Articles Tagués ‘Antonin Bonnet’

The Greenhouse, London

mars 13, 2010

After a slightly shaky last meal in the Greenhouse, I was dubious about coming back so quickly. However, the hare was still available, and that’s a dish I could kill for, especially Antonin’s version. So, here I was, sitting down in this gorgeous basement tucked away in Mayfair. I let Antonin put a menu together for me, and was more than happy I chose to do so: This was by far the finest meal I’ve had here so far. I would even go as far as saying that this was a straight 3* meal, at least compared to the other 3*s I’ve tried in England. But, let’s see how things went…

To start off, I had a glass of Bollinger Rose, which was just what I like: powerful, quite rich and dominated by Pinot Noir. After this I had a bottle of Coche Dury’s Bourgogne blanc, 2007 and a glass of Didier Dagueneau’s Silex (also from ’07). To finish the meal, I had a Riesling Auslese, from Daniel Vollenweider. The Coche was nice, but still way too young: Too acidic, and quite closed. It was not quite as concentrated and powerful as I had hoped it would be, and still a little nervous. This being said, for a generic white Burgundy wine, it was beautiful, and will certainly improve over the next couple of years. The Silex on the other hand was beautiful, outrageous and unforgettable: The nose alone was a pure delight, and just made you want to dive in. The taste was even more rewarding. One had a feeling the wine embalmed your palate with it’s full-bodied, powerful flavour. It was the first time I tried this, and I sincerely hope I can do so soon again, as I can’t describe how much I liked this.  The final Riesling was alright, but nothing I found incredible. In fact, I find that the basic wines of say, Egon Muller or Heyman Lowenstein are much more convincing than this as it lacked concentration for my taste. It was also the first time, that I found a pairing here to be imperfect.

To start the meal, the same nibbles were brought out again: A rhubarb sphere and a few stilton “sandwiches”. These are very pleasant and do what they are supposed to very well.

After this, we got a new amuse bouche. A piece of radish and a thin layer of squid served as wrap for a crab and combava preparation. This dish was brilliant. The look alone was beautiful, as pure as it gets, and so much in Antonin’s style. The taste was exactly what one hoped to get, if not even better. This was a stunning dish, one that was perfectly balanced, beautifully prepared and just excellent.

Next up was a Simmental beef tartare with kohlrabi and black truffles. This dish was also fantastic. The beef of excellent quality, mixed with truffles, a large number of different herbs, some raw pickled, and therefore crunchy kohlrabi and a little truffled sauce. It was a dish, which was not only very precise, and clean, but also very enjoyable to eat. A very fine tartare indeed. Very good to excellent.

Next up was a study in reductionism. A single scallop, cut in half sat atop a sliver of black truffle, and was wrapped in blettes, a type of swiss chard, common on the Riviera and other Mediterranean countries. Around it was poured a creamy, foamy Champagne and Yuzu sauce, and nothing else. The scallops at the Greenhouse have always been very good. This one was no exception to that rule, and was perfectly cooked and seasoned. The truffles were not very present, as there wasn’t enough of them in the dish, but the sauce and scallop combination was beautiful. The blettes leaves added a different texture and a slightly different taste, which only increased the dishes’ complexity. Eating such a dish with a few slivers of truffles grated on top if it, must be amazing, but I haven’t seen that in London yet. Very good.

The next course blew me away. A piece of Scottish lobster sat atop a few gnocchi, and was hidden under a couple of daikon slivers. With it came a few crunchy-fried strips wild mushrooms and a beautiful Amontillado sauce. Boy,  the sauce was brilliant, with a very subtle sweetness from the Amontillado. On a similarly pleasant level, were the gnocchi, which were very good too – fluffy, light and tasty – but it was the lobster that really stole the show here. I have trouble to think of a better piece of lobster. This was both tender and nearly crunchy at the same time. Without a hint of chewiness, this was very close to the lobster I had eaten at ADPA a few weeks before. Stunning.

It was time for a little foie gras. Not something I object, and in this case it was a re-worked version of a dish I already loved a few months ago. This time the hot foie was covered in something of a slightly crunchy crust made out of red wine, spices and other things that made me think of mulled wine. With it came a little beetroot juice, a tart piece of rhubarb (to be eaten last) a beetroot cream and a cooked beetroot. The foie was again stunning. Of such tender texture, it was hard to not love this dish, especially if one combined it with the earthy beetroot and had the spicy sweetness from the wine crust. Antonin raised the bar on one of his strongest dishes here. Excellent.

