L’Etranger Restaurant & Les Vins de L’Etranger, 36 Gloucester Road, London SW7 |020 7584 1118 www.etranger.co.uk
L’Etranger, I imagined, had been a destination joint in the 1980s, still humming on a Monday night in the noughties. This, I dreamed as D and I were led to our seats, was where Duran Duran might have been taken on the cusp of a record deal, or where Docklands’ mandarins with flinty eyes seeded the City’s birth.
Actually, L’Etranger opened in 2002 but the restaurant’s sophisticated lilac and grey decor, spot lit, intimate and dimmed like a wine bar, gilded the elegance of that earlier epoch when dining out was a complete experience. And this Kensington stalwart, populated by regulars, murmurs the bonhomie and comfortable wealth this part of town still exhibits, despite the recession.
L’Etranger serves French and Japanese cuisine: NOT fusion, however, is the line. Rather, the two are comfy bedfellows, lying side by side, on occasion delivering a cheeky kick to the tastebuds.
We had both degustation menus at £59 and £79 per person respectively. The kind souls allowed this digression just this once – usually it’s one menu per table – which meant our charming sommelier Angelo had to hotfoot back and forth with two different wines, including sakes, for every course. His pairings worked brilliantly we thought. For instance, the 2008 fie gris [blame drink for lack of detail here] was pincered and lemony enough to score the salt of the pan-seared Scottish scallops that came with grilled homemade black pudding. In fact, the hefty and celebrated wine list sports over 1,000 bins so thank the Lord for both Angelo’s, and manager Dorian’s, very entertaining titbits of information to add context. And not before time has the restaurant just launched its new online wine cellar.
First, the foie gras chawan mushi with wagyu beef for D. This was like a lush crème caramel with two cubes of intense-flavoured beef on top, delicious though a possible ‘frenemy” to the arteries. But the 1985 Château Rieussec Sauternes was sweet and spiced enough to cut through the fat. I had a 2006 Willamette Valley Vineyards Reisling with my caramelised black cod and miso. The cod was slightly dry but the roast Chilean sea bass with sauté of green beans and shallot brunoise was subtle, graceful and tender. My 2006 Firesteed pinot noir from Oregon was complex enough to hold up the Grade 9 wagyu beef fillet Rossini, beautifully rare with perfect crisp edging. The grade 7 wagyu beef bavette Rossini which, like the grade 9, came with sautéed wild mushrooms and green onions, grilled foie gras and pink shallot jus, was also accomplished.
L’Etranger presents a showbowl of styles enabling rapid racing up the ranks and career progression for several of the chefs and employees. And the roll call is impressive: Jerome Tauvron, executive chef, had worked with Marco Pierre White at Quo Vadis, Angelo had been at Gordon Ramsay and doubtless others had similar starry trajectories too long to detail here.
The only disappointment of the evening for both of us was the tuna tartare with sevruga caviar, the fish tasting limp and a bit non-specific. But that was trifling compared with the overall experience, which we enjoyed immensely.