Thursday, 17 February 2011

Dinner at Gregg's: Wallace and Co Review

It is funny how things go sometimes. I first read about Greg Wallace's restaurant and deli in the back page of the MasterChef Cookbook via Amazon's 'look inside!' preview. After looking it up on Google maps, I was surprised to find it was located at my regular haunt: Putney. It was only once I actually went to it that I realised I had in fact eaten at the restaurant next door twice, and yet had somehow managed to fail to notice Wallace and Co's presence.

Ironically, considering the food Wallace is normally seen scoffing, the food served at Wallace and Co isn't about fine dining. Instead it focuses on the perhaps more amiable goal of fresh, local and seasonal goods, which is nicely reflected not only in the menu, but in the deli counter and table in the entrance of the restaurant. Serving everything from creamy looking puds through to fresh fish, from tomato jam through to pick 'n mix sweets, Wallace and Co boasts a variety of foods to take home as a souvenir from your visit.

The deli and restaurant is complimented by an airy atmosphere; the interior has a rustic charm that harks of the Kent and Surrey countryside from which much of their produce undoubtedly originates. Sitting inside, it would be (almost) easy to forget that you are in smoky, smutty South London.

Some friends and I had been wanting to go to here for a while, but were in need of an excuse. Happily, that excuse came in the form of a two courses for £10 offer.

For a first course I had a pork terrine with toast and pickles. The toast was, well, toasty and the pickles pickle-y. Nothing special there. The pork terrine, on the other hand was delicious. It tasted fresh, brilliantly seasoned, and moist. The wonderful pork flavour duly dominated.

The main course consisted of a roast chicken breast, leek mash and sage gravy. Normally I would never order a dish like this as it doesn't really sound very exciting; however, out of the three mains on the two for £10 menu, this one appealed to me the most. And when it arrived I certainly was not sorry I had ordered it. The chicken breast was moist and flavourful, the softness of the meat complimented excellently by a crispy skin. The mash potato was creamy by texture and buttery by flavour, and further enhanced by the leeks snuggled away inside it. So mildly delicious was it, that for the first time ever I really enjoyed the flavour of mashed potato as an independent item – no sauces, no salt and pepper, just mash for the sake of mash. Brilliant.

But it got better: possibly the star of the show for me was the sage gravy, a rich, deep and truly wonderfully flavoured gravy, enriched by the sage. This completed the dish and brought it all together perfectly. It may have looked dull on the menu, but it certainly didn't taste dull on the palate.

For a dessert I decided to go for a traditionally British Bread and Butter pudding with Bird's Custard. The pudding itself was good, though quite eggy in texture and not immensely full of flavour – though that was only a minor factor. The custard was simply delicious, and together with the Bread and Butter pudding it rounded off the meal in a tasty and wholesome manner.

Overall, it was definitely worthwhile; my friends and I certainly enjoyed it. I think it's fair to say that it is very rare to find any independent restaurants in London that will offer a starter and main course for ten pounds. Another feature that was good was the option to pick one main item (say, a slice of quiche, or a chicken and mushroom pie) and two salads of your choice for £8.50, or three salads for £10.50. This kind of flexibility encourages you to try different foods and combinations, and also bodes well for the more fussy eater. The ability to be able to buy from the deli after your meal – even at eleven o'clock at night – is a nice touch too. Finally, to top it all off, the service is worthy of a mention too: consistently polite and helpful staff are a warmly welcomed bonus on top of a good meal, price and atmosphere.

Eaten at Wallace and Co before? Is this a fair review? Let me know!

Friday, 4 February 2011

MasterChef Maketh Money

(...or 'The BBC are Clever')

Illustration Copyright Matt Ecclestone 2011

I was in WHSmith the other day, and was idly browsing through the recipe books when my eye was drawn to the faces of none other than Greg Wallace and John Torode. They were adorning the cover of a book boldly titled, in a fluorescent orange reminiscent of a Dyno-Rod van, 'MasterChef at Home'.

Funny, I thought, it can hardly be a year since they brought out The MasterChef Cookbook – a collation of recipes from various winners and finalists of previous series'. What could this be about? I picked it up and discovered that its contents covered recipes from the 2010 MasterChef series, including the spin-offs Celebrity MasterChef and MasterChef: The Professionals. It also contained a fantastic, hugely amusing portrait of John and Greg absolutely covered in cake and cream. Ten out of ten to the photographer for that one.

But, more importantly, what this led me to presumptuously conclude, was that they will be making a new book for every year of MasterChef. It was then that it struck me: the BBC are actually quite clever. Why? Because every year they will produce another book, and more importantly every year it will sell. I know, because I don't like splashing money on books (at least I would like to think I don't) and yet I am tempted to buy this one.

So yes, they can produce a salable book every year. This in itself isn't exactly genius, but there is more. As you may know, MasterChef is a competition, and therefore every year someone inevitably will win. As the viewers watch the progress of the finalists and the eventual winner, they slowly become more 'attached' (for want of a better word) to these contestants, especially in the latter stages where they demonstrate true grit, skill and determination in the face of the toughest culinary challenges one could possibly imagine.

The eventual winner is always an immensely skilled chef (as are the other two finalists) and emerges victorious as a hero, receiving an almost instant status promotion from 'home cook' and 'amateur' to 'celebrity chef'.

Food Fight: Things get messy when John and Gregg disagree. (Image from the Daily Mail.)

To put things in perspective, should the 'celebrity' part sound a trifle extreme, Alex Rushmer, a finalist of the 2010 series, wrote on his blog after the final had been aired: 'By Thursday morning my inbox was registering almost 700 unread emails that had come in since Wednesday’s final episode. Amongst them were job offers, inquiries from agents and, most lovely of all, messages from people I have never met.' Dhruv Baker, the winner of the same series, gained an extra 1,500 followers on Twitter in the day following the finals, which were watched by 6.6 million people in the UK.

So what the BBC are doing, in essence, is producing a celebrity chef every year. That person will then go on to do interviews in their magazines (GoodFood and Olive), and most likely will continue to contribute recipes for future issues, which may well serve to sell extra copies to fans of the programme. But not only that, this Master Chef will then go on to appear at the BBC organised events, such as the Summer Good Food Show and MasterChef live, selling more tickets for the BBC. Perhaps the winner will even go on to publish a recipe book, which can then be published by the Beeb's own publishing house. If they go as far as creating their own TV series, this will no doubt be snapped up by the same broadcasting company. The list goes on.

So what I mean when I say that the BBC are clever and that MasterChef maketh money, is that in producing a new celebrity chef each year, the BBC are securing a nice wedge of revenue for themselves, whislt entertaining and inspiring the British public in the process. Now that is what I call smart.

Dhruv Baker: 2010 MasterChef Champion. It may have 'changed his loiife' but it also gives the BBC some extra dough. It's all good for the economy I guess!

The new series of MasterChef starts this February, coming to all good TV's and iPlayer's near you.