Hype-trains are usually a one-way ticket to disappointment. There’s a pitfall in human thinking that suggests that if you can gain the public’s confidence in one area, you can mislead them in another.
Ceviche of scallops with radishes, seaweed and herb oil, frozen English wasabi
I just finished reading AA Gill’s round-up of 2012 in this weekend’s Sunday Times. He needs no introduction, he’s as respected a critic as they come – because he writes so well, not because he’s been gifted with golden taste buds. Yet, his ability as a writer is enough to convince many that he knows better than them when it comes to where they should eat, from whence arises the potential disappointment. Among his top picks for 2012 he nominated both DABBOUS and Chrysan. As a result of his and Fay Maschler’s reviews earlier in the year, DABBOUS has the longest waiting list in recent (and maybe long-term) memory, yet most objective people eat there and tell you “it’s not all that”. Chrysan: well let’s just say the only place you’re likely to find a good word said about Chrysan is AA’s review.
That’s not to say he never gets it right. It just means that his opinion is as fallible as mine or yours. But because he has a ‘voice’, he and others in his position can pump the wrong restaurant so full of hot air, you end up eating there in good faith only to be left scratching your head.
Flame grilled mackerel with pickled vegetables, Celtic mustard and shiso
Boudin of pheasant and wood pigeon with a velouté of Wiltshire truffles and chestnut soup
But there are those restaurants that overflow with hyperbole that manage to live up to their billing. I recently discovered that The Ledbury is one of them. Its stellar reputation seemingly knows no bounds, as even the London rioters of 2011 couldn’t resist dropping by to refuel during their relentless quest for the trainers and plasma screens that society owes them – the kind of sub-human scum dress codes were invented for.
Cornish brill with lobster purée, turnip tops and new potato
Roast quail with walnut cream, chanterelles and pear
Say the word “restaurant” to me, and the thumbnail-preview generated in my mind’s eye looks a lot like the inside of The Ledbury – a classy and conservative mix of white tablecloths, wooden floors, draped curtains and chandeliers. Just as top-end hi-fi equipment dissolves away to allow the music to come to the forefront, the staff blend into the ether unless called upon, allowing the food to take centre stage.
Saddle of roe deer with red vegetables and leaves, bone marrow and quince
There are 2 and 3 course set lunches available for £30 and £35 which are a steal compared to dinner where 3 courses costs £80. The tasting menu for £105 (£175 with wines) is worth it if you have money to burn. The presentation is unfussy and the flavours unmuddled. Ceviche of scallops with radishes, and frozen English wasabi is cool, refreshing and tastes of the sea. An outline of seaweed and herb oil the colour of a hunting jacket, tastes like the essence of all that is healthy and good. Boudin of pheasant and wood pigeon is soft, moist, meaty, topped with truffle shavings and quite simply delicious – a cocktail sausage for the ages. A surrounding light and airy velouté of Wiltshire truffles leads into a chestnut soup that tastes of the earth.
Pavé of chocolate with milk purée and lovage ice cream
There’s Cornish brill which is nicely cooked and served on a subtle lobster purée. Roast quail with chanterelles and pear is decent, but it is a powerful walnut cream with a dreamlike texture that I will remember it for. Saddle of roe deer is a delight. Each chunk comes as pink as your lips and topped with a salty blob of bone marrow. Flame-grilled mackerel steals the show. A superb piece of cooking with the fish soft and the skin crisp. A flavour so pure; so potent – that is only enhanced by the subtle hit of spice from a Celtic mustard and shiso, and the light crunch of the meticulously arranged vegetables.
For dessert is a pavé of chocolate with milk purée and lovage ice cream, which is rich, simple and straight forward, but not as successful as the savouries which are a triumph of modern gastronomy. The cooking dials down on complexity whilst zoning in on flavours and balance, especially in the saucing which is exceptional. The Ledbury resides at the very pinnacle of London’s restaurant scene. There’s no hint of self-indulgence or patience-testing gimmickry. Every bone in its body has been chiselled out of a desire to feed and please the diner. What more could you want?
food : 9.5/10
service : 9/10
ambience : 7/10
value : 8/10
127 Ledbury Road, Notting Hill, London
020 7792 9090