Aubergine closed on September 8th 2010. This does not affect the sister restaurant in Marlow. The notes below are for historical interest only.
Once the premises of Gordon Ramsay, Aubergine has for many years had at the helm William Drabble. What follows are notes from my most recent meal.
The dining room had a skylight at the back and made good use of mirrors to create a sense of space in what is not a large dining room, which at capacity could seat around 50 covers. Three courses were £68 for dinner, with a tasting menu at £85, but there was a set lunch for £29 with a selection for four choices of starters and main courses. The extensive wine was strong in France but also has some well-selected suppliers from elsewhere, though mark-ups are far from generous. Guigal Hermitage 1988 is listed at a chunky £145 for a wine that costs perhaps £35 retail. Egon Muller Kanta Riesling 2006 is £45 for a wine you can buy in a shop for around £17. At the top end, the very fine Vega Sicilia Unico 1995 has a price to match: £520 compared to a shop price of around £210.
Breads were made from scratch and consist of a selection of rolls: white, brown, sesame, dill, black olive, rosemary and a walnut and raisin usually served with the cheese. I am a great proponent of restaurants making their own bread, but found these pleasant but oddly unexciting (15/20). An amuse-bouche of “terrine” of beetroot appeared to be just some pickled beetroot slices, topped with a blob of sour cream, and a rather tasteless drizzle of chive sauce, presumably mainly to add colour. The beetroot was quite acidic, and for me simply uninteresting (12/20).
My starter was a set of scallops or to be precise (this being London, four thin slices of scallop) on a puree of mushrooms. The scallops were correctly cooked, and the mushroom puree was well-seasoned though I suspect it was not made with the costliest of mushrooms and so had merely pleasant flavour, and presentation was simple (14/20). My main course of John Dory was cooked well, though its layer of parsley on top had surprisingly little taste for such a distinctive herb, and for me the fish left on its own would have been better. A bed of spinach was fine, as was a thin red wine sauce, but the cream of mushrooms were just button mushrooms, which are never going to excite (15/20).
My companion’s dishes were of a similar or lesser standard, with carelessness showing through with a coarse hair appearing in her otherwise fairly tasty poor cheek dish; I think this was a hair from the pig that had not been properly removed in preparation. For dessert, poached cherries with soufflé beignet were pleasant, though the temperature of the elements of the dish was oddly variable, served with a nice almond ice cream (15/20). Coffee was good, served with capable petit fours such as a nice mini lemon tart and a moist financier (16/20 for the petit fours). As with the last visit, I felt slightly let down given this is a restaurant with a Michelin star. Some dishes are borderline one-star level, but others are clearly not, and given the price tag this is a problem. Service was pleasant, though our waitress seemed essentially unable to speak any English at all.
Here are notes from a meal in March 2007.
Amuse-bouche was a ceviche of anchovy which was merely pleasant (14/20). Bread is supposedly made here but you would never guess as the rolls are very uniform – best was a rosemary roll, but generally the bread is uninspiring (15/20 at best). My starter of quail had quail that was cooked correctly but had rather dull taste, served with some cold French beans that apparently had truffle flavour but was not discernable to me (14/20). My main course of beef filet on a bed of spinach was good, served with a drizzle of celeriac puree and a little jus of Madeira (16/20). Sadly my friend’s lamb was three very small pieces of lamb, cooked for too long (despite being ordered very rare) and served with some “Provencal” vegetables that were no such thing. Instead we had some badly overcooked courgettes, some OK artichokes and button mushrooms that were also cooked far too long – these were very poor. Overall the dish was barely 11/20.
Cheeses were from Premiere Cheese and in varied condition, though the waiter certainly knew his cheese. An Exmoor Blue was way past its best, as was a Colson Basset Stilton. A Beaufort was OK as was a Puligny St Pierre while a Camembert was mediocre (13/20 for cheese). Dessert was a mixed affair. Iced lemon ciboust was fine, but offered with poached rhubarb that was actually raw, cooked with a few gingerbread crisps. The ciboust was OK but the rhubarb was terrible, as was acknowledged by the waiter (nothing off the bill though). Given that Mr Drabble was in this evening I was very worried by this meal. 14/20 is the best I can really give it. The wine list is good but the bill was high - £77 for three courses.
Here are detailed notes from a 2002 and much better meal here, though my recent experiences indicate if the cooking is stuck in a rut. It seems a restaurant in decline.
An amuse bouche was a little dish of shellfish bisque – this was scented with truffle oil and had excellent intensity (18/20). The breads are rolls: white, brown or olive, and are very good (17/20). My starter consisted of three scallops wrapped in ventreche (bacon) and roasted, with a puree of Jerusalem artichoke and served with a veloute of salsify. The scallops were stunningly juicy, moist and full of flavour (these can only have been divers-caught scallops of the highest quality). The delicate ventreche worked well with them, holding their flavour in during the cooking process but in no way overwhelming the flavour of the scallops.The artichoke puree was of the highest standard, silky smooth with wonderful artichoke flavour coming through. This was one of the best scallop dishes I have had for a very long time, and I just cannot fault this dish in any way. My wife had a fine warm salad of roasted vegetables, accompanied with a smooth puree of asparagus. This was prettily presented as a tidy pile of vegetables on a set of carefully arranged salad leaves. All the components were of very high quality e.g. lovely wild mushrooms and perfectly fresh.
For main course I had breast of duck sliced and resting on a galette of potato, itself on a confit of creamed green cabbage, the tower resting in a pool of the cooking juices. This was another stunning dish – the duck perfect and pink, of very high quality texture and flavour. The potato galette was perfect, the cabbage delicious, even the few baby carrots scattered around for decoration were stunning. This dish was 19/20. My wife’s turbot was beautifully timed, served with stunning creamed leeks, along with excellent chanterelles and a remarkably intense red wine sauce (17/20). For cheese we tried a goats cheese I have not encountered before, some excellent Comte, good Munster, very good Longues, some Reblochon that was unripe, served with walnut and raisin bread that was sliced very thin and had somewhat dried out (16/20 for the cheese).
Dessert was apple and raisin charlotte shaped into a cylinder, the apples cooked through beautifully, complemented well by the raisins, this accompanied by a perfect green apple sorbet of silky texture (16/20). My wife had a fine lime parfait with a ginger sponge that needed more ginger and was perhaps a little too dry – however the parfait itself was superb (17/20). Coffee was very good indeed (18/20), with some excellent petit fours: ones tried were a good mini lemon tart, a rum baba that needed just a little more moisture (15/20), a biscuit, a little chocolate tart and a raspberry tart (16/20) for the petit fours. Service was good rather than flawless, despite the charm of manager Christophe. The main flaw was the sommelier, who seemed unaware of what we had ordered when we asked for some advice, and who struggled to keep the wine glass refilled.