Eleven Madison Park – Searching for Soul

Eleven Madison Park
11 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10010
Website
Map
Online Reservations 

  • Menus: at lunch there is a 3-course menu for $56, a 4-course menu for $74 or a tasting menu for $125; at dinner there is a 4-course menu for $125 and a tasting menu for $195 (all prices without wine). The new menu concept does not offer specific dish choices, but rather a selection of main ingredient for each course, which the kitchen will construct a dish around, catering to any of your particular likes/dislikes/allergies
  • You can see all of the high-resolution photos on my Flickr set for this meal

There is no doubt that Eleven Madison Park is a beautiful restaurant with a chef and a kitchen that can turn out beautifully plated and often truly delicious food. After having eaten both dinner and lunch there over the past year or so, I can’t say that I am in love with the restaurant, but I can’t deny that I have had some incredible dishes either. At times, I felt the service, though well-intentioned, to be a tad overbearing. But the one thing I am still searching for is the identity of the cuisine. There are flashes of brilliance, but as Samuel Jackson's character Jules famously asserted in Pulp Fiction, “personality goes a long way.”

The second coming

I first visited Eleven Madison Park last summer for dinner. I was very excited about the restaurant as many critics and bloggers seemed to agree that its Swiss chef Daniel Humm and his team had really begun to hit their stride. We had a very pleasant dinner, but only a few things remain engrained in my mind over a year later: the unbelievable roast duck with lavender glazing that was presented whole and then carved up by the side of our table, and the uncanny knack of the front of house staff to anticipate our every need and desire in a casual and subtle fashion. Everything else is a little bit blurry, no doubt in part due to some of the excellent wine that we consumed that night.

Eleven Madison Park’s sweeping art deco dining room

Earlier this summer, I had the opportunity to return for a rare leisurely weekday lunch with a friend of mine who was visiting from overseas. We were both curious to see how this New York Times 4-star and Michelin 1-star restaurant (not to mention #24 on the most recent World’s 50 Best list) would live up to our expectations, and I was personally curious to hear my friend’s own views given his considerable culinary background and talent.

The menu

At my first meal, there had been a traditional structure to the menu, but this changed in September of 2010. Now, for every course, the diner chooses the main ingredient for each dish, and the kitchen then constructs a dish around the selected core element, taking into account the diner’s personal preferences and/or any allergies. I never asked, but would be curious to know how this works logistically in the kitchen as they presumably only have so many iterations or frameworks for each ingredient thought out, tried and tested ahead of time for each star ingredient.

Although four courses (plus all of the extras) would probably have been more than sufficient, we opted to go for an unadvertised tasting menu (well, it is mentioned on their website, but it wasn’t visible on our lunch menu). In the end, this turned out to be a mistake as it didn’t equate to good value for money given that we spent nearly 70% more for what amounted to be only two extra courses.

Things were Humming along…

I will try to keep my commentary to a minimum and let the pictures speak for themselves (as you may notice, I’ve also made the pictures larger than in prior reviews – let me know if you prefer this). It is suffice to say that the opening progression of small bites and dishes was fun, well-balanced and impressive.

NV Claude Genet, Brut, Blanc de Blancs, Grand Cru, Chouilly, Côte des Blancs (Champagne)

I remembered that I had been quite taken with the Champagne I sampled on my prior visit, and luckily they still had it on menu by the glass. The delicate grower-produced blanc de blancs (meaning from Chardonnay grapes only) Champagne was perfect with the meal’s preamble.

Gougères

The golden, plump gougères were made from an excellent choux pastry and had just the right amount of cheese so as to be present and pleasant, without overshadowing the light dough. 8/10.

Chilled Pea Soup with Buttermilk Snow & Ham Crisp

A chilled, sweet pea soup was accented by some even cooler milky ‘snow’, with a crispy ham cracker lending crunch and saltiness. The combination worked well and was also artfully presented. 7/10.

