Category Archives: Michellin-starred restaurants in London

The tasting menu @ The Ledbury, 127 Ledbury Road, Notting Hill, W11 2AQ

So why would you go for a tasting menu at a Michelin-starred restaurant? I’ve asked myself this a couple of times, usually around they time they bring the mindnumbingly-expensive bill (about the same as you’d pay for a new bike, or a full head of highlights and a cut TWICE, or an iPhone 4). Or when I feel so full of food and wine I feel uncomfortable, can’t sleep.

The amuse bouches – foie gras on a ginger biscuit and an exceptionally posh Scotch egg type thing that made me giggle…

So why do I keep doing it? Because it’s bloody brilliant, that’s why. It’s silly and disgustingly overindulgent. You aren’t a regular customer of the restaurant who is on a normal night out that they can easily afford, eating their way through the a la carte menu one meal at a time. You aren’t rich or nonchalant or used to eating like this. You are a mysterious giggly stranger, a normal person wanting to experience something you’ll remember for years to come, dipping your toe in and tasting it’s delights. You probably can’t afford to eat there often so you want to try everything they have on a plate. With the best and most interesting wine they have too. It’s a special occasion – maybe the only occasion that you’ll eat there. It’s a treat.

The starters – raw scallop with horseradish, perfect for huge menu as so light and delicate, grilled mackerel with shisho and cucumber. Cucumber was amazing. Cucumber! And a giant slab of foie gras with apple and Christmas pudding sauce…

And for the restaurant too it’s a treat. They know that you are about to have a spectacular gastronomic experience that will last several hours (over 4 hours at The Ledbury) and they can ham it up as much as they like – the sommelier can tell you about how the grapes match the horseradish, knowing you don’t particularly care and are probably too pissed by the middle of the meal onwards to remember. The waitress will make you feel like kings, hiding the fact she knows you are unlikely to be back regularly. And the chef gets a chance to completely show off - he is a peacock showing you his feathers, a bit of frivolity here, an in-joke there, but most of all you see the full spectrum of what he or she can cook, the measure and essence and all.

The mains: absolutely incredible skate with truffle that you could smell when they brought the plates over, with cauliflower and parmesan gnocchi (my favourite) and shoulder of pyranean milk-fed lamb with artichoke witchedy grub (my words not theirs). Looking at this I can’t believe I ate all this. But there was more…

And so last Wednesday night I took the lovely Chef (who wrote a very nice review of the meal here) to The Ledbury for his birthday dinner. I booked it back in December, a bit of a Homer Simpson present because I’d wanted to go for ages too, and we got a little bit over-excited about the whole thing. Such is the pull of the Michelin tasting menu, especially at a place that many food bloggers have named the best restaurant in London, confirmed by the Restaurant Magazine awards.

The pre-dessert dessert (of course) and pudding of poached pear – the only disappointment of the meal, just a bit heavy-handed. But I don’t have a sweet tooth and meant I could have more CHEESE

Throughout this post are photos of the meal. Now remember, these are the photos of what ONE PERSON ATE, not both of us together. And seeing it again I can’t believe I managed to stuff it all in. But I did, plates wiped clean. Which is why I didn’t feel so good on the way home, which is a little gross. So you have to have STAMINA to eat like this, and time. Photos never represent how great it was – the smells, the tastes, but it’s a start. And it doesn’t show the wine which was fantastic and interesting and well thought out. And loads of it.

The cheese – I pretty much ate this entire plate to myself as The Chef’s lemsip had worn off by this time and he had started sweating profusely and coughing. It was amazing. And I ordered another glass of red to accompany it as the 5 or 6 other glasses hadn’t been enough apparently. The Chef was dying to leave. I felt over-stuffed like a foie gras goose…

So was it a treat? Hell yeah. We were one of the first to arrive and almost the last to leave. We ate the full menu – starters, fish, meat, puddings, cheese. We were Mr Creosote being asked what we want from the menu and responding “the lot“. They even printed off our menus for us to keep with the wine we’d had with each course typed alongside each course. A bit silly yes but special. Will I be back? Well I can’t afford it until 2015 but I’d like to take my mum for a lovely lunch one day. Or go back if I had something big to celebrate. If you’ve got £300 to spend (for this is how much a tasting menu with wine for 2 will set you back) then it’s probably the best resto in London right now. As I said at the start, you could buy a bike or a phone or a TV or a trip to the opera for this price, but for me I am paying for something that will last forever. A memory – of the smell of truffle, the cheese plate, the giggling, the extravagance, the taste of foie gras and skate and lamb all perfectly cooked. For me it’s worth it, but you have to decide for yourselves whether it’s the same for you.

