The Ledbury has established itself as one of the top dining destinations in London, thoroughly deserving its two Michelin stars, the first gained in 2006, the second in 2010. Brett Graham's cooking continues to develop, with an emphasis on good quality ingredients; game in particular is a strong point at the Ledbury. The notes below are from a meal in May 2012.
Today we had a lengthy tasting menu, which began with turbot roe and fingerling lime on little crisp breads, the acidity of the lime working well with the roe (17/20). Parmesan cream with a little “soup” of basil and courgette was prettily decorated with edible flowers and herb leaves; this was fine, though I think the soup could have greater depth of flavour, and seemed a touch under-seasoned (16/20).
This was followed by a salad of heritage tomatoes and goat curd with a centrepiece of goat cheese wrapped in feuille de brick (thin pastry sheets), garnished with dried black olive, tomato juice and a little bonito. This worked very well, the olives adding an extra dimension to the dish, which avoided being dominated by the goat cheese (18/20). Orkney scallops were presented whole and then plated separately, served with seaweed butter, Jersey Royal potato and a little cauliflower – the scallops were plump and sweet, and the dish elements went well together (easily 18/20).
White asparagus was next, served with duck tongue, baby mushrooms and a little Parmesan: the asparagus was excellent, and I wondered whether it really needed all the other elements, pleasant though these were (17/20). Next was turbot with green asparagus, shellfish cream and sea lettuce. The turbot was carefully cooked, the asparagus again excellent (17/20).
The first meat dish was pork jowl cooked for eight hours, served with pork crackling, a lime reduction, scorched pear and dandelion leaves. This was a very impressive dish, the pork tender and having deep flavour, the crackling crisp, the lime and pear giving sufficient acidity to cut through the richness of the pork (19/20). Blade of beef is a difficult cut to work with, but here avoided even a hint of chewiness, and had excellent flavour, served with smoked bone marrow fat and wasabi leaves (easily 18/20). I was surprised and impressed to see a real wasabi root brought to the table and grated; in the UK even Japanese restaurants routinely use the coloured horseradish from a tube that is passed off as wasabi, but real wasabi has an entirely different creamy texture and lovely taste, spicy without being so harsh. This wasabi was actually grown in the UK, apparently a very new development, and a most welcome one at that. Pigeon breast and confit leg of pigeon was cooked in hay and served with cherries, beetroot, salted cherry blossoms and red leaves in a very pretty display. It tasted as good as it looked, the pigeon tender, the balance of the dish very good. On the side the wing and heart of the pigeon was served on a side plate (easily 18/20).
A pre-dessert was sea buckthorn mousse with burnt meringue; I am not a fan of this astringent and unfathomably fashionable herb, though enough sugar had been added to make it edible, in itself a major achievement (16/20). Next was a parfait of wild flowers with wild strawberries, white chocolate, crystallised fennel and warm tapioca of vanilla and lime zest. This was pretty and tasted better than it sounds, the strawberry flavour coming through well and complementing the chocolate (17/20). Mango millefeuille was very good, the mangos extremely ripe, and the puff pastry a nice balance to their richness (18/20). Coffee was served with some really excellent citrus beignets (18/20). Service was very professional throughout the meal.
Below are notes from previous meals.
The Ledbury is tucked away in a quiet corner of Westbourne Grove, which a decade or so ago was better known for drug dealers than Michelin-starred restaurants. There is a fairly relaxed atmosphere in this high-ceilinged dining room. Although there is a wooden floor the noise levels are bearable, helped by there being no music playing. The back wall is mostly mirrored and the front and side have large windows, so it is a light room. The walls that are not mirrored are painted cream, and there is a single unusual chandelier with a design of black beads, matched with two side lamps in the same style. Chairs are of cream leather and are comfortable. The ceiling is painted white, and has well directed spots so that the tables are well lit even when the lighting is subdued. Two pillars supporting the ceiling had recesses in which were displays of roses and gerberas. The tables themselves were adorned only with a single black ornamental rock other than the crisp white linen tablecloth. Waitresses are dressed in smart black jackets, trousers and tops rather than dinner jackets.
Today I sampled a special tasting menu arranged by one of the regulars at the Ledbury. It began with a piece of deep-fried pheasant with quince and a sprig of rosemary, the pheasant having good flavour and having its richness offset by the quince (17/20). This was followed by fresh buffalo milk curd topped with fried shallots, wild mushrooms, St Nectaire cheese and onion consommé; although this was a lot of elements, the flavours were harmonious (16/20). This was accompanied by lovely toasted poilane bread topped with superb truffle mayonnaise (18/20).
