By all accounts, The Ledbury is on the up. After reading several reviews about the Notting Hill restaurant, I figured I’d bag a table for lunch before head chef Brett Graham is awarded his second Michelin star and the prices inevitably shoot up. Such is the way of things in the world of fine dining.
The Ledbury is a ‘sister’ restaurant of “The Square” in Mayfair. Brett Graham worked at the two star restaurant for three years before spreading his wings and establishing The Ledbury with, I believe, the backing of his former boss. It was awarded a coveted Michelin star in 2008.
I thought the set lunch menu was very limited and was tempted by almost nothing on it. In contrast, the “à la carte” menu looked absolutely stunning and I would have happily ordered a tasting portion of every dish! However, one dish off the set lunch did take my fancy: “Celeriac baked in ash”. I’d seen this dish before on various food blogs and I was so intrigued that I had to try it. So, we did a “mix and match” from the “à la carte” and the set menu.
I had to chuckle at the amuse bouche. Not “foie gras parfait” again? What is happening in London? Every kitchen is serving the same amuse bouche! Are restaurants buying this stuff in from Waitrose, or something? The Ledbury serves it’s parfait on “Feuilles de brick”, a thin and crispy pastry which has it’s origins in Northern Africa. Finished with some poppy seeds and watercress, it was excellent; rich, savoury but extremely light.
I always pay particular attention to restaurant bread and love to see what good kitchens are capable of producing. This is often to my detriment; in my effort to sample each of the breads on offer, I frequently stuff myself and leave no room for the meal I’ve just ordered. I declined the sourdough on offer and opted for the “Bacon & Onion Brioche” which was served still steaming hot. I can’t remember eating a better piece of granary in a restaurant. The photo doesn’t really do it justice – soft, hot, sweet, buttery, smoky. If the bread was this good, what delights were in store?
Celeriac Baked in Ash with Hazelnuts, Wood Sorrel and a Kromeski of Wild Boar – this starter (from the set menu) involves a little bit of dining room theatre. The celeriac is coated in ash, baked in a salt crust, then delivered to the table. The waiter introduces the dish and cracks open the crust, revealing the blackened celeriac within. A dinky little touch which delivers some fantastic aromas at the table. The waiter then took the celeriac back to the kitchen for plating. Take a look at the photo, have you ever seen a more attractive dish? Well, this baby tasted even better than it looked. It was absolutely marvellous. The dish was full of distinct flavours. Every item on the place offered a different texture: soft celeriac, crunchy hazelnuts, chewy pork. It was, as the expression goes, a party in your mouth. I’d have happily eaten another one of these for my main course. No, really…
Raviolo of Wood Pigeon and Wild Mushrooms with a Velouté of Toasted Bread – In this instance, I don’t think the photo does the dish justice. I’m just not a fan of “velouté” or “foams”. Personally, I think it looks rather unpleasant and ruins the appearance of dishes. But they’re a popular cheffy affectation and I guess they’re here to stay. The Wife was delighted with this dish, having never eaten pigeon before. The raviolo was soft with deep, earthy flavours from the wild mushrooms and the sprinkling of dried mushroom powder.
Assiette of Hebridean Lamb with Green Tomato Juice, Spinach Purée and an Aubergine Glazed with Miso and Garlic – if memory serves me right, the assiette consisted of pieces of loin, shoulder and liver. It was an explosion of colours on the plate, so many components to taste separately and then together. The green tomato juice was a particularly good addition, it’s zinginess cutting through the rich meat. The miso-coated aubergine delivered a satisfying hit of umami. Small criticism here, the dish needs some kind of starch, but that’s just a pet peeve of mine.
Roast Baby Monkfish with Pea Purée and Hand Rolled Macaroni Stuffed with Bacon and Marjoram – another picture on a plate. I’ve never seen monkfish served like this before. Herself, being a big monkfish fan was in heaven. The dish was accompanies by a kilner jar of peas, bacon and braised lettuce. Buttery and perfectly seasoned, this was the king of side dishes. I would have been extremely jealous, if not for my wonderful lamb.
Pressed Gariguette Strawberries with Hibiscus and Warm Vanilla Churros – I felt so satisfied and impressed by what I had seen coming out of the kitchen that for a moment, I contemplated not ordering any dessert. How can they improve on this? But, at the same time I didn’t want this meal to end. I was very tempted by the “Passionfruit Soufflé with Sauternes Ice Cream” that some other diners had ordered, but went instead for a lighter option. The strawberries arrived in the form of a jellied-terrine and served with a delicious hibiscus flavoured sauce. The accompanying warm churros were something else, I’d have happily eaten them on their own. We finished up with some great petit fours, served on a plate of cocoa nibs. We asked our friendly waitress if the nibs were edible. She said they were, but don’t taste nice. She also recounted a story where she discovered that a not-so-nice customer had stirred the cocoa nibs into her coffee, believing them to be sugar. Tee-hee.
I’ll finish up by saying that this meal was one of the best I’ve ever had. Every dish positively sparkled with ideas and flavours. It is all too rare to sit down to a meal which tastes as good as it looks on the plate. Like all of the best dishes I’ve eaten, every element on the plate was there for a reason – flavour, texture, colour. Every dish just worked. I must also mention the excellent service which was friendly and relaxed throughout the meal. Give The Ledbury a visit next time you’re in London.
Next up, grave disappointment at 2-star restaurant, The Square…