The reasons behind this are obvious: in 2004, The French Laundry was voted the best restaurant in the world, Thomas Keller himself has won Best Chef (in the World) awards from multiple sources including the James Beard Foundation, and of course, to eat the food of The French Laundry normally necessitates you being in California, and even then, it's difficult as hell to secure a table. This is for many London diners therefore possibly a once in a lifetime opportunity and while much has been made of the £250 price tag, the scarcity value of this alone justifies the price. That it sold out so quickly (with a reported 1,600 people on the wait list), economists would have little difficulty in arguing that it was in fact undervalued.
So there's no doubt that Keller is a legend but on a personal note, The French Laundry Cookbook has been the single most important and influential cookbook on our bookshelves and Keller an inspiration. This is more than a meal then, this is connecting with one of the foundations of our food existence.
Once we had muddled our way through the fourth floor maze of children's clothing, we ventured upon the mock exterior of The French Laundry together with astro-turf and faux flower beds. Amongst the first to take our table, just two minutes after sitting down, Thomas Keller himself came over to greet us and share his enthusiasm for the pop up project, while denying rumours that he was testing the market ahead of opening a more permanent establishment in London.
Every meal at The French Laundry starts with the Salmon Cornets, a cornet of salmon tartare with sweet red onion crème fraiche. It's a delightful and playful way to start the meal and as we discover through the day, there is playfulness in much of what he does. We are also struck (see third picture below) just how precise the canapé is with the salmon merging seamlessly into the cone. Precision is another constant of the day.
Following this is a plate of finger bites. Left to right it was: vine ripened cherry tomato, crab, tea infused short bread and foie gras, and a BLT (brioche, pork belly and arugula puree)
Chowder: Sacremento river sturgeon, razor clams, sweet corn, celeriac and applewood smoked sturgeon 'bacon' came next. The sturgeon offers firm white flesh that with a knife, slices well, and that sits on the bed of sweet corn and razor clams. We love it.
Indeed the beef that followed looked absolutely perfect. Prime Midwestern 'Calotte de Boeuf': 'Langue de boeuf', braised brisket, black trumpet mushrooms, musquee de Provence pumpkin, fennel bulb and sauce Bordelaise. This dish, or something very like this dish has been on the real French Laundry menu for sometime though the Keller team had a bit of a snag bringing it here as the beef they use at The French Laundry was not certified for import into the UK forcing them to change their supplier at short notice. Maybe it was this late switch, but while the brisket was good and the Borderlaise sauce added what it should, the centrepiece beef itself lacked flavour despite being perfectly cooked.
Finally, and as a little extra courtesy of the kitchen, another classic, Doughnuts and Cappuccino Semifreddo. A perfect end. Except it wasn't quite the end as a plate of chocolates came out called 'A Night at the Movies'. There's a coca-cola sweet, crisp, root beer chocolate and more, all presented on a flying saucer like plate.
But while all that might have challenged the kitchen, and occasionally impacted the plates, as diners who love food and have the deepest respect for Keller's contribution to cooking, this was an experience to be treasured. This didn't feel like a meal, it felt like participating in history.
Keller's food is beautiful and elegant, and while there is huge amounts of technique to arrive at the final plate, the importance to him of the quality of produce is always present and so presented to the diner. From start to finish it was an utter treat. So it begs the question: was it worth the money. Absolutely, The French Laundry at Harrods provides more than a meal, it provides an experience that will still be remembered when almost all other meals we've had are forgotten.
It really does feel to us a once in a lifetime experience right now, and that's almost impossible to price.
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