When the Connaught was closed for refurbishment in 2007 it was assumed that Menu would continue, but this seems not to be the case following a dispute between the hotel owners and Mr Ramsay. Hence the notes that follow are of historical interest only.
My first visit with Angela Hartnett at the helm. The dining room is unchanged – very traditional with lots of dark wood panelling, tables well spaced. To start with a selection of bread is offered (very good walnut and raisin, good crusty white bread but poor breadsticks and very thin Italian bread). Also a small plate of ham is presented (Angela Hartnett is half Italian, half Irish, so I guess it is preferable to see her Italian side come to the fore with the cold cuts than to be presented with a pint of Guinness as amuse-bouche). Service was managed by the admirable Helene Hell, formerly sommelier at La Trompette. On the evidence of tonight's visit she has some work to do, as our starter arrived well before the wine, and she had to chase around personally to get it delivered before we had entirely finished our starters. Moreover there was no attempt to refresh our empty bread basket during the meal. Although there is no shortage of staff, they seemed inattentive. The most competent was a French waitress whom Helene brought with her from La Trompette.
The meal tonight was something of a curate’s egg. I started with a very fine ceps risotto, a dish than can very easily be disappointing. Here it featured rice cooked to a perfect texture in a rich stock, the rice having absorbed the stock fully without losing its texture. The ceps were carefully cooked, and overall I would give this dish 18/20. By contrast a pressed tomato mosaique with marinated goat’s cheese was just a series of pleasant but by no means dazzling plum tomato segments in an aubergine casing, with tiny blobs of curiously tasteless goat’s cheese surrounding the tomato (14/20 only). We were then offered a complimentary tortelli of pumpkin and amaretto in a little sage butter. While the pasta was good, I question the wisdom of trying to mix pumpkin with the sweet amaretto almond taste in a savoury dish; the sage butter could also have tasted a little more of sage (15/20 for the quality of the pasta rather than the concept).
For main course a sole “bonne femme” was four slices of filleted sole on a bed of spinach with a few thin slices of mushroom and tiny boiled potatoes in a thin cream sauce. The sole itself was nicely cooked and had good taste, and the spinach was carefully cooked, but the mushrooms and potatoes were ordinary, and the cream sauce was merely watery (15/20 at best). My main course was smoked pork belly served with caramelised root vegetables (onion, potatoes) and a thyme bouillon. The pork was reasonable, but this compared very poorly to a similar dish at Petrus. The vegetables were merely competent though the thyme bouillon was redolent of the scent of thyme and worked well (15/20, saved by the bouillon). Cheese is a mix of French, English and Italian. The cheeses were generally in good condition, though both the St Maure and Colston Basset Stilton were past their best (16/20 for the cheese).
Before dessert a little display tray of mini ice-creams and sorbets arrived: mango, vanilla, strawberry, blackcurrant, apple, coconut and chocolate. These varied somewhat, with the vanilla and strawberry the best and the chocolate a little too grainy (16/20 overall). For dessert an orange and chocolate tart was served in the style of a lemon tart, a triangular shaped slice with a thin layer of chocolate on the pastry base, but this was very sorry for itself – the orange filling lacked intensity, the pastry rather too hard and barely any taste of chocolate (12/20). Lemon panacotta featured a central and very good cone of panacotta, topped with citrus confit surrounded by a dayglo green ring of spearmint gelee, which was an inappropriate foil to the lemon taste (lemon and mint?!?). Perhaps 13/20 here.
Coffee is a steep £5, served with a remarkably tasteless tiramisu and a couple of chocolates and chocolate-covered roasted almonds. The coffee itself was good (comfortably 16/20). The wine list was mostly French with a decent Italian section and a smattering of New World offerings. However it is very expensive and I didn’t find the producers very imaginatively chosen. A Marques de Murrietta red was a hefty £52 and this represents one of the better value wines – a Schlumberger Pinot Gris was an absurd £60 for a wine that retails for less than £15. Overall I would say that this was quite a disappointing experience, though with the odd sparkle of talent (mainly in the risotto) showing through. Ingredients seemed good and technique was generally sound, with desserts looking the weakest link at present. However, other than the risotto, nothing exceeded 15/20, and at nearly £100 a head with one of the cheaper wines and no pre-dinner drinks one would hope for more.