27a Hay’s Mews,
London, W1J 5NX
Tel. 020 7499 3331
Food type: Modern French
Food rating: 6/10
Nearest tube: Green Park
Website: The Greenhouse
It is great to be done with my exams. Now, whether I have done enough to avoid the dreaded resits is another question altogether. In the mean time, all I can do is sit back and enjoy the excellent weather whilst doing a bit of eating in between.
Greenhouse restaurant closed for a complete refurbishment in 2008 only to emerge with an impressive decor. The restaurant takes its name literally with a short walk through a short walk through a ‘garden’. A beige grey background in the dining room is highlighted by some wooden branches adorning the wall alongisde the olive green coloured chairs. This culinary instituition first won a Michelin star way back in 1996 when it could count Gary Rhodes as one of its alumni.
Head chef Antonin Bonnet has trained with the biggest names in the industry including the legendary Michel Bras and Marco Pierre White (you know back when he wasn’t a complete sell-out). Bonnet started off his culinary odyssey at the age of 14 at Boneveine Hotel’s cooking school. Unlike many French chefs, Bonnet is well travelled both around Europe as well as the Far East which is reflected in his use of many Asian ingredients and flavours in his cooking. Following the departure of Bjorn van der Horst in 2006 (who would subsequently join the Ramsay stable with the ill-fated La Noisette and most recently is head chef at Eastside Inn), Bonnet was appointed as head chef and successfully held on to the restaurant’s Michelin star.
The menu reads like a dream with plenty of interesting and tempting choices. 3 Courses are priced at £65 while an 8 course tasting menu is £80. Of course, the menu is also highlighted with some daily specials which changes every day giving regular diners something new to look forward. During the week, lunch is £29 for 3 courses with a guarantee that it will be served within 1 hour. I think it is worth mentioning here that the restaurant has one of the most substantial and comprehensive wine lists in London with over 3,000 bins and over 50 wines available by the glass including a 1997 Y’quem at £37. You will most certainly drink well here.
Cheddar Crisps with Chive Cream; Apple & Celery ‘Bubble’, Sweet Olive & Sea Salt
Some canapes were brought to us while we were enjoying our apéritif (in my case a nice cold glass of Krug for such a hot day). First off were some cheddar crisps sandwiched with a dollop of chive cream which had good tangy flavour of the cheese nicely balanced by the rich cream. A second canape of apple and celery bubble was not as impressive and was a case of technique over flavour. Whilst I do appreciate the amount of skill that is put into creating these fluid bubbles, the juxtaposition of the grassiness of the celery and the acidity of the green apple simply was too brash, too garish, even for my liking. (5/10)
Bread is made on the premises and whilst served cold were excellent. Of these, I tried a very fine French baguette and an equally impressive tomato and onion bread. (both easily 8/10) Less good was an interesting combination of dried fruit, walnuts, coffee & lemon. Whilst the unorthodox use of ingredients weren’t offensive, the bread suffered from a rather dense texture and crust which was tough as leather. (5/10)
Amuse bouche was another interesting combination of mustard leaf jelly, germinated seeds and cauliflower espuma. I am not the biggest fan of cauliflower as I find the vegetable rather dull, but credit where it is due as the chef was able to make this vegetable interesting. The cauliflower foam had a lovely intense flavour, its sweetness balanced by the peppery, bitter mustard leaf jelly.
