Posted on Wednesday, 20th May 2009
Note: This restaurant has now closed. It was really bad anyway…
My latest lunch adventure was at Aubergine Restaurant, which is perhaps most famous for the fact that this was where Gordon Ramsay won his first Michelin star in 1995 and a second in 1997. A desire to own his own restaurant coupled with differences with the owners resulted in Ramsay leaving shortly thereafter to open what we now know as Gordon Ramsay on Royal Hospital Road. In Ramsay’s place stepped the current Executive Head Chef, Billy Drabble. He too soon attained a star which he has managed to hold onto ever since.
So I came to Aubergine with an element of curiosity, inspired by its history more than anything else. But under Drabble, Aubergine has also collected its share of accolades. Since 1998, along with its Michelin star, it has also continuously held onto 4 AA Rosettes. And in 2006 it won the ‘Grand Prix of Gastronomy’ as awarded by The British Academy of Gastronomes.
The restaurant is rectangular in shape, and simply furnished with creamed walls and light pine wood floors. A skylight at the back of the restaurant allows natural light into the otherwise mostly windowless, low-ceilinged room. We chose from the three course set lunch menu for £29, the most appealing aspect of which is that there are four choices per course, rather than just the usual two or three offered at most other restaurants. For an additional £5, it is possible to have the same menu with a half bottle of wine (although not necessarily a great wine). The à la carte menu is priced at £68.
We started with an amuse bouche of beetroot ‘terrine’ topped with sour cream and a drizzle of chive sauce on the side. This dish tasted like pickled beetroot and was too vinegary for my liking, although the topping of sour cream helped to cut the acidity. The chive sauce was bland, and achieved little purpose other than to give this plate a little colour. Overall it was a rather unsophisticated start to our meal.
A starter of foie gras mousse, a cooked mousse, was quite eggy. A nice tasting dish, it lacked a strong foie gras taste. Admittedly we were on the budget menu and foie gras is an expensive ingredient. But my preference for a cheaper menu would always be for cheaper ingredients to be done well, rather than more expensive ingredients being used compromisingly. It came with asparagus and potato fries perched on top. The asparagus were done nicely in butter, but the fries which were dreadful. They tasted like they had been pre-cooked and reheated, with a soggy exterior. Another starter of scallops (four pieces thinly sliced) was served over a puree of mushroom. The scallops were well cooked, and the puree was pleasant.
A main of braised pork cheeks with mustard sauce was meltingly tender; and the sauce was lovely. However, the sides disappointed with the carrots being over seasoned and the mashed potatoes yielding a rather waxy texture. Furthermore, there was carelessness in the preparation for I found a piece of black hair, about two inches long, in the pork dish. We speculated as to whether it was human hair, but the waiter who came and spoke with us on the matter informed us it was a piece of pig’s hair which had accidentally not been removed during prep. Either way, it should not have been there.
A fish course of John Dory was cooked nicely, but it came with a parsley crust which I found superfluous. It was bland, with no distinctive flavour of parsley, and also quite thick with a floury taste. It therefore overwhelmed, rather than complimented, the dish. The John Dory was bedded over nicely cooked spinach, creamed mushrooms and a red wine sauce, but the choice of mushrooms, button ones, was rather unexciting.
Desserts were by far the best things that we ate on that day. Poached cherries with soufflé beignets were lovely; the cherries naturally sweet, and the beignets light and fluffy on the inside with a nice crispy exterior. A banana tarte tatin was also pleasant although the pastry was not as crispy as it could have been.
There was a variety of bread rolls on offer, all baked in-house. The range included white, brown, sesame, dill, black olive and rosemary. The breads were acceptable, although I found them to be rather tasteless with perhaps the exception of the dill bread. Petit fours were really lovely with a lemon tart packing a sharp citric punch.
Service was acceptable, but could perhaps have been slightly better managed. We were primarily served by a French waitress who could not really speak English, which meant communication with her was a bit difficult. Furthermore, in another slightly careless move, I was not presented with a menu when I first sat down to join my dining companion who had arrived before me, and it was only when I asked for one after several minutes that I actually received one.
Overall, our lunch was a rather average affair. The food was lacklustre and unspectacular. It also lacked passion and ambition, and in my mind, I found it hard to reconcile it to the level of other one Michelin one star restaurants that I have been to. The cooking was competent enough, but mere competence does not a Michelin make. Billy Drabble was in the kitchen during our visit, and so there was no blaming a more junior chef. Occasionally, I am disappointed by a dining experience in a restaurant which bears a star, and I am sad to say that this was one of those times.
11 Park Walk,
London SW10 0AJ
Tel: +44 (0)207 352 3449