through the looking glass

through the looking glass

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Never go out with a linguist, every sentence becomes a grammatical exercise. Remember the Greek father in My Big Fat Greek Wedding? (?Give me a word ? any word and I will tell you how it comes from the Greek??). Well that?s just like my French teacher friend Jean-Pierre. Perhaps in retrospect (?Aha! ?Retro? is backwards and ?spect? comes from spectacles. You see!?) I shouldn?t have gone out with him to the restaurant at the new Radisson SAS, but I thought he?d appreciate the modern take on classic brasserie food. And then there?s the name, the fabulously-assonanced Verres en Vers. I thought it would be right up his rue. And it was. Jean-Pierre explained it all, how the name translates as ?poetry in a glass?, and how there?s also a play on words ? suggesting ?behind the glass? in a sort of ?through the looking glass? way. Phew. Glad J-P cleared that up for me. My GCSE French had left me thinking it was something about worms in my water glass (no, you?re thinking of vers de terre, groaned Jean-Pierre).

?Modern brasserie? versus ?classic brasserie? normally divides people into two camps. There are people who believe brasserie-style should be rustic, steaming-hot and a little quirky. Think perching at a rickety table at Les Deux Magots, slurping choucroute and arguing existentialism with a scarf-wrapped intellectual. Or, somewhere in la campagne profonde, stumbling into a dark village restaurant with red velvet curtains and an odd musty smell, which serves things like tripe and veal. If you?re a traditional brasserie-ist, believing that offal isn?t awful, and the mustier the better ? then perhaps Verres en Vers isn?t for you. But if you prefer your brasseries light, bright and ethically correct, then you?ll be right at home. Verres en Vers is brasserie-lite. Brasserie without the brass.

Things started well when a bottle of Belu arrived after we asked for water. Good on the Radisson. Belu is top of the ethical water list. It?s the caring man?s water, the non-profit making, third-world helping water that ? just by drinking it ? you?re helping to save the planet. The Verres en Vers menu sounded delicious, full of brasserie classics like onion soup, coq au vin, steak au poivre and chocolate mousse. It?s in French but with translations underneath so you don?t find yourself eating something alarming like pig?s trotters. So far so good. I started with chicken liver parfait with spiced fig chutney and crusty toast, and Jean-Pierre had the charcuterie. The chicken liver parfait comes in a terrine, with a layer of fat protecting plenty of rich velvety parfait to spread on your toast. Too much in fact ? I ran out of bread long before I?d finished the parfait and the delicious fig chutney. Personally though, I prefer parfaits and pâtés at room temperature; this one was fridge-cold – too chilled for my liking. The charcuterie plate was a bit disappointing. A small amount of meat (surprising for a starter that costs nearly £10) and a few tart-tasting pickled vegetables left Jean-Pierre raiding the bread basket.

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Our waitress Karen was charming, knew what was local on the menu, and recommended a nice glass of crisp Muscadet from the extensive wine list to match J-P?s moules marinière. The mussels come in a huge pot with a ?garlic, white wine and fresh thyme sauce?, which wasn?t quite fort enough to satisfy my French companion. They come with only a few chips (a dozen at the most), so carb-fiends might have to order another portion. I?d ordered the special ? a paupiette of brill stuffed with crab mousse. This was a slice of brill wrapped around a crab and fennel mousse, baked together and served with leeks and mushrooms. It was impressive looking, had a fantastic aroma, and in theory should have been great, but the fennel gave the crab a rather aniseed tang.

We were tempted by the ?chariot de fromages? ? it sounds so much more racy than its English equivalent ?cheese trolley?, but in the end we went for the profiteroles and the crème brûlée. Considering the adherence to the French theme, it would have been nice to have had profiteroles that were freshly made, but ours were suspiciously chiller-cabinet cold. My crème brûlée (which tradition dictates should be served cold or at room temperature) was surprisingly warm ? bordering on the hot. But it tasted very nice.

Every restaurant deserves a settling-in period, Brasserie de Verres en Vers has only been open since November, so perhaps this is just indicative of the restaurant finding its feet. After all, ?modern brasserie? can be a difficult niche to fill. Overall, the Radisson has good intentions. The marina views will be stunning on summer evenings ? all sunsets and Sunseekers. The staff are trying hard, and it?s popular ? the Friday night we were there it was over three-quarters full. And the water?s ethical. That?s always a good sign.

Our meal came to £60 for the two of us, excluding wine. Sunday brunch, including seafood, classic French dishes and Sunday roast is £29.50 per person.

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