Looking at the pictures from several years back of the grill at Mangal Ocakbasi, they show chairs tucked under a dining counter in front of the open grill situated almost at the entrance of the restaurant, the original kitchen table if you will. But if our visit is anything to go by, I assume a sufficient number of diners had caught fire from the spitting coals for them to stop this dare-devil practice of allowing customers to park so close to the heat that sun block factor 50 rather than a salad was their likely side order of choice. Our table, now pushed back from the grill the width of the walkway, still however took the odd spark but was nevertheless as entertaining as Saturday night dining goes and costing scant more than £20 per head, also among the best value I'd wager.
Ahead of eating here, I know nothing of Mangal Ocakbasi, but it is I have subsequently learned, a London legend; but there again, so according to Google is Spring-heeled Jack and I know nothing of him either. To recap then, the restaurant dates back 20 years or so, Matthew Fort reviewed the restaurant for The Guardian back in 2003 and described it as a place that is 'worth searching out'. Jamie Oliver named it in Hot Dinners as one of his three favourite restaurants in London (so no turkey twizzlers here then), and even Rick Stein is reported to have done a turn behind the grill.
For those in the know, Mangal is the Middle Eastern name for a barbecue and here, the menu is principally lamb, chicken and quail in various kebab forms. Our own choice, the mixed kebab, had a bit of everything on and, I have to say, was pretty damned good. Impressively, everything seemed to be cooked pretty much spot on, nothing over or under done, a fence that many a have-a-go hero of the home BBQ will surely have fallen at. Hats off to anyone who can perfectly cook through a spatchcocked quail on such a grill, especially when the lamb chops arrive on the plate similarly faultlessly cooked. With a queue extending out the door and the grill unable to physically accommodate more meat, clearly, I'm one of the few who do not know of this place's legendary status.
The breads are excellent too though the side salad, while plentiful, fails to excite, but then who really cares, that's just a little relief from the meat onslaught which is the reason to come here and is what sold me on the idea from the start, for who, when Spring comes, can resist meat on fire?
We're seldom to be found in Dalston without a SatNav malfunction, but with a good reason to be there on this occasion, it was only right that we should try a London legend. I'm glad we did, for after a low ball build up by our friend, it nicely exceeded expectations, and genuinely, if such a place were local to us, I think we'd be there often enough.
It might have been open for just a few months, but the story of The Clove Club, the young talents of Isaac McHale, Daniel Willis & Johnny Smith, the Shoreditch Town Hall location and even the micro funding that helped open it seems to have been the talk of the town throughout 2013. Visiting for a mid week lunchtime service, the main dining room is closed and a lunch menu is served in the bar area, but in no way are you short changed on the offering for as we would discover, the food they're serving here overlaps significantly with the dinner menu and is quite frankly exceptional. A five course set lunch menu is available on request though we just ordered extensively from the ordinary menu which provides a comprehensive overview of what Isaac and team are producing in the kitchen.
The restaurant itself is located on the ground floor of the old town hall providing high ceilings, lots of natural light, and very little cooking space it seems, and in the main dining room, all tables provide full views into a very open kitchen. While the dining rooms are both kitted out in a relatively basic style (there are of course no table cloths), everything here seems coherent, with the venue, the service and the food all natural compliments for each other.
The menu does not set out to baffle you with the unusual for the most part, and at lunch, the two main courses are listed as simply as 'duck egg, English asparagus & morels', together with 'house sausage with peas, borlotti beans & smoked onion puree'. Couldn't get more simple, eh? The 'house sausage' however gives another insight into style here as cured hams and sausages etc are all now being made on site. Far from the hispter image conjured by the press, this is a place with cured hams hanging under the staircase, so is better seen as a kitchen in genuine pursuit of skill, knowledge and production of food, and most certainly not a trend or a fashion, even if the trendy and fashionable choose to eat there. On our visit, guests seemed normal enough.
'Simplicity' in the menu in the very best restaurants implies maturity and confidence, in the idea, the produce and in turn, the final product. It's more often about taking things away than adding them and a chef knowing there's nowhere to hide, no gimmicks on the plate yet still knowing and believing that's good enough; it's horribly difficult to achieve. At The Clove Club, it's achieved faultlessly, and seen in every dish.
