Saturday 10 March 2012

Texture, London

I have just re-discovered some notes scribbled on the train back from London in 2011 of a meal at Texture in London.  So apologies for the brevity, but as this was a very enjoyable meal, I thought it still worthing posting a report here.

Aggi Sverrisson was born in Iceland, where he worked until he moved to England to join Gordon Ramsay's Petrus in 2001, where he was briefly a chef de partie under Marcus Wareing, before moving to Luxembourg in the same year. He didn't stop there long either, as he was back in England in 2002, working at Raymond Blanc's Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons.  Having risen to head chef at Le Manoir, he and Xavier Rousset, Le Manoir's sommelier, left to set up Texture on Portman Street, just off London's Oxford Street. (It's actually within and shares some facilities with the Mostyn Hotel - handy to know if your cab driver looks blankly at you: they just don't seem to keep up with the London restaurant scene these days...)

You climb a few steps from the street and enter a remarkably high-ceilinged room, with a large bar-cum-room divider separating the front champagne bar from the dining room proper.  Right at the back the kitchen is semi-open to the restaurant.  Although it's certainly a very grand dining room, I found it rather cold in atmosphere, something certainly not helped by the huge divider that is the bar, that saps the light out of the room.  For that reason, I'm afraid there are no photographs of the dishes.

I went in just after 2pm on chance, and they were happy to accommodate me, and (to my surprise) even happy for me to order one of the tasting menus.

The meal started with various crisp things (including fish skin) with a yoghurt and barley dip. The dip seemed odd at first - completely novel - but really grew on me, until I decided it was absolutely delicious. Still odd, but delicious.

Bread was very good, with the butter served on pebbles (reminding me of L'Enclume).

The first dish was a mix of prawns (Icelandic of course), tomato snow, gazpacho and sun dried tomato. The star was the prawns, with the other ingredients really not managing to be more than bit part players.

Gravadlax came next. A generous chunk of salmon, which I thought gave a much better balance than the more usual slices. Though the salmon was quite soft-textured: I expected something firmer.  The gravadlax was served with a variety of liquids, purées and an ice (including a very poised horseradish cream), which once the "snow" had started to melt, all rather flowed together into one pool, losing the integrity of the individual flavours.

The next course was roasted langoustine: a single, huge, perfect langoustine. The best ever langoustine I've had.  It was served on a bed of quinoia, with a vegetable nage, baby daikon and some (I think) sea greenery.  A good blend of sweet and earthy. An outstanding dish.

Some exemplary monkfish came next. Superb fish, beautifully cooked. Served with smoked leek, fresh leeks and a vibrant green leek sauce with a liberal sprinkling of tiny girolles.  Excellent dish.

The first dessert was a sauternes sabayon with sorrel granita.  Gorgeous. I also thought the light dusting of cinammon on the sabayon worked very well.

Finally came a white chocolate mousse and ice cream (the no butter, no cream philosophy of Sverrisson doesn't extend to desserts).  Also on the plate was some dill and cucumber: a very odd combination, but one which really worked, producing a delicious dish.

Excellent coffee came with pretty good petits fours. Fisherman's Friend flavoured meringues were a little wimpy; some fairly non-descript chocolates; a lovely pistachio madeleine and a very good passion fruit macaroon.

An interesting wine list: I had half a carafe of 2009 Keller Riesling trocken QbA, which worked well with the food.

My bill came to a somewhat hefty £110, which I don't really begrudge, though it seems at the top end.

Texture on Urbanspoon

Yuzu - a great little Japanese restaurant in Manchester

When I went looking for Yuzu, I managed to walk past it once without seeing it. It is on the edge of Manchester's Chinatown, on the corner of Faulkner Street and Charlotte Street (believe me, not Google Maps....). Compared to the gaudy fronts of many of the other businesses in Chinatown, Yuzu's street presence is distinctly muted.
The muted appearance seems to me pretty much Yuzu's hallmark. Everything from decor, to service, to food is understated, precise and decorous.  There is a lot of bare, polished wood and plain walls, with the main decoration being empty sake bottles on the window sills and around the semi-open kitchen.  A bebop jazz soundtrack plays quietly in the background.

While the specials menu (pictured above) is short in the extreme, the main menu, while still far from long, offers enough to make me think several return visits are in order. The bulk of the menu consists of sashimi, tempura and udon noodle dishes, the first two coming in various "don" formats. Don is apparently short for donburi and refers to meat, fish or vegetables served on a bowl of rice.

There is no sushi on the menu, which I assume is a nod to the fact that to become a sushi chef in Japan requires a long apprenticeship.  Unlike other pseudo-Japanese restaurants in Manchester and elsewhere, they don't pretend to be able to do sushi, so there isn't any, although there is a number of dishes of sashimi served on the 'don' bowl of sushi rice, which if you want to think of it in this way, makes a rustic or DIY version of sushi.

I think the absence of sushi shows a very laudable focus and authenticity (and more than a hint of equally laudable pedantry), as I'm sure they could produce vastly superior sushi than that which is generally available in this country: their rice (very firmly described as only Japanese rice on the menu) is easily the equal of the best sushi rice I've had in this country.

Alongside the main menu, they do a bargain lunch offer, with a number of don dishes priced at just £5.95 (or £7.95 for the salmon versions) and one noodle dish, and including a bowl of home-made miso soup.


I started with some gyoza - home-made prawn dumplings. These were very impressive.  I've read some criticism of the 'pasta', but I thought it was just right. Though the real star was the fresh, vibrant filling, with beautifully fresh prawns, the like of which I've certainly not had elsewhere in Chinatown. Sourcing of ingredients is clearly done well here.
The interior of the gyoza
The gyoza were so good on their own, that it seemed almost disrespectful to dip them in the really quite fiery soy-chilli dipping sauce.  I settled on an eat half, dip half approach, and really couldn't work out which I preferred.

Organic Teriyaki Salmon Don
For main course, I chose the teriyaki organic salmon don from the lunch menu.  As I've already mentioned, the rice was really good, perfectly seasoned.  For those used to teriyaki meaning a heavy, thick, sweet glaze on meat or fish, here the teriyaki will come as a surprise, though I'm reliably informed that Yuzu's version is much more authentic.  It is a very delicate glaze, more of a seasoning than a flavouring, that allowed the salmon to stay centre stage.  This probably looks and sounds a very simple dish (rice, a bit of salmon and some spring onion), and indeed it is. But, as ever, in such simplicity there is nowhere to hide.  Very delicate, elegant and poised with great balance.
Miso soup doesn't ever really do much for me, and had it not been included, I wouldn't have ordered it.  But here again was a balanced, understated, savoury flavour, far removed from the stale dishwater that is sometimes passed off in pseudo-Japanese restaurants in this country.

Yuzu is not going to impress anyone who wants big, bold flavours, but I think its accomplished, authentic cooking must make it one of the best Japanese restaurants, certainly outside London.  It's very focussed, and, although I can't say this authoritatively, it felt more like I imagine Japanese home cooking than you normally find.

Desserts are peremptory - bought-in Cheshire ice creams. No doubt very nice, but I didn't bother.

With a bottle of Kirin Ichiban beer, my bill for the above came to just £14.05, which I think is really exceptional value.

Yuzu on Urbanspoon