Morgan M. – You Can Go Your Own Way

Morgan M.
489 Liverpool Road
London N7 8NS
Website
Map
Online Reservations

  • For dinner and Sunday lunch, the 3-course à la carte is £41, the seasonal 6-course tasting menu is £50 and the 6-course vegetarian menu is £45 – wine pairings with the tasting menus are £26.50 or £29.50, excluding dessert wine
  • During the week, a 2-course set lunch is £23.50 and the 3-course is £29.50, with the tasting menus priced at £45 (seasonal) and £39 (vegetarian)
  • For the full set of high-resolution photos, please visit my Flickr set for this meal

I really enjoyed my first meal at Morgan M. The complexity and quality of the cooking was on par with many better-known London restaurants, but was much more affordable and a wholly more personal dining experience. It’s worth making the short trek up Liverpool Road to sample Chef Meunier’s food. Based on my meal, if the front-of-house experience can be smoothed out a bit, and if the kitchen can consistently turn out dishes as good as what we sampled, they certainly deserve consideration from the ever-elusive Michelin man.

Not just any given Sunday

So I’ve moved to the US. I’ve been here two months and I’m still posting from my backlog of London meals. Because of my penchant for being anal, I am trying to write about all of the memorable meals I had during my last few weeks in London…before posting about anything I’ve had so far in the US. Clinging to the past? Maybe. There are three UK meals left that I’d like to write about – all of which took place in my last week in the country.

But first, something else, although also from the UK. You see, I had the opportunity to swing by London en route to Sweden a few weeks ago. I only had one Sunday, so I was determined to make the most of it. It turned out pretty much all of the places I wanted to have lunch at were closed on Sundays, except for one little place which had always intrigued, yet continually eluded, me. It was the mysterious Morgan ‘M’. It’s not really that mysterious after all, as when you google ‘Morgan M’ the chef’s name, Morgan Meunier, comes up in the restaurant’s site’s metadata…but I digress.

It turned out Mr. Meunier’s gaff was open and, even better, they had a table for me. So I had my plan:

  • Lunch at Mr. M with Ms. P
  • A leisurely, and it turned out much-needed, walk to Paul A. Young’s shop in Camden Passage to pick up supplies for my better half (they make the best brownies either of us have ever tasted, amongst other wonderful and imaginative chocolate concoctions – visit if you haven’t)
  • A long stroll into town to have cocktails with some foodie friends at one of my favorite London haunts, Bob Bob Ricard
  • And finally, a short walk to dinner with the non-foodblogger, food tweeter @jezmd at the newly opened Les Deux Salons (it had only been open a week when we visited), which has quite a pedigree, and then fly out to Sweden the next day

But you probably want to read about my review of the restaurant. This is a food blog after all, not a review of my travel itinerary. So, without further adieu…

On the outskirts of Paradise

Opening to critical acclaim in 2003, French chef Morgan Meunier has been going strong at his small haute cuisine restaurant in the somewhat unlikely location at the top of Liverpool Road in North(ish) London.

Meunier was formerly head chef at the Admiralty, and prior to that cooked at the Michelin-starred Monsieur Max in Twickenham. He has been going strong since 2003 with mostly positive reviews, yet without much publicity, so I was definitely interested to see what this Frenchman had up his sleeve.

We cabbed it to the restaurant from (real) North London and arrived on time for our table.

Formerly a corner pub, now home to modern French restaurant Morgan M.

If I had not seen a picture of the restaurant’s facade beforehand, I could have easily confused its corner location for a pleasant local pub, which it in fact used to be prior to its conversion to the present fine dining restaurant.

Well spaced tables and tasteful decor define the charming little room

However, once you step inside, everything changes. Meunier has succeeded in producing a lovely setting within the somewhat awkward space. The colors are warm, soft and comforting; the tables well spaced; the mood refined yet not too stuffy. Apparently the artwork which adorns the walls (and is on the cover of the menu) is painted by the chef himself.

Our table for two lay at the end of the side that was sans windows

The restaurant was about half-full and we were given one of the larger tables for two near the back of the restaurant along the wood-panelled wall.

Our places were set, and our appetites whet(ted)

A pretty decorative place setting was there to greet us as we sat down, and I slowly began to notice the attention to detail throughout our environs. The green pattern on the plate matched the scarves of the waitresses, and similar green accents were present throughout…on the wall, on the chairs’ upholstery, on the menu, and so on. Although teetering on the edge of obsessiveness, it was all tastefully done.

