127 Ledbury Road,
London, W11 2AQ
Tel: 020 7792 9090
Food type: French/ Modern Eclectic
Food rating: 7/10
Nearest tube: Westbourne Grove/ Notting Hill
Website: The Ledbury
‘Repeat visit’ week sees me travelling north west and braving the dastardly perils of the Hammersmith and sh*tty line to once again dine at the Ledbury. I must admit that were not for the ridiculous trek to get to the restaurant, I would definitely visit more frequently. You see, I, like many people like Brett Graham’s gutsy, no-holds barred cooking – his adventurous use of flavours and his sure-handedness at cooking game. Case in point, the restaurant was packed to the brim for dinner on a Sunday night.
Das Wunderkind Brett Graham’s career as a chef started off with the humblest of origins. At the age of 15, he took his first step to becoming a chef by… polishing glasses at a local restaurant in Newcastle, Australia. He soon moved on to a seafood restaurant where he was in charge of preparing fish. Not cooking mind you, but scaling, gutting and all kinds of menial labour befitting one his age. Graham soon moved on to work at Banc, a French restaurant where he developed his repertoire in classical cooking under Liam Tomlin. His talent was obvious and he soon won the Josephine Pignolet Award (an award for young chef of the year) in 1999. This game him an opportunity to brighten his horizons – an opportunity he grabbed immediately by moving to London and landing a job under Phil Howard at the Square. As was the case down under, Graham was quickly awarded the title of ‘Young Chef of the Year’ by Restaurant Associations in 2003. His rise was quick and meteoric and by 2005, he was appointed sous chef at the Square. Then, one day, Howard along with famed restaurateur Nigel-Platt’s Martin approached him with the opportunity to lead his own kitchen. Henceforth, the Ledbury was born. Within a year of opening, Graham won his 1st Michelin star and int he recent 2009 guide, he has been tipped for his second star (espoir).
Despite the ongoing recession, the restaurant has (sensibly) kept their prices the same since my last visit – 3 courses is £60 while the tasting menu is £70. Lunch is £24.50 for 3 courses and is available from Monday to Saturday. The restaurant is open for Sunday Lunch although it is slightly pricier at £40.
Foie Gras Parfait on Feuille de Brique
A solitary nibble came in the form of a poppy-seed encrusted feuille de brique lined with two squiggles of foie gras parfait and a dash of paprika powder – a very posh popadom if you will. The parfait, just as I remember it from before, was smooth with good liver flavour contrasted by the smokiness and gentle heat from the paprika. (7/10)
Bread is a selection of Bacon & Onion Brioche, Sourdough and Brown with Black Olive. There seems to be a small improvement on the brioche with good bacon flavour with the bread itself was moist and fluffy. A try of the black olive was less convincing and while the saltiness of the black olive coming through well, the bread was rather dense. (6/10)
Marinated Tuna, Yuzu Creme Fraiche, Tomato Jelly & Croutons
Another small nibble of marinated tuna was presented in a little glass cup/bowl – a dish our server humorously described as ‘goldfish in a bowl’. This was a pleasant combination although the flavour of the tuna itself was rather muted as was the presence of the yuzu. Without wanting to stoke any controversy (from animal and fish activists) I suspect the problem here is the produce (tuna) itself. (6/10)
Lasagna of Rabbit with Watercress & Morels
Lasagna of rabbit draws inspiration from Graham’s time at the Square. I am of course referring to the Lasagna of Dorset crab right down to its individual layers of rabbit mousse sandwiched in between cylindrical pasta sheets. Atop this cylindrical construction were a few morels and watercress before being finished off with a parmesan foam and dusting of grated parmesan. The dish had very good flavour with the distinctive flavour of the rabbit coming through well. All the better for it because the morels were disappointing (whats with England and crappy morels?) My main criticism of this dish lies in its presentation which requires a complete reworking. If you knew me in person you would have the benefit of previewing pictures of dishes on Facebook. A particular friend of mine, a young doctor, commented ‘Sorry G, but I think that’s the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen. And I work on a colorectal firm…‘ I rest my case. (7/10 if I forgo the presentation)
Ceviche of Hand Dived Scallops with Seaweed and Herb Oil, Kohlrabi and Frozen Horseradish
A refreshing plate of scallop ceviche marinated with salty seaweed with slices of kohlrabi and horseradish ‘snow’ was well judged – the sweetness of the scallops coming through perfectly despite the various (strong) elements on the plate. (6/10)
Calves Sweetbread Roasted on Liquorice with Grilled White Asparagus, Dates and Almonds
