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.
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!
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.