But, forget all the rest, now was coming something I absolutely adore, love,… The lievre a la royale sat in front of me. Beautifully covered with some truffles, served with truffled potato puree, I was in heaven. It was the second time I had this dish, and it was the second time that I was ready to end my life just there. Right on the spot. It is that bloody damn good, that I can’t wait to eat it again when the season starts this year. A better version than this one has rarely crossed my path, as Antonin manages to boil down the strength and power of this dish to create something that has all of the above, but at the same time remains lighter than one would think. The hare is marinated for only an hour or so, much less than the old recipe demands. For the sauce, he uses a light stock to give something very smooth, and not as cloying as the traditional sauce can be. It doesn’t get any better. DIVINE. (the next day, I still had this hare’s taste in my mouth, it’s just glorious).

Anyone who goes here without having cheese is missing out on what I would easily rank among the finest cheeses I’ve had the opportunity to try. Today again, all of the cheeses we tried were excellent, with of course the 4,5 year old Comte, which rivals that of Arpege, ADPA, or the Crillon to name but a few. Christophe also serves a very fine Camembert, which might be better than any other cheese of that type I have tasted. Outstanding.

The pre-dessert hadn’t changed, and I enjoyed it just as on my previous visits. Very good.

As a dessert I had requested the pear millefeuille, of which Antonin spoke last time. It is done in the same way as the Arpege’s, which means that it might not look quite as beautiful, as others, but it tastes bloody amazing. Here the praline cream was additioned with little balls of pear. A brilliant combination, which definitively made my evening perfect. The puff pastry was beautifully caramelised, which made it fragile, and outright delicious. Excellent.

In terms of the wine pairing, I was a little underwhelmed. The Riesling was too acidic, not rich enough for such a dessert. It lost all of its body next to this beautiful dish.

Petit-fours are always beautiful here.

Good lord, Antonin seems in very very good form at the moment. After a slightly less good meal on my last visit (which still featured arguably the best dish I had eaten last year: the hare), everything was back on track. Not only that, it was even better. From the first to last course, there was not one course ,I didn’t enjoy, or which had a slight slip or let alone mistake. He refined his cooking even more, serving the cleanest food in London, and developing his very own style even more. A brilliant start for the new year here. I can’t wait to go back, and will do so in a few days.

The Greenhouse, London, a second return

décembre 14, 2009

La salle

My third visit to the Greenhouse was a special one. I had asked Antonin Bonnet, if he wasn’t doing a lievre a la royale and he said that it would soon be ready. A few weeks later, I got a long-awaited e-mail saying that the dish was finally ready, so a table was quickly booked, and I was ready to go.

La salle II

Service was as usual, perfect, and it keeps getting better, although that might have to do with the fact, that I get to know them a little. After having put together the menu with Antonin, we were ready to start. A glass of Krug Grande Cuvee always comes in handy, and is indeed a huge pleasure, although this one wasn’t as good as the last I have had here.

The nibbles were as good as always, and the little parmesan crisps with some kind of truffle (?) cream were particularly enjoyable with the wine.  Bread was again excellent, as it usually is here. They really do have arguably the best selection in London, with ADAD maybe.

Quelques bouchees

Interestingly enough, the amuse-bouche, was much better than a few weeks earlier. This time the dashi jelly had much more punch, and the avocado and crab were also seasoned in a more enjoyable way. Now this made sense, and was a good start.

Crabe

Our first course was Scottish langoustines, smoked potato, Brussels sprout leaves, coconut oil and anchovy sauce. This was served with a 2007 Condrieu, Terrasses de l’Empire from Georges Vernay. Two perfectly cooked, rather small langoustines came with a smoked potato, which was filled with, what I presume was the anchovy sauce, some steamed Brussels sprout leaves and a langoustine bouillon. The langoustines were unfortunately not of the same quality as those one can find at the Square for instance, as one was rather mushy, whilst the other was good, with the slightly crunchy flesh, that makes them so special. The potato was very (too?) subtly smoked and a little bland, and the anchovy sauce hardly present. However, what was really great was the fumet. This broth had incredible punch, and great depth of flavour. So far the dish was nice, without being anything particularly memorable, but there was that wine sitting next to the plate. When one introduced the fantastic Condrieu into the picture, things looked decidedly different. Both supported each other, and created something that was pretty close to a perfect accord. This was absolutely fantastic, as the wine was already very nice on its own, but also turned the dish into something much more interesting. Compliments to Ronan Sayburn, who took care of us very well that night. Good for the dish, excellent if eaten with that wine.

