London in the Sky

London in the Sky - The view from below

The view from below

Last night we had THE most amazing time at London in the Sky, a 10 day pop-up restaurant which sees five of London’s best Michelin starred chefs prepare their delicious menus in a unique sky table dining experience seating 22 guests. Eating a Michelin starred meal 100 feet above the heady heights of Canary Wharf was truly a gastronomic experience unlike any other.

London in the Sky - The dining table

London in the Sky – The dining table

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Balthazar

Balthazar Restaurant opened in Soho in New York in 1997, and within two years of its opening it became one of the hottest restaurants in NYC. It attracted celebrities far and wide, much in the same way that Chiltern Firehouse, London’s restaurant of the moment is doing. Long recognised as an institution in New York, celebrity restaurateur Keith McNally opened a branch on British shores in 2013 to much hype and fanfare.

Balthazar London looks the business and replicates Balthazar New York’s French brasserie design, from the high ceilings to the antique mirrored walls, through to the red leather banquettes down to the mosaic floors. Similar to its big sister, Balthazar London offers all-day menu with breakfast as well afternoon tea, and on the weekends there is a separate brunch menu. The food is French-inspired and includes seafood from the raw bar as well as a wide selection of classical French brasserie and bistro dishes. Next door to the restaurant is the Balthazar Boulangerie that serves an array of delicious looking artisan breads, pastries, salads and sandwiches.

The atmosphere was a little flat and lacklustre when we visited Balthazar London. Perhaps it was because it was a Sunday night, but there wasn’t the fired-up energy that was reminiscent of my past visits to Balthazar New York. With all the hype that surrounded Balthazar’s opening, this proved to be a little disappointing.

As for the food, it didn’t quite fire on all cylinders with starters of garlic prawns (£10) and steak tartare (£9.75) being acceptable if a little lacklustre. The prawns were firm in texture and came in a buttery sauce filled with garlic and piment d’Espelette chillies. But the sauce wanted for a little more flavour. On the side was a warm portion of fougasse provencale bread that soaked up the sauce nicely. But the bread was rather oily and the crust was not crunchy. As for the steak tartare, the meat was tender and flavoursome, but it needed more Worcestershire sauce and seasoning to give it a greater punch.

Balthazar - Garlic prawns

Garlic prawns

Balthazar - Steak tartare

Steak tartare

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Brasserie Chavot

Chef Eric Chavot is best known for his ten-year stint at the two-Michelin starred restaurant at The Capital Hotel where he offered some of the finest French haute cuisine to be had in London. The French born chef trained with some of the most famous names in the culinary world including the likes of Pierre Koffmann at La Tante Claire and Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons. He also worked with Marco Pierre White before venturing out on his own with The Capital.

The Capital Restaurant closed in 2009 after which Chef Chavot left for a two year sojourn in The US. But he came back, opening his self-named Brasserie Chavot in The Westbury Hotel in 2013. It’s a world away from the formality of The Capital. Instead of carpeted floors and white linen tablecloths there has been a move towards tiled floors and banquette seating for a more relaxed feel. It’s still a glamorous looking venue nevertheless, with great accoustics to soften the hum of noise from the conversation of other diners.

The menu at Brasserie Chavot may be less complex then his fine dining days at The Capital, but it still bears Chavot’s trademark of classic French cooking and it was enough to see him win a Michelin star in 2014. We started our meal with a scallop ceviche (£13.50) which showcased scallops of the highest quality. Thinly sliced, they were absolutely glorious with a soft texture and a sweet wonderful flavour. The lemon dressing with basil worked well with the scallops although it was a touch acidic in parts.

Brasserie Chavot - Ceviche of scallops

Ceviche of scallops

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Medlar

Medlar Restaurant is a rustic little number on Kings Road occupying the site that was once Vama Restaurant. It serves French ‘style’ food, but as the Medlar website states it also draws inspiration from “all over”. The restaurant was founded by a couple of experienced old hands of the restaurant trade. Head Chef and owner Joe Mercer Nairne honed his skills at Chez Bruce, The Savoy Grill and the big hitting Sydney restaurant Rockpool, and front of house is run by his business partner David O’Connor who was previously at The Square and The Ledbury.

A reading of the Medlar menu suggests food that is warm and satisfying, and the simplicity of the soft greyish tones of the restaurant décor goes a long way in supporting an experience of comfort. The three-course set menu consists of eight options per course and is priced at £45 for dinner from Monday to Saturday. But the same menu is available during lunch and on the weekdays it is even better value at £27 (Saturday lunch- £30, all day Sunday – £35).

We started with the roast foie gras (+£3 supplement) with poached quince. The foie gras was incredible, being beautifully soft, lusciously rich and satisfyingly decadent. The poached quince had been nicely done and worked well with the foie gras, and a drizzling of sherry vinegar caramel was excellent giving way to a perfect touch of acidity. Finely chopped hazelnuts texture and a nice finishing touch. My only wish was a bigger piece of foie gras as it was quite small.

Medlar - Roast foie gras

Roast foie gras

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Little Social

An Italian Restaurant aptly named 5 Pollen Street previously occupied the address of 5 Pollen Street. The cooking was good, but the portions were miserable and the prices were exorbitant. I remember my meal there as being one of the worst value-for-money that I had ever had in my life and I left the restaurant feeling wracked with guilt that my friends had to fork out so much money for so little. It is therefore unsurprising that the restaurant closed down last year. On a Saturday night not long after I had eaten at 5 Pollen Street, I walked past it to discover that it was bordering on empty. Clearly, the restaurant had gotten its pricing formula wrong. But it has now been taken over by Jason Atherton and converted it into a charming French bistro endearingly named Little Social.

