Pecking proverbial milk tops from fine dining establishments across the UK

Friday, 27 February 2009

The Ledbury, London

127 Ledbury Road, Notting Hill, London, W11 2AQ, England **
Mon-Sat 12-2.30pm/6.30-10.30pm, Sun 12pm - 3pm / 7pm -10pm.

Dinner: £60 for three courses. Tasting menu: £70 per head, £108 with accompanying wines


Returning to a restaurant of which you have such fond memories that they have become part of family folklore is a potentially dangerous thing to do. What if your experience this time undermines the happy recollections of visits past? K and I returned to The Ledbury last Friday eveningand enjoyed a meal that fulfilled our very high expectations.

The room is slightly devoid of character, reasonably well-lit with the dominating colours being black and white. The tables are well spaced out and there is no music. What does make the Ledbury stand out is the quality and warmth of its service. Throughout the evening the staff were attentive, informative when asked, helpful and friendly. The clientele has changed since I last visited, having moved from be-suited gentlemen engaging in business transactions to couples out on romantic evenings and groups of friends.

Bread here is of good quality. Tonight we were offered a choice of three: bacon & onion brioche, chestnut bread and slices from a plain white loaf. The latter two were perfectly fine but without special interest. The brioche however, stands out: moist, warm, and gooey and with a enjoyable crisp outside (5/10 overall but 8/10 for the brioche).

A little nibble arrived of curd cheese sandwiched between two bitter meringues. These were inconspicuous flavours with which to start the evening, especially the meringues which were lacking the stated bitterness. However, as an experiment in texture it was an interesting mix of the delicate and instantly-collapsing meringues with the firmer cheese (4/10). This was followed by an amuse bouche of white truffle crème, surrounded by a roast potato voluté poured at the table and roasted chestnuts. This dish similarly lacked an intensity of flavours, particularly with the voluté – the main flavour of which was garlic and which overpowered the delicacy of the truffle crème (4/10).

Things picked up with the first proper course of our tasting menu. This was flame-grilled mackerel, serviced with a parcel of smoked eel and shiso, with mustard and a few tiny croutons and potato crisp flakes. This was a flavoursome piece of mackerel, correctly grilled. The accompaniments worked well together as a combination. If there was any criticism to be made it was with regards to the croutons. No doubt added to bring a crunchy texture into an otherwise soft dish, these croutons were a little bit too hard – they did not work as well as the potato crisp flakes which successfully brought a difference in texture without their crispiness dominating the mouthful (6/10).

This was followed by a delightful dish of celeriac baked in ash, served with wood sorrel and a ‘Kromeski’ of middle white pork. A ‘Kromeski’ being minced meat deep fried in caul fat. A few minutes prior to the arrival of this dish, a waiter provided us with a demonstration of the cooking process regards the celeriac. This had been encased in a crust of salt and herbs, which the waiter cut open to reveal the celeriac inside. This seemed to have been a demonstration given all couples that evening and was a nice touch. The dish itself was a success. The pork was wonderfully rich, oozing with flavour and accompanied the smoky and perfectly cooked celeriac extremely well (8/10).

The next dish was braised foie gras served with a blood orange purée and braised endives. The foie gras was excellent: extremely creamy and the braising added a bit of crunch of proceedings. The blood orange was not quite right. Obviously the intention is to add some acidity to the dish, but the purée itself was a little too sweet. The braised endives predominantly had a flavour of the oil they had been cooked in. However, this dish still worked, especially given the quality of the foie gras (7/10).

Roast cod arrived with tamarind, a cauliflower purée, a squid risotto and toasted pinenuts. This dish, like the foie gras, was one brought down ever so slightly by a slip with one of the ingredients. The cod, roasted with a salt crust, had been cooked for just a little too long and had moved from succulence into firmness. The cauliflower purée was light. The squid risotto was very enjoyable and even K, usually squeamish when it comes to such ingredients, found this to be the highlight of the dish (6/10).

The main dish of the menu then arrived: a shoulder of Pyrenean milk-fed lamb, cooked for twenty-four hours, with truffle creamed potato and buttered celery. I enjoyed this dish tremendously. It is very hard to go wrong with twenty-four hour cooked lamb; it brings such a delightful texture and depth of flavour. The creamed potato was delightfully rich and the truffle definitely added a little something. In a sense this dish was the least ambitious of the evening, though this certainly isn’t a criticism, and the purity and strength of the flavour of the lamb was wonderful (8/10).

There followed a pre-dessert of passion fruit jelly with a spoonful of Sauternes foam on top. Jelly does not seem to be the right word, conjuring up as it does mounds of wobbly, bland lumps you were served as a child. Jelly here seemed closer to the texture of Turkish delight. The Sauternes foam was gorgeous; bittersweet and light. All in all, a very successful little treat before dessert (8/10).

Dessert was perhaps the least impressive dish of the evening. It was a raviolo of Yorkshire rhubarb, with yogurt consommé and a single rhubarb doughnut. Perhaps it is unfair for me to criticise – rhubarb being an ingredient which would have warded me off from choosing the dish had this not been a tasting menu. The doughnut was well done, with rhubarb jam hidden in the centre. The rhubarb was of a good, rather than outstanding quality, and lacked a little power – but I feel this is just due to the nature of rhubarb itself rather than poor use of it (4/10). However, alongside this dish we were presented with a ‘free’ dessert to share between the two of us: a brown sugar tart with muscat grapes, white raising ice cream and vin cotto. Now this was a good dessert. The brown sugar tart was extremely rich, though the brown sugar taste itself was quite light. The white raisin ice cream was good too. Most impressively, however, is how the ingredients came together (8/10).

The Ledbury offers an extremely enjoyable evening’s dining, which is as much to do with the service and atmosphere of the restaurant as it is to do with the quality of the cooking. I have noticed that the complexity (and, more dangerously, the number of flavours) used in each dish has increased since my last visit a year ago. However, despite a disappointing rhubarb dessert, on the basis of this evening’s overall performance the kitchen is more than able to handle this development. I shall look forward to returning.

What did other people think? The Ledbury on Urbanspoon