Goat Cheese Lollipops with Beet

Besides being colorful and playful, the goat cheese lollipops were also downright delectable. The beet coating not only added vivacity to the presentation but also lent a subtle flavor which melded well with the cheese. 8/10.

Goat Cheese Croquettes with Watercress & Chive Dipping Sauce (not pictured)

These little blonde spheres of (fried) bread and (goat) cheese were also delicious, with the rich flavor and saltiness of the cheese being offset by the watercress in the light emerald dipping sauce. 7/10.

2009 Thalassitis Assyrtico, Gaia (Santorini, Cyclades, Greece)

We had run out of Champagne and the sommelier recommended this Greek wine to see us through a few more courses. It went fairly well when sipped with the next mini-course.

Smoked Sturgeon Sabayon with Chives

The saboyon was heaven in a hollowed out eggshell: luxuriously smooth, smoky, creamy, with a touch of acidity and perfectly seasoned. I wanted three more three-quarter filled eggshells full of it. 10/10.

Cow & Goat Butters

Two types of butter were served for the meal, one from a cow (left) and one from a goat (right) – both elegantly presented and quite delicious.

Bread

The bread was freshly baked and of very high quality, with a lovely crispy crust. The presentation – they arrived in a little taupe-tinged blanket – reminded me of the way the ‘snacks’ are served at noma. 7/10 (I wish there had been a variety of breads offered).

LETTUCE: Salad with Almonds, Mangalista Ham & Cucumber

The first of the ‘real’ courses was a wide assortment of lettuce seemingly randomly arranged and interspersed with two slices of excellent ham, moist almonds and edible flowers. I wasn’t expecting too much; however, once I began eating it, I fell in love with the dish. The salad possessed a great variation in textures and flavors that spoke to me. The dish now adorns the banner of my blog, so I guess that says something. 10/10.

2009 Meroi, Sauvignon, Buttrio (Colli Orientali del Friuli, Italy)

A medium-bodied and deliciously fragrant Sauvignon Blanc was suggested for the rest of the non-meat courses. It fared better with the broccoli dish than the lobster course that was next upon us.

LOBSTER: Poached with Carrots & Vadouvan Granola

The next course was even stronger than the salad. The most perfectly poached lobster I can remember having was complemented beautifully by the butter sauce and sweetness of the carrots, which didn’t overshadow the self-proclaimed star of the dish (‘LOBSTER’ is in all caps on the menu), with the of-the-moment vadouvan granola giving my jaws some more serious work to do. In a word: stunning. 10/10.

BROCCOLI: Variations with Parmesan, Lemon & Lardo

I wasn’t sure about the broccoli dish at first; however, it grew on me as I ate more and more of it. One thing they understand very well at Eleven Madison Park is the importance of texture in a dish, and this shone through here as well. The various forms of Parmesan were delicious and they pierced through the distinct iterations of the green flowering cabbage very well. 7/10.

2008 Domaine Fougeray de Beauclair, Clos Marion, Monopole (Fixin, Burgundy)

For the meat dishes, we decided to go for a half-bottle of a red Burgundy that was suggested by the helpful and friendly sommelier. Unfortunately, despite having had another good wine from Fixin not that long ago, I wasn’t inspired by this one. It was perfectly drinkable, but didn’t strike a chord.

PORK: Confit with Cherries, Onions & Guanciale

The food elements of the meal had thus far been progressing very well. Sadly, when we reached the two final savory courses – both of which featured meat – the beautiful overture began to decrescendo.

The pork dish certainly looked the part. Another thing the kitchen excels at is constructing a striking plate of food. However, the cylindrical shaped loin had been, so far as I could tell, cooked sous-vide, which in this particular case hadn’t done it any favors, or given it much flavor. The texture was monotonous and there was no complexity of taste. The little confit cube was mildly more interesting (the belly’s crackling could have had more crackle), but I didn’t feel that the sauce or the accompaniments made this dish more than the sum of its parts. 6/10.

