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Posts Tagged ‘michelin-starred restaurants in London’

dim sum platter (£12.50)

Hakkasan is well known for its sleek Christian Liaigre-designed interior and its sky-high prices.  The place has done well enough that there’s now a Mayfair location, as well as outposts around the world.  And with Alan Yau no longer the man in charge, you can’t help wondering if the food and service are still any good.

I have a slightly different image of Hakkasan, though, as a place that serves up very good Chinese food using quality ingredients at reasonable prices.  Hakkasan’s menu is huge and diverse in price and style, and the cost of your meal can very enormously depending on what you order.

Several times a year, Jon and I drop by for what can only be called a casual dinner.  The only thing that keeps us from going more often is the effort it takes to dress up a bit (though jeans and a black T seem to go over just fine on a Sunday or work week night).

Last Sunday night, for example, we were too lazy to cook and wanted to bring my visiting-from-the-US mom someplace good.  And she has a weakness for Chinese food.  So off we went to Hakkasan.

Normally, we don’t bother with starters, but we broke our own rule last Sunday and got the dim sum platter, which was overly steamed.  The rice flour wrappers on all four types of dim sum were gloopy and smooshy, and the reddish-colored one didn’t even taste good.  I think it might have been a tomato wrapper filled with tomato gel.  At least the scallop filling of the shu mai was good.

silver cod in champagne sauce (£35)

We did much better ordering mains, as always.  The one pricey dish I get sucked into at Hakkasan is the restaurant’s signature “silver cod in champagne sauce.”  I know it’s the equivalent of ordering Nobu’s miso cod, but it really is pretty tasty.  Silken shards of cod in a citrus-perfumed champagne sauce.  I look forward to it every time.

tofu, aubergine and mushroom claypot (£12.50)

Silver cod aside, in general, I love the humble claypot dishes at Hakkasan.  Maybe you’re paying a couple quid more than you would at a divey Chinatown place, but at Hakkasan, you get top-notch ingredients and a skilled, consistent hand at the stove.  The tofu and aubergine claypot is a star, with both main ingredients cooked to silky-smooth perfection, and the umami-rich mushrooms boosting an already powerful flavor mix.  Eaten with plain white rice, it’s the best.

twice-cooked Duke of Berkshire pork belly (£15.50)

Twice-cooked pork belly is now available seemingly everywhere, thanks to the growing popularity of Szechuan cuisine, but Hakkasan’s is spiced and flavored just right every time.  There’s just enough kick from the citrus-scented, tongue-numbing Szechuan pepper corns to cut the fattiness of the pork belly, and the medium-firm tofu and cabbage add great texture.  This one is another favorite of mine with white rice.

sauteed morning glory (£10)

Hakkasan always seems to be out of the sauteed snow pea shoots (yet it’s always on the menu), and I always end up with sauteed morning glory as a substitute.  Crunchy, slightly sweet, doing its wonderful vegetable thing.  You can’t have a Chinese meal without greens, yes?

With three bowls of rice at £2.50 a pop and just lots of tap water, our dinner for three people totaled a perfectly-reasonable £105 with service charge.  If we’d avoided the £35 silver cod, I’d say £70 for three people would have qualified as a particularly reasonable cost for a filling and delish dinner.  Point is, you can go to Hakkasan for more than the scene and pricey cocktails.  You can go for the food!  So try to ignore that raucous party of Russian oligarchs nearby and just enjoy the cooking.  There are some real gems on the menu.

Hakkasan, 8 Hanway Place, W1T 1HD; 0207 927 7000; closest Tube station:  Tottenham Court Road.
Hakkasan Hanway Place on Urbanspoon

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bacon-onion roll at the Ledbury (aka my beloved)

Considering how often I recommend the Ledbury to friends (and how often they report back that they’ve had a marvelous time there), I don’t know how I let over *two years* go by since I last ate there.  It’s sad, really.

Two weeks ago, Jon and I met four close friends for Sunday lunch there.  We were joking about how far we’d all traveled to get to Notting Hill (coming from Islington, Hoxton and Shad Thames).  But you know, the Ledbury is well worth the schlepp.

I’d never been to the Ledbury’s Sunday lunch before, which is a shame because at £40 a person for three courses and several amuses, it’s great value.

