Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Ledbury Review

This is for a series of posts related to a London 2014 trip including: 

The GF and I didn't have as many days in London as we did in Paris. But even with our limited time, I knew we had to make it out to Notting Hill. Not for the Blue Door. Rather, I was looking forward to trying Chef Brett Graham's offerings at The Ledbury.

First thing's first. I was lost. A good thirty-plus minutes lost. Yet, without a frown or any expression of dismay, we were welcomed with a smile and taken to a wonderful table showcasing the dining room. It should be no surprise considering The Ledbury has consistently maintained 2 Michelin stars and, at the time, it was ranked 10th on San Pellegrino's World's Best Restaurants List (it's now ranked 20th). Regardless, the warm welcome was appreciated amidst my disarray. 

In my mind, more impressive than any world ranking or Michelin stars was the time when the kitchen ran out to defend its diners from rioters. Now that's dedication! And just as dedicated is the front of the house, with GM Darren McHugh leading the way. But we'll expound on that later. The Australian-born Brett Graham opened The Ledbury back in 2005 and continues to tirelessly source the best ingredients from small-scale suppliers, with a nice emphasis on game and obscure herbs. While Chef Graham's culinary approach is Modern French, it's clear he incorporates British influences, with Head Chef Greg Austin directing matters in the kitchen.

Jacques Picard Brut Rose [14 Pounds per glass = $22.94 per glass]*
*Pounds to USD conversions are based on rates during the time of the trip. 

Rose champagne was a welcome start, offering light, crisp effervescence.

Lunch Set Menu with Cheese Course [60 Pounds pp =  $98.33]

The GF and I went with the lunch prix fixe, which is an unbelievable steal at Michelin standards (even more so now that the dollar is so strong). Perhaps taking pity on our journey to get to The Ledbury, Chef actually sent out a few bonus dishes. This essentially gave us a full tasting, which culminated in an amazing experience.

Cured Mullet 
Fresh apple, Himalayan sea salt

We started with some canapes. Mullet was served within ribbons of subtly sweet apple, atop a Himalayan sea salt block to emphasize the cure. There was a light smoke on the cured mullet that wasn't overpowering. Nice.

Sunflower and Artichoke

Along with the mullet was this puffy sunflower crisp, which provided the base for a wonderful artichoke cream. Airy, with an ethereal herbaceousness, this was a delicious bite.

Foie Gras Puff
Mead jelly

You can't go wrong with a savory foie gras puff, housed with a lightly crisp shell. A light mead jelly lay on top to provide an accent to heighten the heft of the foie.

White Beetroot
Baked in clay, cured, dried mackarel 

Our first dish proper was beautifully presented, featuring white beetroot, which balanced the smoke and salt from the cured mackarel, which was baked in clay. 

Bread Service
Browned butter

House-baked rustic wheat sourdough was served fresh. The browned butter was a nice touch and had sweet accents. It was also surprisingly airy as it was whipped. 

Dorset Crab
Grilled leek, smoked dulse, Riesling

Dorset crab was innately sweet and balanced the seaweed, which continued the smoky elements throughout the meal. The grilled leek was tender, yet maintained some bite to providing some foundation to the dish. The Riseling sauce rendering each bite deliciously decadent. Tiny prawns were also littered amongst tapioca caviar to provide bursts of sweet brininess to round out the dish.

Hampshire Buffalo Milk Curd
Truffle toast, wild mushroom broth 

A bonus course from the Chef featured a heady mushroom broth poured tableside, with a trembling Hampshire buffalo milk curd, salty Parmesan, and sweet pearl onion.

Along with the cubes of mushroom, the depth of the broth really helped to create a savory, somewhat  saline sensation upon mastication. 

To round out the mushroom broth came two toast points topped with a fondue of cheese, creme fraiche, micro chives, and black truffle. Buttery, crisp, light, yet heady with umami, this was packed with flavor. 

Sea Bass
Chopped oysters, cauliflower

For her main, the kitchen graciously sent out sea bass for the GF, which was moist, well-crisped, and served with chopped oysters and roasted cauliflowers.

Herdwick Lamb
Neck, carrots, Ewe's milk, fig leaf oil 

I went with the lamb neck, which was tender and grassy. The gorgeous carrots took center-stage though, with the sweet quenelle of carrot creme-tendrils and fig providing some balance. I couldn't help but think back to lamb and carrot dish I had at L'Arpege only a few days back - a compliment in the deepest sense.

And with that, our wonderful GM Darren McHugh asked if we'd be interested in a special presentation from the Chef. Who were we to say no? Subsequently, we were presented with a special knife adorned with a woodcock. What is a woodcock? A popular game bird, with a rather long, slender bill.

Presented whole prior to carving, the GF was a bit aghast, but did not let on. I was ecstatic. A huge honor, considering it was the first of the season and shot by the Chef himself. I was excited to say the least.

Brain, breast, thigh, kebab of heart, raisin 

Gorgeously presented, the breast was not overly gamey. Quite moist, it served medium rare. The thigh had more of a chew and ate like BBQ. The head was butterflied and obviously housed the brain, which was creamy and surprisingly sweet. Macerated raisins and water chestnuts rounded out the dish.

We can't forget about the kebab of heart, lightly grilled, with great texture and a surprising sweetness.

Cheese Course [15 Pound Supplement = $24.58]

We also opted for the cheese course, presented by a wonderful cheesemonger from Brittany, France. Knowing we were from Philly, she jokingly noted that there was no cream cheese, but went through the wide selection on offer.

We ultimately decided on an all-British feature, including a wonderful burnt ash goat cheese, which was salty, creamy, and smoky. A gorgeous triple creme herbal milk's cheese. A semi-soft cheese not unlike Camembert.

And last, we had a blue cheese that was herbal, yet expectedly funky. Candied smoked pecans and honey were paired with the semi-soft and blue cheese, respectively.

Rustic crackers were also provided as well. 

Prune granite, cream custard

Pre-dessert was a prune granite over a cream custard. Light and refreshing - the perfect entry to dessert proper.

Burnt Cream
Chicory, roast pear ice cream, beremeal cake

The burnt cream ate like creme brulee without the overt vanilla flavors. The beremeal cake was moist and had a nice spice to it. Strands of pear were paired with the roast pear ice cream providing sweet, slightly tangy flavors.

Hazelnut Puffs

A pair of hazelnut puffs were light and perfumed, with candied hazelnuts on top to provide texture.

Nitro Coconut 
Coconut ice cream 

A coconut shell housed nitro coconut ice cream within - cold, delicious, and eaten to great effect with the liquid nitrogen. 

Juniper Pirouettes 

Finally, juniper pirouettes housed a tangy lime creme to provide a nice bite to end our meal.

But that actually wasn't the end! GM Darren McHugh kindly offered to bring us down to the kitchen to meet Chef Austin and the brigade. Heading down the stairs, I couldn't help but snap a picture of the woodcock guarding the kitchen from above.

Quiet and immaculate, it's what you would expect from a proper Michelin-starred restaurant. In addition to introducing us to his staff, Chef brought us out a final snack of chocolate and coffee crisp.

Chef Austin also revealed that he had just been to L'Arpege and we both expressed our admiration for all that Chef Alain Passard has accomplished, with the simplest of ingredients.

And with a final picture and handshake, our experience came to an end. Service as a whole was extremely precise, yet personable and relaxed. I couldn't rate it any higher. The meal was wonderful, with the quality of the ingredients shining through. It's safe to say that while there are more than few restaurants I'd like to try the next time I'm in London, The Ledbury will be a mainstay of each visit.

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