Where: Bar Boulud, The Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Knightsbridge With whom: The Masticator How much?: £110 for the two of us. That was four courses (Prix Fixe plus an extra charcuterie course)
This was the week that we got news of another American import, Keith McNally, bringing a feted and famous New York brasserie to London (Balthazar, in partnership with Richard Caring's Caprice Holdings). Both McNally and Daniel Boulud, at whose new London outpost we were dining, are considered by many to be American chefs, and both made their large reputations there however both were born in Europe, Keith McNally a few miles up the road from his planned new home.
I came to praise Daniel Boulud, but instead walk away strangely unsatisfied. As a dining experience overall, it wasn't one that will live long in the memory. It wasn't the staff. They were as well drilled, knowledgable and friendly a brigade as I've seen... It wasn't the decor. The light, well proportioned space is a graceful place for the well heeled to dine... Admittedly I was less sure about the arty splashes on the wall. The blot art of famous red wine vintages intrigued but were only vaguely reminicent of blood stained rorchach drawings. Sadly, and more fundamentally, it was the food.
We went for a so-so Corbier, fair enough, but a little too earthy for both of us. It came from a large and excellent winelist priced squarely for the Four Seasons clientele. There are only a handful below £50, the rest quickly hit hedge fund levels.
The relatively long and involved menu presented a thrill as it was knowledgeably announced by our gallic host. There were certainly sparks of excellence here. Themes of charcuterie, sausage, pâtés and burger were highlighted and so we decided to go for the Prix Fixe with an additional charcuterie course (supplied by expert Parisian charcuterie supplier Gilles Verot). The small plate was more than ample and made a very good pre-starter paired with a moreish (light in texture but richly flavoured) boudin blanc sausage and its accompanying garlic mash. A very good salami made up for the dry and too subtle ham. Pâtés (particularly the tagine dagneau, a heavily spiced Maroc influenced lamb and aubergine mix and a superb pâté grand-mère) really excelled and the portions of the small plate were the ideal way to sample.
The chilled pea soup was simple elegance and one dish I'll remember for a long time. Fresh, creamy and with an occasional snap of tiny rosemary flavoured cruton, it hit the spot perfectly.
Sadly it went a little down hill from here. The Masticator's burger was initially dry, tasteless, unseasoned and lukewarm with a shredded lettuce, 'special sauce' and thin, limp tomato combination eeriely remenicent of a certain golden arched chain. Only a tasty brioche bun saved it. The team were swift to offer a replacement due to the temperature but this arrived in the same state (albeit warmer). The chips were inedibly saline.
My roasted chicken breast had a rich rustic and flavoursome taste of pure perfect poultry and arrived, in comparison, piping hot. Slightly dry too though sadly, it was helped by a rich (if salty) gravy but badly let down by rather floury fingerling potatoes and overcooked artichokes.
The Masticator had further problems with his desert (though this time arguably of his own making). A pervading scent of lavender that put him off his two (small) scoops of mint and coconut ices was tracked down to the overpowering handwash in the Mandarin Oriental bathroom. That aside, a powder dry hazelnut cookie didn't add to the experience. My exotic fruit sundae was preceded by a long spoon hightening childish anticipation before it arrived in a Martini glass. A pleasant but not earth-shattering mélange of passion fruit purée and cream came with nuggets of an excellent coconut macroon to give some needed bite.
Will I come again? Absolutely. It's a great space for a business lunch in the area, a safe menu overall with some excellent notes and very good charcuterie. It isn't somewhere I'll be rushing back to though. For the price, I'd rather take a day trip to Paris and pop by Gilles Verot's shop in person.