A single langoustine was cooked in a red curry sauce with natural yoghurt and a broccoli stem; the light spice of the curry sauce and the yoghurt are natural partners, and these taste were restrained enough not to distract from the langoustine, which was of high quality and was beautifully cooked (18/20). Next was crapaudine beetroot (a refined beet grown in the centre of France) baked in clay for three hours, then served with Chinese artichokes, chervil roots and white carrots with a chestnut dressing and lard de colannata. The beetroot had much more subtle taste that the norm, and the vegetables with it were very good too (17/20).
Sea bass was roasted with radishes and served with a shellfish consommé, with a garnish of cod roe and a sprinkling of buckwheat. The fish had lovely flavour and was perfectly cooked, while the consommé had good intensity of flavour (18/20). The first meat dish was teal breast with onion tarte fine and a grilled onion puree, while a liquorice stick held confit of the teal and its heart. The duck was excellent, with rich flavour (17/20). An interesting dish of pork jowl followed, which had been slow braised with Pedro Ximines sherry; this was a rich, very tender piece of meat (17/20).
The best was yet to come, with venison (from Vicar’s Game, which also supply the Harwood Arms) cooked in hay, roasted on the bone with aromatics including Douglas fir. The meat was plated with a pumpkin molasses puree, pickled walnuts and venison sausage. The venison was absolutely magnificent, some of the best I have eaten, and it was cooked beautifully, with lingering gamey flavour (19/20).
Cheese was from La Fromagerie, supplemented by some cheeses supplied directly from France, and these were in good condition (17/20). Olive oil panna cotta with poached pear and pear sorbet was better than I was expecting, the olive oil flavour balanced by the acidity of the pear (16/20). Excellent cinnamon beignets were served with this (17/20). An ice cream sandwich with grilled peanut parfait and porridge crisps was well executed, though there are flavours I much prefer to these (15/20). For me, much more enjoyable was brown sugar tart with poached muscat grapes and stem ginger ice cream, a nice combination of flavours with the richness of the sugar balance by the grapes and enlivened by the ginger (17/20). Overall this was the best meal I had eaten at the Ledbury by some margin, skirting around the 18/20 level, with the venison in particular genuinely memorable.
Below are notes from a meal in January 2010.
A nibble of a beetroot sphere with foie gras cream inside was enjoyable, the cream having soft texture and lots of liver flavour, the beetroot casing having just a little acidity (17/20). Deep-fried quail egg with Jerusalem artichoke puree and autumn truffles was an enjoyable amuse-bouche, the puree providing a texture contrast to the quail egg (17/20). Ceviche of hand-dived scallops with seaweed and herb oil, kohlrabi and frozen horseradish did not entirely work for me; what was left of the scallops had lost their flavour in the preparation, while the frozen horseradish was so cold as to cause the other elements of the dish to be hard to distinguish, though the herb oil idea was a good one (15/20).
A “risotto” of squid with pine-nuts, sherry and cauliflower was pleasant, not made with rice but having a risotto-like texture; however this seemed a somewhat artificially constructed dish (15/20). Celeriac was baked with ash in a salt crust with hazelnuts, with a “kromeski” (deep fried croquette) of wild boar on the side. This was perfectly pleasant, but I am hazy as to what the cooking really added to the celeriac (15/20). Roast cod with grilled leeks, hand-rolled macaroni and truffle puree was a good dish, the inherently bland taste of the cod lifted by the black truffle flecks, the pasta giving some texture contrast (16/20). Pyrenean milk-fed lamb with baked Jerusalem artichokes and winter savory milk was enjoyable, the artichokes an earthy foil to the lamb (16/20). The best dish of the night was a passion fruit soufflé, the texture hard to fault, the passion fruit flavour coming through well (18/20).
Coffee was dark and full of flavour, served with a few good chocolates. Overall, many elements of this meal seemed to be to be trying altogether too hard. I am a bit worried that the kitchen is thinking of their second Michelin star and assuming that they have to complicate and show off their technique, whereas I think their best strategy would be to continue what they were doing that got them this attention in the first place. Service was very good indeed throughout the meal. I really like the Ledbury, but for me they are verging on over-complicating at the moment.
