt Curd, Sourdough Brioche Eggy bread and Buttered Black Tea
Wolf Nog 

The de-constructed apple crumble was pleasant, though I can't say the I could taste the difference of the National Fruit Collection... 

The wolf nog, however, was quite special. It was like a thick Bailey's with a heavy punch of whiskey and milk froth that keeps the gut glowing with warmth.

It all seemed a little pretentious and perhaps trying too hard when the restaurant starts spelling out the source of every single ingredient of the dish. Having worked up such anticipation, it becomes silly when the outcome doesn't quite meet the expectation. I mean, even the best restaurants don't write "South Wales parsley leaf, hand-grind North East London black peppercorn and Waitrose essential rock salt flakes", right? To me it came across as self-doubt. If the dish was good enough and had enough of a wow-factor, then why fuss and gloss over the name of it?

And they have a note thanking the source who supplied their ingredients. Unless they got it for free, what's the rationale? I understand they only get a small quantity, but it's not like they were cooking national treasures or endangered species, it's apples and beef for crying out loud.

Perhaps my expectations were simply too high for Blanch & Shock. With the pair holding the pen for Secret Restaurant / Cinema and so much emphasis on experimental cooking, I was hoping for a much more adventurous and innovative menu. Even though a couple of courses had potential, and there was no doubt about the precision of the cooking, the menu was lacking a theme or a signatory style. It was trying to be creative, trying to add finesse, trying to be modern, and all ended up mid-way.

Aside from food, timing of courses served was also a small issue. I felt somewhat rushed. Mary Ann was still half way through her Picpoul de Pinet  when we were served dessert. Our plates were collected the moment I tucked my cutlery on the plate, and came next course in 3 minutes. Not quite wolf yet, more like Cubs,

House of Wolf

181 Upper Street
Islington
London
N1 1RQ 
Tel: 0207 288 1470

House of Wolf on Urbanspoon
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