L’Etranger has smart, modern décor in a low-ceilinged room on Gloucester Road. Its cuisine is that most dangerous of things: fusion, in this case French and Japanese. There were two tasting menus, one at £59 and another at £79. The wine list was very extensive, 42 pages of good producers. Examples included Rubicon Meerlust 2003 at £55 for a wine that costs around £19 retail, the excellent Lebanese wine Chateau Musar 2000 at £60 compared to a shop price of about £17, and Leeuwin Art Series Chardonnay at £75 for a wine that will set you back around £30 or so in the shops. For those splashing out there were several vintages of Yquem, and Vega Sicilia Unico 1985 at £320 for a wine you will cost you perhaps £210 retail.
An amuse-bouche of beef carpaccio was nice (14/20), but when my wife (who doesn’t eat meat) declined, there was no attempt to bring an alternative, which most places usually manage. I was impressed with the bread (made in l’Etranger’s larger sister restaurant in east London), which had very good texture and was served with an excellent tapenade, and also a dip of green olives and wasabi (16/20). My starter was a pair each of tuna spring rolls and crab with coriander rolls, served with pickled ginger, soy and tamarind sauce. The tuna rolls were very enjoyable but the crab less so, mainly as the crab had become somewhat dried out (13/20). Better was prawn tempura and avocado maki, the tempura delicate, the rolls nicely made with just the right level of wasabi to liven them up without overpowering (15/20).
Risotto of butternut squash as a main course had the rice absorbing the stock well (14/20) but I preferred my Charolais beef with “hana kizami” (shredded seaweed with wasabi) mash and a classical pepper sauce sauces on the side. The beef was very good indeed and the spices went well with it (16/20). Bak choi as a side order was simply cooked with soy and was fine though not quite up to Royal China’s version (14/20).
A dessert of apple and almond tart had pastry with good texture, though the apples were a little tasteless: apparently Cox, which were presumably from New Zealand by this time, the English season having finished a few weeks ago. This was served with cinnamon ice cream (14/20). I preferred this to chocolate fondue (the first time I have seen a fusion restaurant bringing in Swiss food) in which you could dip watermelon, pineapple, melon or (very light and delicate) chocolate brownies (13/20).
The bill for two was £155, including a glass of good dessert wine and a pre-dinner cocktail. Service was a rather odd mix. We had an excellent sommelier who really knew his list, a friendly manager but a distinctly grumpy waitress with a strong Eastern European accent who from her general demeanour may have felt at home in a Soviet canteen. Overall I found the place very enjoyable.