Andrew Kay turns up his collar and slides into L’Eglise for a sneaky weekday lunch

Ooh la la!

Ah, the lost art of doing lunch. That slightly naughty and often clandestine meeting over food that made the business world such a joy back in the ’80s and ’90s. In the world of mainstream publishing it was not unheard of for lunch to start at 1pm and go on until the pubs re-opened in the evening. Which reminds me how bad it was as well as how good. I spent far too many afternoons recovering from a surfeit of lampreys, or do I mean lager? Lunch in those days came liberally lubricated with fine wines or beer and, in hindsight, it was not a good idea.

But now lunch is, more often than not, a snack taken on the hoof or worse, sat at your desk. I make it a policy to try and take a break away from the office. It revitalises the soul – and the stomach. Many of my breaks do turn into work meetings and it was at one such meeting that I found myself having an old fashioned business lunch, albeit with a more moderate amount of wine.

I had a date with Jean Christophe of L’Eglise to talk about a forthcoming event and about International Chef Exchange and he suggested that we do it over lunch. Well I’m no fool and jumped at the chance. We were joined by Julia Claxton, my favourite photographer right now and the lady responsible for my new naked portrait. Yes, naked, you can see that online if you look hard enough (and avoid it by simply not looking).

My idea of a great start for a French lunch would almost always be onion soup. A pot of steaming onion broth, deep mahogany in colour and topped with a croute struggling to stay afloat under the weight of melted cheese. This was perfect, and given the inclement weather, it took away the chill. Ms C confessed that she was a snail virgin. Need I say more? We cajoled her into a dish of escargot and she tucked in fearlessly. I like them myself, it’s a balance of texture, garlic and butter that done well is very satisfying.

I moved on by scanning the blackboard. The fish that day was ray. I asked how it was cooked and the answer was in a typical French way. Perfect I thought; capers, butter and singed a golden nut-brown. And perfect it was too, with some tomato concasse and black olives thrown in for good measure. Nestling against the fish were green beans cooked with shallots and butter, not the most healthy way of cooking your greens – but the best by a long chalk.

Ms C had confit duck with unctuous red cabbage, another classic that had her licking her lips. JC ate a huge bowl of boeuf bourguignon, dark and sticky, topped with bacon and baby onions. This is bistro food at its best, the dishes that my Parisian tutor introduced me to as an 18-year-old art student in her Chelsea flat (and no, it was not a Mrs Robinson moment).

There were great vegetables too but the heart of the meal was on our plates, the kind of dishes that you crave when you are hungry and the sort of cooking I hanker after every time I read the word ‘de-constructed’ on a menu. I watched, on the BBC, a young lady make her ‘deconstructed’ coq au vin a few weeks ago. How I laughed. “Coq-up au vin,” I declared, “it’s a bloody kebab!” And so it was. I’ve not watched her since, she may have some of Nigella’s on screen sex appeal but there’s too much ‘kooky’ and not enough ‘cooking’ for me.

Our meeting was going well, we had discussed much, but not finished. Cue desserts, a simple crème brûlée and an almond tart, classics cooked in the classic way. This is what I love about L’Eglise, the tradition, the love of the great cuisines of the past, good ingredients, simple ideas tried and tested. I applaud innovation when it works, but if you want a damned good meal then L’Eglise ticks all the boxes.

L’Eglise, 196 Church Road, Hove 01273 220868,

Related topics:

Leave a Comment

Related Articles