Terroir Awarded Hungry Cyclist Wheel of Approval
We are perhaps fortunate to live in globally-gastronomic times. Twenty five years ago the now ubiquitous spaghetti and olive oil were novelty commodities. Yet today ripe mangos can be jetted to our supermarkets in hours, king prawns have more air-miles than most frequent fliers and almost every UK high streets boasts an international restaurant representation the UN Security council would be proud of. For little money in London, a young diner can feast on Lebanese meze, Chinese dim sum, Mexican tacos, Thai curry and Japanese sushi on almost every high street, which begs the questions: Why would any adventurous diner choose to go to French restaurant for their supper?
A generation ago French cuisine set the bench-mark for fine dining, but times have changed. Perhaps being only a short train ride away, the charms of French cuisine are no longer exotic enough for our globe – trotting taste buds, but I fear our falling out of love with French cuisine runs deeper. For too long French cooking has been represented internationally by the edicts of huat cuisine. Stereotypical chefs, over-elaborate preparations, rich dishes and complicated wines lists, while the quintessential French dining experience has become synonymous with silver domes, white table clothes and surly waiters with bow ties and bad attitudes.
For these reasons there were concerns within the A to Z camp that on arriving on the letter F perhaps a French restaurant was too stayed, too predictable and to old fashioned for our adventurous outlook. After all could our great capital not throw up some more worldly alternatives? A Fijian feast or perhaps some Finnish finery? And yet there were also questions as to whether a list of world food in London would have any validity if France didn’t make the grade. In order to find out if there was anything behind the smoke screen created by high-end hotels and fancy restaurants we headed to Terroir to see if France could still cut the mustard.
The English don’t have a word for terroir. Its literal translation means soil or erath, but to the French this small word embraces much, much more. The concept of terroir was developed by French wine makers centuries ago by observing the differences in wines from different regions, vineyards, or even different sections of the same vineyard. A true wine expert can deduce to the nearest kilometre where his or her wine is made from simply by observing the colour, aroma and taste of a wine. Surly the same rule should apply for food?
After all the best food comes from the areas that history tells are the best places to produce it. The cheeses of the Alps, the chestnuts of the Ardeche, the apples of Normandy,the snails of burgundy and the hams of Bayonne are are not made in these regions simply on a whim. They are made in these regions because the terroir is best suited for their production and subsequently these ingredients have become the regional dishes that determine as clearly as any GPS system almost exactly where you are in France.
As their name suggests, Terroir claim that this desire for sourcing the very best in regional produce is at the heart of their philosophy
“It is about food and wine which is natural and free of additives and about artisan products that taste simply of their origin”
On walking into Terroir it is immediately more laid back, more regional bistro than chic Paris restaurant and this move towards more informal French dining is pushed further in the menu. No set meals for diners here but a instead a selection of small dishes are offered ‘tapas style’ that are then brought to the table and shared by all.
First to land on our table was a deep bowl of Cervelle de canu (silk workers brains) a typically Lyonnaise dish of fromage blanc and crème freche, seasoned with chopped herbs, shallots, tarragon, salt, pepper, olive oil and vinegar which we all shovelled up with ruby-red radishes complete with greens and toasted soldiers of home-made bread.
A pork and pistachio terrine was next to arrive. The first a dense meaty slab made with all those delicious porky off-cuts that we never seem to see in this country anymore. And this homage to what is truly great about peasant French cooking was joined by too well-formed balls of duck rillettes. A creamy pate made from the finely shredded off cuts of cooked duck, seasoned and potted in plenty of its own fat.
Paring these rich starters with a crisp and refreshing bottle of Vouvray was a master-stoke from our guest The Wine Chap, and the fresh undertones of this young white wine were also a perfect foil to the salty quality of the thinly cut charcuterie that was to follow. A saucisson Noir de Bigorre of the French Pyrénées, a Pierre Oteiza Jésus from the Pays Basque and dry Charcutier Bobosse from Lyon stood out from the crowd and were enjoyed with a generous bowl of green olives from the warm hills of Provence, the healthiest I have seen!
The next bottle of wine was a red Chinon made from the Cabernet Franc grape, grown not far up the river from its white cousin the Vouvray, its light and clean nature just what was needed for the food to come. A dressed salad of stiff French beans and smoked duck breast was joined by a dozen plump snails cooked in the Burgundian style with fresh parsley, garlic and butter. No fiddling around with piping hot shells here!
Next it was the turn of the French heavy weights from the. mountains of the East A boudin noir (pigs blood sausage) came with a slab of fatty roasted pork belly, a fried duck egg and a heap of choucroute (cooked shredded cabbage) before a bubbling skillet of tarteflette was put before us. A gratin of potatoes, diced bacon, heavy cream and molten Rebelchon cheese this is a dish that should really only be eaten if you have a mountain to scale in the afternoon.
Sadly I had no mountains to climb on my short cycle home to Tooting, which would in no way help work off this French feast. And a French feast it was. No stereotypical creamy sauces, silver domes or bowties here because Terroir understand that real French food is not about haute cuisine at all. It is instead a fascinating cuisine determined by the richly varied and vibrant cultural hot pot that is the result of countless tribes, customs, pays, districts, mountains, marshes and rivers that make up the terroir of the largest country in Europe. French food may have come under attack of recent, but thanks to the good people and ideals of Terroir it is still very well armed and is far from surrender.
5 William IV St
London WC2N 4DY
020 7036 0660
Open Mon-Sat 12pm-11pm