The Ledbury sails serenely on

Saturday, October 06th , 2007

 Ledbury 5472 outside-crop-v7.JPG

The Ledbury served up another excellent meal this week, with a menu that changed entirely since my last visit a few months ago. The meal began with an amuse bouche of a savoury crisp with a foie gras mousse that had been squeezed along the crisp, as if from a toothpaste tube. The mousse was pleasant and smooth in texture but did not have strong enough foie gras flavour. I then had flame grilled mackerel with cured mackerel, with a little avocado and shiso jelly; the mackerel was fresh and tasted of good quality and the combination with the avocado was reasonable, but the dish was only really 5/10.

Better were excellent scallops roasted in a mild spice blend "ras el hanout" (A middle eastern blend of coriander, cumin, cinnamon, cloves and fenugreek). This was served with smooth cauliflower puree and a garnish of warm crispy onions and peanuts. This dish was very well executed, the scallops fresh and timed well, the spicing interesting and controlled, the crispy onions adding a welcome texture contrast (17/20).

My main course was venison loin, cooked with little pieces of beetroot and a red wine and beetroot sauce, and served with a millefeuille of celeriac. This also worked well, the earthiness of the celeriac a good foil to the richness of the venison. There was a hint of orange in the sauce but this was subtle enough not to intrude (16/20). Also good was a fillet of sea bream with pumpkin and mandarin puree, with hand-rolled macaronis stuffed with crab and ginger (16/20). A pre-dessert was a pair of good figs with an olive oil ice cream and a little beignet; I’m not so sure about this as a combination, though the components themselves were good (15/20). A passion fruit soufflé for dessert was beautifully made, cooked through well and with intense passion fruit flavour, though I found it a little odd to leave in whole passion fruit seeds rather than sieving these out; a few as garnish perhaps (17/20).

A rave review for a new Indian restaurant in the Guardian (admittedly a pretty unreliable source) for restaurant advice) took me to the hinterlands of Hounslow this week. The decor of Mantra, which just in case you missed the point has "contemporary Indian" stencilled on its windows numerous times, is wacky. The tables are glass, as are the plates. The floor is glass, under-lit in changing colours, and there is a plasma screen on the wall with psychedelic patterns playing.  Chairs are bright red and swivel; they could not resist an outsize chandelier, without which no west London Indian restaurant would be complete. The lighting has the effect of changing the colour of your food change in front of you every few seconds, which is a positively nauseating experience.

If you can get over the decor then the food is actually a cut above the high street. There is no indication of this at the start of the meal, with popadoms oddly broken into small pieces and served with a lime pickle and a mint chutney that were very ordinary. The menu mixes conventional food with some more exotic dishes, e.g. a deep fried sea bass with mango powder, and even tandoori broccoli. Sweet lassi was nicely made (12/20). An aloo tikki appears as four fried potato cakes with an elaborate presentation of tamarind chutney drawn on the plate in waves.  Unfortunately the potato cakes themselves were quite bland, with little in the way of spices to enliven the filling (10/20). Better was "suvey ka tikka" which was just malai chicken tikka; the chicken pieces looked rather curled up and dry, but the marinade saved the day and the meat was tender enough (11/20).  Methi chicken was less good, the meat tender but the sauce with it rather watery and lacking in distinctive fenugreek flavour (9/20).  Bhindi had too much onion and tomato relative to bhindi, the okra itself not firm enough, though it was not as greasy as some (10/20).  A black dhal was rather odd in that there were few lentils at all in the sauce (9/20). Rice was fine and the surprise star was excellent fluffy naan bread (easily 13/20).

Kulfi is home-made, and the malai version had good texture, though rather oddly it appears on a stick and you have to scrape it off this to eat it (11/20).  Service was friendly and attentive. Overall this was strange experience. The decor is some of the oddest I have seen (though Cocoon and Sketch have a similar feel), and the changing lighting is a mistake as it gives the food an eerie appearance. The excellent naan suggests some ability, yet in an attempt to be "contemporary" they seem to have cut back too much on the spices which, after all, are the whole point of Indian cooking.  Not somewhere I would make a journey to, but if you are in the area for some reason then you could do worse, provided you don’t mind your tandoori chicken turning some pretty surreal shades in front of your eyes.

Cooking at the Brackenbury has stepped up a gear in recent months. Always a reliable local 14/20 level establishment, the cooking seems to me to have become more assured. A starter of "crispy" mackerel was very good, the fish fresh and carefully fried; it was served with golden beetroot, whose acidity was a good foil for the fish (14/20). My main course was rump steak, cooked simply with a pepper crust and some spinach leaves and served with excellent chips (15/20). Dessert was good lemon posset with stewed plum on top. I think it would have been better to serve these separately, as the plum juice had leeched into the posset, but this was certainly very nice (15/20). The Brackenbury is not aiming for Michelin territory, but consistently produces well-cooked, appealing, simple food, and who can argue with that? As a bonus it is fairly priced: three courses and a mid-level wine will set you back less than £50 a head.

I am informed by an impeccable source that the new Alain Ducasse opening at the Dorchester (whose opening has slipped a week) will have 82 covers. This is a little worrying to those of us hoping that Ducasse would aim for a 3 star establishment in London, as with this size of establishment it will be difficult to hit the very top notes. 3 star places typically have 30-45 covers, allowing the kitchen to pay a lot of individual attention to each dish. We shall see in November. On the subject of London openings, Alan Yau's Japanese venture Sake No Hana has its launch date pushed back yet again, this time to November. Perhaps Alan should not be too specific about which November, just to be on the safe side. When I asked a Yauatcha manager back in the spring about when Sake No Hana was to open he told me "about three months after whatever our latest estimate is" and his little joke is now proving prophetic. Claude Bosi's Hibiscus should be going by the end of October (originally scheduled for September). It looks like top chefs are no better at getting a decent builder than the rest of us.

I am off to Boston now and will try Clio, which with its sister sushi restaurant Uni has been making some culinary waves in the foodie press.