L’Etranger is indeed strange. The interior – all sleek lines and polished glass, with shades of oak, lilac and grey – is intended to lend an air of sophistication but instead lends an air of first-class airport lounge. The management’s blurb about the style of cooking flatly denies that this is fusion cooking, but posits instead that the food is ‘East meets West with a Japanese influence.’ I found the whole thing very confusing.
We were given bread and olive tapenade at our table, and then shown the Sunday brunch menu, which offered up the usual suspects of eggs benedict and kedgeree, alongside a restricted à la carte menu of lamb with aubergine and onion chutney, black cod, chicken breast with crab and mascarpone, and tuna spring rolls. Call me old fashioned, but I don’t want to have spring rolls to start and confit duck à la whatever to follow. It’s just wrong.
The same blurb goes on to state: ‘French and Japanese cuisines sit alongside one another amicably.’ I’m not sure they do. They are like bridge partners that can’t agree on the bidding. There is a dislocation in the menu, like the two schools of cooking haven’t been fused together enough. Instead, they sit like bickering old biddies unable to agree why they were ever friends in the first place.
I stuck firmly to the eastern reaches of the menu with crispy squid to begin and black cod to follow. The Boy was more adventurous, ordering eggs benedict followed by Wagyu fillet steak with black truffle, mushroom and a spring onion and shallot jus. It was good, but not fifty-five quid’s worth of good. Why would you import the most prized cut of the finest beef and then surround it in a potent sauce? Beats me. Everything was presented beautifully and the waiting-staff were charming. It was the general vibe we just didn’t get.
Falling for a restaurant is like falling in love. There is the slow burner, when a place is familiar and local. You come to love it because you know what is on the menu and can order without looking while the standard remains the same come rain or shine. Then there is the smoking-hot, feed-it-to-me-now, passionate affair with a restaurant which is new and exciting and really hits the spot. My date with L’Etranger was more like sitting at a table with a neatly coiffured boy who doesn’t speak English and with whom I probably won’t be going on a second date. My loss, maybe, but it was fun while it lasted.