Langoustines

Moving on, we saw the Line-caught steamed sea bass, Savoy cabbage, wild mushrooms, shellfish and beurre blanc land on our table. Here we drank a 2004 Chassagne-Montrachet 1er cru Boudriottes from Fontaigne Gagnard. This dish did somewhat remind me of the minimalist presentation of the brill, during my last visit. This time there was a little more on the plate, but it was hardly overcrowded. The steamed bass came with a chip of its skin, different mussels, clams and other shellfish and a cabbage roll, stuffed with wild mushrooms. Around it was poured a slightly creamy combawa sauce. First of all, the wine was again a very fine match for the dish, and in itself a great drop. But, this time the dish itself presented already much more of an interest. The bass was cooked masterfully, and seasoned perfectly. The chip provided the needed textural variation, to the otherwise very soft sea bass meat (unfortunately it is impossible in this country to send fish down to London directly after having caught it). The shellfish ragout was great, as was the little roulade. Bizarrely, this slightly Asian dish worked beautifully with the rather classical combination of cabbage and wild mushrooms. The sauce gave the whole thing a foundation, which was brilliantly spiced. This was again a highly successful Asian/French fusion dish, which didn’t taste as vulgar as such attempts usually do. It was a very good dish, which could have been excellent, had the bass had firmer flesh (which will not be found in the UK I suppose).

Bar

Things got serious now, really serious. Hare a la royale, Black truffle, mash potato was set on the table. Poured with it was a 2005 Vacqueyras “Doucinello” from the Domaine le Sang des Cailloux. The match was again highly enjoyable, which is all I can say about it. The real star here, was the dish though. Although I hate it when summer or autoumn truffles are sold as black truffles, I must say that this dish must have been one of the best dishes I’ve had in London so far. The hare, cooked more or less like the Ali-Bab version of the dish, was simply glorious. Falling apart, incredibly tasty and powerful, it was mind-blowing. What was also terrific about it was the incredibly light feeling it had. It wasn’t like other versions of the same dish, which often tend to be rather overwhelming. The sauce, Antonin, confessed later, did not follow the original recipce, but was based on a lighter hare fumet. Despite this, it was incredibly strong and tasty, quite simply a glorious piece of work. As the service sauced our plates, the rest was taken away, which is about the biggest crime there can be. When I asked for a little more of it, they had to reheat it, which took a little while. Why do I insist on this? Because it eventually limited our pleasure with the following dish. This however, was a divine plate of food, one for the history books. I could have just bathed in that.

le LIEVRE

The dish Antonin had wanted me to try was the Pithivier, Green salad. Served with a great 2001 Chateau Langoa Barton, this was one more great pairing. The pithiviers somewhat resembled that of Eric Briffard, in that it used grouse, partridge, wild duck and foie gras (although no honey, nor wild mushrooms are involved in this one). It is carved table-side, and simply served with a delcious jus perle. The sweet little green salad, with some hardly noticeable truffles, was perfectly fine, but hardly needed. The tourte itself was, unfortunately, baked for too long. The pastry was rather dark, and the grouse nearly well-done. Thus, the meat was dry and less tender than it could have been. This was a real shame, as the flavours were fantastic in this dish again. The few minutes that we waited for our second serving of sauce to be prepared during the last dish were probably all that nearly killed this dish. That is why I would urge any restaurateur to leave the little sauce bowls on the table, gourmands like me can serve themselves without any trouble, and without causing considerable time shifts for the kitchen. Good, but would have been exceptional if cooked well.

Pithiviers

La p'tite salade

Another reason (the third) for such a quick return was the cheeseboard. This really must be one of the finest cheese selections this world has to offer, as it eclipses most of the best French ones, not to speak of those in this town. With our selection we were served a 2005 Wolfer Goldgrube Riesling Spätlese from Daniel Vollenveider, a 2005 Pinot Noir, Te Mania from New Zealand, and a 1977 Blandy’s Bual Madeira. The few cheeses we had were yet again fantastic, in exceptional condition and quite simply divine.

Fromages

The pre-dessert was the same as last time: A coconut biscuit, banana sorbet and lime mousse. This was again very good, refreshing and not too sweet.

pre-dessert

The dessert itself was a Amalfi lemon tart, basil sorbet, lime jelly and meringue. This was a fantastic dessert. A perfect classical lemon tart was topped with a quenelle of great, intensive basil sorbet, and a light foam of lime. Along with the jelly and the meringue, this was an absolutely brilliant dessert, as the basil gave it much more of a complex, rich taste, which went perfectly with the lemon. It would be interesting to compare this with the lemon/basil dessert at Louis XV, although the latter uses the combination in a completely different combination. Excellent.