These are notes from a meal in May 2009.
The breads were a choice of excellent bacon brioche (made from scratch), caraway seed roll (ditto) and a sourdough (bought in from Miller’s bakery). A nibble of ceviche of hand-dived scallops with seaweed and herb oil, with kohlrabi and frozen horseradish was refreshing, the horseradish adding a nice bite (16/20). I began with flame-grilled mackerel with cured mackerel, avocado puree and shiso; this was a particularly well balanced dish, a few little croutons giving a firm texture contrast, the mackerel carefully cooked and having excellent flavour (17/20). New season asparagus was well-timed, served on toast with fresh white crab meat, pomelo and warm citrus mayonnaise (16/20).
My main course was roast poulet de Bresse, served with a little sweetcorn, sweetcorn puree, girolles, summer truffle and a skewer with the chicken heart. Poulet de Bresse has so much better flavour than any chicken I have tasted in the UK, and this was carefully prepared, a lovely summer dish (17/20). Roast baby monkfish was also good, lightly cooked and avoiding the drying out of the monkfish which can so easily happen, served with macaroni stuffed with marjoram, served with peas and marjoram (16/20).
For dessert I had a really well made passion fruit soufflé with Sauternes ice cream. The soufflé was very well prepared not too eggy, the centre light and fluffy, just as it should be (18/20). Coffee with a few chocolates was also very good. This was the best meal I have eaten at the Ledbury; the place certainly seems to be on top form based on this experience.
Below are notes from a meal in May 2008.
The dining room is light and airy, with a small terrace outside for warmer evenings. The wooden floor suggests a bistro but the crisp white linen tablecloths and decorative black rock on each table suggest a more ambitious level of intent. Three courses ar £50, with a tasting menu at £60. The wine list is top notch, with 35 pages of careful choices. A 1998 Pinot Gris Heimboug from Zind Humbrecht is at £51 for a wine that retails at around £18. Egon Muller Kabinett 1998 is at £49 for a wine that can retail at half that price. Felton Road Riesling at £38 is a wine that sells in shops for around £12, so it can be seen that mark-ups are not excessive by London standards. Breads are a choice of sourdough, black olive rolls or tomato bacon onion brioche, and each had good flavour and texture (16/20). Amuse-bouche was a well made potato crisp with a piped line of smoked cod roe with mustard and cress (16/20).
A little tortellini of goat cheese had a rather thicker pasta than I was expecting, but was neatly topped with toasted flaked almonds and wood sorrel to give a crisp texture contrast to the richness of the goat cheese filling (15/20). My starter of scallops and gnocchi were garnished with baby leeks and a truffle emulsion. The gnocchi were very well made with pleasing soft texture, but the scallops were rather overcooked (15/20). A salad of spring vegetables (asparagus, carrots, peas, broad beans, green beans and mange tout) was garnished with peas shoots (I wish I had shares in a pea shoot supplier this year; it seems to end up on almost every plate in London these days) was light and pleasant with a warm pheasant egg rolled in truffle to add a little richness, but pumpernickel did nothing for the dish (14/20).
Fillet of John Dory was steamed with Moroccan spices (Ras el Hanout) and lime leaves, and served with crab, pinenuts (which gave a welcome texture contrast) and broccoli on toast, which I am less sure about. Still, the fish was well timed (15/20). Much the best dish was a loin of roe buck deer (from an estate in Berkshire) that was extremely tender and full of gamey flavour, served with sweet potato, celeriac puree, a bed of tender green cabbage and a deer sausage (17/20).
Cheese is from a mix of Jacques Vernier and Premier Cheese, and was in pretty good condition. Camembert was ripe, Comte had good flavour and Brillat Savarin was suitable rich and creamy (easy 16/20 cheese, pushing 17/20). There was a pre-dessert of apple jelly with diced apple, apple puree and vanilla foam, and a second one (while we waited for a delayed soufflé) of thyme crème brulee with olive and honey ice cream, which worked surprisingly well. The passion fruit soufflé was worth the wait, as it was superbly light in texture (18/20). Frozen yoghurt parfait with lime and Alphonso mango sorbet was refreshing, and the sorbet undeniably seasonal and managed to capture some of the fragrance of these finest of mangoes. Service was attentive to the extent of being a little too much at times, with almost every sip of water resulting in topping up, but we were certainly not ignored. The ingredients are good here and the cooking tries almost too hard to be modern, but technique is mostly excellent.
