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GOING OUT: GRANGER & CO, CLERKENWELL

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After walking through the streets of Clerkenwell overshadowed by looming, bulbous skyscrapers and slinking through incongruent ancient passages and beneath stone archways, arriving at Granger & Co – the newest of two London outlets owned by Australian celebrity chef Bill Granger- was a great relief. Warm lighting and warmer staff greeted us, coats were removed, a comfortable table was offered and menus were presented. The well-mannered discussions of City colleagues who had removed their ties was scattered across the L-shaped dining room. Here, I hoped to take refuge from January’s triple threat: bitter cold, leftovers and abstinence from alcohol.

And so it was that in the interest of completely ignoring DryJanuary I ordered a negroni that possessed all the orangey bitterness and medicinal warmth of alcohol that I’d hoped for. My conforming companion, meanwhile, chose a virgin concoction, “Rosehip Punch,” that made everyone else at the table (me, that is) feel damn guilty.

A collection of starters soon arrived, beginning with mashed and spiced miso aubergine topped with nuggets of deep-fried tofu. “A little too much ginger” I protested. “What the bloody hell are you talking about?” came the response from my dining partner “This is fucking excellent. Can’t you detect the umami of the miso?” A forkful laterI stood corrected, the miso kicked in, the ginger took a back seat and the crisp, fried tofu added welcome textural substance.

Blistered sprouts with fried egg, pecorino and finocchiona salami followed. The sprouts brought a distant reminder of Christmas, the salami offered a proud blast of fennel seed and the streaming yolk of the fried egg bound the dish with aplomb. Excellent.

I would describe pappardelle with a veal and pork ragu in detail (and explain that the pasta had all the requisite body to carry the dense ragu that was rich with hunks of slow-cooked meat and rustic Italian authenticity) but the truth is that I ate it with such reckless speed that it was gone before I could scribble down any more than the world “amazing.”

Five-Spiced shin of beef with lemongrass, chilli beans and creamed potatoes was the heartier of two comforting mains. The meat yielded willingly to the slightest pressure (whether from a fork or an eager incisor) whilst the chilli beans provided hints of heat and health. The minor disappointment that the Asian flavours felt incongruent to the creamed potatoes soon faded like a New Year’s firework.

A chicken schnitzel was served alongside creamed corn in which the pleasant warmth of chilli followed the initial sweetness. Fennel slaw provided a sharp tang and punch to form a sturdy triumvirate with the other components. A side portion of French fries was perfectly crisp and piping hot, if a little surplus to requirements.

By the time a bitter chocolate pot with salted caramel and butter thins had left the table, a discernible pattern had been noticed in Bill Granger’s food; each dish was rich in flavour, assured in its composition and diverse in its texture yet left the table without leaving behind that sleep-inducing weight that so often turns to guilt. I felt nourished rather than over-indulged. Somehow, in mid-January, after 3-weeks of festive indulgence and at the time of year when many of us force ourselves into strict regimes of thin soups and unseasonal salads, I had rediscovered the invigorating and restorative power of a good, well-balanced meal.

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