Helene Darroze at the Connaught

Carlos Place, The Connaught Hotel, London, England, W1K 2AL, United Kingdom

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Nibbles were French ham from the Pyrenees, which was lovely, and sea bass croquettes, which were rather lacking in taste, and somewhat flabby in texture; alongside was a scallop coral veloute, which was pleasant (overall perhaps 14/20). Scallop carpaccio was served with crunchy, marinated artichokes (from Sardinia), and was pleasant, the scallops having good flavour (16/20). This was followed by terrine of duck foie gras (from Landes) with celeriac and gomashio (an Asian condiment made from sesame seeds), crispy ginger bread and banana puree. The foie gras itself was good, with smooth texture, but the banana accompaniment seemed an ill-conceived idea to me. For me, foie gras is best matched with something that had acidity, and mild spices and banana just didn’t work (14/20).

The best savoury dish was pea veloute with spring vegetables, a little buffalo cream, bay leaf cappuccino and crispy fondant lardons of pork belly. The peas had lovely flavour, the dish was well seasoned, and the pork crisp added a nice balance of texture (17/20). Confit of salt cod was served with Iberico lomo (tenderloin) ham jus, wild garlic emulsion and ravioli of white coco beans and pecorino. Again I struggled with the balance of the dish, the salt cod flavour overwhelming the other elements (13/20).

The meal got back on track somewhat with roasted line-caught sea bass, served with white asparagus (from Landes in the south of France) that had been coated in bottarga (mullet roe) breadcrumbs, served with seaweed and lime beurre blanc. The fish was nicely cooked, the asparagus reasonable though I was not convinced by the need to combine this ingredient with bottarga. However the beurre blanc was nicely made (16/20). Saddle of milk-fed lamb was roasted and stuffed, flavoured with tarragon and offered with grilled chuletilla (baby lamb chop), with broad beans, fresh goat cheese, black pepper and a slightly spiced reduction of the cooking juices. The lamb itself had good flavour, but again I was puzzled by the garnishes: goat cheese with lamb? (15/20).

Desserts seemed to me better composed than the savoury dishes. Apple compote (using Golden Delicious apples) was served with Granny Smith apple sorbet, clafoutis biscuit and a black Sarawak pepper cream that was fortunately quite subtle; the compote was nicely made, the sorbet very good (16/20). Madong chocolate cream was served with Moka (sic) coffee ice cream, pecan nut nougatine and Greek yoghurt. The coffee flavour was pleasingly intense, the yoghurt an interesting way to balance this (17/20). Service ran smoothly, and our sommelier was knowledgeable. The bill, admittedly with quite a bit of wine, came to a hefty £252 a head. Overall I found this meal rather disjointed. There were some good dishes, such as the lovely pea veloute and the capable desserts, but several dishes seemed to have too many and at times clashing flavour elements. For me this was at best a 16/20 level meal.

Nibbles were quite enjoyable: a tomato stick with olive oil was unusual and tasty, a velouté of artichoke had rather insipid flavour, while a little foccacia of salmon and dill was quite good (16/20).  An amuse bouche of foie gras with peanut foam was not well executed, as although the texture was fine, the peanut flavour completely overwhelmed the foie gras (14/20).  Blue lobster was excellent (better than on a previous visit), seasoned with well controlled Indian spices, served with spring onion and beurre noisette, the lobster entirely without a hint of chewiness (18/20).  I had squid cooked with tomatoes and chorizo on a bed of Carnaroli rice with Parmesan foam.  This dish had lots of flavour and the squid had only a hint of chewiness, while the dish was well seasoned (17/20).

My main course of roast partridge was unexciting, what flavour there was coming mainly fron the accompaniments: tiny Brussels sprouts, little pieces of cooked “reinettes” apples (from Cévennes) and grapes, with a vin jaune sauce (barely 16/20). Much better was venison, served as both fillet and ribs with pepper, autumn fruits and fondant of vegetables with a Stilton emulsion and a red wine sauce; the meat was carefully cooked and had excellent flavour (18/20). A pre dessert of pineapple with citrus flavours was refreshing (17/20). A dessert of exotic fruits set in lime jelly with coconut ice cream was very light, with feathery passion fruit “paper” and excellent marshmallow (18/20). A rich chocolate dessert using Venezualan Carupano dark chocolate had a chocolate cream, bitter chocolate sorbet and hot chocolate sauce, and while extremely rich this was hard to argue with (18/20). Coffee was extremely high quality but was also £8, admittedly with some further chocolates, but £8?  Service was top of the range tonight, attentive and dealing with assorted diner preferences with aplomb, with just one minor slip.  I have now had three meals here: the first was a dinner when Helene Darroze was in the kitchen (18/20), the second a lunch when she was not (16/20) and now a dinner when she was absent (17/20).  Hence 17/20 seems a good score.


Further reviews: 03rd Jun 2021 | 27th Apr 2012 | 01st Aug 2008 | 22nd Jul 2008 | 01st Jul 2007

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