A waahfer theen meent…

Note: for better photos of the food and the proper description of the tasting menu, please look at the HPL facebook page

UPDATE 21 January 2011: The Ledbury has just won best restaurant in London in the Square Meal awards 2010. Told you…

The Ledbury on Urbanspoon

Dim sum @ Hakkasan, 8 Hanway Place, Fitzrovia, W1T 1HD

Another day, another Michelin star, sigh. Actually this time it was a completely impromptu, completely brilliant idea by a friend for pre-Christmas lunch. Called Hakkasan last minute and my friend estimated it would be about £15 a head plus drinks each. I thought this was wishful thinking but turns out this was completely right – bargain.

Whatever it is like for dinner, Hakkasan is brilliant for a dim sum lunch. It’s pretty swish inside, service is great, food was awesome. And yet it has one major major problem – the price of the wine. Let’s face it, you have to have wine if you decide to go for a posh lunch, a working one or otherwise. It is against my religion not to. And yet glasses of wine were priced at a quite ridiculous average of £9 for a small (?!?!?!) and £13 for a large (?!?!?!). Made me quite angry – I don’t care how nice the wine is, the mark up must be huge, and any decent restaurant should have a good value house wine or similar that is affordable. I was annoyed. But not annoyed enough not to have wine. So I got a small (tiny really) glass which was marked at £9 but somehow ended up as £7 on the bill – which worked out at about £1 a sip. So silly when the rest of the meal was such great value. I hope they sort this out as I’d love to pop in and try some more dim sum.

So to the food – 3 each is perfect to be reasonably full and it’s best to share, although I think for feng shui reasons you get 3 pieces of dim sum per plate so it can be hard with 2 Brits and our horrible politeness for not taking the last one. But it was really really excellent. Below are some photos of what we ordered and some comments on it (I’ve lost the dim sum menu so descriptions are not as good as they could be):

Beef dumpling “thingies” – really really tasty 

Pork and prawn xiao long bao – recommended by our lovely waitress these were amaaaazing, probably my favourite, filled with a really rich soup – lovely

Chive prawn dumpling thingies – really fresh and interesting

Duck roll thingies – yummy

Sea bass – really delicate and delicious

Sweet black sesame rolls (as dessert) – wierd gloopy consistency and a bit like Nutella inside, but in a good way

 So all this yummy food, a good 1 1/2 hours of chat and a delightful waitress set us back only £15 each for the food (and 3 dim sum makes you deliciously full). My only concerns being the ridiculously expensive wine and snooty woman at the door. It ended up costing me £25 with wine and service which is still good though for a special lunch. So much more on the menu to try (although I’d avoid the wierd mango thing which was inexplicably served on a bed of squeezy mayonnaise – more photos of other dim sum that my friends had are on the HPL facebook page).

Hakkasan on Urbanspoon

My search for the best burger in London #5 – Byron burger

Byron was my holy grail. Every time I mentioned that I was looking for the best burger in London, friends mentioned Byron; facebook and blog and twitter comments mentioned Byron; and I talked about how I was long overdue a visit.

So The Chef and I (yup he’s new, keep up – I shall say no more for now) headed to Soho on Tuesday night for burgers, wine and comedy – or my perfect-sounding evening. We went to the Byron on Wardour Street, and I loved it inside. Relaxed, converted-warehouse-stainless-steel style, table service and booze, which reminded me of posh pizza at Pizza East. The Byron burger sounded awesome (comes with bacon and special relishy sauce) but sadly my criteria says I need to order the plain cheeseburger. I had it with fries and my favourite coleslaw and obligatory courgette fries, which everyone also bangs on about.

