Lunch with Morgan Meunier
It’s 1pm, bang in the middle of the lunchtime service, but Morgan Meunier doesn’t mind taking time out to talk. Not only that, his wife had a baby yesterday and he’s already back at work. This guy is clearly committed.
He’s full of energy, passion and perfectionism, and it shows in every aspect of his new venture, Morgan M, which opened on Long Lane at the end of last year. It’s a bright space with pristine white tablecloths, soft banquettes and a calming atmosphere; it’s something of an oasis when you enter from the Smithfield streets, as the green colour theme also seems to suggest.
The Champagne-born, traditionally trained chef explains his thinking: “In France, it’s popular to go to restaurants to celebrate and I remember at least once a year going out to a great restaurant with my family. Everything about the experience would be beautiful – everything from the cutlery through to the freshly squeezed orange juice. It was always such a treat. When we go out to eat in a restaurant, we should step into another world for a few hours.”
His food (modern-classic French), naturally, plays a big part in this otherworldliness – in fact, it wouldn’t be going overboard to say it’s out of this world. Intensely delicious and meticulously presented, it is conjured up by no fewer than seven chefs. There’s an à la carte menu, offering the likes of pavé of halibut with wild-mushroom tempura for around the £25 mark, but the must-have is the super-seasonal tasting menu – either meat or vegetable based – with such current delights as venison with farci of hare, a salad of artichoke soubise and dark chocolate moelleux (for which you get to specify your chocolate).
At £50 a head, it may sound expensive but for that you get six memorable courses, each stamped with Morgan’s personality and matched by a wine. Then, when you think about what you might spend on lesser meals elsewhere, it suddenly seems a bargain. This is all part of Meunier’s commitment, too; his mission is haute cuisine that’s affordable. “It’s a constant battle, sourcing the best ingredients at the best prices,” he says.
If you don’t want to splash out on the full works, or you’re in a hurry, there’s always the downstairs Gallery, a more informal room (with a view of the kitchen) where you can sample small plates of some of the tasting-menu dishes. The idea is that it’s somewhere to go before a show at Sadler’s Wells or the Barbican.
Got a vague feeling of déjà vu? For years, Morgan M existed at the north end of Islington’s Liverpool Road. So why the move to EC1? “I’ve always liked Clerkenwell. Over the past decade or so, it’s turned into a real foodie area and I wanted to be part of it. When this site came up, it was too big an opportunity to miss.”
In the meantime, Liverpool Road’s Morgan M is closed while Meunier decides its future. Though the aim is to keep it open, he says, “the big question is me being there, cooking… I’m not going to pretend I can be at two places at once…” Indeed he can’t. Clerkenwell is lucky to have him, as the restaurant’s cloverleaf motif (something with which Meunier has adorned his signature ever since childhood), reminds us. Melissa Crowther