A friend was telling me about his recent dinner at Thomas Keller’s Per Se restaurant, and our conversation reminded me that my dinner there in June 2004 remains the best restaurant meal of my life. Everything came together that night – my dining companions, the food, the wine, the mood in the resto, and the warm, friendly, confident service.
It’s been ages since I’ve encountered service at expensive restos that’s that super-attentive, knowledgeable and still welcoming. The few Michelin-starred places I’ve tried since moving to Europe have come with service that, while attentive and discreet, subscribes to a distant, chilly, almost master-servant school of thought. I suppose it might be very American to want service that cracks the formality a bit and creates the illusion that servers are happy to have you as their guest.
Well, last night, Jon and I ate at the Ledbury in Notting Hill, and we *loved* the service. Everyone at the front of the house was professional and warm – very human. The food, while very very good, tasted even better explained by servers who understood what they were serving and who seemed happy and proud to help you, the diner, enjoy what you were eating. Tap water was no problem; a sub for a course on the tasting menu, also no problem. Everything was no problem. I loved that.
Our friends, Jill and Emmet, had been singing the Ledbury’s praises for months, so I’m embarrassed it took us so long to get over there.
The Ledbury has a Michelin star, so no surprise that our tasting menu (£60 per person without wine pairings; £98 per person with – and the wine pairings were great, by the way) was studded with three or four amuses bouches. They were all simple but tasty and generally came in custard form.
My favorite bits of our eight-course meal were the foie gras (god, I love that molten center – it’s like marbled meat melting in your mouth), the luscious turbot, the intense vegetable flavors and soft-boiled quail egg in the “salad” starter (see photo at top), and the salsify-and-ham beignet served with our suckling pig.
For those of you curious for details about the type of food served at the Ledbury, below are my eh quality photos (taken on a phone camera because I lost my point-and-shoot a few weeks ago):
I didn’t like the presentation of the mackerel, which looked like sea creatures run amok, but the important part is that everything tasted delicious. Moist, hot, grilled mackerel contrasted with the cool mackerel tartare wrapped in a cucumber gelee, served with lots of assorted crunch, herbs and creaminess (the avocado cream being a highlight).
The foie gras, in addition to having a hot, crispy exterior and molten center, had some granola/nutty bits to add texture and a sweet, tangy wine-based (?) sauce to add some caramel flavor.
Our fish course was a turbot that was rich and moist – almost fatty in texture. The Ledbury’s turbot is, needless to say, much better than Jon and I have ever managed to prepare it at home (our turbot always comes out too gelatinous). It rested on a bed of greens that were sea purslane, leaves that were crunchy and salty, like a well-sauteed mangetout.
Not thinking straight, Jon and I had asked that our lamb course be subbed for a suckling pig course we spotted on the a la carte menu. It actually was served in addition to our lamb course, so it was back-to-back meatiness and I just didn’t have it in me to savor the beauty of either. That said, I managed to make room for the spiced peach and the salsify wrapped in jamon, breaded and deep fried. I figure you’re never too full for an oyster-tasting root vegetable that’s been breaded and fried with a cured meat. Mmm.
And not to give the succulent roasted lamb short shrift, but what stood out in that course was the aubergine glazed with miso and wild garlic. The miso just heightened the smoky sweetness of the aubergine. Pretty genius.
How we managed to eat our dessert is a mystery. The liquidy pave of bittersweet chocolate got interesting with the hit of basil and the crunch and nuttiness of sunflower seeds. Simple but clever.
The Ledbury’s dining room is high-ceilinged with dramatic floor-to-ceiling curtains and mirrors, and tables are spaced wide apart (what a luxury!). Jon and I enjoyed the buzz in the room, which continued well past midnight. You could go for a romantic night out or a fun night out with friends, and the resto would be great for both. We’re looking forward to going back.
The Ledbury, 127 Ledbury Road, W11 2AQ, 0207 792 9090; Closest tubes: Notting Hill Gate, Westbourne Park, Ladbroke Grove