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!