Sunday, 27 February 2011

L'Escargot: No Match for Parisian Snails?

Chinese cuisine has always been about experimentation; with many of its dishes consisting of stewed animal body parts, I was convinced that no other cuisine would succeed in turning my stomach. But as they lowered my dish of escargots au beurre d’anchois in Paris, the smell of anchovies combined with the bright green paste sealing the entrance of each escargot was enough to turn even the toughest stomach.

Parisian escargots au beurre

I took a while to summon the courage to fork out the insides, chew on the flesh and swallow. However, the texture resembled seafood, and the rich flavour of butter and fresh taste of garlic / herbs managed to distract me from feelings of uneasiness. Subsequently, the escargots became the highlight of my trip.

Three years later, I sat at Marco Pierre White's L'Escargot in Central London, eagerly awaiting my escargot en coquille ‘Bordelaise' starter. The restaurant had a romantic ambience, with Parisian decor and Matisse paintings on the walls. 

We did not wait long for our food (bearing in mind there were far more waiters than diners), but I was beyond disappointed with my escargots. Bordelaise sauce comprises of dry red wine, demi-glace, butter and shallots, but the escargots were completely flavourless and the flesh was mushy; charging £9.50 for it was unjustified. The smoked Gressingham duck breast with pickled girolles and grain mustard vinaigrette was also a disappointment; the duck was dry and stale whilst the salad was hardly fresh. To our relief, the velouté of parsnip, almond and honey crème fraîche was creamy and to our satisfaction.

The main courses were more enjoyable and came in generous portions. The pan fried gnocchi with aautéed wild mushrooms and autumn truffle shavings was absolutely delicious whilst the roasted fillet of pork with sautéed spinach and pomme fondante (served with sauce moutarde a l'ancienne) was cooked to perfection. The pan fried fillet of black bass with al forno potato, swiss chard and crème fraîche was beautifully presented and had a firm texture, yet very tender. Last but not least, my seared diver caught scallops with tarragon and tomato risotto was also pleasing; whilst the risotto was velvety, the scallops were soft and meaty, although I must point out that there was an unexplainable sour after taste.

Dinner at L'Escargot was a pleasant experience, albeit not outstanding (having lost its Michelin star a few years ago). However, they do offer a pre-theatre three course meal at £18, which is very appealing as dessert alone cost £7.95... I just don't recommend the escargots. (Photos up on Flickr)

NB) A recipe for escargots au beurre d'anchois can be found at for anyone who is interested.

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