Archive for June, 2010

Dukes Hotel, London

June 6, 2010

http://www.campbellgrayhotels.com

35-36 Saint James’s Place, London

People talk about ‘last meals’, but if there was such a thing as ‘last drinks’, Duke Hotel would be on the list. It’s apparently the very place where the martini was invented. Regardless whether it’s true or not, it’s the place where the martini was perfected.

It’s a place you have to know about, since it’s hidden down a side street close to St. James. It may be one of the grand old hotels, but its low profile means it doesn’t suffer from hordes of tourists or glammed up townies on a night out. It’s all about quiet sophistication, where a nice armchair always awaits you.

The old-school waiters in white jackets marshal the room awaiting orders. The obvious choice is a martini. I once had a friend who ordered a passionfruit martini here and she was politely told that it was a cocktail, not a martini. As a purist it makes me smile.

There’s theatre to the martini, which is necessary since it’s arguably the simplest of cocktails. Your spirit of choice is brought to you frozen, where it’s married with a hint of vermouth in a frozen glass and a wipe of lemon. It’s magic & lethal. I believe that’s why there’s a house limit of two martinis…

This fine experience does not come cheap. £15 for a martini is pretty rich, but as a drinking experience, it can’t be beaten.

It’s my favourite place to be at 5pm on a Friday, but every other occasion as well. I came here when I got engaged, on my stag night & when I’ve reacquainted myself with old friends. It sounds like an ideal second home…

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The Ledbury, London

June 6, 2010

http://www.theledbury.com

127 Ledbury Road, Notting Hill, London

The Ledbury is one of the rising names of the London restaurant scene, having recently been awarded two Michelin stars. I had to give it a go and lunch with my sister presented a perfect opportunity.

It’s in Notting Hill and walking through the area, you are reminded of what a pleasant part of town it actually is, even though it is mostly full of bankers & trustafarians.

The restaurant is sophisticated, being decked out in taupe, yet it is surprisingly small with the tables crammed together. As it is, being a Tuesday lunchtime it’s pretty quiet and we don’t have to worry. Service as a result is slick & attentive. We are quickly offered some bites as we peruse the menu – foie gras of course. I opt for the lunch menu, my sister the a la carte.

The bread selection is good. Any restaurant which serves bread with bacon is going to find it easy to make friends.

My sister starts with a ceviche of scallops with seaweed and herb oil, kohlrabi and frozen horseradish. It’s a blast of textures and contrast of temperatures with the horseradish. I think it overpowers the dish somewhat, distracting from the scallops.

My starter by contrast has some proper theatre attached. My celeriac baked in ash is first presented to me in its entirety, then cut and it’s passed under my nose so I can fully appreciate the aroma. It’s a little over the top, but works.

The rest of the dish is served with sorrel, toasted hazelnuts and a kromeski of wild boar. It does not disappoint. The celeriac is yielding and creamy and delightful. It’s always good to see a bit of meat on the dish and the boar is fibrous and rich. It’s a very good dish.

On to main courses… normally it’s a bit of a sin to order roast chicken in a restaurant – something that can be easily cooked at home. But this is a dish to remember. Supremes of chicken served with mushrooms and a shallot galette. It’s accompanied by thighs with licorice root served with smoke. It’s a dish which reminds you of the countryside. It comes together so well. The chicken is clearly of excellent provenance and makes the ordering worthwhile..

My sister continues with John Dory with asparagus on toast. I think I was too busy in raptures on my dish to really give it due care and attention. But it looked good.

Never one to turn down the option of cheese we had a very engaging young Frenchman who took us on a tour of the cheeses with some amusing commentary. The quality is clear to see.

I finish up with caramelized banana galette with salted caramel and peanut. It’s the salt again! A beautifully presented dish – pretty hefty for a dessert. It goes down well and brings to close a lovely meal.

It’s a pleasurable lunch. The restaurant is clearly a cut above and deserving of its profile. The food is interesting with some slightly unusual combinations designed to draw out luxurious earthiness. It’s nicely differentiating from other restaurants that focus on simplicity or French interpretation. In addition it’s served with a verve & theatre which is welcome and adds to the overall experience. I look forward to returning, whenever that may be.