The section has notes on restaurants that you
may have heard of but which do not make it into my
Birdcage (now deceased, but like a zombie has returned to Barnes in the shape of MVH)
4-5 Duke Of
020 7839 3090
Tucked away off
020 7262 6073
A very mixed meal. Breads (white, brown and olive rolls) are home made, and were generally excellent, though one batch was singed (6/10). An amuse geule was a little cup of langoustine and mandarin orange soup – this was as bizarre as it sounds. The soup itself was well-made with smooth texture plenty of langoustine flavour, and would you not thin that enough for anyone? No, while such a dish would suffice at a 3 Michelin star establishment, the chef here felt the need to add some orange flavour. Needless to say this overpowered the delicate taste of the langoustines, and these two flavours are not something to be combined (0/10 for the concept, 5/10 for the execution). For starter I had langoustines, just several very small langoustines indeed served in their shells. This was a poor dish, with the “langoustines” really just prawns, tolerably cooked but not clearly – there was no additional flavour, just a heap of tomato in the centre of the plate (1/10). Stella’s starter of haddock and white kidney bean soup, garnished with truffle oil and finely chopped chives, was much better, with good texture (4/10).
My main course was very nicely cooked guinea fowl, the dish of the evening. The meat was carefully cooked, a pleasant jus and some root vegetables accompanied the meat (6/10). Stella had pan-fried sea bass, which was correctly cooked. The aubergine mousse with it was satisfactory, but described on the menu as a “soufflé”. Also accompanying it were finely diced Mediterranean vegetables and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. Unfortunately the garnish of ginger and lime was a blackened mass sitting on the sea bass and had to be scraped to one side. For dessert, passion fruit sorbet was home-made and full of flavour, with a slightly heavy texture (5/10). I had a rather runny goats milk crème brulee, but it was made with vanilla and had a good topping (3/10). Coffee was pleasant (3/10). The wine list was mainly French with a few gestures abroad e.g. De Bortoli Noble One dessert wine at a steep £13 a glass. The half bottle brought was not the same vintage as the one listed. The wine service was amateurish: when ordering the main wine we were asked to just quote the number of the wine, as in a Chinese takeaway. The small dining room was quite empty this evening – indeed at the start of the evening we were the only guests other than what seemed to be a tramp who had wandered in off the street with what appeared to be tuberculosis, but turned out to be a diner after all: no-one rushed to sit next to him. A couple of other people drifted in later on but this was certainly not throbbing.
020 7823 1166
Very smart décor, with the inevitable stripped wood flooring, but also very sophisticated lighting. The kitchen, or at least some of it, is laid out along pone wall, so one can see the tandoors in action, salads being tossed etc. Service is from a wide range of nationalities, and was very good. There is a small, attractive bar area in a corner of the main dining room. They are “too posh to popadom” here and indeed the whole menu idea is a bit precious. It is styled after the supposed habits of Indian noblemen, who would eat a bunch of grilled meats and then finish things off with a biriani. Well, I can’t say I have ever encountered this particular thinking, but even if some rich guy a hundred years ago used to do this, does that mean we all have to? Anyway, this twist gives them the “dining concept” no doubt desired to set them aside from other Indian restaurants. The dishes (except the biriani) arrive haphazardly, and this is not good, as we ended up with a dry potato dish with no sauce at all, and a bread basked arrived with no dishes whatever to eat it with. Oddly, though no popadoms are allowed, there are some remarkably ordinary chutneys: tomato, plum and some mango powder. These were quite nondescript. Having finally navigated the menu, the first dish to arrive was a chicken tikka (with a marinade of black pepper; one with paprika is also available). This was actually very good, the four pieces of chicken very tender and picking up spicy flavours from its marinade (3/10). Next up were a pair of scallops, served in their shell with what was supposedly a green herb sauce but in fact tasted exactly like a spicy coconut sauce. This worked very well, the chilli edge to the coconut base an unusual and effective one; the scallops themselves were diver caught and nicely timed (3/10). A giant tiger prawn was also carefully cooked, again served in its shell with a little hint of a similar spicy green sauce (3/10). The diced potato dish that arrived was pleasant but was not that warm, and needed something to go with it (like another dish). 1/10 only for this. Similarly a dhal was adequate but not a patch on the one at Yatra, lacking any great flavour (1/10). Breads were a plain naan, a roti and a naan flavoured with mint, and these were rather ordinary, suffering in particular from a complete lack of salt; to be fair, when we asked for some salt this appeared without demur from the helpful Dutch waiter. Finally a dish of minced chicken served in a banana leaf was pleasant but lacked any real interest (1/10). The briiani is served with some ceremony in an iron pot over a little burner, and it is correctly prepared with a coating of pastry to seal the flavour. In this case the briaini was of vegetarian, of artichoke hearts and chickpeas, but while the rice was pleasant the artichoke hearts were cooked ultra-lightly (on the verge of not cooked) and the rice lacked the fragrant flavour that the best birianis have so was again 1/10 (for good examples of biriani without going to Hyderabad try the Tandoor in Kingsway, and Madhus at Southall). There was a set of desserts offered, and I tried a granite of lime, a lychee jelly and a granite of plum, which were all pleasant enough (2/10). There is a quite respectable wine list with a somewhat esoteric set of New World choices, and some eccentric Old World ones (one gewürztraminer only, and this is from Italy?!?) but I had Cobra beer at an extortionate £3.85 a half. That’s £7.70 a pint. Indeed the bill is the big problem here, because for over £70 a head with just four beers and one glass of cheap wine between us, you’d have to ask why you would rather have two rather better meals at Haandi in Knightsbridge. They are clearly aiming at the Cinnamon Club set of people who want to eat Indian food in a posh setting, and commercially this seems to be working, with almost a full house on this potentially dead-end Thursday between Christmas and New Year. I must admit that when I found out the ownership was the same as the dismal Veerswamy and the mediocre Chutney Mary my heart sank, but this is much better than either of them.. However at this price I can’t see myself returning.
020 7300 5500
So chic it doesn’t design with anything tedious
like a sign, the
The waiting staff are
as trendy as you would expect, and disconcertingly our waitress tended to pull
up a chair at our table to sit down and talk to us when ordering etc; I kept
expecting her to pop along, grab a napkin and tuck in when the food
arrived. The menu is true fusion,
derived from the elder sibling Asia de Cuba restaurant in
To start with Stella tried rock shrimp salad,
grilled shrimps with some very fresh wsalad leaves
drizzled with a sweet chilli sauce and (rather idly) crème fraiche.
This actually worked better than it sounds, and the prawns were very tender
(4/10). I had marinated jumbo prawn satay, that was much plainer, reasonable enough but fairly
dull (1/10), served with a cold heap of disappointing glass noodles with a
roasted peanut and cucumber dressing.
The main course we shared was pan-seared tuna, five pieces on a bed of
excellent wasabi mash, the tuna laced with a spicy “chimichurri” sauce.
