Archive for décembre 2009

The Square, III, London

décembre 28, 2009

La Salle

The Square is a restaurant which is nearly an institution in London by now. During the last years, Phil Howard and his team have cooked their way up to becoming one, if not the best restaurant in the city. This was my third meal here, and I enjoy it more and more to come here. The team is great, with David O’Connor leading a young, motivated brigade, and a great sommelier from the Auvergne called Marc, who recommends some rather drinkable wines.

La Salle II

The restaurant has changed its plates recently, which look decidedly more modern, even if they stay in the same style. The rest is still the same, with very good glasses, china and crockery.

La table

Being truffle season, Phil prepared a menu that mixed this and that, with the addition of truffles in various forms. Bread was better than on previous occasions, as it had a much more crunchy crust, which I hugely enjoy. The selection of bread remained the same too, and offered raisin and nut, brown and a white baguette. I started off with a glass of 1999 Pol Roger brut, which was very good, and disappeared quickly.

The first course of the meal was THE classic of the house. The Saute of Scottish Langoustine tails with gnocchi…. Was a huge pleasure again, even if I have eaten this dish on a number of occasions already. It is just something you don’t get tired of, and the quality of the langoustines is absolutely outstanding. Every time. Today we had the pleasure of meeting a particularly sizeable piece, which had that slight crunchy texture,  that often doesn’t come across on langoustines. Even in very good restaurants, most langoustines are of rather mediocre quality, but here they are among the finest I have come across. The texture is purely magical. In combination with the gnoccho, this is one very successful dish. Outstanding and one of the finest starters in London and Europe maybe.

Special Cuvee No.17, 2007, Hatzidakis, Santorini

La LANGOUSTINE

The first course was a sweetbread with a cauliflower and white truffle salad. Around it was a bit of parmesan jelly and some toasted almonds. The whole thing was sauced with a little veal jus.  This was a very well cooked sweetbread. Creamy on the inside, and just right (otherwise the texture is not so pleasant), it tasted marvelously. With the truffles (under it), the smell of the dish was simply unique. The fermented cauliflower brought some crunch, and underlined the truffles’ earthy tones. This was what the Square does best: Simple, perfectly executed dishes, relying on fine products which will beat most other London restaurants. Excellent.

Tokaji Furmint Nyulaszo, 2005, Istvan Szepsy, Batthyany

Le ris de veau

Up next was a John Dory with truffle butter, winter minestrone and shaved parmesan. The striking thing about this dish was the fish. It was by far better than any fish I’ve been served in this restaurant, as it was pristinely fresh, firm, juicy and tasty (the previous meals I’ve had here had some very good fish too, be it not at the same level as this). The combination with the pungent, powerful truffle butter was very, very comforting and enjoyable. It gave the fish a much more robust, round taste. The minestrone was very nice, but didn’t add much to it, although it didn’t hurt neither. In this case, the fish with that butter would have sufficed on their own. Very good, and excellent for the fish in terms of quality, cooking and combination with the butter.

Puligny Montrachet Les Referts 1er Cru, 2002, Louis Jadot, Burgundy

Saint Pierre

Ah, now this was  special, something a continental European will not see in restaurants, as it is illegal, at least in France. Roast woodcock with white truffle spätzle. Simple, yet incredibly tasty, and perfect. The woodcock (Becasse in French) was roasted, and served with the head, out of which one ate the very tasty brain. The breast itself was very tender, with a unique taste. It was the first time I have tried woodcock, and I hope that I’ll come across a few more, as this really was special. In combination with the spätzle, and truffled butter/oil, the dish was a lesson in straightforward product-centred cooking. A great dish. Excellent.

Saint Joseph, 2007, Stephane Otheguy, Northern Rhone Valley

La Becasse

The main course was a play on an English classic, something which I always love here, as it is less common to have “English” haute cuisine that is well made and works. A venison Wellington was served with cabbage, beetroot and a simple jus. The venison was perfectly cooked, and tender, but the real star here was that cabbage. I don’t know what exactly was in there, but it tasted glorious. Nearly as good as some divine cabbage I can remember from a meal at Sonnora a few years ago, which has since then been my benchmark for it. Very good.

