I was in England, eating among other things, and the best thing I ate – at the Portland restaurant in Fitzrovia, in London - was this:
It’s a “tartare of Yorkshire dairy cow, smoked mayonnaise and beetroot,” and although I know what all those words mean I’m not totally sure I know what I was eating. I mean, do people actually eat milk cows? I can’t see why they shouldn’t but wouldn’t an old milk cow be a bit tough, especially if you were eating it raw? And I couldn’t help thinking that maybe I was actually eating veal, and that maybe restaurants need euphemisms for veal these days. More research needed there.
Anyway, my tartare of Yorkshire dairy cow was very good indeed, if with perhaps a few more beets than anybody would actually want. The main course was wood pigeon, and that was very fine, and it came with a warning of shot hazard from the waitress. She also warned us about the cheese course – but like fools we didn’t heed her. The menu offered “Montgomery cheddar, pear chutney, water biscuit” which sounded good, and the warning was only that the cheese came grated, which didn’t still seem a particularly bad thing, but when it arrived there was a giant cracker, speared thickly with sticky pear goo, with not very much grated cheese sprinkled on the top.
Maybe they thought that grating cheese was a way of making it look like you’d got more than you actually had – but in fact I reckoned it had the opposite effect.
I was still thinking about this a couple of days when later I was in Sheffield, at Henry’s, a gastropub, I suppose, though there’s been a Henry’s on that site long before the word gained currency. I ordered a cheese and onion sandwich (that's it above) – and this came open faced, again with grated cheese, and again not very much of it. Is it just me or is a sandwich that has more onion than cheese a bit of a liability?
And then right before I flew home from Heathrow Terminal 2 I had lunch at Wondertree a place that offers “all day eclectic dining.” I had the croque - “ smoked cheddar, spinach & bacon with smoky tomato relish”
And as you see it too had grated cheese on top, but thankfully it also had real cheese inside. The grated cheese was a garnish – which I think is what grated cheese should always be; an extra, not the thing itself. If you’re having a cheese plate or a cheese sandwich, then you want a great slab of the stuff, not a few wispy strands. The good folks at Portland and Henry’s might like to think about that, but I’m not sure they will.