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Foliage

Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park Hotel, Knightsbridge, London, England, SW1X 7LA, United Kingdom

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Chris Staines left Foliage in early 2010, and the restaurant closed shortly after. It is now Dinner so the notes below are of historical interest only.

This is at the back of the hotel, overlooking Hyde Park. From the windows of the dining room you can see the trees of Hyde Park, hence the name "Foliage". Just in case you had missed the point, the starter plates are clear glass and are placed on top of a single leaf. The dining room has high ceilings but is not too imposing, the walls entirely plain cream, the focus being on the picture windows.

Here are notes from my most recent meal.

The Foliage restaurant has an attractive view over Hyde Park, with a light, airy room that is ideal for lunch on a sunny day. There were two lunch menu options, a three course choice for £24 or a four course for £29, which we had. The full tasting menu was £55 at lunch or £75 in the evening. The wine list was excellent. Examples are Trimbach Cuvee Frederich Emile 2002 for £66 compared to a retail price of around £29, Jermann Vintage Tunina 2006 for £68 versus a shop price of about £28, and Dog Point Chardonnay 2006 at £45 for a wine that will set you back around £15 in the shops. We had the excellent Egon Muller Scharzhofberger 2004 for £58 (a very fair mark-up level on this particular wine since you can pay as much as £39 a bottle for it).

The bread is from a mix of two suppliers, Poilane for the sliced sourdough and walnut and raisin bread, and Bagatelle for the rolls. I will continue my interminable criticism of serious restaurants in London buying in their bread. If gastropubs like the Prince of Wales and Duke of Sussex can make excellent bread, then it seems to me the height of laziness for Michelin-starred establishments to not bother (bread 14/20). A nibble of fennel and apple mousse, with a salad of fennel, hazelnuts and apples, with apple jelly and celery cress was a reasonably refreshing start (15/20).

My starter of almond gazpacho with tuna, langoustines and grapes was, for me, a bit of a train wreck of a dish. The langoustine did not benefit from resting in the soup, while the almond flavour dominated the dish, leaving little room for the tuna or the shellfish to really contribute; I felt this to be conceptually flawed rather than poorly executed (13/20). Far better was my companions’s pea soup with ham hock, which had excellent depth of flavour and was nicely seasoned (comfortably 16/20).

Next was seasonal green asparagus with a slightly sloppily presented but nicely cooked poached egg, a little pata negra and fried sweetbreads. The asparagus was fine but the sweetbreads had very little taste (14/20). My main course of guinea fowl was cooked sous-vide and served with white asparagus, wild garlic leaves, pickled onions, morels and broccoli puree. The game was cooked fine but did not have a lot of flavour, and the asparagus was of good quality though perhaps cooking for a fraction longer would have brought out more flavour; the morels had limited taste (14/20). My companion’s lamb was better, the meat being of very good quality and carefully cooked.

Cheese is supplied from a mixture of Premiere cheese for the English cheeses, and a French supplier called Jean-Yves Bordier, who is well-known for his butter, which is also used here. The French cheeses were in lovely condition (18/20 level), the English ones merely decent e.g. a slightly unripe Stilton (15/20). For dessert, a rhubarb soup with ginger Panna cotta had poached rhubarb and a little crumble. This was inoffensive but I didn’t find it particularly interesting, the rhubarb flavour quite restrained (maybe 14/20). Coffee was served with a pair of excellent Madeleines, one chocolate, the other lemon pannacotta; these were light and airy, and genuinely classy (18/20). Service was excellent throughout, friendly and efficient. Overall I found the meal a little disappointing, with the pea soup the stand-out dish apart from the Madeleines. The meal today was perhaps 15/20 level, less good than my previous meals here.

Here are notes from a meal in late 2007.

Bread had good texture but was lacking in taste and needed salt adding (15/20). The menu is sensible and classical, with eight starters and nine main courses. The wine list is extensive and unusually fairly priced, Cigare Volant at under £50, Cuvee Frederich Emile around £38, Jermann Vintage Tunina £50. Not real bargains, but better than I would have expected. The wine list is mainly French, but the choices are intelligent e.g. Meerlust from South Africa, Ata Ranga Pinot Noir from New Zealand, Ridge from California.

As you sit down to the menu you are presented with three varieties of thin tuiles/bread-sticks, one with chorizo running through it, one plain and the third with parmesan, and two dips: a smoked aubergine-based one and a cauliflower mousse. The tuiles are very thin and so are not ideal for dipping, but are well made. The dips seemed to me to lack assertive flavour (14/20). An amuse bouche purported to be crab and shrimps in a cucumber and basil mousse, but the seafood was so finely chopped as to be hard to recognise; the mousse worked technically well enough, but was basil really the best thing you could pair with seafood? (14/20). Bread is from Poilane in Victoria, and includes very good sour-dough slices, excellent walnut and raisin slices, white, wholegrain and baguette rolls (16/20).

A crab and langoustine salad featured fresh crab and three tiny pieces of nicely cooked langoustine, with a mousse of avocado and very thin slivers of cucumber, as well as a few salad leaves and a decorative savoury tuile. The langoustine were properly cooked though the pieces were very small indeed, the dish as a whole reasonably coherent if unexciting (15/20). Better was very high quality lightly seared tuna with a little foie gras mousse inserted into the tuna slice, along with a few grapefruit segments and an oriental Ponzu dressing. The tuna was superb, and the dressing went well, though the grapefruit was in an almost token quantity (17/20). Foie gras was served with endive tatin and cocoa jelly. The mixing of cocoa with the foie gras was unusual but worked reasonably well; more worrying was that the ballotine of foie gras did not have very intense taste of liver (15/20).

Scallops were excellent, served with cauliflower puree, a few pickled ceps and a sherry-based sauce (16/20). A little piece of sea bass fillet was nicely cooked, served with a smear of blood orange sauce, a red pepper mousse and a cucumber foam. I’m not sure that the blood orange sauce was a great match for the bass, though the fish itself was very tasty (16/20). Rabbit was served both as a fillet and as meat on the ribs, served with broccoli, green beans and truffle cream (16/20). Venison was pink and quite tender, served with smoked artichoke, little layers of Brussels sprouts rather than whole sprouts, and a little red cabbage (16/20).

A lemon soufflé was served in a glass (an interesting technique) and was cooked through well with light texture, served with a lemon yoghurt sorbet (16/20). Better was a mango dessert of fluffy yoghurt with mango ice cream, garnished with a thin rectangle of shortbread, pieces of mango and yoghurt mousse. Coffee was very good. Petit fours comprised a small chocolate covered caramel, and a olive oil-based ganache covered in dark chocolate, in which was a dip filled with balsamic vinegar from a dropper at the table. Service was courteous and attentive.

Overall I found that the presentation was very pretty, the ingredients excellent (e.g. lovely tuna) but as a theme the dishes were a little tentative on flavour, not bland but seeming to hold back a little. Technique was very good but somehow it did not quite taste as good as it looked. At £130 a head with wine (£60 for four courses) this was very good rather than dazzling. In the 2007 Michelin Guide, Michelin gave this an "espoir" i.e. indicated that it was on track for a second star. In my opinion it has some way to go to hit that level.

 

Further reviews: 03rd Mar 2007 | 03rd Mar 2003

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