Fera at Claridge’s
Brook Street, Mayfair
London W1K 4HR
Tel. 020 7107 8888
Food type: Modern Eclectic
Nearest tube: Knightsbridge
Website: Fera at Claridge’s
Fera has been on my list of restaurants to visit for a long time. And by that I mean, when Simon Rogan first opened his Roganics pop-up. I have always meant to give his food a try after hearing the high praises from Phil Howard. Now Phil is the type of chef who is a bit of a foodie himself – you will be surprised how many chefs aren’t really interested in dining out and only do so because of the need to see what the competition is doing. It was shortly after the filming of the Great British Menu (the season just before the London Olympics) that Phil first encountered Rogan’s food, then relatively new to the whole celebrity TV chef scene. Shortly after, L’Enclume received a second star and Rogan began expanding his restaurant empire. Now with one of Rogan’s outpost in London, and without a long waitlist, I could try Rogan’s food without having to travel some 5 hours up North to Cartmel.
The restaurant resides in the space that formerly housed Gordon Ramsay’s. The dining room is huge and can seat up to 90 covers. In keeping with the original feel of Fera, the dining room is minimalistic, with bare wooden tables and an absence of table clothes. We visited for dinner where there was both an a la carte menu (items individually priced) and tasting menu (£110) available. We went for the easy option – tasting menu with paired wines.
The meal began with a couple of canapés/ snacks brought in quick succession. First was a chickpea cracker with goats curd which was crispy and had nice acidity from the goats curd and was a pleasant start to the meal. This was followed by stewed rabbit paired with a lovage dip. The beignet of rabbit had excellent flavour and the lovage dip providing excellent contrast to the rabbit. Next was scallop mousse sandwiched between two seaweed cracker which was fine – the crackers was packed with umami but for me turning the scallop into a mousse meant that a lot of the inherent flavour and texture of a lovely scallop was lost. Mushroom cake with juniper and fennel was of the new, fancy microwave sponge kind. I am not a fan of sponges made using this technique as they have a bouncy, rubbery texture which is akin to eating a washing up sponge. Last and best of the bunch was baked Tunworth with duck hearts. There was great balance with this little number with the cheese have a soft, gooey texture but without the pungent aroma of Tunworth overpowering the duck hearts.
Our first official course were scallops, served raw with black salsify, mushrooms and turnips. The scallops were of decent quality, and the raw shaved mushrooms added a different texture and slight earthiness to the dish. There was also a little unannounced barley for welcomed additional texture to the dish.
Next was one of my favourites – raw veal with oysters wrapped in kohlrabi with an apple and kohlrabi consommé. I loved the freshness with this dish with the veal well seasoned and having a nice texture. The apple and kohlrabi consommé had a good balance of acidity, bitterness and pepperiness. The oyster element was very subtle – just enough to season the delicate veal without overpowering it.
The next course was unassuming. On the face of it, cabbage and mussels sounded like a very boring plate of food. This was further from the truth with the slightly charred hispi cabbage working very well with the plump juicy mussels and mussel stock jelly. The dish was finished with a sauce made from pale ale which gave the dish a bit of body.
I was less convinced with the fish course – cod cooked in pine oil served with Jerusalem artichoke. For me the problem lied in the fish which was blowtorched and cooked sous vide. I am all for sous vide cooking when it is done well, but for me this technique gives fish a terrible texture. The other problem is that sous vide cooking does not give food the same flavour impact that you get from cooking with oodles of butter. Cod, a fish with inherently has a very subtle flavour, is badly affected by this cooking process because the final product was a fish which was devoid of flavour and had a mushy texture. The jerusalem artichoke jus served with it had a lovely, strong flavour – meaty and robust, but when paired together with the fish, the cod was completely lost. I suspect that if the cod had simply been pan roasted the dish would have been so much better.
Our main course of venison with beetroot and cauliflower was fine. The combination of venison with beetroot is in familiar territory and one that I have visited numerous times. The venison was again cooked sous vide and could have done with a longer sear on the plancha to achieve a nice contrast between soft, pink meat and crusty, caramelised exterior. In reality, the piece of venison looked rather anaemic on the plate. Hats off to whomever was on garnish, because those caramelised florets of cauliflower were as perfect as you could have them.
We shared a plate of cheese before a desserts. The first dessert was an interesting combination of buckwheat cream with verjus and stout. The dish had a nice malty flavour with the verjus providing a nice foil to the rich elements on the plate. The final course was a lemon cake with sheep’s yoghurt mousse and a tarragon sorbet. I particularly enjoyed the cake which was airy and light, with a nice lemon tang coming through. The combination with tarragon was actually brilliant with the anise flavour from the tarragon kept in check.
I have mixed feelings about my meal at Fera. On one hand, I found the cooking here creative and the flavours well-balanced. There were flashes of brilliance with the veal and cabbage dish showing what can be achieved with simplicity. What I was less convinced with was the (over) use of sous vide cooking which at times had a detrimental effect on the dish. Sous vide cooking may be favoured by many chefs, particular in larger operations, but when used incorrectly has a negative effect on the flavours of the dish. In both instances, for the cod and venison dish, there was arguably nothing wrong with the cooking or execution of the proteins or the dish on a whole, but they were both lacking in flavour. For me, this was what stopped Fera from being a great meal as opposed to a decent one. At £110 per head, that is a lot of money for a meal that is simply decent and I suspect that I will HAVE to eventually make the 5 hour trip up north to see what the fuss is all about with Rogan’s cooking.