Blandford Comptoir was opened in May 2016 by Xavier Rousset, former head sommelier at Le Manoir au Quat’ Saisons and co-founder of Texture and 28/50. The head chef here is Ben Mellor, who trained at the late lamented Monsieur Max, McClements and Drakes before holding the head chef role at 28:50 Fetter Lane. The dining room has a casual feel, with marble tabletops rather than tablecloths, and tightly packed tables.
Before I talk about the food, a short excursion into the world of sound. Noise levels here were very high due to all the hard surfaces – wood floor, marble tables, mirrors on walls. This evening at our table I measured the noise at typically around a hefty 110 decibels (similar to being next to a power saw) and peaking at a troublesome 139 decibels (similar to being near a jet engine and at the threshold of causing hearing damage). What the room definitely did not need was to add to the cacophony with music, but this was played later in the evening. Some hours later, my ears are still ringing as I type this. Restaurants all too frequently ignore the issue of excessive noise, but under the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 and the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 the threshold for regular exposure is 87 decibels and the maximum for peak exposure is 140 decibels. At these levels employers are supposed to take action to protect their staff (and customers) e.g. using absorbent materials or screens in a dining room, or even providing ear protectors.
The menu had a raw food section as well as starters and mains, with several dishes available as either of these. The wine list started at £23 and had over a dozen labels under £30. There was also a section of posher wines, some of which were at very fair prices. Examples on the list were Rainer Wess Wachaeur Gruner Veltliner at £35 for a bottle that can be found for £12 in the high street, Caroline Maurey Les Champlots St Aubin 2013 at £59 compared to its retail price of £30, and Etienne Sauzet Puligny Montrachet 2014 at £77 for a wine that will set you back £40 in a shop. At the more exclusive end of the list there were bottles such as Dominus 1988 at £199 for a label whose current market value is £138. There was even Chateau d’Yquem by the glass. This was an unusually good, and fairly priced, wine list – a rarity in London.
Courgette flower was stuffed with goat curd and was a light and enjoyable way to begin the meal. It was under-seasoned to my taste, but the texture was pleasant (13/20). Cep risotto had pleasing texture and deeply flavoured stock, the lovely cep mushrooms carefully cooked (15/20). No bread was offered, but when I inquired a basket was brought, and it turned out to be the superb sourdough from Hedone.
White onion and truffle ravioli had good texture, the pasta garnished with pea shoots and the onion filling having plenty of flavour (14/20). Quail (£14) came on the bone with truffle boudin, pine nuts and a sauce of the cooking juices. The meat was tender and the sauce particularly good, the pine nuts bringing a pleasant texture contrast, the boudin blanc adding further richness that really needed something to cut through it (14/20).
Stems of broccoli with breadcrumbs, chilli and Parmesan was the side dish that we tried. The version initially delivered was lukewarm, but this was quickly replaced. The second attempt was piping hot and excellent, the stems tender, the breadcrumbs offering a contrasting texture, though the chilli was subtle to the point of invisibility. Nonetheless, this was a particularly good piece of vegetable cookery (15/20).
Figs with honey and vanilla panna cotta was a successful combination, the panna cotta suitably quivering in texture, the figs ripe and enjoyable (14/20). Lemon tart was even better, the pastry good and the filling precisely balanced, with a lovely blend of sweetness and acidity (16/20). Coffee was a Lavazza blend and was quite good.
Service was friendly and topping up of wine was excellent, though some elements of the service could have been tidier e.g. the waiter that delivered our starter was of the “who ordered what?” school of staff training. However this is a restaurant that is not aiming for the precision of fine dining service. The bill came to £93 per person, with some excellent wine. If you shared a modest bottle then a typical cost per head would be more like £55. This seems to me entirely fair for what was some very capable cooking. Other than the deafening noise levels, my meal at Blandord Comptoir was a very enjoyable experience.