For grown-ups. Hélène Darroze, at The Connaught
Really, I didn’t need nine courses. It was sheer piggery. I could have had six courses and really, I should have done, but you know how it is and to use the famous quote, I can resist everything except temptation.
This was an anniversary dinner so, we pushed the boat out. Again. I like The Connaught. It’s elegant and understated in part and it was where I met the old man, so we always have a bit of a soft spot for it.
There are two bars at the Connaught. The Connaught Bar (they must have thought for weeks about that) and the Coburg. One is very loud (the former) and one isn’t (the latter) . One seems to be full of Russians and one doesn’t. You can guess which one I chose.
I started with a Kir, as is my habit. Properly made, it was a very generous glassful and a gentle way to ease myself into the excesses of the evening. Unfortunately, they also put out crisps and olives, which, of course, I had to eat. I really can’t resist deep-fried carbs. Anyone who can can’t be my friend, frankly.
And if you can manage to get yourself in to the conservatory section, you could spend a fair few hours there quite happily. You might even drift off in the very comfortable chairs.
And so into the grown-up dining room of Hélène Darroze. It’s a sexy, dark wood sort of place with comfy velvet chairs and large tables. You aren’t packed in and you don’t have to listen to other people’s conversations. Unless it is a group of shouty Americans like the ones we were sitting next to last night. In which case you could be on the other side of Mayfair and still hear them.
I wasn’t in the complaining mood for once, so I let it lie. It’s a tribute to the food that I forgot about it as the meal wore on.
And the food? It was immaculate. We ranged from oyster tartare, with a chilled velouté of white bean from Béarn, to a pavé of wild sea bass, with marmalade of confit fennel, fresh and confit Italian “heritage” tomatoes and lemon verbena pistou and olive oil sauce with lemon and capers from Pantalleria. Particularly standout was the ajo blanco with blue lobster. A chilled almond and garlic soup, this was more than the sum of its parts.
Everything was beautifully presented and prepared with care. Nothing was dull and nothing unnecessary.
The attention to detail was superb. The cheese course came with three contrasting types of cheese. A chalky goat’s cheese, Stichelton and a cheddar-like hard cheese (Apologies for that slight lapse in detail there. After what I’d eaten, frankly I couldn’t move, let alone write down names of cheeses)
Each cheese came with an interesting garnish. The cheddar with pineapple chutney and toasted cumin seeds; the goat’s cheese with a medjool date, studded with pistachios and the Stichelton with a pear puree. Each choice matched perfectly by the accompanying garnish.
It was classical French cookery but bang up to date in terms of ingredients and inventiveness. Particularly memorable was the pan-roasted Scottish scallop with Tandoori spices, carrot and confit citrus mousseline and spring onion reduction, with Lampong pepper and fresh coriander. I loved this dish. It was unexpected yet counterbalanced the other tasting menu dishes perfectly.
I won’t bore you with the rest of it because you only have so much time, but I would urge you to try it. It isn’t the place for everyday dining, although there is a set lunch but in my view you should come for the main event and although expensive, the à la carte menu is not wildly priced at £80 for three courses, given the quality. And you get lots of extra Michelin-y type bits thrown in for that as well. Such as the tomato sorbet with olive cream. Now, doesn’t that sound fairly unpleasant? It does to me. But it really was the most spectacular combination of flavours and if you didn’t know what it was, you wouldn’t know what it was.
And the child in me loves the sweet trolley. Laden with completely unneccessary chocolates, meringues and macaroons, it’s the sort of extra I like. I’m fantasising about having one in the office. I think it would work really well in reception. It’s a damn sight more interesting than Fox’s Glacier mints.
I was very sorry they got rid of it at Marcus Wareing. I know it’s old-fashioned but it’s old- fashioned in a good way. Obviously it was, after 9 courses, a little de trôp, even for someone with my prodigious appetites and so as to avoid a Mr Creosote moment, I asked them to let me have a little going home bag. Which they did, and which was packed to the brim.
I don’t know why it took me so long to get with the programme here, but now I have, there’s no stopping me. Brunch next.