First out the kitchen is radishes, black sesame & gochuchang (a Korean savoury condiment). You might wonder from the description alone how they can wow with this dish, but they do. The dish could easily fail from the very start if the radishes were less than perfection, but you're instantly sold. The plate offers contrasts, not least in the blacks, whites, yellow, red and green, an artists palette almost, while the textures you'll encounter are already visually clear (you're told you can eat the leaves too, which we do, mopping up the gochuchang). It reminds me a little of the heritage potatoes and onion ash served at L'enclume, the usually bit part radish now getting a starring role. It's quite an achievement.
The same is true throughout, the buttermilk fried chicken, already something of a signature dish, is scrumptiously divine, but offers too in its fry a light touch, you could almost believe it to be healthy. The wood pigeon sausage, served only with 'Ten Bells Ketchup' shows the aforementioned skill, brilliantly done balancing out fats, flavours and textures to produce something seemingly unique. We struggle to think of anywhere else we've posted to the blog that delivers anything similar: only Isaac's former kitchen, The Ledbury comes to mind. More food came, the standard din't once drop.
A lunch time bar menu maybe, but still a tour de force. And if The Clove Club is part of a new British food scene, the future is very bright indeed, allowing you to feel that British food is now very real, something in its own right and not merely doctored French or Mediterranean with a sprinkle of domestic influence. Vibrant, exciting, original, The Clove Club is everything we hoped it would be (and nothing we feared it might).
radishes, black sesame, gochuchang
buttermilk fried chicken & pine
wood pigeon sausage & Ten Bells ketchup
Rye crackers, fennel & oak smoked cod's roe
home sausage with peas, borlotti beans & smoked onion puree
duck egg, English asparagus & morels
French strawberry tart and sheep's milk sorbet
Prune ice cream, prune kernel and rosemary sorbet, walnut praline and cakecrumb
their fantastic barman
their own sausages and meats
meats in progress
chef Isaac McHale
Brasserie Chavot is the recent restaurant opening from the much lauded former two Michelin starred chef of The Capital Restaurant, Eric Chavot. The new venture is however something of a challenge for two reasons: first, the space the restaurant occupies is in The Westbury Hotel and even though it is essentially a stand alone site, it has proved a difficult one in the past with the previous restaurant there, The Gallery, closing within months of opening. Second, the concept, a brasserie, seems to have taken over in 2013 from ubiquitous burger openings in 2012. How much do we really need another brasserie we wonder?
Our overall verdict on Brasserie Chavot is that the food is very good indeed, while the venue struggles to be charismatic and the service is a mix of haughty arrogance, condescension and patronising tones. Authentic then in the sense that some some people visiting Paris would rather eat at a McDonald's than endure trial by brasserie waiter.
But the positives first. Prices are reasonable and the menu choices extensive with most tastes surely covered. Half a dozen oysters for one starter at £11.50 is something of a bargain (at our previous day's disaster Roast
, they cost a full £16.50!); for that, here at Chavot's, you even get a crepinette also. A ceviche of scallops meanwhile was excellent, offering lovely freshness with the ingredients, acidic zing together with the perfect balance of chili heat, all on a sunbeam of a presented plate.
Mains were a steak tartare which is among the best we've encountered during the years of the blog, and a 'filet de canette a l'orange', young duck that was tender, well cooked and seamlessly integrated with the orange in the dish. One side of frites, easily enough for two people, were crisp and enjoyable.
On desserts, more of the same, perfect classics with the best Ile flottante I can ever remember having as well as rich and decadent profiteroles. So far so good then.
As for the venue, Brasserie Chavot has inherited a room that was expensively attired in its former life as The Gallery and clearly the powers that be were (understandably) reluctant to rip this out and start again from scratch. But mosaic floors, chandeliers, table cloths, dark wood and red leather gives a strong impression of fine dining and a formality sits over the room that seems to inhibit joy. Made worse, on our visit, with less than half a dozen tables filled, such a large space seemed to suck the very air from the room.
