The dining room seats 48 diners at capacity, with a further dozen in the private dining room. Chef Antonin Bonnet left the Greenhouse to open his own place in Paris, and he was replaced in March 2012 by Arnaud Bignon. Arnaud had been sous chef of Le Bristol in Paris prior to becoming head chef of Spondi in Athens, where he gained two Michelin stars. The wine list at The Greenhouse is vast, with over 3,000 separate wines on offer. The mark-up averages 3.7 times retail price, which is hefty even for Mayfair. Example wines include Glen Constantia Sauvignon Blanc at £39 for a wine you can find in the high street for £8, Brewer Clifton Ashley Chardonnay from Santa Barbara 2002 at £110 for a wine you can find in a shop for £31, and Piggot Range Shiraz 1998 at £150 for a wine that will set you back £78 in a shop. The depth of the list is considerable in terms of vintages: Chateau Latour is available in a dozen vintages dating back to 1900, with the lovely 1970 Latour at a distinctly unkind £2,100 for a wine that you can find for an average retail price of £496. Even the famous 1945 vintage is listed at £8,795 for a wine that you can purchase for around £3,251 in a shop. We drank the Riesling Kunstler Hockheimer Herrenburg Trocken 2004 (£65) which was drinking beautifully tonight.
Bread is provided by a central bakery in Chelsea that serves the restaurant group of which The Greenhouse is part (sister restaurants include Cassis and Mortons). Country bread, white baguette and a brioche were pleasant enough but lacked much in the way of taste or seasoning (4/10). A trio of nibbles began the meal. Beetroot meringue had a centre of smoked herring cream, and worked well (6/10). Foie gras parfait with sherry vinegar and caramelised popcorn was served fridge cold, and suffered from somewhat chewy popcorn (4/10). Greek salad was encased in a red pepper jelly, but the salad flavour was dominated by the red pepper, while the jelly casing was a little rubbery (3/10).
Cornish crab (£31) was served in a hemisphere of cauliflower cream, with mint jelly and Granny Smith apple; the balance of the dish was reasonable, but the use of curry powder in the seasoning of the crab was both too strong and, for me, a rather odd idea (5/10). Better was a trio of Scottish langoustines (£45), with a mousse of calamansi citrus, green and red radish and citrus powder. The langoustines were carefully cooked and had good flavour, and although the idea of the citrus as balance was fine, for me it was a little too sharp (6/10).
Turbot (£49) was served with baby artichokes, cockles, kaffir lime, finger lemon and a garnish of pak choi cress. The turbot was nicely cooked and the artichokes were good, but cockles seemed to me a rather odd pairing (5/10). I preferred Challans duck breast with Chioggia beetroot (a slightly sweet Italian beetroot) that had been marinated with blackcurrant, and served with a little jus of the duck. The duck was nicely cooked and the beetroot was excellent (7/10).
A pre-dessert was pineapple and mango coulis with pineapple sorbet topped with coconut foam; I thought this was light and refreshing (7/10). Lemon meringue and curd, beurre noisette and poppy seed cake with lemon powder (£15) also worked well, the lemons high quality ones from Amalfi, and the elements of the dish nicely balanced in terms of texture (7/10). Chocolate, coffee and caramel with hazelnuts was a nice dessert, the coffee perhaps lacking intensity (6/10). Coffee was good, served with petit fours: chocolate honeycomb, mango cheesecake, lime and tequila tart with passion fruit meringue (6/10).
Service, led by an excellent Polish manageress, was very professional throughout the evening. The bill came to £154 a head for three courses, modest wine, with no pre-dinner drinks or dessert wine, and this seemed to me an awful lot of money for what was delivered. The dishes were generally well-made, but starters priced at £29 - £45 and main courses at £45 - £55 raise expectations of a very high level of cooking indeed.
Here are notes from a meal in 2010, by way of comparison.
Since its January 2008 refurbishment there is now a wooden floor, taupe walls and green upholstery, with tables well spaced and an airier feel than I recall. Chef Antonin Bonnet (who trained at Michel Bras and under Marco Pierre White at the Oak Room) is still firmly in charge, and turning out elegantly presented dishes using fine ingredients.