The downside for food lovers when ordering a la carte, though, is that a lot of bargaining and bickering breaks out over who orders what.  This is where the Ledbury’s stellar service made its first appearance of the day:  our server noticed several of us wanted to try the Saint-Nectaire truffled toast with buffalo milk curd and onion broth, so with grace and style, she stepped into our conversation and offered that course as an amuse for the table.  This gesture freed us up to try out the other starters.  We both laughed at ourselves for having drawn her attention and loved that she solved our “dilemma” of who would order which starter.

my Sunday lunch starter: courgettes, crab and frozen parmesan

The weather being warm and sunny, and having eaten about five of the Ledbury’s outrageously-delicious bacon-and-onion rolls, I ordered the courgettes, crab and frozen parmesan starter.  The dish was, indeed, super refreshing, though the frozen parmesan wasn’t as interesting a texture or flavor as I’d thought it’d be.  My bad for ordering what amounted to the “chicken option” on the menu.

my friend's Sunday lunch starter: turbot roe, fried turbot and stunningly-good radish

My friend J’s starter of turbot in multiple forms and served with assorted root veg deserves mention for being both visually attractive and surprisingly delicious.  Who would’ve thought radish could steal the show?

a starter the Ledbury threw in as an amuse: Saint-Nectaire (cheese) and truffled toast

Fresh curd of Hampshire buffalo milk with wild mushrooms, and a broth of grilled onions

The major highlight among the starters, though (perhaps of the entire meal) was the truffled, cheesy (Saint-Nectaire) toast served as an amused to our table.  You dip the truffled toast (wonderfully nutty, floral and earthy on its own) into the curd and it’s like the ultimate comfort experience, bringing to mind egg-and-soldiers.  What an outstanding dish.  Next time you eat at the Ledbury, make sure to have this course.

crisp pressed suckling pig with white carrot, Pedro Ximénez and toasted grains

My main course of suckling pig was lovely, though as I get older, I have to say I become less excited about main courses.  It always has to be a sizable portion of protein, so is it just me, or do you feel like the creativity of most kitchens shines in the starter courses?

Jon opts for the (generous) cheese course (£7 supplement)

Dessert time.  Jon goes for the groaning, tempting cheese cart.  He’s a greedy one, but the Ledbury doesn’t hesitate to plate his sizable selection.

wild and Gariguette strawberries, meringue, ewe's milk yoghurt and beignets

Me?  I’m stuffed by the time we get to dessert, but I’m thinking beignets are calling my name.  (Donuts fresh out of the fryer!)  Turns out the beignets of my strawberry, meringue and yoghurt dessert are the least interesting.  I thought I was in for a competent tarting up of Eton mess, but actually, my dessert was mind-blowingly intense and refreshing.  The tangy, creamy ewe’s milk yoghurt was a great foil for the sweet, fragrant strawberries.  Crunchy meringue bits for texture.

Rave reviews around the table for desserts, especially the Ledbury’s creative pairings of creme brulee flavors and ice creams.

caramelised banana galette with salted caramel, passion fruit and peanut oil parfait

Our server noticed that we failed to try one of the desserts on the menu, so once again brought it out as an amuse for our table.  It’s the banana galette with salted caramel, passion fruit and peanut parfait.  A great mix of textures and flavors, but most of all, we love the gesture.  Although we were here for a 3-course Sunday lunch menu, we feel like we’ve gotten a tasting menu.

Our spirits high and our tummies full, we all rolled out of the Ledbury four hours later wondering why we hadn’t been back sooner.  With all the trimmings (aperitifs, wines and coffees), our meal came to £75 a person.  If you’ve eaten out reasonably often in London, you know that there are too many places charging a lot more money for a much lesser experience, so on that basis, I’d call the Sunday lunch at the Ledbury a great value.  Go!

The Ledbury, 127 Ledbury Road, W11 2AQ, 0207 792 9090; Closest tubes: Notting Hill Gate, Westbourne Park, Ladbroke Grove. £40 Sunday lunch menu.  Best deal in town.

The Ledbury on Urbanspoon

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la table lumiere at Alain Ducasse Restaurant

Last Wednesday evening, I finally gave in to the temptation of accepting a restaurant’s “invitation to review.”  I figured that if I accept only one freebie in my life, it might as well be a 3-Michelin-star one.