LAMB: Loin with Morels & English Peas

The lamb course was almost identical in its conceit, and received a similar reception from myself and my companion. The long pink strip, which had almost certainly been cooked in a bag, presented the same problems as the leaning tower of pork. The darker meat – was it lamb breast? – was more flavorful, but again, we felt let down by the supporting cast as they didn’t seem to interact naturally with the star to create a memorable scene. 6/10.

A small section of the huge kitchen

At the intersection between savory and sweet, our waiter suggested that we might like to take a brief tour of the kitchen to see us through the interlude. We followed dutifully and were in awe of the mini metropolis that housed the small legion chef whites. I noticed that the back-of-house space had been enlarged since my last visit. The area where we had sat last year – a slightly awkward and dark rectangular room at the back right of the restaurant – had been converted into a sort of interim room where smaller but important tasks, such as making the coffees, were being handled.

Alcoholic alchemy

We were seated at two stools against a wall in a less busy area of the kitchen and watched as a resident mixologist concocted a couple of cocktails, which involved the use of liquid nitrogen in the final stages.

Aperol Spritz with Liquid Nitrogen

The Aperol-based cocktail, which also contained what I believe was a blood orange sorbetwas really delicious, but I did find it slightly awkward to drink it in the midst of the bustling kitchen. It was like being a fly on the wall, but a human-sized fly that everyone could see!

Table-side egg cream creation

To mix things up even further, after we were escorted back to our table, we were asked if we would like to try the restaurant’s version of a classic egg cream. Now I should state that my father is a native New Yorker and has been known from time-to-time to harp on about the glory that is an original New York egg cream. I guess I am not my father’s son in this sense, since I have never much cared for the combination of seltzer water and milk (call me crazy). However, I am open-minded when it comes to all things edible and I thought I’d give a second (or ‘eleventh’) chance.

Eleven Madison Park’s Egg Cream

I don’t think their version used any chocolate, but it definitely had malt, vanilla and olive oil. Anyway, I can confirm to you that no matter how good the ingredients might be – and I am sure this was probably the most luxurious version you could ever have – I will just never like sparkling milk. I will refrain from giving this a score as I was predisposed not to like it.

CHOCOLATE: Cannelloni with Espresso, Caramel & Yogurt

I was really underwhelmed with the dessert, which on paper sounded like a great combination of flavors, but in reality didn’t provide any excitement on the palate. In particular, the caramel sauce was simply too sweet. I had hoped for a more creative and satisfying dessert, especially as I realized that the egg cream must have served as our pre-dessert. 5/10.

Double Macchiato

For a restaurant, they can make a pretty decent macchiato though, and I was glad to savor this with some colorful petit fours. 8/10.

Petit Fours: Pâte de Fruits, Macarons & Tuiles with Grains and Seeds

I know a lot of people who don’t really care for the jellies you often get in fancy restaurants at the end of the meal (or pâte de fruits in French), but I have a sweet tooth and if they are well made, I like them. These were pretty good, and the macaron and the tuile were both pleasant enough too. 6/10.

Stuck in the middle with you

This was really a tale of two meals within one. Everything sang until the meats arrived, which was a shame as the first half of the meal contained some of the best dishes I’ve had this year. I just didn’t understand the conception of the meat dishes – besides cooking one type of meat two ways, which hasn’t been that original for a long time – and it really put a damper on the meal as a whole, especially as this and the disappointing dessert came at the end, as they usually do.

In terms of ambience, the room, while being grand, was absent of a certain animation which was present when I first dined there. The room was also not full, and it was eerily quiet for most of the meal. Don’t get me wrong, I abhor background music in a room and restaurant like this, but the atmosphere felt a little flat.

I would also like to briefly comment on the service. I think that the Union Square Hospitality Group must have the best CRM system on the market. When I arrived they definitely knew who I was, when I had last been there, and that I had been a particularly interested/ engaged diner on that occasion.