Tarte au citron

Mignardises were very good, and show how careful the pastry here works. Very good.

mignardises

All in all this was a stunning meal. Apart from the bill, which was by far the highest I have as yet had in London, the wines, food and service were fantastic. Every single pairing was perfect, made sense, worked, and elevated the dish to another level. In addition to this, the hare, cheese and dessert were among the best things I have eaten in London, and the pithiviers could have figured among those too, had it not been overcooked. The only problem I had today was the langoustine dish, which was a good distance away from the level of the other dishes, in terms of product quality, interest and composition, it was not at the level of the subsequent dishes. Whilst warranting 1*, it certainly did not qualify for any higher marking. Bonnet’s cooking was (the pithiviers taken apart) as precise, clean and interesting as ever, but the problems are clear: There needs to be more consistency. My dining companion has also eaten here three times, and had the exact same complaint. Another problem he has, is the difficulty of getting outstanding seafood and products in general is a problem, if one cooks in such a style. Bonnet does a fine job in sourcing the best possible stuff, but in some cases (especially fish), he can’t compete with what is on offer in other countries (at much higher prices) and some other British restaurants.

The Greenhouse, II, London

novembre 6, 2009
La salle

La salle

This post destroys the blog’s chronological order a little, but as the grouse’s season isn’t that long anymore, I thought it might be useful to publish it first.

The Greenhouse is real gem. Nestled in Hay’s Mews in Mayfair, its slick, very chic interior goes well with the clientele that dines here. The room is really well designed, and is probably as good as a basement, with low a ceiling, gets. It is both elegant, and comfortable, even if it does get loud, due to the parquet on the floor, it has unquestionable charm. Design-wise, I love absolutely love it.

La table

La table

On a Wednesday night, we weren’t the only table who wanted to try Antonin Bonnet’s cooking it seemed. The place was packed. Next to us sat Jancis Robinson with Nick Lander, on the other side, Marlon Abela, the owner of the place, who also owns Umu and a few other restaurants in London. Apart from the décor, three things make the Greenhouse special: The absolutely stunning wine list, the cooking and the cheeses. The wine list is easily the most extensive in London, and one of the most impressive in the world. The 3350 wines are mostly highly regarded nectars from the world’s most renowned producers and feature some vintages that not many restaurants sell anyomore. For people who enjoy a wine that is mature, there will be plenty of choice here, and prices aren’t outrageous neither (considering the standard of the restaurant). Krug’s Grande Cuvee is less expensive here than at most other London restaurants, not to mention Paris. At a mere 180 (until recently it was 155 pounds) the mark-up seems very good indeed. A glass of this godly wine is sold at 30 pounds, which is a fair price for coming one step closer to heaven. Things like Bollinger’s Vieilles Vignes Francaises cost less than in some shops here, but unfortunately my student budget, doesn’t allow me to go for such highly tempting diamonds. The sommelier Ronan Sayburn really knows his wine, and is best left carte blanche, trust me, you won’t be let down. We were served a selection of drinkable wines, and one treat, that was outrageous.

La Salle

La Salle

Service was great: Attentive, friendly, charming and knowledgeable. I found the gentleman in charge of the cheeseboard especially impressive. This was someone (his name escapes me) who has a real passion, who travels to the regions in which his cheeses originate, and who keeps close contact with Bernard Antony, who supplies all of the restaurant’s French cheeses. More about that later though. The only concern I had with the service was the fact that bread and butter were never refilled. One had to ask every single time, which is a little tiring. Especially if you ask for the fourth or fifth time, being a gready bastard like myself. However, any wish was directly obliged, which is all one needs.

Food-wise, we went for the tasting menu (80 pounds), which is very fairly priced for what is offered. I don’t want to suggest them to raise the prices or anything, but I sometimes wonder how places like this can survive on such pricing-schemes. Having experienced a number of 3 and 2* kitchens in action, I know how low prices in London are. A 2* chef in London recently told me that if it weren’t for the hotel that backed his restaurant, he would have been out of business a long time ago. This isn’t a a business in which one makes money, and people who complain should go and work in a starred kitchen for a good month. I wonder how many make it through the first week. To start us off with our Champagne, we were offered a rhubarb and apple sphere, and cheese crackers, filled with a cream, whose contents I forgot to note. The sphere had a rather acidic, tart taste, and was a good set-up for the palate. The crisps were much more pleasant though, as they went beautifully with the drink. A good start.

