The smell of gunpowder and cheap hotdogs fills the air as we head over to Draycott Avenue. For once, we’re not hosting a champagne and rockets party, were going out to dinner, to let someone else cook. Maria Elia in fact is cooking our bonfire night dinner. The sound of falling rockets has almost entirely disappeared and the distinctive sulphur stink is masked by the fragrant rosemary bush as we approach the threshold.
When we enter Joe’s I feel as if I’m in an intimate space, although it’s not entirely full, a large room has been divided by a clever shelving display which ensures we’re not the mice in the elephant house. The atmosphere is none-the-less pleasant and we talk freely without feeling intimidated for doing so.
It’s a restaurant with 60-odd covers and there are just six of us eating and a couple at the bar drinking champagne. We sit under the watchful gaze of Marianne Faithful and John Lennon. David Bailey’s black and white photographs cover the walls up and below stairs and the red leather chairs are more than comfortable during our two-hour dinner.
Maria Elia is from Greek-Cypriot stock, which is handy for me, as I love the food, generous hospitality and each time I’ve been to Cyprus I have returned a hefty, yet happy holidaymaker. A quick look on her website and I discover not only is she a brilliant chef, she knows a thing or two about wines and one day wants her own vineyard. She’s worked in the capital at Delfina, in Spain with Adria at El Bulli and Arzack in San Sebastian. She’s also a regular on TV and writes for the usual cookery magazines.
A glance over the menu and I want it all from the soup to the pork belly to the quince brulee and ginger shortbread. What we do choose is different and a meal I’ll remember for a very long time.
Two glasses of Italian Pinot Noir arrive, chosen by the hugely knowledgeable Federica and then a bowl of ‘Carta de Musica’ arrives and we both decide that we won’t fill up on this flatbread.
Inevitably, we inhale the salty, olive oil rich rounds and wait in anticipation for the starters.
It’s not long before the chilli and ginger prawns with crown prince squash couscous arrives (£6.25) along with my sage marinated quail, creamed Brussels sprouts and wild mushrooms (£8.75). Both of which were excellent, cooked perfectly, each element could be tasted individually and the marriage of the textures is perfectly balanced and simply fabulous. The softness of the squash with the crunch of the nutty couscous was divine; this woman knows how to make couscous exciting for the carnivore and not just the reserve of the vegetarian.
For main I had saddle of rabbit stuffed with chicken livers and chestnuts, chestnut puree with buttered seasonal greens. This has to be one of the best rabbit dishes I’ve eaten, ever. I love chicken livers and I love chestnuts but often the two are put together and the diner is left heading for the culinary desert and gasping for water. The rabbit was stuffed with a chestnut and mushroom studded liver with enough of the delicately seasoned chestnut puree to keep the dish lubricated. The natural sweetness of the chestnuts and the cabbage and the perfectly cooked rabbit made this dish an absolute winner and perfect for a wintery November night.
The rib-eye tagliata with Jerusalem artichokes, truffle aioli, rocket and parmesan (£20.50) knocked us both for six. So often tagliata is over-cooked and its taste drowned by dressing. But this, well this, was something else. A slate of steak arrived which was cooked as ordered, full of flavour, juicy with a char grilled finish, a truffle aioli so delicious I wished my tongue was longer and artichoke hearts that melted in the the mouth on contact, warm rich and soft. Each bite offered up a new taste sensation. The saltiness of the parmesan cut right through the richness of the aioli without destroying any of the flavours. Greedily, and a case of eyes-bigger-than-belly we order a side of the pulse of the day (£3.50) and a plate of well cooked and seasoned lentils arrives with a variety of vegetables and seeds. Whilst we may have more food than we can possibly cope with, all the plates return empty to the kitchen.
When a third course arrives which we haven’t ordered, I understand why. There is no doubt in the chef’s mind that she has two diners upstairs who can’t get enough of her food so it’s only right and inherent in her culture, that she send up a further dish. Two plates of the sea bass with the crispiest skin sit on top of a beetroot, herb and toasted seed couscous with a yoghurt dressing. Again, the couscous recipe is a smasher and the bass …. All I can say is that it’s a harmonious marriage of the soil and sea. We’re both left looking at each other in gob-smacked silence after the first bite and when the plate is finished the flavours continue to bounce around the palate.
So now it’s time for the small desserts, and again there’s no disappointment here. A pistachio syrup cake is topped with fig quarters and a goat’s milk jelly (£3.50). What arrives is a green and white bar of happiness. No cloying syrup here, a white milky mousse, complete with hunks of delicious fig, sits on a light sponge base.
Mr orders the chocolate pear and amaretti tart (£3.50) which is a total revelation. Not a pudding man, not a chocolate man but very much an amaretti one. A soft pastry base is filled with lightly poached pears topped with a to-die-for chocolate fondant, accompanied by a killer salted caramel ice cream scoop which sits on a biscuit crumb throne. I’m told that the ‘pudding is outstanding’ so some accolade for a man who prefers savoury to sweet. The desserts are a great size and it’s a sweet end to a sweet meal.
We finish with coffee and the final food offering a rose water infused meringue.
The service was brilliant and I thank both Federica and Fabrice.
I was bowled over by the food at Joe’s. Maria Elia, Daniel and Andrea in the kitchen gave it 200% that night and for my part I’m glad it wasn’t filled to capacity.
As we get up to leave we’re told that the brunch between 1100 and 1600 is a weekend winner and packed and leave with a copy of the menu. When I start writing this, I see that the most expensive thing on the menu here is a lunch course of sea bass at £17.95 and at the more economical end a breakfast Bircher muesli at £3.50. It’s clear then that even the Chelsea set know where to go when they’re in need of a little belt tightening without holding their tastebuds to ransom.
126 Draycott Avenue, London, SW3 3AH