I don’t think mash and tuna is a good idea, but the mash and the tuna
themselves were very good (3/10). A side
020 7323 9655
Note that the restaurant has now folded due to an unfortunate accident involving the chef.
“Pretentious, nous?” might be the motto of this undeniably original restaurant. The cooking could be described as eclectic or fusion but is really just intended to shock (“your scorpion, sir”). It is cramped, and I don’t mean by this bijou, or compact, I mean cramped, seemingly deliberately so. The designer has stuffed so many artefacts into the already limited space that you have the impression of walking into an antique shop whose storeroom has been made unexpectedly unavailable. The flooring is tiled in the manner of marble, walls are orange/red, while chairs are varied but include embroidered armchairs, some with bolsters. We were only able to get to our corner table at all by having the waiter remove a wine cooler, shift the table this way and that, then use a shoehorn to get into the chair (I made up that last bit, but it felt like it). Lighting is fairly dark, from directed ceiling spots and numerous candles of varying sizes. The ceiling is also dark red, with bronze-coloured ceiling coving. Around the cluttered dining room are numerous birdcages with fake birds, huge candles, displays of peacock feathers and various esoteric – a Tibetan prayer wheel for example. On our none-too-large table, with its red tablecloth were: three Japanese fans, a candle, two ornamental wine glasses, a terracotta dish with a stuffed bird, a pestle and mortar, a bell, an Indian flute, some green and gold mats and a display card with a bird on one side and my name (misspelt) written in on the other. The “napkin” looked like and had the texture of a duster, so on the principle that if something looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it probably is a duck, then I believe that we had dusters rather than napkins. The walls are adorned by several paintings of male nudes, a multi-coloured oil painting, photos of birds, framed pastels and some embroidery. It is worth noting that the toilets are accessed via a spiral cast-iron staircase, which may put off the vertiginous. More seriously, someone had spilt something on one of the steps, which caused me to almost fall down the staircase. I pointed this out to a waitress but based on the rest of the service experience, I imagine the slippery patch is still there to this day. As you enter and leave you walk through a patch of gravel where a doormat would normally be, so perhaps the wet patch on the stairs was a “flooring experience” that I simply had not appreciated. The room became extremely hot and stuffy during the many long hours the meal took, as there seems to be just one ineffective ceiling fan. This was a very cold day, so I cannot conceive of what this must be like during a summer evening. Those fans on the table are not ornamental.
The menus are brought taped inside hardback books, while the wine-list,
it should come as no surprise to you by now, comes inside a gilded spherical
wire cage with a stuffed bird on top, folded up origami style, along with a
magnifying glass to actually read it.
Eclectic music plays, from a Stevie Wonder
track at one moment to what sounded like whale noises most of the time,
intermixed with a stringed instrument in distress. The wine list, once unravelled, has a wide
range lurking on its parchment page, including Chateau Le Pin at £4,253,
Chateau Petrus 1961 at £7,630, a Gouder
Awash 1979 Ethiopian wine, a Cuvee Anne Schlumberger 1989 at a ludicrous £110
and a Vega Sicilia Valbuena
at a similarly heart-stopping £110 (not Unico, Valbuena, just to make it clear). There are also a number of more reasonably
priced wines in the £25 - £60 range. The
clientele is young, fashionable (the girl on the next table was in a striking
Gucci half-dress) and necessarily wealthy.
Mineral water is the Birdcage’s own brand, sourced from
The service is worth some discussion. When you ring up to book you have to leave a credit card number, which I guess for a place with just a couple of dozen covers is acceptable. The main waitress (maitre d’?) is very fashionable and looks just like Miranda Richardson in her walk-on part in Absolutely Fabulous; indeed this whole place feels like an Ab Fab set. Another waitress has a blue wig, the other face paint and glitter. Our “waiter”, a term I use advisedly since applying the label to him brings the whole profession into disrepute, was a casually dressed twenty something man. Once we were eventually levered into our chairs we were asked for our drinks order – as well as the water we had one glass of champagne. This arrived with a large slice of orange zest dangling in the glass. This had polluted the champagne, making it undrinkable, and it was only reluctantly replaced with a glass that did not have sundry citrus fruit floating in it. He went through the menu pointing out details of some of the elusively named items, noting that “another basket” was if we wanted a second bread basket. I pointed out that we were still awaiting our first of these. After ordering the food we then asked to see the wine list, which eventually arrived, closely followed by the starters. Trying to get the waiter’s attention to order our wine was, well, difficult, despite the fact we are sitting in a tiny dining room. After speaking and then eventually shouting to him and being completely ignored, I found a use for the bell placed on the table and, feeling like Michael Winner, proceeded to make enough of a racket that eventually one of the waitresses wandered over and duly took the wine order. The missing bread was noted once more, and eventually it arrived some time after we had finished our starters. Perhaps it is a little convention here that the bell is the correct way to attract attention, since it was the only thing that induced any sign of life into the waiter or other waiting staff at all at any stage of the evening. Merely making a sign, or talking, is presumably déclassé. A disturbing smell of burnt bread wafts its way up from the kitchen at regular intervals, and when our bread eventually arrived we saw why. The filo was burnt, the foccacia not burnt but too salty even for me, the pitta was singed, the raisin and nut distinctly black around the edges, with only the already dark pumpernickel bread surviving the attentions of the kitchen unscathed. When I pointed to this out to the waiter (after much bell ringing) he said “ah, the bread is crispy; if it is burnt then it is not a great tragedy” and flounced off. Instead of butter was a dish of pumpkin puree flavoured with green tea and wasabe, which ended up tasting predominantly of nothing much at all. It took, to consume three courses (and a scorpion) just under four hours from entering the restaurant until we gratefully left. This is of epic proportion given there are only two dozen covers, and is simply unacceptable in my view. The scorpion seemed symbolic of the service.
