Wednesday, 3 December 2014

festive fondue

There's nowt more festive than fundue.

In fact, for turophiles, you could argue that fondue is even more festive than a Christmas dinner which is really just a glorified Sunday roast with added trimmings in my book. And honestly, can anybody get truly excited about turkey? A bubbling hot vat of molten cheese on the other hand, is the stuff of sweet (albeit surreal) dreams... Fondue is the perfect cold weather treat; warming, comforting and with all the Alpine Christmassy connotations of snow dusted mountains, log cabins and roaring fires. From the teeny weeny forks, to the platters of meat and veg for dipping, it's the funnest option for a December dinner shared amongst friends. The twinkly lights come out, the temperature drops and the best way to start getting in the mood for magic is through the medium of fromage chaud...
oh yeah
There are plenty of decent fondue establishments in London, where you can get elbow deep in quality grease to your heart's content - from Spitalfields' Androuet or Shoreditch's stinky Walluc, to the cosily central St Moritz or (brand new this year) jaunty Jimmy's Pop Up at The Lodge in Balham, which has been getting rave reviews. And I will never forget the now sadly defunct Art du Fromage in Chelsea where I spent one unseasonably hot October evening sweating into a raclette press.

But a while ago I discovered the wonderful Cheese at Leadenhall Market and as far as fondue experiences go it's been my favourite to date.
In 2011 I met Lou Beegan, dishing out groundbreaking raclette sandwiches by the bonfire at food blogger Ms Marmite Lover's night market. Quite simply, it was one of the best things I've ever eaten - sourdough bread, pickles, potatoes and thick melted cheese spilling out from between the toasted slices. I was raving about that sarnie for days! Lou worked at Cheese, an artisan cheesemongers in the City. Desperate for more raclette goodness, I was gutted that the short lunchtime sandwich availability meant there was no way I could make the journey west from my workplace in time. However I soon found out that over the winter months, and - if you ask nicely and book ahead - during the evening, Cheese will happily fire up the fondue on request. So one particularly frosty night a group of us made the post work journey over for a cheese fest.
Shivering, we anticipated the toasty interior of a welcoming restaurant - and were a little taken aback to find a tiny shop with hardly any seating inside and a table set up for us outside (under the cavernous roof of Leadenhall Market but pretty much exposed to the winter chill nonetheless). Were they mental?  Well it turns out no they weren't, as we were swiftly given big woollen tartan blankets to wrap up in, glasses of wine and soon enough, pots of delicious bubbling fondue, which warmed us up in no time. And just like that raclette sandwich, which tasted so much better devoured outside, it's true that the fondue tasted all the better and more festive for being eaten al fresco. Ok we were in spitting distance of the Gherkin, and not a skier in sight. But Leadenhall Market has a beautiful olde worlde, Victorian feel, the vintage shop fronts all lit up with fairy lights and a huge real Christmas tree pride of place in the centre. Most fondue joints also absolutely reek of cheese - so eating it in the crisp cold air made a refresing change, and we skipped away feeling nicely full and merry, not overly hot, bothered and dripping with the dreaded cheese sweats.

The fondue is a very reasonable £15pp - one hot pot of cheese comfortably feeds two hungry cheese heads and comes with a generous amount of crusty bread for dipping. You can also order a charcuterie platter with various hams and salamis, for just £12 more. The wine list is extensive and reasonable priced, with a nice Merlot coming in at £24. Since my first visit, Cheese has expanded with plenty more outdoor seating and a couple of mini heat lamps to take the bite out of the air. However an extra pair of socks and hat and scarf are recommended to enable you to linger over your fromage for the maximum amount of time!

While you're there, you could also get one of the lovely expert Cheese team to advise you on some tasty purchases to wrap up for your Christmas cheeseboard or as gifts for friends.

Grab your furry earmuffs and go forth to fondue!

le spread