"Prunes get a bad press: usually associated with dodgy school dinners, lumpy custard and constipation; but a plump Agen prune is a rare thing of dark, luscious beauty..."
Ever wondered what kind of face you have? Regardless of looks, is it kind, friendly, approachable, arrogant, or maybe a little bit mean?
Me? I seem to be in possession of the one of the more ungrateful faces around. Still good looking, you understand, but ungrateful all the same.
However hard I try, my effusive thanks and smiles on the receipt of any present (wanted or not) seems to come across as grossly disingenuous. I do my best, but my best just isn’t good enough: even a new pair of skis would probably be met with the same muted reaction as a pair of stripy socks. Not that I am ungrateful of course- it’s the combination of a classic British stiff upper lip and a stoical demeanour which means that I’m just not a gusher (so to speak!).
Consequently, a surprise party is my worst nightmare. No matter how a) surprised and b) happy I would be to see all my friends in one place, ready to buy me a couple of drinks and get on down to some Lionel Ritchie, I always fear that my slightly muted reaction just wouldn’t cut it. People would wonder why they bothered to turn up, saying:
“What’s the point when he’s such an ungrateful bastard? We’d be better off at Nandos”
Well, having just turned thirty, this nightmare became reality the other week. I turned up at a mystery restaurant close to Spitalfields, ready for a double date with a friend of VD’s and her boyfriend, only to find a load of my buddies, swigging back champagne, shouting surprise and ready to celebrate my descent in to adulthood.
So how did I react? Well, earlier on in the day I’d rather weakly attempted to get out of the evening’s festivities because of a mild dose of man flu; however, the formidable VD was not taking no for an answer – I would go to the ball whether I liked it or not. Consequently, although I had started the evening on not the finest of the form, as the shouts died away and realisation dawned, it was genuinely surprising and rather touching to see people there just on my account.
So I smiled; I may have laughed; yes, it is even possible that I briefly gushed. Although once that brief lapse was over, I regained my usual manner, cracked a slightly cruel joke at a friend’s expense and got on with things.
Where was this mystery restaurant then? I suppose the title of the post gave it away - yes we were at Morgan M - possibly the best restaurant in London you’ve never heard of. A bold statement maybe, but then I am a bold individual.
Usually this accolade is awarded to some out of the way restaurant of obscure ethnic origin above a pet shop in East Ham. However, in Morgan M you couldn’t get further away from this Platonic ideal, because we are talking fine dining.
French to its core, there were white linen tablecloths, beige walls, smart waiters and a variety of tasting menus. But if you can manage to divert yourself from burgers, pulled pork, hotdogs and pizzas served out of the back of a van, you will be very pleasantly surprised.
The chef, Morgan Meunier (it’s another imaginatively titled restaurant), specialises in tasting menus, of which they have two on offer – a seasonal and a vegetarian. For six courses and the usual amuse my bouches, they are priced pretty reasonably at £52 for the meaty seasonal and £48 for the veggie.
I am often suspicious of tasting menus in fine dining restaurants, expecting the chef to put their own creative desires ahead of their customers’ tastes. However, Morgan’s cooking just about managed to keep to the right side of that particular metaphorical line. Sure, he has the obligatory Michelin stars in his eyes, but what French chef doesn’t? Along with a haughty distrust of Les Anglo-Saxons and British beef, it’s what they are raised on.
So, as you might expect, the service was slick and they even got the silver crumb-scraper out. But the staff happily played along with Operation Surprise Birthday Party, and despite us being loud and jolly, never altered from a polished friendliness. As for the cooking, it was precise, well executed and intelligent; more importantly though, it was very tasty and demanded to be eaten rather than photographed and admired on Twitter.
I enjoyed every one of the autumnal tasting menu’s six courses, from the frog legs and watercress soup, through to the lemon sole with mushroom ravioli, roast partridge with bread sauce, and vanilla rice pudding. However, two particularly stood out.
First was the scallop with pak choi, squid ink farfalle and lobster broth. The scallop was immaculately cooked with a lightly caramelised exterior and slightly undercooked centre, although for my money the best part of the dish was the squid ink farfalle. The pasta arrived at the table slightly undercooked, only to reach al dente perfection once the broth had been poured over it by the waiter (not forgetting the broth itself, which was so good I could have drunk my way out of a room full of it).
Second place went to a superb prune soufflé with Armagnac ice cream. Prunes get a bad press: usually associated with dodgy school dinners, lumpy custard and constipation; but a plump Agen prune is a rare thing of dark, luscious beauty.
The soufflé had risen like a salmon, although disappointingly, as seems to be the style in this type of joint, the waiter took it upon himself to pierce the bronzed peak and anoint the soufflé with a further libation of prune juice. Talk about stealing someone else’s fun! Anyway I wasn’t upset for long, as the prune and Armagnac combination is a classic for good reason, and this was a fine example of it.
Ending the meal on a literal and metaphorical high like this was a excellent way to spend my first ever surprise birthday party. There had been laughs and tears, highs and (very few) lows, and even a small amount of gushing.
Obviously my experience of Morgan M is coloured by the fact that I had fun evening surrounded by close friends all having a bloody good time; in isolation though, the cooking is genuinely top class and good value for what is on offer. If you went on a quiet evening in early January I think the atmosphere would probably leave something to be desired, but go with a load of mates, fill the place with noise and enjoy one of Morgan’s fine dinners.
Morgan M, 50 Long Lane, London, EC1A 9EJ
020 7609 3560
Open Monday to Friday for lunch and dinner. Saturday dinner only
c.£80 a head for a tasting menu plus wine