This could have been ameliorated by the waiting staff but they seemed more formal yet. Toss out the words 'relaxed' and 'friendly' to them and they would surely have to reach for a dictionary. They seemed less than impressed with our request for tap water; bread, which is sold here as extra (£2.25) was pushed on us several times 'will you be wanting bread with your main course' (still no), and on one occasion, one of my largest pet hates, the waiter turns his back and walks away from our table all the while finishing the sentence addressed to us. On desserts, with one of us having ordered Ile flotante and the other profiteroles, the French waiter says to both of us that he cannot understand our French/English, would we repeat the order. Even with the poorest of enunciation, how badly can you mangle the world profiteroles, and could he really have confused the word with the limited number of other dessert choices like cheesecake? Was he toying with us perhaps, getting us back for tap water and no bread? One of the few occasions where we begrudge the mandatory 12.5%.
Overall then, we have no complaints about the food or the price of the food, it was delicious and, offering quality of that level, good value also. The room overall we felt struggled, and there were few touches to lighten the load. The room's real salvage should have been the staff, but they missed that trick by a Gallic mile. When the food's this good, staff have to go some way to ruin things but somehow they managed to.
formal table settings, mosaic floor
ceviche of scallops
fillet de canette a l'orange, caramelised endives
Our lunch at Roast was sadly disappointing. Despite a menu that reads well and a position at the heart of Borough market that implies top notch ingredients that should sing, we found the food mostly bland, but sometimes worse. Where this really rubs us the wrong way however is that the food at Roast is seriously expensive. Of the two mains chosen, the lamb was £26.50, the duck £26.75. These plates however come without sides so add a further £4.50 for roast potatoes, or £5.50 for 'gem hearts' salad (as we did) and our main courses are north of £30 each. By comparison, the lunch prices at The Ledbury (source www.theledbury.com) are universally £32, and that includes Loin and neck of lamb with rosemary curd, artichokes, sunflower seeds and garlic. Visit Roast for lunch then, and expect to pay the same price for your main course as The Ledbury. Accordingly, it ought to be good: it wasn't.
Starters are around the £10 mark though steamed asparagus with hollandaise sauce was a whopping £12.50. We chose a chicken and wild garlic broth with Judas ear fungus and a poached pheasant's egg (£7.75) that came as an insipid looking bowl of an insipid tasting liquid, the egg fully submerged. It made little sense and offered little reward; in turn, little was eaten. Heritage tomatoes on toast (£9.75) was okay though failed to deliver a taste sensation, you know the one that even a home grown variety offers when the flavour bursts in your mouth putting the supermarket generics to shame.
While the duck on one of our chosen main courses was at least tender, even if a little overcooked and under-seasoned, it still seemed poor value at £26.75 against a better example delivered at Brasserie Chavot the following day that was a comparative bargain at £19.50. The lamb however, a white knuckle affair, was poor value at any price. Our waitress to her credit, on enquiring if 'everything is okay' handled it as best she could and of her own volition, sent the manager to our table. The sinewy remains left on the side of the plate bore sufficient witness and the item was removed from the bill. Roast potatoes, billed as cooked in beef dripping, remained more waxy than crispy such that there was no single dish that we were able to point to and say 'well at least that was good'.
In sum then, it was a failure all the way down the line, with two dishes that were okay but not special, one that was poor, and one that was returned to the kitchen. The full price of this meal, with only a single diet Coke in addition to the above noted food, came in at £84 (£68 after the lamb was taken off the bill). A dessert each would have easily pushed it over £100 and that's still without drinks/wine. Roast then seems to us more of a play on the location than a play on food. Charging Mayfair prices, Michelin star prices, the offering should be memorable; well, it is memorable, but sadly, for the wrong reasons.
