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