A middle course of roasted sweetbread on a liquorice stick was probably the highlight of the night. The Sweetbread cooked perfectly with a crisp exterior, enriched with crusty almond flakes, and a soft, almost milky, interior. I was a bit wary of the combination of dates, asparagus and the sweetbread itself but they complemented each another well with the sweetness from the dates playing off the minerality of the slightly smoky grilled asparagus and the meatiness of the sweetbread. Also of worthy mention were the perfectly executed pommes maxim which, if you have tried to reproduce it at home, is rather fiddly to get right. (8/10)
Slow Roasted Beef Fillet, Fondant Potatoes, Summer Truffles & Morels
The special of the day (it was Sunday after all), a beautiful piece of beef fillet slow roasted but kept beautifully rare with fondant potatoes, truffle emulsion and morels. If you are wondering how you can slow roast the beef fillet and still have it rare – the description is a bit of a misnomer because the beef is actually slow cooked in a water bath before being finished off in the oven. This was an impressive piece of bovine – each bite melt in your mouth tender, and whilst the flavour of the beef may not be the most pronounced (this is after all British beef) this was offset by the vibrant jus and truffle emulsion, and intensified by some smoked bone marrow and more morels. For all the ‘le ros bif’ jibes that French throw at us, this was an outstanding example of how British cooking has evolved beyond simply sticking a piece of meat in the oven. (8/10)
Cornish Turbot with Fennel, Mousserons, Sweet Cicely and Oat Crusted Mussels
Roast turbot did not hit the dazzling heights of the beef. *shrugs* I don’t know what it is with British turbot, or whether it is intentional, but the fish was not as firm as I would ideally have liked it to be. The accompanying fennel puree and sweet cicely (which has a bit of aniseedy flavour itself) were pleasant if unexciting. (6/10)
Buttermilk Panna cotta, Raspberry, Elderflower Granita
Selection of Sorbets: Pear, Strawberry, Mango
Pre-dessert was a little glass of panna cotta with some raspberries and an elderflower granita. Whilst the flavours were unoffensive, I didn’t think that they came together all that well. There was also the small issue of balance and more could have been done with the tartness of the raspberry. (5/10) A second palate cleanser of various sorbets were more enjoyable with good flavour of the individual fruits – pear, strawberry and mango coming through well, and a little crumble topping at the bottom to add texture. (6/10)
Passion Fruit Souffle with Sauternes Ice Cream
I still remember the near-perfect souffle from a year ago. The flavours have changed but thankfully the execution is still perfect. Souffles are by no mean the easiest of desserts to execute and even in top French restaurants a lot can go wrong – the egg can be undercooked, the souffle may not be airy enough etc. In front of me was a textbook specimen of how to do it well – airy, light, bursting with passion fruit flavour before being soothed by the sweetness of the Sauternes ice cream. (8/10)
Pressed Gariguette Strawberries with Hibiscus and Warm Vanilla Churros
A second dessert of pressed Gariguette strawberries encased in a wall of jelly and orange was less impressive. The terrine was perhaps too tart for my liking, and was not offset by the sweetness in the hibiscus soup/ consomme or the sorbet accompanying it. Furthermore, the vanilla churros were not as dainty and were a spot greasy. (5/10) Too full, we had to decline the petit fours offered to us.
Service was very good, and dare I say it, much better than on my previous visit (which was good to begin with). Despite the restaurant packed to the brim, service never faltered and the kitchen were producing food at a steady stream.
I do question whether this restaurant needs a second star or whether they are comfortable with the solitary star (the lack of elaboration on the canapes for example suggests the latter) – it is after all the sister restaurant of the Square which holds 2*s. No doubt, despite the absence of luxe ingredients such as lobster and caviar, the produce used are definitely a step above (e.g. Bresse chicken, Gariguette strawberries).
And so, on to the £250,000 question – how is the food a year down the line? To be honest, this was a slightly better meal than the one in October but I do think they are a small way off before gaining the second star. There were flashes of brilliance in some dishes but on one or two dishes (e.g. Turbot, Strawberries) were merely pleasant. Another key issue, and one I seldom bring up, is the presentation. I am fully aware that Graham likes to vary the presentation of a single dish on a day to day basis or even within the service itself. All good if he manages to pull it off, but the presentation of the rabbit lasagna was disturbing to say the very least, even if the end product tasted very good. Simply put, a presentation that resembles a 1 year old getting sick over your lasagna is not one you want to paint for your customers, especially not for their first course (if any other courses really).