DINING OWL AWARDS: 5th – canapés; 2nd – amuse bouche
When I visited: February 2014 and August 2015
Location: London, Mayfair
Team: Arnaud Bignon (Head Chef), Arnaud Demas (maitre d’), Marc Piquet (Head Sommelier)
Rating in the Michelin Guide: 2 stars
What to wear: Men – shirt and jacket and nice trousers and shoes; women – a smart dress and/or smart trousers and a top
Ambience: Posh, good for a romantic date; lights in trees outside and walkway in the dark
Course of the meal: Vanilla dessert with tuile, isigny cream and rum and ‘pick your fragrance’ – the one chosen was ‘Mauritius’ – flowery, anise and sweet
If I could change one thing: More consistent service
Here’s the thing about The Greenhouse. The first time I went, for my partner Owl’s birthday treat last year, it was amazing and I gave it 5 hoots. However, I visited again more recently and on the strength of that visit I would have to take it right down to 3 hoots … so it’s averaged out at a 4-hoot rating. As stunning as it was the first time, my experience on the second visit was disappointingly one of inconsistent service and of a dessert that is badly put together.
On the first visit, we had trouble finding the restaurant as it’s tucked away a bit but when you reach it it has a lovely romantic walkway with lights in the trees leading to the restaurant.
The first time, we had the dinner tasting menu and started with a glass of Drappier NV champagne. We chose a white wine (2009 Chardonnay 12502 Philibert Meo 09) to accompany the meal. With our champagne, we were given tasty canapés (a truffle macaron, salmon ball, and cauliflower cheese parcel).
The second time, when my partner Owl and I visited with 2 relatives, we went for the a la carte dinner (3 courses for £95 each). We started with a glass house champagne (J Lassalle), which was standard but not amazing, and again had lovely canapés (a beef tartare and anchovy mouse in front of us, and one on the side – a lighter-than-air carrot and ginger wafer).
For amuses bouches on the first visit, we had a crab in an egg shape (!) surrounded by green jelly – a wonderfully weird start. We then got a scallop with pink grapefruit – as readers will know, I LOVE my scallops and I love it when restaurants combine citrus or fruity flavours with savoury courses, so this was a hit with me. For amuses bouches on the second visit, we were again bowled over by a tomato, basic and garlic foam followed by a concoction with crab at the bottom through layers of apple gel.
When we had the tasting menu, we moved on to turbot with baby carrots and coconut, lime and tamarind sauce, followed by the obligatory foie gras (with a chocolate swirl, cocoa nibs and an orange flavour). The meat courses were veal with crumble on top and mash, and venison with a chestnut liquid ball, cabbage and loganberry jam and a segment of roasted apple – of course I appreciate the continuing fruit trend. I don’t normally like either veal or venison but both these examples were really nicely executed. Our pre-dessert bonus was pineapple and fresh mint sorbet. Desserts were an orange with cream millefeuille filo pastry and chocolate creme brûlée and cracking cocoa nibs – perfect. With our green tea (served in little Japanese style cups without handles) we got an astonishing array of petits fours: jellies, a signature ‘G’ chocolate, a Mangiare chocolate, lime meringue, mini panna cotta on a wooden spoon, Ecuadorean sake and yuzu truffle.
With our a la carte meal on the second visit, we selected a bottle of red Barolo wine with the meal which was good and got better as it ‘opened up’ a bit. However, the serving staff forgot to bring us the wine list at first and we had to ask for it a couple of times, which didn’t give a great early impression.
Between us for starters we had the Australian black truffle with girolles, almonds and spelt, the Orkney scallop (tartare) with verbena, green zebra tomato and samphire, foie gras with cherry, anise and cocoa and langoustine with avocado lemongrass yuzu and sake. I don’t think any of us had any complaints about the starters, which were very well executed.
However, we ran into a problem with the mains. Our relatives had grouse which was supposed to come with a sauce but our waitress accidentally poured the sauce onto my lamb (Welsh organic lamb ‘rhug estate’ with houmous, kombu and lemon) instead. We then heard the serving staff discussing this mishap and then they decided to serve the tiny bit of remaining sauce between the grouses and add the sauce that was supposed to go with my lamb to my plate as well, so that I had 2 sauces and our relatives had hardly any. Obviously everyone makes mistakes, but I think it would have been better if they had acknowledged the mistake to us, apologised and got me a new plate (I wouldn’t have minded waiting) as they presumably could have got some more sauce from the kitchen for the grouses quite quickly. They then compounded the problem by not ‘introducing’ the mains (probably because they didn’t want to admit the sauce mistake) – it is nice to have courses introduced at restaurants like this as you generally can’t remember all the components of each course unless you have the menu in front of you, which we didn’t. My partner Owl had Presa Iberico with aubergine, sobrasada, onion and smoked pimento, which did look very well-executed.
We did get a lovely pre-dessert (a quenelle sorbet of peach sorbet in syrup), and I was looking forward to my dessert of Alpaco chocolate souffle with green and yellow chartreuse (which was ‘plunged’ into the souffle) with bonbons. However, I have to say that for me the flavour combinations simply didn’t work and the dessert was too sweet and not really enjoyable – this view was shared by our relative who had the same dessert. However, my partner Owl’s vanilla with tuile, isigny cream and rum and ‘pick your fragrance’ (the ‘Mauritius’ – flowery, anise and sweet was chosen) was truly amazing (I tried a bit) and more representative of The Greenhouse’s usual high standard. Our other relative who was with us had the wild strawberry with matcha tea, apple and yuzu, which was both beautiful and well-balanced.
We had green tea to finish which was fine but they kept pouring more and more to the extent where we would have liked to have been left alone. The petits fours that came with it were perfect – lime jelly on a spoon, sweet tomato mousse on chocolate, cherry pie in jelly form on a biscuit and 3 chocolates – ganache, biscuit, caramel. However, they weren’t introduced and given that they weren’t on the menu at all it would have been nice to know exactly what was in them.
At the end of both of our visits, The Greenhouse continued the lovely 2-star takeaway trend (see also Picasso) – the first time they gave us a sponge with salted caramel sauce, the second time a gorgeous lemon cake.
After the first visit, I thought The Greenhouse was really underrated and deserved a lot more attention and praise, so I was pretty disappointed to feel let down by the inconsistent service and the less-than-stellar dessert on the second visit, especially as we’d recommended it to our relatives and taken them there. However, overall it still deserves 4 hoots for the sheer quality of most of the food and for the gorgeous setting. I would say it is better for dates than bigger groups of people.