It was plain to see that they were going to go the extra mile – or run a marathon – to make sure that we were well taken care of. There is, of course, nothing wrong with this, and this is the right way to run a business. Heck, it’s probably the main reason Danny Meyer and his establishments are so successful. However, I felt that the approach taken towards our table on this occasion was too overtly over-the-top and oftentimes crossed that thorny border into the realms of being cheesy (sorry, that is the best word I can find to describe it). The problem was that it felt like we had to enjoy everything because it was made to seem like they were pulling out all of the stops for us.

I have no idea if this is the way that every returning (or even first-time) guest is treated at Eleven Madison Park if and when they appear to be particularly interested in the food: very possibly so. I try to be as discreet as possible when taking photos, but people do sometimes notice, and I am sure they did on this occasion, which may have led to slightly special treatment. The last thing I want to do is come across like a whiney blogger who complains about receiving extra attention at a nice restaurant, but all I can tell you is what happened and how it made me feel. It felt like they were trying too hard, like it wasn’t quite natural. There is a way to cosset guests and make them feel like they are at home, and I didn’t feel like this at Eleven Madison Park.

Lastly, with regard to the food, I can’t quite eek out its identity. It contains the occasional homage to America but overall, since there are single ingredients listed on the menu, I can’t get the sense of the cuisine’s personality or ambitions. I wonder how chef Humm would describe his food. To me, it seems to incorporate some very modern techniques (i.e. liquid nitrogen in the cocktail, and various ‘snows’ for garnish), as well as some classic European ones (i.e. that truly wonderful roast duck I had the first time around). But from my two visits, it doesn’t appear to be beating its own drum or leading the pack, but rather incorporating various trends that are going on throughout the higher echelons of international cuisine. Perhaps I am not familiar enough to be a fair judge, but by focusing on individual ingredients without any obvious overarching conceit, the food seems to lack a sense of soul.

In any case, it is a very good restaurant that is capable of some incredibly high highs. I just wish my most recent meal would have been more cohesive and consistent. Perhaps my expectations were as grand as the dining room.

Would I return? Yes, but not for a while, and I would probably ‘just’ get the three or four course menu and inquire and/or direct more specifically how each dish will be prepared to avoid potential disappointment.

Rating

Ambience: 6/10

Service: 7/10

Food: 7/10

Wine: they have one of the most extensive and best-chosen wine lists in NYC, and it is truly a pleasure to peruse. There are trophy wines and undiscovered gems alike. France, Italy, Spain, Germany and California feature heavily, but other regions are represented throughout as well. They have a very nice selection of half-bottles of red and white wines, which is much better than you typically see. My only gripe is that they should have a few cheaper options by the glass.

*Note: I have been to Eleven Madison Park twice – once for dinner and once for lunch – and paid the full price (with no known freebies thrown in) both times. I was not invited by the restaurant or its PR team on either occasion.*

Eleven Madison Park on Urbanspoon

Bar Boulud – The Right Place at the Right Time

Bar Boulud
At the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Hyde Park
66 Knightsbridge
London SW1X 7LA
Website
Map
Online Reservations

  • Dinner: starters approx £6-11, mains approx. £12-22, desserts £6-8, plus a number of special menu items such as charcuterie (individual items £6.50-11, platters at £14 or £28) & burgers (£12-13.50)
  • You can click on any of the images below for full-resolution files

I didn’t know what to expect from Daniel Boulud’s first UK outpost. Reviews upon its opening came in thick and fast. Most of the sentiment was positive, though some commented that its interior was devoid of personality. For my part, seated in the bar area on a weekday evening, the place seemed quite lively (this was probably enhanced by the animated and captivating sommelier, who was our unofficial host for the evening) and had a nice buzz to it. The food was generally very good (though desserts were somewhat of a disappointment), the charcuterie was nothing short of spectacular, and the restaurant is not as expensive as you might think. It’s a good addition to the neighbourhood and is a clever move from the prolific and successful Franco-American restaurateur...especially given that Heston will be serving ‘Dinner’ very soon in the same building.

