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No Sacred Cows  
Toby Young
Thursday 11th November 2004

Morgan M

When I first heard that Morgan M is situated at the wrong end of the Liverpool Road my heart fell. I imagined it must be one of those ultra-trendy places, like Bistrotheque, that's deliberately located in a run-down part of town as a counter-marketing exercise. Oh no, I thought. I'm going to have to fight my way through a horde of crack addicts in order to gain access to some former sweatshop that reeks of urine.

You can imagine my surprise, then, when I stepped into a pleasantly decorated, somewhat modest French bistro. There wasn't a Hoxton fin in sight. On the contrary, the other customers were members of the Islington bourgeoisie--middle-aged, middle-class types with a faintly literary air about them. Rather than being a trendy restaurant in an unfashionable part of town, it's a posh restaurant in the middle of an urban wasteland. Clearly, the reason it's located in the wrong part of Islington is because property's a lot cheaper here than in Barnsbury Village.

Morgan M is named after its chef, Morgan Meunier, who used to be the head chef at Admiralty and, before that, helped Alex Bentley win his Michelin Star at Monsieur Max in Twickenham. He clearly has ambitions in that direction himself, a fact signaled by the presence of two bookshelves loaded down with Michelin Red Guides. I couldn't help thinking there was something rather endearingly unworldly about that. Surely, when the Michelin inspectors come visiting--and they may have been in already--they're going to take one look at those and say, "Non!" It's the equivalent of ringing up the editor and begging to be given a star.

Still, if the lunch I had is anything to go by, Monsieur Meunier clearly deserves this accolade. Unfortunately, my wife wouldn't let me sample the five-course Autumn tasting menu, though it looked awfully tempting, on the grounds that I'm supposed to be losing weight, not putting it on. This, in spite of the fact that there was a vegetarian tasting menu right alongside it and my wife is a veggie. We settled, instead, for the a la carte menu and, after three courses and two amuse bouche, I was quite happy I hadn't gone for the more expensive option.

I started with a foie gras pole on toasted brioche, while Caroline had cream of pumpkin soup, and, for our mains, I opted for pot-roasted venison with hare ravioli and Caroline had ricotta and spinach cannelloni. Everything was absolutely excellent. Caroline particularly appreciated the fact that the cannelloni wasn't too heavy, leaving her with enough room for a baked blueberry tart. I was rather stuffed, by contrast, but I shoveled down an apricot soufflé anyway. That turned out to be the highlight of an altogether exquisite meal.

As I untucked my napkin from my chin, I told Caroline I thought the food was so good that Morgan Meunier should be known as the Tom Aikens of North London. "In that case," she said, motioning towards my jacket pocket, "you better put the spoon back." (Tom Aikens recently hit the headlines when he accused one of his customers of stealing a spoon.) She was joking--honest, guv--but, unbeknownst to either of us, the chef himself had materialized by our table and had overheard the whole conversation. Luckily, he was far too polite to tell me to turn out my pockets.

I asked him who had drawn the funny little African figures on the menu and he proudly announced they were all his own work. Another cost-saving measure, perhaps? No matter. Morgan Meunier is a man who clearly deserves his own restaurant and, if he had to cut costs to make that happen, more power to his elbow. Once he's taken those Red Guides down and been awarded his Michelin star, I've no doubt he'll be able to relocate to Knightsbridge. In the meantime, the good burghers of Islington don't know how lucky they are. If there was a restaurant as good as this in Shepherd's Bush I'd be there every night.

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