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9 April 2009
Menier Chocolate Factory
51 Southwark Street
London - SE1
020 7407 4411
Although just off the main buzz of Borough Market, The Menier Chocolate Factory Restaurant is not isolated in the hinterland of boring office blocks in Southwark Street because it is its very own entertainment centre.
As well as the eatery, within the one building are the Menier Art Gallery and the Menier Chocolate Factory Theatre, so a full evening's enjoyment can be had there without even stepping outside!
The restaurant has kept a lot of the erstwhile factory fabric with bare brick walls, iron pillars and a few original, sturdy iron doors. Plus a nice selection of tea caddies in a display case that mirror the Bramah Tea Museum's teapot collection over the road.
Menus were fetched by Douglas, our waiter for the night, who informed us that this was a brand new menu. I quickly scanned down and noticed a few things I could readily devour on the spot, and saw that there was a good choice of wines from all the continents. I opted for the Chateau Guiot, a Rosé from Nîmes. The Ballerina went all nostalgic and said it reminded her of spending long summers there at her French grandparents' home. I just thought it was an excellent wine that I could quite as easily have guzzled rather than politely sipped. The wines ranged from £14 to £40 and this was at the lower end at £18.
For first course I chose the chicken liver and foie gras parfait with blackcurrant and brandy chutney, which was pleasant enough though did not set my heart afire. She across the table went for smoked salmon with beetroot, sweet potato, crème fraîche and lime, which she promised me was 'simply adorable'.
The choices for mains were just enough to keep you pondering but not too many to do your head in. Before long I decided on the Barbary Roast Duck with a chicory and potato salad while the lady used up all her prerogatives and dithered over the cod, the pasta or the veggie burger.
I don't know why I order such things as I'm not usually good with chunks of red meat. Yes, it was perfectly pink in the right places, with just enough crispiness to the skin, and would be a duck-lover's dream, but while I was eating it I was fantasising about the cod that I didn't have. What a fool I am?
But no such foolhardiness for the epicurean. She finally ordered the Menier Veggie Burger with roast sweet potato, crumbed field mushrooms, Emmenthal cheese, tomato chutney, mixed leaves and hand cut chips.
It was some burger! It was the bringing of the mountain to Mohammed. She disappeared behind it like the sun behind Kilimanjaro; it was a burger that could double as a bouncy castle. And just as tall were the hand cut chips stacked next to it, Jenga style. Between munches I picked up that she was impressed with the multi-layered creation. But this Menier special defeated the girl who can usually eat her own weight and still look like she's on hunger strike. What she left was still a meal for four!
As we loosened belts jazz was being played. The ideal music to instigate conversation, if only to avoid listening to it! We discussed her forthcoming third and final year dissertation on teenage pregnancy and my imminent job interview while the restaurant steadily filled up around us.
When she went back to talking about chicory being part of the endive family my eyes glazed over and I took several large gollops of the fruity rosé. The moment was saved by the arrival of Douglas who gave us a rundown on the building's history and the eminent Menier family. He also brought the dessert menu containing the usual suspects of chocolate brownie, crème brulée, banoffee pie, sorbets and cheeses.
I had said that I was not going to have three courses even in the interests of scientific, journalistic research.
Too much more of this high-living and I will be in elasticated waistbands for the rest of my days; it would be force-feeding myself like the poor geese that suffered for the foie gras, so we decided on sharing the recommended raspberry and mascarpone cheesecake. Douglas shamed us with: 'How can you come to the Menier Chocolate Factory and not have chocolate?', directing us towards the Brownie with rich chocolate sauce, the other of his recommendations.
I succumbed after the feeblest of fights.
I feared for my health until it landed in front of me in the most spectacular of entrances when any second thoughts of personal health and safety evaporated. It was undoubtedly the pièce de résistance, the tour de force of the Menier armoury. We were both impressed beyond words and I could not thank Douglas enough for his friendly coercion.
It wasn't just about taste it was about presentation and this was award-winning stuff. Add to that the fact that the gastronome over the way said this was the best cheesecake she can remember having, and you can say that the Menier certainly goes for the big finish.
After initially complaining of not being able to eat a dessert all I left of that Brownie was sweet FA (in FACTORY).
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