127 Ledbury Road,
London, W11 2AQ
Tel: 020 7792 9090
Food type: Modern French/ European
Nearest tube: Westbourne Grove/ Notting Hill
Website: The Ledbury
Ledbury used to be a restaurant I would frequent a lot back when I was living in London. Back then, the restaurant had just obtained a Michelin star and was viewed as a ‘lite’ version of the Square. It was more of a neighbourhood restaurant rather than a destination restaurant. Booking was not essential and you can literally walk-in and get a table on the day. I still remember a lunch service and where there were about 4 other diners.
Brett is however a very talented chef and continues to push his team and his cooking. A second and very deserved Michelin star and recognition in the World’s 50 Best Guide soon followed. The problem with awards is that it changed what the Ledbury was – from a simple neighbourhood restaurant to a destination restaurant. Getting a booking became more difficult, with reservations having to be made months ahead. Even regulars found it difficult to obtain a table. Given our erratic work schedule, I found it next to impossible to obtain a table here, preferring to go to my mainstays of Medlar and the Square where I am well known to the restaurant who will work out a way to squeeze me. So it was over the Christmas/ New Year period where we both knew that we had some time off together that I booked a table to revisit the Ledbury.
Given the holiday period, there was only a tasting menu on offer – either 6 or 8 courses, the later priced at £115. On other nights, there is also a 4 course a la carte menu. The pricing for the set lunch is now £50. Being a Nigel Platts-Martin restaurant, the wine list here is pretty reasonable (for London). I think it is a no brainer that we went for the 9 course tasting menu.
The meal began with a couple of canapés. First a guinea fowl puff was airy and light with plenty of flavour with a sweet-sour mead jelly enlivening the palate. Next, a seaweed cracker was bursting with umami paired with a delightful cream. The last bite was a venison dumpling which had a lovely texture with a meaty filling balanced by the mustard fruit jelly on top.
The first proper course was beetroot which had been baked in clay to intensify its flavour. The sweet beetroot is juxtaposed by some caviar salt (made from Exmoor caviar) with a few small chunks of smoked eel bursting with flavour. I absolutely loved the combination of sweet, salty, earthy, smoky in this dish and the oiliness of the eel brought everything together.
At this point, bread was served – a solitary choice of sourdough accompanied by a goat’s curd butter. It is a shame that what was once the highlight of the restaurant, their bread basket featuring a nice selection of homemade bread has now been sacrificed for a bread which is now bought in (from Bread Factory). If this frees up someone in the kitchen to concentrate on other elements of the dinner then fair dues, but I really do miss the brioche rolls that they used to make here. The goat’s curd butter was a nice touch but frankly, I prefer regular butter.
Next was another “wow” dish with essentially an artichoke salad. Violet and Chinese (crosnes) artichokes were tossed in a little dressing made from Muscat grapes and finished with some foie gras powder. I loved the execution of the foie gras which is made by freezing it with liquid nitrogen before being shaved to turn it into a powder. This technique intensifies the flavour of the foie gras while avoiding the inherent ‘fatty’ mouthfeel you get when eating it. As a dish, the sweetness from the grape dressing worked perfectly with the foie gras.
My favourite dish of the evening was a bantam egg, served warm with some celeriac and finished off with some truffle. The combination of egg and truffle has always been a winner since the day man discovered truffles and the dish was given a further earthy boost with the addition of celeriac. For me, it was the addition of the Arbois wine, with its slightly oxidised notes which helped tie everything together. If there was a small quibble it was that Wiltshire truffles instead of Perigord truffles were used in this dish. The latter would feature later in the menu and I understand that the Wiltshire truffles were used here due to costing reasons. Had I known that Perigord truffles were available as it came unannounced in a subsequent dish, I would have happily offered to pay a supplement to substitute the Wiltshire truffles for Perigord truffles.
The fish course featured a piece of turbot cooked in bonito butter with different textures of cauliflower. I am an absolute sucker for caramelised cauliflower in any shape or form and the bonito butter added a nice umami hit. For me, the turbot was a touch dry and felt rather superfluous in the overall composition of the dish. Caramelised cauliflower has such a meaty flavour that it tends to dominate everything else on the plate, even a fish like turbot with a relatively big flavour.
The next dish sounded deceptively uninteresting – prunes, earl grey tea & bacon is something that I wouldn’t normally order off the menu. However, what was served was mind-blowing. The prunes was stuffed with some partridge mousse and finished with a bacon foam/ sauce. There was some unannounced black truffle, this time from Perigord, which added a much needed earthiness to balance the other flavours on the plate. The partridge mousse was light, yet retained plenty of its meaty, gamey flavours which is oftentimes lost with mousses.
Our main course was one of Brett’s signature – pigeon, this time served with some quince and bitter red leaves. Of course the little touches such as the confit leg and offal cooked on a liquorice stick remains. The pigeon had a lovely, deep, gamey flavour which was accentuated by all the garnishes on the plate. The confit leg was a complete joy to eat. I have always maintained that the Ledbury is THE best restaurant in the country when it comes to game cooking and this dish is a perfect example why.
Pre-dessert harkened back to Brett’s days working at the Square. A bowl of raspberries and buttermilk was finished off on the table with a little raspberry consommé. On the side was an ethereal raspberry doughnut that was once a popular pre-dessert item at the Square. While I am annoyed that they do not serve it anymore at the Square, Brett time spent at the Square has ensured that the beautiful doughnuts are not lost forever. They could serve me a dozen of these and call it a day.
The meal finished with a bang with a warm chocolate tart. A small tart shell is filled with an aerated warm chocolate mousse which had intense chocolate flavour. Finally, petit fours were all excellent with a very seasonal juniper & mandarin flavoured crisp.
Despite all the accolades, has not rested on its laurels and is on top of its game. Brett was in the kitchen cooking which a rarity in the days of celebrity chefs. All to often, I come across plenty of restaurants where the focus is on showing off the latest, coolest techniques at the cost of sacrificing flavour. The kitchen here continues to push itself with dishes incorporating new techniques and ideas to existing dishes, yet, at no point has the flavour been compromised. The beetroot dish is a good example as Brett keeps the same clay baking technique yet with the addition of caviar salt transform the dish to a different level. Speaking of Brett, he has to be one of the nicest, most approachable chefs I have met. I am not sure what it is like to work in his kitchen, but as a diner speaking to him, you can see the passion and fire that courses through his veins.
Is the Ledbury the 20th best restaurant in the world? No. Frankly, I think the World’s 50 Best Restaurant award is complete codswallop. However, on current form, I would certainly rate the Ledbury as one of the top 3 restaurants in UK.