Four other bloggers (A Rather Unusual Chinaman, Cheese & Biscuits, Hollow Legs, Greedy Diva) and I were invited to eat or drink anything of our choice at Alain Ducasse, housed in the Dorchester Hotel on Park Lane.

behind-the-scenes in the kitchen at Alain Ducasse

Greeted at the restaurant by Alain Ducasse’s internal PR person, we were definitely not anonymous diners.  So that’s the end of my guilt-ridden full disclosure.

I’ll start with the high and low points of the evening, followed by all the pictures of the food and the blow-by-blow for the hard-core food nerds (myself included):

High points:

  • The private “table lumiere,” which unlike other private tables, still benefits from the buzz of surrounding tables by cleverly using a wall of fiber optic strings to provide privacy without blocking out noise.  When the fiber optic lights are on, it’s all very shimmery and pretty in a blingtastic sort of way.  A nice contrast to the otherwise staid dining room.  (Of course, the curtain does lure you into a sense of complacency,  so it’s hard to remember that everyone around you can just as easily hear you as you can hear them).
  • The service.  As you’d expect at a 3-star resto when the service know you’re there to do a review, everyone (the restaurant director, Nicolas, the sommelier, Mathias, all the servers) was friendly, helpful and attentive in a discreet sort of way.  No detail was overlooked, and no glass went empty.  We got 3-star service, no ifs ands or buts.
  • The kid-in-a-candy store feeling of ordering anything we wanted from the menu.  The regular tasting menu is £115, and the seasonal one is £180.  Wanting to see what the kitchen offered at such a lofty price point, we chose the seasonal menu.
  • Desserts.   I lack a sweet tooth, but the five of us tried all six desserts currently offered by the restaurant, and they were uniformly wonderful, ranging from merely delicious to geniusly-creative.  Lime souffle with Sichuan peppercorn ice cream, I will remember you always.
  • The subversive high of not paying the bill at the end of our meal.

Low Points:

  • The feeling that most courses on our £180 tasting menu were a tick-box exercise in luxury.  I probably won’t remember any of them a week from now.  In contrast,  six years on, I still crave the oysters and pearls, smoked salmon cornet, and golden, magically-translucent crispy bone marrow of Per Se.
  • The lobster course.  Overcooked and overwhelmed by the cinnamon-red-wine sauce.  It makes me sad when lobsters die in vain, and even sadder when it dies at the hands of a kitchen that should know better.
  • The beef fillet course.  I’ll take partial responsibility for this one because I find filet mignon generally flavorless, so it wasn’t a surprise that I kept wishing the steak on my plate had more char and fat.  I should have asked for a substitution here, but at this level of cooking, if the restaurant’s going to offer the dish on its menu, shouldn’t it appeal to even filet mignon skeptics?

Would I go back on my own dime?

  • Not for the autumn tasting menu.  For £180, the autumn menu offered a stunning variety and quantity of luxury ingredients.  Caviar, foie gras (twice), lobster, filet mignon, truffles.  But other than the desserts, the food just felt dutiful.  Where were the moments of wonder?  Like the ones I remember at 3-starred Per Se, or at the relatively-humble 1-starred La Grenouillere?
  • Thinking about recent haute cuisine experiences in London, I recall the tasting menu at 2-starred The Square for £100.  No question that the Square’s menu lacked the OTT luxury ingredients of what we tried at Alain Ducasse, but the Square’s menu seemed to achieve the elusive “value for money” designation because for £80 more per person, I wanted more “wow,” not pricier ingredients.
  • In fairness to Alain Ducasse, I had a marvelous time at dinner that night, because undoubtedly the front-0f-the-house is more than half the battle in the 3-star world.  I can say for sure that when the service at Alain Ducasse wants to be charming and helpful, you’ll feel like you’re the most special person on earth.  But of course, because none of us were dining anonymously, I can’t tell you whether I would have felt this cared for if I’d been just a regular schmo with £400 per person to burn (because surely, with wine, champers, digestifs and service, that’s about what our bill would have totalled, at least).
  • I’d be curious to hear what people think of Alain Ducasse’s £115 “regular” tasting menu.  No question I would have been a lot more forgiving at that price point, and the amazing service and setting would have tipped the scales more in favor of “yes” when answering the above question.