Barbera, 2006, Mac Forbes, King Valley

Wellington

It was the first time I tried cheese here, which is now supplied by Paxton & Whitfield. We had about 6 cheeses, which all were very good. None of them was life changing, but all of them had a very high standard. At the moment the restaurant is changing its cheeseboard, and experimenting with ageing, different cheeses and so on, so one might have to come back in a few months to see what they will be like then. Very good.

Alvarinho Superior, 2005, Dorado Moncao, Vinho Verde DO

Les Fromages

Vin de Voile, 1997, Robert PLageoles, Gaillac

As my companion has never been here before, she had to try the Passionfruit and lime cheesecake. It was as glorious as ever, and is only surpassed by Pierre Herme’s divine cheesecakes. Seriously, a meal with this, the langoustines, maybe some foie gras, a turbot dish and some meat will be as good as it gets in London, and on very safe 2* territory. This dessert is always perfectly executed, and never fails to impress me. Great stuff it is, and outstanding too.

Chateau Coutet, 1997, Sauternes-Barsac

Cheesecake

Being just before Christmas, we were in for a special treat. A Christmas pudding. Very British, many don’t like it, but when a place like this claims to make the best in the land, my curiosity is sparked. Here it was served with a custard and an ice cream. The latter’s components I have unfortunately forgot to note, but I can assure you, that it fitted in very well with the theme (there were hints of spices, and a most convincing texture). Anyways, it was a damn good Christmas pudding, although it remains one filling dessert. Not one for the calorie obsessed of our times. But, those will most likely not be amongst the readers of this blog anyway. This was probably as good as a Christmas pudding gets, so I can see why they put that on the website. Very good to excellent.

Pedro Ximenez NV, Ximenez-Spinola, Jerz de la Frontera, Andalucia

Christmas Pudding

As mignardises, we were offered clementines and some kind of special (British?) Christmas pastry. Nice play here  on the theme of Christmas, which is always nice to see, especially if the pastry is of such good quality.

Mignardises

This was my third meal here, and the third time I had a great time. The staff are great, and our sommelier Marc chose some very interesting, and very drinkable wines to go with our meal. One feels well here, probably just what Phil Howard strives for. For anyone in London, temporarily or permanently , a visit here is a must for the cooking here combines classical French elements with contemporary adaptations of British cooking in a most successful way.

Le Gavroche, London

décembre 18, 2009

La salle

Le Gavroche is an institution in London. The restaurant first opened its doors back in 1967, moved a few years later and the current head chef, Michel Roux Jr., took over in 1991. Today, one feels that not much has changed, but in this case, it is not really negative.

La salle II

The room is fantastically kitschy. Upon entering, one feels like in a 1960’s British Gentlemen’s club. Everything is fluffy, green and red, and the flowers only add to that feeling. The walls are hung with decorations, Picassos, Chagall’s, and what not. You just feel like in a time machine.

La table

Service here is great. Very classical (no wonder), attentive, and always ready when needed.

Le Gavroche

To start the meal off, a glass of G.H. Martel 2004 Champagne was most welcome. To not leave us without anything, we were served a little game feuillete, and a tart, which featured slightly bacon and some apple. Both of these went down very quickly, and the game’s intense flavour was great. A very good way to start things off. Very good.

Bouchees

Next up came the bread. Baked in-house, this was absolutely great. Airy, with great crust, and good flavour. The only thing was that the texture between the individual breads did not vary greatly ( I suppose the same base is used, which is then treated in different ways). However, it was very good bread.

