Saturday, 11 February 2012

The Ledbury, reviewed!

Amuse bouche
Expectations. It's best not to have them too high.

I'd been looking forward to eating at the Ledbury (www.theledbury.com) for ages and had tried to get a reservation before but it was always booked up. With my birthday coming up I decided this was the time to play the reservations game and book the day the next block of tables came onto the market. So, two months ago, on the dot of 9am, I was on the phone and was shortly thereafter the happy holder of a reservation for three!


Oyster Chantilly & Tartare
Why was I so excited? Let's take stock of the accolades that The Ledbury has received for a minute. Take a deep breath. It has two Michelin stars, it was named the best restaurant in the UK by the National Restaurant Awards, the Sunday Times says it has the best food in the UK, it has the number one food rating from Zagat (and Harden's says the same) and it is the 34th best restaurant in the world. OK, so, that's not all of the awards, but I think you get the picture. Oh, and as you also probably know, the staff are adept at beating off wayward rioters as well.

Flame Grilled Mackerel and Smoked Eel
It's actually quite a small restaurant, but it has the illusion of airiness thanks to a wall of mirrors and some well placed curtains. Of course we opt for the tasting menu. I mean, its the greatest hits right? A culinary journey. The best the chef can do. Well, for me, the meal was sort of one of two halves, and perhaps we peaked too soon. There were some highs, some lows. See? Food is a journey. So bear with me as I take you through every single course. Don't worry, I'll try and keep it brief. Just impressions. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.

Let's begin. The amuse was a beautifully poached egg wrapped in kataifi pastry and topped with grated black truffle. Delicate, delicious.

Macaroni stuffed with Rabbit and Chanterelles
Course one. Oyster Chantilly and Tartare with Horseradish and Dill. Fresh and zingy. The martini glass had the oysters and the small bowl had a deep fried oyster in it with a parmesan crisp bread. Loved this dish.

Course two: The Ledbury signature dish. Flame grilled Mackerel with Smoked Eel, Celtic Mustard and Shiso. I'm not a fan of mackerel, but now I'm a believer. The dish looks beautiful doesn't it? The mackerel was so tender. The small cannelloni shaped cigar is filled with a delicate smoked eel paste. The dish was offset by a deep green cucumber wheel while the shiso gave a burst of freshness. Brilliant.

Roast Cod and Watercress
Course 3: Hand Rolled Macaroni Stuffed with Rabbit and Chanterelles with a Veloute of Toasted Hay and Perigord Truffles. Oh black truffles, how I love thee. This dish was finished at the table with gratings from a fist sized black truffle. I was a little cheeky here and asked the waiter not to be too stingey as this was, after all, my birthday meal! I think we got an extra grate or two. I can't really say I could taste the toasted hay but in any case, this plate was earthy goodness in a mouthful. The shrooms, the truffles, the rabbit. Perfect.

Course 4: Roast Cod with Watercress, Cauliflower and Potted Shrimp Butter. Hmmm, I'm neither here nor there when it comes to cod. It just lacks flavour, so this dish was disappointing even though it was tarted up with the potted shrimp.
Pork Jowl with Spiced Cream

Course 5: Pork Jowl with Spice Cream, Carrots and dried Chicory. Yum. I was excited when the waiter placed a plate in front of me with a massive cooked jowl on it so I could savour the smells of five spice. I should have realised it wasn't staying as his hand never left the plate. Sadly, it was whipped away quickly and replaced with the small bite you see here. This dish was all about texture. Super crunchy skin, soft gelatinous fat, tender meat.

Course 6: Saddle of Berkshire Hare with Red Leaves, Beetroot and Rhubard. Again, the plate looks amazing. This was another earthy dish but I didn't find any wow flavours here. It was a bit muted and a bum note to finish on before the sweet treats to be honest.
Saddle of Berkshire Hare

On to dessert. Whew, we're almost there!  Well, first a pre-dessert. A palate cleanser of sorbets first. I don't recall the flavours to be honest, but it was a welcome break after the jowl and hare.

Dessert 1: Pave of Chocolate with Milk Puree and Lovage Ice Cream. I love the bright green blob of ice cream on the plate. The chocolate pave was as dense and rich as it looks, but again this was another dish that perhaps looked a bit better than it tasted.

Pave of Chocolate and Lovage Ice cream
Dessert two: We finished on a high note with the waiter serving us a souffle with a passionfruit ice cream dropped into the centre for the three of us to share as a birthday treat. This dish wasn't on the tasting menu and I would have swapped my pave for all of the souffle instead of a shared few mouthfuls!

Pre dessert sorbets
We had the matching wines too. It was only an extra 50 pounds which I thought was terrific value, considering the menu was 105 pounds. The sommelier was superb, and picked wines that were completely new to me. I'm no expert, but I couldn't fault any of the pairings. Likewise, service was very professional, without being stuffy, although I struggled to catch some of the French accents. Oh, and Brett Graham was also there, giving very personal attention to one table in particular.

The Birthday Souffle
So, final thoughts (I feel like Jerry Springer). The Ledbury is clearly a fantastic restaurant, but given all the awards and fuss I expected a little more originality in some of the combinations. I thought I'd be wowed with every mouthful, like I have been in some places (like at Arzak in San Sebastien, or the first time we ate at Tetsuya's in Sydney). Don't get me wrong, I thought the meal was great, but not consistently so, and for 105 pounds, I think you should be close to doing a Meg Ryan. I'd return, but probably go a la carte next time and go mainly for the seafood dishes.

Oh that reminds me, I'll have to tell you about the time we ate squirmingly fresh oysters in Belgium. They actually recoiled from the spritz of lemon!





The Ledbury on Urbanspoon

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