Koffmann’s at The Berkeley

Pierre Koffmann made his permanent return to the London dining scene with his restaurant Koffmann’s at The Berkeley. When Pierre Koffmann appeared during London Restaurant Week 2009 with his pop-up restaurant at Selfridges, Restaurant on the Roof, he became the toast of the town. The ex-three star Michelin chef went into retirement after closing Le Tante Claire in 2004, so his pop-up stint was always going to create some excitement. Restaurant on the Roof was pricey, but it was well worth a visit. The food was very good, and the ambiance was great. And of course there was the opportunity to try his famous pig’s trotter dish.

Koffmann’s at The Berkeley received a fair bit of press during the last couple of weeks as a consequence of Kate Middleton dining there with The Duchess of Cornwall. The restaurant opened last summer, and occupies the space that was previously Gordon Ramsay’s Boxwood Café. The dining room is elegantly furnished and sits on the lower ground floor. As nice as it was, I am not a big fan of this basement eating with no windows. The placement of the toilets is also awkward – you have to up the stairs, go past the reception, and then go down another set of stairs to get to them. Why there is no connecting door between the dining room and the bathrooms is a mystery to me.

A pre-starter of caramelised onions with anchovies and olives on puff pastry was a little salty. The puff pastry wasn’t particularly light.

Caramelised onions with anchovies and olives

Caramelised onions with anchovies and olives

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Racine

Racine seems to have this mystical reputation as being one of the best non-high end French restaurants in London, and it was because of this reputation that my friend J wanted us to go. I have been once before, a long time ago, and while I didn’t think that the food was bad, I didn’t remember it being particularly memorable either. Racine always seems packed whenever I go past it, and so it felt like time to try it again.

So did Racine live up to its reputation? In the décor stakes, I would say yes. The restaurant is cozy and warm, and the ambience sings a buzzing tune. The moment you walk through the door, you get the sense that you have been transported to some hidden romantic hideaway in rural France.

To start, a foie gras ballotine (£12.75) was rich in flavour and wonderfully creamy in texture, but the accompanying brioche was disappointing. Instead of being soft in the centre, it was dry and a little crusty. It also lacked the requisite sweetness.

Foie gras ballotine

Foie gras ballotine

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Bar Boulud – Visit number 2

Charcuterie

Charcuterie

I know I’ve only just been to Bar Boulud. And it’s not often that I go back to a restaurant so soon, but I couldn’t help myself. I was dying for a taste of that fabulous charcuterie again, and it really was remiss of me not to have tried the Boulud hamburgers that New Yorkers rave about last time. And beside, I thought I’d give dinner a go. My repeat visit was also rewarded with the presence of Boulud himself who was working that huge dining room and hobnobbing with the Knightsbridge set.

I couldn’t get a table booking for dinner, but you can turn up without a reservation to see if you can secure a seat at the charcuterie bar, the drinks bar or the lounge. At night, the restaurant feels more up market and less ‘Holiday Inn’ – the dimmer lights help – so I liked the décor more during dinner. I went for the charcuterie bar which places you in full view of the kitchen. Sitting here turned out to be an interesting experience as I hadn’t expected to see what I got to see. It seems that one of the chefs has a habit of licking the spoon he uses to plate food with. This would be alright if he washed the spoon after each use, but he didn’t, so some of the dishes had an added ingredient known as chef’s saliva. I watched him with great interest for at least 30 minutes, and in that time frame that same spoon made it into his mouth countless times but only got washed once. Ick! Hopefully this practice will be eliminated for we quietly mentioned this to management…

Thankfully the above mentioned chef had no hand (or saliva) in the food that we ordered. The charcuterie platter (£14 for small) was again excellent. We had some repeats from my last visit, but also some newbies, including tagine d’agneau (terrine of slow cooked spiced leg of lamb, aubergine and sweet potato) (extreme left), which was meltingly tender, and pâté grand-mère (fine country pâté of chicken liver, pork and cognac) (bottom centre), which was good, but not as flavoursome as the pâté grand-père. We also sampled the lomo Ibérico (Spanish cured pork loin) which sizzled with flavour and melted on your tongue.

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Bar Boulud

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).

Charcuterie

Charcuterie

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