277 New King’s Road SW6 4RD London www.rigolondon.com
Fine dining is dead? Not a bit of it, you just need to know where to go. Nick takes the tasting menu at Rigo in Parsons Green
There seems an ongoing backlash against fine dining right now – young foodies, professional Northerners, jaded old farts – all combining to proclaim love of stuff cooked over a bonfire over anything that might have seen a tweezer.
I get it though, I really do. Last year I sat through a multi- course tasting menu in Spain, becoming increasingly angry as yet another bite-sized dish was brought out by a waiter who wanted to tell me what sequence to eat it in and in which direction to move my fork as I did.
You may well ask, why did I order it? Well I didn’t, I was a guest of the person who did and if he noticed my increasing irritation he was too polite to mention it.
And a tasting menu is probably even more crucifix and Holy Water to the young modern diner than a fine dining menu is. All the napkins, cutlery and waiter service they dislike, but it goes on for even longer.
I can do a tasting menu now and then though, if I have a few months rest in between to recover. So, sitting down in Rigo, eyeing the open kitchen, and the reassuringly sizeable frame of Chef Gonzalo Luzarraga, I went for it.
The restaurant is unpretentious, a small establishment nestled in a row of shops. The staff are dressed decently, but not formally. If you’re the kind of person who enjoys wearing a baseball cap while you eat you might find it a bit stuffy I suppose, but then you shouldn’t be in this kind of place in the first place, should you?
I knew I’d made the right decision when a small sourdough loaf appeared, along with some anchovy butter. I hate to use that awful word’slathered’, but for once it does give a fair idea of how busy I was slapping butter to bread. Delicious
As were a little trio of’snacks’; some snail croquettes stood out, and already it was obvious that presentation was going to be fine too. Not achingly pretentious, but simple and clean and very’Instagrammable’, which is almost as important these days as how the food tastes.
Sea urchin is one of my fave seafoods; as a kid I used to swim out to rocks with a teaspoon to eat them fresh. Now, I just wave a languid hand to get another G&T brought to my deckchair along with some prawn flavoured crisps.
Here urchin comes in its shell and bathed in a bagna caoda, nestled against a quail egg and submerged in fermented milk. You’d think it would not survive that treatment, but it does.
I break the egg and stir the yolk; each mouthful is a delight. Bagna caoda is of course a Piedmont dish, the place where chef originally comes from. This is a novel use for it and a good one, while the urchin proves, as urchins often do, to be irrepressible after all.
Each forkful of this dish, made simply with the’rice’ and, rather daringly, 48 month aged parmesan, is enhanced by the breath of black Alba truffle.
Chef has lived and worked all over the world, but he’s an Italian and he’s going to serve pasta at one point.
Here it’s Spaghettoni dei Fiori, heritage wheat pasta, dressed simply in a sauce called Colatura di Alici, a fish sauce made of fermented anchovies (they do like anchovies in Piedmont), and dressed with a sprinkle of Camden brewery yeast.
The latter is not to keep the hipsters happy, but instead to add a rather other-wordly flavour, as well as granularity as it melts in the mouth, to what is already an out of this world dish. This was for me the standout of the standouts.
It was close run, Pluma of Cinta Senese, pork from Tuscany, is a marvellous piece of meat. I’ve seen the pigs on the farms, they have a cute belt of black around them and if you’ve ever had Presa Iberica you’ll see the similarity here; dark meat, cooked rare.
It’s served rather unusually with an oyster, (but that saline gulp really brought out more of the pork’s flavour), some scallop coral and dollops of pureed pastinaca (that’s posh for parsnip) plus a scattering of broccoli, it was just right as the final savoury.
I’m so, so, glad it wasn’t lamb; so many tasting menus end with lamb, which is the very last thing I want to end on. Or even begin with. I don’t like lamb, basically.
A dessert made with mushrooms? Someone’s taking the Michael surely. Chef takes time to explain it was the result of his being bet that he couldn’t do it.
Well he did. It’s the best dessert I’ve had for a long time, it’s a kind of mushroom brulee and it sits on a bed of toothachyingly good caramelised popcorn. It shouldn’t work but it does and quite triumphantly so.
I should mention that the matched wines chosen by the head sommelier Federico G. Dadone were never less than interesting and some were revelatory, like the Antonio Camillo Procanilo fermented on the skins.
The tasting menu is of course the finest way to experience the exemplary and innovative cooking at Rigo, but a three-course menu of £46 is, while still not cheap, good value and a good intro as well.
Fine dining is not dead, long live fine dining.