Teriyaki Mackerel with Cucumber Salad was also excellent. I find mackerel a bit of a struggle unless it's paired with strong flavours and is really fresh, and this didn't disappoint. The teriyaki was sweet and the cucumber provided welcome freshness to an otherwise oily and rich fish. We were off to a good start. We also had some Pimentos de Padron, Oyster Fritters with Thai Dipping Sauce, and Salsify Fritters. If I'm honest, I don't think salsify tastes like much to me. These were expertly battered, without a hint of grease and light as a feather.
Next up came the first courses. We ordered four dishes, one of which was this Smoked Eel & Bacon Salad. It looked very familiar indeed, as Helen at Food Stories has recently made this recipe. I absolutely adore smoked eel, and the flavour pairings of this dish was excellent. The smoked eel was flavoursome and the beurre blanc sauce, delicately coating the leaves, had a perfect hint of acidity to slice through that richness.
I especially requested the Vitello Tonnato, purely because it intruiged me when I was reading up on the menu. Cold veal in a tuna sauce? I had horrible visions of being presented with a slab of grey meat languishing under a sauce of blitzed tinned tuna. These aren't natural pairings in my head. Apparently this is a classic summer dish - perfect for the driving rain outside then...
I'm really glad I asked for this, because it was delicious. Beautifully pink slices of melt-in-the-mouth veal in a dressing that had a strong tuna flavour. I have no idea how it tasted of tuna whilst still being completely smooth. The teeny tiny capers made me a very happy girl indeed.
Now this here is Pike Boudin with Fines Herbes and Beurre Blanc (Christ, how much butter did I consume?). Charlie tells us that there is a magical machine they have that strips the pike of all its many fiddly bones, leaving just flesh to work into this boudin. And what a wonderful sausage it was. Almost mousse-like in texture, it had a delicate but balanced flavour. Definitely a highlight. We also had a dish of Spaghetti with Wild Garlic which we got as I've never tried wild garlic. Unfortunately I couldn't detect a distinctly different flavour; it was delicious but to me it tasted of garlic, perhaps a touch fresher.
As if that wasn't enough, we then had our main courses. Gorgeous suckling pig and roasted chicken breast with rosemary and garlic graced our table.
White Asparagus with Blood Orange Beurre Blanc was an unusual but gladly recieved side dish. Too often we have just the bog standard wilted greens / dressed leaves to accompany meals and I think it can get a bit boring.
I fell in love with white asparagus last during during a foodie jaunt to Brugge. Green and white both have their virtues, but I find that white is a much meatier and deeper flavoured beast.
Highlights of the mains were definitely this halibut. Paired perfectly with salsa verde, it was tender and perfectly cooked. I'm surprised we didn't fight over it.
Now, I know this is all rather gushing. There were a couple of dud notes, most notably the duck confit with swiss chard and pine nuts which was far too salty for my tastes. We also had an exteremely generous and mostly delicious cheeseboard, but one of the cheeses was so ripe it hurt my mouth - perhaps a bit too ripe.
Desserts were perhaps a bit foolish, given the amount of food we'd consumed but we couldn't resist. In particular, the Chocolate Souffle with Pistachio Ice Cream stood out (literally). The souffle was light and expertly made. My Custard Tart with Prunes was smooth and silky with just the lightest dusting of nutmeg. Or was it cinnamon? One of them.
All this was washed down with a light, off-dry Anjou le Clos des Rouliers 2006 Richard Leroy (my favourite of the evening), a Dolcetto d'Alba 2006 GD Vajra - apparently the first bottle was corked. I couldn't tell. I need to give up smoking - and a lovely dessert wine, Vouvray Moelleux Cuvee 1990 Didier Champalou.
All in all, a most excellent meal with a great host. When we arrived the restaurant was virtually empty. By 8pm, the dining room was buzzy and filled with pleasant chatter of fellow diners. Interestingly, Rowley Leigh prefers not to play music in his restaurants and while this can make the atmosphere slightly stifled, it did nothing of the sort here. Waiting staff was attentive and friendly and I fell in love with our server a little bit when he proffered a napkin to hide my embarrassing red wine spillage on the white tablecloth.
Now, I know my review may be biased due to having dined with Charlie, but I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this place to people. That Parmesan custard. That spinach mousse. That halibut. That waiter. All things that would have made me wonder when I can go back.
Le Café Anglais
8 Porchester Gardens
London W2 4DB
Tel: 020 7221 1415