Friday, 27 August 2010
BAR BOULUD: NOT FOR THE FAINT HEARTED (THANK GOODNESS)
Braving yet another rainstorm, I made my way to Knightbridge for a meal I had been looking forward to for sometime: Bar Boulud at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. With its own entrance from the street, the feeling is sheer luxury, but in a relaxed way. It's just so good to be welcomed by people who seem genuinely pleased to see you. Pre- bank holiday, and the bar was buzzing, full to the brim, with people eating at the bar from the bar menu and at the informal bar tables. I loved the bar, which is a spectacle per se. A spray perfume bottle contains vermouth, with which the glass is sprayed to make the driest martini, and there is also a jar of olive brine for a dirty martini, and all sorts of other little containers. The barman is a mine of information too. House champagne is Ayala, delightfully dry and crisp. Simple nuts are served, but the mixture is the best, salty and sweet, for a great flavour. Moving onto the restaurant, this is everything I would want from a dining room. The kitchen in full view, so that I see what's going on but I dont hear anything. Tables large enough not to have to push the salt and pepper on the edge. Chairs and banquettes which are actually comfortable. Then in walks the lovely Brian Turner OBE, one of my favourite chefs, probably just back from South Africa, with a great tan and looking very fit - the new slimmer line figures really suits him. He is here too, good sign. We say hello, so nice to see him. The menu is very well conceived, with sharing dishes, hot and cold appetizers, and the famous cured meat board. Good to see a meat slicer, meaning that everything is freshly sliced for the best flavour. The board offers not just sliced meats, but press' of rabbit, and a sausage tasting. We opt for the small portion of seafood and share that: delicately blanched cauliflower, carrot and haricot verts, accompany a plump scallop, mussels and cockles. Freshly steamed, served with aioli, a perfect start to the meal, and we have a glass of Picpoul de Pinet to accompany this. Wonderful to see some of the more unusual regional French wines on a wine list, which incidentally is very extensive and I love it. Shame that my favourite Washington State Pinot Noir is no longer on the list,there is only the one from Oregon, so we opt for something else to go with the rest of the meal. Attention-grabbing is the Givry, at £66, but in the we opt for the complex and delicious Rasteau 2006 at around £39. The wonderful spiciness of the Mourvedre comes through, mitigated by the richness of the Syrah aged in oak, giving the wine a slight woody sweetness. A good choice. My Beetroot salad starter with mixed leaves and blanched fennel, with Sardinian caprino, tossed in a flavoursome dressing, is so complex and interesting that I relish every mouthful. My companion's sausage starter - there is a whole sausage section on the menu, in true Daniel Boulud style - looks great and smells divine. Mains see my favourite lamb arrive, saddle and leg, cooked to perfection and beautifully assembled. The other starter is the most massive pot of moules marinieres I have ever seen. I taste one. Plump, juicy, delicately flavoured, a real treat. The signature chips, served in paper and presented in a silver pot, also arrive. We share a simple bitter chocolate torte with caramel ice cream for dessert (which we dont really need but we cannot resist) is bitter-sweet and almost digestive. Another good choice. I give this restaurant 99 out of 100, and although I have been fortunate enough to eat in some splendid establishments (Capital Hotel and Waterside Inn will forever be imbedded in my mind) this one is a place I would like to return sooner than later. I absolutely loved it and I do recommed it. The food is quite affordable and they also have a set menu at around £22.50 I think, but the wine is quite expensive. But many wines come by the glass, so if you choose carefully, you dont have to go overbudget. Thank you for coming to London, Daniel Boulud!