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The Greenhouse Restaurant, Mayfair, London

The phrase “First catch your hare” [see footnote] sprang to mind as The Greenhouse was proving just as elusive to my taxi driver as a March hare. I eventually discovered it on foot, hiding behind luxuriant greenery, giving an enticingly rural feel to this most metropolitan of settings. The front garden has been tidied up and replanted since my last visit: all part of a thorough refurbishment that has created one of London’s most discreet and comfortable dining rooms with brilliant cuisine to match.

Chef Antonin Bonnet has impeccable credentials and has the skill and judgement to admit subtle Oriental influences to his cuisine without ever straying into what I call con-fusion cuisine. Little Japanese touches enhance certain of his dishes, such as the Kombu seaweed jelly to garnish a starter of fresh crab and violet sea urchin, or there are scallops dressed with yuzu (which looks like a deformed lemon and tastes like a cross between a grapefruit and a mandarin orange).

The Greenhouse Restaurant, Mayfair, LondonFor his starter my friend strayed from the £60 three course a la Carte menu to the £29 lunch menu. He enjoyed a plate of Iberico ham dressed with fava beans and fresh peas, wild garlic and curd cheese. From the a.l.c menu I had the veal sweetbread, perfectly caramelised and accompanied by some delicious glazed leeks. The presentations were delightfully informal, the constituents scattered carelessly but deftly, more Tate Modern than Louvre.

The main course selection is very strong on fish, with brill, red mullet and Dover sole. A tranch of slow cooked Brittany monkfish had been coated in Nora pepper, a Spanish type of sweet bell pepper that can be dried or made into a paste. I tried a wedge of the fish and loved its soft almost jelly-like texture.

Texture does not usually bother me at all, but for the first time ever I dared to send meat back to the kitchen with a polite request to show it the fire for just a little longer. I waited with bated breath for the chef to come storming out of the kitchen, but five minutes later a charming waiter reappeared with my plate. The two plump breasts of Anjou pigeon were now a perfect roseate hue rather than a livid crimson. They were also more tender and I want to stress that I really enjoyed the revised dish which came with another of my favourites – braised salsify – and with flavours kicked up a notch with a little gomasio (toasted sesame salt).

We requested a light red wine that could do justice both to the pigeon and the monkfish and our helpful wine waiter suggested a Pinot Noir from Germany that scored a brilliant hit with both of us. Mind you, there is much to choose from as there are over two thousand bins in the cellar, which has earned Grand Awards from the Wine Spectator for at least three years in succession to my certain knowledge. [see note (2) below]

Our desserts were very artfully constructed – the classic dessert of the day was Paris-Brest first created in 1891in honour of the Paris-Brest-Paris bicycle race, which was a precursor to the Tour de France. The original confection features a ring of pâte à choux filled with praline pastry cream and topped with whipped cream, almonds, and powdered sugar. The circular shape is supposed to resemble a bicycle wheel! The Greenhouse’s soi-disant ‘classic version’ had moved on a long way - it was oblong and more of a millefeuille, but was highly delectable all the same. Washed down with a glass of first rate Pineau des Charentes, it made a sophisticated finale to our excellent lunch.

Clifford Mould April 2008

The Greenhouse 27a Hay’s Mews, Mayfair, London W1J 5NY
Reservations 020-7499 3331

(1) First catch your hare was the ironic opening to a recipe for jugged hare erroneously attributed variously to Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy (1747) and a century later to Mrs Beeton’s Household Management.

(2) Wine List - Supervised by Head Sommelier Benoit Allauzen (formerly of Morton’s Club), assisted by Jean-Francois Lemoine, Jacopo Focacci and Armelle Chapoy. An exceptional list of approximately 2,500 bins, making it one of the UK’s largest and most diverse. Covers the best of New and Old World, with lesser-known producers and emerging wine regions, as well as verticals of famous names (such as Château d’Yquem from 1928-1990 and Penfolds Grange from 1961-1996). What a wine tasting you could arrange in the elegant private dining room!


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