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Chris Staines left Foliage in early 2010, and the restaurant closed shortly after. It is now Dinner. Hence the notes below are of historical interest only.
This is at the back of the hotel, overlooking Hyde Park. From the windows of the dining room you can see the trees of Hyde Park, hence the name "Foliage". Just in case you had missed the point, the starter plates are clear glass and are placed on top of a single leaf. The dining room has high ceilings but is not too imposing, the walls entirely plain cream, the focus being on the picture windows.
Here are notes from my most recent meal.
The Foliage restaurant has an attractive view over Hyde Park, with a light, airy room that is ideal for lunch on a sunny day. There were two lunch menu options, a three course choice for £24 or a four course for £29, which we had. The full tasting menu was £55 at lunch or £75 in the evening. The wine list was excellent. Examples are Trimbach Cuvee Frederich Emile 2002 for £66 compared to a retail price of around £29, Jermann Vintage Tunina 2006 for £68 versus a shop price of about £28, and Dog Point Chardonnay 2006 at £45 for a wine that will set you back around £15 in the shops. We had the excellent Egon Muller Scharzhofberger 2004 for £58 (a very fair mark-up level on this particular wine since you can pay as much as £39 a bottle for it).
The bread is from a mix of two suppliers, Poilane for the sliced sourdough and walnut and raisin bread, and Bagatelle for the rolls. I will continue my interminable criticism of serious restaurants in London buying in their bread. If gastropubs like the Prince of Wales and Duke of Sussex can make excellent bread, then it seems to me the height of laziness for Michelin-starred establishments to not bother (bread 4/10). A nibble of fennel and apple mousse, with a salad of fennel, hazelnuts and apples, with apple jelly and celery cress was a reasonably refreshing start (5/10).
My starter of almond gazpacho with tuna, langoustines and grapes was, for me, a bit of a train wreck of a dish. The langoustine did not benefit from resting in the soup, while the almond flavour dominated the dish, leaving little room for the tuna or the shellfish to really contribute; I felt this to be conceptually flawed rather than poorly executed (3/10). Far better was my companions’s pea soup with ham hock, which had excellent depth of flavour and was nicely seasoned (comfortably 6/10).
Next was seasonal green asparagus with a slightly sloppily presented but nicely cooked poached egg, a little pata negra and fried sweetbreads. The asparagus was fine but the sweetbreads had very little taste (4/10). My main course of guinea fowl was cooked sous-vide and served with white asparagus, wild garlic leaves, pickled onions, morels and broccoli puree. The game was cooked fine but did not have a lot of flavour, and the asparagus was of good quality though perhaps cooking for a fraction longer would have brought out more flavour; the morels had limited taste (4/10). My companion’s lamb was better, the meat being of very good quality and carefully cooked.
Cheese is supplied from a mixture of Premiere cheese for the English cheeses, and a French supplier called Jean-Yves Bordier, who is well-known for his butter, which is also used here. The French cheeses were in lovely condition (8/10 level), the English ones merely decent e.g. a slightly unripe Stilton (5/10). For dessert, a rhubarb soup with ginger Panna cotta had poached rhubarb and a little crumble. This was inoffensive but I didn’t find it particularly interesting, the rhubarb flavour quite restrained (maybe 4/10). Coffee was served with a pair of excellent Madeleines, one chocolate, the other lemon pannacotta; these were light and airy, and genuinely classy (8/10). Service was excellent throughout, friendly and efficient. Overall I found the meal a little disappointing, with the pea soup the stand-out dish apart from the Madeleines. The meal today was perhaps 5/10 level, less good than my previous meals here.
Here are notes from a meal in late 2007.
Bread had good texture but was lacking in taste and needed salt adding (5/10). The menu is sensible and classical, with eight starters and nine main courses. The wine list is extensive and unusually fairly priced, Cigare Volant at under £50, Cuvee Frederich Emile around £38, Jermann Vintage Tunina £50. Not real bargains, but better than I would have expected. The wine list is mainly French, but the choices are intelligent e.g. Meerlust from South Africa, Ata Ranga Pinot Noir from New Zealand, Ridge from California.
As you sit down to the menu you are presented with three varieties of thin tuiles/bread-sticks, one with chorizo running through it, one plain and the third with parmesan, and two dips: a smoked aubergine-based one and a cauliflower mousse. The tuiles are very thin and so are not ideal for dipping, but are well made. The dips seemed to me to lack assertive flavour (4/10). An amuse bouche purported to be crab and shrimps in a cucumber and basil mousse, but the seafood was so finely chopped as to be hard to recognise; the mousse worked technically well enough, but was basil really the best thing you could pair with seafood? (4/10). Bread is from Poilane in Victoria, and includes very good sour-dough slices, excellent walnut and raisin slices, white, wholegrain and baguette rolls (6/10).
A crab and langoustine salad featured fresh crab and three tiny pieces of nicely cooked langoustine, with a mousse of avocado and very thin slivers of cucumber, as well as a few salad leaves and a decorative savoury tuile. The langoustine were properly cooked though the pieces were very small indeed, the dish as a whole reasonably coherent if unexciting (5/10). Better was very high quality lightly seared tuna with a little foie gras mousse inserted into the tuna slice, along with a few grapefruit segments and an oriental Ponzu dressing. The tuna was superb, and the dressing went well, though the grapefruit was in an almost token quantity (7/10). Foie gras was served with endive tatin and cocoa jelly. The mixing of cocoa with the foie gras was unusual but worked reasonably well; more worrying was that the ballotine of foie gras did not have very intense taste of liver (5/10).