Here are notes from a meal in October 2007, by way of comparison.
The menu offers seven starters and seven main courses (£50 for three courses) and is modern British, with reasonably seasonal ingredients (e.g. morels) with a few unusual twists e.g. (scallops roasted in liquorice) but which mostly follows more familiar paths. The wine list is substantial, 31 pages in length, and is very well thought through. There are no less than 15 German wines e.g. Donhoff Spatlese 2003 at £55 (retail around £19), and good Italian choices such as Jermann Dreams 2004 at £78 (retail £29.49). Raveneau White Burgundy 2000 Butteaux is £85 (retail £46), while Alsace is represented by smart choices such as with the excellent Domaine Weinbach Cuvee Theo 2001 at £55 (retail around £20). There are two pages of half bottles, an excellent page of dessert wines including no less than ten wines from Austria e.g. the sublime Kracher No 4 TBA 2000 at £56 (retail about £21). At the simpler end of things there is plenty of New World choice e.g. Kim Crawford Merlot 2005 at £35 (retail around £9). There are six reds, six whites and six dessert wines by the glass. The French sommelier (who previously was at the Square) had an impressive depth of knowledge of his list, knew what we had ordered and steered us towards appropriate wines (in one case cheaper than one I had asked his opinion on, showing that he was not there just to push expensive wines on to customers). Mineral water was Speyside Glenlivet.
Bread is of three kinds now: a pleasant plain white crusty sourdough roll bought in from Marcus Miller (who also supplies Gordon Ramsay in Chelsea) but which I find at best 16/20 in standard. Better was a bacon and onion flavoured brioche which they make on the premises, and which had excellent texture and well-controlled bacon flavour, as well as a home-made black olive bread (17/20). An initial nibble arrived in the form of a sliver of very thin, toasted filo pastry topped with two lines of foie gras pate which had good liver flavour and smooth texture (16/20). An alternative was a beignet of prawn, which was pleasantly crispy in itself but inside had a slightly-overcooked prawn (15/20 only). This was followed by a prettily presented slice of loin of tuna wrapped in basil, alongside a small salad of radish and soy, in which were a few slivers of deep fried garlic to add a crunchy texture element. The salad leaves were in themselves very fresh and the dressing was well-balanced, but the tuna itself left a little to be desired. Though lightly seared the texture was a fraction grainy, suggesting that the tuna was not of the very highest standard (15/20).
My starter proper was a ravioli of chicken and morels, with a fondue of white asparagus, a single spear of white asparagus and a frothy velouté of Parmesan, resting on a bed of carefully caramelised onion. The pasta was tender and the chicken and morel combination worked well, the morels of reasonable quality (16/20). The other starter was a simple dish of crab with green asparagus, a sliver of poilane bread cooked in the form of melba toast, with a pomelo and pink grapefruit mayonnaise. The combination of a citrus dressing with crab worked very well, the melba toast adding a welcome note of firm texture, the asparagus itself fresh and tender (16/20).
For main course I had pigeon, which can so easily turn a little rubbery but here was correctly cooked and tender. This was served with a tarte fine of artichokes, whose pastry was a little under-cooked but with good quality ceps (filled out with oyster mushrooms). In a fairly well-loaded plate there was also a puree of artichoke, a skewer of the pigeon liver and a sausage of pigeon, as well as the pigeon legs separately. The breast of pigeon rested on a bed of tender spinach and a nice, gloopy reduction of the cooking juices. This was a complex dish which could easily have been overwhelming, yet for me this had good harmony of ingredients and showed generally strong technique (17/20).
Good technique was also on display in the handling of monkfish, which is very easy to overcook and turn chewy. Here it was baked in rosemary, and offered with a monkfish cheek that had been coated in schnitzel style and flavoured with black truffle, alongside a persillade of assorted wild mushrooms and a few cubes of sautéed potatoes. The monkfish cheek treatment worked well, and the fish was reasonably tender, accompanied by a pleasantly cooked mushroom sauce topped with a line of capers. While competent, for me the sauce lacked intensity of flavour, and so I feel it is only really 15/20.