Bar Food at Bar Boulud

Food blogging is a peculiar pursuit. You often get invited to events, you sometimes go, and once in a while they are really great. This was one such occasion. I met Heather Cowper at a rather random event hosted by lastminute.com a few months back. This was interesting because she is not a food blogger, but a travel blogger – another obscure species – and I had never met one before (I had seen them in cages, though). We had a nice chat and, somehow, I must have not come off as a complete bore and/or tosser.

How do I know this? Because when she organized a meal at Bar Boulud (BB) at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park (MO) for a table of bloggers (Krista and Gourmet Chick were also in attendance), she for some inexplicable reason decided to invite yours truly. Laissez fare enough. Pardon the appalling pun-itive damage (gag), but I am stuck in an airport and my plane is more than three hours delayed and ain’t leaving until midnight at the earliest. So there.

Anyway, back to the task at hand. The big DB and his BB (there are, as of yet, no plans for a BB’s Little Brother). From my experiences of his establishments in New York over the years, I like the guy, his food and the way he has his restaurants run. His flagship restaurant has always served excellent food, if a bit safe, and his less formal offshoots are generally very solid as well (check out a great review from Ulterior Epicure of a recent meal at Café Boulud).

For New Yorkers in particular, and to some degree throughout the US, DB has a big profile – á la GR (apt acronym?) in the UK. Along with Danny Meyer, Keith McNally and a few others, he’s definitely one of the big players on the Manhattan restaurant scene. So it’s interesting that he’s decided to give London a shot, especially when so many NY transplants have bombed so quickly.

They have a doorman

BB has its own entrance on the left side of the MO, if you’re facing the building. It’s fairly nondescript, so if you didn’t know about it and weren’t a hotel guest, you’d probably just keep walking, despite the doorman decked out in a black suit.

I managed to find it easily enough and, as usual, arrived a bit early, so took a stroll through Harvey Nichol’s fifth floor of food and drink (well, I just hung out in the wine department and contemplated their exceedingly good range of Champagne). I just barely managed to get out of there without purchasing anything.

They have their own napkins

Upon entering BB, I wasn’t exactly sure who else I’d be dining with, but was lead to a rectangular raised table in the bar area, which afforded me a good view of the front dining room. There were two other bloggers already there who I didn’t know (Anthony, who runs the very cool Mr & Mrs Smith travel blog and Eva), making me fashionably not first one to arrive. 🙂

Before moving on, I would like to clear up one inaccuracy that I’ve noticed in reports about the restaurant. There are windows, and they do provide some natural light – granted this is only in the front of the dining room, but they are there. So there.

And they have David, an extremely feisty & passionate sommelier, who’s the life of the party...and the lifeblood of the restaurant

Before I knew what had hit me, David Vareille, the restaurant’s sommelier had taken the stage at the head of our table and began regaling us with entertaining tales about the fermented grape juice he was bursting to tell us about. This guy is a treasure. He is outspoken, very knowledgeable and definitely beats to the tune of his own drum. There are some real gems within his cellar’s booty, and we were lucky enough to taste a few of them, many of which won’t set you back all that much.

Another great feature of BB is that they feature a large bottle of the day, every day. David picks a magnum (or other large format bottle) that he thinks is interesting for whatever reason and then comes up with a very reasonable price per glass, so that customers can experience a wine they may not otherwise be able to try. For example, if he opened up a Mouton or a Lafite, you might be able to sample a glass for around £45-55 (depending on the vintage), which although still ridiculously expensive, is reasonable within the context of this royal couple of the wine world. It’s worth popping down just to see what the large bottle of the day is. I think he should start a twitter account and announce what large bottle they will be serving that day and name the price.

