40 Maltby Street is a wine bar attached to Gergovie Wines, an independent supplier dealing with organic producers in Italy, France and Slovenia. On Thursday and Friday evenings, and all day Saturday, they open up their very small kitchen and serve up some fantastic food from their menu on the blackboard by the bar.
So on Thursday night, Carmen treated me to a late birthday dinner. Since they don’t take reservations, Carmen got there before me to secure a place at the bar. I turned up half an hour later, soaked (a bus drove through a puddle next to me as I was trying to hail a taxi near London Bridge station) and stressed from a very long day at work (5am start). Poor Carmen came to my rescue by running out to my taxi as it pulled up outside with some money in her hands (I had no cash!) and was greeted with a bedraggled, stressed, gibbering idiot (me!). I had been on the go non-stop for 8 hours straight so I needed something cold, crisp, dry and white to help me relax and to stop Carmen from walking out and leaving me! I can’t remember the name of the wine we had but it was beautiful. It came by the glass out of a magnum, that’s all I remember I’m afraid.
We had a couple of glasses of wine, I talked hysterically at poor Carmen until I had everything off my chest, then when I was finally a little less highly strung, we ordered some food.
We ordered the Basque salami which came very finely sliced, with some bread and butter.
The salami was perfect. Deep, robust flavours with a lovely moist texture. I don’t like large chunks of salami, I like it sliced thinly but with some bite, and this was exactly the way I like it.
Can I just add here that I do not like this current trend of serving unsalted butter that I’m finding in restaurants at the moment. A chef wouldn’t dream of sending a dish out of the kitchen without a final tasting to adjust the seasoning, I can’t imagine why they’d think we would want to eat buttered bread without salt to bring out its full glory. I am increasingly finding myself having to ask for some good salt to liven up my butter!
Anyway, that’s just a small thing. Next up came egg mayonnaise. Now, you don’t find this often on a menu. In fact, I only ever see it when my mum makes a picnic. I had forgotten what a pleasure it is to eat.
Lovely soft eggs under a good dollop of home-made mayonnaise, a criss-cross of salty anchovies and a wedge of crunchy baby gem lettuce. It was a delight. I could have easily ordered another plate.
Then came the fattoush salad dressed in the most incredible dressing. It was crunchy and crispy, fresh and vibrant and it left a lovely clean taste in your mouth.
We had a bit of a break after those dishes and carried on enjoying our wine…
We were so deep in conversation we’d almost forgotten we still had two more dishes to come. Carmen had ordered salted pork on a bed of lentils and a generous dollop of mustard. I only tried the pork itself which was soft, tender, bursting with flavour, just salty enough without being overpowering and melted in my mouth. Really beautiful.
I had ordered the breaded lamb with salsa verde.
This was no ordinary salsa verde, this was the BEST salsa verde I have ever tasted. It may have been a bit heavy on the garlic for some, but for me it was perfect. Really punchy and really, really fresh.
I’ve never had lamb encased in breadcrumbs like this before but it was a very pleasant surprise. The lamb was soft, succulent and tender and the pan-fried crispiness of the breadcrumbs added a very welcome extra bite to it. If I had any complaints about it, I’d say that it was a bit fatty. Now, I’m all one for a good piece of fat, but I like crispy fat, I don’t like soft fat. And there was quite a pile of soft fat at the edge of the plate by the time I finished. But, it didn’t put me off, it was still a stunning dish.
We were really quite full by this point and both yawning uncontrollably (we’d both been up since 5am) so we decided against pudding, finished off the wine and asked for the bill.
It was still pouring with rain when we left so we hailed a taxi and headed home. But at least in this taxi I was relaxed, full of good food and wine, and happy. Thank you Carmen for a really lovely evening. I don’t know what we’d do in life without our best friends!
40 Maltby Street, London, SE1 3PA
Tel: 020 7237 9247
* 40 Maltby Street will be closed from 15th July and will re-open on Saturday 18th August to attend the Fete du Vin in Chassignolles -www.aubergedechassignolles.com