Du pain

The amuse bouche was a piece of smoked eel, some chutney and a few cress shoots. This was good, as the combination of salty, smoky eel works great with a slightly sour, sweet eel. However, it wasn’t anything more than good, as this was pretty uninspired. Good.

anguille

To begin the meal, we had a bottle of Pinot Blanc 2006, from the great domaine Leon Beyer. This was most enjoyable. The first course was “kingfish” marine aux agrumes, radis noir au vinaigre et sesame. The combination certainly sounds rather nice, something slightly Asian, a little more “modern”. However, when the plate appeared, whilst certainly being the best looking dish of the day (after the dessert), the taste was a slight problem. The fish was of very good quality, no doubt, but it seemed a little out of balance. The puree, which must have been based on black sesame, and possibly some kind of radish or so, totally overpowered the delicate, fine, fish. The other problem were the very big pieces of grapefruit. As the fish was not seasoned (there was a little Maldon salt on top though), the grapefruit was another overpowering element (at least in such quantities). The daikon radish was nicely seaseond, but in general this dish was a pretty mediocre affair. There was no problem with anything like product quality, or technique, but it seemed a little like one was desperately trying to modernise things. Without great or any success. Bof.

Kingfish

But, things got better, much better indeed. The Veloute de Potiron, cepes et jambon seche maison was a perfectly executed classic dish. Normally the most boring thing that could possibly figure on any menu, this was an absolutely great soup. Incredibly intense in terms of flavour, prefect texture and seasoning. Wow, this was proper food, worthy of those 2*. The addition of a few pan-fried cepes and some fried ham was most welcome, as it gave the whole thing an earthy, grounding. Besides looking most unattractive, I loved this dish. The flavours were spot-on, the combination worked beautifully, what more can one possibly want? Very good.

Veloute de Potiron, cepes, jambon

Fort moche, mais fort bon cette soupe

Next up was another very good, very simple affair: Filet de rouget grondin, puree de topinambours et jus de homard. To clarify things, rouget grondin is not a red mullet (rouget barbet) but a rock fish. Usually it is used in fish soups in the south of France, this pan-fried version was very good. Simple as a dish, featuring only a puree, the fish and lobster jus, it was most successful. The fish was of top quality, with great firm flesh, taste and perfect cooking. The other elements didn’t disturb the great piece of fish, but rather let it express its own qualities. However, they were very tasty, which should probably mentioned. Very good.

Rouget Grondin

To accompany the main course, we had a bottle of Mas Brugiere “L’Arbouse” 2007, which was an easy drinking wine.

The Supreme de faisan roti et cuisse farcie aux chataignes certainly did not disappoint. Very good quality of products again here, the dish was once again very simple, but very well made and tasty. The cooking of both pheasant pieces was not faultless, but very close to it. A few seconds less in the pan or oven, and this would have been fantastic, this way, the breast was a little overdone (although only very little). Taste-wise, one can’t really go wrong with a combination like this, and this didn’t disappoint. Again, we had good 2* food, which does not exceed that rating though. The jus should be mentioned, as that was particularly successful. In general, I found this a nice autoumn dish. Very good.

Faisan

Since I discovered the Greenhouse’s cheese, I am always hopeful to be positively surprised in London. However, here cheese doesn’t come from the great Bernard Antony, but from Georges Vernier. This means that you get some perfectly decent cheese, but hardly anything mind-bloiwing. Overall I liked the five or so I tried, but can’t say that they were better than very good.

Fromages

Dessert was about to be served. My companion believes that this is their greatest strength, so I was looking forward to find out why. Having had a very good meal so far, we let Enrico Molino choose dessert, and were not disappointed. We were served a Klein, Vin de Constance, 2004 to go with our sweet course. The passion-fruit soufflé with white chocolate ice cream was certainly a very, very fine soufflé. Whilst some would argue that the egg whites had been beaten too long (and stiff), flavour-wise, it was very good. Even if they wanted to dump the fabulous ice cream into the soufflé, we stopped it on time, and got our ice cream on the side. Why does every better restaurant in London (with the exception of ADAD) have to massacre its soufflés by at least throwing some kind of ice cream into them (in some cases even some caramel or other things, which really kills it). Overall this was again a very capable 2* dish, which didn’t go any further in terms of complication, or creativity. Excellent.

Souffle

With the very good coffee we were served some very capable petit-fours. These were not only very well made, but also didn’t taste overly sweet. Very good.

