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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Greenhouse (London): an enticing trial lunch

On arrival, despite visiting on a budget offer, we are given all the customary extras - very elegant, very pleasant, very welcoming.

When we ask whether they mind if we take photos of the food, the maitre d' almost laughs: why should I mind? We'd like to send the tape of this scene, occurred in what is otherwise a pretty formal setting, to the many stuck-up venues that consider themselves and their food so sacred that its images cannot be handled by mere mortals.

So let's take a photo of the bread

It has a 'professional boulangerie feel', very standard but perfect looking, and it's undoubtedly very well-made (we didn't ask whether it was bought in).

We decided to have a "trial lunch" at this illustrious and historical Mayfair venue that has seen several chefs at the helm - they must have a Michelin star or two, they really must, but we can't be arsed to check - show us the food first :) - based on an amazing offer with this site, that afforded a three course meal and a coffee for less than what a single main costs in most fine dining places in London (the regular lunch menu, anyway, is also good value at £29 for three courses). Of course at this price we expect the selection to be limited and the dishes to be simpler, and that's why we prefer to consider this visit as a mere trial, to get an indication of the style of Chef Antonin Bonnet's cuisine. 

There is, anyway, an art in designing a budget fine-dining menu.

A tiny matter. A wine waiter or junior sommelier attempts to persuade us to buy a bottle of Barbera that is almost 50% more expensive than the more moderately priced (£36) Loire we had selected. Now, apart from the fact that a sommelier should be able to spot two cheap bastards like us, who would never upgrade so much on their stated request unless already fully drunk, we also consider it slightly bad form to attempt this upselling feat and jarring with the previous impression of hospitality.

After this, however, everything was smooth, including the impeccable topping up of the wine by the aforementioned waiter.

Very soft, enveloping textures in the first dish, Spaghetti squash and hen egg, hazelnuts, bristly ox tongue, apple balsamic vinegar (nothing else) with pleasant contrasts and balance between acidity and sweetness.

The strongly flavored sardines, glazed with birch syrup, do give pleasure, matched by an equally decisive jus (chicken?), accompanied by an aubergine caviar and girolles mushrooms;  a good ensemble although the aubergine caviar was overdelivering on labour and underdelivering on flavour.

More delicate but with neat flavours, and simply beautiful, was a dish of grey mullet with artichoke puree and dolce-forte sauce which once again created that acidic counterpoint:

A rich, sumptuous featherblade was enhanced by a shiny and powerful Guinness sauce and accompanied by smoked new potatoes, buttery and soft. This would have been a fantastic dish had it been completed by some other vegetable element; as it was, it was pleasant and powerful but slightly one-dimensional both texturally and taste-wise, and tending to become monotonous - more a dish to gobble up rather than one to slowly enjoy

A Guanaja chocolate dessert came as a ganache, it was light and delicious, with crunchy chocolate "medals" and a very very intense blackcurrant coulis that really shone through.

The cheeses featured a Morbier and three others that we have in the meanwhile forgotten in the orgy of intervening restaurant outings... Perhaps you can recognise them from the photo. They were excellent if, according to us, served at a very slightly sub-optimal temperature. A suggestion that seemd to greatly demoralise the maitre d' who clearly cared, and made Man feel guilty for having made it. Let's say that our mouths were too warm.

All in all an impressive display of precise cooking and creative, sometimes subtle combinations within a tight budget. While, for all the politeness and attentiveness, the whole atmosphere felt somehow a little cold for our liking (they certainly tend to cater for a clientele that is very different from low class us, as the mind-boggling wine list attests, and these are impalpable feelings anyway), we are very enticed to go back for the whole hog. That, however, will imply a serious dent in the wallet, even compared with restaurants of similar level of cuisine.

The petit fours, pure class, certainly do invite you to return,  

and ever more so does an excellent espresso, served with a spark of originality - had it been slightly 'shorter' (less diluted) it would have competed for one of the best espressos of the year, and we don't take such issues lightly...

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