And it was lovely. Tasty soft bun, nice pinky burger. Hmmm. So what’s the problem? Well, I think I’d over-hyped it up. I was imagining the perfect drool-fest burger and I just don’t think its the PERFECT burger. For gluttony reasons, I’d want more cheese, stronger cheese, lots and lots of cheese. And although the burger was lovely, I’d have liked it meatier, bigger basically. And more taste of meat and charcoal.  And the bun maybe toasted ever so slightly. And tons more relish and sauce, preferably dripping down my chin. I loved the coleslaw and fries, and the courgette fries were OK but not needed with my burger, sorry. Am I being devil’s advocate against the tide of glowing reviews? Maybe. On reflection, I read a children’s book years ago about a burger joint in the US finding the perfect burger sauce and I am still hunting for that perfect one. Byron was awesome but not quite there yet.

But I think I went in like Ellie Goulding (starry eyed) and need to go back – again and again and again really – to appreciate it fully without all the hype. No matter what, I think its a lovely little venue and cheap (a burger each, sharing chips and courgette fries and coleslaw and a bottle of wine was £20 each). Next up is posh burgers – I’ve been invited to try the burger at Davy’s in Regents Place (grass fed beef matured for 21 days, the perks of blogging) and I want to try Hawksmoor, Goodman and the American Bar at the Stafford Hotel. And also some pub burgers, including the Prince of Wales in Putney. But I’m on a post-Argetina DIET, so first - SALAD.

UPDATE: I was getting annoyed at my spanking new camera as the focus was out and I was contemplating actually reading the guide. However I discovered at lunchtime that I had mistakenly switched the focus to manual, hence the wonky blurriness. Have rectified error and photos should get better from now on. Doh.

Byron on Urbanspoon

Club Gascon, 57 West Smithfield, EC1A 9DS

I’ve been to a few Michelin-starred restaurants in London (see my “Part I” review here - this was supposed to encourage friends to take me out for posh dinners more often so I could write a Part II!) and they all have their own distinct style and character. I’d actually never heard of Club Gascon which on reflection may be part of its own understated character.

It was unashamedly French (zis is an emmoooolsion of lemmmon) - all the wines were French and the food had a French influence. No new world wines here like you get in Pied a Terre. They were friendly too – and very nice to accomodate our growing drunkenness, hugging and fag breaks as the night wore on (I know, but it was a very long meal!). However it was not just traditional French, it was imaginative and interesting and thoughtful cooking – not what I was expecting.

How much you enjoy dinner is a sum of how good the food and service is, timed by the amount of good banter and love amongst your companions. I went last Friday and the night was filled with love – Giovanna invited Escobar for dinner to thank him for being a great friend (what a lovely thing to do!) and myself and Esmerelda turned up to flounce around and drink nice wine. So thank you to my wonderful companions for making it such an exceptional night.

We started with kir royales and champers, and then – well if you’re paying a lot you might as well go for it – we ordered the seasonal tasting menu (Le Marche) with the accompanying wine menu. At five courses plus amuses bouches, this was the perfect amount of food (I felt sick after the Pied a Terre ten-course tasting menu, and couldn’t remember pudding due to the accompanying wine flight).  I should say as well these photos are dreadful – my camera is terrible so I’m buying a new one soon. Doesn’t do the dishes justice, sorry. 

1. Amuses bouches

These were wonderfully imaginative (see this isn’t your ordinary traditional French cooking) – a mojito macaroon (a macaroon! that tastes like a mojito!), bloody mary mousse, gin jelly (this was bleurgh sadly, texture didn’t work) and a cosmopolitan crisp.

2. Escabeche of octopus with sunflower and bayonne ham.

This was quite wonderful – the octopus was juicy and meaty, the plates were lovely and it had samphire in it (my new gastro crush) – perfect.

