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Posts Tagged ‘The Ledbury’

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.

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Happy new year! Eight days late, I know.

I had a fantabulous trip back to the U.S., full of family, old friends and good food. I hope you and yours had a happy holidays, too.

Now I’m back in cold, foggy London. My gym is packed to the gills. Accumulated email at work is driving me nuts. So it’s definitely January, and I thought I’d kick off 2009 with a quick look back at 2008 with my five favourite London restaurants last year.

In choosing the restaurants for this highly-esteemed list, I considered only the places I visited at least every two months in 2008, or in the cases where it’d be cost prohibitive to drop by that often, restaurants that served me a meal so good in 2008 (and with service and decor so nice) that I think constantly of returning. [For the complete list of London restaurants I’ve blogged about, check out the London Restaurant Reviews page of my blog.]

In alphabetical order:

  • Barrafina - Everything I ate at Barrafina last year was a hit. The main deterrent to my going more regularly is the prospect of having to queue to get a coveted bar stool. But the tapas at Barrafina is so head-and-shoulders above that of its closest competitors, Tierra Brindisa, Tapas Brindisa and Moro, that if time’s not an issue, it’s Barrafina for me.

    54 Frith Street, W1D 4SL, 0207 813 8016; Closest tube station: Leicester Square

  • Mangal Ocakbasi - This Turkish grill is worth the schlepp to Dalston. At least five times last year, Jon and I found ourselves gobbling down the mixed grill there. The kofte and lamb chops particularly rock my world. Although it’s annoying (especially in cold weather) to get jammed up in the entryway because of Mangal’s popularity, one look at that massive indoor grill and hood, and you know it’s worth the crush and wait. The meats here are always cheap and always good.

    10 Arcola Street, E8 2DJ; 020 7275 8981; closest tube station: Highbury & Islington, I guess, but Dalston Kingsland Overland is by far the closest mass transit point if the Overland is at all handy for you

Of course, it was tough for me to keep my list to five, which I guess is why making lists can be valuable. Pearl Liang, Hakkasan, Le Cafe Anglais, Tayyabs, Tomoe and the Marquess, for example, were places where my money and time were consistently well spent in 2008 (and 2007 and 2006 . . . ). But even listing them in this paragraph is cheating on this concept of my top 5.

Now, looking forward to 2009, I’m following in the footsteps of my fellow bloggers and listing the places I’d love to visit during this coming year. Right now, Galvin Bistro de Luxe, The Square, Chez Bruce, and a return to Murano to try out the dinner menu are in the cards. Maybe a trip to Gordon Ramsay Royal Hospital Road thanks to Intoxicating Prose’s rave review in November 2008. (I was so disappointed by my Fat Duck visit in April 2006 that since then I’ve been wary of 3-star Michelin experiences – and expenses – in London).

In any event, here’s to Jon and my staying employed so we can keep on eating and traveling in 2009 . . . .

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passionfruit souffle with blueberry ice cream at the Ledbury restaurant

passionfruit souffle with blueberry ice cream at the Ledbury restaurant

Today is Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, and I’m fasting. No beverages or food for 24 hours. But at sundown today, it’s back to my piggish ways.

What better way to spend my last food-and-drink-free hours than to write about delicious delicious food? I *must* be delirious.

Jon and I returned to the Ledbury last weekend. We had such an all-around great meal there in August that it took restraint to wait even this long (six weeks) to revisit.

Perhaps inevitably, this time, I was slightly disappointed. To be fair to the Ledbury, high expectations are deadly. And I still think the Ledbury is a great restaurant. But the prices have gone up (the tasting menu is now £70 per person, not £60), and the ingredients used were noticeably budget-conscious. I assume the higher menu prices and seemingly-less-luxe ingredients can be blamed only on rising food costs, but I had hoped that restaurants would do only one or the other. Not both.

The service – such a high point last time – was still swift and accommodating: the sommelier remembered me from our last visit, and one of our servers allowed us to substitute the passionfruit souffle for the chocolate pave course on the tasting menu.

slice of foie gras terrine with mango

slice of foie gras terrine with mango

As for the food, it was all still tasty, but compared to our last tasting menu experience, it seemed skimpy and less creative. Rolls, for example. Something you can take for granted at any moderate-to-nice restaurant. Last time, we got an endless supply of them, and I had to force myself to stop eating all the bacony-cheese ones (they’re like gougeres, but better because there’s bacon). This time, we each got one roll at the start of the meal, and then another towards the end after we asked for more (and even then, our servers said they’d have to ask the kitchen to send more up).

As for the tasting menu, the slice of foie gras terrine was creamy and rich, and the diced mango and cabernet sauce added tang and sweetness, but I’d hoped for a thick slice of roast foie gras like what I remembered from our visit in August. Cold terrine just isn’t the same when you want hot, rich essence of meaty fatness.

roast cod with truffle

roast cod with truffle

Our cod is a better example of the skimpiness. Last time, we dined on moist, luscious, delicate-flavored turbot. This time, we got roast cod. It was likely as good as cod gets – firm but silky – but it’s hard for me to get excited about it. Where’s the special-occasion factor in cod?

partridge served with corn "three ways"

partridge served with corn

Our partridge with corn served three ways also seemed boring. The “corn on the cob” was crisp and sweet, but you know, it’s corn on the cob. And the corn pancake under the partridge was just tough. I guess it was there to soak up the chicken-tasting partridge juices. I admit I’m biased against partridge because I think it really does taste like chicken. And I’m a good enough home cook that chicken isn’t something I want to pay someone else to make for me. I’ll pick a lamb or suckling pig course any day above a partridge one.

Before I sound too “down” on eating at the Ledbury, I should point out the superstar passionfruit souffle. That souffle was so perfect that even if everything at the Ledbury sucked (which it most certainly does not), I’d still go back. The passionfruit (and lemon zest?) added a tanginess that matched the lightness of the souffle’s texture. As souffles are wont to be, it was hot, airy and so fresh that I thought if I didn’t eat it right away, the souffle might float away and disappear. The blueberry ice cream served tableside was an excellent contrasting accompaniment. Every bite of this dessert was sweet and sour, floral and fruity, hot and cold. I haven’t got a sweet tooth, but thanks to the Ledbury, I’ve learned I have a passionfruit souffle tooth.

Overall, I had a good meal this time ’round at the Ledbury. Prices were higher and value-for-money was proportionally lower than last time, but it’s still my favorite high-end restaurant in London. In these uncertain times, though, next time I’ll try the a la carte menu and cut back on the wines. Maybe I’ll go just for passionfruit souffle.

The Ledbury, 127 Ledbury Road, W11 2AQ, 0207 792 9090; Closest tubes: Notting Hill Gate, Westbourne Park, Ladbroke Grove. £70 tasting menu; £40 wine pairings.
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Salad of spring vegetables with wild shoots, warm quail egg and truffle at the Ledbury

Salad of spring vegetables with wild shoots, warm quail egg and truffle

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):

Grilled mackerel with mackerel tartare in cucumber gelee at the Ledbury

Grilled mackerel with mackerel tartare in cucumber gelee

(more…)

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