Last Saturday night was five years to the day since the Honey Badger and I first met over a pile of sticky ribs at a tailgate in Louisiana. That’s half a decade of eating and drinking with my very favourite foodie partner in crime. Not that he was such a foodie when I first met him, mind you – I seem to have created a monster in my own image. Someone who now shuns white sugar in coffee, margarine on toast, and high-fructose corn syrup in pretty much anything. So
We were sitting at the bar because we called too late to get one of the larger tables – but for two people there was ample space; plus, you’ve got the ear of the nearest server any time you run out of wine. Speaking of which, we ordered a bottle of organic, unfiltered Gamay on the grounds that it should be light enough to go with most dishes (and we love a good French Gamay). We opted for the five-course menu (we could’ve upped it to seven or nine courses), let the kitchen know if there was anything we didn’t eat, and left the rest to chance.
Within ten minutes, the first amuse had transported me straight back to my childhood… to an English country garden in late summer. Runner beans had been lightly griddled and served with a blob of something mint-rich and creamy. It sounds simple, but it provoked one of those Proustian feelings of regaining a time long since lost – of snapping fresh beans with my fingers, my bare feet smelling of soil. Mint grew rampant in my parents’ garden, so it was thrown into the cooking water with everything – potatoes, beans, whatever. Breda’s chefs – unwittingly, I guess – had succeeded in evoking a potent childhood memory: the Platonic ideal of a summer’s garden.
Hardly surprisingly, the second amuse couldn’t quite compete with my first reaction. But that being said, I did enjoy my trio of tomato: a clear yet flavourful broth; a sort of beignet, light yet deep-fried; and a cracker topped with a salty, limey tomato and avocado mixture.
The flavours were ratcheted up another notch for our first starter: silky raw haddock with a peppery watercress purée, smoked cream cheese and herring caviar. It sounds like a lot of (potentially conflicting) tastes, but somehow the goes-up-your-nose pepperiness (was there horseradish in there as well?) was balanced out by the smoky fishiness of the other ingredients. An accomplished dish, to say the least.
Horseradish made an appearance in our next course as well: this time grated over a plate of Chinese greens with wild garlic. Again, it sounds simple but it was about as perfect a plate of veges as I could’ve wished for: what promised to be a light in-between course was elevated to its own green heights by the addition of an umami-rich (possibly miso-based?) jus that I wouldn’t have the first idea how to recreate.
The fish course was brill served with mussels and a cider and mustard sauce. To say that this was probably my least favourite course is to make a distinction based only on the fact that this dish elicited the lowest of my always-high praise. It was slightly too salty for me; but past that, I can’t much fault it.
Rib-eye of beef formed the basis of the meat course – a surprising choice in a way, for a kitchen that had chosen rather more offbeat ingredients so far. And yet when I tasted it, I understood precisely what I imagined Breda’s chefs were going for: the big, bold flavours of grill-style cooking that’s so popular at the moment, re-imagined in a more refined context. Our rib-eye came with a spicy, peppery salsa that you wouldn’t expect in a fine-dining context. Grilled corn, hot green peppers and lettuce were also on the plate – it was like a classic BBQ, but dizzyingly better.
Before dessert, we were treated to a palate-cleansing sorrel granita with ginger cream, which I arguably liked more than the dessert itself (but that’s mostly because I don’t have a sweet tooth, and the grassy granita was perfect for my palate). Sweeter was the passionfruit dessert that followed – a simple blend of fruity flavours and textures.
Dinner came to just over €150 for the two of us based on five courses (which were kind of eight, depending on how you look it) plus a bottle of fairly pricey wine. No, it’s not cheap – but nor should it be at that level of quality. And besides, when it comes to paying restaurant bills, there’s always MasterCard; but this meal was priceless.