Rule Britannia

Forget the jokes: Barclay's offers British cuisine that's both creative and mouth-watering

Forks were flying during the first course--this food made us all greedy just because it was a little different for a change (no pasta, for instance, or pizza). Joking aside, the truth is that London is one of the great places to eat in Europe right now, which should be no surprise. The Brits have always been supporters of fine dining--London is where Escoffier made his name, after all, and the British palate's thirst for claret and port was a big factor in building those businesses. (By the way, Barclay's wine list is reasonably priced, and everything is available by the glass). Anton Mossimon, one of the world's great chefs, has raved about the quality of modern British foodstuffs, and Barclay made a wise decision when he decided to stay on native ground in his own restaurant.

Though entrees were not as exciting as first courses, they were good, reflecting the Empire's polyglot influence in dishes like the coffee- and spice-rubbed quail in apple brandy jus--the glossy, dark-skinned quail was surprisingly slick and pink inside, the spice massage's bare bitterness just cloaking the naked bird and stiffening the sweet taste of meat. It lay pooled in a clear brown sauce, like the ravioli, this time with brandy and apple as the sweet-tart duo instead of port and cheese.

Sauteed Dover soles, firm-fleshed fish in a brown soft crust, were topped with translucent chips of fried potato, like Lay's, and served with a tomato basil pistou that, being slightly insipid, too pale-tasting, was the dish's only flaw. Perhaps the kitchen should try another sauce if the tomatoes aren't fully ripe. Beef tenderloin with celeriac mashed potatoes came in a stilton-black olive sauce--yet another clear brown sauce, the sight of which made us wonder. How many variations can the kitchen make? Do these sauces actually start as the same base with the kitchen adding basil to one, port to another, according to the dish, in a kind of cook-by-numbers creativity? Even the ubiquitous grilled chicken (yes, white meat, but at least it was still juicy), served over a wet wad of British bread "sauce" (it must be the ancestor of American stuffing), with another chutney (cranberry orange), came in a clear brown sauce, with which we were not as deeply in love anymore. That's marriage for you.

Desserts, now, we could get excited about, each one excellent and each unique. The toffee banana crumble, a round, sugar-crusted pastry holding a molded disk of sliced bananas in caramel, rested in a moat of thick, sludgy, Cadbury's milk chocolate fudge. The English summer pudding, one of those thrifty cottage desserts originally based on leftover bread and fruit that's about to "go," was a mold of wet, bloody-red fruit, mostly berries, in a casing of thin bread slices and a red sauce. The three-lemon plate was a yellow fantasy holding a tiny lemon tart, a ball of white lemon sorbet delicately topped with threads of caramelized lemon peel, and a cute little butter ramekin filled with creamy lemon syllabub, the English version of the dessert universal we know better as sabayon. Even the chocolate tart, always the least promising sweet, turned out to be exceptional, a warm melt of crusty chocolate pie with a quenelle-shaped scoop of satin Devonshire cream instead of ice cream.

Nick Barclay might seem like a knucklehead--opening in a location most restaurateurs would want to exorcise first, ignoring the lunch crowd which many swear is the backbone of the Dallas restaurant business, only opening a few evenings a week, including Monday, when conventional wisdom says people don't eat out at the beginning of the week. But, remember Worldwide UK. Again, his plan seems to be paying off--the past three out of four Saturday nights, it's been hard to get a table at Barclay's. For British cuisine.

Barclay's, The Restaurant, 2917 Fairmount, (214) 855-0700. Open for dinner Thursday-Monday 5:30 p.m.-11:30 p.m.

Chicken Liver Parfait, Cod Fritters, Tomato Basil Chutney
Potato Ravioli, Stilton Cheese, Port Wine Jus
Sauteed Dover Sole Filets, Crispy Potatoes, Tomatoes, Basil Pistou
Roasted Beef Tenderloin, Celeriac Potatoes, Stilton-Black Olive Jus
Grilled Chicken, British Bread Sauce, Cranberry Orange Chutney, Natural Jus

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