The editor of Lounge does not like it when I refer to you as “fat cats”: So, let’s just say that as Lounge readers are well-travelled sophisticates, you might enjoy the occasional piece on restaurants located outside of our borders. And given that London in the summer is Indian Central, I would guess that many of you like the restaurants of the British capital.
So here’s a brief round-up of a few places, most of them quite new and nearly all of them quite near each other. One or two are trendy and bustling and one already has two Michelin stars.
Top pick: (left) For some mysterious reason, Proyart’s One-O-One is yet to earn a Michelin star. Simon Dawson/Bloomberg; and Mandarin Oriental at Knightsbridge houses Bar Boulud. Bloomberg
I’ll start with Bar Boulud, perhaps the hottest opening in recent months. It is one of the many enterprises of the New York-based French chef Daniel Boulud who has three stars for his flagship Daniel restaurant, popularized the gourmet burger at his DB Bistro Moderne, and now has a global empire that stretches all the way to China.
American chefs do not generally fare well in London (nor for that matter do Frenchmen setting up outposts: The Alain Ducasse restaurant has received abusive reviews and Joel Robuchon’s performance has been underwhelming) and Boulud’s great New York rival Jean-Georges Vongerichten had to admit defeat and close his Vong restaurant at the Berkeley some years ago.
Though the Bar Boulud formula originated in New York as one of the great man’s many brand extensions, his London operation is decidedly un-American. It is a big bustling restaurant (not unlike the Wolsey whose manager Stephen Macintosh Boulud stole for this place) with an overwhelmingly French menu and a very London ethos.
I’ve been twice—it helps that I usually stay at the Mandarin Oriental where Bar Boulud is located—and each time I have been knocked out by the smooth efficiency of the service and the quality of the food.
The menu combines French bistro classics (coq au vin etc.) with superlative charcuterie, excellent country sausages and three hamburgers. But only one of the hamburgers is particularly American (the Yankee) while two set off the beef patty with barbecued pork or pork belly. So far, I’ve tried the burgers (very good), the charcuterie (great), the sausages (wonderful) and the crispy pork belly.
If you are a meat-lover (I wouldn’t recommend Bar Boulud to a vegetarian) and like a busy, buzzy place then this is currently the top casual-dining London restaurant.
Nearly opposite Bar Boulud on the site of what was till recently the Boxwood Café, one of Gordon Ramsay’s enterprises, is a new restaurant by Pierre Koffmann. There was a time when Koffmann, one of England’s most influential chefs, ran the brilliant La Tante Claire at the Berkeley Hotel.
Then Koffmann was turfed out and his space given to Ramsay who used it for Petrus. Jean-Georges Vongerichten also abandoned his Vong restaurant and this space too was given to Ramsay to run as Boxwood Café, the potty-mouthed chef’s stab at the Ivy-Caprice market.
I liked Boxwood but was never wild about Petrus. Then Ramsay fell out with his Petrus chef, Marcus Wareing who took over the restaurant himself and renamed it Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley. I went there three months ago and found that the food has improved vastly now that the Ramsay connection has been snapped (Ramsay has opened his own Wareing-less Petrus on Kinnerton Street opposite the Berkeley).
Now Ramsay’s Boxwood has also been evicted from its space, and the Berkeley has recalled Pierre Koffmann (who had been semi-retired) and asked him to open a casual restaurant. This July he opened Koffmann’s in a suitably low-key manner (no publicity till he is sure that everything is perfect) and should give Bar Boulud some competition.
Except that Koffmann is an old-style French chef who can’t do hamburgers. So the new restaurant will actually compete more with Marcus Wareing than it will with Daniel Boulud. It is relatively simpler food than La Tante Claire (it is much cheaper too) but it is recognizably the food of a great chef.
Unlike, say Ramsay, whose cooking is all about artifice, Koffmann’s strength has always been his ability to extract intense flavours from ingredients. The new restaurant reminds us of this skill. On the night we went, the classic Koffmann casserole of snails and girolles was terrific, a daube of beef cheek was so intensely flavourful that I could think of only a handful of places in Paris where this dish is as well made, a cod with chorizo was a textbook example of excellent cooking and a simple dish of scallops with cauliflower purée and squid ink squeezed out the last ounce of flavour from each of its components.
How well the restaurant will do in the long run remains to be seen. Service is curiously unenergetic, the room was not full on a Friday night and I fear the menu may be too old-fashioned.
Within the same area as Bar Boulud and Koffmann’s, at the bottom of the ghastly Sheraton Park Tower Hotel is the best fish restaurant in England. It has everything going for it: reasonable prices, a great location and amazing food—but somehow it has never found the success it deserves.
The best time to go to One-O-One is at lunch. For a mere £19 (around Rs.1,390) you can eat three small plates of some of the best food in London. When we went, we had a carpaccio of salmon and halibut, pan-fried skate, brandade of cod, a scallop tart and free range chicken with snails and egg pasta.
I am not the most enthusiastic fish eater but there are only two fish restaurants in the world where I will eat anything. At Le Bernardin in New York, Eric Ripert has three Michelin stars. But Pascal Proyart at One-O-One has none. It makes no sense at all.
What makes Pascal’s failure to please the Michelin inspectors so mystifying is that Michelin loves French chefs. Ducasse’s restaurant is roundly reviled by London critics but it has three stars. Claude Bosi’s Hibiscus in Maddox Street has got two stars within a year even though not everyone is sure Bosi deserves them.
I went for lunch and though I liked the food (a chicken rolled in a cylinder, blueberries with vanilla ice cream etc.) I was not sure that it was innovative enough to merit two stars. The cooking is highly accomplished and Bosi puts edible flowers into many of the dishes (a sort of trademark) but it is not the sort of place I would rush back to.
Hibiscus is in Mayfair, a little away from the tight little area that Bar Boulud, One-O-One and Koffmann’s are in (Amaya, Zuma, Racine, Zafferano and many other excellent restaurants are within the same area) but it shouldn’t take more than a few minutes by cab.
The same cannot be said of Tamarai, Rohit Khattar’s pan-Asian restaurant-cum-club which is in Drury Lane at the edge of Covent Garden. The restaurant is a hit but I can’t help feeling that Manish Mehrotra (who also oversees Khattar’s Indian Accent in Delhi) deserves a gastronomic restaurant rather than a club. The night we went (the restaurant is not open for lunch), we ate some amazing food: fried soft shell crab with coconut and Chettinad masala, a wagyu beef skewer, a slow-cooked Berkshire pork belly and much more. Most of the food was to die for.
Mehrotra is clearly a far more accomplished chef than many of the Indian chefs who hog column inches and TV time in London. What’s more, he is a nice guy, modest, enthusiastic and eager to learn who approaches Indian food from two different directions— from the European tradition and from the cooking of the Far East. He is a star, waiting to be born.
Bar Boulud, Mandarin Oriental Hotel, 66 Knightsbridge SWI: 0207-2352000
Koffmann’s The Berkeley, Wilton Place, SWI: 0207-2351010
One-O-One, The Sheraton Park Tower 101 Knightsbridge SWI: 0207-2907101
Hibiscus, 29 Maddox Street, London WI: 0207-6292999
Tamarai, 167 Drury Lane, Covent Garden, London WC2: 0207-8319399
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