Saturday, 9 March 2013

Restaurant review: Green Man and French Horn

"...the only consolation was the stonking good looks of the female doctors and nurses, who, I somehow managed to impress with my GCSE French and spotty, teenage good looks."

There is something of a common misconception about those of us who take a greater interest in our daily bread than the rest of the populace. That we are snobs, pedants and militant locavores: unable to take pleasure in our food unless it is either locally sourced and seasonal or primped within an inch of its life by a highly paid chef.

I am sorry to disappoint the foodists among you though, because this is just not the case. Although I can, and have, taken a fair amount of pleasure in a meal at The Fat Duck, if I am honest I would rather have a roast chicken with roast potatoes and bread sauce, or the exquisite bacon and egg sandwich with tomato ketchup I had for breakfast on Sunday morning. Simple food, cooked well is what I like, and that is why this week's restaurant, the Green Man and French Horn, really hit my spot.

Usually, when I write these reviews, I reserve judgement until the end, ramping up the tension like an X-Factor judge. Not this time though. The Green Man and French Horn provided me with a meal of such simplicity, quality and taste that I couldn't have asked for any more. In fact I enjoyed it so much I'd advise not to bother reading the rest of the review - get on the phone, book a table and head on down yourself...

Still here? Ok, well I have a few more words for you and a bit of context, and you know you like reading my reviews anyway. The GMFH (as it will be known from now on) is a relatively new restaurant situated in a former pub on St Martin's Lane. It is owned by the same chaps who launched Terroirs, Brawn and Soif, all of which serve similarish regional French food and wine, and have been greeted with almost universal critical acclaim.

The fourth outpost of this burgeoning empire is cut from the same cloth, but in a dramatic twist, they specialise in food from the Loire Valley. This is a canny move as the Loire is a part of France justifiably beloved of English tourists and also home to excellent food and wine. Freshwater fish, oysters, cheese of all types and great spoonfuls of rillettes can all be washed down with glasses of Sancerre, Vouvray, Chinon, or if you are having oysters, a bone dry glass of Muscadet.*

Even at 6.30pm, the place was already buzzing and from the off I knew things were going to be good, especially when the un-asked for bread and butter had me swooning. The starters are a mix of the French classics - rilettes, rillons, frogs legs, leeks vinaigrette etc., but we decided to kick things off properly with a baked mache-coulais cheese with endive, radishes and croutons.

Admittedly there isn't much skill required to stick a cheese in the oven and serve it up with crudites, but to be honest, I don't care. For the kitchen, it is a sign of confidence in themselves and the quality of the ingredients that they are happy to serve something so simple and unadorned. The cheese was rich and had a lovely lactic tang, which meant coming back for more until I was practically licking the plate.

For mains, I couldn't look further than the plat du jour, a coarse pork sausage served with earthy green lentils and a glass of robust, sinewy red. All of which was mine for a tenner. People seem to scoff at lentils and their hippyish, health food vibe, but I am a lentil-enthusiast. The slight austerity of their minerally bite went wonderfully with the rich, fatty sausage.

Moving swiftly from countryside to coast, VD enjoyed a plate of surf clams (or palourdes if you're Nantaise) with bacon and some salty juices that required a second helping of bread to mop them up. Again, nothing spectacular, but really good and without need for adornment or improvement.

Full of sausage, I wasn't sold on the need for dessert, but then again a dessert is never 'needed'. Obviously though, I bowed to VD's demands and we shared a poached pear with salted butter caramel and sable biscuit. While not the refreshing palate cleanser I would have chosen, it was nevertheless very good: the pear yielded perfectly and the caramel was ideally pitched between salty and sweet.

To give you an idea of how much I rated the GMFH, I even broke my own rules and took some pictures at the table; although, I should add they were of the blue and white crockery and not the food - I liked the pattern!

There is nothing startling about the GMFH, but to my mind it is everything a good restaurant should be: the food, wine, atmosphere, service and d├ęcor are all spot on.  And, most importantly, we got out for £35 a head (including service), so it looks like the GMFH is going to join Brasserie Zedel in my little black book of 'good value' places to eat out in London!

Anyway, that's enough from me! By reading on you might have missed that Friday night 8pm slot, so get on the phone and get booking.

p.s. A quick note here on the booze. We were very abstemious and satisfied ourselves with a carafe of house white and the glass of red that arrived with the plat du jour. But for the more adventurous and / or monied they have an extensive wine list, which features a lot of natural wines, i.e. stuff that is unfiltered and very low on sulphites and other additives.

I have been to a couple of natural wine tastings so know a little about the subject, but in all honesty, not enough to be prescriptive, as others are. At their best, you get some excellent natural wines and at their worst you get some rotters, so not that different to wines that aren't made naturally!

Green Man and French Horn, 54 St Martin's Lane, WC2N 4EA, London

0207 836 2645

Monday to Saturday 12 - 11pm.
Sunday 12 – 3pm and 5.30 - 11pm

As a well brought-up, middle class boy, I spent a number of family summer holidays driving through the Loire: being dragged round various Chateaux, churches and cathedrals; enjoying picnics at the side of the road; and on one memorable occasion, breaking my ankle after jumping over a barbed wire fence to retrieve a rugby ball. This meant a trip to the local hospital, where the only consolation was the stonking good looks of the female doctors and nurses, who, I somehow managed to impress with my GCSE French and spotty, teenage good looks.

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