But what to order...

Our menus were soon presented and we concerned ourselves with the not so easy task of deciding what to eat. ‘Not so easy’ because, firstly, the dishes all had very complicated descriptions – not a bad thing in itself as it all sounded delicious and there were certainly some interesting combinations – and secondly, we weren’t sure how much we wanted to eat.

Choices, choices, choices...

Therefore, we hand the quandary of à la carte or choosing one of the two set menus (seasonal and vegetarian). In the end, we decided we weren’t hungry enough to take on either of the tasting menus which sounded a bit too ambitious given the rest of the day’s plans.

Meritorious Mastication

As we sat chatting, eagerly awaiting our first dishes, we decided we really liked it in here – it had a nice air about it.

Initial offerings

After our orders had been placed, we were greeted with an inviting tray of homemade bread.

Baguette

My choice of baguette was perfectly nice, with crisp and flakey crust and was even better with the high-quality salted butter, which came on its own silver pedestal. A quick note about the bread: strangely enough, this was the only time we were offered bread throughout the entire meal, even though we ate our single pieces of doughy goodness very quickly after receiving them. This certainly wasn’t a bad thing for our waistlines, but I found it very odd, as with some other of the front-of-house experience (more on that later).

Amuse Bouche: Turnip Cream & Trompettes

The amuse bouche was simple yet delicious. It immediately displayed the kitchen’s ability to handle vegetables as the cream effectively drew out the rich taste of turnip on the palate. The trompette mushrooms nestled within were also clearly expressed as a complementary secondary flavor. There were deep flavors going on here and I was interested to see what was to come next. 7/10.

Starter 1: Seared Diver-Caught Scallops, Poêlée of Cèpes, Glazed Pumpkin & Nut Biscuit, Butternut Coulis

This strikingly presented pair of trios was a wonderful beginning to the meal proper, no?

Starter 1: Diver-Caught Scallops Detail – Seared to Perfection

Each scallop had been delicately handled and perfectly seared, revealing a fragrant sweetness that was enhanced by the succulent carrots and the crunchy biscuit below, which provided a good crunch in contrast to the fleshy feel of scallop and carrot.

Starter 1: Cèpe Detail – The Best Things Often Come in Small Packages

The cèpes themselves were excellent – intense, meaty, not at all overcooked – and might just have been the best thing on the plate. I personally didn’t think the butternut squash coulis added that much to the mushrooms (or the scallops for that matter), but it did create certain visual flair in the plating of the dish and represented autumn strikingly well on the plate. 8/10.

My starter was paired with the Sauvignon suggested on the tasting menu (Paul Buisse, Sauvignon Touraine, Cuvée Prestige, 2008) and was very good. But what we found very odd was the awkwardness in communicating with our waitress in trying to select a few glasses of wine to go with our meal. As all of the dishes we had ordered were included in the Autumn tasting menu, and therefore had suggested wine pairings, she simply told us to order those wines. When we tried to politely ask why (and maybe try to get her to recommend an alternative), she couldn’t really express any reason and just pointed at the menu, saying that this is what they recommend. We found this to be a substantial shortcoming for a restaurant whose food certainly seemed to be sophisticated, and we were pretty frustrated with the whole experience in this regard.

Starter 2: Cream of Puy Lentils with a Parsley Coulis, Garlic Beignet

My dining partner enjoyed her starter, which was straight-forward and let the lentils speak for themselves, so to speak. I was graciously offered a spoonful and thought it was very good, though not particularly memorable – the beignet was a nice addition, though. I did enjoy the visual aspect, and likened it to a little island of golden sand replete with its own green forest, floating on top of autumn-colored seas.

Main Course 1: Seared Fillet of John Dory, Jerusalem Artichoke Soubise, Poêlée of Swiss Chard, Girolle Cappuccino

I also loved the presentation of my fillet of John Dory. The skin of the fish was nice and crisp, and the fish was well cooked, though ever so slightly too firm for my liking (and I am being finicky here…we’re talking maybe 10-15 seconds too long). What stood out again here was the deep flavors present in the vegetable components of the dish. The creamy Jerusalem artichoke was an excellent marriage with the slightly buttery fish, and there was an extra layer of luxury provided by the light foam of girolles that was poured on one side. Despite its visual impact on the plate, the taste of the chard did not overpower the fish and was a clever addition for the texture it lent the dish. The mushrooms on the side were also full of flavor and I thought the dish was well thought out and executed pretty precisely. 7/10.

