Otto’s has been trading since late 2011 in an unfashionable location not far from Chancery Lane. It shares its name with the waiter of a fictional restaurant (Orsini"s) in the episode of Frasier (“The Innkeepers”) in which the Crane brothers buy the old-fashioned restaurant and try and relaunch it. The real version has a German owner (Otto) but serves traditional French food. The ground floor dining room, decorated with some old French film posters, seats around 25, with a further dining room of a similar size downstairs.
From the a la carte menu, starters were priced from £6.45 - £12.50, main courses £15.95 - £24.95, and desserts £6.50 - £9.50. A three-course lunch was available for £28. The chef is Arnaud Carre, who has worked in some serious French kitchens such as Reserve de Beaulieu on the Riviera.
Bread was bought in from a company called Boulangerie de France, and was pleasant enough. The wine list was mostly, but not entirely, French, and had selections such as Morgon Chateau Raousset 2010 at £26 for a wine that you can find in the high street for around £8, Rene Rostaing 2005 Cote Rotie at £75 for a wine that retails at £54, and Leoville Barton 1998 at £129 for a wine that will set you back £78 in the shops. Baked scallops with julienned vegetables and a lemongrass nage were pleasant, though they did not have much in the way of inherent sweetness of flavour (12/20).
What intrigued me about Otto’s is that they offer pressed duck. Pressed duck is a legendary French dish involving a duck press, a device used to extract the blood and juices of the remains of the duck once the breast and legs have been removed. The duck itself was quite special, being from the same Challans supplier, House Burgaud, that supply Tour d’Argent in Paris, the restaurant that developed the dish in the 19th century and made it famous. The duck press itself here is almost an antique, made in 1927 by the well-known French company Christofle. If you want this dish then you must pre-order it, and it is much pricier than the other menu items, at £60 a head for a minimum of two people. This is due to the very expensive Challans duck, and the considerable effort involved in preparing it. First a red wine, port and Cognac reduction is prepared with duck stock. Duck liver is then roasted and chopped and added to this. The duck, once cooked, has the breast and legs removed, and the rest of the body is then crushed in the duck press to extract the juices, which are then added to the reduction. The result is a very rich sauce, which is served with the duck breast. The sauce was good, though I think it was crying out for a vegetable or salad accompaniment to balance its richness. However, the duck breast, as could be clearly seen when carving, was overcooked, barely pink even in the middle.
The duck legs were served as a second stage with a salad, and this was better, but there was no getting away from the fact that the duck was a little overcooked. Its flavour was excellent, but still... (maybe 13/20). It was served with very good pommes soufflés, an old-fashioned but very enjoyable dish. Potatoes are peeled and then sliced thin with a mandolin, fried in hot oil, then a second time at a higher temperature so they fluff out. The result is a crispy, light dish, rather like a hollow chip. These were nicely seasoned and carefully made (15/20).
Crepes Suzette were prepared tableside, but although the orange filling was fine the crepes were clumsily made, far too thick. It was decent enough, but I would have expected better (11/20). I had a bite of some crème brulee, which tasted better.
The bill came to £147 per person, but that is unrepresentative since it involved the special duck dish. With a modest bottle of wine, your bill might come to around £65 a head or so for three courses. Otto himself (who had worked briefly at Tour d’Argent in 1974, and also at Inigo Jones in London) was very personable, and this is the sort of food that I really like. It was therefore all the more disappointing that the food was just not up to the price tag, with two of my dishes out of three suffering from significant technical errors. As Oscar Wilde nearly said, to make a mistake on one dish may be regarded as unfortunate, but to do so twice looks like carelessness.
Further reviews: 19th Aug 2015