The canapé is complex, consisting of six elements. There was: a spicy beetroot salad on crostini, a mini artichoke and spring onion salad on an
oatcake, a vegetable spring roll topped with wasabe
mustard, a black pudding with sweet chilli relish, a reindeer slice with a
quarter cherry tomato and olives, and a scorpion. In addition there were deep fried parsnips
and popadoms, plus a plum relish laced with
chillies. I wasn’t kidding about the
scorpion; they apparently get these from the
My starter was carpaccio of reindeer. This was served in normal style, the thin slices of raw reindeer (pine smoked) laid out to cover the dinner plate, while in the centre of the plate was a little box of Caesar salad, with pools of tomato chutney and mini-popadoms alternating around the central salad. In case this was a bit lacking in flavours, the kitchen (motto: “never use one flavour when five will do”) had added some anchovies on the reindeer and some wasabe mustard. The elements all tasted satisfactory, the reindeer having pleasant texture and retaining its venison taste, the chutney competent and the salad having reasonably fresh leaves and some fresh parmesan slices for garnish (3/10). Stella’s salmon was cooked rare and served in a betel leaf which was then fried, offered with Japanese-style fried rice wrapped in another, unidentified leaf. The salmon was enlivened with a bowl of pickled radish, and a ginger and a wasabe relish. The salmon was correctly cooked, and though the flavours did not seem harmonious, they did not jar too badly (2/10). This was served, not on a plate, but a grey slate. Before the main course arrived (indeed when the main course was still a distant event, hours in the future) we were offered a choice of granita, which were pleasant. Ginger wine granita was the better of the two (3/10) while a passion fruit granita was short on sugar so was too astringent (1/10). I had honeyed Hungarian chilli pig, which was small, thin slices of pork that had been cooked in paprika and honey, presented amongst some salad leaves in a bowl. Unfortunately, though the pork was slightly sweet and nicely cooked, the salad was completely dominated with a dressing of aniseed, which overwhelmed all other flavours and completely ruined the dish, so out of proportion was it. On the side was a Japanese lacquered dish inside which was a square of rice that had been cooked with tiger nuts and a pesto sauce. I do not know what they had done to this, since although I like each component, and the rice had acceptable texture, there was a deeply unpleasant taste that I cannot directly identify but smelt like sewage, which rendered the dish inedible to me. The “Turkish Oil” salad was a tiny dish of leaves in balsamic, for all I could tell. This and the equally small dish of red onion Indian salad (I wished I had the magnifying glass again to see the salad) had acceptably fresh components, and the dressing in each case was harmless (1/10). The miniscule bowls even had a false bottom, so they are certainly not going to bankrupt themselves here due to cost of salad ingredients. Stella had a risotto of seaweed, porcini and hemp with coriander marscapone, which was served in an earthenware bowl and was very competent (4/10). The porcini were good, the risotto properly made with no technical errors.
My dessert was a sherry trifle served in a glass dish on top of a rock (what else), the trifle being dominantly biscotti and raspberries with a slight ginger flavour, the top dusted with a coating of cocoa. Oddly, this was served with a tied up leaf containing two cinnamon sticks – what exactly was I expected to do with these? Actually some ideas involving the waiter came to mind, but I’ll skip over that. Overall this was 1/10. Stella had two cigarillos of filo pastry in which were wrapped pear slices laced with hardly any raisins but plenty of cloves, which had a dominant effect on the dish (0/10). These were on a pool of jasmine and poppy seed anglaise that was one of the less pleasant ideas to have left the fertile imagination of this kitchen (0/10).
A side offering of amerillo and herb ice-cream was tolerably executed and as harmonious as most of the dishes tonight.
Surprisingly, there is ordinary espresso coffee available here, as well as organic coffee. The latter was completely disgusting, just stewed and burnt, while my espresso arrived almost stone cold. After much bell ringing it was eventually replaced, served in a bowl with no handle so that it was impossible to drink while hot without burning your fingers, and was not very good coffee in the sips that I managed before the pain induced me to put down the cup (0/10).
4-6 Fulham Broadway,
020 7385 6595
new refurbishment, with a gold leaf ship for a bar and even more lush
vegetation, is undeniably impressive, as is the service. The Thai people are probably the most
020 7434 1500
Michelin-starred chef Giorgio Locatelli has been unhappy for some time with his backers at Zafferanos, who insist on him spending his time training new chefs in the various Spighetta spin-offs. This is his own venture as executive chef, though he retains a similar position at Zafferanos. On tonight’s evidence (the third night this place has been open) there are some serious teething troubles. The décor is classy enough, with a very dark style reminiscent of Drone’s (same designer in fact). To start with I had crab salad, which was excellent, with very fresh crab (5/10). Spring vegetable salad was even better (6/10). My red wine risotto was rather ordinary (3/10) while two separate pasta dishes were on the hard side (2/10). My tuna in the style of Zafferanos was more generous in portion size was less well timed, though the rocket salad was still good (4/10). Coffee was fine (4/10). The wine list is mainly Italian and classy. The main problem was the service. It was, for example, exceedingly slow. We arrived a little before , and did not get our salad starter until , which is really hard to excuse. There was another lengthy wait until the pasta course, and indeed three courses with no dessert took around three hours. Water and wine was not topped up, the wrong dishes were served, and the one special request made on a starter dish was ignored. Service was 0/10 level. Objectively the food was still 4/10, but at £60+ a head this level of service is simply not on, and I won’t rush back.
020 7602 9333
The Cotto is an example of the best and worst of Modern British cooking. At its heart is French technique, the chef here having been the head chef at Che and previously at Pied à Terre. Hence things are cooked correctly, timed well, the ingredients of high quality. On the downside, there is an irresistible urge to experiment even with a menu of limited choice. Does the berry tart really need a basil sorbet? Is a beautifully cooked sea bass ideally complemented by an orange sauce?!? It is one thing to be original, another to recklessly throw together flavours that didn’t match twenty years ago and don’t match now. The mark is really for the refined technique, and in the hope that sanity will prevail with the menu. Despite the clearly capable kitchen this is not especially likeable cooking.
The ground floor dining room is set out as in the illustration above. It is modern in style, with chrome chairs with black upholstery, a grey carpet and white walls and ceiling decorated just with a few modern paintings of the Tate “rectangles in varying colours” style. The high-ceilinged dining room has patio doors with windows on two sides, so there is lots of natural light, supplemented by a couple of racks of Italian directed spotlights hanging from the ceiling. There is an odd mix of salsa music and old-time crooning. Tables are small and tightly packed, each covered with white linen tablecloth and napkin, a dish of butter, salt and pepper mills and not much else. The sparse décor admits to colour only in a solitary flower display on the bar. Waiters are informal, dressed in black trousers with grey shirts, the solitary waitress similarly attired except her shirt was black. Crockery is plain white. There is a further dining room downstairs, unused on the evening we visited.
A few green and black olives are on each table, and are of high
quality. The menu is enclosed. You will see that the limited selection
encompasses much experimentation. The
wine list is four pages long, organised sensibly by grape variety, and drawing
heavily on the
I had two pieces of tuna atop a heap of white radish and spring onions, served in a soup dish resting in a pool of bouillon. The tuna was lightly seared, served cold, with a crust of peppercorns, and was very fresh. The radish was rather bland, and the sliced cucumber inside it almost pointless given the strong flavours of the peppercorns and the ginger and soy of the bouillon. The radish was liberally decorated with coriander, which was a more obvious match to the strongly seasoned tuna (4/10). Stella had a red pepper and artichoke terrine, served as a rectangular slab on top of a circular bed of artichoke, the terrine topped with some fried squid, the dish decorated with some artful dribbles of basil sauce. Again fine technique showed up in the terrine, the pepper having clear, strong flavour and the terrine an extremely smooth texture. However, why was there a squid on top of this? The squid was lightly cooked and in no way chewy, but what did it add? 5/10
Stella had sea bass, a fillet that had been baked and timed very well indeed. This rested on a heap of caramelised endive, itself on a layer of spinach, the whole resting in a pool of orange sauce. The sea bass itself was of good quality, very well cooked, and indeed the endive had plenty of bitterness yet was cooked through. The spinach was struggling with the orange sauce, which just tasted of orange and really overpowered the other flavours on the plate. The sea bass itself, if presented on its own, was an easy 5/10, but I can only give this 2/10 given the crass mismatch of flavours. I fared better, with two pieces of pigeon cooked on the bone and sitting on top of some excellent sautéed potatoes and some wilted lettuce, the meat surrounded by some semi-dried grapes and a few figs. The pigeon was cooked through a little more than I would have chosen, but the potatoes were very good indeed. The figs and grapes were not as jarring as the orange sauce with the sea bass, but again you would have to wonder whether this was an ideal combination (5/10).
