Published on June 16th, 2015 | by Gavin0
Snail Tasting at Café Rouge
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever tried? Next to ‘what’s your favourite bar in London?’ this is the question I get asked most often once someone learns of my profession. But ‘weird’ isn’t a word that sits well with me because I find it hard to define; every culture has its own quirks that may be perfectly normal in their eyes but utterly bizarre to the next.
You don’t even have to go as far as China or Australia to find odd eating rituals; in fact, a few months ago I was watching a “documentary” about KFC (don’t ask) where management in Glasgow were forced to roam the streets handing out free samples of pulled chicken to convince burly locals that it was real meat and not some GM experiment gone wrong. If that was East London, the queue would have been longer than Silvio Berlusconi’s rap sheet.
And that brings me on to my most recent food adventure, trying snails on the new menu in Café Rouge. The entire Café Rouge network of restaurants is going through a complete overall of the décor and menu to catapult the brasserie into the 21st century, all while sticking to the traditional style of French cuisine that has brought them so much success for over 20 years.
The greatest example of this modernisation is the introduction of the ragoût d’escargots (£6.50) snail and mushroom pie. Head development chef Duncan McEwan reveals that this is a gentle introduction for those unsure about eating the delicacy. Conversely, if you live on the edge and want the full throttle, no holds barred experience; there is the option to try snails in garlic butter (£1.95), the traditional way to eat the garden dwelling mollusc.
Not being one to shy away from a challenge, I ordered both, much to the surprise of Duncan. However, judging by the social media reaction as I live tweet my experience, not too many people shared my enthusiasm, one even threatened to unfollow me if I went ahead with it.
Undeterred by the negative responses, I rubbed my hands with glee as the pie arrives.
Nothing unusual about the outside, standard golden brown pastry and as I stick my knife in, the homely smells of any good pie hit my nostrils. I inspect the filling first, but with all the sauce, it’s hard to distinguish mushroom from snail, so the more squeamish have nothing to worry about from the presentation.
The best way to describe the taste would be ‘like a firm mushroom’. Undoubtedly the mushroom connotations have been amplified by the addition of truffle oil, so once I’ve scoffed every last mouthful, I’m keen to move on to the snails in all their X-rated glory.
Unlike the pie, there’s no hiding away from the fact that sitting in front of me is a pot of snails. Even I’m left apprehensive just by how real they look; at least when I eat chicken I doesn’t feel that bad because it bares zero resemblance to a living animal. Nevertheless, after a couple of pictures for Twitter, I grab my fork and tuck in.
If you were expecting me to say I was left heaving by a slimy, goo explosion in my mouth, I’m sorry to disappoint. They were actually delightful, with a taste unlike any other; if I were to try and pinpoint, it’s similar to mussels, but not quite. To be honest, as a child I often wondered what a snail would taste like, and the reality isn’t too far off from the fantasy (minus the slime). On top of that, there are significant health benefits to eating snails; high in protein, low in fat- and did I mention delicious?
Once finished, Duncan reappears with an inquisitive look on his face, I reply simply with a thumbs up and nod of approval.
Fussy eaters are fussy eaters, and I’ve long given up trying to convince them to merely try their steak anything less than burnt to a crisp, let alone attempting to eat a snail. But if you are the curious sort but eer on the side of caution, I’d recommend you take the plunge and order the truffle and snail pie, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Café Rouge has branches all over London and the UK. My experience took place in the Kingsway restaurant, Holborn, WC2B 6SRShare This Post