127 Ledbury Road,
London, W11 2AQ
Tel: 020 7792 9090
Food type: Modern French/ European
Nearest tube: Westbourne Grove/ Notting Hill
Website: The Ledbury
My last meal at the Ledbury was back in January, the day after New Year’s Day to be exact. The kitchen was working on a limited menu and they were very upfront with the fact that this was because of restrictions to supplies at that time of the year. Nevertheless, it was a very solid meal and it was nice to see Brett cooking in his own kitchen during the holidays, a refreshing change in this day and age when many chefs are much more interested in showing up on TV than they are maintaining the high standards in their own kitchen. For this meal, Kang of Londoneater had kindly gone to the trouble of booking us a table which these days are booked solid two months in advance. You can read his take of our meal here.
Gone are the days of individually priced items during lunch. These days the cheapest menu available for lunch is a 4 course set lunch menu priced at £50. Alternatively there is a pared down a la carte menu priced at £85 for 4 courses. This is essentially the same as the dinner a la carte menu except for a few choices omitted probably due to time constraints for mise en place. For the full Ledbury experience there is of course their full tasting menu at £115 for 8 courses. In our case, we left the menu in Brett’s hands and he was kind enough to throw in a few extras.
The canapés were the same as on my previous visit. Guinea fowl puff had excellent crisp pastry filled with guinea fowl pate topped with a little cube of mead jelly. The latter component providing a nice sweet sour contrast to the richness of the pate. A seaweed cracker topped with smoked mussel cream was an umami bomb. This was a bite which played on the similar seawater saline characteristics of the seaweed and mussels. Finally a muntjac dumpling with mustard fruits was even better than when I tried it back in January. The muntjac had a greater depth of flavour with the mustard fruit cutting through its richness.
Our first official course was a medley of tomatoes served with lobster oil and a mustard ice cream. This was a clear nod to Brett’s time training with Phil at the Square as Phil often has a tomato salad dish on his menu during the summer months. Tomatoes of different types were served in different guises – au naturel, tomato water jelly and compressed. It gives me great joy when a chef is confident enough with his produce to serve it in its natural state, and none more so than a ripe juicy tomato. The mustard ice cream here added a layer of gentle peppery heat to bring out the natural flavour of the tomatoes.
Bread was now served. It is a shame the kitchen have stopped making the bacon and onion brioche rolls and only a solitary sourdough slice is served. What was more interesting is the goat curd’s whey. I was not a fan of it last time around but they have slightly tweaked the recipe and now it features caramelised molasses which brings a nice nutty, caramelised note which made it moreish.
Next was a salad of green beans and fresh hazelnuts. This may seem very simple on the surface but the interesting element here was the grated foie gras – made using foie gras parfait which has been frozen. I of course encountered this element on my previous visit with an artichoke salad and it was nice to see the idea continually expanded upon. Green beans and foie gras have a natural affinity with each another and the dish was tied together nicely with some blood peaches for necessary acidity.
We followed with candied beetroot baked in clay. This was a slight tweak on a dish I had previously. White beetroot is used today instead of the red variety. There was also a quenelle of Exmoor caviar to go along with the caviar salt used to season this dish. For me the beauty of the dish lies in the hidden chunks of oily smoked eel which complemented the sweetness of the beetroot very well. This was a gloriously delicious dish to eat.
The next dish was something I had back in January – warm pheasant egg, likely cooked onset-style, served with textures of mushrooms and truffles. At this time of year, the black perigord truffles are replaced by Tasmanian truffles. This was mixed with shavings of summer truffles which had a nuttier note to complement the earthiness of its Australian counterpart. What ties the dish together is the reduction of Arbois wine which gave an rich, oxidised note that helped elevate the other elements on the dish.
