Ask most Londoners to think of Canary Wharf and they will come up with words like “soulless”, “too clean”, “chain store/restaurant hell” and other equally unlovely epithets. I’ve never really subscribed to the soulless description and I wasn’t aware that it was possible for a place to be too clean – it certainly isn’t a problem in my house! But for the longest time I have to agree that dining options were limited to places like Chilli’s and Pizza Express – nondescript branches of large chains and certainly not worth the journey east. But things have changed and Canary Wharf now is transformed in dining terms with such favourites as Goodman, Iberica, Roka and even a Conran outpost in the form of Plateau.
In much the same way as people don’t associate Canary Wharf with quality dining, for the longest time, Scotland has been associated with such culinary horrors as the deep-fried Mars bar and heritage recipes that leave the rest of us frankly baffled (hello, haggis!). But since Scotch Beef has acquired EU protection, Quality Meat Scotland have been hard at work changing people’s perceptions and introducing people to fine Scottishy meat. This was the reason behind a recent invitation to Plateau – a dinner to showcase Scotch Beef. I hadn’t actually stumbled across the restaurant before but that might well be because you access it from outside the mall (it is above Waitrose). It’s a fabulous space – more like a glass cube than a room and on the summer evening we visited, flooded with sunlight and the view of the surrounding gleaming skyscrapers. It’s easy to forget you are in London and imagine that you are enjoying a mini-break in Mahattan! The dining room is a vision of funky Clockwork Orange chic with Finnish-American designer Eero Saarinen’s iconic white tulip chairs and graceful Arco floor lamps The evening kicked off in the bar over glasses of Champagne and a convival chat with the lovely Rosana, before we made our way to the private dining room for dinner.
Before you correct me, yes, it really is Scotch (as opposed to Scottish). As we were told at the dinner table by the charming and debonair Laurent Vernet (head of Quality Meat Scotland marketing), “Scottish” beef is merely a vague adjective whereas Scotch Beef is not only an analogous term to Scotch Whisky but also an EU-recognised PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) name. This means that beef that does not come from Scotland cannot be labelled Scotch Beef – but the PGI is also a quality assurance scheme, covering the entire lifespan of animals born in Scotland, including the farming, feed, auctions, transport and processing of such animals. So purchasing a cut of Scotch Beef ensures not only the quality of the product, but also 100% traceability of each piece of meat. Unlike USDA corn-fed beef, Scotch Beef livestock are grass fed for most of their lives, with some approved winter feed, making the meat firmer, less marbled (i.e. fatty) and higher in Omega 3 and vitamin E.
Head Chef Allan Pickett took over the reins in the kitchen at Plateau in May 2010 and has worked hard to put his own stamp on the menu, as well as to ensure that it changes frequently to reflect the seasons and ingredient availability. He was also on hand on the night to talk us through each course as it arrived and is a wonderfully down to earth. We kicked off with an amuse bouche designed to make me happy: Tartare of Scotch Beef, quails egg yolk, onion bread croûtes. This is a dish that relies heavily on the quality of the meat and in this case, the meat was marvellous – not too fatty and perfectly seasoned. To match this, we were served a 2011 Casamatta Rosso Bibi Greatz, a natural wine made from Sangiovese and showing ripe plums and soft tannins. This was followed by one of the standout dishes of the night: the Scotch Beef tea with tortellini of ox tail. I am a huge fan of ox tail in any form, but oh how fabulous it is wrapped in little al dente tortelloni twists! The meat was fork tender and gelatinous in the way that only ox tail can be – but it was the beef tea that really got me – an umami-rich clear consommé of an intensity that can come only from long, slow infusion of meat. A triumph. This was matched with a 2011 Pinot Noir La Petit Clos which was relatively full-bodied for a Pinot Noir, full of cranberries and hints of smoke.
The next course was another example of a dish that relies totally upon the quality of its ingredients: salt & sugar cured Scotch Beef carpaccio, wild roquette, 24 month old Parmesan and aged balsamic This was quite possibly my second favourite dish of the night – partly because there are few things I love more than the combination of rocket, Parmesan and vintage balsamic; and partly because the beef was really given a chance to shine: dense, firm and packed with flavour. The matching wine for this course was a 2010 Alpataco Cabernet Sauvignon with a lovely ripe blackberry nose, but never overwhelmingly heavy and with smooth tannins. The final savoury course was the roast fillet of Scotch Beef PGI, boulangère of ox cheek, caramelised shallot purée and Burgundy sauce. Now the fillet was lovely – seared outside and perfectly pink inside to show off the fine texture of the meat – but the best thing I ate all night were the boulangere potatoes layered with decadently gelatinous ox cheek. Fabulous does not even come close. The fillet ws matched with a 2010 Silver Label Monastrell, a Spanish red made from Moastrell grapes and probably the heaviest of the wines we had, full of dark chocolate, jam and smoky tobacco flavours. Its complexity perfectly matched the rich meaty flavours on our plates.
Dessert was preceded by a really delicious palate cleanser – a scoop of lemon sorbet served in a cognac glass, over which our waiter then poured Champagne at the table, resulting in a kind of ice-cream soda float for grown ups. It’s a simple but effective idea I need to copy at home for summer dinner parties! Dessert arrived looking as pretty as a picture – white chocolate mousse with raspberry mousse and fresh raspberries. The mousse was rich and decadent without being cloyingly sweet and was neatly balanced by the tartness of the raspberry sorbet.
The entire meal made for a memorable and enjoyable evening. Having arrived knowing little or nothing about Scotch Beef, I came away feeling far more knowledgeable, and confident in recommending the product as every dish that we tried had been wonderful. As part of a post-dinner competition, some of us were given vouchers to buy Scotch Beef at a butcher near us and to create a recipe with it. I chose rib-eye for my cut and have to say that the meat we cooked at home was every bit as tasty as what we ate at Plateau – so you can’t put the deliciousness down only to Plateau’s talented chefs ;). Although the dishes we tried that night are not currently on the menu, I can tell you that there is an excellent value 5-course tasting menu available for £49, which given the lovely location and the standard of food we had, is a bargain.
For other impressions of our evening, have a look at:
DISCLOSURE: I attended this dinner as a guest of Quality Meat Scotland but received no further remuneration to write this post and all opinions are my own.
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