The John Dory was paired with the suggested Sancerre (there seemed to be no other option! :)), which was okay as far as Sancerres go, but certainly not one to write home about.

Main Course 2: Oven-roasted Suffolk Red Leg Partridge, Sweet Potato Purée, Poêlée of Grapes and Savoy Cabbage, Liver Croûton, Bread Sauce

My dining companion much enjoyed her gamey main course. The meat was initially brought out a tad too pink for her liking (I am no game expert, but think it was probably fine except one particular spot which did seem too reddish to my untrained eyes), and it was sent back. It reappeared a few minutes later, as beautiful as it had been the first time around.

Main Course 2: The View from Behind

She really liked the dish, although felt that the portion size was very large, especially given the quantity of rich liver on the plate, which she loved but couldn’t finish. I had a few bites and thought it was a very tasty dish (I agreed it was very rich) that had been elegantly presented – it was a nice snapshot of the autumn season on the plate.

Pre-Dessert: Rice Pudding, Mango Sorbet & Orange Tuille

The pre-dessert was both beautiful and satisfying. It consisted of a central core of rice pudding that had been wrapped by a caramelized orange tuille, topped with mango sorbet, standing at attention in a pond of mango syrup. The tuille itself was good and, while not the best I’ve ever had, it performed its function of providing crunchiness. The rice pudding itself was a little too cold (maybe due to proximity to the sorbet?) and got slightly lost in the strong fruity flavors, but I must say that the combination worked well and it was a pretty delicious few bites that simultaneously stimulated and cleaned the palate. 7/10.

Dessert 1: Apple and Lime Soufflé & Coulis, Granny Smith Sorbet

As readers of this blog may recall, I am not the biggest fan of dessert soufflés, but I liked the refreshing sound of this one, and figured that since their seemed to be some serious precision going on in this French-led kitchen, I may as well give it a whirl.

I can happily say that I wasn’t disappointed; to the contrary, I loved my dessert. It was presented in textbook perfection, with good height, and was extremely light and fluffy. The waitress poked a hole in the top with her spoon and poured in some of the bright green coulis and we were off.

Dessert 1: Soufflé Detail

The soufflé itself was to my liking and not overly eggy or chewy (i.e. not the texture of scrambled eggs) – and as I said before, it was exceedingly light. The crisp and zingy flavors of apple and lime were an excellent match and I really enjoyed the overall effect, although I think they could have poured a little less of the liquid into the center as it was on the verge of overpowering the delicate soufflé.

The accompanying sorbet was Granny Smith herself frozen in a cryogenic state and was again nice and crisp, with the sorbet not being overly watery. The beautifully presented apple crisp was a nice touch, too. I thought this was a really accomplished traditional dessert, especially given that the cards were stacked against it given my personal biases. 9/10.

Dessert 2: Warm Red Wine & Fig Soup, Roasted Fig

My friend immensely enjoyed her dessert too, which she ordered without the accompanying Pain d’Epice ice cream due to dietary restrictions. I had a bite and agreed that it was wonderful. It was the kind of dessert I could imagine enjoying on a brisk night in a log cabin high up in the Alps (we can dream, right…), and the red wine soup displayed a perfect balance between sweetness, acidity and spice. I am sure it would have gone perfectly with the ice cream, and I was slightly disappointed not to be able try it – but hey, it wasn’t my dessert after all!

Déjà vu?

After we had finished desserts, our table was once again dressed with a decorative plate in-keeping with the design scheme – although this time it was petit

Petit Fours

…presumably because it was making way for the seven fours. 🙂 The narrow silver tray of dainty treats was both generous and tasty. I ended up ‘having’ to eat most of them as my companion was completely stuffed by this point – I know, poor old me.

Petit Fours: Chocolate Truffle and Financier Detail

The financiers were particularly good (perfectly cooked with the right consistency), as were the nougat and the dark chocolate truffle (with the chef’s signature on it, as with most things in the restaurant).

Petit Fours: Lemon Tartelette Detail

The real stand-out here, though, was certainly the miniature lemon tart. It was perfection in a single bite. I wish I could have had a full-sized one to take home with me! These were much better than your average petit four offerings. 8/10.