Kang had requested the restaurant’s signature lobster wrapped in shiitake mushroom. Unfortunately there must have been some issues with supplies on the day and instead the lobster was replaced with langoustines. To be honest, I much prefer langoustines to lobster so this swap works for me. This dish was another umami bomb with the shiitake complemented by a rich, decadent bonito cream. I really liked the cauliflower accompanying this dish – taken to the maximal point of caramelisation giving it a complex nutty character. On the side, a wine glass containing langoustine claw meat and seaweed is filled up with mushroom tea/ broth packing another huge umami punch. Excellent.
Before our main course was a curious dish of glazed aubergine. I will put my hand up and say that if it were left to me, I would never have ordered this dish. I do enjoy eating aubergines but I find it very hard to get excited over it. This shows how far a chef can push a single ingredient. Aubergine glazed with miso and cooked until pillowy soft, served with a roast beef jus boosting its meatiness. This has to be the most memorable dish of our meal, simply because of how surprisingly good it was.
Finally, with grouse season in full flow and Brett being an avid shooter of game, we were served his take on the game bird. This meal was right at the start of the grouse shooting season and as expected the bird was relatively mild. The bird was cooked in the most traditional of French cooking techniques – poché rôti (poached and then roasted on the crown). This was the predecessor to the ubiquitous water bath that is seen today but it not only keeps the bird moist (as does cooking sous vide) but helps retain as much flavour. The grouse was paired with sweetcorn puree and chargrilled sweetcorn, with the sweetness providing relief to the gaminess of the bird. On the side were brioche dumplings filled with a mixture of grouse offal and topped with truffle mayonnaise. I loved these dumplings and would have happily eaten a whole plate of them. As an aside, this season’s grouse seems to be very mild in terms of its gamey flavour. I only had grouse yesterday, and we are heading towards the end of grouse season and the flavour was still very mild. Perhaps the gamekeepers are choosing not to hang their grouse for as long as they used to in previous years.
Our pre-dessert was similar to what I had in January albeit with the presentation tweaked. Whipped buttermilk with raspberries had fresh raspberries and a raspberry coulis poured table side. On the side was my favourite beignet, another nod to Brett’s time at the Square. I am glad he is carrying on this great tradition as the beignet here has to be the best guilty pleasure doughnut in England.
The first official dessert was an olive oil pannacotta with figs in different guises. My first impression when eating this dish was that it transported me to a fig dish I had at 3* Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athenee back when Christian Santaigne was cooking. It was the combination of the fig leaf ice cream and fig granita – elements which were also found in Ducasse’s version of the dish that helped make that favourable connection. In particular, the fig leaf ice cream gives the dish perfume – figs themselves don’t smell of much, and just like tomatoes, the smell actually comes from the leaf themselves. This was a true expression of figs. Fantastic.
A final course of dark chocolate and cherries was a nod to everyone’s favourite black forest gateau. Unlike Kang, I did enjoy this dish. I find chocolate desserts often overly rich, particularly at the end of a long meal and as such the addition of chantilly cream and cherry ripple ice cream was necessary to balance out the richness of chocolate. I wouldn’t say it is the most memorable of desserts, not after the warm chocolate tartlet on my previous visit but it was definitely very good.
Unlike my meal back in January, what I found this time around was that the dishes this time around was focused on pushing how far you can go with a solitary ingredient, where as previously, the dishes were more about harmonising different ingredients on the plate. This is particularly true with the tomato, aubergine and the fig dishes where you could see a chef maximising the potential of the ingredients. The aubergine course really impressed me because it showed how such a simple ingredient can be made to taste so impressive. Admittedly there was the addition of the beef roasting jus but the restaurant staff informed us that they had a suitable substitute jus for vegetarian diners.
At the end of the meal, we popped in to the kitchen to say hello to Brett and thank him for such a fantastic meal. He was his usual welcoming self and treated us to one last bite of sourdough ice cream. He even offered us some venison meatball subs which one of his chefs had prepared for staff meals. We had to politely decline having eaten our way through the best part of 5 hours of delicious food. Ledbury is at the upper echelons of 2* restaurants in London and aside from Hedone, there is no other restaurant I would rather spend 5 hours of my life enjoying the finest gastronomy that London has to offer.