Helene Darroze made her name in Paris before opening here; she runs the restaurant at The Connaught in paralle with the one in Paris. At a previous visit to Helene Darroze at the Connaught I had opted for the cheap lunch menu, and found it rather ordinary compared to the dinner menu. Today I was able to try the full tasting menu, which weighs in at £115 for nine courses. The three course lunch menu was priced at £35.
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 pleasant 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.