Single Espresso

I finished this excellent meal off with a very good single espresso. Or so I thought…

An ice cream cone for the road

It seemed the kitchen had other ideas, as we were given one final parting gift, a miniature ice cream cone! It was a nice touch 🙂

The omnipresent signature of the chef

The overall damage was fairly reasonable given the quality the food, totalling £150 for two à la carte menus, with a supplement for the scallops, three glasses of wine and service.

Dial M for Meticulous

I really enjoyed the food and ambience at Morgan M. His complicated yet clean modern dishes were generally a delight on the palate and stunning to look at. It is evident that this is a very personal restaurant where the chef is attempting to project his personality and vision throughout each element of the dining experience. I would imagine that the precise execution of the dishes is pretty consistent as Meunier himself is normally there cooking each day.

This M. is not as secretive as Ian Fleming’s...he came out and greeted each guest after their meal

He makes a point of greeting each table after they’ve finished their meal – it’s not just something he does for visiting critics or bloggers who identify themselves through their photographing of the food. While this can be a slightly awkward experience – for example, what if you have something not particularly nice to say? – it is a nice gesture and confirms that you are not eating in a ‘celebrity’ chef restaurant, but in a chef’s chef restaurant.

An easy comparison could be made with Alexis Gauthier, another somewhat iconoclastic Frenchman who held fort in the slightly odd location in Pimlico at Roussillon for many years. He too has an amazing ability to bring out the best from vegetables and gained quite a reputation for his careful and refined cooking, holding a Michelin star from 2000 while at Roussillon. He focuses on timely British produce and his menu changed with the seasons, and once he broke out on his own, he never went back to the establishment – almost eschewing the central London celebrity chef gang in favor of his own unique culinary expression. He has now moved in closer to town (Soho, see review here) but is still very much an independent spirit and operator. The parallels are obvious to see.

Whether or not Morgan M.’s location is strange or not is sort of beside the point, as his food is certainly worth seeking out. Possibly in part because of the location and the small size of the premises, he is able to offer very substantial a la carte and tasting menus at very reasonable prices (none are over £50) compared to other French fine dining affairs in the center of town.

The only thing that let us down was the awkward and uneven service provided by our waitresses. While they were warm and tried to be professional, we were not offered a refill of bread, the whole ordering of wine experience was very odd indeed, we waited for them on many occasions and not the other way around (especially when trying to get the bill), they almost gave my bag to another party who departed before us, and so on and so forth. I hope that this was merely a one-off, but who knows.

What I would say is that, if the front-of-house experience had been smoother and if the food was turned out consistently as good as what we sampled, the restaurant is certainly as deserving of a Michelin star. But that is another matter altogether, with many deserving London chefs still waiting for their fabled macaron to arrive.

Oh, and if you’re wondering about the second subtitle, the restaurant resides across the street from ‘Paradise Park’ – no joke.

Rating

Ambience: 7/10

Service: 5/10

Food: 7.5/10

Wine: I barely got a chance to peruse the wine list, but noted it was French-dominated and seemed to have some interesting and good value options.

For more about my rating scale, click here.

*Note: I have dined at Morgan M. once, and it was for lunch*

Morgan M on Urbanspoon

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Hélène Darroze at the Connaught – The Anglo-French Combination Loses Something in Translation

The Connaught
Carlos Place
London W1K 2AL
Website
Map
Online Reservations

Dinner: Signature menu (7-course tasting) at £85/person, 3-course menu at £75/person; Lunch menus at £35 (inclusive of water & coffee) and £42 (inclusive of 2 glasses of wine + water & coffee)

A grand yet modern dining room in a historic London hotel & a famous French female chef producing very good food somehow fail to produce a lasting impression

The woman who snatched the reins from Angela & Gordon

I will spare you the full introduction to chef Hélène Darroze as she is probably already pretty well known to most readers of this blog. How about some quick bullet points instead (I have been working too much lately)? Hopefully, like a good amuse bouche, they will be easily digestible:

  • Darroze comes from the Southwest of France (Les Landes) where her family has been in the hospitality and culinary fields for four generations, with her father holding a Michelin star at their Relais & Château hotel and restaurant in Villeneuve-de-Marsan
  • She earned her BA in business and wanted to go into the hospitality business too, so got a job on the administrative side of Alain Ducasse’s organization and, after being there for a while and observing everything, decided she too wanted to be a chef, eventually rising to become his ‘right-hand woman’ (no small feat), cooking alongside the master chef at his Monaco-based Le Louis XV
  • She then went back to her family’s business and, due to a difference of cooking styles (it’s ‘complicated’), her father ‘volunteered’ to resign;
  • She retained the family’s Michelin star, won tons of awards for her culinary promise and prowess, then opened up her own restaurant on the left bank in Paris, which received 2 Michelin stars within two years of opening
  • In the spring of 2008, she was eventually convinced to take over the restaurant at London’s historically important Connaught hotel when Angela Hartnett and Gordon Ramsay Holdings essentially got booted out, gaining a Michelin star there within a year of opening. She took a big brigade from Paris to set up the operation and commutes every other week to London so is in the London kitchen approximately half the time

Given all the above, I had been very interested to try her food, especially given her reputation as being one of the best ambassadors for the food of her region and one of the brighter lights in the French culinary scene.

The triplet mystery

So, on a cold and rainy November evening, the dynamic duo arrived at the imposing façade of the oh-so English Connaught Hotel.

Anglo exterior, French guts

The restaurant lies to your right after entering the hotel, and is reached via a narrow corridor of dark wood panelling. The hotel was recently completely refurbished for the small price of £70 million and is quite classically beautiful inside.

Light at the end of the corridor?

Surprisingly, once inside the rather grand dining room, things become a bit lighter, with comfy upholstered chairs of white and mustard-yellow swirls, cushioned bench seating of muted gray with a vertical diamond pattern, some art deco details and golden chandeliers. This all somehow resolves itself very neatly within the still clubby carcass (i.e. dark wood panelling) of the room.

A quick perusal of the menu revealed the usual tasting menu and a 3-course option. We opted for the simpler of the two and began pondering the options there within. As I was ruminating, I was struck by the descriptions of her dishes. Nearly all of them were described in threes, and I was reminded of our recent meal at Pierre Gagnaire’s sketch Lecture Room & Library, where he is also fond of focusing on one primary ingredient for a dish and preparing in three different ways. As I was wondering whether this phenomenon of triplets was a peculiarly French affectation, some nibbles interrupted my train of thought.

Sorry, hold on, this is the…starter?

Amuse Bouche 1: Leek & potato velouté with barley foam; Parma ham; breadsticks

Now I thought this was slightly odd. We were in a very posh French dining room and Parma ham was being laid out on a sheet of black slate, with breadsticks poking up out of a basket on the side. It all seemed very Italian to me, although I guess the kitchen had salvaged its haute cuisine/French-ness by serving a tall glass of velouté as part of the trio. The Parma ham was good, but also particularly salty (6/10). The breadsticks were, well, breadsticks and don’t stand out in my memory (5/10). The leek and potato concoction was probably the nicest of the three, with a lovely smooth consistency and a subtle heat (the spicy kind) to it (7/10). A rather odd start, but a start nonetheless.

Amuse Bouche 2: Foie gras crème brûlée; green apple sorbet; peanut cappuccino

The next amuse was apparently a signature dish of Darroze. I thought it worked quite well, with the richness of the foie gras cream being well accented by the sweetness of the peanut foam and cut through by the very noticeable streak of green apple. It was all very pleasant, but the foie gras flavor did remain quite muted beneath it all and this little glass of joy certainly wasn’t an earth-shattering gastronomic moment for me. 7/10.

Bread & Butter

In the meantime, we had been served a nice selection of bread, which was of high quality. Butter was sliced from what is probably the largest slab of butter I’ve ever seen – a ginormous block of the creamy, yellow stuff was on display in the center of the dining room – and was also very good. 8/10.

Starter 1: Le Foie Gras des Landes (Duck Foie Gras from Les Landes) – One slice cooked ‘au torchon’; one slice confit with mild spices; chutney of Solliès figs

After a rather dainty start to the meal, it was a real shocker when my main course starter arrived. A huge white plate containing two MASSIVE slices of foie gras was placed before me (the above photo does not accurately convey the size of the slabs of overfed duck innards). There were two version on offer, one cooked au torchon – seasoned with port, wrapped in a kitchen towel  or torchon, and cooked sous-vide (under vacuum) – and the other mixed with a very nice streak of ‘mild spices’. I preferred the latter, while Mrs. LF was partial to the former. The slice with spice reminded me a lot of Christmas flavors (gingerbread, mulled wine, etc.) and I thought it went exceptionally well with the figs and the wonderfully concentrated chutney lurking beneath the three beautifully presented slices of fruit. The foie gras was served with large slices of country bread, which was good although I thought it was too thick for foie gras.

