Last Friday, I celebrated my friend L’s birthday in style with dinner at the Greenhouse, Michelin-starred in Mayfair. It wasn’t our first choice, but we’d struck out at the Ledbury and Marcus Wareing, and although I’d never before heard much about the Greenhouse, because of several strong recs in comments left on this blog, we gave it a go.
The restaurant is located off Hay’s Mews, which is a dark alley made none the cheerier by rain, and if it weren’t Mayfair, I’d have been reluctant to venture down it. Happily, once you turn onto the small garden path that leads you to the restaurant (which appears to be the basement floor of a block of flats), things become much more pleasant.
Having chosen the tasting menu (£80), L and I settled down to aperitifs and three amuses: (1) Sweet onion and watercress soup, which tasted only of watercress and so could’ve been sweeter and seasoned more; (2) crabmeat wrapped in jicama and topped with salmon roe, which was wonderfully refreshing and colorful; and (3) foie gas mousse wedged in between two lacy butter crisps dyed with squid ink (surf ‘n’ turf!), which was as fatty and rich as the crabmeat was light and refreshing.
Sometime during these preliminaries, we noticed that two portions of butter had been left on our table, but at no point were we offered bread. We weren’t hungry so we didn’t say anything, but it seemed a big lapse not to have been offered bread, especially because the butters looked so tempting.
My first course of beef tartare (pictured at top) was a nice surprise – more a delicately-dressed beef carpaccio than the lump of mince I’d expected. The black truffle sauce added a rich, earthy dimension to the light and zingy slices of beef.
A second course of mackerel was sliced and plated to look like sardines, which was visually entertaining. The apple puree and crunchy nuts (?) under the mackerel added lightness and texture to the otherwise-meaty fish.
From the description on the menu, I was sure this course, a steamed fish, would bore me to tears, but the intensity of the Thai curry balanced perfectly the delicate fillet of brill. The curry sauce was fragrant but light – not thick or too sweet despite the strong aroma of ginger and coconut. This fish course is the best I’ve had in ages.
I loved the presentation of the foie gras course, mostly because at a quick glance, it looked like suckling pig. But the filmy “skin” sitting atop the foie gras was an off-putting texture. It brought to mind the scummy skin that forms on cheap instant chocolate pudding. I did, however, like how the sweet beetroot complemented the foie – a nice change from all that quince and fig you usually get on the side.
The pigeon didn’t look like much, but it was wonderfully tender and juicy, helped along by the almond, giblet and pancetta jus, no doubt.
Dessert was a ‘snix,’ which seemed very American what with the combination of peanuts and chocolate. The peanutty oatmeal biscuit layer of the dessert ‘sandwich’ was too dry and gritty even with the ice cream. What it should’ve tasted like are the Do-Si-Do’s sold by the Girl Scouts of America. Luckily the salted caramel ice cream was genius.
The Greenhouse’s wine list was supremely impressive, offering dozens of bottles even from unexpected places like Lebanon and India. We loved browsing it, though ultimately we asked our sommelier to recommend a full-bodied white for our meal (and she came up with a good one that tasted almost meaty and fell well within our stated price range).
Overall, I had a wonderful time at the Greenhouse – much better than my dinner last month at two-starred Hibiscus. Although I hated our table at the Greenhouse (right next to the doors to the kitchen and within view of the till), the pacing of our dinner at the Greenhouse was perfect (a little under four hours). At Hibiscus, we shoveled down just as many courses in 2.5 hours, which wasn’t particularly relaxing.
I think the cooking at Hibiscus is more exciting than what I experienced at the Greenhouse (e.g., I’m still dreaming of that truffle-egg yolk-potato ravioli at Hibiscus), but the cooking at the Greenhouse was consistently well done (particular shout out to the sauces, which were all distinct and well matched to what was on the plate). At these prices, though, it’s only partly about the food, and I loved taking my time at the Greenhouse.
With aperitifs, a £70 bottle of wine and bottled water, we paid £146 each.
The Greenhouse, 27a Hay’s Mews, W1J 5N; +44 (0)20 7499 3331; closest tube station: Green Park