We have visited Hélène Darroze previously, shortly after it opened and long before the blog was ever an idea; we didn't really enjoy it. Everything felt too fussy and the dining room itself too stiff. It's the reason why it has failed to appear on the blog thus far, but with several years having passed since we last ate there, it deserved a re-visit. We are glad we did for the experience was a world apart from our last visit and our meal there was one of the best and classiest meals that we've enjoyed this year; we loved it from start to finish.
There are certain things of course that are given from the outset: this is a two star fine dining experience, this is The Connaught Hotel, Hélène Darroze is a French chef originating from Les Landes. The result is a venue of luxury and comfort, a grand but old school finish, an expensive meal, service that is unapologetically French, and a menu that is bursting with her native products like foie gras. If you can accept these things, then you can sit back in your very comfortable chair and enjoy what they offer and enjoy it you will.
First out is a broccoli velouté with a chorizo foam together with some ham and bread. A little surprising perhaps to see foams but the foams here do carry flavours and the chorizo foam is actually quite impressive for the punch it packs. More bread arrives later which included a divine butter roll that is a close cousin of the croissant. After that, it's an amuse of foie brûlée with green apple sorbet and espelette pepper. Both the veloute and the foie brûlée are old faithfuls it seems with an identical brûlée served to diners since the opening in 2008, understandably perhaps for it is very good indeed.
Portion sizes incidentally are substantial, something worth knowing before you eat too much of the bread at the beginning. For starters, these are generous indeed and we're already quite full but loving it so far and happy to venture on.
Reserved is not a term you could use for the pigeon which, as pigeon should be, was full on. A big slice of foie gras adds to the richness. Elevating the dish a star were the wild strawberries that refreshed your mouth each time just before the full on decadence of the pigeon and foie hit again, keeping you interested throughout.
With the dessert brought to the table, the sponge is cut open for Armagnac to be poured in, straight from the bottle. You're given the choice of a spicy 1966 or a more citrus 1975. With two cakes on the plate, we tried both. The cake is, as you would expect, beautifully light as it stands, but it also stands in almost 50 year old Armagnac which means each bite is mind blowingly good combining dessert with your after dinner drink. Heaven.
This was a really good meal, well thought out, top quality ingredients and expertly cooked. Not only flavours but textures too are used to great effect, and with the food described by Hélène as 'haute rustique', it expertly combines the comfort of traditional French food with an exciting and modern delivery. Any two star restaurant will carry expectations of close to perfection cooking, Hélène Darroze at the Connaught delivered fully on that, the meal was a joy.
They also have a new restaurant manager there, Herve Dubois who was previously five and half years at Midsummer House so a man with clear understanding of what it takes for a restaurant to succeed at this level. We found the service throughout to be excellent, and Herve very personable also. Early days for Herve, we're sure more changes are on the way, most likely improving things further.
We're so glad we gave Hélène Darroze at the Connaught another try. In our opinion, they are at the top end of their two star peer group and delivered to us one of the best meals of the year so far.
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Hélène Darroze at the Connaught