A relaxed evening of good food and good company is what was promised by Frankie when she contacted me about going down to Truc Vert, a restaurant/cafe/deli/foodie haven serving classic French dishes with a twist in the centre of London in Mayfair, to try their new Winter Tasting Menu with a bunch of fellow food bloggers. Stepping into Truc Vert and it's elegant but rustic setting instantly made me relax, and the glass of prosecco on arrival and flowing conversation before dinner seconded that Frankie had made good on her promise.
Truc Vert's high ceilings and recreated colonial features are reminiscent of a French vineyard's villa and there's enough wine bottles stacked from the floor to ceiling to make you forget that outside the hustle and bustle of Selfridges and Oxford Street shoppers is only a stones throw away. The simple linens, rustic wooden features and impressionist paintings could fool me into partaking in a wine tasting or two. But we weren't there, entirely, for the wine, there was an eight course (nine if you include the almond milk sorbet palette cleanser) tasting menu on offer! So up to the challenge, my fellow food bloggers (Frankie, Elizabeth, Gary, Manasi and Mehreen) and I joined the proprietors of Truc Vert for the evening.
The ethos behind Truc Vert is very clear throughout everything they do, and they do a lot as a restaurant/cafe/deli! Their idea of sourcing food locally from artisan suppliers is something I can connect with, in this day and age we like to know where our food is coming from, how it was produced and want to know that the suppliers are as passionate and care about the ingredients they use. This is something I couldn't fault our hosts on. Russell, the brains behind the menu we sampled, was quick to inform us where all their produce came from when describing each dish and his passion was clear from the care he'd put into designing the Winter Tasting Menu.
To kick off the meal we were presented with a shot of pumpkin soup drizzled with truffle oil and dressed with a shaving of parmesan. I'm not a huge fan of soup, particularly pumpkin, probably a complex from living off pumpkin and coriander soup as child for half the year (the other half of the year was reserved for omelettes). However, this was the perfect amount to wake up your tastebuds without overdoing it with a whole bowl and sending them back to sleep. The soup was really tasty with a rich warmth from the truffle oil, while the parmesan added a creamy and slightly dry edge (in a good way, think dry white wine).
When I saw the first starter was a tartar of vanilla-cured salmon and cucumber in yoghurt with egg and parsley caviar, crispy fried capers and watercress, I almost ran for the hills. Which just shows that you should never judge a dish by its title. I was really prepared to discreetly not enjoy this dish, but I was pleasantly surprised when I found I had finished the whole thing, excluding the large bouquet of watercress. It was a blessing the vanilla-cured salmon was not bursting with vanilla and was more of a subtle flavour that when mixed with the yoghurt and cucumber it really bought out the fish's natural flavour. The egg caviar, which is essentially seived egg yolks, was a nice accompaniment as were the fried capers whose acidity broke through the creaminess of the yoghurt and egg.
It might not have been my favourite dish of the evening, but I did enjoy it and would certainly eat it if we came face to face again, so don't rule it out!
We didn't see the menu before we sat down for dinner as it was the first time it was pulled together, but when we did get a glimpse I thought this course was going to be mine, the one where I try to eat everyone else's venison off their plates. New Zealand Vension carpaccio with plum jelly, pickled baby turnip and horse radish cream served with a flurry of microherbs, there's not a lot of places this dish could go wrong. I have to say though, that although all the food was great, this was my most disappointing dish on the menu. I think there's always one, at Pollen Street Social it was the amuse bouche of popped crackling, at Ottolenghi it was the fermented mackerel and at Truc Vert it was the venison carpaccio.
I didn't feel like the venison shone in this dish, the horseradish cream was very flavoursome but it drowned out the venison when eaten together. The plum jelly was sweet and sharp as was the crisp slice of pickled baby turnip, and I imagine they would have accompanied the gaminess of the venison perfectly but the venison didn't have a huge amount of flavour. I'm not sure if this is because the meat was cold or a lack of seasoning. I imagine that on a normal day of service Truc Vert will make this a great dish when the pressure of cooking for 'critics' is removed (maybe not real food critics, but still people who'll eat your food, form an opinion and publish it online; negative or positive).
