The Duke specializes in locally sourced, organic produce, including meats and cheeses, beers and wines. What meat can't be sourced organically is wild, and still local. Working at Wheatsville has definitely shaped my diet around consuming both local and organic products; values that for me extend beyond buying choices, and onto the plates I serve friends and family. This place was heaven sent.
I went there first on Wednesday, after my five blog post worthy day, and arrived early, just before they opened. I was the first customer in the building, just after noon, and I ordered some coffee, as a lightly bearded staffer delicately wrote the lunch menu in chalk on a large black board. I looked through a very well laid out and informational drink menu. Five of eight beers were certified organic, including St. Peter's Best Bitter. They had pages and pages of organic wines to chose from.
The coffee service was very smart; a single serving Mocca pot served on a small cutting board with turbinado sugar. I was glad to actually have some black coffee, and not just the normal watered down shot of espresso that I had been being served at other establishments.
The cooks were busy with the day's prep; the comforting and familiar clangs and hisses coming from the kitchen. A woman came in, who turned out to be a rep of an organic beverage distributor based out of Devon. We spoke across tables for a while before she joined me for lunch. Her name was Rebecca, and she was in London for the week to get orders from her clients. We spoke about a wide variety of topics; she was great company for what would be a great meal.
The lunch menu was long, and full of appealing dishes. I chose a soup and a main. I ordered a beer before I ordered, a St. Peter's Organic Best Bitter. I have long been a fan of St. Peter's beers. Back in '05 when I started home brewing, I originally exclusively bottled my beer in their fancy flask shaped bottles. Their beers were a big hit with the locals back in Austin. The Best Bitter had nice bittering hops, and a great color. It really was one of the finest bitters that I've ever had. Of course, it was perfectly pulled, and something about that frothy head just makes a pint. It weighed in true session style at 4.1% ABV.
I drank my beer somewhat quickly, as I spoke to Rebecca; waiting for our soups. The soup that day was a red lentil and chorizo. When it came out it I was stoked. It looked great, pureed, but not beyond recognition; more country farmhouse style, than posh London eatery. The flavor was intensely savory, and nicely spiced. Bay may have been the easiest single flavor to pick up on, but notes of coriander, and a touch of cumin were there as well. The chorizo imparted just the right amount of fat to soup to give it the amount of body that pureed soups can sometimes lack.
I ordered a Kent Goldings Ales, which was made with Kent Goldings hops, a low alpha acid hop that is debatably a Noble Hop (the Brits would say yes; Germans, no). This beer was very light in body and taste, which aided the ease of its drinkability. Very nice, very simple. Sometimes with beer, back to basics is an art. American brewers, in what I think is a way to stake out individuality, tend to overdo everything, and it is nice to go back to roots and see that sometimes less is more.
My main came out after some time, and it looked stunning. Braised rabbit with an orange sauce, mash, and cavalo nero (lacinato kale). I am a big fan of rabbit. It is something that I grew up eating, and in Britain is considered the poor man's chicken. Rebecca and I discussed the culinary movement going on in England and the States of popularizing peasant food; making it gourmet, and upscale, like what was going over at St. John.
Sometimes, rabbit can be a bit dry due to its extremely low fat content, but this rabbit dish, for the most part, was very succulent. The orange sauce complimented the taste of the rabbit, without overpowering its delicate flavor. It was warmly spiced with anise and clove, and that made it feel very seasonal, and bright. The mash was actually one of the finest I've ever had. Very smooth, with a rich buttery flavor. The kale was perfectly cooked, and went well with the orange sauce.
Overall this trip was a success. I left feeling full, but not too full, and pleased with my choice of lunch destinations. The next day, I was making plans to meet up with a friend from Austin that was studying in London, and she suggested that we go there. I ecstatically agreed, and found my self back in Islington again on Friday.
My friend Mary was waiting on me outside; this time we weren't the first people in there. The waitstaff seemed weirded out that I was in there again for the second time in a week. I had coffee again, as Mary and I played catch up. The menu was completely different than the time before, which was great, and everything sounded amazing.
We shared a salad and an entree, and I eventually ordered a St. Peter's Bitter, which, when I did, the waiter said, "I thought you'd want one." That was comforting, I guess. I also tried a ECO Warrior Pale Ale, which was very nicely hopped, and very light in body. A far cry from an American Pale Ale, which generally tries to blow you out of the water with their hoppiness, like the ever ubiquitous Sierra Nevada.
Our starter was a a warm duck confit salad with roasted swede (rhutabaga). The greens were a nice mix of wild lettuces, rocket (arugula, roquette), cilantro and parsley. I don't even think that there was a dressing, now that I think about it, but it was quite moist; the duck confit was enough to get the Queen wet. The swede was delectable, and sweet, holding up well with the flavor of the duck. The mixed greens had a great bitterness with peppery backbone. It was a damn fine salad, I must say.
Our entree was also very nice. We had a whole red mullet, roasted, with, potatoes, turnips, kale and a salty, delicious black olive tapenade. The fish was unbelievably sweet and fresh. I dissected it with clumsy precision. It was nice to be eating such fresh fish. I've always been snobby with fish, and it's easy to tell when something is super fresh if you grew up fishing. The root vegetables were cooked until fork tender, just the way I love them, and the kale was delicate and superb. Around this time a large group of twenty-somethings rolled in and got friendly and loud. It made for nice atmospheric noise, and complemented the pub feel of this, until then, quiet establishment.
Mary and I continued chatting over a plate of stilton, with watercress, a lovely apple chutney, and a few bisquits. This country has really made me appreciate chutney. It seems to always be served with cheese, and I can get behind that as a gourmand. Stilton has long been one of my favorite blue cheeses, but eating it in England has sealed the deal. Mary had cup of tea, and I had another beer. Our meal was great, and just light enough not to weigh either of us down, before we shuffled off to a little museum in Canonbury.
I recommend taking the time to go to The Duke of Cambridge if your going to be across the pond any time soon, or ever. They've got their shit together, and offer up some fantastic food, with high quality locally sourced organic seasonal produce. Providence. When I go back over there, and I will, I will be sure that it is one of my first stops... maybe after St. John...