Around a year ago Alyn Williams closed a five year chapter as Head Chef at Marcus Wareing at The Berkeley with a plan to open his own restaurant, which landed him at The Westbury in Mayfair.
Crab, Bloody Mary, celery crisp
I used to think of The Westbury as that hotel with the nice bar – called Polo Bar – where you could imagine George Clooney wooing his co-star, before they shuffle off to Christen his hotel room. I had no interest in it. I didn’t even know if it had a restaurant. Then along came a significant firmware update in the form of Alyn Williams and suddenly they had my full attention.
Orkney scallop, watermelon, pine, pumpernickel
More than that, they’ve upgraded their hardware too: the space has been renovated to fit with Williams’ style of cooking, whatever that means. Now there’s deep rose wood panelling, and a carpet that sparkles compared to the wooden floored minimalism of its previous outfit. The end result is one of formality, but the front of house are intent on rounding out those hard edges. Most notably the loquacious restaurant manager Giancarlo – who Williams brought with him from Marcus Wareing – will engage you throughout and even go on indefinitely at the end of your meal if you’re not careful. Then there’s Alyn himself who must be one of the most likeable and level-headed chefs I’ve come across.
Foie gras semi fredo, sand carrot, liquorice, coriander
But, all the likeability in the world would count for little if his cooking wasn’t up to much. Lucky for him, this is where his talents lie, and it shows. The first thing I ate was an attention grabber: a slender cocktail glass came with brown and white crabmeat and pieces of celery crisp. The waiter then poured in a heart-stopping tomato consommé of ideal temperature as a supposed play on a Bloody Mary. The delicacy of the flavours was rivalled only by the illusion of simplicity. This was a statement of intent if ever I spooned one into my mouth.
An Orkney scallop was plump and juicy like you’d hope. It made good use of watermelon, pine and pumpernickel to take the flavour in different directions. The only time the meal faltered was with a dish of foie gras cylinders served semi fredo which dumbed-down its richness, leaving the accompanying carrot purée and liquorice powder to wander in limbo, like gimps without a master. It almost felt like a palate cleanser, which is a bizarre thing to be able to say about a plate of foie gras.
Mackerel, marsh samphire, cockles, toasted cauliflower
What came next was jaw-dropping: Mackerel cooked in a vacuum pack retained its inherent flavour along with an unusual degree of softness. Above and below were delicious cockles. Marsh samphire and toasted cauliflower crumbs added another dimension of richness and texture to a combination that was already stupefying. Williams is using technical flare as a means to an end rather than for the sake of it.
Chicken wings, sweetbreads, baby gem, Jersey Royals, creamed sherry
This was demonstrated again by a plate of chicken wings with the perfect skin, seasoned immaculately and topped with sweetbreads. There were also Jersey Royals, baby gem lettuce and a creamed sherry. The enjoyment came from the fine balancing act the flavours achieve.
Welsh suckling pig, buttermilk, corn, truffle from Kent
Welsh suckling pig came in multiple guises. There was tender rack, crackling-topped shoulder, and even a corn dog which smacked of Asian seasoning – a feature of Williams’ cooking owing to his six months spent backpacking through India. He and I even ended up in a conversation about idlies and dosas at the end of my meal (my parents are South Indian).
Cornish cows curd cheesecake, passion fruit, honeycomb
I finished with a dessert of three parts. There were baked apples, a hazelnut ice cream and what is referred to on the menu as ‘Rolos’. True to its name there was a caramel filling coated in a sexy milk chocolate which was the better of the three elements of a dessert that was good but didn’t wow.
Baked apples, Rolos, hazelnut
Overall, the cooking at Alyn Williams is right up there. There were moments of cooking so memorable; so on the money, I can hardly wait to relive them. The service is beyond faultless and they go that extra mile. This has recently earned the restaurant its first Michelin star and this time next year don’t be surprised if another comes its way. Williams was just named 2012 National Chef of The Year as well. This is his time, and it’s time you did yourself a favour and ate at his restaurant.
food : 9/10
service : 9.5/10
ambience : 6.5/10
value : 8/10
Bond Street, Mayfair, London, W1S 2YF
0207 078 9579