The auction house Bonhams established a London restaurant to the public in February 2015, initially open only for breakfast and lunch. You can access the restaurant, as I did, through the main auction house entrance on New Bond Street after a polite quizzing by the evidently baffled receptionists (the restaurant has not been open long), or you can access it more directly through the back of the building via the wonderfully named Haunch of Venison Yard. There is a bar area with a few tables, the main dining area positioned a flight of stairs up from this. The restaurant is a cosy affair, with it being possible to seat perhaps 30 customers at once.
Chef Tom Kemble has worked at Foliage when it was open, then after some private catering he progressed to sous chef at Hedone. He also worked for nine months in the remotely located Faviken in Sweden; this is his first head chef position. Unusually for a cook, he has a degree in History of Art, which may come in handy at such a location. Just two chefs were helping him in the kitchen today.
The wine list benefits from Bonhams expertise (their wine department is headed by Richard Harvey, a master of wine), and there is a pair of Enomatic machines to allow a good selection by the glass. There are around 100 labels, varying in price from £31.50 to £1,350, with a median price of £62 and an average mark-up of around 2.8 times the retail price. This average, low as it is by central London standards, disguises some individual bargains, especially at the high end of the list – Cheval Blanc 1982 was £750 here, yet its current market price is a shade above that. Example wines were Neudorf Sauvignon Blanc 2013 at £35 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £16, Riesling Ried Kellerberg Smaragd Emerich Knoll 2011 at £74 for a wine that retails at £44, and Cuvee Winston Churchill 2000 at £150 for a champagne that will set you back £128 in a shop. The lovely Vega Sicilia Unico Valbuena 1995 was £110 for a bottle that costs £113 in a shop. A little research will reward the discerning wine drinker on this list.
The sourdough bread was made from scratch in the kitchen, and bore some resemblance to the one at Hedone; though it was not quite as good as that it was nonetheless impressive, with good texture, open crumb and thin crust (easily 16/20).
Crispy egg (£10) was served with spiky Italian artichokes, lardo, egg white mayonnaise and ramsom (wild garlic) foam. This was an excellent dish, the artichokes and mayonnaise balancing the richness of the egg nicely (15/20). Cornish crab (£12) came with cucumber, fennel, and blood orange and pistachio mayonnaise. This was also highly successful, the crab of high quality, the fennel very good, the mayonnaise carefully made (15/20).
Sirloin steak (£28) from Philip Warren in Cornwall was aged 40 days and came with caramelised shallot, Erbette chard (a cross between spinach and chard), smoked pomme puree and a red wine jus. The beef had lovely flavour and the shallot was an excellent foil to the meat. The red wine sauce was made from a beef and venison jus finished by reducing shallots, thyme and red wine to a glaze (16/20). Ricotta agnolotti (£15) came with Erbette chard, pecorino and marjoram butter. The pasta, typical of Piedmont, was carefully cooked and the ricotta cheese good (14/20).
Bitter chocolate tart (£8) used Chocovic chocolate from Spain and was topped with toasted hazelnuts and served with blood orange sorbet. This was a lovely dish with excellent pastry and the chocolate rich and velvety, complemented by the acidity of the fruit sorbet (16/20). Mandarin variations (£7) came with meringue and also yoghurt sorbet. This was another successful dish, the meringue very delicate and the fruit working well with the yoghurt (15/20). Coffee was from Caravan and was very enjoyable.
The bill came to £133 per head, but this was with several courses including cheese and plenty of good wine, amongst which was the superb Vega Sicilia Valbuena 1995. If you ordered three courses and shared a modest bottle of wine then a typical bill might be around £65 per head, which is entirely reasonable for cooking of this calibre.
To say that this restaurant has had a low-key launch would be an understatement, and perhaps it is mainly intended for the auction staff to entertain prospective clients, but I would encourage you to try it. The food is classy and the wine list contains genuine bargains – how often can you say that of a Mayfair restaurant?