There were four cheeses that had not long left the fridge. A Fougeron was in
very good condition, while the goats cheese was a
little chalky, but a piece of
I fancied the summer berry tart but could not face the El Bulli-like basil sorbet. They graciously substituted a very fine lime granité which had deep flavour and lovely texture. The tart itself had slightly hard pastry but nice raspberries strawberries and blackberries (4/10). Both filter and espresso coffee were of poor quality, the filter especially having a distinctly dubious aftertaste. 1/10. There were no petit fours.
020 7437 9933
A quite large dining room (previously a nightclub called Legends) with a slightly split level room: bar at the back, with a couple of steps up to the higher half of the dining room facing the street. A low ceiling, with some sort of gold/taupe wallpaper with some fairly tasteless paintings on the wall (the sort of things you see on the Bayswater road on Sunday lunchtime). There is a downstairs bar, which was very lively on this Saturday night. Gary Hollihead does have a stake in the place, so maybe he’ll hang around longer than usual. The menu is bizarre throwback: Lobster Thermidor, chicken Rossini, Crepes Suzette. Despite this surreal menu, the clientele is distinctly young and trendy: there were hordes of pretty young girls in strapless backless numbers about to head off to the clubs on the evening of my visit. The service was generally good, with an excellent head (maybe not the ultimate head) waitress who some time ago had worked at Pied a Terre. There were no amuse gueles. Bread was in several forms, including rosemary bread and caraway seed bread, as well as more normal affairs. The bread was fresh, served warm, had good texture and flavour (6/10). My lobster Thermidor featured a very small dish indeed, in which was served some chewy lobster, two ordinary scallops and some grainy sauce with a gratin topping - now I recall why this dish faded away(3/10). Slightly better was another tiny dish of cauliflower and truffle soup, heavy on the cauliflower and light on the truffle, lacking in intensity (4/10). The starter dishes were some of the most tiny I have seen in ages: the “scallop with asparagus veloute” featured a solitary, none-too-large scallop.
courses were better: my “venison
Last visited March 2002.
Le Gavroche sails on like an imperious liner, fairly oblivious to fashion. This will suit its clientele, who are generally well-off and elderly, or on business, or both. The sense of a gentleman’s club is never far away. The food at its best is very fine indeed, with fresh ingredients, tasteful presentation, good timing and attention to detail. However the dishes are more variable than they should be at this level, and certainly at these prices. Best bet is to go at lunch, where is a set priced lunch (check when booking to confirm this just in case they change their minds) that is a more restricted choice, but is still of a very high standard, and so does represent reasonable value. Here are notes from a recent meal.
You enter Le Gavroche from its tasteful and
discreet front door in
There were an abundance of waiters and waitresses: the men formally dressed in dinner jackets, the women with navy double-breasted dresses with a scarf at the neck. The waiting staff was generally of French origin. Service throughout was impeccable, discreet, welcoming and highly efficient. Wine, water and bread were topped up effortlessly. The sommelier, when he came to take the wine order, had already memorised our food order and had constructive comments on the wine choice. The menu continues to be presented to the man with prices, to a female without, which I find personally very irritating (though very French). Tables are draped in fine white linen tablecloths and topped with Wedgewood china. Each table has a candle in a brass holder, and a silver and brass animal (we had a frog, another table a bull, another a cockerel etc), along with salt and pepper and balls of unsalted butter in a china dish.
The menu majors on luxury ingredients and has a fairly wide and
appealing choice, though two dishes are for two people only; the English
translations are a welcome acknowledgement of the fact that the Gavroche is in
A special of this evening were grilled langoustines served out of their shell in an intensely flavoured creamy tomato soup; the langoustines were accompanied by tender artichokes hearts, and the soup dish topped with three langoustine shells, not only for decoration with stuffed with langoustine mousse. The mousse was the best part of the dish, having lovely texture and deep flavour, but all the elements of the dish worked well and suited each other - the langoustines were tender, the artichokes gave a welcome rustic relief to the richness. However the execution was not uniform - some langoustine were tender, some rather chewy (7/10).
The best dish of the night was three quail “fillets” arranged on the plate at 12, 4 and positions, on a bed of very tender baby spinach leaves, itself topped with a layer of put lentils. The quail itself was crowned with a salad of turnip and beetroot that had been through a mandolin to produce very thin angel hair pasta-like shreds. The lentils were flavoured with a jus, a reduction of the quail cooking juices. This dish worked beautifully, the quail lightly cooked, the lentils giving a good texture contrast, the spinach leaves something to offset the richness of the quail and its juices (9/10).
A main course of pigeon featured four pigeon breasts, cooked pink and heaped in the centre of the plate, on a bed of rosemary risotto and glazed turnips; supporting the pigeon was a hidden bed of caramelised onion, and topping the pigeon were some celeriac crisps. This dish was harmonious and well executed, the pigeon beautifully tender, the juices of the meat mingling with the risotto and the perfectly cooked turnips giving a rustic contrast, the caramelised onions a pleasing sweetness and a new layer of flavour discovered only after duck has been disturbed from its arrangement (8/10). Less successful was wild salmon poached in a broth which was allegedly of lemon grass with a hint of garlic. The broth was just of indeterminate taste, with not even Stella’s keen sense of smell detecting any noticeable signs of either lemongrass or garlic. The salmon itself was cooked well, surrounded by strips of celeriac and leek, topped with deep-fried battered chives. Still, it is hard to give this dish objectively more than 5/10.
The cheese board here is entirely French (of course). It had a wide selection of cheeses, which as so often meant that they were not in uniformly peak condition. Best was a colomiere, and a fresh goat and pavin auberge were good, but Epoisses was solid and not ready yet (6/10). The cheese was served with a slice of walnut bread, which itself was excellent.
For dessert, apricot soufflé was light and fluffy, with a well-flavoured hot apricot coulis flavoured with a little vanilla (not particularly inspiring) garnished with poached dried apricots, some of which were chewy. It would be hard to assess this as better than soufflés from a range of other restaurants of more modest ambition than Le Gavroche (6/10). A light lemon flan was delicate and sat on top of a generous array of wild strawberries and blackcurrants. One could debate the wisdom of serving the fruit so out of season here (presumably it was imported), yet it tasted fine (7/10).