3. Foie gras with “Pimms” and pancake

I didn’t realise quite how clever this dish was until afterwards – which either means that it was really very clever or that I’m not very clever. Anyway, again I applaud their imagination and sense of fun (is it fair to say this was a surprise in a French haute cuisine restaurant?) – we had a shot of Pimms before eating melt-in-your mouth foie gras, truly delicious, with the emmmooooolsion and pancake and tiny little balls of cucumber and strawberry which worked perfectly and went with the Pimms. Brilliant take of mixing a British drink and French plate.

4. Seared wild sea trout, aubergine variation and aromatic piquillo

Amazing soft almost sahimi-like trout with delicious aubergine salsa and a bunch of other stuff that tasted good too. Sauce a little thick perhaps but this was another wonderful course.

5. Braised veal belly, almonds, smoked tomato & truffle vinaigrette

This was my favourite course I think.  The veal tasted smoked or maybe that was the smoked tomato – anyway I’ve never tasted anything like it and the puree was delicious. Deserves a nom nom nom.

6. Amuse bouche pudding style

This was nice. By this time, things were all a little fuzzy. I think we asked if we could eat the fern. I’m not sure what they said. I ate some of the fern – I think it was for decoration purposes only. Love the marble platter.

7. Pistachio fondant, glazed cherries and hibiscus pearls

Really lovely, light and tasty – perfect end to the meal.

The meal was truly special – we were there for about 3 or 4 hours, had all this food accompanied by a beautiful glass of wine per course, plus coffees, sparkling water (for me, sparkling water is my “special meal” water - normally I do tap) and a kir royale/glass of champers to start, cost £470 for 4 or £117 each. Yes it isn’t cheap, and you wouldn’t go here every month, but for a la carte at somewhere like Chez Bruce, you wouldn’t pay much less, and its a lot cheaper than the same tasting menu/wine flight at Pied a Terre (where the amount of food and wine was a little ridiculous).  As a one-off special meal, on a special occasion like this, it was truly wonderful. I’d love to go back. Hint hint.

Club Gascon on Urbanspoon

Guide to Michelin-starred restaurants in London, Part I*

* Part I only:  I’m not as rich as I’d like, so can only review the few I’ve been to so far.  There are many more that I hope to try over the coming years though, so Parts II, III and IV to come soon (hopefully!)…

Its your birthday, his birthday, your anniversary, your best friend just got engaged, your mum’s in town, Valentine’s day; you’ve tried some fantastic restaurants in London, but you really want to treat yourself.  These places ain’t cheap (but can be cheaper than you think – see Chez Bruce) but you are pretty much guaranteed a wonderful gastro experience that you are likely to remember for years to come. 

My experience is limited (for cash reasons) and there are loads in London (see this guide or this one) so I’ll do my best to add more as time goes on.  In the meantime, here’s my reviews on the 4 that I’ve been to:

1. Chez Bruce

My favourite dining experience in London.  What I like about it most is that there is no pretention, no snootiness.  They have an extensive wine menu and one of the joys of going here is to ask for the wine somellier who will go through what food you are eating, what you like, and pick an incredible bottle of wine at the price you want.  Don’t be embarrassed to ask. 

I ate downstairs the first time I went there, but the second time (El G’s birthday), we sat upstairs, which I actually preferred.  There are about 5 tables and it’s more intimate and romantic, with views over Wandsworth Common. 

Slightly old-fashioned, the food is modern French and incredibly delicately done.  For starters there’s typically foie gras, delicate soups, or fish dishes like ceviche of tuna.  Mains vary from gamey dishes like guinea fowl and rabbit, and tasty fish.  All I’ve had were superb (sadly I’ve lost the menu from that wonderful night, and it changes regularly).  The cheese course is wonderful – with a serious cheese platter arriving that you can pick from.  Make sure you leave some room if you can.

