127 Ledbury Road,
London, W11 2AQ
Tel: 020 7792 9090
Food type: Modern French/ European
Nearest tube: Westbourne Grove/ Notting Hill
Website: The Ledbury
It has been almost a year since my last visit to the Ledbury. As it was with my last visit here, the company is the same with Kang from Londoneater and Mark. Since the Square had been demoted this year in the Michelin Guide, the Ledbury is in fact the second oldest 2* restaurant in London behind Le Gavroche. Third if you include Marcus and its various name changes since its Petrus days. These days Kang is a bit of a regular at the Ledbury and as he had kindly made the booking, I left it to him to arrange a menu. Brett was in the kitchen cooking, an anomaly for the London restaurant scene given that most chefs tend to get ‘too busy’ for their own kitchen once they restaurant becomes successful. The restaurant still packs it in for both lunch and dinner service and remains tricky to book.
To start, we were brought various canapés which remained unchanged since my last visit. The guinea fowl puff with mead jelly was crisp with a nice liver/ game flavour balanced by the sweetness of the mead. Seaweed cracker with smoked mussel cream was an umami bomb. The mussel cream was very effective carrying both the smoke and the iodine/ salinity of the mussel. The final nibble and my favourite of the lot is the muntjac dumpling with mustard fruit. The dumpling had a light and airy texture, the gaminess of the muntjac balanced by the sweetness of the fruit.
We followed with the first course/ amuse bouche of oyster chantilly with sea bream tartare. This is a dish which goes all the way back to 2011/12 which was then served in a cocktail glass, but has now been refined. The oyster chantilly light, but packed full of oyster flavour, the sea bream tartare a composition of neatly diced cubes to give texture and the frozen wasabi powder the necessary element to tie both elements together. Seasoning was nicely balanced to account for the natural saltiness of the oyster and accentuate the umami of the sea bream.
The next dish was a familiar one from last year. Like Phil Howard, Brett likes serving a tomato salad during the summer months. This is essentially a similar dish to last year, but one which is more refined. For one, I found the presentation more attractive with a beautiful rocher of sorbet at the centre of the plate drawing your attention to all the elements around it. The tomato (&mustard) sorbet had a better depth of flavour and was the focal point of the dish, surrounded by the raw, marinated tomatoes and lobster oil. The latter element is there to provide body but it is balanced by a chardonnay vinegar for a touch more acidity. Although the tomatoes were of high quality, I slightly enjoyed the tomato salad dish at Angler 2 weeks prior, where they are using some amazing Versuvian tomatoes.
Up next is another Ledbury classic – egg with black truffle. The eggs used varies according to the time of year. Perhaps it is bantam egg, but in our case we were served a pheasant egg. This may seem a simple dish on first examination. A fried egg. Some dehydrated ham. Raw shaved mushrooms. But hidden underneath the treasure trove is a whole lot of work that goes into this dish. The truffle and arbois wine reduction. The mushroom jelly. It is a dish that is designed to give the ultimate eating pleasure. The interplay between the earthy Manjimup truffles and vin jaune superb, the egg yolk acting as a lubricant to mellow all the strong flavours on the plate.
The meal now started to pick up pace with the steamed cod with courgettes. The cod had been rolled in cling film into a roulade before being gently steamed. Of course, this being the Ledbury, that means that is done the old fashioned way with a toothpick to test that it is done. No taking it easy with a sous vide machine here. It was evident with the final product with the fish having a nice firm texture yet flaking away beautifully. Of course, the specimen of cod was also top notch as can be seen with the beautiful nacre sheen. The combination of flavours with courgettes, anchovy and basil a nice nod to the Mediterranean. Seasoning is kept deliberately lighter to ensure the sweetness of the cod comes through.
Our first meat course was Brett’s take on a barbecue. Of course being Australian, he should be no stranger to a barbecue. But his lamb rack was on a different level. The rack is first roasted in a low oven before being finished in a Green Egg. Just look at the cuisson on the lamb. The meat symmetrically pink. You would come to expect that if the lamb was cooked sous vide. But with classical oven roasting? That takes skill. The lamb fat had been rendered down nicely and subsequently took on the smokiness of the barbecue. Seasoning of the lamb was bold, to heighten its meaty flavours and bring out the smokiness. On the side was white aubergine dusted with black tea and dehydrated olives, Brett’s take on the Japanese ‘Nasu dengaku’. Again, I encountered this element (the aubergine) last year, but yet again there is a sense of refinement to it. This was a wonderful plate of food and just goes to show how the food here continues to evolve.
The final savoury course was venison. We were informed that we were the only table on the day to receive the rack of venison so I suspect that that they buy their venison in whole and break it down. I have always praised Brett’s mastery of game cooking even during my first visit here. Even when the cooking here was a lot more rustic, the finesse and touch to maximise the flavour of the venison while at the same time keeping it moist through classical cooking is a technique that very few chefs have. Brett of course, in my humble opinion, is the best in the country by a mile when it comes to cooking venison. The sausage, made from the trimmings and offal has to be the highlight on the plate. Pairing grapes and bitter red leaves is a smart idea to contrast the game. Once again, the plating is beautiful.
First, a little ‘pre-dessert’ of passion fruit curd with their signature beignet. I wish to eat a whole bowl of these donuts one day, but for now a singular one will have to do. These were as light and airy as I remember and another nod to Brett’s time at the Square. The passion fruit curd had nice amount of acidity to balance the sweetness of the sauternes. This is finished with a little drizzle of olive oil which adds a peppery fruity note which I quite like.
Next up was peach with meadowsweet custard. The peach had been poached and then semi-dried in a low oven for 2 hours. The result is a more concentrate fruit flavour, and the peach having taken on a slightly chewy texture not unlike a dried apricot. The interplay with the meadowsweet custard was very good – the flowery, nectar, honeyed notes a natural match with the peach. I suspect that this is a dish that is in its infancy and I look forward to see how this idea continues to evolve.
Of course, the meal here comes to a natural conclusion with the signature brown sugar tart. Again this is another dish that may have been on the menu for years, but there is continued refinement. The custard is just set and wobbly and the molasses flavour of the brown sugar coming through beautifully without being too overbearing. The combination of the stem ginger ice cream is wonderful. In a way, it reminds me a lot of all the desserts found in South East Asia which uses Gula Melaka (Palm sugar) and ginger.
Without a doubt, the cooking at the Ledbury is assured and confident. Brett’s style is evident with every single plate that leaves the pass – a sign of a chef who continues to be involved in the day to day running of his restaurant rather than one who leave it to his head chef to run the business. Restaurants like Marcus and the Square in the latter days were more about the food of Mark Froydenlund and Gary Foulkes, rather than Marcus Wareing and Phil Howard. While the menu may look similar to our previous visit at first glance, the food here continues to be evolve with small tweaks. If there is a slight chink in the armour, it would be the desserts. While the savouries, in particular the cod and meat courses were verging on 3* territory, desserts here are still in solid 2* territory. The brown sugar tart is a classic and a fantastic pudding, but if Brett is serious about achieving 3*s then the repertoire of pastry needs to further expansion so that it is not the only show-stopper.