A tasting menu began with a pair of amuse-bouches: blood orange jelly, and hazelnut crackers with Parmesan cream. This was a nice pairing, the jelly consumed in one mouthful, contrasting with the crunchy crackers (6/10). The first course was fois gras parfait topped with amontillado jelly, with specks of celery and green apple dotted amongst the jelly; this was served with brioche on the side. The foie gras was extremely smooth, and the apple and celery usefully balancing the richness of the liver (8/10). The dish was paired with the light Madeira Sercial Cossart Golden Colheita 1988.
A single large diver-caught Scottish scallop was served with apple puree, cider vinaigrette and fresh walnuts. I preferred the composition of this dish to the last scallop dish I had here, as it was clean and simple; on this occasion the scallop itself, while of high quality and fresh, was cooked a fraction long for my taste (7/10). This was paired with 2007 Pied de Samson Viognier from Georges Vernay in the Rhone.
Rosemary smoked sweetbread was served with a Jerusalem artichoke and truffle puree, and a little apple to relieve the richness. The sweetbread was carefully cooked, the puree giving a pleasing earthy contrast (7/10). This came with a 2006 Mersault from Domaine Henri Baillot. Next was a brace of snipes, with lardo and force meat on toast. The birds were quite gamey, and the accompaniments enjoyable, but possibly a component to contrast with the richness would have been beneficial (7/10). The wine with this course was 2006 Numanthia Dominio de Egurem from Toro, a pure tempanillo wine.
The main course was hare a la royale, a famous dish in classical French cuisine. This is a complex dish to prepare, involving several stages of cooking, and the result here was a rich, delightful success. The hare meat itself was ultra tender, the sauce rich and redolent of black truffles, but not so strong as to be overwhelming. On the side was an excellent truffle mash. This was a delicious if very rich dish; maybe a little green salad on the side would not have gone amiss at this stage (8/10). This was paired with the lovely 2002 Cape Mentelle Cabernet Sauvignon.
A “lemon tart” was based on a sable biscuit, with lemon filling in which was embedded basil sorbet and lime jelly, with a lime foam. I am not normally fond of shrubbery in my desserts, but in this case the basil sorbet was very restrained, and the lemon filling excellent, and the balance of the dish was excellent (8/10). With this came a 2005 Riesling Spatlese from Daniel Vollenveideer. A rich chocolate cremeux (7/10) with tamarind, prune and dolce di latte ice cream completed the meal on a final sweet note, accompanied by another Madeira, this time the sweeter Bual Blandys Frasqueira 1980.
Service was pretty much faultless throughout this meal, and the sommelier’s pairings (not an easy task with some of the dishes here) were carefully chosen and complemented the food well. Though hardly cheap at over £200 a head, this was a very fine meal indeed. The Greenhouse seems to be very much on the border between one and two Michelin star level, and there are plenty of two star places around that would have struggled to match this experience.
Below are notes from a meal in October 2009.
The tasting menu began with a beef fillet carpaccio (using Simmental beef) with baby sorrel, rhubarb and a plum dressing. This was a good simple dish, the star being the high quality beef (6/10). A single Scottish scallop in seaweed butter was served with caviar, cheese mozzarella, cucumber and rock samphire, and some unannounced dashi stock. The scallop itself was large, plump and sweet, perfectly timed, but there were just too many competing strong flavours, which distracted from the beautiful scallop. If the scallop had been just cooked on its own I would have scored it 8/10, as it was magnificent, but for me this dish was only 6/10.
Better was steamed brill with coconut broth, served with ground peanuts, tamarind and French beans. The fish was cooked very well and had good taste, and in this case the subtle Asian flavours combined well to lift the flavour of the brill (7/10). Pan fried duck foie gras was served warm, with spicy carrot puree, honey-glazed confit medlar (a fruit reminiscent of apples and pears) and tamarind sultanas jus. I was extremely impressed with the foie gras, which had superb smooth texture. Lobes of foie gras are quite individual, and the quality of this suggests a kitchen that is ruthlessly discarding any slightly imperfect elements (8/10).
The best dish was a breast of roast grouse, served with a rich jus, root vegetables and a coffee mashed potato. I am not sure about the final element, but the grouse itself was dazzlingly good, having great flavour but not too gamey, beautifully cooked; this is probably the best grouse I have eaten (9/10). The cheese here is mainly from Bernard Antony, and this is the only restaurant in London that is allowed the rare four year aged Comte from Antony. The Beaufort was in fine condition also, as was a Camembert and Langres; Stichelton from Neals Yard was also excellent This may be the best cheese board in London (8/10).