Cheese arrives on a trolley and has 17 cheeses supplied by Jacques Vernier of Paris. All are French except for a solitary English blue cheese. Cheese tried included a slightly past its best St Maure (which had a tell-tale discolouration just inside the ash coating), an excellent Beaufort, ripe Camembert and good Epoisses, though a Morbier was also not at its best, rather too springy in texture and lacking the characteristic nut and fruit taste of a ripe version. This is still a better cheese board than many in London, but still betrayed cheeses in variable condition (15/20). The cheeses were served with a few grapes and a tasty home-made brioche with dried fruits and walnuts (17/20 for the bread). The waiter knew his cheese fairly well.
Pre-dessert was a honey mousse with smooth texture, topped with finely sliced wild strawberries and a white chocolate granita. I’m not sure about chocolate as a granite, but the texture was fine here and the white chocolate flavour came through reasonably well (16/20). Desserts were the best part of the meal for me. I had a parfait of apple and Pedro Ximinez sherry, sandwiched between sheets of delicate pastry and with an extremely impressive green apple sorbet, alongside a "financier" (almond cake) of warm apple. The parfait itself had excellent apple taste, and the quality of the baking showed through in the texture of the financier (easily 17/20). Most impressive of all was a terrine of citrus fruit (blood orange, grapefruit, with just a little banana) served with a Sauternes custard and a silky and intense passion fruit sorbet, alongside three spherical vanilla and rhubarb beignets dusted with sugar. The acidity of the rhubarb balanced the sweetness of the beignet and the fruit flavour of the terrine had considerable intensity, creating a refreshing and unusual dessert (18/20). Petit fours were also classy, with a rich Grand Marnier truffle, a delicate Earl Grey macaroon and a fine, moist passion fruit jelly (easily 17/20 for these, pushing 18/20). Coffee was pleasant, with espresso better than the slightly weak filter coffee, and there was no problem getting top ups for the double espresso.
By contrast here are notes from a meal soon after its opening in 2005.
Bread is just in one form: crusty white rolls, not made here but bought in (from the supplier Millens) and were served warm. The bread had good texture, perhaps lacking a fraction in salt for my taste (15/20). Amuse-bouche was a clear tomato jelly with a little avocado and tiny pieces of diced raw tuna as garnish; the jelly had excellent clarity and the components worked well together (17/20). Ravioli (actually just the one) of shellfish with champagne and chives featured delicate pasta and carefully cooked mixed shellfish, resting in a little a dark shellfish sauce (17/20). Lobster with asparagus was certainly not chewy, but was too plain a dish to really shine without perfect ingredients; here the lobster (Canadian) and the asparagus were good, as were some Jersey Royals, but they needed something to lift them; you’d need to be in the Mediterranean to get the kind of ingredients that would allow this to work (14/20).
Similarly ballotine of Glenarm salmon is just organic farmed salmon, although in this case it was enhanced by being wrapped in pancetta, which gave some taste to the otherwise bland farmed salmon. This was served with more Jersey Royals (crushed in this case), good peas and some disappointing morels. Given that this new season’s morels in France are the best for years, these were either dried or of poor quality (15/20). Better was carefully cooked sea bass with a rather lackluster creamed but tasteless potato, with an effective vinaigrette of raisins, pine nuts and cockles (16/20). Chocolate soufflé had good texture, mixed in with pieces of banana and sprinkled with pieces of honeycomb, served with a rich dark chocolate sauce at the table (17/20). Even better was assiette of mango, with a mango mousse wrapped in a tuile, a warm mango upside-down cake, a mango crisp and, best of all, a fine mango terrine. The mangos used were Alphonso mangos in season (their season is May to June in India) and have a great taste which came through well here. I’m not sure why they were served with a vanilla ice cream (surely a mango ice cream or sorbet would be better?) but the technical quality of the cake and terrine was high (18/20).
Service was capable, from staff dressed in fashionable black (this is, after all, near Notting Hill). The wine list is very good indeed, though mark-ups are a little higher than La Trompette. Still, seven different Kracher dessert wines gives an idea of the ambition of the list, which spans the globe. Overall, a very capable performance by the kitchen, with essentially no technical errors in this meal. My only quibbles are with the poor morels, the rather tasteless mash and the bland farmed salmon, but this is an ingredient issue. At £39 for three courses they are not trying for the very top of the market, and perhaps these are the sorts of compromises that are inevitable. A very successful place to match its sister restaurants The Square, Chez Bruce, La Trompette and Glasshouse.