Left: Detail of the figs in the foie gras starter / Right: The accompanying bread for the foie gras

Overall, it was an excellent course, but it really should have been served as a main course (which wasn’t really an option given that this is a faux pas in France) or they should have served much thinner slices as I was pretty much full at this point in the meal, making it hard to salivate with anticipation over the rest of the dishes to come – not a good thing for a fine dining experience. While I can understand the desire to convey ‘value for money’ (after all, the 3-course menu is the not insignificant sum of £75/person), I thought the balance was really off on this course. 8/10 for the cooking, though.

Starter 2: Les Carottes (Carrots) – Yellow, orange, purple…caramelised in their jus with forest honey; cumin crumble; cappuccino with cumin foam

Mrs. LF had the following to say about her starter: “A wide selection of carrot varieties (of many different colors) was presented beautifully on the plate. Each was distinct in terms of both flavour and texture, while retaining the familiar underlying carrot taste. The jus with forest honey enhanced the sweetness of the carrots nicely. While intriguing to begin with, I soon tired of the dish and lost interest. The portion looked small, however in reality there was plenty, as the taste of it all was quite rich and fulsome.”

First time for everything – a carrot cappuccino with cumin foam (part of Starter 2)

On the other hand, the accompanying cappuccino, served in a tall glass, had the texture of velvet and was delightful,” Mrs. LF concluded. 6/10 overall for the dish.

Main Course 1: Le Homard Bleu (Blue Lobster) – Cooked in its shell; carrot & confit citrus mousseline; wild sorrel

My main course was very enjoyable. The lobster was sweet although a tad on the chewy side and, as is often the case, the claw had an exquisitely fine flavor. The accompaniments to the dish worked seamlessly, with the citrus mousseline providing a bit of sweet freshness (and an underlying acidity) and the brown onion reduction lending some richness and a hint of sharpness. The wild sorrel (greens) on top were actually not pointless, and had a sharp tanginess, which I thought helped to tie the dish together. Very accomplished cooking and not overly complicated. 8/10.

Main Course 2: Le Poulet Jaune des Landes (Corn-Fed Chicken) – Breast stuffed under the skin with wild mushrooms, cooked in a cocotte; Escaoutoun from Les Landes with brebis Basque cheese & cèpes; roasting jus with rosemary & walnuts

“The stuffed chicken breast was tender and cooked perfectly. The roasting jus was nice, but together with the chicken, it didn’t overwhelm me and I wasn’t in a hurry to reach for another bite,” said Mrs. LF of her main course. “The Escaoutoun, which I never had before, is speciality of Les Landes, and is a polenta-like dish blended with ewe’s-milk cheese and cèpes. The ewe’s milk cheese didn’t stand out as I thought it might do, which was not necessarily a bad thing, but overall my palate wasn’t overly excited about this novelty.” 7/10.

Dessert 1: 100% Chocolat – Venezuelan Carupano dark chocolate cream; bitter chocolate sorbet; hot chocolate sauce

Well, how was this dessert going to be bad? I mean, I love dark chocolate and that was all there was, again in three different formats. It worked delectably well and although I was stuffed at this point, thanks to eating all of my foie gras, it didn’t take long for me to dust off this very beautifully presented and technically well executed dessert. 8/10.

The sommelier has recommended a nice Pedro Ximénez to have alongside the chocolate and, indeed, it was a very nice combination. The sherry was very rich and sweet with an almost syrupy consistency, and the two played well off of each other.

Dessert 2: La Chataigne (Chestnut) – Biscuit, chantilly, wafer; Yuzu curd; Yuzu sorbet

Mrs. LF on her dessert: “I chose this as my final course because I love the flavor of chestnuts in a dessert. I guess it is a very French thing to enjoy. During Christmas time we have marron glace, which is a French candied chestnut. We also have barquette au marron, a sort of a tart in the shape of a boat that most traditional pâtisseries carry. So I went for this desert in order to satisfy my longing for a good French chestnut dessert.  But, after biting into the filled wafer, I realised that it was filled with the chantilly and that the chestnut element was in the brown little cubes that were scattered around the plate. Whilst those were delicious, I didn’t get the satisfaction of a true chestnut dessert. Apart from those little squares, the waffle was pretty bland, and the sorbet – while refreshing – didn’t overwhelm me either.” 7/10.

