28 July 2015
Pootling down the Gray's Inn Road a few weeks back, I noticed a commotion outside a dry cleaners. On closer inspection, it turned out that what appeared to be a bullhorn wielding goose was actually directing its ire at Otto's, a discretely fronted restaurant of French origin.
I found out later that this "peaceful" protest was because Otto's has the affront to serve foie gras. Duck foie gras, but foie gras nonetheless. I had to try it.
On closer digging, it seems that whilst some people may not like how ducks are treated to create one of the dishes, Otto's is most famous for how its ducks appear in another dish: Canard de Rouen à la Presse. Given that this was a client dinner, and you have to order the duck well in advance, I cannot tell you how this tastes, but the two lads at the next door table who ordered it seemed to enjoy it, and it is nothing if not a piece of theatre to see it prepared.
The duck is first presented to the table in its raw form. It is brought back in two courses: first the breast is sliced thinly and then the legs, deboned and grilled. But it is the making of the sauce for the breast that is the theatre: the carcass of the bird is crushed in the ornate silver press, and the juices that have been squeezed out heated at the tableside with the duck's roasted livers, some Cognac, Madeira and stock to form a rich gravy. It looks great, and at Otto's they'll allow the diner to give the press a good turn but, having had this dish in France, I confess it is not really to my taste (and at a-hundred-and-forty of your finest English pound notes, is as rich as the sauce).
For those who haven't had the foresight to pre-order, there is plenty to choose from. Scottish smoked salmon is sliced at the table from a whole side; snails are smothered in butter and, judging by the smell wafting over as the dish was presented to one of my companions, no little amount of garlic; the three cheese soufflé light and cheesy; and the foie gras was rich, came with buttery brioche and was perfectly accompanied by a glass of Montbazillac.
Mains too were excellent: steaks cooked as ordered, the rabbit neatly trussed and the lamb declared perfect. We hadn't really left enough room for desert, but that didn't stop one of our number ordering the crème brûlée and six spoons, and it was as fine an example as I have tasted.
Interestingly for a restaurant where the mains sit nicely in the high 20's price bracket, the wine list presents good value for money: there are plenty of wines by the glass, a very good selection by the half bottle, and the bottles themselves start at less than many of the mains, although of course there are the odd trophy wines at the upper end too. Even these, however, are at a price that says: "come on, you know you want to", and I am sure that many do.
On a Monday night in late July, you wouldn't expect a restaurant to be full, but there was but a single table empty. Even so full, service is discrete and professional, but on hand when needed, overseen by the unflappable Otto himself.
I would wholeheartedly recommend Otto's; it is a love letter to French cooking of a bygone era, and absolutely none the worse for it.