Many paparazzi were awaiting my arrival at the May Fair Hotel.
They were there for the first night of Silvena Rowe’s Quince?
After spending two years living next to the St Martins Lane Hotel I learned Paparazzi only feast on celebs. The May Fair Hotel itself is a prime spot. It is not only London Fashion Week ‘s official sponsor but a gossip-star infested venue, the fave of Paris Hilton (Does she not stay at the Hilton?), to begin with. Thanks to the Glamour Award 2011, there were plenty – from JLS, the Saturdays, to Usher, Rosie Huntingdon-Whiteley and the women intended for the next X Factor judge panel – for paparazzi to maul this evening.
I was, however, after another kind of food done up by Silvena Rowe.
There was much anticipation when I looked at the Quince website. I recalled watching the Bulgaria-born chef and her metallic blond hair on the telly. To me, she stood out a lot more than the Saturdays. Rowe’s food is an inventive combo of Eastern European cuisine with Turkish influences. The menu sounded promising.. indeed so promising I thought it wouldn’t live up to my expectations. This time I was proved wrong.
Ordering.. many small dishes to share as starters. The price here fluctuated between £6.50 to £21. The average would be around £9. We asked for a few and ended up with more than we actually ordered.
(1) Aubergine £7, (2) Borek “Cigars” £7.50, (3) Spiced lamb cutlets £14.50, (4) Crispy Fried Baby Squid, Quince Aioli £9.50, (5) Borek Bites £6.50, (6) Duck and Foie Gras £10.50 and (7) King Prawns, Pomegranate Butter £21…. and there were only two of us.
Why so many?
Two dishes were comp’ed. The Borek Bites were complimentary of the kitchen. And a minute after my non-courteous photographic session with my “cigar”. Ms Rowe walked over and outed me a blogger. (Infectious personality she has and very passionate. The kind of chef you want to converse with rather than send back to the kitchen). Checking our order, Rowe insisted we had the King Prawns and Pomegranate Butter.
Her signature dish, she said, so how could we say no?
Dishes. We smelled them metres before they reached our table. Frangrances of fresh meat and spiced exoticism. “Different” and risky dishes for its Mayfair location. (Do people in this area actually go anywhere else but overpriced Italian restaurants?). Never mind.
All dishes came with modern twists. Pronounced smoky aubergine paste and tahini rendered with fruity acidity from intense pomegranate juice. Not the smoothest paste but this first cooling taste married well with feisty babaganoush. The Borek “Cigars” were the labour of 10+ hour cooking of lamb in seven spices – cardamom, coriander, to name a few – in crispy pastry. A deceptively delicate dish. The Borek bites of feta cheese and leeks provided gummy bursts of fresh cheese and natural sweetness from the leeks. A big, greaseless bowl of crumbed baby squids. There was a lot of cumin-chilli-cardamom coating going on but the spices were well-balanced and enhanced the flavours and texture of the squids. Subtle sweet note from the quince aioli. The duck and foie gras came in filo pastry. A bigger kind of cigars. Tender shredded duck moistened by foie gras. No distinctive pieces but the livery flavours in the oil were so clear. The dusting of icing sugar and cinnamon added sweetness that worked oh-so-well!!! The lamb cutlets, though nicely cooked, were forgettable. The charred smell overshadowed the luxury of the truffle in this case.
And the prawns..
Perfectly cooked. Enhanced with this drizzle of glossy pomegranate butter made from pomegranate juice concentrate. Sour with gentle sweetness. Pebbles of pomegranate seeds became juicy surprise. Interestingly there was such clarity to the dish. The prawns – taste and smell – were not lost in this rather rich, delectable dressing. £21 was a hefty price tag but as the flavours posit themselves on the Michelin-starred level I dare say it’s worth it!
To be honest, I could just finish myself off with a dessert at this point and was mortified by the thought of what to follow.
Pulled lamb for two (£18.50 per person) with rosemary salt. Labelled Ottoman style, the shoulder of lamb was slow-cooked for 12 hours. Came in two chunky pieces and was later shredded to our pain/pleasure at the table. The fragrance permeated the air when the lamb landed. In this sous-vide age when food seems lacking in smell, Rowe’s hearty, deliciously scented affair is just what I have been looking for. Lamb was so moist and tender I hardly needed to bite. I had this with side dishes (£4.50 each) of Rice Pilaf, Blueberries, Pistachio and Lemon Balm and Labneh (yogurt cheese) with Paprika Oil and Nasturtium Flowers Za’atar. Clean, minimalist flavour enhanced by the fruity rice combo and the heavenly thick, creamy yogurt with a kick of paprika.
This surely was a feast.
I was stuffed. Period.
We settled with Orange Baklava and Pistachio Ice Cream (£7.50). Baked to order, hence 20 min wait. This was not the baklava I used to but a fluffy croissant-like roll with generous pouring of orange-infused syrup and crushed pistachio powder. Very light. But – let me admit – after that lamb I couldn’t quite taste anything else!
Both of us love Quince for its difference and find the idea of sharing works in this jovial context. Refreshing food. No compromise on flavour, ingredients and portion size. Rowe’s dishes are refined but do not trim down excitement and theatricality. That said, there is no compromise in pricing either. If you don’t order like me, you’ll end up paying around £60+ including drinks.
That’s debatable as Eastern European + Turkish food is yet to be registered as luxurious fine dining. But, bear in mind here as the good is definitely in the food.
GO FOR: Comforting Turkish with modern twists. Celeb spotting.
RATING: 4 out of 5
The May Fair Hotel
Tel. 020 7845 8680