Douglas and I met at a Trusted Places meet up this autumn and drunkenly (on my part) arranged to meet for dinner. We decided that we should find somewhere unusual. Nothing classic. Nothing too safe. Something with an edge. Ideas such as Archipelago, Saf and a few obscure places out of town were pinged back and forwards via email. Until we decided upon The Providores. We both share the view that food in London is a bit too reserved. There aren’t that many chefs who are exploring new ground (feel free to disagree and suggest counters to this assertion.)
The Providores is located on Marylebone High Street, just around the corner from my office. Many of my colleagues have dined there and have all been very verbose with their praise – possibly because they are pickled in Sauvignon Blanc. However, no one is ever very articulate about the food itself.
That’s probably because Peter Gordon’s food is a crazy deluge of “global fusion”. Picking and choosing the best bits from around the world and seamlessly threading them together into combinations you’d never even heard of let alone considered. Simply understanding what you’ve read on the menu is a challenge. It is also somewhere that typically is reserved for expense accounts. It turned out to be the most expensive meal I’ve paid for, per head, ever. And that includes El Bulli. It is no coincidence, I suspect that Google’s algorithms have placed an advert for a second mortgage on The Providores review page on London Eating.
Putting the cost and menu to one side, like some sort of mistress being wooed by a French prince… what was it like?
I was expecting food that took me out of my comfort zone. Dishes that made me think about what I was eating. Wines that were almost a meal in themselves. The sort of overall experience that two passionate food lovers could spend 4 hours debating.
Did it live up to this promise? Without doubt. It was a fascinating meal. The service was faultless and attentive and we had the best table. Was the food perfect? Not quite – my halibut was overcooked and the dessert was too large. Was the wine up to scratch? You’ll have to seek a professional opinion from Douglas. But from my point of view it was up there with the wine pairings I had at Roussillon.
Feeling somewhat bamboozled by the menu, and keen to see what the kitchen was made of we asked our splendid waitress to simply send out what they thought was best - and where possible to select an appropriate wine to match each dish.
One of the great features about The Providores is their fascinating New Zealand based wine list. The have an astonishing array of NZ wines by the glass made possible by their clever argon gas preservation system. (nerd alert). Personally, it was a whirlwind education for me. I obviously knew that there is more to New Zealand than just Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough (mainly from Tim Atkins)… but I was blown away by the range of wines that we were served. A fine pinot gris, refreshing fizzy Cloudy Bay, a spritely riesling, an aromatic gevurtztraminer, a robust chardonnay and some top class pinot noir. And these were just the wines in my glass - I’m feeling quite giddy when I realise how much wine I drank! See Douglas’s review for a full run down of the wines.
The menu read, although devoid of fluffy adjectives, like poetry. Rather than drone on in detail about the food, here are some highlights from the 12 dishes we had (you may need wikipedia handy – we wish we had).
Tamarind, green peppercorn and coconut laksa with squid, a panko crusted crab dumpling, green tea noodles, crispy shallots, coriander and crab tomalley
A great dish to start with. Awesome squid. Probably the best I’ve had. Soft and artistically prepared so that it fanned out like a star. No need for so many green tea noodles which were a fun colour but this would have been better without them.
Crispy soft-shell crab on ginger and wasabi tobikko arancini with pickle papaya and carrot salad with Nam Jihm dressing
What a dish. The crab was stunning. Another triumph. Light, crispy, bursting with unexpected flavours… wasabi added depth and punch. I’d happily eat this all day long. Great with the gevurtztraminer.
Tandori spiced squab pigeon on ginger ale braised cabbage with black trompette jus, banana raita and sumac lavosh
Another great dish. Beautifully tender pigeon with an aromatic char-y coating. Top class. Pigeon is one of my favourites and this is up there with London’s classic dishes. Niamh wouldn’t let me not have this one!
Crispy roast Middlewhite pork belly on Kim chi with wood ear mushroom, pickled quails egg and anise Sichuan broth
The special one. I have had many average pieces of pork belly over the years – this one reinforced just how mediocre they were. The crackling almost perforated my ear drums and brought a deep seated smile to my face as the moist flesh simply yielded. In it’s own right the pork was perfect, but in the context of this savoury, sour, spicy and salty dish it added the sweet aspect that the mouth craves. This was another exploration of depth.
Fennel pana cotta with dashi jelly, tataki of line caught Yellow fin tuna, sweet nori puree, braised shitake mushroom, crispy curry leaves and soy tapioca
Wow. Completely out of left field. A fascinating collision of textures. Creamy, savoury panna cotta… deep umami mushrooms, dashi and nori. Far too much for me to understand.
But that’s why I liked it and the meal as a whole. Not because I found it delicious (which it was), but because it was a challenging piece of creativity. Collectors don’t buy art because they think the pictures are pretty. They do so because they connect with the idea the artist is trying to convey. Given that language is a relatively poor conductor of meaning, often art, in its many forms, including in this instance cooking, does a better job of communicating feelings and ideas. Hence the intellectual attraction of Rothko, Beethoven and Kandinsky. And I think it is in this context that we should appreciate Peter Gordon’s art. He is pushing the boundaries of food in London, whilst the rest of the restaurant landscape is delicious, but a bit unimaginative.
Aside from the food, the highlight was Douglas’s company- you can read his erudite review here. He’s an amazing chap with an encyclopaedic knowledge of wine and a genuine epicurean thirst for new culinary experiences. I’m looking forward to pushing our culinary boundaries even further with our next adventure in the New Year.