Greenhouse at B&H review by Adam Boatman
B&H Buildings, which stands for for Bourne and Hollingsworth, describes itself as a ‘Modern All-day Brasserie and Bar in Clerkenwell.’ Nothing gets me fired up like a modern all-day brasserie.
I see it as the Keanu Reeves of restaurant descriptions: unbelievably bland. I like him as a person, and I understand his everyman quality. I want him to be good. I want to watch his films and think, “I get it”. But I don’t.
So it is with modern all-day brasseries. They can be anything. Unfortunately, most aren’t much better than a Weatherspoon’s. Just occasionally though, on that rare moment when the planets align, you get a feast; and into your head pops a shared cultural memory of stone halls with open fires, thirty-foot tables obscured by food and if you’re lucky, birds within birds, within a cow.
This was one such night. Except our castle was the Greenhouse at B&H, our thirty-foot tables were small marble-topped affairs surrounded by what looked suspiciously like garden furniture and our birds within birds were three courses of rich, decadent game. Less impressive looking, but much better tasting. The only things missing were drinking horns and some fine wenches. Not that there weren’t women present.
The Greenhouse is a truly verdant setting. Its small size means that it’s happily overwhelmed by palms and vines and it feels somewhat like the cosy back garden of a private members’ club. I could almost hear the tropical pheasants running in fear through the brush from the head chef as he stepped authoritatively out in front of our banqueting party. Behind him sat two platters with five lifeless birds stretched across them. One partridge, one pheasant, one teal, one woodcock and one widgeon. These were props in a detailed, interesting spiel about game. He used these oddly cartoonish birds to illustrate (while holding them unceremoniously aloft) his stories and bring us closer to the animals we were about to eat. Without doubt my favourite thing he taught us was to do with a game bird he had failed to obtain that evening, a Snipe. It turns out that the word sniper actually derives from Snipe, simply because they’re so stupidly hard to shoot. Imagine a zig zagging bird chirping happily while a podgy red faced man with a shotgun swears loudly below, and I think you’d be pretty close to the mark. Pure Looney Tunes imagery.
When he finally left the last bird in peace, the first course came meandering out of the kitchen. It came in the form of a rare breast of roasted partridge, sitting on top of a creamy melange of celeriac, apple and toasted hazelnuts. The dense, rich and iron-y breast of partridge was melt-in-the-mouth. The celeriac and apple salad added a woody, sweet touch that cut through the rich slab of meat that would have otherwise dominated the plate. It was a masterful use of opposing yet complimenting flavours which, along with the gin, green tea and lemon cocktail made for a powerful start to the meal.
It was at this point I thought I heard the calls coming from the shrubbery around us and it felt strangely like my woodland walk had begun. The partridge had been a slow mover, too in love with the ground, easily caught and easily consumed. Our next bird had taken more planning. Lured in by a comforting nest of pastry, this poor anas platyrhynchos never stood a chance. And what pastry it was, encasing the irrepressibly gamey little mallard in a perfect crisp and buttery tomb. On the side sat a small pile of butter kohirabi (think little cabbage) that would have added a fresh taste to the whole thing if it wasn’t for the wild duck gravy that generously smothered the bowl. Not that there was anything bad about it – my only gripe would be the pie’s puny size.
Each course was matched to its very own cocktail and while the, at times sweet, at times bitter concoctions that came to the table were delicious, the glass that came with our final savoury course was by far my favourite. A large glass of ruby red Argentinian Malbec can’t be beaten in my mind. Particularly when you pair it with huge hunk of roast pheasant covered in its own tiny, partly caramelised crimson beads. Pheasant is easy to overcook, in which case it becomes like a Bernard Matthews chicken except with even less taste. This was rare, moist and full of intense flavour. What lay underneath the pheasant was, though less impressive, even more delicious. A compact, smoked bacon hash soaked in the juices of the majestic bird perched on top. Truly the king of comfort food. Equal parts salty, earthy and smoky, it matched the scattering of wild mushrooms that lay like felled alien trees around it.
The final sweet course was mammoth. A beast like this surely should have gone extinct with all the other megafauna that used to roam our earthly plain millennia ago. Yet there it was sitting before me, a gigantic godly disk of iced sticky date pudding, positively dripping with a thick viscous toffee sauce. The first spoonful was delicately taken, like dusting a well preserved fossil, but as my understanding and my stomach grew the spoonful’s got bigger and more frenzied until all that was left was the fine dust too tiny to extract with my spoon.
With my Pliocene finale came a tall glass of iced cider. It had the same texture as the vodka you’ve had sitting at the bottom of your freezer for the past two years. You know, the one you occasionally pull out at four in the morning when you’ve just got back and it’s a choice between that or the three or four mini bottles of Ikea alcohol your Mum got you last Christmas, in a slightly worrying acceptance of your borderline alcoholism. The taste was significantly better, something like cider liquor. Made all the better when an informative waiter told me that the apples are frozen on the tree before they are picked, as in actually tied to the tree until the frosts come before they are finally allowed down out of the cold, a little older and a lot denser.
It was the perfectly surprising end to a revelatory meal. I’ve not always been the biggest fan of game. I find it in part too rich, too dry and too similar to liver; but what B&H managed was a banquet that left me with the distinct urge to head on down to Richmond park, mount one of the deer (platonically), preferably a sizeable stag, and hunt me some Widgeon.
These feasts are just a preamble, however, to the real treat on the horizon. In January, B&H are going to be opening a cookery ‘school’ (B&H Kitchens), which will run courses teaching a multitude of things. Now, it’s not that I don’t want to learn how to handle a knife (‘knife skills’, a genuine course!) or fillet and cook fish, but there is only one thing I’m coming back for: game. Take that how you want. Playa out.
B&H Kitchen is due to launch in January 2016. bandhbuildings.com
Greenhouse at B&H review by Adam Boatman