Pour grignoter

Pour grignoter

The amuse bouche was a spider crab/apple/celery salad, which came atop crab/dashi jelly. This had very clean, subtle flavours, and could have used a little more punch from the pretty neutral jelly. Nonetheless, it was already very much in the line of Antonin’s cooking: Incredibly clean, natural, perfectly executed and light. This was very precise in every respect, and the addition of tamed Asian elements (dashi) made it only more interesting. Good, although it was no where near as good as what was to come up…

Amuse

Amuse

Bread was great. The four types offered were warm and crunchy, and had nice, airy mie. All are made in the restaurant, as are the oatcakes served with the cheese (very good too). I couldn’t specify, which one I prefered, as all had their USPs, but generally speaking the level was very high. Butter too, was very tasty, especially the salted one. With the bread at ADAD, I would rate this as the best in London (as far as I can tell). Excellent.

Les pains

Les pains

I swapped the tasting menu’s beef carpaccio for something of a bit more interest: Terrine of Foie Gras and Bresse Chicken. With this I was served a 2005 Pinot Gris from Bruno Hunold, which went very well with the dish. A small rectangle of foie gras/Bresse chicken and fig terrine came with a pickled quince and some quince puree. Simple, very pretty and most importantly perfect from a technical point of view. This was precise, exact, simple and delicious. A classical combination and presentation, which was dressed in a most modern way. This combination is just made in heaven, it is fantastic and should be eaten by everyone at least once. Be it here or in other great restaurants.  The foie was of very good quality, and went beautifully with the chicken and quince. This evening promised to be rather good! Excellent. (The Simmental beef carpaccio was faultless too, if less interesting as this dish)

Terrine

Terrine

The second course read like a wild list of products, randomly paired: Scottish scallop in seaweed butter, caviar, goats’ cheese mozzarella, cucumber and rock samphire. This was served with 2007 Albarino de Ferrerio, Bodegas Mendes, Rias Baixas, which was most enjoyable. The huge scallop (not butchered to resemble slices of paper) was steamed and then gently roasted with seaweed butter. It was topped with salmon roe, which was marinated in sake, a goats’ cheese mozzarella foam, some cucumber, rock samphire and a dashi broth. What really struck me, was the huge scallop and the perfect cooking of it. This was again, most precisely timed and contrasted beautifully with the popping texture of the salmon roe and the other elements. The dish was harmonious as such, and the dashi broth’s flavour gave it a strong backbone, which I really enjoyed. Although it seemed a little hyperactive at first, it came out as a fantastic dish. The outstanding factor here was the scallop and the very precise cooking of it. Very good.

St Jacques

St Jacques

Moving on,  here came the fish course: Steamed brill with coconut broth, peanut tamarind and French beans. Paired with 2007 Neudorf Chardonnay, Nelson, it was a very happy couple indeed. The dish really was a study in reductionism and brought things down to the essentials. There was no more than what was really needed on this plate. The brill was covered with a peanut-crust and served with French bean cream and a coconut jus. A dish as minimalistic as this really relies on exact flavours, great execution and most importantly: Stunning products. What really was striking was the way, in which the flavour combination evolved. This wasn’t just an ordinary Asian-influenced coconut-milk based sauce, which often taste rather one-dimensional, and vulgar, but a most complex, fascinating concoction. Together with the perfectly cooked brill, it was a pretty perfect match. Besides the fact, that the fish was a little less firm than I like it (not caught that same day I suppose), this dish was a great thing. It really was one of the very few Asian (although not Japanese)-influenced dishes that worked in a “French” restaurant. Excellent.

Barbue

Barbue

Just before things got serious came the Pan-fried duck foie gras, spicy carrots, honey-glazed confit medlar and tamarind sultanas jus. The wine poured was a 2006 Torcolato, Maculan from the Veneto. A niece slab of foie gras was surrounded by a collection of carrot cream, a carrot piece and medlar. The sauce, which was rather sweet (given its main ingredients), finished things off in a beautiful way. From reading the course’s description, one might be inclined to think that this would be an overly sweet affair, but luckily enough it was a great game that balanced a subtle acidity with slightly restrained, muted sweetness (coming mainly from the sauce). The vegetables and fruit were cooked al dente, and were very gently spiced. The star of the show however, was the foie gras. This was a very fine piece of cooked foie indeed. In fact, a very knowledgeable diner, whom I was having dinner with was rather impressed by it. The outstanding thing about this piece of liver was the texture. It was unlike most warm pieces, which are stringy, feel heavy, full of veines and break into some kind of disgusting mash, when cut. Luckily enough, this was all the opposite. Most of the time, the foie gras isn’t choosen very carefully, and of pretty poor quality. Here however, Antonin Bonnet explained that they go through a good number of lobes a week (all of which is done by himself) and select only the best. Out of these, they then pick the big lobe, and use only the centre-piece. The cooking process resembles that, which Blumenthal uses on his foie dish, and really does give an amazing result. This was one of the rare pieces of warm foie gras that I absolutely loved. Exceptional.