Mignardises

Overall I was quite astonished. This meal was a sound 2* experience. I can’t see why many in England claim it to be 3*, but the overall quality of the cooking, and products was much higher than I’d have hoped it to be. Despite the fact that Michel Roux Jr. wasn’t in the kitchen (which shouldn’t change a thing btw), I had a very enjoyable, very English time. I think that this is a place, which everyone who comes to London for a while should visit, not so much for the food only, but rather for  the whole experience. I doubt that one will find a place more British than this, with better food. It is really hard to find any faults in the meal we had, the only one being the very slight overcooking of the pheasant, but apart from that, this was a perfect meal. If one enjoys such a cuisine is another question. I certainly did hugely enjoy the food, even if it isn’t anything that will engage you intellectually or will blow you away.

Ah yes, in terms of pricing the whole thing seems rather fair. A lunch (with half a bottle of wine, water and a possibly a coffee) is no more than £48,60, whilst alc prices are around £100. What is incredibly fairly priced, is the wine list. Here one finds treasures at great prices. Glasses of wine start at a very fair £5, and a glass of 1989 Yquem (125ml) is no more than £90.

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.

Apsleys at the Lanesborough-A Heinz Beck Restaurant, London

décembre 8, 2009

La casa

Heinz Beck is an unusual chef. He came to Italy not knowing much about the country’s cooking, and now runs one of Italy’s best restaurants. It is the only 3* in Rome, and bears the name La Pergola. Being from Germany (from the same district of Bavaria as the pope), he is a hard-working, precise cook, one who tastes every dish, every day. So, when I heard of his new venture in the Lanesborouh in London, expectations were high. The chef here is not Beck, who wouldn’t leave his kitchen in Rome to split his time, but Massimiliano Blasone, who was head chef at Castello Banfi, where he held 1*.

Upon entering the beautiful room, one immediately sees that no penny has been spared to create a cadre, worthy of fine cooking. The sommeliers can retreat into two rooms, where the wines are stocked. Leflaive’s Batard Montrachet, Petrus and other very fine wines are sold by the glass (albeit at mind-boggling prices), which must be great, if you dine alone and can afford such fine drops. Otherwise, the wine list is amongst the more expensive ones in London, but hell, we’re at the Lanesborough after all and there are some fair things on there too.

La tavola

Service throughout was great. Completely male (as in La Pergola), the brigade was perfect. Most, if not all were Italian, and masterfully handled our lunch. According to Beck, who wrote a book on the « art of the service », women are either too beautiful, or ugly to work in restaurants, hence the all-male brigade (that’s at least what a German TV programme said). The menu is not overly expensive, with most starters around £25, primi around £17, mains in the higher twenties, and desserts around £10. Tasting menus are available at £65 and £95, which is again very fairly priced.

Bread was very good. The different types on offer were all well made, and far from the usually bland, uninteresting bread in Italy, or Italian restaurants. With it was served some good olive oil.

Il pane

To start us off, we were served a Terrina di fegato grasso di anatra con lenticchie e gelato all’ aceto balsamico. Paired with a 1997 Chateau Filhot, this was a most successful start. The main element, the foie gras was exceptional. Cured in passito, it was most tasty, nearly creamy and perfectly seasoned. A very fine piece of liver indeed. With it came a brilliant balsamico ice cream, which had a perfect balance between sweetness, acidiy and richness. The accompanying brioches were also hard to criticize, and in general I was only able to struggle with the lentils. Not because of any errors in cooking or seasoning, but in terms of quantity. There weren’t enough of them to stand out, or to be a match for the incredible foie. However, when eaten with the deep-fried sweetbreads (whose role on the plate I could not work out), they went down very well. I certainly did not expect anything of such high quality from a restaurant as new as this. Excellent.

Il fegato grasso

Next up was a killer of a dish. Ravioli di cacciagione con crema di zucca. A nice amount of game ravioli came nestled atop a pool of squash cream, sauced with a little game jus and sprinkled with beetroot cubes. Well, pasta in London has always been a bit of a disappointment for me so far. Now, things began to look up it seemed. This was some terrific pasta, with great bite to it, an intense, juicy filling, and a great partner, in the form of the squash cream. It was interesting to see that classical Italian combination of squash and amaretti, as their slight sweetness gave the dish a whole new dimension (if used very carefully only, too not dominate the rest). If the pasta at the Pergola is as good as this, or even better, I can understand why Beck has risen to such a reputation in Italy. This was pasta among the finest I’ve encountered so far. Excellent.

