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I have spent a ridiculous number of hours lately debating with the hive mind of Twitter the mathematical shape of the quenelle. That thing chefs magically spin by scraping stuff between two spoons to make a dumpling. Rugby fans reckon it’s an oblate spheroid like their favourite ball.
But here’s what’s keeping me awake at night: a proper quenelle, unlike a rugby ball, has pointy ends. It has three sides, three edges and two vertices and is thus, I parry with more enthusiasm than certainty, a trigonal hosohedron. Euclid didn’t bother with quenelles, even though they’re the simplest solids after the sphere and the cone. Euclid, on the other hand, never went to Lurra.
Lurra is a small but gracefully formed restaurant specialising in Basque cooking and currently serving a trigonal hosohedron of fresh crabmeat, bound with crab oil and mayonnaise and dusted with espelette pepper that would have made Euclid, had he tasted it, rend his chiton in unseemly epithumia.
There seems to be an increasing spiritual link between Basque and Japanese cuisine. Both cultures are obsessed with cookery and share a respect for ingredients and technique that approaches the religious. Lurra’s geometrically perfect crabmeat and mayonnaise pintxos was topped with trout roe, like ikura on gunkan maki.
A stunning octopus croqueta was topped with katsuobushi instead of the more obvious mojama. It had a tempura-like crust as crisp as a sparrow’s eggshell and the filling was unutterably creamy.
Lurra was one of the first places in London to specialise in aged Galician beef, and it has a chilled vitrine in the middle of the dining room where lumps of it hang like bits of dubious saints in a Spanish cathedral. We’ve become used to this now and can get all philosophical about a better relationship with the meat we consume. None of this alters the fact that, when they open the door, it smells pretty damn ripe.
I went instead for a piece of Iberico pork. The pluma, or feather cut, is a 2cm-thick rhomboid slab, taken from the well-worked shoulder of an acorn-fed pig. It is marbled, dark and strong in flavour. Strangely not piggy but in many ways more like good dark veal. It’s cooked fast and hot to a fairly sanguine medium-rare and served over a freshly made romesco.
This would usually be described as a sauce, but in fact it’s a fragrant nut-slurry, heavy on the almonds, that works more like Moorish hummus. It’s quite a novel combination texturally. It’s further enhanced by a drizzling of something green, coming halfway between an oil and a salsa verde, and creating a perfectly balanced counterpoint.
I am, in many ways, a flawed individual, vain and foolish, but fully aware of my weaknesses and will never, therefore, apologise for chips. I certainly feel no guilt when they’re double-fried in olive oil and topped with a red-desert dust of salt, smoked paprika and dipped in aioli — very light and moussed, with a hint of something dashi-ly Japanese in it, maybe seaweed, maybe more katsuobushi. To be fair, the salting was over-liberal . . . but the aioli made honourable restitution.
The Feo de Tudela tomato is a muscly, big-lobed number, with light pink flesh. Once peeled, it needed nothing more than salt to encourage the juices and some brilliant oil to combine with them. It was so gloriously sufficient that it didn’t matter that a julienned herb was too reticent to identify itself.
I tried to quit then. Honestly, I did, but I have a record of poor behaviour when offered Basque cheesecake. Lurra’s defies physics. It looks dense, like a wedge of depleted uranium, its top scorched dark, hunched on the plate like it’s looking for a fight, but you stick your fork in and it comes up as airy and insubstantial as an election promise. It was good, God it was good. They couldn’t keep me away from that stuff with an injunction.
I dread restaurants where they try too hard and I’m infuriated by places where they don’t try hard enough, which is why it’s a pleasure to eat at Lurra. They know exactly what they’re doing so they can do it with relaxed élan. They know precisely how good they are and therefore exude a quiet, well-earned and seductive self-confidence.
9 Seymour Place, London W1H 5BA; lurra.co.uk
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