Posted on Wednesday, 15th July 2009
With a school friend visiting from Australia, I wanted to go somewhere elegant for lunch. You see, we’re ladies now, and our tastes have matured as well. Gone are the days when we use to go to the movies on Tuesdays after school (Tuesdays was, and still is, movie discount day in Sydney) and then head to Pizza Hut for $5 all-you-can-eat pizza afterwards. And besides, we needed a nice venue for somewhere to catch up. School friends are a unique breed – they’ve seen you through all the trials and tribulations of growing up, been there through the first schoolboy crush, picked you up after the first heartbreak (and of course stressed with you through all the exams). So there was much to gossip about as I was desperate to get all the latest on love, work and life in general.
Another school friend who now lives in Bristol joined us, so we were three. I chose Lutyens which is named after Edwin Lutyens, the British architect who designed the building in which the restaurant is housed. Lutyens is the new Conran showpiece on Fleet Street, so if you thought that the great maestro was retiring after selling his dining group to D&D London in 2006, then it’s obvious that this is not the case. Two restaurant openings in one year (the other was Boundary) and he looks like he’s on a mission to take the London dining scene by storm again. But Lutyens is more than just a restaurant which seats 130 people. Opening on Monday 29 June and located in the former Reuters building, it features a bar, a charcuterie counter, a crustacean and sushi bar, a members club and 4 private dining and meeting rooms.
The chef is Irish David Burke, an old Conran alumnus who was formerly a chef at the original Bibendum and Le Pont de la Tour. The food is French, with an Irish influence, but fresh seafood pays a part on the menu given the presence of the crustacean bar. And the restaurant itself – well, it was nothing short of beautiful. A large comfortable space, the heritage green seating and pinewood furniture provided a sensuous contrast against the otherwise predominantly white room. The lighting was perfect, bright but gentle at the same time.
We took a while to order as the desire to gossip seemed to overwhelm us. The waitress had to ask us three times if we were ready to order and I can’t quite decide if she was trying to be helpful in reminding us that we needed to eat, or whether she was trying to rush us. But we got there in the end. To start with, I had a ballotine of foie gras (£13.50) which I found a little disappointing. The texture was creamy, but it lacked a strong foie gras taste. In fact, it was a little bland, with a slightly bitter after kick. The ballotine was served with a sauterne jelly, but there wasn’t quite enough of the latter on the plate to cut through the richness of the foie gras.
A soupe de poisson (£7.50) had a nice flavour of fish broth, although it tasted slightly diluted, as if the liquid hadn’t been sufficiently reduced to provide the required concentration of flavour. The soup was pleasant enough, but it could have been better. A third starter of a half pint of unpeeled prawns (£5.95) was the best of the three. Meaty and firm, the natural sweetness of the fresh prawns shone through.
Carré d’agneau persillé (£17.50), a herb crusted rack of lamb was extremely impressive for both the generous size of each of the racks, and the fact that there were four pieces rather than the three that I had been expecting. The meat was very tender, having been cooked medium rare. Interestingly, the texture was a little grainy in parts, and melt-in-your-mouth in others. It was grainier in the two of the racks, and I suspect this was because they must have been the two outer racks and had been exposed to more heat during cooking. Overall, the dish was extremely enjoyable, with the herb crust adding a delicate twist to the dish.
From the rotisserie, both my friends ordered half a roast Landaise chicken (£16) each. The chicken had a nice flavour, but it was just chicken. It was cooked well and not overcooked, although when it was served, it was slightly cooler that it should have been. I suspect that this was because it had probably been left to rest for about 10 minutes longer than was necessary. The chicken came with home fried crunchy potato crisps , watercress, sage and onion stuffing, and a home made gravy. More care could have been taken to filter the layer of fat that had been left floating on top of the gravy.
We ordered a selection of vegetables (£4.50) to share as we had been told that the mains did not come with sides. This wasn’t strictly true, as the chicken was accompanied by the crisps and watercress, but the lamb certainly did not come with anything else. (For what it’s worth, I find restaurants that operate a practice of not serving vegetables with their mains, forcing the customer to order additional sides, to be slightly tight). The selection included potato dauphinoise which were overcooked, baby carrots and snap peas. The latter two were cooked al dente and were still crunchy, although both were slightly under seasoned.
The pudding was an Eton Mess (£6.25) to share. The flavours were of the individual components of the dessert, these being the meringue, strawberries and cream, were lovely. but there was so much cream in the dessert that it overwhelmed the entire dish.
What you get at Lutyens is simply prepared fare using fresh ingredients. The dishes are not particularly complex and there are no convoluted or complicated concoctions to take it to a high dining standard. But the cooking on show demonstrated accomplished and sound technique. And while I thought both the foie gras and the soup could have been better, I felt what detracted from these dishes was not necessarily poor technique, just that more could have been done to enhance the flavours, ie, more reduction of the fish broth. But the lamb was very good and the chicken was enjoyable too and generously portioned. And, based on the quality of the prawns, I also have no doubt that the seafood is excellent.
The service was efficient, but a bit stiff, and more effort could have made to top up our water glasses. But all that said and done, the restaurant is one glamorous space. Conran has woven his design magic again, and it is wonderful for those occasions when you want to go somewhere beautiful to eat. While it’s not the ultimate in gastronomic destinations, the food is really satisfying. One also gets the sense that many business deals will be brokered here. It’s perfect for those business lunches and I suspect Conran has designed the place for the purpose of drawing in high spenders.
And how were my girls? They were well. And to dearest A, I look forward to booking my flight back to Oz when you finally take the plunge and set a wedding date…
Lutyens Restaurant at:
85 Fleet Street,
London EC4Y 1AE
Tel: +44 (0)20 7221 1415