Monday, 24 January 2011
The Ledbury - London
Last January, on this blog I wrote a list of my ‘must visit’ restaurants for the coming year. I hardly made it to any of them for one reason or another, and to be honest I didn’t expect to. My list was always meant to be more aspirational rather than a solid statement of intent.
But right at the very ass-end of 2010, I finally managed to cross one very important restaurant off the list. It was somewhere that I’ve wanted to eat for bloody ages…
The place in question? The Ledbury, a two Michelin starred restaurant located in West London.
The occasion? My 30th (ish) birthday.
Who had booked this surprise treat and was paying for it? ‘E’. (Oooh hello).
Was I excited? Hell yes.
Although I’d never actually considered it at the time. Thinking on it now, as I write this, I’d never ventured into a two Michelin star place before. I’ve eaten at a number of places graced with one, but never two. So this was completely uncharted territory for me. Would it be twice as good as it’s lowlier one-starred brethren? I was absolutely gagging to find out.
But first we had to actually get there. The day started well as we left Bristol bright and early, preened and beautifully attired in our best going out clothes. Me resplendent in my all-in-one, skin tight, black satin dining suit with Nehru collar and enveloped in the understated masculine scent of Kouros. I was complimented by ‘E’ in her grey velvet poncho with hood and matching grey velvet jeggings. As you can imagine, we attracted many gasps of appreciation as we swept regally onto the coach.
About an hour into the journey, motoring down the M40 towards London we noticed the odd flake of snow beginning to fall. Then more, and more, heavier and heavier until within about half an hour the whole motorway was covered and traffic had been reduced to crawling along in one lane whilst a blizzard raged around us. I honestly have never seen so much snow dumped in such a short space of time. Needless to say the two and half hour coach journey took four and a half hours and finally arriving in West London blanketed under a foot or so of snow, we didn’t fancy our chances of getting to the restaurant in Notting Hill anytime soon. The Ledbury had very kindly agreed to hold our table for us, which was handy as there were no cabs and the tube was in its normal state of meltdown when any weather other than blazing sunshine looms over the horizon. We’d been left with no choice but to resignedly trudge through the snow to the restaurant from Earls Court via Holland Park.
After an epic trek, we arrived at The Ledbury (over 3 hours late!) and practically threw ourselves through the door into the warmth and the mercy of the smiling staff, who were utterly charming and understanding in equal measure.
Shown to our table and a chance to relax, I looked curiously around the room. The impression I got was of an elegant, modern space flooded with natural light from the windows lining two sides, in turn framed by heavy dark grey curtains. A mirrored wall at the back of the room gives the illusion of a much larger space than it actually is.
Opting for the set menu, and starting off with a glass of sherry each it wasn’t long before we were offered a dainty but beautifully crafted amuse each. ‘E’s consisting of goats cheese and cured black olives, mine of Foie Gras and Ginger, both encased in the lightest most delicate pastry cases. Both the merest bite, but each flooding the mouth with intense flavours. Suitably impressed, ‘E’ and I grinned inanely at each other across the table and awaited the next course.
Bread and lots of it. No parsimonious approach here where it comes to dispensing from the basket. Beautiful miniature sourdoughs, bacon onion brioche, and chestnut rolls. Want one of each? Fine. Not enough, want more? Also fine. Not needing to be asked twice and being peasants at heart, we positively gorged ourselves on bread. (I particularly like the bacon and onion brioche). Until a flurry of waiter activity signalled the arrival of our starters.
I couldn’t resist the sound of the Raviolo of Beef Short Rib with Cepe Consomme, Truffle and Parsnip. And my photo does not do it justice. It was beautiful to look at; in fact everything we were served was beautiful to the eye, aesthetically pleasing food to the upmost degree. And it tasted gorgeous; breaking through the pasta and taking a forkful of the ridiculously tender, meaty, beef combined with the almost pornographic truffle and parsnip dribbling down it. Thoughtfully, provided with a spoon to lap up every last dribble of the surrounding consommé, my eyes were practically rolling back into my head in pleasure.
‘E’ meanwhile was happily digging into her Ceviche of Hand Dived Scallops with Seaweed and Herb Oil, Kohlrabi and Frozen Horseradish. She described it as being incredibly light, with the frozen horseradish giving the dish a really unusual pleasant texture. I did try it, and it was pleasant, but as is so often the way it’s hard to appreciate that one solitary proffered forkful when you’ve been eating an entirely different dish.
Next to arrive was my main dish, Shoulder of Pyrenean Milk Fed Lamb with Jerusalem and Chinese Artichokes, Winter Savoury Milk and New Season Olive Oil. Another artfully presented plate of food, the lamb being almost impossible to do justice to, tender and practically falling apart at the touch of my fork. I marvelled at what looked like some kind of crackling adorning the dish, but was in fact Jerusalem Artichoke skin and the winter savoury milk, dotted around the plate and apparently the result of some kind of kitchen alchemy.
Across the table ‘E’ was eating Fillet of Brill with Buttered Langoustine Claws, Pumpkin Puree, Trompettes and Ginger. And this is the problem with leaving it so long before writing about a restaurant experience, I remember at the time ‘E’ positively loving what she was eating. But asking for her impressions now, a scant 5 weeks later, she can’t remember anything about the dish apart from that she liked it, and she was impressed that the pumpkin was presented in various forms on the plate.
So looks like not much of a lasting impression, for this one.
We both went for the same dessert, a Date and Vanilla Tart with Clementine Leaf Ice-Cream. The tart was nice, but we both thought the ice-cream particularly good. The flavour being hard to define but it tasted almost ‘plant like’ and ‘green’.
At this point (‘E’ having informed the restaurant it was my birthday), I was surprised to be served an extra little dessert of a crème caramel. It was a really nice touch.
Coffee and a selection of petit fours to finish, of which; the Earl Grey Macarons were very good. ‘E’ paid the bill, her treat and we wandered back off out into the snow outside.
So, how does a restaurant with two Michelin stars compare to a one starred restaurant? Is there much in it?
The service was impeccable, friendly and efficient, but no more so than many other restaurants I’ve been to. The décor although certainly pleasant was again, no better than many other places I’ve been to. What really sets The Ledbury apart and what presumably makes it worth that extra star is the inventiveness, and the sheer technical talent displayed to produce such beautiful food. It’s full of new and interesting ideas, but at the same time it’s extremely polished and it works. No real duff notes. (Apart from most of the petit four; which I thought surprisingly ordinary). Everything else shone.
Oh, did I mention that the three course set lunch menu is £33.50? Which, I think anyone would agree is ridiculously cheap. I’ve spent more than that on a pub lunch.
If you haven’t been, don’t leave it as long as I did. Book and go. I'll certainly be going again to try the tasting menu.
127 Ledbury Road,
Telephone: 020 7792 9090