17 AUGUST 1985, Page 39

IJ R W__111 1 1 111111 Tourment d ' Amour I AM not at all convinced

by Covent Garden. The whole 'Garden' project is a lesson in the unwholesome power of the public relations officers. Everyone is told that the place to meet/see/be is Covent Garden, so it is always sickeningly full, and thus its spurious popularity is confirmed. Restaurants must do the best business, as tourists and exhausted shoppers aside the place is well-situated to feed barristers, publishers, journalists and the film world. With a name whose attraction all but a few could deny, the Tourment d'Amour is the current favourite among the cosseted and the sleek — and, it appears, the undiscerning. I had heard good and great things about the cooking here, and so the menu came as a bit of a body blow. For a start, in any restaurant it's more than idiosyncratic to hand out a spring menu in August. But that is really neither here nor there; what was more alarming was the sort of stuff that came after the Printemps 1985 banner. With its 'international' bias, the menu read like one to be found in any modern, super-de-luxe hotel anywhere in the world except France: inauthentically eclectic and composed with a heavy-handedness which could be mistaken for vulgarity.

To start with you may choose from veloute de tomates aux airelles et a l'orange, a hot or cold tomato soup with orange and cranberry, oeufs a la chinoise, stir-fried Chinese vegetables with poached eggs on top, botte d'asperges tiedes aux agrumes, warm asparagus with lime, lemon and orange mousseline dips, an avocado and ogen melon tartelette with a mint dressing (which sounds perfectly repulsive to me), grilled chevre, the coyly named nos feuilles croquantes, a leafy salad with fois gras and redcurrants, the triade marine, three fish mouses, and coquilles St Jacques en peler- Me feuilletee, scallops baked in pastry with a ratafia sauce. The salad was certainly a fetching sight; the marbled slab of terrine on its bed of lamb's-lettuce, oak leaves and frise, garlanded with berries, looked more like a Christmas decoration. Eating it was less of a joy; the truffled chicken terrine was fatty and rich without actually tasting of anything and had the sandy texture of Kulfi, the Indian ice-cream. Still, this was an improvement on the fish mousses, three perfectly moulded rounds glistening with amber gelatine and tasting of little else. The only good part of the dish was the accompanying sea-asparagus with an oil and raspberry vinegar dressing.

The main courses looked slightly less perturbing, but still somewhat unre- strained: steak tartare; fillet of beef on a thyme and leek compote with lemon; lamb on a bed of tomatoes, courgettes and onions; chicken supreme stuffed with smoked chicken in pastry with an orange sauce; fillet of hare in a buttery red wine sauce with spinach; duck with lychees; veal in prunes and armagnac; calves' liver with a light, creamed bread sauce; brill with a purée of peppers; and salmon baked with `tiny' vegetables and blackcurrants. Now, the idea of putting lychees with duck is not such a bad one, but the sauce was a real mistake — a syrupy, negligently seasoned concoction which made the delicate scent of the lychee taste perfumed. Accompany- ing vegetables were cooked well, except for the sauted potatoes which managed to be burnt and soggy at the same time. The hare, however, was very good indeed: wonderfully rich and gamey and the first thing I'd eaten with any real flavour. Needless to say, both dishes were arranged with a fastidiousness which bespeaks the dedication of the true artist.

The pudding list is all right, but not spectacular. I think a white chocolate mousse with a coconut cream sauce is going over the top, but the creme viennoise with damson sauce was nice enough as was their speciality, I presume, since it's called tourment d'amour, a heavy, rum-flavoured almond tart.

'There is a prix-fixe menu: £14 for two courses; £18 for three, but this does not take into account service or an expensive wine list. There's not much below £15; I had a 1983 Sancerre rosé, no snip at £12, which was a bit on the acid side and not adequately chilled. House Burgundy hov- ers just below £9. This really means that, if you have three courses and an unexcep- tional wine, you'll end up paying, after the tip, around £30 a head.

Really everyone should be warned against such restaurants: dishing up prettily-arranged platefuls of tasteless bits and pieces, and at a price, is not on. But obviously people like eating food they can't taste. Perhaps it makes them feel less self-indulgent.

The chef's name is Christopher Bland.

Nigella Lawson