Chicken and wild garlic broth with Judas ear fungus and a poached pheasant's egg
Isle of Wight heritage tomatoes on toast with basil and shaved Berkswell
Roast breast of Goosnargh corn fed duck with star anise infused whipped cauliflower and a sour cherry sauce
Roast rump of Launceston lamb with a crispy potato and ramson cake and pea shoots
the lamb was tough and sinewy
beef dripping roast potatoes
Regular readers of our blog will know that we have, of late, generally failed to find a good Sunday lunch in London. Struggling to think where we should visit next, we hit upon with the rather good idea of returning to John Salt, Islington, where we know three things that stand strongly in its favour for a good roast. First, we know Neil Rankin, head chef there, is cooking great food because we've tried his weekday menu previously. Second, we know he sources his meat products from Warren's Butchers so the starting point of ingredients is a good one. Third, as former head chef at Pitt Cue, we know Neil understands cooking big chunks of meat. It seems like a winner on paper then.
Of course, we can't not have starters, and dining with a friend, we get to see a fair few plates of food over the meal, all shown below. When the starters arrive, we're reminded once again just how original, and tasty, the food at John Salt is. Burnt onions with razor clams and monks beard sounds like something you might find on the menu at L'enclume, What's more, it tastes like it too. Then there's the cod cheeks, clams and romesco, that sees me mopping up the sauce with the excess toast from the smoked aubergine and tomato and though I know I shouldn't, I do have a big roast dinner coming after all, but it's just so moreish.
And to the mains. Something of a USP for John Salt's roasts, you get two cuts of the main protein on your plate, not just one. Accordingly, order the beef, and you get sirloin and short rib, order pork, it's belly and shoulder. Order the chicken, and well, you just get a whole chicken. This was all done exceptionally well, the quality of the ingredients clear, as were the plates after. The meat is good, the gravy good and the roast potatoes, the bete noir of many a restaurant's Sunday plate, not a problem at John Salt. Accordingly, we struggle to remember a better Sunday roast served up in a restaurant since starting the blog.
Puddings were a treat, and we got to sample all four that were on offer. There's the ultimate crowd pleaser: Oreo, peanut butter and chocolate tart. There's the surprising find: an Earl Grey panna cotta with marmalade and toast (breakfast has now moved from a starter to pudding it seems), and there's fresh intensity: grapefruit, honeycomb and yogurt sorbet, with an exceptionally sourced grapefruit from Florida that burst refreshment in the mouth without excessive bitterness, which was universally enjoyed despite everyone protesting that they were not grapefruit fans (normally). To round off, there's comfort in a tapioca rice pudding.
John Salt has been so strongly identified on the food map as a place to go for an interesting meal, you might not think to go there for a Sunday roast, but then you'd be missing out. But as well as the main event, the top and tail of original and quite frankly fabulous starters and desserts bumps it up a further notch in our books. This is our third time at John Salt, each time thus far has been an absolute treat.
Cod cheeks, clams and romesco
burnt onions, razor clams and monks beard
smoked aubergine, tomatoes and toast
ham & egg
beef (sirloin, short rib)
Pork (belly, shoulder)
tapioca rice pudding
Oreo, peanut butter, chocolate tart
Earl Grey panna cotta, marmalade, toast
grapefruit, honeycomb, yogurt sorbet
The Savoy doesn't do things in half measures. After the 2010 grand reopening, the River Restaurant proudly opened boasting Escoffier inspired menus, but as a fine dining restaurant it wasn't, the evidence would suggest, bringing enough non resident guests through the doors. While we enjoyed the food there (see our River Restaurant
blog post), and we described it at the time as 'classy', it was undeniably a little on the old fashioned side. Rather than trying to force a fine dining square peg through a more casual dining round hole, they have decided instead to start from scratch and the result is Kaspar's Seafood Bar & Grill.
From our memories, no trace of the River Restaurant is now evident and the space has enjoyed what we can only assume is a (multi?) million pound makeover to create something that is entirely new. With no expense spared, the quality of the finish is outstanding and brings to bear the full class of The Savoy experience, yet Kaspar's is pitched as an all day dining restaurant where there is no dress code. With a decor that sparkles and a menu that pleases all tastes (see below), it is a very nice place indeed to take a lunch or dinner, or something in between if you prefer.
