8 Apr 2010

Things can only get Zetter

AS EVERY gastronome must know by now, chef Bruno Loubet has returned to Blighty eight years after departing for Brisbane. Famed for his fodder during halcyon days at restaurants, ‘Inn on the Park’ and ‘L’Odéon’, this nomad of nosh remains the darling of critics – a kind of mealtime Messiah or deity of metropolitan dinners...
As an unantipodean mist cleared in Clerkenwell, the red canopies of Loubet’s homecoming venue blazed through: Bistrot Bruno Loubet at the four-star Zetter Hotel. Having never eaten a morsel from the ‘master’, my only reference came from all the mastheads advocating this as somewhere worth masticating over.
I cast a look to neighbour, ‘The Modern Pantry’. Thank God I wasn’t returning to that vastly overrated torture of flavour pile-ups.
Inside, it took a few moments to acclimatise to the glaring room (it has vast bare windows). I pulled up a hard chair at a mean little table wrapped in an itchy scrap of scratchy paper. In this largely clear, curiously shaped space, affectations of brasserie tat contrive to construct a new design genre: cluttered minimalism. As well as nosy chefs (masquerading as civilians), the clientele comprised noisy advertising execs (identified by their advertising execs’ specs) and sweating bankers with loosened ties, despite full-on fans. 
Peering from the pill box like pass with all burners blazing cooked Christ of the kitchen. However, prowling and scowling, Loubet actually carried a more Devilish air. In fact he appeared the doppelganger of Captain Scarlett baddie, Captain Black.
Despite being idiotically served in a flower pot (presumably a play on flour), bread proved the highlight. Curiously the sheaf of thinly cut slices achieved an oiliness and crispiness simultaneously.
My starter was a peculiar, provocative melange. Shimmering with grease, seared tuna chunks were slippery, squeezed between a thick lattice of swaddling lardo. Full points for achieving the aesthetic impression of rectal haemorrhoids in close-up. Adding texture, I encountered a mysterious, chewy nodule. In an effort to bring a jazz of much needed acid, a luminous looking, shrill tasting, green apple purée oozed under a pubic looking tangle of mossy cress. I’m queasy in its memory.
Onto the heart of the problem, or the main course, this came camoflauged beneath a thin membrane of gastro spin. Sliced cauliflower, reminding me of a documentary I saw on Lenin’s brain which is preserved in cross sections, hid too many pigeon breasts, gilded with giblets. A mush of quinoa evaded capture, feebly slipping through my fork’s weirdly wide tines. A slimy side of slushy greens slobbered in butter. Bringing lightness to the experience, a neighbouring diner looked meek, munching through a suggestive tube of boudin blanc.
To finish, I neared death by chocolate via a stolid Valrhona tart, half sprinkled with icing sugar as to resemble a ‘no entry’ sign. Alas, the warning went unheeded. Thankfully, it was punctuated by a good scoop of cooling caramel and salt butter ice cream.
I waddled out from an unchallenging space with challenging cooking. Aside from good bread and ice cream, this had been gruff gastronomy behind a girlie mantle. I cannot tell you whether Loubet’s food worked eight years ago. But going by my groaning tummy there and moaning here, I can tell you clearly, Loubet really didn’t do it for me today...
The Zetter: St John’s Square 86-88 Clerkenwell Road, London. EC1M 5RJ
Bistrot Bruno Loubet on Urbanspoon