Posted on Wednesday, 18th January 2017
Helene Darroze has long been recognised as one of the world’s best female chefs, receiving one such acclaim when she became the winner of The Veuve Clicquot World’s Best Female Chef Award in 2015. Darroze is a fourth generation chef, with the generations before her running a family restaurant in Landes, Frances. Helene Darroze honed her skills under the tutelage of Alain Ducasse at the Le Louis XV restaurant in Monaco, before returning to the family restaurant in Landes and then ultimately opening Restaurant Hélène Darroze in Paris. This, her flagship restaurant won her the first of her three Michelin stars in 2001. In 2008 Helene Darroze opened at The Connaught, taking over from the site previously occupied by Angela Hartnett. Helene Darroze at The Connaught currently holds two Michelin stars.
The dining rooms at Helene Darroze at The Connaught are resplendent and beautiful. The interior is filled with beautiful wood panelling, floral touches and plush furnishings, and the dimly lit space bestows the restaurant with a timeless intimate elegance. The classically French a la carte menu is priced at £95 for 5 courses or £130 for 7 courses. Therefore the 3 course lunch at £52 is comparatively good value. With restaurants in both Paris and London, Helene roughly splits her time between the two cities.
The menu at Helene Darroze at The Connaught is presented using a very unique format and is worthy of a mention. A round board containing marbles is given to each diner, and each dish on the menu is inscribed on an individual marble. A full listing with a description of the dishes is also presented to the diner, and so you are therefore able to choose your meal by eliminating the marbles with the names of the dishes that you don’t want. Genius! And so much fun.
Our meal began with some delightfully light and flavoursome amuse bouches of oyster with grapefruit foam, beef tartare and smoked eel on a cracker. All had been expertly prepared with finesse.
This was followed by the most sublime noir de Bigord ham imaginable. The flavour was truly exquisite, rich, yet subtle. And the texture was beautiful as well as it was as smooth as fine silk. The flavour of the ham was out of this world and probably rates as the some of the best ham I’ve ever tried in my life. Alongside the bread was some wonderfully rustic homemade bread and a deliciously soft butter from Maitre Bordier in Saint Malo, France.
My first course was the langoustine (supplement £16) from Davy Price, Scotland. The dish was also known as “Retour d’Hanoï” (return from Hanoi) and pays homage to the birthplace of Darroze’s adopted daughters who are both from Vietnam. Containing spring onions, coriander, enoki, and a broth made from langoustines, garlic, cardamom, ginger and some other spices, the dish was inspired by Vietnam’s national dish, pho. Here you had the lovely fresh, sweetness of the langoustines merging beautifully with the vibrancy of the broth.
Foie gras from Robert Dupérier, Landes, was next – beautifully creamy, decadent and smooth – and served with beetroot, Buddha’s hand (an Asian citrus), and topped with hibiscus jelly. Here the flavour of the foie gras was allowed to sing, with the other ingredients on the plate providing subtlety and a delicate acidic contrast.
Scallop from Davy Price, Scotland, was plump, juicy and succulent. Perfectly cooked, it came with cauliflower that had a touch of bite to it, fragrant parsley, hints of crunchy hazelnut, and pink garlic. This was a lovely, well executed dish, with all the elements coming together perfectly.
Poulet de Bresse “ (supplement £65) from Jean-Claude Miéral , France, was juicy and soft, and served with creamy celeriac and an “Albufera” sauce, a subtly rich sauce made from chicken stock and foie gras from Landes. Justifying the £65 supplement was the white truffle shaved over the chicken at the table.
Dessert was the signature Savarin Bas-Armagnac Apple, (supplement £12) a kind of rum baba soaked with Armagnac, and served with chestnut mousse and apple sorbet. As the savarin was placed at the table, we were given the choice of three different Armagnacs from the Darroze family, each of which had different maturities and each offering a different finish. The chosen Armagnac was then poured over the savarin to complete the dessert. The one I had was the 1985, a vintage Armagnac that was semi-sweet, warm and honeyed, and with an assertive finish. The savarin was tasty and proved to be a sophisticated way to finish the meal.
Helene Darroze at The Connaught offered a highly refined fine dining experience. The food was classically French, yet presented with a modern flair. Key to the food was the provenance of the exquisite ingredients and that the most precise of cooking techniques had been applied to those ingredients. This was conventional haute cuisine which was hard to fault from an execution point of view, but not what one would describe as cutting-edge or highly innovative. The wine list was comprehensive, a plus 80 page tome containing a rich collection of wines and various liqueurs. As to the service, this was slick and polished, but at times a little snooty.
But Helene Darroze was not cheap, especially when you start adding in the supplements for some of the dishes. There’s certainly a premium for Helene Darroze being at The Connaught.
1) The beautiful decor.
2) The noir de Bigord ham – just exquisite.
3) Incredible provenance, and excellent execution
1) The service was a little snooty
Food rating: 4/5
Service rating: 4/5