The Magic Supper
For two years, from 2013 to 2015, I lived in Baku, Azerbaijan. I loved my time in this fascinating country, which hovers on the cusp between Europe and Asia. I met many lovely people, both local and foreigners, lived in an astounding palace-like apartment in the centre of town, very close to the shores of the sparkling Caspian Sea, and had a lot of fun living the expat lifestyle. To this day, there are still some things I miss about Azerbaijan: the bright blue sky, no matter whether cold winter or hot summer, the freshly pressed ruby red pomegranate juice, so readily available at the road side for just a few pennies, and the small glossy aubergines, crackly skinned on the outside and divinely earthy/sweet on the inside, when roasted.
Here in the UK, both courgettes and aubergines seem to compete for size, the bigger the better, and frequently end up a slimey, slippery tasteless mess on the plate. To make matters worse, they are then often drowned in truckloads of gloopy melted cheese. Yuk!
Apropos aubergines, did you know that, botanically speaking, they are considered to be a berry? Or that, as members of the nightshade family, they are related to potatoes and tomatoes? And that, indeed, their leaves, if consumed in high quantities, are poisonous? In the middle ages, it was said that aubergines, or eggplants as they are called in America, cause insanity. I don’t know about that but I do know that the smaller, firmer variety taste very much better than the larger more watery one.
Surprisingly, at Foxlow in Chiswick they seem to know this and they certainly do one hell of a good aubergine! And that’s not all they do well. Then again, perhaps it’s not so surprising after all, when you learn that the super talented Hawksmoor team, the people who put sexy into the steak house concept, are behind it. Clearly their skill goes well beyond mounds of meat, although there’s plenty of that to be had at Foxlow too, and it’s all grass fed, organic and tickled pink, or whatever it is that makes it superior to any old common or garden meat.
I’ll get to the food in a minute but first, let me tell you that I really, really like this place and not just because they know how to do aubergine. It’s seriously cool somehow, casually spread over the warehouse sized ground floor of the former Sanderson & Son wallpaper factory, established in 1879, and is a successful cross of industrial chic with traditional gentleman’s club. Don’t ask me how the combination of exposed airducts, industrial lighting, black painted or white butcher’s tiled walls, dark panelling, tan or black leather mid century seating and monochrome prints works, but it sure does. Despite its size, bar to the right, restaurant to the left, it’s cosy, inviting and perfectly casual but slick at the same time, and it’s buzzing with atmosphere and people.
Staff are charming and completely on the ball. They may look all smiley and studenty but they know exactly what they’re doing at all times. Impressive.
The menu is shortish and yes, quite meaty, but there’s fish and veggie too, so no need for anyone to feel neglected.
We, the Lovely Husband and I, choose a shared Five Peppered Squid to start with. It’s excellent, fresh, crispy, non greasy, with a great aioli dip. Happy smiles all round. I go on to that utterly awesome Spice-Roasted Aubergine with slow cooked tomatoes, harissa and goat’s cheese. There’s nothing floppy, slimey or boring about this aubergine! Chef has got it 100% right! The sweet earthiness of the roasted vegetable, the slight bitterness of the scorched skin, the faint creamy tartness of the goat’s cheese, the juicy acidity of the tomato, the exotic bite of the harissa, OMG, I could go on praising this to high heaven but really, you have to try it to understand.
The Lovely Husband has a Hanger Steak, selected from native and rare breed cattle by Turner & George, whoever they are when they’re at home, with chips and a side portion of Broccoli with Garlic and Lemon. I tell you, you’ve never seen anyone look more ecstatic as he clears his plate faster than you can say Turner & George.
Everything on the pudding menu sounds totally salivatory. We can’t possibly eat all of it, so this time, we settle for the Victoria Plum Crumble with Cream. High five! What an excellent choice, with its fat, caramellised crumble topping, the deep, hot, fruity plum filling and the cool pouring cream. We’re swooning alright.
Finally the bill. But hang on, surely this can’t be right? £68.85? For all this wonderfulness, and including a beer, one large and one small glass of wine, an Americano, service charge and voluntary 22p for the Magic Breakfast Donation, The Magic Breakfast, as we find out, is a charitable outfit which provides local underprivileged children with breakfast to prevent them from going to school hungry (www.magicbreakfast.com). How brilliant is that?!
I love Foxlow, really I do, absolutely everything is right about it. There’s one in Clerkenwell and another in Balham. They do brunch, lunch and dinner and, I’m told, a mean Sunday Lunch. Tuesdays it’s BYO and corkage free.
Foxlow, 11 Barley Mow Passage, Chiswick, London W4 4PH, Tel.: 020 7680 2702 www.foxlow.co.uk
What I wore
Sunshine on a grey day: Anthracite grey Joseph fine cashmere polo neck jumper, multi-grey and yellow wool DKNY flared valance skirt, orange/black reversible Hermes belt with gold buckle and Hermes Kelly bag, anthracite grey knee-length suede Casadei high heeled boots.
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