Coffee was excellent: dark roast beans full of flavour (9/10). Accompanying the coffee were a selection of very fine tuiles (almond, coconut and hazelnut), Chinese gooseberry, a slightly tasteless vanilla sponge and an excellent moist sponge with pistachio (9/10). Additionally there was a dish of orange cubes of what turned out to passion fruit jelly dusted with sugar - unusual and lovely. The bill was odd in many ways: VAT is included in the quoted wine prices, a trick which most restaurants play on their customers, and water is included, as (apparently) is service. Yet when the bill arrives the credit card is pointedly left open. This is just sharp practice. The price here is pretty steep when compared to its peers.
Last visited April 2004.
020 7499 0099
First visit, a week after it opened. First the décor. Claridges has
spectacular art deco décor in its lobby and elsewhere, so why it was decided to
omit the themes of perhaps the best period of architecture of the 20th
century and go for a trendy look escapes me.
The spacious, high-ceilinged room is dominated by many hideous layered
orange lamp fittings, each of three concentric orange circles topped with some
purple fur which is seemingly trendy now but is going to look pretty absurd as
soon as sanity returns to the world of interior design. The tables are generously spaced though
lighting, lacking individual spots, is variable. The service is formal but very slow indeed –
our meal, a la carte, took just over three and a half hours. You start with a nibble of cream cheese with
flecks of truffle and a little toast, which works well enough. The amuse bouche
turned out to be the best dish of the night: a wonderfully intense pumpkin soup
(10/10). Bread was a let down, country
bread rolls that were rather hard and lacking salt, and some sourdough slices
that were verging on stale (bread 3/10).
The wine list is long, mainly French and costly: mark-ups are generally
as fierce as you would expect, though there are a number of wines around the
£30-40 mark if you look carefully. We
had an excellent Pinot Gris from Schlumberger at £45,
and there is also the under-rated Alion from
Stella started with veloute of white beans with sautéed ceps and roasted salsify, with a little grated white truffle. This worked well, the beans delicate, the sauce frothy and the ceps fresh (8/10). I had six scallops, on each of which was a little deep fried cauliflower, which I have to say did nothing for me. There were little piles of cauliflower puree and raisin vinaigrette, which worked well enough. The scallops were very good but of the perfect diver’s standard you might hope for; the deep fried cauliflower seemed simply misjudged to me (6/10). Stella’s main course was a sautéed tranche of Scottish salmon, which was well enough timed but by no means dazzling. This was served on a bed of warm lettuce with some cucumber salad and marinated olives, with a vine tomato butter sauce served at table. The latter did indeed taste of tomato and tomato, but was this really a sensible match for the salmon? (6/10).
was better, arriving on two separate trolleys, one French
and one English. The waiter seemed
completely unfamiliar with the English cheeses e.g. “Stilton from
I returned in spring 2003 and had a pleasant
meal, though there was a feeling of being processed. The head chef shortly afterwards died while
trying to burgle a flat to support his drug habit, and when disturbed
discovered that jumping from one balcony to the next on the 8th
floor works well in
Dramatic drop windows looking in at the two levels of the restaurant, the main dining room upstairs where Bruno Loubet cooks (Italian food - nothing like re-inventing oneself!), and the more casual bistro downstairs. It is all designer chrome and glass, with very high ceilings and the upstairs featuring slightly odd-looking red benches and chairs, distantly reminiscent of a British rail waiting room, though I doubt this was the effect the designer intended. I preferred the plain white sofas and chairs in the downstairs bistro, which seems altogether cosier to me. The menu is short, with just six starters, four pastas, three meat and three fish dishes. The dishes are fairly unconventional (roasted hake with squid ink stew), so in many ways the more traditional bistro menu, which has recognisable classic dishes, has more appeal. Breads come in a little box on each table and are very good indeed (easily 7/10 bread, from fine salty foccacia to crusty white). I started with a wild mushroom risotto, which given how quickly it arrived was not cooked classically, but still had good texture and was mad with quite a light stock. It had ceps and a little too much parsley for me, plus cooked slices of onion, which did nothing for me. Still 5/10.
For main course I had pot-roasted squab with fresh lemon thyme, little deep fried olives, slivers of foie gras as well as caramelised onions, all on a bed of spinach with some further caramelised root vegetables. The sauce, a delicate jus made from the pigeon cooking juices and carefully reduced, was classic French rather than Italian style, and none the worse for that. The pigeon was pink but there were way too many flavours and textures to get any sense of coherence as a dish. Still, the actual execution was very good, with lightly cooked spinach and carefully prepared vegetables (6/10). Stella had pan-fried red mullet with an artichoke and rocket salad; the fish was nicely timed, the salad having good leaves (6/10). The one dessert tried was an excellent tart filled with zabaglione, an unusual idea that worked fine, along with a nicely textured coffee mousse. Coffee came in a pitifully small cup, which after I moaned they at least had the decency to give me a second cup without charging. Service was very good, attentive and without errors. The wine list majors on Italian regions and is very comprehensive; there is a fine selection of wines by the glass, and also various tasting selections.
I actually prefer the downstairs restaurant here, which does simpler and more appealing dishes, and has a vastly more charming room than the stark upstairs. Prices are very high though, and while objectively the food is very good here, the question one has to ask oneself is: “why not just go round the corner to Zafferano”, where the cooking is better and the prices lower.
The Connaught Hotel,
020 7499 7070
Angela Hartnett is now at the helm, a protégé of Gordon Ramsey. The dining room is unchanged – very traditional with lots of dark wood paneling, tables well spaced. To start with a selection of bread is offered (very good walnut and raisin, good crusty white bread but poor breadsticks and very thin Italian bread). Also a small plate of ham is presented (Angela Hartnett is half Italian, half Irish, so I guess it is preferable to see her Italian side come to the fore with the cold cuts than to be presented with a pint of Guinness as amuse guele). Service is managed by the admirable Helene Hell, formerly sommelier at La Trompette. On the evidence of tonight she has some work to do, as our starter arrived well before the wine, and she had to chase around personally to get it delivered before we had entirely finished our starters. Moreover there was no attempt to refresh our empty bread basket during the meal. Although there is no shortage of staff, they seemed inattentive, the most competent being a French waitress whom Helene brought with her from La Trompette. The meal tonight was something of a curate’s egg. I started with a very fine ceps risotto, a dish than can very easily be disappointing. Here it featured rice cooked to a perfect texture in a rich stock, the rice having absorbed the stock fully without losing its texture. The ceps were carefully cooked, and overall I would give this dish 8/10. By contrast a pressed tomato mosaique with marinated goat’s cheese was just a series of pleasant but by no means dazzling plum tomato segments in an aubergine casing, with tiny blobs of curiously tasteless goat’s cheese surrounding the tomato (4/10 only). We were then offered a complimentary tortelli of pumpkin and amaretto in a little sage butter. While the pasta was good, I question the wisdom of trying to mix pumpkin with the sweet amaretto almond taste in a savoury dish; the sage butter could also have tasted a little more of sage (5/10 for the quality of the pasta rather than the concept). For main course a sole “bonne femme” was four slices of filleted sole on a bed of spinach with a few thin slices of mushroom and tiny boiled potatoes in a thin cream sauce. The sole itself was nicely cooked and had good taste, and the spinach was carefully cooked, but the mushrooms and potatoes were ordinary, and the cream sauce was merely watery (5/10 at best). My main course was smoked pork belly served with caramelised root vegetables (onion, potatoes) and a thyme bouillon. The pork was reasonable, but this compared very poorly to a similar dish at Petrus. The vegetables were merely competent though the thyme bouillon was redolent of the scent of thyme and worked well (5/10, saved by the bouillon). Cheese is a mix of French, English and Italian. The cheeses were generally in good condition, though both the St Maure and Colston Basset Stilton were past their best (6/10 for the cheese).