Foie gras

Foie gras

Now, the initial reason for this dinner was what followed. I had missed eating a grouse last year, during my first year at LSE, so I felt obliged to rectify that. Having asked Antonin if he could prepare me one, he accepted, and so the magical moment came: Roast Grouse, coffee mashed potato. To go with this, we had a glass of 2002 Volnay from Nicolas Rossignol, which was very good, but probably the pairing I found the least convincing. In this case, I really didn’t mind. I was here to meet that Scottish bird for the first time. It really was a beauty lying in front of me. Again, the dish looked deceptively simple: the grouse, a crepinette of the thighs, some leaves and the jus. On the side there was a little cocotte with some coffee mashed potato. The grouse was a particular fine one, I was told by my dining companion, who has eaten his fair share of these fine little creatures. It was as tender as pigeon (and cooked in a similar fashion), with a much more powerful, potent taste. I know quite a few people who find grouse too powerful, but this one really was a stunning piece. It was absolutely outstanding. But there was more than just an exquisite breast, there was also that crepinette lying on the far side of the plate. Often these braised thighs of pigeon, wood pigeon, or whatever bird it may be, are delicious, but rarely are they as powerful and rich as this. It was a piece of heaven, and blew me away. Topped with the same coffee or cocoa emulsion as the breast, it had it all. An absolute stunning piece of cooking. The second round disappeared as quickly as it came, and will be warmly remembered. Before I forget, Antonin deserves some praise for serving a game dish without any sweet components! How often do you have that? This dish really was absolutely divine. (I have now eaten a few grouse based dishes, and must say that this one remains my benchmark, alongside one, I had at ADAD)

Grouse

Grouse

They wanted to skip cheese, which would be fine in any other restaurant in London, as cheese boards aren’t what they are in France over here. The Greenhouse has a little more, or shall we say something more interesting to offer. Another blogger has written about it before, but knowing that he hadn’t been to the great places for cheese in France, I didn’t really expect anything great. But, being here, I asked if we couldn’t at least have a look at the selection. One of the waiters is in charge of looking after the carefully selected Bernard Antony (for French cheese) and Neal’s Yard cheeses. This man really inspired me with his passion and love for cheese, and his immense knowledge. He likes his Camembert nicely runny, a treat, only seen to rarely nowadays and enjoys his other cheeses nicely matured too. That’s the way it should be, and if it puts some ignorants off, forget them. We had a few cheeses, notably that fabulous 4 year old comte, which was more like those I have had at Les Ambassadeurs and L’Arpege, than the one at Louis XV. This one was much more crumbly, with the crystallised salt pockets. A divine treat. The rest was at least as good as the best cheeses I have eaten in French 3*,  a thing I really did not expect here at all. Each and every single one of the 8 cheeses we tried was in perfect shape and among the finest specimens I have had. There was not a single cheese, which wasn’t fantastic. One should go here just for a grouse and some cheese afterwards. With a good bottle of wine to accompany that, it’s pretty much all one needs. To go with these terrific cheeses, we were served some 1999, Castello di Fonterutoli, Siepi, which was beautiful. Divine.

Fromages

Fromages

Pre-dessert was a banana sorbet with lime foam (at least if my memory serves me correctly). This was a very good sorbet, and in combination with the foam, it was an excellent first step into the sweeter part of life. Excellent.

Pre-dessert

Pre-dessert

The real dessert (yes there only was one, times are tough) were Black figs and honey, dried fruit jam, hazelnuts, bronze fennel and fig leaf ice cream. To go with that, we had a wine, I once was served at ADPA with a cherry dessert: 2006 Mataro, Alta Allela. This was a very happy marriage, which worked beautifully. The patisserie here is in stark contrast to that of ADAD and the Square (whom I consider to make the best desserts in town), in that it is much more delicate, in line with the kitchen’s style. The constructions are more delicate, which is one way of putting it, and a little more inventive, than at the aforementioned places. The individual elements in this dessert were each perfectly executed and created a real symphony, rather than a cacophony. The most enjoyable parts were the fruit jam and the ice cream, which was great. The fennel was interesting, but not really noticeable, which might not have been a bad thing. Very good.

Figues

Figues

Coffee and mignardises are very good here. Not only do they taste very well, but most of them are a little different from the usual suspects. There is the odd macaron here too, but there is at least one constantly changing part too. Very good.

