THE BLOG

This Week I Ate... Artichoke and Blanchette

06/02/2014 17:25 GMT | Updated 08/04/2014 10:59 BST

I launched a pretty savage assault on my face this week. Food and drink were pummelled in relentlessly until a friend grabbed some bits around my waist and tutted.

So I bought some new trainers and vowed to run a little faster in between the gnawing, chewing, browsing and sluicing.

Slap bang in the middle of the week was a lunch at Artichoke, a restaurant in Amersham that pins Michelin stars to its chest and that - as those who know me know - makes me enter such a place with trepidation.

I don't automatically coo and make joyous noises when little bowls of foam reach out to me, or plates arrive with smears and painterly blobs of stuff.

And while it may sound spoilt - possibly because it is - to dread one's host's chorus of 'We'll have the tasting menu please', that's just the way I am.

Three courses is enough for me. Any more and I struggle to recollect what the hell it was; like a night watching stand-up comedy. You laughed your head off but can't remember a single joke.

So it's just as well that having eaten and drunk my head off the staff gave me a print out of exactly what I ate and drunk; although they didn't annotate the page with the exact number of glasses.

There were a few of them. But the main reason I left the restaurant feeling dizzy was because I bashed my head on a beam and was knocked out cold for a couple of seconds.

It was possibly God's answer to the haste with which I downed my glass of Poire William; a wonderful end of lunch drink that goes brilliantly with a plum galette - sometimes a pudding wine can be too sticky and sweet after you've eaten a dozen courses and are tucking into a deliciously sugary galette of plum.

Anyway, highlights of the lunch included someone else's breast of pheasant. Living in a patch of countryside where pheasants fall frequently from the sky and often end up hanging outside my back door, I'm always keen to find ways of making this game bird interesting - especially having gone to the effort of plucking and drawing it.

The Artichoke's pheasant rendition was possibly my finest experience yet. There was a crispiness to the skin, which almost hovered above the soft and rich flesh. I was very impressed. It came with bits of kale and parsnip and other kit. The pheasant reminded me of the sublime duck experience to be had at HKK, a super-smart banquety type gaff near Broadgate in the city of London. Light crispy skin, amazing tender meat.

But it wasn't my dish so after a mouthful I turned back to the splish, splosh, dollop and smeary thing with two bits of pinky and lovely venison at five o'clock in front of me.

To be honest it was a vast improvement on the brill and rhubarb, pale, anaemic, really not my bag dish that preceded it. Pale things, pink things, tart and sweetness that didn't quite gel. It was rescued by the reassuring constancy of the wine, a Spanish Godello (2012). In fact if you ever go to the Artichoke, just ask for the wines that Bill Knott chose for our lunch. A food writer of impeccable distinction with that rare credential of having once been a chef so he actually knows what he's talking about unlike the rest of us, or at least me, he delivered a choice of almost verbose excellence. A 2012 Abruzzo went with my other fave dish of the day: rich, roasted salsify (like a long little twig) surrounded by crunchy bits of a sort of cereally something (which they irritatingly call 'toasted soil', which is the sort of thing that makes us get cross bang on cue on Masterchef). I loved it. As I did the glugs of Austrian red Burgenland Zweigelt (2011), a sort of red version of my beloved Gruner Veltliner.

The Artichoke is as sweet and charming as its modest staff. Go there, very occasionally, for a posh bite and if you drink the Knott list and don't knock yourself unconscious, you should leave happy.

I also left Blanchette pretty happy - a long and narrow French place in Soho. I think it was French, I mean it was good, lots of little sharing dishes with soft pulses, nice unctuous meat, crispy long chips etc etc, but to be honest if I'd been blindfolded it could have been an Opera Tavern, or a Salt Yard or a Polpo. Actually even without the blindfold it would have been one of the places: walls back to the bare brick, tiles on the floor and ceiling. Russell Norman (the Polpo founder) should trademark this look. And Ok so one more won't kill London, but believe me, there is no longer a gap in the market in the city for grungy, casual, dimly lit, trendy staffed, little bowls of this and that type places.

But Blanchette is forgiven because the food is lovely, the staff passionate and engaging and the ox cheeks very good. Although the cheese beignets were nothing like cheesey enough.

And if you're proffering naughty cheesey mouth explosions the grenade needs to detonate. Your face deserves nothing less.