All in all, we paid around around £75 each, for a 3 course meal, a bottle of wine and 2 digestifs – considering you can easily pay £50 each for an OK meal in London this is incredibly reasonable.  My Scottish tip is to crack open some bubbly at your flat beforehand – its always tempting to have some fizz when you get to a posh restaurant but it always hits you on the bill (or ignore me and live a little..!).  
Chez Bruce on Urbanspoon

2. Pied A Terre

We had the tasting menu – the second ever time I’ve done this.  At 10 courses, it was really far too much (I felt sick on the tube home from being over-stuffed) but it was the most exciting gastronomique experience of my life so far.  The amuse bouche themselves were incredible, including a ginger foam thing that bubbled in the mouth and was so good I giggled.  Starters included marinated Scallops with Brandade Mousse, Cauliflower and Truffle Salad, Lemon Oil and Baby Wood Sorrel – I’m allergic to scallops but they managed to make me something even better.  Mains included cod and venison and the puddings seemed to go on forever.  We loved the coffee and petit fours at the end (if only we could eat, or see, properly – see below).  I don’t regret doing the tasting menu – it was a wonderful experience and the food was original, experimental and delicious - but next time, I’d like to order a la carte. 

We also did the wine flight with this menu which meant a new wine for every course.  The glasses are about half full, but still I was pretty tipsy by the end and the last few courses were a little hazy.  However, it was really fun guessing the wine, there were some really interesting choices, and the whole experience sent us into giggling schoolchild mode. 

I loved how the chef and wine sommellier were both Aussies – shows how good Australian cuisine has become, meant that there was a lot of experimental cooking, and that the wine choices were eclectic - New World and non-French European as well as some good French wines.  I loved how the French aristocrats asking the nationality of the chef were shocked – ha!  It is also unlike other Michelin-starred restaurants, as you can book it through toptable.

First downside is the money – if you do choose the taster menu plus wine flight, you’re looking at around £170 each – ouch.  Second downside is that it was filled with Eurotrash and bankers, and the atmosphere wasn’t great even on a Saturday night – it didn’t seem full of regulars or the cool crowd like the River Cafe…
Pied à Terre on Urbanspoon

3. River Cafe

If I had money, I’d go here every week as it definitely had the best atmosphere.  Filled with interesting, media types, and celebrities; and with a buzzing atmosphere even on a quiet Tuesday night, we were treated like kings and ate a wonderfully simple, fresh, seasonal, Tuscan feast.  Perhaps not as delicate or intricate as Chez Bruce or Pied a Terre, this is great Italian dining. 

You are given a choice of antipasti, primi, and/or secondi, followed by amazing organic cheese or dessert.  I chose as primi the risotto with langoustines, mint, peas and pinot bianco which was simple and delicious.  For secondi I had the anjou pigeon which was delicious and heavy, but next time I’d go for the great-sounding fish – chargrilled cornish monkfish, turbot tranche, dorset blue lobster. 

El G’s boss treated us to a bottle of champers as he had to work late so the rest of the bill was good value – about £75 each for 3 courses and a glass of wine with our cheese.  See my full review here.  Also the best decor and outside space of the lot. 
River Cafe on Urbanspoon

4. Yauatcha

Glamorous, minimalist, and very Sex and the City, I went here years ago for my friend Marit’s birthday.  We were a big group of girls and I recall rather snooty staff – for example we weren’t allowed to take photos of the birthday girl (presumably to stop anyone annoying the slebs).  We had amazing green tea martinis and the food was spectacular “Asian fusion” – beautiful dim sum, intricately spiced, fresh and delicious, and pretty reasonably priced.  A bit too cool for school for me though sadly.  It has recently re-opened however, so worth another look.
Yauatcha on Urbanspoon

River Cafe, Thames Wharf, Rainville Road, W6

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I’ve been to other Michelin starred restaurants in London – Chez Bruce and Pied a Terre - but River Cafe is the one that I’d go to all the time if I had money.  El Grump and I went there for our anniversary in July and absolutely loved it.  The room has been redecorated after a fire and is now bright, roomy and airy.  The service is friendly and relaxed and there’s nothing snooty about it at all.  The atmosphere is great, almost like a big house party – no dull banker types but interesting looking media types and – hurrah – a glimpse of Jade Jagger having a ciggie outside.  Next time I’d like to try the wood fired oven for pigeon or pizza, but instead had a wonderfully simple and tasty Tuscan style meal of pasta to start and fish as a main.  Basic delicious food like you’d get in a local restaurant in Florence, although with booze included its obviously not a cheap night.

River Cafe on Urbanspoon