Before dessert a little display tray of mini
ice-creams and sorbets arrived: mango, vanilla, strawberry, blackcurrant,
apple, coconut and chocolate. These
varied somewhat, with the vanilla and strawberry the best and the chocolate a
little too grainy (6/10 overall). For
dessert an orange and chocolate tart was served in the style of a lemon tart, a
triangular shaped slice with a thin layer of chocolate on the pastry base, but
this was very sorry for itself – the orange filling lacked intensity, the
pastry rather too hard and barely any taste of chocolate (2/10). Lemon panacotta
featured a central and very good cone of panacotta,
topped with citrus confit surrounded by a dayglo green ring of spearmint gelee,
which was an inappropriate foil to the lemon taste (lemon and mint?!?). Perhaps 3/10 here. Coffee is a steep £5, served with a
remarkably tasteless tiramisu and a couple of chocolates and chocolate-covered
roasted almonds. The coffee itself was
good (comfortably 6/10). The wine list
is mostly French with a decent Italian section and a smattering of
The Millennium Hotel,
020 7235 4377
this parallels the Tetsuya cooking experience quite well. Tetsuya has finally gone commercial, moving
out of the suburban setting into central
Campari and grapefruit cocktail is
not a marriage made in heaven, but the sorbet had good texture and they had at
least gone easy on the campari. This was followed with three little glasses
of different cols soup: cauliflower, avocado (both good) and a jellied
aubergine with potato and leek. These
had excellent texture and, while I would not have chosen these, it is hard to
fault the technique. Salad of tuna with shiso sauce had very good quality sashimi tuna. Next up was a roll of marinated “tataki” venison, wrapped around truffle peaches with
rosemary and honey. Next to it was a
disappointing roast langoustine whose tea and
shellfish oil caused the langoustine to lose texture. Confit of wild
salmon with marinated celery is a faithful reproduction of the signature dish
at Tetsuya in
The Halkin Hotel,
020 7333 1234
I am now a
In years to come visions of green, blotchy tapioca will no doubt swim
before my eyes, blotting out the whirring blades of the fan above my head. Just as a few years in the jungle blurred
many a soldier’s perception, I may now have flashbacks of the bizarre cooking
at David Thompson, the cook behind the overrated culinary venture the Darley Street Thai in
The dining room is very smart, with marble floor at one end of the
dining room and wood at the other. The wallpaper
is gold, the walls otherwise unadorned.
There is a little walled garden at the bottom of the diagram above. There is good natural light from here,
supplemented by ceiling spots, box lanterns and even sidelights in some
recesses in the walls. The overall
effect is bright but relaxing. Chairs
are traditional, with gold patterned upholstery. Tables have white linen napkins but no
tablecloths. Crockery is plain white,
the cutlery real silver. There is no
distracting music – instead you can concentrate on the symphony of flavours in
the food (as if). Waiters are smart,
with dark lounge suits and ties. The
wine list had some excellent growers, with two pages of white and one of red,
though the mark-ups are egregious in places.
Most wines are in the £35-50 or so range e.g. Schlumberger
Gewürztraminer 1997 at a spine-chilling £43.
There is no grouping by style, rather by price, and the selection spans
the world fairly widely. There are
plenty of wines suitable for spicy food, so a good selection of
We tried the tasting menu, which takes you through just about half of all the dishes on the menu. This began with ma hor, an amuse guele which consisted of minced chicken and prawns which had been cooked in palm sugar with deep fried garlic, peanuts and shallots, heaped on a small circular slice of pineapple. This was an interesting enough “sweet and sour” combination, but the minced chicken was uninspired (1/10). Pla bon were two betel leaves, on each of which was presented some ground salmon, but mainly a slice of watermelon. The salmon was barely detectable, essentially leaving a piece of melon to which salt and a little spice was added (0/10). I left the second of mine after tasting the first, and the waiter happily took the plate away without inquiring why this state of affairs had occurred.
Then several dishes were served together (at least mostly together, as the trout salad, of all things, was not ready). Trout salad was surreal, a small piece of fish marinated and served bones and all, with some salt and spices – this was hard as nails, and while in principle perhaps the bones could be eaten, there are only so many risks a Nahm veteran is going to take in the line of duty. A squid consommé managed chewy squid and an ill-judged flavour, dominated by samphire. Pork, supposedly sweet, served on the side of minced prawns in a coconut cream and fennel, was badly overcooked and lukewarm. The minced prawns had their flavour drowned out by the fennel and spices. Four scallops were old and tired, served with deep fried galangal, garlic and lemongrass (0/10). A soup of mushrooms in an oily coconut broth was very sour and barely warm. Even the rice was clumpy and lukewarm. About the best dish was a moderate duck curry with a thick onion sauce, served with some potatoes that kept fair texture. This was perhaps 1/10. A jungle curry of monkfish featured chewy monkfish and shallots that were too raw.
Problems abounded with these dishes. Above all, the flavours were usually not harmonious with each other, either things that did not match well or strong flavours that drowned out subtler ones. Execution was weak, with chewy fish and overcooked pork. The scallops were of distinctly mediocre quality. This is not classical Thai food, where much more consideration is given to ingredient quality and balance, but a poor attempt at experimentation laced with technical inaccuracy. I have no concept of why many media reviewers rave about this cooking.
There were three mini-desserts. Mangosteens are essentially sub-lychees,
here floating in watery green syrup flavoured with rose water, and bizarrely
matched with deep fried onion. I can
just see the scene in the kitchen: “let’s see, a tropical fruit, some weird
smells and, yes, some deep fried onion; that should set everything off
nicely”. A green blotchy blob of
tapioca, looking like something on the run from a science fiction movie set,
was covered with a blob of white cream laced with salt. Another winner (0/10). In a poor quality tuile
(overcooked, and yet limp and flexible rather than crisp, which takes some
doing) nestled some unidentifiable tasteless white liquid and some poor noodles
(0/10). One of the nastier desserts I
have encountered since eating agar in
020 7839 3774
After Marcus Wareing dramatically walked out to set up Petrus, l’Oranger has bounced back under the cooking of Kamel Benamar. The dining room is cosy, the service comforting. The cooking does not stretch beyond its capabilities, a common failing in (especially French) restaurants, but instead offers an appealing menu that changes with the seasons. The service is formal and usually good, while the wine list is almost entirely French with the sort of mark-ups usually more associated with a bank robbery than a restaurant. One wine is on the list at £49; I saw the identical wine and vintage at £16 at another restaurant. So perhaps stick to something simple? You can’t actually, as there is no house wine. While L’Oranger si technically strong, there is a giant sucking sound from your wallet throughout the experience. Here are my notes from a recent meal.
