There is a certain amount of bitchiness in cheffy circles about cooks whose names appear above the door of a restaurant or who are inextricably linked to the place, but who do not often actually seem to appear in the establishment. Comments are often slung around come the time that Michelin awards its stars. A well-known chef collects his accolade while his or her underlings moan that the award should rest with them, not the guy who spends more time on telly than anywhere near the stove.
It was a reason cited by Marco Pierre White when in 1999 he took it upon himself to hand back his three stars. He didn't want the stress of retaining those coveted Michelin macaroons and his life was developing in such a way that he wasn't spending as much time at the coal face as he had in the past. 'I didn't want to live a lie,' he once reflected on it to me.
This week, as the Michelin guide was leaked in France by a food critic who didn't agree with this year's awards so he broke the embargo, it emerged that Alain Ducasse had retained his three stars for his posh eaterie in hotel Plaze Athénée, a restaurant which is currently closed.
All of which pre-amble I state before discussing Dock Kitchen. It's one of the most consistently good and original restaurants in London, situated at the top of Ladbroke Grove opposite the Innocent drinks offices and just off the Paddington branch of the Grand Union canal.
The chef there is Stevie Parle. At least that's what I'm led to believe. I've read about it, hell I've written about it in the magazine I edit, Waitrose Kitchen, I've even talked to the man himself about it.
But he's never been there when I've visited. Now this could be because he regards me as a more revolting example of restaurant critic - surely not, I hear you cry - or it might be a coincidence. Or it might be that he's always frightfully busy travelling the world foraging for menu ideas, or planning new openings like the one in Dalston (somewhere in East London, apparently) set for this spring and called Sardine.
Whatever the reason, his non-appearances are now so routine that when I arrive for lunch or dinner I say to the charming beardy man, Tom Wright, who seems to run the place: 'Stevie's not in is he?'
And so he wasn't when I visited for lunch this week and where I gobbled up a wonderful plate of chicken livers with pomegranate molasses, whatever they are.
That dish is always on the menu as is the lamb biryani, so had to have one of the two.
I also tucked into a long, scary-looking piece of octopus, the sort of dish you'd struggle to get a child to eat. Whether they'd beaten it to a pulp, or hung it in smokey rafters, or given it a squid-on-squid Thai style full body massage, it was super soft and tender.
But other new experiences included an artichoke, put face down in a mixture of water and oil and cooked until the water had evaporated and the oil was left to fry and char the plant. Very clever and very good; the leaves were crunchy, the flesh almost juicy.
The other highlight was the cauliflower that came with the veggie mezze platter. Little heads, not too al dente, but not too soft, mixed with tahini and pine nuts. The other veg I could have sucked through a straw, they were so soft, but that's my fault for not ordering meat.
I have said this before and I will repeat it. Go to Dock Kitchen. Stevie Parle is a master of delegation and if you're in luck his boys will be in charge and he won't be there.
Later that day I had dinner in a swanky new place in WC1, but given the softness of its opening, kindness prevents me from writing about the staff who were clueless about the tiny wine list, and the very average and poorly styled food.
So I will instead mention some dishes I ate on Tuesday night. There was rummaniyya - a dish of meatballs in pomegranate sauce whose recipe appears the 1250 Middle Eastern cookbook The Treasure of Useful Advice for the Composition of a Varied table. Rose water and saffron mix with mint, pistachio and chicken to create an amazing dish. There was ravioli from 1465, kedgeree from 1845, and a salad whose dressing recipe was written in 1699 by one John Evelyn. It's surely one of the most poetic recipes and it begins: 'Let your herby ingredients be exquisitely culled and cleansed of all worm-eaten, slimy, spotty or in any way vitiated leaves...'
The food was accompanying a talk I gave related to my History of Food in 100 Recipes book and the chefs (that's John and Martin) at the Waitrose Cookery School in Finchley did a masterful job in recreating these ancient and incredibly tasty morsels.
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