Friday 29th March – Notos Piano Quartet, Nicholas Yonge Society, Lewes. (****) Founded in 2007 the Notos quartet is a German Piano Quartet (that’s violin, viola, ‘cello and piano) with an international reputation. Their concert was bookended by the Mozart Piano Quartet in E flat and the Schubert also in E flat. In the former your man noted their clear, lilting and crisp tone, the absolute confidence of their playing, the delightful contrasts between strings and piano, the witty conclusion. The performance of the Schubert began “like a mini piano concerto” by turns stately, flowing, majestic and weighty. In the next three movements the playing was by turns conversational, soulful, and bright. Before the interval we were treated to a rarity: Jean Francaix’s Divertissement from 1933. Francaix, a pupil of Nadia Boulanger, eschewed the avant garde extremes of the European modernists, preferring his own idiosyncratic version of the French classical tradition. If we hadn’t already been made aware of the Notos’s versatility, it was on full display here. The first movement has a jazzy feel with intermingled pizzicato and bowed passages, sounding like a tipsy café orchestra. The second movement had an almost programmatic feel similar to film music. The third sounded like a slow interlude by Gershwin and was then followed by a frantic, driven but witty finale. It was all played with great style and I particularly enjoyed the way Francaix opposes the strings with the piano. A first-class evening’s music making. Why four stars not five? It was a close run thing. I finally plumped for four as I felt I would like to see more engagement with the audience in what is a relatively intimate performance space, perhaps through a short talk (about the Francaix piece?).
Wednesday April 3rd – a vegetarian birthday lunch in Brighton. As you will have noticed, if you have read any of the restaurant reviews on this site, Man about Eastbourne is not a vegetarian. In his limited experience vegetarian restaurants make the mistake of feeling they must offer non-meat replacements for meat dishes which they then accompany with other vegetables rather than allowing the ingredients to take centre stage in their own right. Some personal recommendations backed up by online reviews assured us the Terre a Terre was not your run of the mill veggie restaurant. As far back as 2010 A. A. Gill described it as “probably the best vegetarian restaurant in Britain”. So it was with high expectations that Mr. and Mrs. MAE set off on the fabled number 12 bus on a sunny spring day. (Memo to self: the number 12 is well deserving of its own separate post)
Arriving a little early we took a stroll along the promenade prior to turning into the always agreeable East Street in the Lanes for our 12.30 booking. First signs were not promising with empty tables in the street front room. But Terre a Terre is a long thin restaurant and when we had walked through to the smart sunlit room at the rear several tables were already occupied. The menu at T a T is a thing of wonder but also almost an embarrassment of riches. What to choose without missing out on other delicious and intriguing dishes? Sensing our difficulty our waiter was quick to suggest “the Terre a Tapas sharing plate” which featured a “selection of dishes from around the menu”. ‘Conveniently ours was served on two separate plates – one with hot dishes as one with cold. We delighted in almost all of the 10 or so dishes including potato vada, “peeking” steamers, and aubergine dengaku. Part of the pleasure lay in trying to work out what each portion contained. In a similar way we started with delicious home-made focaccia with three relishes which were Cipollini onions, Kalamata and caper crush and smoked sundried tomatoes. Wines too are classy. We had Spumante Brut made with the Grillo grape from Sicily as an unusual aperitif. A sauvignon blanc from the Loire and a Pecorino from Abruzzo, Italy followed and an unoaked Douro red. All were well chosen and perfectly served. Desserts are sumptuous and sharing is recommended. Snap, Crackle and Choc is a 70% chocolate mousse with hazelnut cream served on toasted praline and chocolate shortbread with clementine sorbet. As you would expect everything is precisely labelled as to whether it is vegetarian or vegan with allergens highlighted. Terre a Terre is a serious restaurant that doesn’t take itself too seriously which well deserves its stellar reputation. Our high expectations were fully justified. (*****)