|How To Cheat With French....|
Joanna Biddolph defies anyone to challenge her home-cooked food (from Darcau)
Whatever you thought of Delia’s approach to saving time in the kitchen (I wished it had come out a few years ago so that my getting-older-and-frailer mother could have eaten more nutritiously) there is no doubt that we all love a short cut.
But what is so often disappointing about a ready meal from a chain store (apart from the acres of excessive and unrecyclable packaging) is its uniformity. Yes, you can rely on it tasting exactly the same but my taste buds yearn for the subtle differences in home-cooked or real restaurant food.
Family favourites always vary so, on that score at least, Delia’s latest recipes allow for the welcome sleight of hand that turns the boringly similar into something worth eating again and again. Cheat food is only worth having if it tastes like home food.
On Bedford Corner, just north of Turnham Green Tube station, Darcau has quietly been getting on with making home food for us to eat in (there or at home). It opened with a small range but has been increasing its offerings – and raising its standards. I defy anyone to doubt whether you made their fishcakes yourself (unless they’ve cheated with them, too). I’ve eaten them at least four times and every time they’ve been slightly different. A bit more parsley, slightly more of one fish than another … the only things that haven’t varied is their home-made shape (not whacked out on a production line) and the warm satisfaction that followed. Balance the indulgence with a selection of their salads (remoulade, roasted vegetables and raw beetroot, all appropriately dressed, are my favourites).
Five of us recently sat down to supper – round the kitchen table, in the warmth of the Rayburn, with a glass or two of wine to celebrate a family success – and glowed from the aftermath of chicken and mushroom vol au vents. Vol au vents? Memories of seventies drinks parties (perhaps even Abigail’s) came flooding back – but they were good. “It’s so nice to have really good comfort food,” said one. “Delicious. I don’t know why they went out of favour,” said another. The vegetarian among us ate a slice of leek and Emmental tart with pine nuts (deemed excellent). Served with a baked potato and some gently wilted spinach the hassle factor was non-existent, the washing up minimal. The flavour and fulfilment factors were high.
During a bout of hard, detailed work with a client I had got into the habit of taking a little treat – as a reward for sticking at it and a break from endless computer-staring. The sticky innards and crunchy top of a chocolate brownie became my treat of choice. And I don’t even have a sweet tooth. Baked in fairy cake cases – a little odd but it works – they are generously dotted with chocolate (including white chocolate) and at 80p don’t break the bank (though might cause a burst through the waistband).
Run by Frank Dardenne and Patrice Cauchard (their surnames provided the name Darcau) the emphasis is only partly French – driven by our demands. The menu varies but popular regulars include Croque Monsieur, lasagne, Cumberland sausage and mash, roast chicken.
I’ll never forget the time a friend invited me to lunch in her canalside garden. Apart from our mothers, she is the best home cook I know but, at the end of a busy week, it was going to be a simple lunch, she said. Lasagne. After a glass of fizz – or was it Pimms? (I remember every meal, the drinks sometimes flow into one) she disappeared, leaving me in the sunshine, to add the finishing touches. The smell of mushrooms being sautéed wafted through the kitchen window and I puzzled, wondering how they fitted in with a traditional lasagne. I found out when she appeared, carrying a tray that included a large bowl of … tagliatelli with ham and mushrooms. Having got the name wrong, no home-made flourishes could disguise her attempt to pass off as her own creation this instantly recognisable M&S staple.
Best not to risk this slip-of-the-tongue mistake. Drop into Darcau (everything’s made on these small premises, not in a large kitchen in a distant county then lorried in) and be proud to admit that it is home-cooked … just not at your home.
April 9, 2008