Ravioli

The following dish was a classic of Beck: Fagottelli alla carbonara. Little parcels filled with an emulsion of egg yolk, parmigiano, and a few other good things, topped with crispy pancetta, this is simplicity at its best. When biting into one of them, they literally explode in your mouth, and fill it with the intense, rich flavours of the classic carbonara. An absolutely brilliant composition, which alone was worth coming for, even if there still were a few treats to come up. Fantastic.

Fagotelli

It was time for the main course. Crepinette di Pernice con polenta incatenata. Now this was (like the game ravioli) a dish from the lunch menu. However, it was quite impressive again. The crepinette was cooked perfectly, with incredibly tender pheasant, and an incredibly powerful taste. With it came  luscious, creamy polenta, wild mushrooms, a few pieces of pan-fried foie gras and a hearty jus. All in all, this was highly refined, perfectly executed rustic cooking, the way one would hope to find it in more good Italian restaurants. A combination of such elements already reads fantastically well, but in terms of taste it was even better. Every element was of fine quality, well cooked, and very well seasoned. Excellent.

Crepinette

Desserts here, I was told are in a class of their own. So when my chocolate based dessert arrived, I was more than looking forward to seeing, in how far my sources were right. Indeed, this was a most convincing dessert. What looked like a rather uninspired, classical Opera style gateau, turned out to be something completely different. There was an incredibly light and pungent chocolate mousse, some nutty praline, and a very well made ice cream. Overall, this was yet again a fine plate of food, which was much better than I would have imagined in my wildest dreams. Very good.

Dessert

All in all, I was very impressed by this lunch. There was not a single letdown here. Each dish was coherent, very well executed and based on very good products. This was the kind of cooking I was hoping to find at other “better” London Italian restaurants. Combined with the great service, a good Pouilly-Fume from Pascal Jolivet (£45), this lunch left me wanting more. After my Christmas holidays, I shall try dinner, and hopefully repeat this most promising experience. The Michelin guide’s release in January could indeed become most interesting…

The Ledbury, London

décembre 2, 2009

La maison

The Ledbury was never really a restaurant that attracted me in London. Somehow I didn’t feel any rush to go there. However, recently a few people have had very good meals there, and a few dishes on the menu caught my attention. So, when came to Notting Hill, I didn’t really know what to expect. Michelin gave it a rising two stars rating this year, and in most other guides (British ones), it ranks amongst the best in town. Price-wise, the lunch menu is £24.50 for three courses, whilst dinner is £60, and the tasting menu costs no more than £70. The wine list offers some very good wines, at fair prices, although you won’t find many older vintages on it.

Une table

The room is somewhat similar to the Square (which is partly owned by the same person), and is rather elegant. Tables were well spaced out, and neatly dressed. The service throughout was fantastic: each and everyone was motivated, interested and seemed rather happy to work here. That’s the way it should be!

La table

To kick things off, a glass of Billecart-Salmon rose was most welcome, to go with it, I was served a macaron of beetroot and foie gras. This is reasonably close to the macarons one finds at Ledoyen, Arnsbourg or other places, and has got not much to do with a macaron. However, the present version was a particularly fine example, with great intense creamy foie gras parfait, and a lovely, airy shell. A fine start indeed.

mac foie

After adjusting the tasting menu and adding a few things here and there, I was ready to start. Bread is made in the restaurant, and one type is bought-in. On choice were three types: Bacon brioche, multi-grain and a pain au froment (I don’t know what that is in English). All of them were very good and easily ranked among the finer breads in London’s top restaurants.

