The Connaught has always been one of my favourite hotels in London particularly because despite the ritzy ambience and sophisticated design, service really lies in the heart of everything they do. Plus, on a more personal level, the Connaught Bar plays a very strong martini game and they definitely have the best dirty dry tipple here.
Also, it introduced me to two rather inspiring women who, coincidentally, are proteges of the only three-Michelin starred chefs in London (Ramsay and Ducasse). Angela Hartnett’s Menu was my first favourite London restaurant until it closed when the hotel had a £70M refurb in 2007. When it re-opened, Hélène Darroze took over the kitchen and has gained two Michelin stars.
Hélène Darroze at The Connaught is a beautiful space although quite frankly, I’m not a huge fan of the decor. I love the wooden panels and the Damien Hirst artwork, but the velvety chartreuse chairs just seemed a bit off.
An array of ingredients underneath glass cloches greet you in raw form. Pretty.
The restaurant is well known for its menu of marbles. Essentially, you choose 5/7/9 ingredients you like and keep their marbles in the centre. The board actually comes with a guide, so you can see what your ingredients are prepped with. The chefs will then take your ingredients and serve them whenever/however they see fit.
MG and I opted for the 5-course menu (£92) and a glass of Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé (£25) each. We decided to play a game of “Who Chose Better” which is always exciting when food is involved.
My final choices.
MG’s final choices.
First amuse bouche: milk cheese croquettes. I could tell you right now, I can still remember how much flavour exploded in my mouth when I had one of these bad boys. It was a party I did not want to end, and I was definitely amused.
Next to excite our taste buds was a piece of focaccia topped with thinly sliced ham. MG thought the ham was great, but it was the bread I enjoyed more.
My favourite of the three introductory courses, though, was the consomme of bergamot and apple. Adorably served in a clear teapot, this was quite a revelation of flavours which were not overly savoury nor sweet.
Let the games begin.
My first course was the foie gras which came in form of a rather generous terrine. The flavour itself was fantastic and took me back to the French countryside. A thin sheet of pain d’epices and textures of pear and hazelnut helped cut through the richness of the foie. However, there was just too much and I couldn’t finish it for love of my cholesterol levels.
MG’s first course was the “?” which turned out to be wild garlic: a gorgeous plate of lasagna layered with ricotta, topped with snails and Bigorre ham and surrounded by a fragrant wild garlic sauce. The balance of flavours was rather refreshing. It looked like Spring and tasted fantastic.
Honey – 0, MG – 1
Round two for me was the coco bean. It was a creamy, perfectly seasoned velouté served with meaty chunks of smoked eel, girolles, and more foie gras. I loved how each mouthful tasted different – slight tang here, lovely smoke there, superb earthiness here, refreshing spoonful there. This was a clever use of ingredients and had a really good depth of flavour and play on texture.
MG’s cod was perhaps the only time I ever got excited by this type of fish. It’s elegantly complex and surprisingly, even with the profiles of nettle and botarga, a balanced touch to the palate. Served with white asparagus and a creme fraiche sauce, this was a good choice and a generous portion, too.
We both get points for this course. Honey – 1, MG – 2
My third course consisted of a big scallop with tandoori paste and confit carrots. With its Indian inspired flavour profile, it was a welcome break from the rich food we’d eaten so far. The jumbo Coquille St Jacques was cooked to absolute perfection and I really appreciated the freshness from the citrus and coriander.
MG’s veal was a refined version of a farmhouse favourite. The veal definitely stole the show, but its co-actors of sweetbread and panisse played a nice support. Capers and wild leek cut through the earthiness and the ever so slightly sweet jus just rounded the dish nicely.
But we both agreed I got this round. Honey – 2, MG – 2
My final savoury dish was the turbot (supplement of £12). The fish was cooked to perfection, I wanted to cry. Complemented by fresh razor clams, seaweed, more of those coco beans from Ventimiglia, and garnished with the most adorable curled potatoes in the world, this is possibly one of my favourite seafood dishes in town.
In fairness, MG’s pigeon had my heart racing as well. The guide said it was served with a Mexican mole but instead of the thick, silky, chocolatey sauce I expected, this came in a light and refined jus. Served with textures of beetroot, the bird was cooked beautifully and I definitely enjoyed more of it than MG did.
We both take points, because one liked the other’s dish more. Honey – 3, MG – 3
And now it boils to the sweetest of endings.
I was going to opt for chocolate but a part of me thought the pineapple dessert would be a much smarter choice, simply because light desserts are always great after an indulgent meal. I was so right. Put a cloud of coconut, lemongrass and black pepper on top of fresh pineapple and one is transported to a sunnier, tropical climes.
MG’s chocolate dessert was technically amazing. Salted caramel mousse encased in a sheet of yuzu, caged in a beautifully tempered chocolate dome, served on a bed of chocolate sauce. This seemed like a dream to me, but on taste, I much preferred my tropical dream.
And thus we conclude: Honey – 4, MG 3 Woohoo!
At this point we were both stuffed to the brim.
But it ain’t over just yet.
Petit fours came, choux buns with almond cream and a variety of macarons speckled with gold dust and coffee. Plus a lemon sorbet that was a good palate cleanser.
A sweet treat of truffles complimented our teas and coffees, served on the most gorgeous Hermes crockery.
Our total bill came up to just over £300.
By the time we finished, we’d been at the restaurant for three and a half hours. Hélène’s plates were full of excitement, flavour and texture and each of them were a celebration of ingredients. I think though, to fully enjoy all of your courses, you have to smartly choose your ingredients for a full well-rounded meal. Service was an absolute plus from the moment I booked our lunch to the time we stepped out of the hotel. If you are ever to look for a two-star Michelin experience, Hélène Darroze at The Connaught is definitely one to touch high on your list.