Returning to the menu, the seafood bar, centrally placed in the room, offers a offers a variety of smoked and cured fish in a small(ish) plates format (choice of two £14, or four £22) and these include on the smoked option: various salmons, eel and sable fish; on the cured side: halibut, sea bass and monk fish. There's also a fruit de mer (£34) that makes an excellent shared starter providing oysters (2x rock, 2x native), poached prawns, scallop and Cornish crab. Not included, and to be honest, not missed, was the often space filling item of winkles and whelks that too often are more effort than they're worth. The quality of the seafood served was first class.
If seafood is not your thing, other starters include snails, beef tartare, chicken liver parfait and oxtail consomme as well as a variety of salads. Even in listing all these, we have not covered all of the available choices. Dedicated mains similarly offer over 20 options where more than half are not in fact seafood.But seafood was our choice and we opted for a grilled Cornish lobster (£36) and a Dover sole (£34) that was so expertly filleted and plated, you could be tempted to believe sole is a boneless fish. On a second visit, we also tried the Hereford rib-eye steak (10oz, £28). The verdict on each of these was the same, the ingredients are excellent, well cooked, and served honestly, without unnecessary fuss on the plate.
For dessert, there's Savoy classics like Peach Melba, as well as a chocolate sphere, a version of which I had so thoroughly enjoyed at the River Restaurant we named it as a dessert highlight of the year back in 2011. In keeping with the move away from fine dining, it too has changed with again less fuss on the plate (though it still sees a hot sauce pour melting the sphere tableside). While the previous version offered white chocolate and marshmallow inside, this has now been replaced by 'passion fruit sensations' providing crisp acidity rather than unending sweetness.
While the old River Restaurant was enjoyable, it was not a venue we might consider regularly, except perhaps for entertaining our parents. Kaspar's however is a restaurant that we envisage using a great deal. It is a high class environment but not gaudy or pretentious, the menu much more than seafood (for those who don't want to be shackled) and the service always smart (this is The Savoy after all) but still friendly. While we were lucky enough to be guests at the pre-opening, we enjoyed it sufficiently to return just two days later for lunch and we already have a further return visit booked. A small part of us is sad to see the River Restaurant go, but in Kaspar's, they have created a fabulous, and no doubt significantly more popular, successor.
the dining room
a little taste of caviar
fruit de mer
the fruit de mer even comes with its own little bottle of Tabasco
Cornish lobster (the claw laid out in the top part of the shell)
apple tart tartin
chocolate lolly petit fours
Celebrations are always a lovely thing, even more so when they are done in style, so when we heard that Russell and Elena of Sienna in Dorset were celebrating the restaurant's 10 year anniversary with a specially created menu (10 courses, naturally), we jumped at the opportunity to go. If by any chance you don't know who Russell Brown is (@siennadorset
on twitter), he is Dorset's only Michelin starred chef. His restaurant, Sienna, is located in the centre of Dorchester (sorry for using a picture of Weymouth above, but it is just down the road) and seating only 14 people, it is a small intimate affair but still quite buzzy, and where his wife, Elena, runs the front of house with an engaging friendliness.
We've been a big fan of Russell since we first visited Sienna back in 2011 describing his food then as 'clean, elegant and delivering full value on the promise'. And so it was with the 10th anniversary meal, where for example, the proximity to great locally caught fish is allowed to shine in a plate of brill with spring onion mash, saffron and red pepper. This, as with all his plates, are never unnecessarily elaborate, rather, good ingredients cooked well to gently coax from them all they have to offer.
While there are clearly influences of French and Italian cuisine running through his menus, this is in many ways the very definition of British cooking where Russell strongly supports local producers and the menu reads always like a list of things you know and want to eat. And when it arrives, the plate is uncluttered, the food classy. Sienna is the kind of restaurant we get great joy from eating at and instills in you more than a little pride that Britain does now offer quality restaurants across the country, many like Sienna tucked unassumingly far away from the predictabilities of Mayfair.