Les pains

The first course was already a masterpiece: Ceviche of Hand Dived Scallops with Seaweed and Herb Oil, Kohlrabi and Frozen Horseradish. Served with a most interesting 2006, Vin de table de France, Originel from Julien Courtois (son of well-known Alain), this course was brilliant. From a visual point of view already, it was a winner, but the amazing thing here was the exact balance between the individual elements. The scallops, topped with frozen horseradish, and a few slivers of marinated kohlrabi, surrounded by a cordon of herb oil gave an unusual but fantastic combination. This was a dish that would not have been out of place in a very good 2* (if not more). There was the textural interest, a game with temperatures, and a number of contrasting and coherent flavours. The incredibly dry and mineral wine worked beautifully with the dish. Outstanding. I was quite startled at this point, the meal, still in its youth seemed to be most promising…

St Jacques

Next up was a classic of the house: Flame Grilled Mackerel with Cured Mackerel, Avocado and Shiso. This was served with 2007 Riesling QBA, Sybille Kuntz from the Mosel. This was again a highly interesting plate of food. Visually it was unlike anything I have seen recently in other restaurants. The flame-grilled mackerel came with a cream of avocado, cured mackerel wrapped in some jelly, pickled cucumber and a little broth/marinade. The mackerel was of very fine quality (as most products tonight) and was cooked with great dexterity. The skin was beautifully crispy, whilst the meat remained incredibly moist and barely cooked. I am no real fan of cooked mackerel, but this was very good, and the combination with the other elements worked beautifully. The wine was, again a very good match for the dish. Very good.

Maquereau

Moving on. I was approached with an interesting creature, a Crapaudine Beetroot Baked in Clay with Smoked White Balsamic Emulsion, Goats Curd and Herbs. With this was poured another unusual wine: 2008 Pais, Clos Ouvert from Chile. Pais is one of Chile’s most popular grape varieties, but is hardly exported. This was another very natural wine, which alone did not have much of an interest, but paired with the dish, it worked well, and got another dimension. The beetroot was freed tableside, but taken back to the kitchen for plating. The finished plate was again beautiful, highly interesting and unusual. Now, I’ve spent a few days at l’Arpege’s kitchen, where the famous salt-baked beetroot (also a crapaudine by the way), was invented. This version however was more interesting for me. The slightly smoked balsamic emulsion gave it a little acidity, which was complemented by the elderberries. With it came a feuille de brik filled with goat’s cheese and finished off with olive powder. All in all, I found this dish surprisingly good. At first, I wanted to change it, but was more than happy that the Maitre d’hotel insisted on keeping it. The combination of flavours was not unusual, but the way they were paired was much more successful than, say at Mirazur (where I had also eaten a beet/balsamic/goat’s cheese course). Here, there was real punch from the beet, and it’s intense taste was fantastic. Again, this was a very good dish.

Crapaudine en croute d'argile

Crapaudine

Next up was another classic: Celeriac Baked in Ash with Hazelnuts and a Kromeski of Wild Boar. On this dish, the pairing was the least successful of all. The Medium Dry Amontillado from Fernando de Castilla was much too sweet for the delicate dish, and overpowered it completely. Apart from this, the sommelier’s choices were all very well paired with the dishes. The piece of Celeriac is coated in ash, enclosed in bread dough and baked for a good while. After being released on the table (with a beautiful fumet rising up into the air), this plate is finished in the kitchen too. It is absolutely amazing to see what kind of texture and taste the celeriac develops, when cooked in this fashion. It is absolutely outstanding. The hint of ash gives it a completely new dimension, and paired with the crunchy hazelnuts and velvety mayonnaise, this dish is really unique. However, one element should not be forgotten: the kromeski (or cromesquis in French) of wild boar. This is another deep-fried parcel of heaven, as it is tasty, crunchy, rich, and quite simply terrific. With the scallops, this was my favourite dish. So far. Fantastic.

celeri-rave en croute

Celeri-rave

After a little break we were back on track with a Terrine of Foie Gras, teal and Fig with Toasted Poilane Bread. The wine was a 2006 Syrah TBA from Steindorfer in the Burgenland. This was a most pleasant wine, although I always find it a pitty to drink such incredibly rich wines at a tender age. The foie gras was of excellent quality, and masterfully prepared. It was perfectly cleaned, creamy, tasty and well-seasoned. The addition of the teal was hardly noticeable, and the bird could have been a more prominent partner here. Apart from that, the dish was another winner, even though it was more classical, and thus slightly less interesting compared to the others. Very good.

