Monday, 16 November 2009

Texture Restaurant, London / The Renaissance of Cauliflower

So – what's your opinion of cauliflower?

How many marks would you give it out of 10?

How does it rate in a showdown with, for instance, broccoli?

In the league table of vegetables, is it a Cambridge or a Bolton?

The Intellectual Hooligan would never presume (you may well imagine) to anticipate your own feelings on the matter. For his own part, though, he must confess never to having considered the cauliflower to sit atop any kind of pedestal. Cauliflower, in the eyes of the unreformed Hooligan, was probably in the bottom quartile of vegetable accompaniments – unless it was pulling off a stunningly unexpected coup in the context of cauliflower cheese.

For me, y'see, cauliflower was definitely sub-broccoli. Too often soggily school-dinnerish and bland – its sickeningly yielding, translucent-albino flesh oozing cabbagey juices; its flavour as desaturated as its appearance.

But I come to you, o reader, in the wake of a damascene conversion.

Ye! I have seen the light; I have tasted ambrosia. And I preach unto you a new gospel: that of the Ur-Cauliflower.

The cause of this extraordinary volte-face? The agent of this revelation?

Now, Texture is a pretty top joint. But what'd you expect of a gastronome such as myself? I found myself there (as a gift, mark ye!) on the anniversary of my birth, consuming the contents of the restaurant's 'tasting menu' – a sensory odyssey of eight courses (or thereabouts … What? You want me to count as well as write?).

Now, you might be wondering how on earth a man (even one as inordinately podgy as myself) manages to chow his way through eight courses. It does, you're right, sound somewhat excessive. But each course, y'see, is very little. No big wodges of protein here; no steaming hillocks of vegetable; no polyfiller carbohydrate.

Instead, you're getting a few brilliant morsels. Every mouthful is an event. This is blink-and-you'll-miss-it cuisine.


Now, I don't for a moment propose to go through the meal course by course. That would be immeasurably tedious, wouldn't it? I hate restaurant reviewers who go on about the bloody food.

(No, but seriously: reviews that harp on about food are boring. Stolid, unappetising, unilluminating.)

But you want to know about the cauliflower, right?

It came in liquid form, within a vessel only somewhat larger than a thimble. And it was FUCKING AMAZING. Creamy but light and totally free of unctuousness, masterfully textured with tiny nutty fragments, and ... man ... the essence of all that is right about cauliflower. The Kobe Beef of the cauliflower world. This cauliflower had been grown in the composted remains of the Hanging Gardens of frigging Babylon. Massaged daily by nubile vegetable fetishists. Pruned and trimmed by award-winning topiarists. It was a bonsai cauliflower.

What else? Well, there was the tenderest, seeping eyelet of pedigree pigeon, offset (marvellously, imaginatively) by bacon popcorn (all the smoky intensity of the former; the light dryness and crunch of the latter). Precious crystals of rhubarb, served in a cauldron of liquid nitrogen. Paper-thin cod's skin, fried to a crisp ...

So. Texture Restaurant. If you're looking for mindless nosh or mountains of carbohydrate, best to avoid. Eating here is an aesthetic experience, and one that (like a visit to the Tate) demands concentration. It will make you think, make you savour. It will bewilder you with a catherine wheel of flavours and textures.

And it will revivify at least one common garden vegetable.

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