From 14 July 2019, Hélène Darroze's restaurant will close for refurbishment and modernisation for two months; it re-opens with a new menu in September.
Harden's survey result
Hélène Darroze’s luxurious Mayfair temple of gastronomy, within Mayfair’s most blueblooded hotel, is celebrating its tenth year with a two-month closure, to re-open in September 2019. A revamp is promised, care of French design house, ‘Pierre Yovanovitch Architecture d’Intérieur’ (whose aesthetic, we are told in the PR, ‘focuses on bold re-imaginings of historic spaces, combining the contemporary with luxury materials’). There will also be the addition of a new chef’s table and dedicated Armagnac room; plus a new menu ‘rooted in Hélène’s culinary style, with a larger focus on British producers and suppliers’. The survey consensus on its former incarnation could be summarised as “exceptional cuisine albeit at extortionate prices” to appeal to “a crowd of plutocrats and their lawyers, and very old-money types”: we’ve maintained last year’s rating on the conservative assumption that its new incarnation will be a case of ‘plus ça change’…
“The beautiful room… the attentive, enthusiastic and highly competent staff… the exceptional precision of the cuisine, together with its subtlety” – Hélène Darroze’s “romantic” operation in this most pukka of Mayfair hotels is a fine example of “refined, effortless and luxurious ‘art de la table’” (including a notably good wine list) and its many advocates feel you “can’t fault the place”. Sceptics agree “it’s very good… just not worth the mega prices”.
With its “laser-like precision”, Hélène Darroze’s Gallic cuisine is “simply stunning” in this plush and “stylish” Mayfair chamber, whose “perfectly attentive” service adds a lot to the experience. Just one gripe – it’s “unbelievably expensive” – but fans say “those who complain about the prices are missing the point!”
This Parisian super-chef won more consistent praise this year for her reign at this “luxurious” dining room, where “helpful and unobsequious” staff provide “brilliantly executed” modern French dishes. It’s “unbelievably expensive”, but then again, in Mayfair “decadence and pampering don’t come cheap”.
|Wine per bottle||£40.00|
Hélène Darroze (The Connaught Hotel) W1
A dull Gallic re-launch of the Mayfair dining room until recently tenanted by Angela Hartnett; the food on our early-days visit impressed only by its enormous prices.
More mature readers may recall that the dining room at the Connaught used to be considered a truly great restaurant, with an unbroken tradition going back to the era of Escoffier. (It was a US magazine that, within living memory, described it as the last great French restaurant in the world.)
In 1998, the Connaught was acquired (as part of the Savoy Group) by US investors Blackstone, who - to clinch the purchase - promised to uphold the group's traditions. Those who had noted at that time that 'Blackstone' and 'barbarians' alliterated rather nicely, turned out to be right: the investors quickly set about trashing the restaurant, and leased the space to the Gordon Ramsay group, who turned it into an humdrum Italian affair, under Angela Hartnett.
And now the caravan has moved on. The new owners of the hotel no longer avail themselves of Ms Hartnett's services, and have instead installed a cartoon figure as the new French chef. No disrespect to Ms Darroze, mind: she was the model for Colette in the excellent Pixar animation Ratatouille, which just goes to show she's considered quite a figure in the Parisian cheffy world.
The return of the French signifies no restoration of the ancien régime (more's the pity). This is most apparent in the look of the dining room. Ã€ la Hartnett, efforts are made to pretty up its Edwardian sobriety in a way that just doesn't work, and which just make the room look like a pretentious boutique hotel anywhere. The result is neither imposing nor romantic.
On the service front, similarly, there is no return to former days. Gone for ever are the wonderful staff, who demonstrated that wearing a wing collar didn't necessarily make you stuffy (and who did an absolutely wonderful party trick of rolling out a new table cloth for dessert, without disturbing anything). Nowadays we have cool, youngish Frenchmen (mainly): perfectly pleasant, but one somehow senses not here for the long haul.
Our food started off well. The amuse-bouche - foie gras crème brûlée, apple sorbet and peanut emulsion - was an absolute corker, and the other pre-meal folderols were all pretty good too, as was the bread.
During the meal proper, however, dishes came and went, largely without comment, except how there was nothing really to say about them. This was quite an achievement, considering the elaboration of the descriptions. "Les chipirons de ligne sautéed with chorizo and confit tomatoes black and creamy '2006 Vintage' Carnaroli Acquarello rice, Reggiano parmesan foam", for example, might have been rendered in Anglo-Saxon as "OK risotto with chewy squid, and quite nice cheesy foam".
"Turbot de ligne roasted in foie gras oil, fennel, compote and confit, green apple reduction with Taggiasca olives" might more pithily be rendered as "an insult to the fish" - dry and uninteresting, its richness had been all but destroyed. Salmon - presented, as if a peasant dish, in a bowl - was really just rather horrible.
Then came cheese. A groaning tray, with intriguing selections of the best of the 365 selections that La Belle France can allegedly offer? Not a bit of it, but rather a pre-plated selection of three cheeses. How basic an absurdity is that? This is simply not the sort of thing you go to Mayfair for to spend, most likely, £125+ a head on. And the quince jelly offered with it - a bizarre accompaniment to the mainly soft cheeses served - tasted of almost nothing.
And then a fruit 'n' sorbet pudding. (Do not adjust your monitor. We thought that was the sort of thing you went to to an ice cream parlour for too.) And this particular effort - described as 'La Fraise (yes, just one) Mara des Bois on a bay leaf pannacotta, lemon jelly, fresh strawberry sorbet, almond crumble' - was a truly pathetic conclusion to a supposedly memorable meal; a total non-event. (It was absolutely trounced, incidentally, by a rather similar creation recently consumed at the excellent new City spot, L'Anima, which has the excuse of being Italian, and where prices are about half what they are here.)
Some fine coffee came accompanied by some horrible great chunks of chocolate which would gladden the hearts of lorry-drivers everywhere. Can ace Parisian pÃ¢tissier/chocolatier Pierre Hermé really have been responsible?
So - one of our most expensive meals ever in London, and one of the worst. Come back the ancien régime.
Ah no, it was destroyed for ever.
Carlos Pl, London, W1K 2AL
|Number of Diners:|
|Monday||12 pm-2 pm, 6:30 pm-10 pm|
|Tuesday||12 pm-2 pm, 6:30 pm-10 pm|
|Wednesday||12 pm-2 pm, 6:30 pm-10 pm|
|Thursday||12 pm-2 pm, 6:30 pm-10 pm|
|Friday||12 pm-2 pm, 6:30 pm-10 pm|
|Saturday||12 pm-2 pm, 6:30 pm-10 pm|
|Sunday||12 pm-3 pm, 6:30 pm-9 pm|