Lately, it feels like American expats have been drawn to Bar Boulud like moths to a flame. Despite my short-lived attempts to resist the PR and marketing hype surrounding Daniel Boulud‘s first foray into London, different American dining companions have insisted we eat at BB on at least three separate occasions. I declined one and gave in to the other two, which means that just over a week ago, I ate at Bar Boulud on Wednesday and Saturday evenings.
Surprisingly, the two experiences varied significantly. I had a much more pleasant time on Wednesday evening with three girlfriends, partly because our table was comfortable and set a good distance away from other diners, whereas on Saturday night, the place was a zoo, and Jon and I were seated elbow-to-elbow with other two-person tables. We felt like we were part of a conveyor belt, which I know a lot of restaurants are, but it shouldn’t be obvious to you as the diner. However, the food was *much* better when I ate at Bar Boulud on Saturday evening, which suggests that the menu items can be hit-or-miss.
So, first tip : try to get a table that’s separate from the banquettes full of couples. Maybe this means dining at BB only when you have at least a party of three.
Second tip: Avoid the “degustation de charcuterie,” and order the charcuterie a la carte. At first, the tasting platter sounded like a great deal: three pates/terrines and a cured meat for £14. But when our platter arrived, I enjoyed only the cheapest and humblest of the three pâtés: pâté grand-mère, with its flavoursome blend of chicken liver, pork and cognac. The other items on the platter, including a ham, tasted dry and dull. Suddenly £14 wasn’t a good deal anymore.
So when I returned to Bar Boulud a few nights later, I headed for the a la carte charcuterie options: another pâté grand-mère, and an elaborate-looking tourte de canard with its pastry crust and layers of duck, foie gras, and figs. The complementary flavors and textures in such a handy pastry package brought to mind sunny picnics in the Loire Valley. Good times.
Surprise super star dish at Bar Boulud: the ridiculously-named “chop chop salad,” with its crisp romaine lettuce, zippy ginger-soy vinaigrette, cashews, sesame crisps, avocados and lobster. And not dull, stringy, frozen-a-million-times lobster. For your £15 supplement, this half lobster’s worth of meat is firm, sweet and everything you’d want in a lobster served cold. I loved this salad. I’d almost forgotten how good salads can be. God bless America for these crazy salad concoctions – when they work, they really work. This is the best salad I’ve had in London, which isn’t say much. But I’m looking forward to returning to BB just to eat this salad.
On both Wednesday and Saturday nights, my dining companions went for the various burgers on offer. I have no idea why Daniel Boulud has developed a reputation for his burgers (though I suspect it started when he had the cheek to charge $32 for a burger at DB Bistro Moderne in New York). In any case, all reports were the burger was fine, though a bit small, and the fries were fries.
Based on my experience with the indifferently-flavored hanger steak on the menu for £18, though, I’m tempted to say skip the meat mains and go for the charcuterie and salads.
The souffle I ordered on Wednesday evening wasn’t bad, but what stole the show on both nights I ate at Bar Boulud were the fresh-from-the-oven madeleines. Light as air and lemony-good. You felt almost virtuous eating these, and they were a steal for £4. Cheaper even than the justly-famous ones at St. John Restaurant.
Prices at Bar Boulud are reasonable for such a sophisticated operation located across the street from Harvey Nicks, with neither of my meals costing more than £50 a person with starters, mains, cheese course, desserts and wine. You could leave feeling full after just a starter and main, and it’d set you back about £25, I reckon. I should try to follow my own advice when ordering next time, eh?
Bar Boulud, Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, 66 Knightsbridge; SW1X 7LA; 0207 201 3899; closest tube station: Knighstbridge