Something disjointed this way comes

Service throughout had certainly been attentive in some respects, but was far from slick and faultless. For instance, our table happened to be located next to one of the areas where the waiters added the final touches to the plates before bringing them to the table, and a few times I could clearly hear two of the waiters bickering between themselves. Also, while professional and attentive for the most part, it seemed a bit disjointed as we would get abandoned for a while and then swooned over a bit later. It wasn’t by any means horrible, but it did seem like they were very stressed, highly strung and not particularly well organized. I guess service doesn’t directly affect the stars in Michelin’s rating system (the level of ‘luxury’ is rated separately with a crossed fork and spoon symbol), but I was surprised that it wasn’t smoother.

Winding (up) down (stairs)…

But anyways, our meal had drawn to a pleasant close, or so we thought. Of course, this was fine dining, and this meant petit fours. But before they were rolled out (literally), some beautiful Hermès plates were set down in front of us. I can’t recall if there was a specific point for this, as I don’t remember eating anything off of them, but they were nice to look at anyway.

Decorative Plates by Hermès (yes, we really did lift them up and check the logo underneath)

After recently being served a group of petit fours that was called ‘Like a kid in a sweet shop’ at The Fat Duck, this time it looked like the candy store was being rolled out and delivered directly to our table. A lovely old-fashioned trolley containing various sweets in glass jars was parked at our table, and of course I could not refuse any of them, even though I felt 10 pounds heavier than when we first entered the restaurant. I thought this was a great touch and made the experience a lot more fun than the usual pre-sorted plateful of sweet morsels.

Petit Four trolley – literally like an adult in a candy shop

They were all pretty good, especially the marshmallows and chocolate truffles. The truffles were so good that Mrs. LF seems to have snatched hers before I was able to take a picture of them together on the second, slightly smaller Hermès plate (see below).

Easy does it...

As we were getting ready to explode, I asked our waitress if Ms. Darroze happened to be there this evening (I often try this line). I was surprised when the answer was ‘yes’, and even more pleasantly surprised when she asked us if we would like to meet her.

One star, plus two

Of course, we answered ‘yes’, and were shown downstairs to her office (she really has one down there directly across from the kitchen). Mrs. LF was able to converse with her in French, which was great, and she seemed to be a very straight-forward, earnest and down-to-earth woman.

The Darroze family has been making their own Armagnac for donkey’s years

Upon leaving, we noticed the small army of Armagnac that was placed upon a table in the corridor near the entrance of the restaurant. We were informed that the Darroze family has been making their own Armagnac for ages, although it is done in very small batches so is not really available anywhere else besides their own establishments. I caught a glance of one (see below) that dated from 1942. It was a pretty impressive display.

And there is a quite a collection on-hand, this one from 1942

Fading away…

All things considered, our meal at Hélène Darroze at the Connaught was pleasant and a few of the dishes were excellent. However, the meal seems to have faded into the background of my brain’s culinary compartment. This is likely because nothing stood out as being truly exceptional for either of us – the food, the service, nor the ambience. I suppose a restaurant of a certain calibre and with a certain intent should be judged in the context of similar establishments, and in this case, I don’t think it holds up as well as many other 1-starred restaurants (not to mention the non-starred ones) at which I’ve dined in the last year. Maybe a visit to her restaurant in Paris would give me a greater appreciation for her particular style of food and cooking ethos, but from this meal it didn’t ever become clearly defined or fully realized – it was ‘very good’ (as the score below reflects), but not remarkable.

Rating

Ambience: 7/10

Service: 6/10

Food: 7/11

Wine: a nice European-centric selection of wines (particularly strong in France, as you’d expect), with a few of bottles at lower price-points outside of the celebrity French regions and houses & a decent selection by the glass and half-bottle

For more about my rating scale, click here.

*Note: I have dined at Hélène Darroze at the Connaught once, and it was for dinner.*

Hélène Darroze at the Connaught on Urbanspoon