So if this summer you're heading down to the south coast for a holiday, and want to add a touch of elegance to your food itinerary, we whole heartedly recommend stopping by Sienna and checking out Russell's food. This monster 10 course celebration menu has now of course ended but no matter, for there is always something wonderful cooking in Russell's kitchen, for that's how you survive 10 years in the business and that's how you win a Michelin star to boot. Congratulations again to Russell and Elena, here's to the next 10.
prawns with avocado and saffron
new potato soup, wild garlic pesto
ham hock terrine with watercress and Pommery mustard
Wild mushroom salad, slow cooked Blackacre Farm egg yolk, truffle dressing
Parmesan and ricotta tortelloni with English asparagus
Roast fillet of brill with spring onion mash, saffron and red pepper
loin of lamb, shepherds pie, carrot and peas
Keen's cheddar rarebit with spiced cider apple jelly
Apricot and almond tart with clotted cream ice cream
It is somewhat easy to forget MEATmarket with all the fuss around both MEATliquor and MEATmission, but while both of those are still destination restaurants with, as we recently discovered at the mission, evolving menus, the market offers burgers for those on the go, and sometimes that is just what you need. With less than half an hour ahead of an appointment in Covent Garden, we had insufficient time for a proper sit down meal and we remembered MEATmarket was nearby and it became an obvious choice, the real advantage being the turnaround time. Choose what you want from the board, order and pay, and while there's a few minutes wait for the food to be cooked, there's no fussing and as soon as you finish, it's waste in the bin and off you go. The turnaround time offers a valuable string to the bow then, and late on a mid week lunch time, we found not only no queue, but a relatively empty restaurant also.
Foodwise, most readers of this blog will know what to expect from the group. A Chili-Dog was exceptional, the quality of the chili surprisingly good, certainly many steps above what you'd normally find at this price point and in a fast turnaround restaurant, but this of course is the secret to the group's success, the food is born of love and care. The Dead Hippie too was MEATgroup on top form with bun, patty and toppings deliciously meting into a well judged singularity. But what I think I love most about MEATmarket is the milkshakes. Today it was a 'Hard Beige', which against what I assume is a vanilla base, they add maple syrup and Woodford Reserve Bourbon which leads to something magical, just a shame they don't supersize it.
MEATmission is our closest, for MEATliquer there's always a soft spot, but for MEATmarket, a venue within walking distance of so many places you might reasonably find yourself, the ability to be well fed, quickly, for not much money is rare and wonderful thing. In that sense, and within London, MEATmarket brings something important and uncommon to the table. We loved it all over again.
What could be better than eating the food of Bruno Loubet? Eating the food of Bruno Loubet with paired champagnes! It was a special night last week at BBL when Australia's leading expert on champagne, Bernadette O'Shea, steered a small group of enthusiasts through an evening of fine food and fine champagne. Readers of our blog will know that we have been long time fans of Bistrot Bruno Loubet since we first ate there in early 2011 (read the blog post here
), and since then, we've been back many times.
Tonight's menu was a little different to the normal menu at BBL where flavours are usually found to be bold and hearty, but seeking to bring the food and champagne together in a balanced way, a little more restaraint than normal was necessary in the food. Accordingly, a starter of Cornish crab, oyster leaves, apple salad and elderflower dressing showed a lighter side to Bruno's cooking, something we'll perhaps see at Bruno Loubet's new restaurant in Kings Cross, Grain Store, which opens its doors in June. Fresh and crisp with a touch of acidity, it's a dish that easily pairs with champagne, here a NV Jacquesson Cuvee 376.
Grilled quail, butternut squash and ricotta ravioli offers a perfectly delicious quail while on the main course, they pull off something which I didn't think was possible, pairing a champagne with beef. An Aberdeen Angus beef pot au feu with truffle was paired with a NV Fleury Blanc de Noirs Brut, a champagne made with the red grapes that has more body and oomph to it. I was most pleasantly surprised (though I doubt I'll be swapping up my usual Sunday 'Bordeaux with beef' any time soon).
We finish the menu with poached rhubarb and strawberry jam, and some final words from Bernadette and Bruno to round out a wonderful evening. One of the reasons that we enjoy the Bistrot so much is that as well as the great food (of course), there's always such a good atmosphere there, informal but professional, friendly, and always plenty of smiles, from staff and customers alike. Eating out should be about enjoyment, and at BBL, every meal seems like a celebration, with or without champagne.
