Bruno Loubet is a horseradish whisperer. He takes a hot-tempered root that usually kicks you right in the sinus and makes a sweet-natured, biddable beast of it. The ice-cream at Grain Store, Loubet’s veg-centric restaurant behind King’s Cross station, sits atop a rich strawberry compote. But rather than riding roughshod over a summer classic, this pudding does dressage on your tongue.
Loubet, Bordeaux-born but based in Britain for most of his career, has been making variations on this theme for over 20 years. Back then, he served his strawberries with green-peppercorn ice-cream, a trick borrowed from the Italians who like to crack black pepper over theirs. When he opened Grain Store last year he was looking for a twist on the twist, so he tried it with horseradish, peeled and grated into the crème anglaise (half milk, half cream, with a dab of vanilla) and left to infuse during the cooking. The dish was a hit; now it’s back, on the specials menu.
The care is in the quantity. Horseradish is a fickle thing: some roots are stronger than others and their flavour evaporates with age. Too much and it’ll singe your palate and obliterate the strawberries. But get it right and the lick of fire will intensify the fruit, which is macerated with sugar, lemon and orange juice, stewed and then enriched with balsamic, darkening the jam to a red the colour of ox-blood.
Taste and tingle are best served separately. The savoury, almost grassy flavour of the horseradish comes first, taking the edge off the compote’s sweetness—as salt does with caramel—and giving it room to breathe. Then the lightest kick sets the combination off on a trot around your mouth. It is subtly strange, drawing your attention to the fruit rather than distracting from it. The horseradish is the surprise cameo, but the strawberry is the star. ~ Simon Willis