Posted on Friday, 27th March 2009
Although I have been to the one-star Michelin restaurant The Greenhouse before, this lunch was my first visit since it was refurbished in January 2008. My previous visit was at dinnertime, and my memory of the restaurant was that it was rather romantic. However, this time round, the dining room seemed a little more sombre. Perhaps my original impression was influenced by the volume of champagne I had drunk, or by the person I was dining with that evening. And being daytime, there was also no soft hue emitting from artificial lighting to provide a more seductive feel, instead there was a lovely, albeit slightly harsher, natural light pouring through the windows instead. Nor were there the lights that shimmer of an evening along the length of the pathway leading up to the entrance, and which also serve to illuminate the lovely landscaped garden. And rather than a clientele who might dine at night for the primary pursuit of culinary pleasure (or other pleasures), the lunchtime crowd appeared to have a more business focus. And my dining companion: he was just a very good, platonic friend.
So lunch was therefore a less flirtatious affair. But this took nothing away from the fact that the restaurant is very stylish, with olive-green tones, black lines, a dark wood floor, and of course that lovely landscaped garden that paves the walkway to the restaurant. The executive chef is Antonin Bonnet, who trained at Michel Bras and under Marco Pierre White at the Oak Room. At one point, he was also the personal chef to Marlon Abela, the multi-millionaire head of Marlon Abela Restaurant Corporation (Marc), the company that owns The Greenhouse. The thing with having a multi-millionaire owner is that there isn’t necessarily the same pressure to make money, as they have so much of it already. So by all accounts, the focus at The Greenhouse is on working towards a second Michelin star; sourcing the best ingredients possible; and creative, culinary expression. On this basis, you can be assured of a certain level of consistent quality. The Greenhouse also maintains an impeccable wine list, about 100 pages, and is aided by the fact that Marlon Abela holds the largest wine collection in Britain, and one of the largest in Europe, at over 240,000 bottles. In recognition of this, The Greenhouse has won the prestigious Wine Spectator Grand Award every year since 2005, an award granted for the greatest wine lists in the world.
For lunch, my friend and I chose from the set lunch menu; priced at £25 for two courses and £29 for 3 courses. To start, amuse bouches came bearing delectable surprises. First up, a sweet carrot cone filled with coconut, almond and carrot juice tantalised the palate. On first bite, it provided a little explosion of rich, carrot flavour against a backdrop of creamy lusciousness that was the coconut and almond. Second was a blood orange jelly, which burst open with a sweet orange liquid.
A starter of steamed tuna and Cornish greens was meaty, yet delicate. It was accompanied by a squid and onion tempura coated in the fluffiest of batters and finished with a beautifully light dashi (Japanese stock). Foie gras and partridge terrine with a chocolate reduction and sorrel leaf was lovely; the meatiness of the partridge contrasting with the creaminess of the foie gras. It was served with a fig chutney which provided a nicely poised sweet counterpoint to the savoury terrine.
A queen scallop and butter seaweed risotto with prawns, shellfish and herb jus was superb. Richly flavoured with fish stock, and the slightest touch of seaweed, it left a rich, lingering aftertaste of the sea on the palate. A confit pork belly with pont-neuf potato, apple, cider jus and mustard espuma was resplendent with flavour, although less popular among the two of us than the risotto.
To demonstrate the multiple applications of beetroot, we were served a pre-dessert of poached beetroot and sorbets from both red and white beetroot, as well as a rhubarb confit. This was followed by a dessert of olive madeleine with lemon curd, fresh pineapple and basil sorbet which provided a pleasurable feast of different sensations; the savoury madeleine meshing with the tartness of the lemon, the sweetness of the pineapple, and the cold sharpness of the herby sorbet.
The service was formal and well-honed, if perhaps a little stiff. But the food was what shone – heavily Asian accented; it was beautifully presented and skilfully constructed with a creative approach. The Greenhouse has also won plaudits from industry insiders. When Hélène Darroze was in the process of opening her restaurant, Hélène Darroze at the The Connaught in 2008, she was cited in The Independent as saying that of all the restaurants she had sampled in London thus far, The Greenhouse was “the one that had won her over”. And this is after having dined at other well-known eateries such as Tom Aikens, Maze Grill, The Square and Gordon Ramsay. (To read the article from The Independent, click here.)
At £29 for three courses, the lunch is good value. For that price, you will find superlative ingredients, and inspired modern French food with an Asian twist that pushes the boundaries of fine cuisine. Dinner is heftier of course, £65 for three courses from the `a la carte menu. But with the right dining companion, it might just be a nice setting for a spot of mild flirtation.
The Greenhouse Restaurant at:
27a Hay’s Mews
London W1J 5PY
Tel: +44 (0)20 7499 3331