Winter is coming. But first…autumn! I’m sure I don’t need to explain to you why autumn is so bloody wonderful. It signals the beginning of Chunky Knit season. There are bonfires, cashmere gloves and coats fresh from the dry cleaners. You can now legitimately sack off a night out to spend the evening lying on the sofa in woolly socks, and it’s once again sociably acceptable for grown-ups to drink hot chocolate. It has all the best clothes and all the best food: squashes, cauliflowers, parsnips, and… game. My favourite.
And so we made our way to 108 Brasserie, where I had been invited to sample the September Dish of the Month, a *drumroll* Venison Wellington, bringing together one of my favourite meats and one of the world’s most fiddly, time-consuming but delicious dishes. As we all know, Beef Wellington is famously a bit of a dick to make. Every now and then I decide I’m going to throw a dinner party, look up the recipe and recoil in the horror at the forty – forty! – steps involved. There’s more balking over the price of fillet steak and the four-figure calorie count in a single serving, and then I realise that half my mates are vegetarian anyway these days, which means the entire enterprise will leave me approximately £80 lighter and 6lbs heavier as I gorge on premium beef and buttery pastry for a week’s worth of breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The upshot is, I never get to eat it, and its breathtaking complexity means it’s rarely found on menus. I’ve also never even seen one that uses venison instead of beef. Needless to say, I jumped on the opportunity like a rat on a Wotsit.
108 Brasserie is located in a little thicket of good eateries in Marylebone, a ten-minute stroll from the horrors of
the ninth circle of Hell Oxford Street. The French decor belies a menu inspired by British classics, right down to the fantastic Irish Guinness bread, a recipe, apparently, from the owner’s grandmother. It’s rich and chewy and malty, sort of like savoury Malt Loaf (but not, of course, disgusting).
Our starters arrived. For me, a pile of cold, creamy crab (£12.00) atop of a mattress of that wonderful warm Guinness bread, accompanied by a watercress and apple side salad. For Mike, the Crispy Pig Cheeks (£8.00) – honestly, the best things of an animal are its face, I often think – which reminded me a lot of the amazing beef bites at Picture. It came with little splashes of mustard crème fraîche – too little, in my opinion – and a tart apple and raisin chutney.
Then OUT CAME THE WELLINGTON, which was every bit as magnificent as you imagine, like the kind of top-level sausage roll I imagine Henry VIII had at his birthday party. The dish comprises two thick, doorstop-grade wedges of rich, crimson venison from the Royal back garden in Balmoral, enrobed in mushroom duxelles and swaddled in golden brown puff pastry.
It is £30 though, which is quite expensive for a main course, even if it is from the poshest deer in all the land. Rumour has it that October’s Dish of then Month is a saddle of hare for just £23, or you could visit on a Wednesday, when they’ve on pheasant on the specials board for £16. We happened to go on a Monday, which was busier than I expected, when an amazing beer-braised short rib with mash and Saturn-sized onion rings was on offer for £16.
Puddings, at £7.00 a pop, were a mixed bag. Drunk on new-found love for Guinness bread, I allowed myself to be talked into the Brown Bread Ice Cream with Caramalised Walnuts and Honeycomb, which, although nice, wasn’t as special as the epic Wellington beforehand, or Mike’s gooey fondant which spurted silky molten choc at the slightest nudge from a fork.
It’s sad that the Wellington won’t be on the menu forever, but I do think the ‘Dish of the Month’ concept is rather lovely, and a fun way to showcase truly seasonal ingredients. Keep an eye on what’s new on Twitter at @108Marylebone.
108 Brasserie, 108 Marylebone Lane, London, W1U 2QE
Author: Emily Gibson
Emily is an urban adventurer, blogger and
glutton foodie on an epic quest to uncover the best things to eat, drink and do in London. She lives in Islington and loves ceviche, cycling and magic shows. Lifelong nemeses include beetroot, beards and wine served in tumblers.