But once again I digress. We were there to eat some food, right?

A Meeting of Meats

As I’ve already written a lengthy preamble – hey, what else is new – I will be sparse with my culinary comments. You may think this is a deliberate choice, but the reality is that I had a bit too much of David’s wines, didn’t take notes, and that my detailed recollection of everything is slightly patchy at best. So I am sparing you from my usual more anatomical dissections. Everyone can drink to that.

Charcuterie Board & Mustards

Okay, so if you don’t read another sentence after this, pay attention to this one. We were able to sample all of their charcuterie…and it is phenomenal – I would recommend going alone just for this if you’re in the mood for that kind of thing.

All of the chartcuterie is courtesy of Gilles Verot, who (from memory) supplies DB’s establishments on the other side of the pond, so you don’t need much more background than that. Of particular note for me were the Tourte au Canard (duck, foie gras, figs and pastry crust), Pâté Grand-Père (coarse country pâté, foie gras, truffle juice and port), Lapin de Garrigue (Provençal pulled rabbit, carrot, courgette and herbs) and the Jambon de Bayonne (Basque cured ham).

A plate with a variety of vegetables, olive oil-marinated cod, shrimp and aioli dipping sauce was also brought out (not pictured), and while the sauce was nice, I don’t think I would have paid the £18 for this platter. Strangely enough, the thing I enjoyed most on the plate was the exceedingly fresh and crunchy radishes.

Sausages in Small Pans

Next, some sausages appeared – and they just kept coming. I wish I had taken notes, but I didn’t, so all I can tell you is that I loved the spicy sausages on the left side of the above picture. The one on the right wasn’t bad, but was in my bottom two.

Boudin Blanc

I had read rave reviews of the boudin blanc sausages, but I would actually make these the other sausages in my bottom two. They were rich, due to the infusion of truffles, and soft, but they didn’t hold much interest for me. Not bad by any means, just not a personal favorite. The accompanying mash was pretty good.

Thai Sausages

I actually enjoyed the pork-filled Thai sausages a bit more. They had a firm texture, sort of like a Swedish frank, and were accompanied by a nice spicy sauce and Asian garnishing with papaya on the side – they went down a treat.

Boudin Noir

The darker boudin babies were rich, but not too rich for my blood (another bad pun, as they are made from blood and pig’s head), and were complemented by scallion potato and piment d’espelette. They would make a nice big appetizer or a smallish main course, and would probably leave you quite content with life.

The DBGB Piggie Burger

There has been a lot of hype about BBBs (last B = burgers, keep up already). We were lucky enough to have a sampling of all three. This meant that they cut each burger up into quarters, so we could mix and match. The disadvantage of this was that they got a little bit cold, but I wasn’t complaining. They were all cooked well (medium rare) and had brioche-type buns (the ‘Frenchie’ bun was slightly peppered and the ‘Piggie’ bun had cheddar baked in). As Krista pointed out, though, none of them were toasted, nearly a cardinal sin for some burger aficionados. The quality of the meat, and the rest of the fillings, was excellent and I enjoyed them all. They didn’t get me particularly excited, but they were some of the better ones (top three) I’ve sampled in London. Out of the three variations, I enjoyed the ‘Yankee’ the best (it’s the plain one, and I usually like my burgers fairly unadorned) and the ‘Frenchie’ (my wife is French, but that’s not why – I particularly enjoyed the green chilli mayonnaise and BBQ pulled pork).

Loup de Mer au Citron Confit

Better still was the main course of lemon sea bass which we shared. I only had a few bites, but the skill of the kitchen was obvious here. The fish was very fresh, had been cooked perfectly, with a crispy golden exterior, and kept moist and flaky inside. I loved the accompaniments as well. This was a simple but fairly flawless dish.