Below is the full shebang on the food:

marinated scallop in a rich nage topped with "Kristal caviar"

Caviar.  Check.  It may be farmed (“Kristal” – such clever marketing, no?), but we all have to do our part to help that wild sturgeon population recover.  The important thing is that the caviar still tasted nutty, briney and creamy.  The scallop was irrelevant.

seared duck foie gras, potato gnocchi, ceps and fresh almonds

Nice textures, and the foie gras did its meaty melt-in-your-mouth job, but  instead of adding duck jus tableside,  something sweet or acidic to break up the one-note meatiness of this course would have been nice.

roasted Scottish lobster, apple and quince cooked in cinnamon and salted butter

Even if the lobster hadn’t been somewhat tough, I suspect the cinnamon-spiked apples and quince and red wine sauce would have overwhelmed the delicate sweetness we all know and love in fresh lobster.  I can’t resist contrasting this disappointing course with the still-translucent succulence of the lobster roll at Daniel Rose’s Spring, as well with the delightfully delicious roast lobster tail at La Grenouillere (likely the best haute cuisine experience of 2010, by the way).

turbot fillet cooked Florentine style and with shrimp, walnuts and Arbois wine

Very good.  I never get my home-cooked turbot to turn out this beautiful or delicious.  And look at those carved mushroom caps – charmant, no?  The shrimps could have been more thoroughly-deveined, though (see e.g., the shrimp in the upper-left-hand corner of this photo).  You expect better.

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Filet mignon, seared foie gras ("tournedos Rossini") and super-cool lettuce

A slight play on a classic dish, the filet mignon “Rossini style” was memorable mostly because I wondered how I could recreate the charred-but-not-limp lettuce at home.  The other reason the lettuce was a highlight is because it was dressed with a balsamic vinaigrette that went perfectly with the foie gras on toast.  In case the other courses weren’t luxurious enough, this course doubled down with both filet mignon and foie (again).

truffled brie de Meaux

Cheese course time.  Sometimes you wonder if truffle is added just to make something more expensive.  Not here, though.  The floral-earthy scent of truffle melded right into the creamy brie and lifted the cheese out of boring land.

lime souffle, white cheese and Sichuan pepper sorbet - genius

Reading off the menu, you could say “souffle?  yawn.”  But you’d be wrong.  Not only was this souffle technically-perfect (light as air, yadda yadda) and intriguingly-flavored (sweet and tart, always a winner), but also the accompanying Sichuan pepper sorbet was genius.  The peppercorn’s citrus scent matched the souffle perfectly.

coco-caramel delight, lemon-vanilla sorbet

praline-chocolate biscuit, milk-salt flower ice cream

I love the taste and crunch of praline, especially when married with bittersweet chocolate.  What lifted this dessert beyond mere delicious status was the accompanying milk-salt flower ice cream, which, eaten alone, tasted horribly salty.  But when taken with the biscuit, the salt ice cream heightened the flavors of the praline and chocolate.

rose and raspberry pleasure

At any other restaurant, a highlight.  but here, merely very good and refreshing.

pear variation - coup de poires, sorbet mascarpone

Same comment as applied to the raspberry rose thingy.

rhum baba

The famous Alain Ducasse rhum baba.  You can tell it’s special because of the elaborate serving dish, no?  I’ve never liked rhum baba, which, at its worst, is just soggy stale cake.  So it’s no surprise that this one, while better than most, still tasted too much of rhum and too little of cream and cake.

And that’s it.  There were tons of delicious mignardises and gourmandises (I wish I’d taken more than a single salted caramel), digestifs to choose from, and the fresh-herb tea options were dramatically wheeled out on a cart for our choosing.

  • £55 for 2 courses (appetizer and fish or meat)
  • £75 for 3 courses (appetizer, fish or meat and dessert)
  • £95 for 4 courses (appetizer, fish and meat and dessert)
  • £115 for the tasting menu
  • £180 for the seasonal tasting menu

Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester Hotel, 53 Park Lane, W1A 2HJ; 0207     629 8866; closest tube station:  Hyde Park Corner or Green Park.
Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester on Urbanspoon

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