Pecking proverbial milk tops from fine dining establishments across the UK

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Koffmann's, London

The Berkely Hotel, Wilton Place, London SW1X 7RL

Open for Lunch Mon-Fri 12-2.30pm, weekends 12 - 3.30pm Three Course: £22.50.


I have been looking forward to visiting Koffmann’s for a long time. Not only was my reservation here booked a month in advance (a rare thing for me) but I had wanted to go to the restaurant ever since the man himself returned for London food week in November last year with his ‘Pierre Koffmann on the Roof’ pop up at Selfridges. A year’s build up meant that, on this occasion in particular, lunch was going to have to be special, and it was with and unusual sense of trepidation that I emerged from Hyde Park Tube and walked the few metres to the Berkley, where Koffmann’s now occupies the space previously inhabited by the Boxwood Café, to meet L three others that made up my lunch companions.

First impressions set alarm bells ringing. Before we stepped through the door, the red-on-white branding, the typeface and the arrangement all suggested a TGI Friday style American diner or Disney ‘café New York’, rather than a fine dining institution. Why this was settled on as the look for the restaurant, I simply cannot imagine. Normally such a detail would be mildly disconcerting; in my hyper-sensitive state, this miss-hit sets off something akin to panic.

Entering the restaurant, I’m relieved not to see any motorcycles, American flags on the wall or wooden planes hanging from the ceiling. The décor is entirely what one expects of fine dining – if nothing more. The restaurant applies the standard palate of whites and creams, crisp linen and starched tablecloths, with pastel green upholstered chairs (perhaps as a nod to the chef’s signature soufflé) and a selection of (amusingly shaped) dried gourds as a colourful centerpiece.

Shortly after being seated, a selection of onion topped filo pastry slices arrived. These were quite satisfactory, and rich enough to get the tastebuds working, but not particularly inspirational. Worse, a number of toasts had to be left uneaten because they were overcooked (I won’t say burned), a worrying early indication of quality control in the kitchen (2/10).
Things looked up as soon as the bread proper arrived, however. The bread here is all made in house and was delicious. As well as the normal wholemeal rolls and miniature white baguettes there was a wonderful walnut bread and (by far the star of the batch) an onion and bacon bread of which we could not get enough (6/10 overall – 7/10 for the onion and bacon bread). Thankfully, the waiting staff appreciated this and, in true French style, kept bringing more and more.

Starters arrived promptly. For me, a leek, Roquefort and walnut salad. This was beautifully presented, with baby leeks cut crossways and arranged as a wonderfully green mosaic, sprinkled with the cheese and walnuts. The leeks were well cooked, with just enough bite, and contrasted with the saltiness of the cheese and the texture of the walnuts. A light and simple way to start the meal (5/10) L had French onion soup, which was always going to be good. A classic French dish executed by a classic French chef. Rich, dark and sweet, but without losing the acidity of the onions, this was topped with a crouton oozing and overflowing with gruyere (5/10).

I was by now eager with anticipation at the main dish, roast coquelet, stuffed with provoncale herbs, served with roast potatoes and baby vegetables, which arrived after an interlude just sufficient to eat a little more of the delicious bread. The chicken was excellent, moist and succulent with a very crispy skin which added a satisfying texture and much to the flavour. The pungent herb stuffing was extremely good, but subtle enough not to dominate the flavour of the chicken itself. The roast potatoes were perfectly adequate, crisp on the outside and fluffy in the middle, which is more than can be said for most of the soggy offerings in high quality restaurants. The baby vegetables came served in miniature side-dishes, which is not a method of which I’m a great fan. By the time everyone had worked out which veg went with which main course (the vegetables were placed seemingly at random around the table) the mangetout and carrot were slightly cool and unappetising. This could not detract from the fact that the chicken, perfectly cooked and wonderfully prepared, was a demonstration of the very heights of bistro cooking, and one which I am surprised does not feature as a regular item on the restaurant’s ala carte (6.5/10).

L had bravely followed her instincts and gone for a classic sounding Koffmann dish: calves head. This came in two parts, presented rustically on the plate. On the bottom was a ‘cake’ made up of the meat boiled away from the head, bound together with the gelatin and marrow seeping from the bones. Compacted and slow cooked, the richness that this element of the dish offered almost defies description. The meaty flavour was intense, with the marrow coating the inside of my mouth after every bite. Atop the cake was the brain (an unexpected addition) deep fried whole (I imagine) and presented in the manner of an offal scotch egg. Again this was intensely flavoured and beyond rich. The brain was satisfyingly crunchy on the outside, and thereafter melted almost instantly in the mouth. As a culinary experience, this was an awesome dish; a real assault on the senses. My only criticism, however, was that without a piquant source or some other acidity to cut through the richness and gelatinous textures, L could only manage about half of the dish even with my willingly given help. On a tasting menu, this dish would steal the show. As a single main course, it needed to be tweaked (a reluctant 7/10).

When pudding arrived, it did so after a 20 minute delay, which is the time, explained the waiter, taken to cook Koffmann’s signature pistachio soufflé with pistachio ice cream from scratch. Having avoided the pigs trotter with the main course for the sake of variety, the soufflé for dessert was inevitable. When it arrived, the words ‘worth the wait’ hardly seem enough. This was the best dish of the day. The warm soufflé towered over the top of its ramekin, and, as it was served, the waiter plunged a spoonful of the accompanying ice cream into the . The soufflé was superb.Llight, foamy and wonderfully flavouorful. There were no ground nuts in ice cream or soufflé, so that the cold ice cream melted seemlessly into the soufflé in my mouth: a wonderful texture (8/10).

L had a selection of cheeses, supplied by premier cheese, which were served from the trolley with walnut bread. A very good selection as you would expect (7/10) Special mention should also go to the Ile floatent, an enormous meringue floating on a generous helping of crème anglais, which, although I did not taste it, I am assured was exceptional.

To say that I was excited to go to here is an understatement, and, as the Arctic Monkeys tell us, “anticipation has a habit to set you up for disappointment.” No such fear with Koffmann’s, however. This is convivial bistro dining of the highest quality, with a few stars thrown in. I still think the branding is off, and the décor is too boring for a place which can produce such a wonderfully eccentric menu de jour (which actually does change daily), and some of the details were missing at times. But in the end, as the name indicates, you come for the chef; which means you come for the cooking, and while the details were missing at times (to an extent which would be an issue at a 2 star restaurant) where it counts – in the classics and the signature dishes - this restaurant delivers.

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1 comment:

  1. I love this place so much. Hope i can visit there.