Mignardises

Mignardises

The whole meal was just what I had hoped for. I had remembered the cooking to be great here from the last time. Today it was by no means short of that, being absolutely outstanding in some parts (grouse, cheese, both foie gras dishes) and mostly very good to excellent. The weakest part was the scallop, but even there, it was a tough call, as the only thing “wrong” with that was the dashi, which one could consider as being a little overpowering. Apart from that this was an absolutely faultless meal, which really was worth every penny. The cooking is clearly influenced by Michel Bras, as Bonnet worked with him before going here, but there is definitely a distinct style, that shines through. Dishes like the scallop or brill would not have seen the day in Laguiole I suppose. The amount of work that went into getting the best products available is quite astonishing here, and really makes all the difference, as we saw that night. If you plan to go to London, do it during the grouse season and eat here. You will be pleased with what you get, very much so….

Legumes comme le garguillou

Legumes comme le garguillou

Wines were very good too, seeing budget limit we had set. Service too, as mentioned before, did not make a single mistake and was great. Whenever it is grouse season, make the trip to Mayfair, eat one of them and forget about everything around you. It really is fantastic.

The Greenhouse, London

mai 19, 2009

This, dear readers, will only be a short little review of a stunning meal I had here this week. Seeing that I only found out about my luck when a friend called me half an hour before the meal, I did not have my camera, which explains the absence of photos. For those, who will continue to read, you will be able to read about one of the most impressive meals I have had in London since my coming here in October last year.

 

The Greenhouse is situated in the heart of Mayfair. When approaching  the entrance, you walk through a little "garden", helping you step into a different world. This world doesn’t have much in common with the otherwise noisy, stressful and often tiring city that London is. Here, everything is peaceful, civilised, luxurious and made to give pleasure to the lucky diners. In some respect, Antonin Bonnet has used a lot of his old mentors (Bras) concepts. His kitchen is very different from other chefs’. You might enjoy a few courses, which don’t feature any stock based sauces, which use herbs, vegetables, grains in a most delightful way. Anyone who has been lucky enough to eat at Bras’ Laguiole restaurant, or knows one of his fantastic books, will know how natural this cooking is. There is no manicured carrot slice lying in the corner of a plate, nor is there much cream or butter. Both Bras and Bonnet use the purest, best products and serve them in a (relatively) simple way. What differs this cooking from, say Ceruttis (now Bardets) are the associations and the usage of "strange" sauces, products or unexpected combinations. A meal here might come as a complete surprise, as did mine, and might make you leave with only one desire: To go back and relive this experience.

We started the meal with one of the most fascinating wines that exist, at least if you are such a Champagne fan as I am. Krug Grande Cuvee, which must be the most amazing "basic" cuvees one can think of absolutely blew me away. Such intensive taste is hardly common with any champagne I tasted so far. This really deserves its frightening price, as you will hardly forget it anytime soon! With it, we were served some basil spheres and crackers with goats cheese. The basil sphere had a very bright, refreshing flavour, the goats cheese provided some highly enjoyable saltiness and crunch. Fantastic way to start a meal (although that is more due to the Champagne than the amuses).

The bread here is home made and very, very good. On offer today were four types: Olive, Lemon and Coffee (divine), tomatoe and a normal baguette. All were of very high quality but the service didn’t really want to give them away. I had to ask every time I needed another round, which shouldn’t really happen in a place of this standing. Butter was butter and very good. Don’t know if it was Bordier, but it was good enough to be eaten with the bread. This whole butter craze isn’t really for me, as I doubt that you will be able to tell the difference between the 5 or 6 best butters this world has on offer.

The first course came directly after the first nibbles had been cleared. No amuse or anything of that sort, which makes me quite sad, as I always see the amuse as the one piece of the menu, in which the chef can let his creativity run wild. If one just came back from Europe, where places like Oud Sluis  or Schloss Berg serve you a whole parade of stunning little creations, this seems especially dull.

The first course made up for the lack of amuse I must say. Scottish lobster was barely cooked (mi-cuit) and served with grapefruit, Champagne jelly, different beets and a black sugar sauce. The lobster was cooked fantastically, no hint of chewiness, just a slight crunch, which makes the European lobster so special. There is nothing better than a well cooked European lobster and this was a fine beast. It also tasted very clean, fresh and fine which helped this dish considerably. With this very delicate lobster came a few cubes of slightly bittersweet grapefruit and the star of the dish: black sugar sauce. This is a little flashback to his time at Bras and is made out of the lobster’s head, butter, lemon zest and black sugar. 4 elements create a fantastic balance of a sweetness, iodine flavours and some toasted spice flavours. Such simplicity that gives you such an interesting result is rarely seen in any restaurant, especially in Britain. This really was a fantastic sauce, which went brilliantly well with the grapefruit, lobster and Champagne jelly. This was cooking that was very capable from a technical point of view, featured stunning products and used a highly inventive apporach in conception. I don’t know, if many London restaurants can claim all of these for their cuisine. Excellent.

