People love to get angry with a list. The Premiere League table has people all over the country regularly scrapping at the weekend and don’t mention the Top 40 chart countdown which often causes an explosion on social media from people damning popular music and culture as a whole (case in point: Cher Lloyd’s Swagger Jagger reaching the top of the charts). I am not immune from such annoyance; as a pig-tailed nine year old girl, I vented my fury at Bryan Adams’ 16th week at number one by throwing a Mr Kipling’s apple pie on the floor in a rage, an act that got me an almighty bollocking, further increasing my animosity towards Mr Adams which is still with me today.
Food lists these days are aplenty and generally cause a right kafuffle; none more so than San Pellegrino’s Top 50 Restaurants. Shouts of corruption, unfairness and a general feeling that Heston Blumenthal should be bopped on the nose for his Dinner smashing right into the Top 10 are voiced from every corner.
In a way, I feel that such a high ‘chart’ position for these restaurants detracts from the experience – my expectations are always too high and I’m left thinking afterwards ‘was it really THAT good?’ as I pull my pondering face, unattractively.
We’d planned to visit 11 Madison Park on our next trip to New York long before it soared up the list to number 5 (and best restaurant in America), an act that left me a little disappointed. I was sure it would be impossible to get a reservation and there would be that inevitable let down, that it sat in a position it simply didn’t deserve.
My fears were unwarranted at least in one regard, when we bagged an 8pm dinner reservation on our first attempt. The dining room is massive, the high walls decorated with fresh hydrangeas and low lighting, leading to a soft ambience and rubbish food photography.
With so many courses, I won’t bore you/me with detailed descriptions of all the food but I hope through the dark graininess you can get a general impression of the awesome quality.
Cheddar: Savoury black and white cookie with apple
Sea Urchin: Snow with smoked cantaloupe and yogurt
Surf Clam: Tomato, beans and savoury
Littleneck clam: Manhattan chowder with razor clam and scallop
Tomato: Confit with lobster salad and bonito
Freshly baked bread & butter
Foie Gras: Seared with summer berries, rye and nasturtium
Carrot: Tartare with rye bread and condiments. Carrots freshly minced at the table.
Black bass: Poached with zucchini and squash blossoms
Sunflower: Barigoule with sunchokes and black truffle
Duck: Roasted with apricots and fennel
Greensward: Pretzel, mustard and green tomato. Served with a wheat beer that was used in the baking of the bread.
Malt: Egg cream with vanilla and seltzer. Made at the table.
Sassafras: Sorbet with banana cake, caramel and vanilla
Red Pepper: Cheesecake with strawberry and cashew
Pretzel: Chocolate covered with sea salt
Chocolate: Sweet black and white cookie with apricot. The meal ending in a complete circle, back where it began.
The whole meal was utterly delicious and we thoroughly enjoyed all of the dishes. A couple of courses aren’t particularly memorable in retrospect and could be considered quite safe but it is undeniable that this is a place that is operating at the highest of levels.
The charm offensive from the staff began as soon as we took our seats. There are a lot of them, but each gave a little of their own personality and some of the gentlemen were absolutely swoonworthy, with their Mad Men haircuts and twinkly eyes (if a man’s eyes twinkle does it mean he wants to snog you? This would mean I missed out on a smooch).
Our meal drew to its conclusion as we were provided with a bottle of cherry brandy to sip at our leisure. I warned them of the potential danger of this as we are two English folk who like a drink, but they simply smiled and told us to drink as much as our hearts desired (maybe he was trying to get me drunk, so we could have that smooch?).
Soon after this, we were treated to a tour of the kitchen, which you might think was an attempt to stop us glugging all the liquor, but within those hallowed walls we were treated to more booze – my third favourite cocktail The Aviation was prepared in front of us among the clink of kitchen gadgetry and plumes of magical smoke.
11 Madison Park seems a very traditional restaurant on paper, but it really is pushing restaurant boundaries. Magic tricks, table side theatrics and an impressive beer list are just a few of the things that set it apart from other seemingly similar restaurants. Of course it’s expensive - it has three Michelin stars, but with that many courses and all the extra sparkle, I can’t help but feel it was all worth it.
It’s not the favourite meal we’ve experienced in America and perhaps not the 5th best we’ve had in the world but it is undeniably world class. Maybe with a smooch thrown in, I’d think differently.
The kitchen’s ethos: We should all live by this.