Scallops were excellent, served with cauliflower puree, a few pickled ceps and a sherry-based sauce (6/10). A little piece of sea bass fillet was nicely cooked, served with a smear of blood orange sauce, a red pepper mousse and a cucumber foam. I’m not sure that the blood orange sauce was a great match for the bass, though the fish itself was very tasty (6/10). Rabbit was served both as a fillet and as meat on the ribs, served with broccoli, green beans and truffle cream (6/10). Venison was pink and quite tender, served with smoked artichoke, little layers of Brussels sprouts rather than whole sprouts, and a little red cabbage (6/10).
A lemon soufflé was served in a glass (an interesting technique) and was cooked through well with light texture, served with a lemon yoghurt sorbet (6/10). Better was a mango dessert of fluffy yoghurt with mango ice cream, garnished with a thin rectangle of shortbread, pieces of mango and yoghurt mousse. Coffee was very good. Petit fours comprised a small chocolate covered caramel, and a olive oil-based ganache covered in dark chocolate, in which was a dip filled with balsamic vinegar from a dropper at the table. Service was courteous and attentive.
Overall I found that the presentation was very pretty, the ingredients excellent (e.g. lovely tuna) but as a theme the dishes were a little tentative on flavour, not bland but seeming to hold back a little. Technique was very good but somehow it did not quite taste as good as it looked. At £130 a head with wine (£60 for four courses) this was very good rather than dazzling. In the 2007 Michelin Guide, Michelin gave this an "espoir" i.e. indicated that it was on track for a second star. In my opinion it has some way to go to hit that level.
Below are notes from a meal in March 2007 in which the tasting menu was taken, by way of comparison.
I had the tasting menu. Pan fried "west coast" scallops consisted of two very fresh, very well timed slices of scallop, served with a cep mushroom and a couple of walnuts and a little pickled pear: the scallops were very good indeed, and the cep was also excellent (7/10). A "duo of foie gras" was perhaps over-complicated. The foie gras was served as a light and creamy mousse, as well as flavouring an apple jelly Bavarois, the mousse offered with shredded cabbage leaves, pain d’epice and a little salad of apple and celery. The acidity of the apple was a good balance to the richness of the fois gras, but for me there were more flavours than necessary; however the actual foie gras mousse had extremely light texture and delicate taste (6/10).
Pan fried fillet of sea bass was very well timed, served with a roast almond puree, a little block of butternut squash with small pieces of chorizo and endive with a sweet and sour dressing. Again this was perhaps too fancy for its own good, but it was had to argue with the fine fish and excellent technique (7/10). Venison was from Yorkshire and served as slices of fillet cooked pink, with a wild mushroom "pain perdu", excellent red cabbage and a puree of smoked artichoke (6/10). Dessert was a cylinder of white chocolate encasing a passion fruit sorbet, served with natural yoghurt mousse and a mango and basil salad. I am unconvinced about the harmony of this dish, but the sorbet had good flavour and pleasing texture (5/10). Service was very attentive and better than on prior visits.
A March 2003 meal was as follows. The dishes seem more complex now, but there is stil the emphasis on fine ingredients and excellent technique.
A nibble of lobster brandade had excellent texture and full lobster flavour (7/10), served with a thin strip of melba toast – a little joke about hotel dining rooms, perhaps? Poached Scottish lobster consisted of five pieces of lobster in a pentagon, with a central display of confit tomatoes and artfully brushed vinaigrette of crab, with a few pools of rather tasteless caviar dressing. The presentation was lovely but the lobster was a little chewy – a problem that seems to afflict even successful restaurants (5/10). My starter of ravioli of scallops was much better. This had four tender scallops arranged around the rim of the plate interspersed with delicately roasted pieces of langoustine. In the centre of the dish was a single piece of ravioli enclosing a mousse of scallops, with a few baby leeks as a garnish. This was coated with a fluffed up truffle vinaigrette. The mouse had good texture but I feel that scallops have too delicate a flavour to really survive this process. Still, the individual scallops were excellent, and the langoustines were very tender (7/10). For main course, a piece of sea bass was expertly pan-fried, served with a little tortellini of lobster, with some braised celery hearts and a little caper vinaigrette, which worked well (6/10). Bresse pigeon was lightly cooked and served pink, served with a piece of roasted celeriac, some girolles and some white cabbage that was shredded so thin that it had lost its flavour. However the bouillon of the pigeon was excellent (7/10).
Cheese was a mixed bag, with dull Emmental but a Brie in nice condition, some rather chalky St More goat’s cheese and some indifferent Stilton (4/10 cheese). Desserts picked the pace back up, with an excellent lemon tart with a lemon sorbet that suffered from too many ice crystals, but offset by a good mini lemon soufflé (7/10). Hot chocolate fondant had excellent texture. Served with a fine whiskey ice cream and a caramel "craqulin" that was just a thin slice of caramel. Also excellent was an unannounced sliver of rolled up filo pastry containing chocolate (7/10).
Espresso (8/10) was better than filter coffee (6/10), with a mixed bag of chocolates that had good truffles but lacklustre pistachio chocolates and orange sticks (petit fours 4/10). Service was indifferent all evening. We arrived at 19:30 but our starter did not arrive until 20:30. The waiter brought one incorrect cheese and was unsure who had ordered which dessert. He also managed to bring a pre-dessert of excellent mini crème brulee (7/10) before my cheese, which probably would have resulted in summary dismissal in France. The wine waiter seemed generally confused throughout ("the sommelier is in Italy") and while it was all well meaning, the service was poor.