Published on November 13th, 2014 | by Rebecca Anne Milford0
The Truscott Arms, Maida Vale
Summary: If The Truscott Arms were in Mayfair or Knightsbridge, this meal would command some wallet-busting price tag
What is it that raises a chef from the standard ‘perfectly good at what they do’ to the coveted ‘something truly superb’ – a description so often accompanied by that portentous accolade ‘one to watch out for?’
I by no means profess to know exactly the recipe for success, and so asked some other foody-minded friends. Passion was obviously mentioned – no lacklustre approaches to the kitchen here, please – along with a penchant for using fresh, seasonal or carefully sourced produce. What we also decided was that it is important for a chef to know their ingredients – how to best display them, their ideal companions on the plate, and their limitations. Then, when this has been decided upon, the art is to let them speak for themselves. This, I have realised, is what chef Aidan McGee undoubtable excels at.
Rapturously eating my way through his Autumn taster menu at the Truscott Arms reminded me of witnessing a very expertly choreographed show, where his work as the director could be appreciated without any heavy-handed, show-offy flounces. No self-congratulation in the dishes – this isn’t a Tarantino menu where he feels it necessary at every turn to remind us of who the genius is – instead, he has cast his ingredients and lets them take the stage.
Every time I tried a new course, I felt like it was a well-rehearsed and clockwork-smooth act – with flavour combination and textures all faultless. A crunch of hazelnut here; silky smudge of cauliflower there; a puff of lighter-than-air chocolate mousse to finish… I am officially a fan.
And another thing – despite trying the four course menu (actually six when you take into account a delightful amuse bouche and an exotic little pre-dessert cleanser), then by the end I wasn’t feeling bloated, or like I might have contracted gout, or that I would be up all night thirsting for water from an overcompensation of salt. Nothing was too rich or too heavy. The menu was as crisp and satisfying as the crunch of autumn leaves on a morning walk.
So, what was this extravaganza that I ate? I can in fact describe most of the dishes on the menu, since the advantage of eating with another is that you get to try everything they have ordered (it’s the Reviewer’s Code), so I actually got to experience eight of the available fifteen dishes. Needless to say it was wildly photogenic, and my Instagram went into overdrive after I’d posted aerial views of the beautifully presented plates.
So, that amuse bouche – a lick of vibrant, earthy beetroot surmounted by a dab of light cream cheese was presented on a piece of crisp bread, with all flavours combining to alert the tastebuds something fresh, moreish and well constructed was about to be enjoyed. We also started with a couple of cocktails – my Lady Truscott was refreshing and had a lovely burst of muddled blackberry combined with lavender infused gin, while the Old Fashioned Truth certainly had oomph in its golden depths from rhubarb bitters, and a slight exaggerated sweetness from apricot liquor which complemented the Bulleit Bourbon and Woodford Reserve nicely.
My first starter from the AM (Autumn Menu) was a Cornish Crab with Cucumber Soup. A large white bowl appeared, in the middle of which was placed a mound of delicately shredded crab meat the pinky-peach colour of the inside of a shell, all garnished by a ribbon of soothing cucumber. The chilled soup – as green as a newly popped pea – was poured from a see-through glass teapot. The combined flavours were like spring in the mouth – the gentle bite of seafood married perfectly with the superb cleanliness of the cucumber soup.
The second starter of the AM was Roast Scallop with Pork Shoulder – plump discs of scallop nuzzling up to fall-apart pork and gathered together with an gloss of cauliflower puree and wild sorrel for extra taste. The juicy scallop, smooth puree and rich pork combined in the mouth to create luxurious bite after luxurious bite.
My partner’s starters were equally as amazing – heritage tomato salad transported us back to long summer days with pops of garden-fresh flavour and silky mozzarella, while his wood pigeon was slivers of rich, gamey dark meat offset by zingy blackberry, spicy sauce and the satisfying bite of hazelnut.
On to the mains. The AM called for Glazed Beef Cheeks – the meat arrived tender and robust, on a bed of smoked mash with the translucent purple curve of red onion cradling a deep jus. The flavours were incredible. Slow cooking the beef meant even the tiniest mouthful erupted in a sensory storm, and the al dente vegetables offered just enough freshness.
There was also a rather delicious Pan Fried Halibut on the menu – robust chunks of white fish married with an absolutely amazing sauce of roast salsify, spinach, cocoa bean, mango and coriander. These exotic touches moved to raise the fish to superb heights of flavour sensation – in short, it was damn good.
There was a brief interval before dessert, in which we were treated to a curl of coconut ice-cream flecked with roasted pineapple, rising like a tropical island from a pool of spiced rum. The sweetness of the pineapple and cool coconut did wonders to refresh my palate – making way for one of the more indulgent desserts I’ve had in recent times, and one of the best.
Rice pudding, done badly, can be the stuff tinned-food nightmares are made of. But done well, on a chilly evening, it can be the culinary equivalent of receiving a big warm hug to the belly. That was the sumptuous sensation I settled on as I tucked in, stirring unctuous, creamy pudding in with the ear puree, grated nuts and mix spice ice-cream. I think I scraped the plate clean, although I did allow my dining partner one bite – naturally because I wanted a go on their dessert. Milk Chocolate Mousse as light as November mist, served with glazed figs and maple ice-cream, was another fitting end to such an incredible culinary masterpiece.
This is the kind of gastronomical delight that, if it were presented in Mayfair or Knightsbridge, would command some wallet-busting price tag. But the actual cost was insanely low for the quality – £40 for the tasting menu. It is also worth mentioning that all this bar the chocolate dessert was either gluten free or came with a gluten free option – possibly why my stomach wasn’t feeling bloated or uncomfortable even after all that food. Plus of course the wine list boats a huge array of wonderful varieties to quaff, all of which can be advised by the staff.
And don’t fear that you’ll have to sit poker straight and speak in low, measured voices in a formal dining room somewhere that you fear to use the napkins because of sullying the whiteness. This dining experience took place in the restaurant atop the Truscott Arms pub in Maida Vale – a charming room of elaborately plastered ceiling, comfortable suede chairs, an open kitchen and modern art of bright graffiti peppering the walls. The atmosphere was charming, relaxed, and the kind of place you were encouraged to enjoy your food, make merry, and have a good time with friends.
At the end I asked my dining partner – not always the most eloquent or effusive when it comes to describing food or wine, what they had thought. ‘Well,’ they replied after a ponder, ‘I noticed the kitchen first. They all seem to know exactly what they’re doing, and all seem keen to be there. Like they’re really committed to providing something fantastic.’ And, with chef Aidan McGee at the helm, fantastic just starts to cover what’s in store for the future.
The Truscott Arms, 55 Shirland Rd, Maida Vale, W9 2JD
Photo Credit: Heneker PhotographyShare This Post