There a certain ocean-liner feel to the long, thin room, though there is a high ceiling and a large skylight roughly in the centre of the roof; this combined with cleverly placed ceiling spot lights give good lighting. The floor is wooden, but this is partly covered (in the centre of the room) by a carpet, mostly red in colour. Chairs have low backs and have mushroom coloured upholstery. The un-mirrored wall has a few Art Nouveau paintings in between the windows. Each table has a heavy white linen cloth and napkin, with a single yellow rose in a blue glass vase. A salt and pepper pot is the only other table adornment. Despite appearing to have air conditioning, the room was very not and stuffy this evening.
The menu has a relative stable core set of dishes, with a more fluid
first page of changing dishes, as well as a couple of specials each
evening. The wine list is long, with 587
offerings in all. The vast majority of
these are French, with prices designed for the primarily business clientele
that L’Oranger attracts. There are ten or so choices from
Bread rolls are white, brown or raisin with sesame seeds, and are of good quality (6/10). Service is from formally dressed, primarily French staff, but the charm of the handsome head waiter could not make up for an interminable wait for our dishes. With a booking our starter arrived at , which is simply unacceptable. However, water and wine were topped up carefully, and bread was delivered at regular intervals. There was at least an amuse guele to keep us going during the famishing eons before the starter arrived, a little cup of squid in a tomato sauce. This was unpromising, the squid being slightly chewy and very salty, a recurring theme here. Even the butter here is salted. The amuse guele was only 2/10.
I started with a cube of pork belly cooked pot-au-feu style, slowly in a casserole pot, topped with shavings of black truffles, on a bed of good mash. The pork itself was tender but just a little dried out, but the mash had excellent texture and the ingredients worked well together, the richness of the pork and truffles nicely balanced by the mash (6/10). Warm asparagus salad had seven spears of asparagus neatly lined up, covered with a heap of sliced baby leeks and a slice of tomato, surrounded by a few morels. A salad dressing smeared around the central salad actually had a congealed skin; this was clearly being kept warm under a hot lamp for too long. The asparagus itself was very good, the leeks over-salty, the dressing (under its skin) actually fine (4/10).
Stella’s roasted turbot was well timed and of good quality, resting on a bed of competent but slightly lacklustre green peas that were just a little hard for my taste. Around the turbot was a ring of baby shrimps cooked delicately and topped with a frothed-up, light shrimp sauce; finally, there was an asparagus spear and a slice of tomato as garnish (5/10). Accompanying this was a pan of very good fried new potatoes with excellent texture and taste (6/10). I had roasted corn-fed chicken, which had excellent taste and was pleasantly moist. This was resting in a simple jus of the cooking juices, enhanced with herbs. The chicken was surrounded by a ring of high quality, if slightly salty morels (6/10). On the side was a little pan of Swiss chard with a rather watery tomato sauce with herbs (4/10).
Even the cheese took quite a long time to arrive, as if in sympathy with
the rest of the meal. Still, there was a
good board, and a knowledgeable cheese waiter.
Comte had good, firm texture (6/10), St Maure
avoided being too chalky (6/10), Camembert was reasonably ripe (5/10),
Coffee was of a very high standard, dark and full of flavour (8/10). Petit fours consisted of a white chocolate truffle, a sponge with currants, a Chinese gooseberry, a blackberry tart, a raspberry tart, a fine lemon tart, a pineapple tart with pistachio, some perfect marzipan, an elegant simple biscuit and a frozen white chocolate encasing a liquid centre of strawberry sorbet. These were easily 8/10 petit fours.
Last visited April 2002.
020 7489 7033
This is a basement place, with a bar to one side and the dining room on the other (upstairs is a food shop selling Japanese food). It is smartly decorated in a modern style, with plenty of black in evidence. The menu is quite approachable, with a range of starters, then a long list of sushi, followed by some “light main” dishes and also noodle soup (udon) dishes. Portions are modest except for the soups and main courses, encouraging tapas-style grazing. A starter of pork belly and new potato casserole was pleasant, the new potatoes managing to retain reasonable texture in the casserole, though the carrots were a little overcooked; the pork itself was pleasant but not more than this, lacking the richness that it can have (1/10). A “mini forest” of vegetables sounds grander than it was, but had a few grilled vegetables resting on a bed of a large field mushroom and onion (1/10). Sashimi tuna was of good quality, prettily presented. This was not of the calibre of somewhere like Roka, but it was still above average. It was served just with a few salad leaves and a little wasabe (2/10).
Chicken teriyaki was cooked well enough, served with a few wild mushrooms and a soy-based sauce (1/10). The udon noodle soup had excellent vegetable stock, served in a large black granite bowl with noodles that retained good texture, a little vegetable tempura that did not (it was a little soggy) and further wild mushrooms and a little rocket as garnish (3/10). Miso soup was rather light on the distinctive dashi flavor, to the extent that it lacked intensity (round up). Rice was good (2/10). Service was friendly and capable throughout. The place was mostly full and the bar was quite busy even on this mid week night when most people were outside on the pavement soaking up the sunshine. Prices are very fair, and this is certainly a pleasant place that I would return to if in the area.
Last visited June 2006
0870 777 4488
After a poor booking experience and an expectation of potentially wacky food at crazy prices, the reality was a pleasant surprise. OK – the prices are crazy, though less than some press reports, but no one could deny the amount of work that goes into the dishes here. However the room is beautifully decorated, the service is top drawer French, the food flirts with sometimes unwise innovation but hits the mark more often the not, and technique and ingredients are faultless. There is real talent in the kitchen here, and the only real problem is the price.
I was not endeared to this place by the booking experience. After ringing up I spoke to a woman dripping with attitude who twice put me on hold, and eventually conceded grudgingly that they may have a table free at 19:00 but that it was needed back by 21:00, at which point “you can go to the bar”; I then had to give my credit card details “in case you don’t turn up”. They also reconfirmed by phone. On physically arriving the female receptionist struggled to find the reservation and then said “well, I can’t find it – I’ll have to check with the manager” while looking on at a completely empty dining room. Clearly down as gatecrashers, we were ushered to a quiet corner, and only later did she admit that they had booked us into the bistro restaurant in the same building, despite my being very explicit about which restaurant I was booking, both on booking and on re-confirmation. I looked closely to see whether she was one of the valkyries that used to be on reception at the old Canteen who always used to be the ne plus ultra in receptionist hostility but she was not; perhaps they had gone on to set up a training class after the restaurant closed. Grrrr…..
