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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.