A dessert of black figs and honey was prettily served with dried fruit jam, hazelnuts, bronze fennel garnish and smooth fig leaf ice cream; the flavour combination worked well (7/10). Service was silky smooth this evening, and even with the staff having the distraction of having our table in between the restaurant owner and Nick Lander there were no discernible slips. I was very impressed with the meal tonight. The quality of ingredients is very high, with the lovely scallop, the superb foie gras and grouse all examples of a restaurant taking great care, a rarity in a UK restaurant of whatever level. My only criticism would be a slight tendency to add one more garnish than is really needed.
Here are notes on a meal from September 2008, by way of comparison.
I enjoyed my meal here this week more than on previous visits, partly because I found the specials very appealing (langoustines, grouse). I still feel that with many a la carte dishes the kitchen is trying a little hard to be determinedly modern, with assorted unusual powders and infusions, but perhaps I am just getting a bit reactionary in my old age. Set lunch is £9, while a la carte is £65, with cheese at £10 extra.
The wine list is a weighty tome, with 98 pages of wines from around the world. Mark-ups seem to vary significantly. For example Egon Muller Scharzhofberger Riesling 2003 is shown at £60, yet this wine will cost you around £29 or more in the shops, while Jermann Dreams from Friuli 2006 cost £96 compared to a shop price of around £40. Chateau Musar came in no less than 16 vintages, with 2000 at £39 compared to a retail price of around £18. Mas La Plana Torres 1997 is marked up more heavily, at £81 for a wine costing around £26 in the shops. At the higher end Etienne Sauzet Batard Montrachet 1995 was listed at £385 for a wine that will cost you around £200 if you can find it. There are even several wines from Kistler, which are almost unobtainable in the UK.
I started with Scottish langoustines with cocoa and white beans, and these were superbly fresh and timed well, garnished with new season white truffle (strong 7/10). Turbot with a beetroot sauce was very prettily presented, the fish timed very nicely and boldly seasoned (a touch salty even for me, but better this way round than under-seasoning) with a salad garnish (7/10). Grouse was cooked carefully and had excellent flavour, served with pomegranate seeds, confit of the leg and side dishes of excellent potatoes and two variations on daikon (radish) and a sauce with a little apple to offset the richness of the grouse (7/10).
Pear Belle Hélène is a classic dish given a modern twist with a vanilla jelly encasing the pears, topped with vanilla ice cream, with pools of rich chocolate sauce surrounding the central pear dessert. I thought this worked extremely well, the vanilla jelly a clever touch and a use of modern cooking technique that was in harmony with the dish rather than fighting against it (8/10). Service was faultless, though the level of attentiveness may have been raised by the seriously well connected person that I was dining with.
Below are notes from a meal in March 2006, by way of comparison.
The dining room is certainly very smart. Amuse bouche of eel in crispbread was very pleasant (6/10). My starter of two divers scallops from Scotland was excellent, the scallops of high quality and timed very well, offered with a little sweet onion and apple, which was not an obvious combination; the scallops themselves were perhaps even 8/10, but for the dish 7/10. Sea bass was wild and of good quality, but served with a smear of vanilla sauce that did not really complement the fish. A tapenade was fine but the dish could have benefited from a more conventional vegetable accompaniment (5/10).
Desserts were a struggle, with just about everything having things like peppercorn and basil ice cream attached. I eventually chose a couple of ice creams: vanilla and rum and raisin, that were very good (6/10). There was also a little post dessert of mini ice-creams: chocolate, yoghurt and lime, which were good (5/10). Breads were excellent, with tomato bread and walnut and raisin bread both having lovely texture and good taste (8/10 bread),
Service was reasonable, though the receptionist was rather inept. All in all, a solid 6/10 with hints of higher ability, yet the cooking for me lacks some edge of excitement. Ingredients: 8/10, technical execution 7/10, harmony of dishes 4/10, presentation 6/10 sums it up for me. The tasting menu at £75 (or £85 for the surprise tasting menu) is actually slightly more than Gordon Ramsay, and that is the problem for me about the new Greenhouse. It is very pleasant but just doesn’t justify these prices.