Mandarin Oriental Hotel,
London, SW1X 7LA
Tel: 020 7201 3723
Food type: Modern Eclectic
Food rating: 6/10
Nearest tube: Knightsbridge
This week I revisited Foliage which happens to be one of my favourite haunts due to their combination of a very fairly priced lunch menu along with some solid, consistent cooking. I was joined this time around by a very well travelled and knowledgeable dining companion whose blog I follow religiously.
The dining room shows little signs of the on-going recession being relatively full. Lunch is still priced at £29 for 4 courses and the tasting menu for lunch is £55. The same tasting menu is served at dinner but priced at £75 (bigger portions perhaps?) For the month of April, a special ‘British Classics’ menu is available at £24 for 3 courses. It is worth mentioning that the lunch menu now offers only 3 options per course (as opposed to 4 on my previous visits) although I suppose this is balanced by the ‘British Classics’ menu.
Bread here has always been one of their weakness and nothing much has changed since my last visit. Sourdough, walnut and raisin bread are supplied by Poilane while various rolls are courtesy of Bagatelle. (still 4/10) I can’t understand the logic behind kitchens buying in bread. Surely it would be cheaper and more cost effective for the restaurant to make their own bread on site.
Fennel/ Apple/ Hazelnuts/ Cress
An amuse bouche of fennel and apple mousse garnished with a few batons of fresh apple, apple jelly, chopped hazelnuts and cress was decent enough. Fennel is certainly not top on my ‘favourite vegetables list’ although its flavour was subtlety masked by the addition of apple to it. The apple jelly, does demonstrate a good amount of technique, although from the taste point of view, it did not add much to the dish. (4/10)
Pea Soup/ Ham Hock/ Bacon Jelly/ Pea Shoots
A classic pea and ham soup was given a spot of deconstruction – the soup served cold with a generous brick of pressed ham hock. This had particularly good flavour with the seasoning absolutely spot on, which is noteworthy as ham hock is particularly salty and judging its seasoning can give even some of the more experienced chefs fits (anyone who watches Great British Menu will know who I am referring to). The bacon jelly was particularly yummy, again with good concentrated flavour and this added an interesting element to the dish. (6/10)
Confit Salmon/ Jersey Royals/ Smoked Herring Roe/ Oyster Leaves
Next was a fish course of confit salmon sitting on top of a bed of crushed jersey royals surrounded by a creamed smoked herring roe sauce. Cooking technique here was spot-on, with the salmon flaking easily while remaining moist and succulent. However, the dish suffered from the use of farmed salmon (due to the strict fishing laws in this country) and while this was better than your average supermarket bought farmed salmon, its taste is a million miles away from wild salmon. The oyster leaves on the menu perked my interest – the leaves are picked by the sea side and brought in from Scotland – but it was really a case of ‘much ado about nothing’. The leaves tasted slightly salty but not of much else. This was merely a pleasant dish which would have been more successful if better (and more expensive) ingredients were used. (4/10).
Lamb/ Jus Gras/ Artichoke/ Aubergines
Lamb was good – best end of lamb (pretty surprising considering this is the cheap lunch menu) was accompanied by some curried aubergines, dehydrated tomatoes, confit artichokes, garlic, more crushed jersey royals, anchovy tempura/ tempura/ beignet (call it what you like) and finished off with a little jus gras. The lamb in particular was of good quality and nicely cooked, while the accompaniments worked well to showcase the beauty of the meat. (6/10)
My dining companion was less fortunate. His starter of almond gazpacho with tuna and langoustine was a dish that simply didn’t work. Almond milk is an inherently strong flavour and this proved to be the case as it completely hammered the delicate tuna and langoustines into submission.
A second course of asparagus and poached egg with Iberico ham was decent if unexciting. The addition of fried sweetbreads didn’t contribute much and might as well have been popcorn chicken.
His mains of guinea fowl was pleasant but yet again failed to get the heart racing. While the game bird was juicy and soft, the morels accompanying it were unexciting and failed to deliver much in terms of flavour. You can read more about his take here.
During my last visit, I reported that the cheese board was a bit of a mixed bag and not much has changed since. They source their cheese from two separate suppliers – Jean-Yves Bordier for some of the soft French cheeses and Premier cheese for the rest of the board.
Readers who follow my blog will know that I have never been convinced with Premier Cheese as their quality can be a bit of a mixed bag and so it proved here. A Stilton (Colston Basett), Comte and Epoisses that we tried were under-ripe and around 5/10 level. It is after all not hard to get Stilton in tip-top condition here in London (err.. try Neal’s Yard Diary). On the other hand the French soft cheeses supplied by Jean-Yves Bordier, famed for his luscious butter (which is also served here) were magnificent with both cheeses that we tried in near perfect condition (8/10). In my opinion, they certainly could do better by ditching Premier Cheese as a supplier all together for a smaller, but more superior board supplied by Bordier alone.
Rhubarb Soup/ Ginger Panna Cotta/ Crumble/ Lemongrass
Dessert was a pretty little bowl of rhubarb soup with some tofu-like cubes of ginger panna cotta, coconut crumble and a lemon grass ice cream. The soup, made by steeping rhubarb in ginger wine had a strange rose petal scent infused into it but did not actually have a significant amount of rhubarb flavour. The rhubarb component felt a bit muddled here with the cubes of rhubarb cut so small. One can only assume that this was done intentionally to mute its flavours, as I would otherwise find it hard to fathom how a restaurant which serves best end of lamb for one course can be so miserly with the rhubarb. On a more positive note, the crumble was a success. I was pretty worried when the dish was brought to me with plenty of the crumble sitting in the soup as I feared it would have ended up a soggy mush but the crumble retained its texture. Overall though, this dish, felt like a work in progress matter. (3/10)
Chocolate and Lemon Madeleines
Coffee was served with some particularly good pair of madeleines. These were genuinely delicious being light and airy while still having a crisp crust. (8/10) It truly astounds me that the same pastry chef who made these madeleines was also responsible for the rhubarb soup.
Service was pleasant, attentive and much better despite the lunch room being packed – a far cry from my previous visit where things bordered on complete chaos.
Overall this was less than a perfect meal. Judging only from my courses, my meal just about clings on to its 6/10 rating but if I were to take the food my dining companion had into consideration this would have been in the weak 5/10 territory. While there were no technical slips this time around, some of the dishes simply didn’t work from a conceptual point of view and should either undergo serious reworking or never have left the drawing board in the first place. Some of you may be aware that there are rumours floating on the Internet about Heston Blumenthal possibly opening a restaurant at the Mandarin Oriental. Whether this is true or not, these gossips may be playing on the mind of Chris Staines and affecting his cooking. And, it would be a great shame if Foliage were to end up being sacrificed for Heston’s new venture.