Foie Gras

The restaurant ran out of cod that evening and served turbot instead. I certainly won’t complain, as the Roast Cornish Turbot with Grilled Leeks, Hand Rolled Macaroni and Truffle Puree was one hell of a dish. Here the pairing was interesting again. A 2007 Gevrey Chambertin, made by a friend of the sommelier, Mark Haisma (the friend, not the sommelier), was very successful, if one takes into account that it was the producer’s first ever vintage. I wasn’t too sure, if it was the perfect wine for the dish, but it certainly drank well. Back to the food though. The turbot was a great piece of fish. Despite coming from a small fish, it was very tasty, and most importantly had the beautifully firm flesh I adore. Without doubt, it was one of the better turbots I have had recently, and was cooked to perfection, again. The grilled leek was great too, as were the macaroni with the truffles. Obviously, summer truffles lack the punch and flavour of their black or white cousins, but they were rather tasty for summer truffles. The harmony in this classical combination was incredible. Each element came incredibly close to perfection, and worked marvelously with each other. An outstanding dish.

Turbot

I was waiting for this one: Stuffed Pigs Tail with Creamed Potato, Suckling Pig Belly, Chestnuts and Cepes. This was served with a 2005 Vin de Pays du Gard, Roc d’Anglade from Remy Pedreno. We were back on track, as the pairing was one of the most successful ones of the meal. The pig was glorious. Even if the belly did not rival that of the Sportsman, which is my benchmark, it was great. Cooked in an oven at 75C (no boiling in the bag here) for 8h, it is then crisped and goes down very, very well. With it came the stuffed pig’s tail, which was the real star for me. This was the finest “sausage”, I’ve had (if I dare call it one). It was unctuous, rich, flavoursome, and simply great. With the shaved chestnuts, and pan-fried cepes and button mushrooms, the dish was an absolute delight at this time of year. A perfect dish for a cold evening, like there are so many at this time of year. Excellent.

Porcelet

Cheese here is supplied by La Fromagerie, and was in very fine shape. The board featured a number of interesting choices and I sampled about 8 or so, which were all very good. With it came very good bread, an oatcake and a little fruit. The sommelier poured a dry Tokaiy, whose references I did not write down. Excellent.

Fromages

Before dessert, a little pre-dessert was served: A vanilla crème-brulee, green apple sorbet and elderberry flower granite were a refreshing intermezzo. This was all well-executed and precise, although not really that interesting.

Pre-dessert

All good things have to come to an end eventually, so I saw the last course approach: Caramelised Banana Galette with Salted Caramel and Peanut Ice Cream. The 2006 Scheurebe TBA from Umathum, also from the Burgenland was a fine match for this dessert. The dessert was, unfortunately, the least successful dish of the meal. Not that it was bad or even mediocre, but it is quite simply something you can do in no time, at a fairly similar level. The elements were all very well made, but it didn’t really impress like the other dishes did. The caramel, ice cream and tarte worked well, as was to be expected, but the other desserts definitely sounded a little more interesting. Very good.

Banane

With the good coffee, I had very enjoyable macarons, and finished the meal with a digestif, the way it should be done.

All in all, I was quite impressed. I came here, expecting a good 1* restaurant, and was amazed by how good every single course was. Out of all, I would say all of them were in safe 2* territory, with some (scallop, celeriac, turbot) being quite simply fantastic. What I really enjoyed about Brett Graham’s cooking was the very natural and highly innovative approach. None of my courses resembled any of the fairly safe food, one is getting used to in a good number of London restaurants. What one has here, is food that has an identity, that might not please everyone, but that provokes emotions, makes you smile here and there (something, which rarely happened to me in London), that simply leaves you wanting to discover more and more of it.  A chat with Brett in the kitchen after the meal confirmed my suspicions: This is someone who really is passionate about his food, products, and cooking in general. If the Michelin has some sense of reason (which they usually do have, at least to some degree), I would not doubt the arrival of a second star for the Ledbury in the next year’s edition. Besides the  highly interesting food here, the service was great, the wine list offers all one could wish for at very reasonable prices and one could just come back and back. A real gem, hidden away in Notting Hill.

La salle