The Ledbury, London
June 21, 2010
On May 24, 2010, Felix and I went to dinner at The Ledbury, on Ledbury Road in the Notting Hill area of London. This restaurant has attracted a lot of attention, winning a second Michelin star this year. Its chef, Brett Graham, 30, quit school and went to work at 15 in the kitchen of a restaurant of his home town near Sydney; he moved to a more ambitious restaurant in Sydney and, at 20, to London, where he has been ever since. Although he has perfectly mastered French techniques, he has never worked in France. He retains his Aussie informal, open manner in London; half of his staff is Australian; some have already returned home with what they have learned.
As Felix is a regular at The Ledbury and has written it up several times in his blog, we were well received. It was a lovely, warm spring day in London and we chose a table outside on the terrace.
The affable chef came by to say hello and discuss what we might like to have included on our tasting menu. We looked at the quite varied wine list and discussed ideas with the genial sommelier. For aperitif and to go with the early courses we chose a 2004 Colin-Deleger, 1er Cru – en Remilly, Chassagne-Montrachet. Later on we let the sommelier choose the red wine for us: a 2004 Clusel Roch Cote Rotie.
The first was very good and typical of its type. The second was ready to drink, as the sommelier said it would be, but then was not as assertive as it should have been.
The first course was
Ceviche of Hand Dived Scallops with Seaweed and Herb Oil, Kohlrabi and Frozen Horseradish
I think that cevice or sashimi of scallops is difficult as they easily get mushy or slimy, but these were firm and flavorful under their crown of frozen horseradish, which exploded with a bit of flavor in the mouth but was not too assertive. The other garnishes added interest or beauty. Very good.
The next course was
Flame Grilled Mackerel with Cucumber, Celtic Mustard and Shiso
The oily mackerel easily stood up to the very hot grilling which brought out its flavor and created a lovely crisp skin. The cucumber roll included mackerel tartar and was a fine contrast. The big leaf was not a shiso this time, but an oyster leaf, which tastes like an oyster.
Salad of Spring Vegetables with Warm Pheasant Egg, Walnut Oil and Parmesan
The spring vegetables were top quality and perfectly undercooked. The walnut oil and poached pheasant egg added a subtle dimension which enhanced the flavor. Putting this vegetable course between the mackerel and the squid was just right.
“Risotto” of Squid with Pine Nuts, Sherry and Cauliflower
There was no rice in this risotto; the effect was achieved with finely diced squid which let you know you were eating a seafood course, but would have been hard to identify if you weren’t told. The other flavors were diverse and well chosen.
Crisp Chicken Wings with Milk Skin, Morels and White Asparagus
Crisp, deep-fried pieces of chicken were matched with delicate seasonal vegetables. This was lovely in being so good and insubstantial at the same time.
Scottish Lobster with Spring Vegetables
The chef doesn’t usually use luxury ingredients, but he had two fresh Scottish lobsters on hand and we were lucky enough to get a bit of the tail meat matched with spring vegetables and a bit of a lobster glaze sauce.
Calves Sweetbreads Caramelized in Truffle Honey and Bacon
The top of the sweetbreads had a lovely caramelized crunchy crust, which is not an easy feat. A little bacon added welcome porky, smoky, salty substance. Excellent.
Crisp Pressed Suckling Pig with Spatzle and Mousserons
Once again the meat had a crunchy crust, but that is more obvious with the skin of the suckling pig. What had been a light menu was taking on more richness and weight.
You can see a red tinge in the last six photos. That is the reflection of the heat lamps which had been turned on above us when a cool breeze arrived. It became a cold wind and we moved off the terrace into the dining room.
Loin of Sika Deer Baked in Douglas Fir with Beetroot, Bone Marrow and Malt
The loin of Japanese spotted deer was presented to us in the pine chips and leaves in which it had been roasted. Added to the venison’s natural slightly gamey flavor, the aroma of pine was excellent. The accompanying smoked marrow and small mushrooms were garnishes in the right style, as was the beet juice added to the natural juices of the meat. Upper right in the photo you see a small, spicy venison sausage with a pine sprig. Alongside was a little pot of crusty hot potato balls. Venison courses are seldom as good as they sound, but this one was superb.
A good looking cheese tray was offered, but we had already eaten a lot and declined.
The pre-Dessert was
Olive Oil Panna Cotta with Gariguette Strawberries, strawberry sorbet and toppings.
Refreshing and nice.
We were served four desserts simultaneously. We shared them, eating the soufflé first because it was warm and light.
Caramelised Banana Galette with Salted Caramel and Peanut Ice Cream
Perfectly caramelised bananas, like a refined banana tarte tatin. Lovely dessert.
Eucalyptus Honey and Gingerbread Soufflé with Thyme Ice Cream
A perfectly executed fresh, spicy, warm soufflé.
Crème Caramel with Apricot Ice Cream
The chef obviously likes caramel; fortunately so do I.
A tray of excellent mignardises was offered, but we could only manage a few.
This was a superb meal; it would rank among the best anywhere. It relied on excellent, seasonal, local ingredients, but not expensive ones. The cuisine was more complicated than I usually prefer, but that didn’t bother me here as everything in a dish was pulling in the same direction. Many of the combinations were based on tradition. There was a British aura about them, which I appreciated. It took exacting technique in the kitchen to succeed with some things cooked to a crisp on the outside and others barely cooked.
The ambience, service and the pace of the meal were just right. The prices are very reasonable for London. Bravo.