GRACE AND FLAVOUR

Grace Dent is bark­ing mad for the Al­sa­tian fare at Bel­langer Down­size to the provinces if you must, en­joy your fresh air, but don’t grizzle to me when your birth­day soirée is at a Chiq­uito on a leisure-retail com­plex

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One of the things I love about vis­it­ing new Corbin & King ven­tures is that they of­fer not just an op­por­tu­nity for more lightly veiled pig­gery, but also a crash course in cul­tural an­thro­pol­ogy. Bel­langer, on Is­ling­ton Green, cel­e­brates the food and am­bi­ence of the clas­sic brasseurs of yes­ter­year Alsace. Ob­vi­ously, you’re genned up on that, aren’t you? Don’t fret, none of us are. But ten min­utes through the doors at Bel­langer, hav­ing de­mol­ished a tarte flam­bée Al­sa­ci­enne, a plate of baeck­e­offe with a side of pommes aligot, then a cleans­ing scoop of sor­bet Gewürz, you’ll be quite the ex­pert. Tartes flam­bées, you’ll know by this point, are wafer-thin, wood fire-cooked Al­sa­tian piz­zas, slathered with crème fraîche and scat­tered with var­i­ous non-diet items such as lar­dons, Mun­ster cheese or Cal­va­dos-laced ap­ples. You’ll also know the be­hind-the-scenes hoopla that trans­forms baeck­e­offe from a plain old stew.

‘I’m a ter­rific fan,’ you’ll be able to drop ca­su­ally into con­ver­sa­tion with out-of-town friends, ‘of the clas­sic Franco-Ger­man din­ing style of Alsace brasseur.’ And in­wardly they’ll hate you and gos­sip that you re­ally dis­ap­peared up your own chuff when you moved to Lon­don. But this envy is to be ex­pected. A strong rea­son to stay put in the cap­i­tal is for Corbin & King’s el­e­gant, de­pend­able yet still sur­pris­ing restau­rants such as The De­lau­nay, Fis­cher’s and The Colony Grill Room (the last be­ing one of my favourite places to be in Lon­don). Oh, down­size to the provinces if you must, en­joy your fresh air, but don’t grizzle to me when your birth­day soirée is at a Chiq­uito on a leisure-retail com­plex. Don’t cry to me when th­ese re­gional folk don’t know Coke floats have taken a 180-de­gree shift and are cool again. Bel­langer feels to me like a de­light­ful mix of The De­lau­nay (Euro­pean old-school glitz pulled off with Man­hat­tan chic) and the glo­ri­ously ec­cen­tric Fis­cher’s (schnitzel, würstchen and Vi­en­nese kon­di­torei). Seat­ing a plen­ti­ful 200 — and with a cute bar rather per­fect for solo din­ing or bière sam­pling — Bel­langer takes over the pretty, cob­bly, twinkly, Richard Cur­tis-style sec­tion of An­gel where Up­per Street splits off to­wards Es­sex Road. It was al­ways wasted on that enor­mous Browns Brasserie & Bar. But then I’ve had a mor­bid fear of Browns ever since I went on a date to the St Martin’s Lane branch in 1997 where the man drank so heav­ily — pos­si­bly to void the re­al­ity of me — he knocked over the restau­rant re­cep­tion kiosk on the way out and then fell down the stairs. For me, the fewer of th­ese places the bet­ter. We vis­ited Bel­langer on a drab, rainy, non-ne­go­tiably win­ter’s evening and it cer­tainly worked in cheer­ing me up. We ate our smoky, mor­eish Al­sa­ci­enne tarte flam­bée with glasses of Cré­mant d’Alsace. A gen­er­ous slice of warm quiche Lor­raine was very good. The gratin de ravi­o­les du Roy­ans is what hap­pens when cheese and pars­ley-stuffed ravi­oli is baked in a skil­let with yet more cheese and pars­ley — ie, ter­rific fun, but noth­ing that will make zip­ping up one’s jeans eas­ier. A pot of coq au Ries­ling for two went mar­vel­lously with pommes aligot and sauerkraut.

There are five types of saucisses if that’s your thing, in­clud­ing boudin blanc with sherry and wild boar with cran­berry and veni­son. Both veal and chicken schnitzel are also there to sate your Fis­cher’s ad­dic­tion with­out the schlepp to Maryle­bone. We shared a nice, if stan­dard, gâteau forêt-noire and I sent my­self home be­fore I ran­sacked the cheeses: Brie de Meaux, Comté Affiné and Mun­ster Af­fi­nage, all served with car­away bread, wal­nuts and honey. I’m a huge con­vert to Al­sa­tian food and my in­ten­tions to re­turn are, well, dogged.

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