Korean head chef Joo Won was here at the launch of the restaurant in 2006 and worked his way up to taking over the lead kitchen role in 2013. Three courses cost a hefty £79, though you do get an amuse-bouche: tonight this was cod brandade with marinated octopus and chilli oil. This combination worked well, the cod flavour robust and the octopus impressively tender; I could have done with a bit more chilli kick, but this was certainly an unusual and pleasant nibble to begin the meal (15/20).
The wine list has good growers but the mark-ups reflect the lofty location of the restaurant. Chateau Musar 1999 is an excellent vintage of this lovely Lebanese wine and is a little hard to find these days; I have done my best over the years to drink any bottle that I encounter, which has not helped its availability. Yet at £210 for a wine whose current market value is £31, we are talking a mark-up factor of nearly seven times its retail price. If you are looking for value on the list then the basic Guigal Cotes du Rhone is always a wine that seems to me to be punching above its weight in terms of value. It was listed here at £37 and retails for about £11, but you can pay a great deal more money for a worse wine than this. Other example labels were Domaine La Soumade Galvin Rasteau Cotes du Rhone 2013 at £52 for a wine that retails at £14, and Hermitage Guigal 2009 at £146 compared to its retail price of £40.
A risotto of artichoke, radicchio, hen’s egg and basil pesto was very enjoyable: the rice had good texture and was made with a high quality stock, the egg was excellent and the artichoke carefully cooked (15/20). Orkney scallops with pumpkin puree came with unannounced chestnuts as well as spiced lemongrass cream, the distinctive herbal flavour of the lemongrass rather subtle but a useful balance to the natural sweetness of the scallop and pumpkin (15/20).
For main course I tried a pumpkin pithivier on a bed of caramelised suede with mushrooms and cep veloute. The pastry was pretty and delicate and the cep flavour came through nicely. Pumpkin is a tricky flavour in many ways, as its sweetness can be a bit much, but the combination of earthy flavours with it here worked well enough (14/20). Fillet of halibut was carefully cooked and had very good flavour, served with prawns, sesame, hispi cabbage, seaweed and dashi cream. The prawns seemed a touch undercooked and the dish was a little salty, even for me (14/20).
Apple tart tatin with caramel sauce had fruit that had been nicely caramelised and reasonable pastry (15/20). A sphere of Valrhona chocolate had a hot chocolate sauce poured over it. The shell gradually melts revealing a centre of hazelnut cremeux and milk foam with orange ice cream. This little trick is hardly original but it is quite fun to watch the dessert gradually emerging from its chocolate egg container. The filling was good if a touch heavy on the orange flavour to my taste, but this dessert was fun and enjoyable (15/20). I quite like this kind of culinary theatre, and there always a frisson of nervous excitement about what the melting of the sphere will reveal. It always reminds me of the first time you see John Hurt peering into the gradually opening egg pod near the start of the movie ‘Alien”, wondering what lurks inside. Fortunately the opening of chocolate spheres in restaurants usually end up with a better result for the diner than the fate of Mr Hurt’s character.
The bill came to £132 a head for three courses and coffee with two very pleasant but relatively modest bottles of wine (Donhoff Riesling Trocken and Guigal Cote du Rhone) between four. At the end of a meal here there is always a tendency to scratch your head and wonder how the bill mounted up to this level, but nonetheless this is a restaurant with many virtues. The menu is appealing, the kitchen technique is solid, the waiters are well-trained and you of course have a lovely view over London from the 28th floor.