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db Eats: The Truscott Arms

At many of London’s most interesting restaurants chefs are not only cooks, they’re story tellers. As diners become ever more curious and hungry for entertainment, venues are responding with imaginative menus that go beyond the standard starter, main, dessert format. A narrative can also provide a tidy way of weaving together seemingly sporadic dishes on a tasting menu.

Aiden McGee, head chef at glorious gastropub The Truscott Arms in Maida Vale, learnt from the best storyteller in the business, being part of the launch team at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal at The Mandarin Oriental in Knightsbridge.

More recently the sous chef at Princess Diana’s favourite, Launceston Place in Kensington, McGee’s ambitious new menu at The Truscott Arms is called Journey and takes diners on a culinary trip down memory lane via dishes inspired by his childhood. Heston’s influence is also visible in a number of the plates, which are playful in nature and punchy in flavour.

duck egg with oloroso Sherry foam and artichoke crisps

A short walk from Warwick Avenue in one of London’s prettiest neighbourhoods, Little Venice, the ground floor of The Truscott Arms serves as a buzzy pub, with the restaurant on the first floor.

With its high ceiling and stucco frieze, the Victorian dining room wouldn’t look out of place in Mayfair. Visiting on a Thursday evening, the space was near empty on arrival, which my guest and I quite liked, as it felt like we had the place to ourselves.

Split into four sections: “produce”, “the finer things”, “putting the pieces together” and “a treat”, four courses from the Journey menu cost £65.

Impressively for a pub, each dish comes with two suggested wine pairings – an entry level option and a fine wine match, such as a £5.50 Pays d’Oc Chardonnay or a £13 glass of Domaine Chevalier Ladoix Blanc Le Bois du Mont Chardonnay with the langoustine.

Many of the top wines in the 200 bin list only cost a fraction more than retail price, meaning bargains for diners if they’re willing to spend a bit more on their bottle. And with Coravin in play, you can expect some exciting wines by the glass.

After a thirst quenching glass of grower Champagne and crispy chicken skin canapés, our journey began with a lamb sweetbread with lavender honey and soured musrooms, paired with 1986 d’Oliveras Verdelho Madeira. Hats off to our Hungarian sommelier for beginning boldly with a dessert wine. The acidity of the Madeira slashed through the fat of the sweetbread and harmonized with the hazelnuts in the dish in one of the most successful unions of the evening.

venison with black pudding and swede

Eggs often pop up on tasting menus. They seem a way of a chef to prove his mettle in the kitchen. Perhaps it’s their fragility and duality that fascinates. McGee’s duck egg didn’t disappoint.

Served floating in a boozy foam laced with oloroso Sherry and crunchy artichoke crisps, the dish was creamy and comforting – ideal for a chilly winter evening. Tricky to pair wine with, a flute of Besserat de Bellefon 2002 worked its charm with rich autolytic notes of biscuit and brioche.

A longtime lover of salt, the next dish, formed of a solitary scallop, a square of pork shoulder, a hunk of charred cauliflower and swirls of cauliflower cream, pushed my buttons, the succulent scallop complementing the juicy pork, and the cauliflower adding welcome crunch.

The much maligned vegetable is enjoying a renaissance this year, championed by the likes of Josh Katz at Berber & Q in Haggerston. Cauliflower is suddenly and most unexpectedly, cool.

Moving to the meat of the matter, our sliver of venison was served rare, its glistening flesh raspberry red. With it came a swoosh of swede purée and molten black pudding, offering one of the most intense flavour expressions of my life, which, while incredible, overpowered the delicacy of the meat.

To pair, we were treated to a glass of 1971 Château Prieuré-Lichine Margaux, which was alive with savoury autumnal notes of forest floor, mushrooms, cedar, pencil shavings, leather, liquorice and sour cherry, offering Margaux’s signature silkiness and pairing seamlessly with the earthy flavour of the venison.

Sending us into the night on a sugar high, we ended with an exploding ball of chocolate and zingy orange ice cream that brought back festive memories of Terry’s Chocolate Orange by the fireplace at Christmas. McGee is a talented chef who’s been given carte blanche at The Truscott Arms to let his imagination run wild.

His dishes are testament to the quality of food now available at London pubs, which puts many fine dining venues to shame. The challenge now is to make more people aware of this hidden gem, as his dishes deserve a wider audience.

The Truscott Arms, 55 Shirland Road, London W9 2JD; Tel: +44 (0)20 7266 9198; four courses from the Journey menu cost £65.

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