Bar Boulud is the London debut of Daniel Boulud, whose flagship is the excellent Daniel in New York. Daniel is originally from Lyon, and these roots show in this bistro in the Mandarin Oriental hotel. The menu majors on charcuterie, but also provides a range of bistro dishes.
The large dining room has an open kitchen, which helps distract from the low ceiling and otherwise ordinary décor. On the night we visited, less than two weeks after opening, they served 160 covers, and were already turning tables. The menu had starters between £8 and £11.50, main courses £17 - £22, and also offers a set lunch for £20. The extensive 26 page wine list is primarily French and American, with a nod to the rest of the world. Mark-ups are far from kind, even by Knightsbridge standards. Examples include the reliable Au Bon Climat Chardonnay 2008 at £58 compared to a retail price of around £15, Felton Road Pinot Noir 2006 was £92 for a wine that costs about £23 in the shops, while at the high end of the list La Mouline 2000 was a hefty £627 (+ VAT) for a wine that, if you can find it, will set you back around £179. We drank the Ponzi Pinot Noir 2007 from Oregon, which was an enjoyable accompaniment to the food.
Bread was from Boulangerie de Paris, which at present in London is about as good as you are likely to find without baking the bread yourself (5/10). A Dorset crab salad with spring vegetables and five citrus dressing worked really well. The crab was fresh, the dressing provided a nice balance to the inherent sweetness of the crab, and the leaves were fresh; a savoury tuile was very delicate (easily 5/10).
Charcuterie is from Gilles Verot of Montparnasse in Paris, who has the reputation of producing some of the best charcuterie available. A wooden board came loaded with saucisson, Jambon de Paris, some Iberico ham, a terrine of duck and foie gras, delicate braised ox-cheek, and a trio of different patés. These were indeed very good indeed, having real depth of flavour. Of course there is a limit to what is reasonable to score here, since this is shopping rather than cooking, but it is very skilled shopping (5/10).
A “piggy burger” was a grilled beef patty with barbecued pulled pork, a sesame bun, sweet onion and home-made pickles. This was very good indeed, the meat medium rare and of high quality, the pork adding extra flavour, the pickles (and a very good celeriac remoulade) excellent – even the bun was in a different league to what normally turns up on a burger dish in London. Easily 5/10 level again. Poached halibut with asparagus, spring chanterelles and sauce mousseline was not quite at the same level, the fish of good quality and nicely cooked but the sauce a little watery (and very few wild mushrooms arriving on the plate). Still comfortably 4/10 though for the dish.
A dessert of Basque gateau (custard cake) was simple but very enjoyable, served with excellent cherries (5/10). Even better was a fluffy Grand Marneier soufflé, served with a little excellent crème anglaise (comfortably 6/10).
As a bonus, there were freshly-baked Madeleines, which while were not of the very highest flight (I still recall the divine ones at Mere Brazier in Lyon) were nonetheless very good (6/10). Coffee was good but could be improved upon.
Service was extremely smooth, friendly and unobtrusive. The bill came to £95 a head but with some quite good wine; it would be possible to eat for significantly less than this; the wine mark-ups are high, so this is the area to economise on. I was very impressed with the consistency of cooking and service at such an early stage of the restaurant’s life; it was as if the place had been here for years. Perhaps it takes a French/American to show London how a bistro should be.