22 August 2015

Morden & Lea

If you think of food in Leicester Square, your mind is instantly drawn to queues outside KFCs, Burger Kings and McDonalds and the incessant stream of people making a beeline for M&M World. But if you venture a stone's throw away, towards Chinatown, you'll find a fantastic little addition to the British restaurant scene in Morden & Lea.

Watch out for the powder blue frontage among the sea of maroon Irish pubs and Chinese restaurants, and step inside to a slick, tiled brasserie. A flank of booths leads you towards the industrial styled bar at the back, where you can sit on high tables, before heading upstairs to what they call their more 'refined dining experience' (although you can get just as good lighter snacks downstairs).

We started off with a couple of cocktails (half price between 4pm and 7pm) and boy, were they good. I went for the East India Cocktail, a heady mix of vermouth, eau de vie, raspberries, curacao and maraschino cherry. Fruity without being overly sweet, the dry depth shone through and who can resist anything that comes topped with chocolate? Emma went for the Halah with citrus sharp with pink grapefruit and bitters.

And then upstairs into the serene dining room that was both elegant and yet relaxed. Lots of art on the walls and the friendliest of waiters who swept delicious bread and oil on to the table and were experts at spying a near-empty water glass. The genius Mark Sergeant has made all men equal here with a set menu: 2 courses for £29 and 3 for £35. Which makes decisions both deliciously easy and difficult.

In the end, I went for the rabbit tortelloni with peas, pommery mustard sauce and bacon. Having only eaten rabbit for the first time earlier this year (as buttermilk fried), this could have been my downfall but I think I'm a total convert. The parcels of pasta were perfectly cooked with the meat inside tender, and perfectly accompanied by the slight bite of the mustard sauce. Salty lardo added an extra dimension and the peas brought some sweetness to the plate. 

I was too busy wolfing down my pasta to try Emma's mackerel rillettes on prawn toast with cucumber white grape gazpacho but empty plates are good signs, right?

For mains, we did the bad thing and ordered the same fillet of cod with crispy, crunchy black rice. Lifted by sweet vegetables, this time in the form of courgette, and brought back to another plane with salty, smoky squid and chorizo, this dish was exquisite. 

We washed these down with another cocktail (this time with whisky, grain, tobacco and bitters) and a glass of red each and went the whole hog with puddings. Emma's gypsy tart was devilishly sweet and sumptuous while my set chocolate with hazelnuts, mocha sherbet and praline mousse was one of the smartest ends to a meal I've ever had. Top marks for total defeat. 

Seriously though, I was seriously impressed with Morden & Lea. It's shot straight into my recommendations list and would be back in a heartbeat. Hats off.

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