Tom gladly summons up his courage at a seriously sustainable new arrival in London.
It looks like something dredged from the blackest depths of Hell, a Boschian vision of torment, a fire-blackened head awash in a sea of pain. One dead white eye stares up from the plate, mouth agape in some infernal scream, slathered in a sauce the colour of searing flame.
But worry not, and screw your courage to the sticking place, for this cod’s head, bathed in sriracha butter, is one of the most beautiful dishes I’ve eaten in years, a paean to piscine texture, with a soft purr of heat, all sweet, pearlescent cheek and gloriously gelatinous neck and jowl.
It’s the best part of a big fish, of course, and I’m not alone in my adoration. Food cultures across the world venerate it, the star of many a curry, braise and stew. But a dish like this seems typical of Fallow, a small restaurant in London’s Heddon Street, with the tag line, ‘Creative Cooking, Sustainable Thinking’.
I’m not a fan of restaurant tag lines. The food should do the talking, but that’s the only complaint I have about this West End gem. And far from being the sort of po-faced, hair shirted place that recycles dogma and distils its own smug, Fallow is fun. There are frozen margaritas, and cheeseburgers. Albeit made from dairy cow. The burgers that is, rather than cocktail. But retired dairy cow is not only blessed with magnificent flavour but uses a beast that is otherwise incinerator-bound.
By the time you read this, the temporary Heddon Street site will have closed and they’ll be reopening, at the start of November, in St James’s. But you’ll still get everything we devoured – charred corn ‘ribs’, hewn off the cob, lavished with lime, and smoked beef ribs, where the soft, fatty meat slips lasciviously off the bone. Mackerel, gleamingly fresh and knowingly cooked, comes in the most subtle of chilli broths, with small, sharp jolts of preserved lemon. This is a kitchen that revels in the art of acidity.
Chef-proprietors Will Murray and Jack Croft met working at Dinner By Heston, and know my friend Damo. Which means a plate sent out unbidden, that doesn’t appear on the bill; an intensely creamy mushroom parfait of astonishing autumnal depth. Pickled mushrooms add bite. Another immaculate dish, from a restaurant that is serious, sustainable and civilised. Seeing, though, as I didn’t pay for that, I suggest you try it yourselves.
About £40 per head; fallowrestaurant.com.
DRINKS: Olly’s Chardonnay choices
I recently attended the opening of the The Pig in the South Downs, a boutique wine shrine of a hotel complete with its own newly planted Sussex vineyard. Sipping Ridgeview’s Blanc de Blancs I was reminded of the piercing splendour of top-class Chardonnay. In the past, it was too often weighty and heavy on the oak, but these days it is trending towards a laser-like focus of light refreshment.
WINE OF THE WEEK MACONVERGISSON, LES ROCHERS, DOMAINE GUERRIN & FILS 2020 (13.5%), £12.90, tannerswines.co.uk. A peach dressed up as a lemon – as good as white gets under £15.
SPECIALLY SELECTED LIMESTONE COAST CHARDONNAY 2020 (13.5%), £5.99, Aldi. Great value. Delivers bright refreshment on the peachier side.
GROVE MILL CHARDONNAY 2019 (13%), £9.75, The Wine Society. Superb to enjoy alongside fresh seafood, this bright Kiwi is a modern icon.
FINEST CHABLIS 2020 (12.5%), £13, Tesco. Lemony freshness with a creamy texture. What a wine to unwind with!
HIDDEN SPRING CHARDONNAY 2019 (11%), £20, hiddenspring.co.uk. A meteorite of a wine from East Sussex. Zesty, bright and memorably magical.