The dining room is set out
as in the illustration above. It is on
the first floor. You enter from
The bathrooms are
spectacular. The men’s has a entirely
mirrored effect made from highly polished black stone, with fairy lights in a
web shape embedded in the walls, while the urinal is a tasteful wall with water
moving endlessly over it. The ladies
bathroom has backlit panels with diamante decoration by the hand basins. Cubicles have a spider web design picked out
in diamante. The toilet roll is
suspended from the ceiling by chains of beads.
The doorstop, toilet seat cover and flush all have matching diamante
decoration. Mourad Mazouz, the owner, has reportedly poured in £10 million to
this building, and at least the money is “up on the screen” as they say in
The menu is attached. It actually arrives inside a leather-bound
notebook, the pages inserted at strategic points. The wine list arrives in a large volume, but this
is mostly empty, the wines being scribbled in pencil on the first few
pages. The list is by no means
extensive, with a few pages that refer to perhaps 100 or so bins, mostly
French. The rest of the wine world has a
cursory treatment, with for example just a single Spanish red. The growers are by no means all the classics,
and indeed the
Bread is either white rolls, “Italian” bread (that to all intents and purpose seemed to be brioche) and chestnut bread (7/10 for the white, 5/10 for the other two breads). Amuse guele are extensive. Cinnamon sticks and two well-made sable biscuits are fine, though it seems a little odd to have a sweet biscuit at this stage (5/10). Little scales of cuttlefish were served with pepper and herbs, which worked much better together than it sounds (6/10). A teaspoon contained a dollop of almost liquid and very rich, very smooth foie gras (8/10). A ravioli of black pudding was the least successful dish, as the pasta was just a little hard, while the citrus and herb sauce that surrounded it was so acidic as to drown out even the taste of the black pudding (2/10). A little dish contained a surprisingly effective blend of finely diced pineapple with sesame seeds (7/10). Finally there were slivers of capable pepper biscuits, and also, rather unnecessarily, a bowl of caramelised mixed nuts. Perhaps best was a row of five perfectly cooked white beans with a smear of slow cooked egg yolk that surprised and delighted when on the tongue it was revealed that a little mustard had been added, lifting the dish and providing a good foil to the beans (9/10).
Service is worth remarking
on. The team seem
mostly French, and I recognised one sommelier from
Louis XV in
Langoustines were cooked three ways, each arriving on a separate white china plate. Best were two langoustines served in a boat-shaped tuile in which was a walnut shortcake and some shredded caramelised pomegranate. The shellfish were very fresh and beautifully cooked, melting in the mouth when eaten, while the walnuts and pomegranate adding an interesting earthy texture as contrast (9/10). Langoustine tartare was enlivened by green mango and a little pressed grapefruit and ginger – the contrasting tastes actually working well together, with the ginger kept carefully in balance and the sharp taste of the mango enlivening the shellfish without dominating it (7/10). Langoustine mousseline featured more perfect langoustines (this time diced) and was topped with Malabar pepper and creamed passion fruit butter. Here the only problem was the passion fruit butter which was too strong a flavour (also I am unconvinced that it is a good idea to mix passion fruit with langoustine) so was perhaps 5/10, though again the shellfish were very carefully cooked. Overall easily 7/10.
again consistent of several components. The
best dish was “wilted young winter salad, celeriac Colombo, turnip broth with
farm cider”, served as a hot turnip broth with intense flavour
containing stunningly tender turnip and a puree of celeriac at the base of a
bowl with steep sides. The sides of the
bowl were draped with wilted chard leaves, which were perfectly tender and a
delightful surprise, a brilliant dish (9/10).
Much less good was fresh pressed parsley coriander and tarragon juice,
served as a cold green broth surrounding “conserve of cucumber, preserved
Turbot was served as a thick fillet, carefully cooked, and was fine in itself. However it rested on what was described as a shrimp and prawn infusion with wilted cabbage, but resembled a rather tasteless bed of sauerkraut. A side dish contained pearl barley “risotto” cooked with more of the shrimp and prawn infusion, topped with two cooked cherry tomatoes, a wedge of roast pear and glazed radishes that did nothing to lift the dish. Also served on the side was an egg cup containing a Day-Glo coloured cucumber gelee and a teaspoonful of crème fraiche, which again did not enhance the dish (4/10).
No cheese trolley here, but a selection. The provenance is good, the cheeses coming from a mixture of Neal’s Yard and the top notch Maison Anthony, but they couldn’t resist a little tampering here. Brie was stuffed with truffles, and a hard cheese was marinated in wine. Stilton was served in a spoon mixed in with some dates. Cheddar was sliced thinly, while a Corsican goat’s cheese was about the only cheese served just as it was. The cheeses themselves were in very good condition and did not benefit from this added attention in my view (7/10 – would have been higher if they had just left them alone). There were a variety of distractions – no cheese crackers here. We had a cold celeriac puree flanked by hazelnuts that was very fine indeed but surely would have been better served warm with a main course? There were also a few dates, slivers of shortbread biscuit, pumpkin chutney and a marmalade of blackcurrant. Some plain bread would have sufficed.
The portion control was really odd here, as the cheese arrived in huge slabs. We were sharing a portion of cheese and could manage substantially less than half the cheese offered between the two of us. All other dishes had perfectly normal portions, so I am not sure what happened here.
A “Winter 2002 Sketch Chocolate” comes in a circular dish with a ring of chocolate mousse on top of which is a rich coffee mousse topped with a biscuit. The dark chocolate mousse was made from very high quality chocolate and was velvety smooth, containing a few raisins steeped in alcohol. The coffee mousse was similarly smooth, the little biscuit on top filled with Grand Marnier(8/10). Ice blood orange mousse was less impressive, the base having whole blood orange segments with a dollop of orange mousse on top – the texture was fine but the mousse flavour lacked intensity (5/10). Crispy sugar waffles made from Muscovado sugar were very good, delicate and not too sweet, resting on a bed of silky mango mousse topped with fresh (and perfectly fresh) mango (6/10).
Desserts are actually just £4 for small individual portions (of course they can afford to be generous after the other courses) or £28 for a grand plate. We found that three individual dishes was plenty for the two of us. Both filter and double espresso were very good indeed, made from excellent quality beans with a dark roast (8/10). A slight surprise was that no petit fours are offered – a deviation from otherwise very French style of service. Coffee is £2.50, or £3 for espresso.
The bill arrives inside a hollowed-out hardback book, so lands on the table with an appropriate thump. It was fine in terms of practices - service was included at 12.5% as advertised on the menu, and the credit card slip was closed The issue is the magnitude of it, as with no pre-dinner drinks, a shared cheese, shared desserts and one of the cheaper wines on the list a price tag of £170 each is, as a marketing consultant may put this, “fully priced”. Water at £4 seems a generous bargain. What you can say is that the ingredients are top class, the culinary technique is very fine, the décor is magnificent and the service perfect, so at least you get something for the money.