Little Social sits across the road from Pollen Street Social, Atherton’s flagship restaurant that he established after leaving Maze and the Gordon Ramsay fold. Pollen Street Social registers on the upper end of the scale. It’s fine dining through and through with a one-Michelin star to boot.

A pork head and foie gras terrine starter (£11.50) packed a meaty, rustic flavour, but was also strangely a little tangy. The piece of foie gras holding centrepiece in the middle of the terrine was delicious, but meanly portioned as it was quite small. In fact, the slice wasn’t particularly generous. The tea and prune purée was a good match for the pork, and the sourdough was springy and tasty if a little burnt. As our second starter, half a dozen oysters (£15) from Cornwall were fresh and delicious.

Pork head & foie gras terrine

Pork head & foie gras terrine

Oysters

Oysters

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The Greenhouse

My previous visit to the one Michelin starred The Greenhouse restaurant was in November 2011 for the glorious Laurent Perrier champagne tasting menu cooked by Chef Antonin Bonnet. Bonnet has since left The Greenhouse to pursue other ventures and was replaced by French born Arnaud Bignon as Executive Chef in March last year. Bignon comes from a wealth of Michelin experience. Prior to his arrival at The Greenhouse he headed up the kitchen at Spondi, a two-star Michelin restaurant in Athens, and previous to that, he was Eric Frechon’s sous chef at the three Michelin starred The Bristol in Paris.

Before dinner we sat in the bar area for drinks (the lychee martini was blindingly good) and canapés which included a deconstructed chicken Caesar salad, a soft mushroom meringue and minced prawns with spices and peanuts. The Caesar salad was a spherified drop of lettuce jelly containing a liquid centre and topped with Parmesan, a squid ink crisp bread and an anchovy. This was reminiscent of the spherified Greek salad canapé that Bignon served at Spondi, a dining experience that I am able to share with you in this blog post. Cleverly done, it exploded in your mouth with the flavours of a chicken Caesar salad to create an electrifying effect. The soft mushroom meringue was fabulous for it teased with a gentle earthy mushroom flavour and was also light and airy in texture. The prawns were pleasant from the spicing and the nuttiness of the peanuts.

Canapés

Canapés

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Plateau

D&D London is one of the largest UK-based restaurant chains, with a reach that extends to 30 restaurants around the UK and other major capital cities such as Paris, Tokyo and New York. Plateau is one branch of the D&D family tree, and the décor of the restaurant is suitably attired to serve the likes of a Canary Wharf business crowd. It’s shiny and polished, with a slick city feel to it. Located on the fourth floor of Canada Square, right above Waitrose, the restaurant grants wonderful views of Canada Square. On a long sunny summer’s day this would offer a true spectacle of the hordes of people gathered around to enjoy the warm weather.

Plateau is divided between the Bar & Grill and the main restaurant. The former offers a more casual dining menu, whereas the latter bears a more contemporary French theme. In addition to the à la carte there was a three-course £25 set menu available on the night of our visit. It’s one of the things that D&D London does quite regularly – offering set price three-course menus through TopTable or The Evening Standard. In this day of austerity, these fixed-price options can be an attractive proposition for those wishing to seek out an opportunity of dining at a reasonably budget price in the swanky type setting that is a trademark of most D&D restaurants.

Well we tried both options – three courses from the à la carte menu, and three courses from the £25 menu. Starting with what we ate from the à la carte first: a risotto cooked with a Jerusalem artichoke stock (£9) was nicely done, although the rice could have done with slightly less time for a more al dente finish. A red wine reduction served as a finishing touch and added a nice sweetness to the risotto, but the flavour of a promised garlic and parsley butter as listed on the menu was not discernible. Furthermore, the braised Aylesbury snails that topped the dish were overcooked and bland.

Jerusalem artichoke risotto

Jerusalem artichoke risotto

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Alyn Williams at The Westbury

It’s been about a year and a half since Alyn Williams opened his self-named restaurant at The Westbury Hotel on Conduit Street, during which time the restaurant has increasingly grown in fame. And no wonder. For five years Williams was the head chef at Marcus Wareing’s restaurant at The Berkeley Hotel where he was instrumental in helping Wareing win two Michelin stars. Foodie establishments have also acknowledged Williams’ prowess, with Michelin awarding him a one star and The AA Three Rosettes.

The restaurant is is decorated in a style that becomes a restaurant in a 5-star hotel. It has an elegant feel to it with lots of soft furnishings, warm brown colours and soft lighting. It might be stuffy for some, elegant for others. I liked it, although I despaired at the size of the table leg that was almost as broad and wide as the table itself. It was like a tree trunk and left virtually no room for your feet to land. It didn’t create the most comfortable space in which to sit.

But the reasonably priced menu at Alyn Williams at The Westbury heals all wounds. To be sure, £60 is not an insignificant amount of money. But £60 for a seven-course tasting menu cooked by a Michelin starred chef in the heart of Mayfair is good value indeed. In fact, it’s probably the best value Michelin tasting menu in London. Both the vegetarian and non-vegetarian tasting menus are available throughout the week, but the à la carte menu (three courses for £50) is only available for dinner on Monday through Thursday.

To kick off, we were presented with some gougères while we reflected on the menu and decided on drinks. These had been gently warmed and were light and fluffy with hints of blue cheese running through them for a savoury flourish.

Gougères with blue cheese & parmesan

Gougères with blue cheese & parmesan

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