Following this, I had one of the chefs classics: Bresse Pigeon with baby spinach, pomme soufflee. The pigeon came perfectly cooked (rare) with a cream of the hearts and liver, some gently cooked spinach, a hearty pigeon jus and  a side dish with a barbajuan of the pigeon thigh paired with a herb salad. Furthermore, we were served a little bowl of pommes soufflees. How could I have known that I was going to have one of the best dishes of my life today, when I woke up and only expected this to be another dull day in the LSE library preparing for the upcoming exams? Let me tell you, this was food the way I love it. Simple (not really, but by appearance and perception), perfectly executed and inventive at the same time. The pigeon had extremly intense flavour and the accompanying cream and jus only enhanced this gaminess to elevate it to another level. Just think about it, 4 elements on a plate can create such a rewarding experience. I would be lying if I’d say that this pigeon was any worse than those I had at Oud SLuis, ADPA, Sonnora or any other European 3* (haven’t had any at Bau, where that might change). The accompanying pommes were equally well made and are always a treat. The barbajuan was no worse and provided the dish with a very refined rustic element. In the whole, this dish incorporated every single element of the pigeon, to give the diner the full spectrum of the product he enjoys. It is such a pity if people just use the fancy breast and let the delicious offal go to the bin or anything. It simply is amazing what such a nasty bird can delivers if treated well. DIVINE. This is the kind of food I’d travel for, which must be the first time I can say something like that about any London restaurant. 

The dessert was very pleasant, but nothing special. A milk chocolate parfait sandwiched between caramel tuiles served with chocolate sorbet. Perfectly made, but rather uninspiring. Can’t argue, but can’t be moved by such a dessert. My companion had a much more interesting dish: A reinterpreted lemon tart with basil and a few thousand elements. This was more on the level of the rest of the meal.

Petit fours are stunning though. The macarons were fantastic (had to ask for a second round of course!), the Coca Cola (?!) marshmallow was equally well made and the passion fruit chocolate praline was not the worst of mouthfuls neither.

 

What can I say in retrospect? First, I came here expecting a pleasant meal not more. What I got instead was one of the most interesting and inspiring meals I had in London so far (which only consisted of 3 courses). The products seemed of such high quality that I could probably say they are close to the kind of stuff you might find in a continental 3* kitchen. After all, he uses Mieral as his poultry supplier, meat from the Aubrac, great seafood and top notch vegetables. Furthermore, the way these products are treated reflects the closeness to nature that makes Bras so remarkable. They are treated with utmost respect, to maximise the pleasure of the lucky bastard who ingurgitates these heavenly creations. Thirdly, the kitchen, if in the spirit of Bras, goes its own, distinct way, which is without doubt one of the most interesting ones in London (the other being Pascal Sanchez at Sketch and Claude Bosi at Hibiscus). In addition to these assets, they have one of the biggest cellars in Europe here (somewhere around 2000 positions) of very reasonably priced wines. Of course they won’t cost as little as in your local Tesco’s but that should be clear by now, to those who read this at least. 

But, seeing that it is a restaurant run by humans, it has its flaws. When we arrived, the service seemed a bit nonchalant, didn’t really seem to care about us. However, after a few minutes things changed and by the end of the meal it was perfect. The sommelier deserves to be mentioned, as he does have some very good wines by the glass which fit the kitchen perfectly. For instance, if you always fancied having some Chateau d’Yquem, you can have some here for 45£ a glass (1997), which sounds reasonable for me.

The other thing they could get right is the amuse. It doesn’t cost much to serve a decent little plate of whatever you have lying around in the kitchen. Even if London restaurants often don’t really care about their amuses, a little effort would be very appreciated. The other food concern (if you can call it one) was the relatively boring dessert. In the end, it was just one dessert, so I can’t judge them on that. One more reason to be back as soon as possible!

I don’t really see why Bonnet doesn’t have at least 2*. The restaurant is luxurious enough, the cellar is spectacular, the service (after some warming up) is great and most importantly: The kitchen is absolutely fantastic. If people like Wareing, Herland or Bosi get their 2* why doesn’t this place get them. All I can say, is that I will be back as quickly as possible!


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