I didn’t take a clear photo of it (so no image), but we also sampled the Chop-Chop Salad, an homage to New York I suppose, which was quite refreshing given all the meat resting in our belabored stomachs by that point. It was actually a really enjoyable salad and it’s available at lunchtime for £6.50, though if you want to put a half lobster in it – which I thought was totally unnecessary and counterintuitive as lobster is a luxury ingredient and salad ain’t, right? – that will cost you an extra £15!

Gâteau Chocolat-Frambroise

Unfortunately, many of the desserts were a disappointment, a shame as they all sounded (and looked ) so good too. The chocolate and raspberry cake was perfectly passable, and was certainly nicely presented, but it lacked that certain je ne sais quoi. No X Factor, so maybe it should audition for Gâteau’s Got Talent.

Gâteau Basque

The humble Basque cake was also fine, and a pretty honest rendition of the classic dessert from the region. I guess these kind of simple cakes are not really my thing, so while it was good (not overly dry and plenty of flavour), it didn’t send my pulse racing.

Tarte Mocha Chocolat

The chocolate mocha tart was better, with a deep rich chocolate flavor and a luscious sphere of caramel ice cream plopped down beside it.

Coupe de Fruits Exotiques

The above dessert served in a Martini glass was as pretty as a picture, and was a refreshing taste after the aforementioned tartage. Again, nothing earth-shattering, but the mascarpone foam and the coconut-passion fruit sorbet were both enjoyable.

Íle Flottante

Possibly the best of the bunch was the classic French dessert of Íle Flottante. It was pretty perfect, and nearly as nice as the one I had at Arbutus a while back (which, by the way, is currently the banner image at the top of this blog), though it did lack the crunch factor that makes the latter one so memorable. Anyway, BB’s version had air-light meringue and the crème anglaise and strawberries were the perfect foil. It was very moreish.

Coupe Peppermint

The biggest let-down of the evening for me, however, was the chocolate mint dessert. Pourquoi? Because, despite my love for fine cuisine, I simply adore mint chocolate chip ice cream – it’s a childhood thing – and always order it if it’s on the list and doesn’t look too fake a shade of green. I pretty much love anything that has chocolate and mint together (Aqua Fresh, you listening?). I don’t know why, but this just tasted wrong. Something in the mint smacked of artificiality. I would doubt that they use any dodgy ingredients at BB, but it just let me down…so I went back to my work as producer of Lost, i.e. I made that floating island disappear.

Unloved Regions, Lovely Wines

David walked us through some brilliant regional French wines over the course of the evening, selecting particular bottles to go with the different courses. He is particularly partial to Burgundy as he hails from near Chablis (coincidentally one of my favorite wine regions).

2006 Domaine Sylvain Loichet, Ladoix

My favorite wine of the evening came from the Southern end of the Côte de Nuits in Burgundy’s Côte d’Or. It was a stow-shopper, especially when considering the price when compared to some of the fine white Burgundy that it might be mistaken for during a blind tasting. A complex, exotic and highly perfumed nose of apple, peaches, pears and subtle smokiness revealed a superbly balanced and full-bodied behemoth of soft fruitiness, honey, cream, a touch of spice and a vibrant streak of minerality. This was wonderful stuff, and while not cheap at £15.50 a glass at BB, you can get a bottle at under £25 retail. Highly recommended.

2006 Domaine Didier Charavin, Rasteau (Prestíge)

Many people have probably not heard of the area around Rasteau in South-eastern France (the Provence-Alpes-Côte- d’Azur region)…either had I…but this wine will make you stand up and take notice. The Charavin family are well-known in the region and Didier took over the domain in 1985. They make three cuvées and the Prestíge draws upon Syrah (30-40%) and old vine Grenache for the rest, being aged for 6-9 months in demi-muids. It is certainly a full-on wine, similar in many ways to a powerful Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and it needs a strong dish to bring out its best. A melange of gamey notes, lots of dark fruit, and maybe a bit of leather, it was very round and hugely satisfying. Not one to sip on its own, but when paired with a hearty stew or meaty dish, it is a special wine. It goes for £32.50 a bottle at BB, but I’d be surprised if it cost much more than £15-17 retail (if you can find it).

