One of London’s toughest dinner reservations is FALLOW in St. James’s Market. To book here, you must be prepared to wait at least a week or two. But through the grace of God and the ingenuity of Alexander Graham Bell, Joanne and I managed to wrangle a table there one evening last October.
Fallow was created by Will Murray and Jack Croft, alumni of chef Heston Blumenthal, founder of the Michelin-starred DINNER BY HESTON BLUMENTHAL at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Knightsbridge. Joanne and I have dined there only once and it was mythological; especially the “MEAT FRUIT” chicken-liver appetizer masquerading as an orange (or perhaps a tangerine). It was so clever, rich and satiny that it could have been face cream.
Murray and Croft, while harvesting their experience under Blumenthal, have established their own niche in the London culinary food scene. Throbbing with a buzzy, vibrant energy, Fallow is built around sensational food, local sourcing, creative cooking and sustainable thinking. Here lesser and local foods are given the opportunity to shine, and nothing is wasted.
Not even the meat of 12-year-old DAIRY COWS.
That’s right folks: geriatric dairy cows.
For upward of two hours, Joanne and I worked our way through the menu feeling pretty smug about ourselves, eating sustainably, saving the planet and all. But at one point we asked ourselves, “With all this purity, sustainability and local sourcing, could Fallow just be virtue signaling to the London dining crowd?”
We were just wondering.
But I don’t think so. Watching this insanely talented team in the open kitchen, I came to the conclusion that they were just too earnest, too loving, too focused…and too committed to ensuring that every plate was perfect. They even have their own farm outside of London, and they grow shiitake and oyster mushrooms in the restaurant’s basement.
Among the appetizers that Joanne and I got a charge out of were the CORN RIBS – deep fried and dusted with Kombu powder (edible kelp) with a burst of lime. £7.50.
SHIITAKE MUSHROOM PARFAIT followed. It was creamy and savory, bombarded with a generous blast of house-grown shiitake and oyster mushrooms along with shaved black truffles….£18
And we savored a third starter of CARAMELIZED CROQUETTAS topped with black garlic puree and a grilled shishito pepper.
On to the main courses……
Joanne, surprisingly, ordered the MIDDLEWHITE ROASTED PORK, a pig native to the UK with a strong porky flavor that pushes the fat limits with its crispy crackling skin.
Not surprisingly, Fallow offers a PLANT BURGER for £16, or about $20.
What we did not order, but looked good, were the SMOKED BEEF RIBS. Same with the MUTTON KEBABS (Mutton? Old sheep, over 2 years old, strong flavor) accompanied, of course, by COLEMAN’S BRITISH MINT SAUCE.
Order LAMB’S TONGUE in most places, and you’ll get a salad made with the long spoon-shaped dark leaves that are similar to the size and shape of a lamb’s tongue. Fallow, however, serves up meaty DEVILED LAMB’S TONGUE topped with panko breadcrumbs and accompanied by a side of zingy gherkin ketchup. I know, I know…it’s weird. But then again, anywhere else the tongues would be discarded.
But what’s really odd is Fallow’s signature dish, and their most popular main course: COD’S HEAD. Yes, the head of a codfish. Historically, they were discarded or ground up for animal feed. But here they’re grilled and served with Sriracha butter sauce. I’m told they’re meaty and delicious. Carving out the meat from the neck and jowls with a pointy knife is said to be an adventure as well. We didn’t order this menu item. Joanne winced at the thought of eating a face with an eyeball looking directly up at her.
SALMON BELLIES, more often than not, are also discarded, as most folks have habituated themselves to dining on the filets. And who can blame them? But the bellies? Yes, they’re fatty, but it’s the good fat packed with Omega 3 fatty acids.
Fallow celebrates the bellies by whipping them into a creamy, cheesy, smokey, luxuriously textured SALMON MOUSSE and then piping it into a marrow bone alongside a savory brioche. This will run you £18.
The menu has a separate section that offers steaks called “DAIRY COW CUTS.” Among them are a rump steak for £28, a sirloin for £38, and a bone-on ribeye for £42.
Since I have never eaten a dairy cow steak – particularly one trumpeted by a restaurant as exalted as Fallow – I had to try it.
But a little background first….
What’s the difference between BEEF CATTLE and DAIRY CATTLE?
DAIRY COWS are built differently…for a different purpose in life. They are bred for, and generally confined to, milk production. All the energy they expend results in a thinner, leaner animal.
After dairy cows get to a certain age, milk production slows and the cost of feeding them outweighs the milk revenue they produce. At this point they are “retired” – which typically involves getting processed into the ground beef bought up by fast food restaurants, prisons, and other institutional customers.
Beef cattle are born and bred to produce meat. ANGUS and HERFORD breeds dominate the population of beef cattle. They are stockier by nature and they fatten quickly on grain. They are also reliably well marbled, and their meat is more intense, tender and juicy with a buttery flavor.
So what’s the verdict? I’ll get to that in a moment.
If you are in London, the second time you go to Fallow – and believe me, you will go a second time – you’ll find your follow-up visit to be as rewarding as your first. The food is astonishing…and rich enough to give you gout.
EXCEPT FOR THE STEAKS.
Don’t get me wrong. I strongly approve of their efforts with the old dairy cows, and I applaud their social responsibility and commitment to the environment. Moreover, Fallow’s steaks are reasonably attractive on the plate, they’re filling, and surprisingly tender. They’re also properly prepared. Fresh off Fallow’s grill, dairy cow steaks don’t taste bad….
But they don’t taste particularly good either. They are BLAND.
And BLAND is not a word ever to be said out loud in a restaurant of Fallow’s caliber.