Wednesday, 15 October 2008

lunch in the city: hiscox art café

living in london, even in these times of credit crunch, does make you wish you belonged to the shiny business world of the city. at least sometimes. as we happened to be both temporarily unemployed and have some free time on our hands, m and i decided to step in one of the shiny buildings around liverpool street to mingle with the suited crowd and, of course, indulge in some gastronomic experimentation.

m had been to the art café before, but she hadn’t quite prepared me for the delightful lunch we were about to have. the atmosphere, on the ground floor of an insurance company building, was classy if a touch disturbed by the several tv screens projecting imaged of george w. bush and desperate bankers in wall street. it’s a “café”, but a café in the city and therefore the service was attentive and polite, although a bit slow. at this point i was seriously wondering whether i would be able to afford anything more than a coffee, as it did seem all a bit out of my league. but i was soon to be reassured by the menu.

appetizers and mains were all, and i mean all, terribly tempting. i wouldn’t normally go for lamb or braised pork for a mid-week lunch, but i must admit the flavour combinations were so appealing that i did consider every single item on the menu for a few seconds. in the end, we decided to share an appetizer and a main, a grilled aubergine and courgette bruschetta with tomato fondue and the pumpkin and goats cheese tart with fennel and pine nuts. the first course was a surprise, a crunchy and aromatic slice of bread topped with perfectly cooked vegetables and surrounded by top-quality olive oil, balsamic vinegar and the smoothest tomato sauce i have had in a while. the second course, however, was a revelation. probably the best tart i have ever had. a thin layer of flawless pastry hosting a delicate but flavourful filling with a surprisingly perfect texture. each of the ingredients could be distinguished, and their excellent quality was easily recognised, but none threatened to overpower the others. the presentation was also a work of art, once again tempting me into biting carefully into one of those green leaves that i would usually just push to the side.

we decided to complete the meal with a delicious brownie, but for once the dessert was not the highlight of the day, as the memory of fresh vegetables and creamy tart was still dominant in my mind. certainly the extraordinary glass of wine that accompanied our lunch did play its part in enhancing the flavours and warming the atmosphere.

the art café owes its name to the paintings and sculptures displayed around the large bright room, but i think the level reached by its chefs in the art of cooking is what really characterises this unusual lunch option around the city. it’s much more than a lunch-break experience, as it easily falls in the category of excellent food in london, and if you need to take the afternoon off work to enjoy this place properly, so be it. it’s well worth it.

hiscox art café| 1 great st helen’s| ec3a 6hx