Cornish crab, oyster leaves, apple salad and elderflower dressing
Grilled quail, butternut squash and ricotta ravioli
Aberdeen Angus pot au feu with truffle
Poached rhubarb and strawberry jam
Disclosure: we were guests of Bistrot Bruno Loubet
On a Saturday, The Connaught Hotel's lead restaurant, double starred Helene Darroze, serves up a brunch menu that is quite a change from the usual fare and we were intrigued to find out how it would translate. Being our first brunch at Helene Darroze at The Connaught, we were unsure what to do, but the form is this: there's a main course selection offering up on our visit four choices: chicken, oysters, The Connaught hot dog, or the 'burger'. While you are waiting for that, there's starters from the buffet that includes charcuterie, terrines, salads and the brunch classic, smoked fish and scrambled eggs, as well as a help yourself bread basket. After the mains, there's cheese available and then dessert.
Buffets have never, from memory, yet appeared on this blog, and we are appropriately suspicious of most of them; we hardly need give the reasons. At one of London's leading hotels however, the buffet is, as you would expect, a cut above, and all the food served is unquestionably excellent. A pain au chocolat seems to contain the best part of a bar of chocolate and the pastry work in the bread basket is exemplary. If that weren't enough, you can help yourself to as much as you would like. The smoked fish on offer today is salmon, halibut and eel, and all are sliced on demand and can be enjoyed with accompaniments of choice, but is clearly most popular with the scrambled eggs which are a sumptuous, creamy delight.
On the mains, we chose the oysters, which come with grated apple and two pork meatballs on the side, and the braised ox cheek burger which comes with a generous topping of duck foie gras on top - this is, after all, Helene Darroze. It is the 'burger' dish that was a little puzzling however as the burger arrives sitting in a puddle of jus so clearly not designed to be picked up, but rather a knife and fork job, while inside the bun there's no real patty, rather a bed of shredded ox cheek. Now, don't get me wrong, it was delicious and rich and heart attack inducing with that slab of foie on top, but it seemed like a round peg in a square hole to force it into a burger style serving when other presentations seemed better suited, even if only putting the jus in a serving jug, not plopping the burger in the middle of it. And if you've already enjoyed the bread basket earlier in the brunch, eating another big bun also becomes less appealing.
Help yourself after to both cheese and desserts, with desserts featuring easy-going brunch style sweets like brownies, cup cakes, cookies and cheesecake rather than fancy pulled sugar or the like. Again though, you are not restricted to a single choice but are at liberty to load your plate with one of everything, or more, if you so desire.
It does feel oddly 'posh' to have a brunch at Helene Darroze, and the dining room in our view does not lend itself readily toward too many guests all moving around it at the same time. Furthermore, the 'to the floor' table cloths meant that each time you arise from your ever so comfortable seating, which of course you do a few times with a buffet, you naturally fear that you might catch the cloth causing the contents of the table to crash to the floor (in the end, no one did however), but overall, it's a nice time with very good food.
You will be lighter in the wallet however, with the cost being £55 per person, but in the end, for what you get, it's really not that bad. There's as much fruit juice and tea and coffee as you can drink, and if you had three glasses of orange juice and a coffee alone at The Coburg Bar next door, you surely wouldn't see much change from £30. But while the main course is fixed in size, for everything else, have as much as you want as often as you want. In the end then, you determine how much value you get for your £55, so best go hungry. The quality of the food is excellent, and given how much choice you have, we were a long way short of getting to try everything. The service too, as you would expect and hope from The Connaught, is without fault. Accordingly, while it's not something most could entertain doing every Saturday, as an occasional treat, it's a rather pleasant way to spend a few hours over Saturday lunch time (brunch is served between 11am and 2:30pm).
smoked salmon, halibut and scrambled eggs
pain au chocolat
oysters & apple, pork meatballs(front right)
braised ox cheek burger
and a second dessert selection