If you have been reading this article and thinking 'what happened to the no dairy diet?', well it happened, it didn't work and I'm eating dairy again (in small amounts; I now find the taste of milk revolting, something I'm not upset about). I was really happy when we were served a palette cleanser of almond milk sorbet. Firstly, thank you Truc Vert for giving me some inspiration for dairy free ice creams, secondly if you like almonds/almond milk/all things sweet and nutty this is delicious, and you should ask to take some away. In a cone. Maybe with a flake.
I'm an Islander at heart and seafood has always been a big part of my life, whether its gathering mussels while the tide's out or trying to catch fish in the harbour. As such, fish courses are usually my favourite and this dish of roast monkfish with foie gras creme caramel, braised puy lentils and a ginger sauce was the best dish of the night.
The monkfish was meaty but full of the flavour of the sea and perfectly cooked, the lentils were rich with tomato, and as for the foie gras creme caramel. It was rich, it was creamy and velvety smooth, and the best thing I think I've eaten this year. I could have eaten eight courses of the foie gras creme caramel and bread, nine if you want to include it as a palette cleanser as well.
Medium rare British roast lamb rump, sweetbreads, parmesan gnocchi and trumpette mushrooms in a soubise sauce. This dish is an absolute winner. I loved the trumpette mushrooms in the rich onion sauce with the lamb, it was extravagant but simple cooking done really well. The gnocchi were nice and crunchy on the outside but soft in the inside, they could easily be my replacement for roast potatoes on a Sunday. When you're presented with a dish like this and everything is cooked well, there's not a lot you can say about it except you have to go and try it for yourself.
Truc Vert's take on a banana split consisted of poached banana ice cream, a white chocolate crepe filled with banana, bitter chocolate sauce, and of course it wouldn't be a banana split without a mound of whipped cream with a cherry on top. I love bananas so this was my dessert, the ice cream particularly had a really pronounced flavour that had me going a bit bananas scraping the last little bit off my plate. A very nostalgic plate of food that had me thinking back to holidays as a child, I'm a fan of this take on the banana split and hope to see it making a real revival soon!
I have a statement I have to say, people may find it unpleasant, but I am not a chocolate lover. I don't hate it, I'll eat it and enjoy it, to an extent, but if you gave me a list of desserts I'd stay clear of the chocolate one. With this in mind our second dessert, Delice De Chocolat, a chocolate mousse and chocolate ganache on a praline base served with a chocolate jelly, crystallized mint leaves and a hazlenut sauce wasn't my thing. That's not to say it wasn't executed well, and the rest of the table really liked it. The praline base was something I hadn't had before and it was really smooth, and my first couple of bites of the mousse with the praline and sauce were decadently rich and good. I just can't take too much cocoa.
I want to go back and relive this spread of cheese above. Let it be said Truc Vert does not skimp on the cheese board. I probably ate more than my fair share of cheese, and between nine of us we still didn't demolish these boards. There was a great selection of cheeses all served with a tomato chutney, dried fruit and bread. Coming from a Swiss French family, the French have the right idea about serving cheese with bread and not crackers. The British are missing a trick here, its bread everytime!
My favourite cheeses were the Sainte-Maure de Touraine, a creamy goats cheese with an ashened rind, the slices of Morbier, a hard cows milk cheese with a layer of ash within the cheese which had a great depth of flavour, and the Fourme d'Ambert, a mouthwatering rich blue cows milk cheese. Truc Vert's cheese really impressed me because it showed the other side of the business, working as a Deli, and they've been doing this for 14 years, so if you're after a glass of wine and some good French cheese for an evening then go there; they know what they're doing with their cheese.
I wish all meals ended in a goodie bag. Our amazing hosts, Russell and Louise, had arranged for us to take home some samples of what they sell in the Deli at Truc Vert and God were they good. Little lemon Madeleines, the softest and best vanilla marshmallows I've ever had (run and pick some up now!), double chocolate chip brownies and delicious granola, whose caramel flavour was part of my breakfast for an entire week, were all of the goodies that I took home. And all of these goods were made on the premise, I personally find it incredible that Truc Vert does so many different things so well.
I was really delighted to be one of the first to try the new tasting menu, but the great news is its now available for all to try at Truc Vert at a cost of £70 per head. This is a reasonable cost for a tasting menu, especially one of this calibre. However, if you just want to go there for something slightly more casual or you're just after a board of cheese try their a la carte menu, which features some of the dishes available on this tasting menu.