24 Feb Paris’ Rue du Nil in London
The Parisian food hub of the Rue du Nil, a tiny cobbled street in the heart of the city’s old textile quarter, took over London this February.
Gregory Marchand’s Frenchie Covent Garden opened earlier in the month, &, just like his restaurant at No. 5, Rue du Nil, tables seemed hard to come by such is the buzz around his name… but then I did try to book for Valentine’s Day.
In neighbouring Soho, off Carnaby Street, Antidote Wine Bar welcomed guests for a producers’ event one rainy February evening, hosted in partnership with Terroirs d’Avenir, the Parisian supplier par excellence of heritage & heirloom produce (see note below: Heritage & Heirloom).
All in a street not much longer than 50 metres, the Rue du Nil is home to 4 Terroirs d’Avenir stores, while Frenchie Restaurant has been joined by Frenchie Bar à Vins and Frenchie To Go… and let’s not forget L’Arbre à Café, at 10, Rue du Nil, which supplies Antidote in London with coffee.
Antidote in Soho…
With a daily 5-course menu at £45, & links to some of London’s best Michelin-starred restaurants, Antidote Wine Bar is one of my favourite eating places.
It’s not so much about the décor – more reflecting a traditional French bar à vins – but the food on your plate, the wine in your glass & the savvy, cheerful service.
New Zealander Michael Hazlewood joined Antidote as head chef in 2015 having worked closely with Mikael Jonsson of Michelin-starred Hedone in Chiswick.
Jonsson himself advised Antidote for a two-year period over its relaunch in 2014… previously it was La Trouvaille… & Hedone still supplies the excellent bread which is paired with butter made in the Antidote kitchen from Devon cream.
… producers’ dinner
On a dark February evening, it was hard for me to resist an event combining biodynamic & organic wines, for which Antidote is famous, with authentic, heritage & heirloom produce sourced mainly from France.
Good produce is made with passion and patience. That evening passion meant that the cooks had worked hard all day to perfect, among other things, their homemade fregola, a type of Sardinian pasta made from semolina dough, and patience meant that the citrus for the dessert came from Greece and Calabria rather than Provence given the vagaries of the weather.
Prosecco & saucisson
The event kicked off with a glass of Prosecco Zanotto ‘Col Fondo’ & a plate of Noir de Bigorre saucisson, followed by a welcome from co-owner Guillaume Siard, with Cyrille Cheminal of Terroirs d’Avenir introducing the produce & head chef Michael explaining the cooking.
What followed was a voyage of discovery of the different produce that Europe, and especially France, has to offer: produce unique to a region, to a climate, to a soil… terroir reigned supreme.
What we ate
First course: Potatoes, Paris Mushrooms, Perigord Truffle
‘Earth pears’ from Brittany’s Côtes-d’Armor coast, so-called because of their pear taste, served raw, thinly sliced & with a touch of lemon, together with new-season ‘cocktail’ potatoes from Finisterre cooked in a light fish stock, and …
Champignons de Paris from one of only 6 producers in the Ile-de-France. In 1880, there were more than 300. Much heavier in weight & with a richer, rounder taste, these mushrooms are grown ‘slowly’ in limestone.
… all served with chickweed, a touch of cream & black Périgord truffle.
The wine: Domaine Saumaize-Michelin, ‘Courtelongs’, Pouilly Fuissé 2013. Or for people like me, a Chardonnay from the southern Mâconnais region of Burgundy.
Fish course: Sole, Lovage Panade, Leeks, Vin Jaune
Dover Sole (sole du Douvres in French) from the traditional fishing town of Saint-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie in La Vendée on the Atlantic coast.
Served with a panade of lovage and a beurre blanc made with vin jaune from the Jura region, together with organic leeks from Brittany. It was the first time that I had tasted lovage, with its lovely intense flavour, like a cross between parsley & celery combined with touch of anise and curry
The wine: Close de L’Elu, ‘Bastingage’, Anjou, 2014. A Chenin blanc, a variety grown for many centuries around the town of Angers in the Loire, home of my great-grandmother.
Meat course: Kintoa Pork Loin, Fregola, Treviso
This was the most amazing cut of pork I’ve eaten in my life! With a sweet, succulent fat, Kintoa pork is from the Aldudes valley in the French Basque country, right up on the Spanish border and not far from Roncesvalles, a popular resting place for pilgrims on the Way of Saint James.
The pork was served pink, together with a late variety Treviso chicory. If it had been an early variety, we were told, the leaves would have been more closed, while slow growing took away the bitter taste.
The wine: Julien Courtois, 100%’, Sologne 2011. This Gamay wine from east of Tours cut through & complemented the pork nicely.
Dessert: Citrus Fruit, Pistachio, Sherry
A tuile biscuit enclosing a sabayon of bergamot lemon from Calabria and pink grapefruit from Kalamata in Greece, with a touch of sherry & sprinkled with pistachios.
The wine: Domaine Causse-Marines, Grain de Folie, Gaillac 2014. A dessert wine, not too strong or cloying, from the north-east of Toulouse.
I found my roots… this is the kind of food that I can eat every day!
Some explanation… Heritage & Heirloom
Heritage breeds are traditional breeds of animals and poultry raised before industrial agriculture became mainstream. Heritage breeds are better adapted to withstand disease given that they were bred over time to develop traits to make them better adapted to the local environment.
Heirloom plants are old plant cultivars usually grown over many centuries. The cultivars are often maintained by the passing down of seed through generations, like with the organic potatoes from Brittany at the producers’ event.
Both heritage breeds & heirloom plants are often not as productive as commercially grown produce, but they make up for this in taste.