The first official course was a classic sweetbread which was cooked with utmost care. I have often been disappointed with sweetbread served at high end restaurants because often time the piece of offal tends to be overcooked and dry. Here, the small lobe of sweetbread was moist and creamy with the veal jus giving the dish depth. The dish was beautifully presented with different petals of flowers, wild garlic leaves, roasted garlic and three tender baby leeks. There were however a few problems with the dish itself. First off, the offal could have been more heavily salted to bring out its flavour. Secondly, the addition of little cloves of star anise, a very strong and intense element completely overwhelmed everything on the plate. (5/10)
I was less convinced with my companion’s carpaccio which I found to be less interesting. Admittedly, when beef fillet is involved it is more about texture than it is about flavour. Whilst the beef was velvety and silky smooth, the overall composition of the dish was rather unbalanced with the tartness of the rhubarb and plum dressing overpowering what little flavour the beef had. (4/10)
Much better was lobster tail cooked ‘Mi-cuit’ (ie barely cooked), the dish an homage to Michel Bras. Often, even in top restaurants, lobster can end up a tough overcooked, rubbery mess. So it is highly commendable that the lobster was timed to perfection and was melt in your mouth tender. A little black sugar and lobster jus was drizzled at table-side – the sugar a very clever addition which added a nutty layer of complexity to the intense jus. A few pulps of white grapefruit provided some much needed acidity to balance the sweetness of the beetroot, lobster and jus. (easily 8/10)
Roast Bresse Pigeon, Toasted Sesame Seeds, Baby Spinach and Pomme Soufflee
I tried one of the chef’s signatures – a plate of roast pigeon packed with Asian influences. Two beautiful pigeon breasts were sat on top of a bed of bean sprouts and baby bak choi before being finished off with a few toasted sesame seeds, a sesame oil emulsion and some pigeon jus. The sesame component is of course a very strong element, although the gameyness of the pigeon was an equal. On the side were a few other distractions – a nice bowl of pomme soufflee (think of it like very posh walker’s crisps which have been puffed up) and an equally good pigeon pie made from its leg and offal with a little pea shoot salad and truffle dressing. My only nitpick is that having been informed that the pigeon would be cooked rare, it appeared slightly more cooked than how I would have preferred it to be which certainly took away some of its flavour. (6/10)
It is evident that whomever is in charge of cooking fish has great mastery over his station as a fillet of brill, like the lobster, was perfectly timed – the fish firm, flaky, juicy and moist. Along with this was another unusual combination of black olive cream and Thai basil leaves, but these elements were well controlled without detracting from the fish. A small bed of sweated down onions and very tender razor clams round off this well thought out dish. (7/10)
Cheese is supplied by Neal’s Yard Diary for the British cheese and ‘various French suppliers’ for the rest. Of course, what the waitress perhaps failed to mention was that one of these suppliers includes Bernard Anthony, perhaps one of the finest affineurs on God’s green earth. Apparently the owner’s favourite cheese is Anthony’s 4 year old Comte, and as such he insists that there is always a piece of it on the cheese board. Indeed, the Comte lived up to its mighty reputation and was in superb condition. (10/10) Other cheese tried include St. Felicien (8/10), a less ripe Epoisses (6/10), Roquefort (8/10) and an unknown Tomme. This is certainly one of the better cheese boards in London.
Mint Sorbet, Lemon Curd & Espuma
Pre-dessert was a pleasant mint sorbet with some lemon curd and espuma which had good balance of acidity and sweetness, with the mint flavour coming through nicely. (6/10)
Desserts was a much simpler affair with less Asian innovation in action. Strawberries and cream was given a modern twist – some tasty wild strawberries sat on top of a block of crisp puff pastry filled with light vanilla chantilly bringing visions of a nice day out at Wimbledon. A few swirls of strawberry coulis and a quenelle of strawberry sorbet gave the final dish even more berry-licious punch. (6/10)
A second dessert called ‘the Exotic’ was in essence a very posh fruit salad with small cubes of mango, pomegranate, passion fruit jelly held in a thin coconut tuile cylinder paired with a refreshing coconut sorbet. This was another pleasant dessert although not one to set the pulses racing. (5/10)
Praline & Chocolate ; ‘Coca-cola’ Marshmallows; Chocolate & Passion Fruit Creme; Coconut Macaroons; Green Mango & Lemon Sorbet
The meal finished with a final flourish of a variety of petit fours. Of these, the coca-cola marshmallow certainly brought a smile to my face as it appealed to my kiddy instinct, whilst the praline & chocolate bar was very well made. Less well executed was the chocolate cup with passion fruit creme – the acidity of the passion fruit overly intense that the dark chocolate holding it was barely noted. (6/10)
Service was very pleasant although perhaps lacking the polish I would expect from a restaurant with a star. For example, our American waitress did not know the names of some of the cheese on the cheese trolley (and may I further add that there wasn’t a substantial amount of cheese on the trolley to begin with) nor their specific suppliers. I think it is worth mentioning our sommelier who suggested some very good and exciting wine pairing which certainly made the meal more enjoyable.
Overall this was a decent enough meal. The highlights of this meal was of course the excellent bread, the cheese board and of course the magnificent lobster dish, which, dare I say is one of the best lobster dishes I have eaten in this country. The restaurant is certainly deserving of its one Michelin star rating although it perhaps has some way to go before it achieves a second. I think I pretty much summed my experience up when relating my visit to a friend – I would come back for the bread, wine and cheese but probably not for the food itself.