DINING OWL AWARDS: 2nd – for dates; 5th – for decor
When I visited: February 2013, February 2019
Location: London, Mayfair
Team: Helene Darroze (Head Chef), Arnaud Debelmas (maitre d’)
Rating in the Michelin Guide: 2 stars – then and now
What to wear: Men – shirt and jacket and nice trousers and shoes; women – a smart dress and/or smart trousers and a top
Ambience: The Connaught is a lovely hotel in a lovely area; it feels a little more warm than some of the huge London hotels
Course of the meal: Black and creamy Carnaroli Acquerello rice, roasted blue lobster, calamari with chorizo and confit tomatoes, lightly bitter jus with parsley, Parmigiano Reggiano emulsion
If I could change one thing: Price (but this is understandable given the location)
I visited this restaurant as a birthday treat for my dining companion in early 2013. We had the dinnertime tasting menu (‘Signature’ menu) for one of the first times ever; we usually stuck to set lunches at that time as we didn’t have that much spare money. This was an indulgent and delicious menu and one of the best examples of a 2-Michelin-star restaurant I have visited, so much so that it still stands out for me, over two years later.
The meal began with “Fines de Claire” oyster tartare, Oscietra caviar, and chilled veloute of white beans from Bearn. Quite a full-on first course, not outdone by what followed it: a terrine of duck foie gras from Les Landes confit in mulled Madiran wine, dried fruit chutney, confit citrus, and amaranth leaves. Then came the triumphant blue lobster course: black and creamy Carnaroli Acquerello rice, roasted blue lobster, calamari with chorizo and confit tomatoes, lightly bitter jus with parsley and Parmigiano Reggiano emulsion … I’m getting hungry just thinking about it.
Readers will know that this Owl loves scallops. Helene’s pan-roasted hand harvested XXL scallop with tandoori spices, carrot and confit citrus mousseline, with spring onion reduction with Lampong pepper and fresh coriander, was a thing of beauty in all senses. Next came a pave of line-caught seabass cooked “a la nacre”, with mashed potatoes with black truffle from Perigord, mizuna, and gravy sauce with sweet onions from Cevennes … mmm. The meat courses were finished off by a roasted breast of pigeon from Racan flambéed “au capuchin”, with textures of different cabbages and roasting jus with mustard from Charroux. Pigeon is another of those foods that Michelin restaurants revel in making great – who would have thought the humble pigeon could taste so good?
This Owl, despite being a foodie, is not a big fan of cheese. Given the choice, I’ll always have a sorbet course instead. However, the matured fine seasonal cheeses from Herve Mons that were served between the mains and desserts were pretty tasty even to me. The desserts were a gorgeous way to end the meal: a golden apple compote, almond clafoutis sponge biscuit, green apple sorbet and tonka bean cream, followed by Carupano chocolate cream and spicy sponge, home-made ginger bread, and hot chocolate sauce flavoured with candied zest.
We were intrigued to find that this time, they had added some innovative touches to both the food and the experience, with a menu that we had to choose from a ball grid (see the picture below):
We were given a paper menu with more explanation about each course and then left to choose 5 (or 7) options by leaving those balls in the middle of the grid.
We went for the ‘potato’ with lovage, herring and kafir lime, which was wonderfully balanced, the lobster with tandorri, carrot, citrus and coriander, the black truffle Jerusalem artichoke, “Noir de Bigorre” ham and Parmigiano Reggiano, where the truffle taste was nicely potent, and we shared the ‘pigeon’ from Denbighshire in Wales with foie gras, wild mushroom, turnip and Manuka honey. We diverged on the desserts, trying both the ‘chocolate’ from Taïnori in the Dominican Republic with passionfruit and coffee, and the St Honoré with black truffle from Périgord with salted caramel and vanilla.
For drinks, we started with a glass of the Delamotte Blanc de Blanc champagne, which was tasty and dry, and shared a bottle of white wine chosen with some help from the sommelier, a creamy Mersault Clos de la Barre from 2012.
We also got a ton of bonuses throughout the meal: bread with two types of butter (one chilli-based) and ham, three canapés – truffle-based cheese, a butternut squash and spinach type crisp, and a spiced pastry puff; a bonus birthday dark chocolate rose-shaped mousse on a biscuit base, a pre-dessert bread ice cream with olive oil and jam at the bottom, and two very full-tasting chocolate truffles as petits fours with green teas at the end. I think we also got some bonus cheeses (a selection of five, with quince jelly and other dips and crackers) and some merveilles (like flatter churros with cream and passionfruit dips) because we had met some of the staff before through a charity event. Before we left, they also gave us a takeaway canelé cake each.
If you’re after a romantic meal, in a beautiful setting, with friendly waiters and top-notch food, this is the restaurant for you.