Editor's note. Less than two weeks after my visit the restaurant appears to have folded, as least in its present form, and is "temporarily" closed. It will seemingly reopen, "with a new kitchen team" in September.
Le Chabanais is the younger sister of the well-marketed Paris bistro Chateaubriand. It is named after a famous Parisien Belle Epoque brothel (or “maison de tolerance” as it was known at the time) that was frequented by such luminaries as Toulouse Lautrec (who painted tableaux for the property), Cary Grant and King Edward VII. Quite what message the restaurant name is intended to send to its customers is unclear, though some possibilities spring to mind.
The head chef here is Paul Boudier, previously head chef of Chateaubriand for the last five years. The 90-cover dining room has clearly been the product of considerable expenditure, with a marble bar and acres of polished brass fittings. There is also a 10 seat private dining room and basement bar. The restaurant opened briefly in May 2015 but then closed for some weeks due to technical problems. Oddly, the room ends up having a vaguely industrial feel due to all that polished metal, which at this level of investment and a Mayfair location feels a little incongruous.
The all-French and quite “natural” wine list had around 60 bottles, ranging in price from £28 to £170, with a median price of £61 and an average mark up of 3.3 times the retail price, which sadly is no longer exceptionally high by the gouging standards of central London. Examples were Domaine St Nicholas Les Clous 2013 at £39 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £14, Riffault Les Chasseignes 2013 at £66 compared to a retail price of £17, and the very enjoyable Fanny Sabre Mersault 2013 at £156 for a label that will set you back around £54 in a shop.
Bread was from “Bread Ahead”, with an outlet in Borough Market; sometimes loaves are also supplied by Hedone, but not today. Rather strangely, the meal began with a plate of radishes and butter in place of an amuse bouche. Why would anyone dip a raw radish in butter unless it was of extraordinary quality (which this was not)? To start with, chicken liver ravioli with fennel broth had decent pasta, and the broth tasted strongly of fennel (13/20). I tried “tandoori quail”, a dish that I am particularly fond of (The Brilliant in Southall does a lovely rendition) but when it arrived it bore no resemblance to what I was expecting. I asked whether they had a tandoor in the kitchen – they did not. I also asked whether the quail was marinated as tandoori quail would be – no it was not. Hence what appeared was some quail meat cooked a la plancha and then smeared with a bland sauce involving yoghurt that had no noticeable spiciness and was vaguely creamy in texture, under a layer of vegetation. It was, to be honest, an abomination, and I could only manage a couple of bites, which didn’t stop it appearing in full on the bill (7/20).
For the main course, Dover sole (£38) was served on the bone and notionally had brown butter with chive sauce, yet this seemed missing in action. What appeared was a decent, fractionally overcooked piece of fish on its own and coated with herbs (12/20). On the side was a rather peculiar salad of very large leaves with a competent hazelnut dressing.
Pigeon (£27) came with Sicilian onions and pickled rose, and was at least cooked quite lightly, though was significantly under-seasoned (11/20). By far the best dish was veal sweetbreads (£26) with fresh almonds and green beans, the meat soft and delicious, the accompaniments logical (14/20). Pommes darphin (£5) is notionally a bit like rosti and cooked with duck fat, but in this case was soggy and undercooked (10/20).
For dessert, there were several unappealing dishes – the Mont Blanc was made with mushrooms, to give you an idea of how misguided the menu is. Classic French desserts are unlikely to be improved by the addition of fungus. Peach melba (£8) had fairly ripe fruit and a pleasant raspberry sauce but was garnished with an odd selection of seeds (11/20), though to be honest by now the meal was beyond redemption. The nail in the coffin was Paris Brest, a dessert notionally with choux pastry with praline cream, yet here with bizarre texture that could have easily have served as a floppy frisbee (8/20). Coffee was fine.
The bill, with corkage and a single bottle of wine to share, was a little matter of £186 a head. If you shared a modest bottle of wine then you could escape (and I use the word advisedly) for around £85 per person, a price wildly out of line with the quality of the food that arrived. We barely touched more than one dish and explained the issues with them, yet no adjustment was made to the bill to reflect the fact we didn’t eat more than a bite or two of them. Service was friendly in a bemused kind of way, the waiters seemingly innocent bystanders as this shambles of a meal unfolded. The dining room was just half full this evening, and frankly based on the meal tonight that itself is a major achievement. This felt to me like a cynical venture designed to suck money from the wallets of wealthy Mayfair diners, without bothering to make the effort to provide much in the way of pleasure in the food while it does so. Instead several dishes have peculiar elements that appear to me more about showing how trendy the kitchen is rather than being nice to eat. I am not sure how long El Chabanais will last, but I have no desire to come back and witness the last rites here. As a restaurant experience this has virtually nothing to recommend it. From a value for money perspective it is some time since I have experienced such a disappointing meal.