101 New Bond Street
London W1S 1SR
Tel. 020 7468 5868
Food type: Modern European
Nearest tube: Bond Street
It has been almost a year since I last visited Bonhams. Since then, the restaurant had deservingly been awarded a Michelin star and they are now open for dinner three days a week. Sadly, the restaurant still remains off the radar for many people. The food here does not fit into the whole ‘Instagrammable’ or ‘small plates/ sharing concept’ mould which the Twitter crowd love. The other reason is that despite having a separate entrance to the auction house, the restaurant is actually quite well hidden away and you are not going to chance upon it. For this visit, Kang from London Eater had kindly arranged an 8 course tasting menu giving carte blanche to Tom Kemble and his kitchen to cook whatever they felt was best on the day.
We began our meal with a glass of Pol Roger champagne and some canapés. A beef tartare on a crispy cracker was nicely seasoned topped with some grain mustard which gave it some bite. The second canapé was a tartlet filled with egg mayonnaise and keta caviar which was fine although I must admit I am not the biggest fan of egg mayonnaise. Sourdough bread is made in-house and Kemble has learnt his trade well from his time working for Mikael at Hedone.
The first course was a dish I had on my previous visit – tomato gazpacho made from Sicilian Datterini tomatoes. The dish remains unchanged and for good reason as Tom believes that this is one of the dishes he feels is perfect. It is hard to argue otherwise when you have excellent full-flavoured tomatoes such as these. To add an extra dimension to the dish, there is an Orlean mustard ice cream which adds a richness and savoury note as a counterpoint to the sweet and sour from the gazpacho and pepperiness from the black olive oil dressing. As a little bonus, there are small chunks of smoked eel hidden at the bottom giving out bursts of oily, richness.
We followed with cured trout with a ratte potato foam and Exmoor caviar. The trout had been lightly cured with juniper with the gentle salting used during the curing process to show off the freshness of the fish. I really liked the use of the potato foam here – the technique resulting in a foam which was lighter than a traditional espuma, yet with enough body such that you could taste the potato. To balance out the rich elements, there was some dill pickled cucumber, no doubt inspired by Kemble’s time working in Faviken.
Following on with the seafood theme was a king crab salad. The plating is deceptively simple with a generous chunk of king crab leg and a few baby gem lettuce leaves dressed with flowers. This however hides the amount of work has gone into the dish because hiding between the layers of leaves were dots of apple puree and a crustacean consommé jelly. The latter tasted pretty similar to the shrimp paste (belacan) that is served with Malaysian laksa – big, bold with a huge umami hit to it and mellowed out by the yuzu mayonnaise on the side. Needless to say, the king crab leg had been very carefully handled – the flesh just set and remaining moist and juicy. This dish is a clear example of how it is sometimes not necessary to overwork dishes if the produce you are working with is amazing.
There is no better way to cook turbot than a la nacre, a technique made popular by Pascal Barbot (L’Astrance) and involves steaming the fish slowly to achieve a mother of pearl sheen. While technique is important, the fish also needs to be of the highest quality – coming from a fish which is both big enough and having enough gelatine content. You can also achieve the same effect with other fish such as cod. Of course, June is the season where turbot is at its prime so it is not surprising that Kemble has opted to serve us a generous portion of turbot cooked this way with some smoked linzer potatoes and Australian black truffles. My poor photography skills just do not do Kemble’s cooking any justice because the fish was bang on perfect.
At the start of the meal, we were offered an extra course of black truffles for £10 supplement which we snapped up. This came in the form of gnocchi with a lovely summer garnish of broad beans, peas and girolle mushrooms. The litmus test when it comes to gnocchi is of course whether it disintegrates in your mouth when eating it which of course did with the version served here. There was a lovely freshness from all the summer vegetables and the residual heat on the plate brought out the truffle flavour.
For meat, Kemble sadly informed us that the beef he had ordered was not up to his standard. Instead, he chose to serve us squab pigeon, the breast roasted on the crown and the legs confit, paired with some beetroot, cherries and fresh almonds. The pigeon cooking was spot-on with a nice crispy skin and beautifully pink flesh which was just slightly gamey. Not sure what he has done with the beetroot but they had excellent flavour.
I remember during my last visit, I was not that impressed with the desserts. Sure they were well made, but they were hardly exciting. I’m pleased to see that the restaurant has upped their game. First a pre-dessert of strawberries featured mara des bois strawberries hiding underneath a coconut foam and meringue shards. Great show of technique here with the foam holding its shape well and having good coconut flavour and the strawberries left well alone to shine. Finally, the last dish of the day was a chocolate bar with a passion fruit ice cream which had a lovely contrast of textures and acidity to balance the richness of the chocolate.
This was an impressive follow-up meal to the one I had previously. Kemble’s cooking remains very pure and honest, allowing the ingredients to speak for themselves. I am also very impressed that they have shown significant progression and ambition with the desserts. It is such a shame though that on the Friday that we visited, the restaurant was pretty much empty as Kemble’s cooking definitely deserves to be out there and enjoyed by more people. To be honest, this is a problem for much of London and not Bonham’s itself. But if you do enjoy good food with excellent ingredients, then you have to do yourself a favour and visit.