2009 Domaine Les Yeuses (Vin De Pays d’Oc, France), Vermentino & 2008 Salomon Undhof (Hochterrassen, Austria), Grüner Veltliner

Toward the end of the meal, a pair of whites emerged. The charming Vermentino was a good example of the grape, and produced baskets of exotic fruits and bouquets of fresh flowers in my mind. I had a few glasses of that, and found it more intriguing than the perfectly acceptable but not particularly memorable Grüner pictured above.

As a side note, another wine I really enjoyed during the meal, but forgot to photograph, was the 2007 Benoit Cantin from Irancy in France, which was crafted from 100% Pinot Noir. I have had a few other Pinots from the same appellation and not been overly impressed, but this was a beauty. A somewhat typical nose of cherries and berries, what sticks out in my mind was the elegant and soft tannins and the depth of the cherry flavour. It had a nice finish too, not all that long, but refreshing. It sells for £10/glass at BB, but if buying retail by 6-bottle case, it goes for about £16/bottle, which is good value indeed.

Lastly, as we dusted off the desserts, David brought a nice alternative of a sweet wine out for us to try. Actually it wasn’t wine, per se, but an ice cider (cidre de glace) from Quebec. It was new to me, but it was a wonderful idea, and would complement any dessert with apple or pear very nicely – it was perfectly balanced with great hit of acidity to balance the sweetness of the dominant apple flavor.

Perfectly Fine to Wine and Dine

My overall experience at BB was a positive one. There were no real duds in terms of the food (and we had a lot of it), although I don’t think the aioli would be worth ordering. As already mentioned, the charcuterie was as fine as I’ve had in London and the burgers were prepared with good ingredients, cooked well and tasted like…well…proper burgers. I thought the sea bass was fantastic, and would order it again. Aside from some of the desserts, many of which sounded and looked better than they tasted, the kitchen showed a very good pedigree and potential.

Open Kitchen & Bar Seating

Of course, I was sitting with a group of chatty and friendly bloggers, and the restaurant did sort of pander to us throughout most of the meal. Plus we didn’t pay a penny. So I can’t vouch for the experience you would have if you came as a couple or small group for dinner at BB, but my guess is you’d like a lot of it, and that the service would be pretty polished. But eating out is a subjective thing, and a lot of it can depend on the day.

It’s a weird thing: while I really enjoyed it at BB, I haven’t felt a strong urge to return since – nothing against them, probably just more to do with my food cravings at the moment, or possibly the fact that we pretty much ate the entire menu so there are no surprises left (?) – although I would certainly drop by to see what magnum they were serving by the glass, and maybe munch on some sort of meaty number(s) to keep me sober.

I also found it personally amusing that DB had decided to come to London at around the same time I had decided to move back to New York – I hope that both of us have chosen the right place at the right time. At the worst, BB can serve as spillover for those who can’t eat ‘Dinner’ with Heston from the beginning of December (according to the good folks at the MO), and he does have all those well-heeled hotel guests, so I would guess that BB will be around for a while.

Storm Troopers would feel at home

Finally, I found it odd that the B-room at BB was completely stark – all white, no red (and certainly no blue). What a contrast to the burgundy-themed restaurant. I don’t mention it for any other reason that I took a photo of it and thought it odd while perusing the shots I took from the evening. So there.

PS – last random bit of info – in the middle of our meal, the former MP and PM, MT, walked into BB with an entourage of about three. I guess right now, this is somehow the place to B.

*Note: I have been to Bar Boulud in London once, it was for dinner, and I was a guest of the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park (and thus didn’t pay anything toward the bill).*

Bar Boulud (Mandarin Oriental Hotel) on Urbanspoon