London – Papillon

I’m writing this from a Barcelona tapas bar, just trying to keep ahead of the reports. Our last day-time meal in London was at Papillon, recommended by the concierge at our hotel. We had wanted to go to brunch at the The Ritz, but it is still under renovation. I was a tad dismayed when I saw the menu as there were no “typical” brunch items that one would expect. My friends had gotten accustomed to my devilish ways of wanting many tastes and we essentially ordered the entire left-hand side of the menu; all of the soups, most of the salads, and all of the appetizers. Nine courses for five people, way too much money, and one of the most memorable meals I have ever had.

1. Escargot – slightly typical with tons of garlic but atypical in that they were redolent with herbs and delightfully presented in individual cups. The side-dish of chips were also a bit different and went mostly un-eaten, but that okay…

2. Beef Tartare – very, very nicely cut meat but a tad heavy on the Worcestershire sauce, but certainly appreciated by the testosterone which surrounded me.

3. Asparagus salad with pistachio panna cotta and Parmesan crisp – the asparagus in London has thus far been delightful. The dish we had at Rules a few evenings before was a bit fresher and better quality, but the presentation of this vegetable with the panna cotta was inventive and refreshing.

3. Green pea soup with poached egg – We ordered this as several of us were craving eggs. Breaking open the yolk and stirring it around the thin, bright soup was perfect. Redolent of the ingredient and not of cream or fillers and not too thick; the way one wants creamy pea soup in the spring. Bright and clean pea flavor.

4. Salad with fried pigs trotters – Granted, who really wants the greens? This was all about the perfectly crisp and rich pigs trotters which were not too heavy, perfectly fried, and a huge hit.

5. Terrine de foie gras with a layer of quince – Quite possibly one of the best foie terrines I have had; served appropriately with two slices of brioche, the slice was huge, the preparation perfect (nary a blood vessel to be found!) and the insertion of the quince in the middle an easy way to not have too much or too little.

6. Mediterranean fish soup – On the menu, the description made me think it would be a bouillabaisse as it was described as a fish broth accompanied with rouille, croutons, and cheese. Little did we know that what would arrive would be a tureen of dark, muddy broth and three copper pans of our self-serve accompaniments. I spread the rouille on each tiny slice of bread, sprinkled the cheese in the broth, and placed the laden croutons atop the broth. This dish was quite nearly the show-stopper and a beautiful example of well-integrated flavors and a perfect example of classic of classic flavors superbly presented.

7. Salad with black trumpet mushrooms, poached egg, jambon, and a light vinaigrette – again, another winner. The ham was not sliced too thin or too thick, the egg was perfectly poached so that the runny yolk blended well with the fresh greens and the fresh mushrooms were plentiful and enough of an earthy flavor to round out a great dish.

8. Gnocchi – Okay, the one dish ordered from the entrée-side of the menu. Somebody wanted it; I only tasted a bit but enough to know they were well-prepared and perfectly light with a rich, creamy sauce.

9. Presidential Soup – the clear show-stopper; in a small tureen and topped with baked puff pastry, the rich beef soup was filled with bits of marrow, fresh vegetables, and foie gras. It is difficult to express how terribly rich and how ultimately perfect this soup was. We all had spoonfuls but some of us produced very large chunks (bigger than the soup spoon!) of foie gras. It was artery-clogging, decadent, and a taste that I will not soon forget.
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