Posted on Monday, 21st June 2010
New York based Lyonnaise Chef Daniel Boulud is probably most famous for his namesake fine dining restaurant, Daniel, on the Upper East Side. But his restaurant empire isn’t limited to this three star Michelin restaurant. He has a string of bistro-y type places in The Big Apple including DBGB Kitchen & Bar, Cafe Boulud and DB Bistro Moderne, and also in other cities such as Las Vegas, Vancouver and Beijing. Bar Boulud at the Mandarin Oriental in Knightsbridge is his first venture in London.
Try as I might, I couldn’t warm to the decor at Bar Boulud. Where Bistro Moderne, which I have been to, has the feel of understated chic, Bar Boulud only looks slightly more glamorous than a high end Holiday Inn. Given that the designer is Adam Tihany (think Sketch and Apsleys), and that the restaurant is part of the 5-star Mandarin Oriental, I found this rather surprising. I know money must have been spent on this set-up – anything with Tihany’s name behind it is expensive. But try as I might, I couldn’t see where the ‘French bistro inspiration’ mentioned on the restaurant’s website comes from. Don’t get me wrong, the place is pleasant and comfortable. But when you think Tihany and Mandarin Oriental, you don’t really expect high end motel. This is a place I would have no problems coming to for lunch, but I would be less sure about for dinner.
So lunch it was. I am surprised at how reasonably priced the menu is. The most expensive main is £23 and there are a number of sausage and hamburger choices which will only set you back £11-13. But in the end we decided to go for a 3 course prix fixe lunch menu for £20. I am not always sold on set menus such as these, but as some of the options in the prix fixe can also be found on the à la carte menu, I thought the prix fixe a good bet. We also decided to supplement the prix fixe menu with a small charcuterie degustation board (£14).
Well, I was totally blown away by how good the charcuterie was. The terrines, pâtés, hams, sauccissons, etc, are supplied by Gilles Verot, one of the most famous charcutiers in France, and with each mouthful, we knew we were eating quality stuff. Our selection included (in a clockwise direction from the top) lapin de garrigue (Provençal pulled rabbit, carrot, courgette and herbs), compote de joue de boeuf (shredded slow-braised beef cheek, onion confit and pistachio), Gilles Verot’s award-winning specialty, Fromage de Tête Gilles Verot (head cheese terrine), tourte de canard (duck, foie gras, figs, pastry crust), pâté grand-père (coarse country pâté of foie gras, truffle juice and port), rosette de Lyon (dry cured french sausage), and jambon de Bayonne (Basque cured ham). The charcuterie was served with crusty brown bread, pickles and mustard. Each morsel was delightfully refined and wonderfully rich with flavour. How the three of us didn’t end up fighting over the platter was a mystery to me.
An even bigger mystery was how it was only £14. Each charcuterie selection alone is priced at around £8, and to have this much variety, at this quality, for so little money was really quite impressive. My personal favourites included the lapin de garrigue, which boasted of meltingly tender rabbit, and the pâté grand-père, a luxurious concoction of foie gras and truffle, delicately heightened by the sweetness of the port.
From the prix fixe menu, we sampled the soupe glacée de petits pois, a chilled pea soup with baby carrot, rosemary cream and toasted croutons. The soup was wonderfully creamy, and delightfully crispy with the flavour of summery peas.
A second starter of chop-chop salad (romaine lettuce, ginger-soy vinaigrette, pickled mushrooms, cashews and sesame crisps) was pleasant and fresh, but unspectacular. The cashews and crisps provided crunchiness to the salad, but the vinaigrette lacked a depth of flavour. I also selected the lobster supplement (an additional £7.50) which wasn’t really worthwhile. The lobster tail meat turned out to be a very small, and the lobster claw was a bit grainy.
Volaille à l’ail printanier, roasted chicken breast with wild garlic, fingerling potatoes and artichokes was deliciously moist. It came with a nicely done jus that highlighted the sweetness of the flesh.
Saumon d’Ecosse, escalope of Scottish salmon, summer vegetables and shellfish veloute was disappointing. Despite the fact that I had requested medium rare, the salmon was overcooked and very dry. Otherwise, this would have made for a nice dish as the sauce and vegetables were quite tasty.
A dessert of coupe de fruits exotiques, tropical fruit sundae with ginger mascarpone foam, coconut and passion fruit sorbet proved unusual. The passion fruit sorbet was lovely and zingy, and the fruit salad that lined the bottom of the cocktail glass was very refreshing. But the mascarpone cream had very little flavour, and the accompanying coconut balls were a little chewy. On balance, this dessert did not really work.
The restaurant also kindly offered us, on the house, some freshly baked madeleines (normally £4) and macaroons (normally £5). The madeleines were lovely and warm as they had come straight from the oven. And the macaroons (strawberry and pistachio) oozed with delicious goodness.
The service was very efficient and timely, if slightly pushy at times. But otherwise, the staff oozed warmth and attentiveness.
Four of the items that we had from the prix fixe menu are also on the à la carte menu, so it was a pretty good indication of the quality of cooking in the latter. It was a mixed bag really, ranging from average to good. This was fine for a reasonably priced £20 menu, but had the salmon dish itself been £20, I would have been less than impressed. However the restaurant still managed to win me over because the charcuterie simply blew me away. It was amazingly good, so good in fact that it was hard to believe that it was only £14. I would go to Bar Boulud again and again just for it because it was worth every mouthwatering bite.