Tuesday, October 20, 2009

London Restaurant Festival - Gourmet Odyssey

After the recent excesses of London Restaurant Festival, the blogosphere has been buzzing with reviews of Koffman’s pop-up restaurant on the roof at Selfridges. However, your faithful correspondent here at Princess Towers decided to investigate the Gourmet Odyssey instead (or rather, couldn't get a table at Koffman's).

The Odyssey consisted of a huge blow-out Michelin starred lunch, with each course at a different restaurant and intra-course transfer by jolly red double-decker. A great opportunity to try some new places and some oldies-but-goodies. Maybe it would even help to satisfy my purse-intensive restaurant obsession by dining at three in one day? It was worth a try.

We started with champagne at the Met Bar, that somewhat underwhelming nightspot beloved of the Gallaghers et al in the brit-pop era. It was interesting mix of people, mostly well-to-do flash types, a few younger couples and a chap in shorts and trainers who seemed blissfully unaware of his level of underdress. We were tagged, in pink naturally, by our host/nanny/herder Caz, so as not to get confused with one of the other groups and miss our bus. The poor girl looked a bit harassed, and I don’t blame her as the free-flowing Mumm top-ups meant that I for one was pretty tipsy before we even started.

Nobu lobster

Champagne duly quaffed, we tripped upstairs to Nobu, the first European offshoot in this forever growing Japanese restaurant group. The swish Nobu lunching regulars looked slightly disturbed to see such a motley crew of foodies traipsing in, but soon got back to their sashimi as we were safely tucked away in the canteen, ahem, I mean private dining room.

Nobu tuna

The room was a bit sparse, maybe minimalist is the term, but it was certainly large. Our group of eighty or so was seated at two long tables where we tried a trio of Nobu’s best-selling dishes - Lobster Ceviche, Salmon Sashimi Salad with Matsuhisa dressing and Yellowtail Sashimi with Jalapeno. I can see why celebs like to dine here - it tastes healthy and it is genuinely delicious, albeit in a light, fresh and subtle way. Friendly on the palate and friendly on the waistline. My favourite dish was the salmon, tender, luscious and served in a gorgeous sesame sludge that was infuriatingly difficult to mop up with chopsticks. No wonder these girls stay thin.

Nobu salmon

And then we were off, herded from our seats and downstairs to the bus, with some big grins from the lovely staff on the way. A quick trundle through Mayfair and we were at our main course destination.

The Square couldn’t have been more different from Nobu. We had been there before (and loved it) but wondered whether the private dining would be big enough. It obviously wasn’t, as the fabulous staff seamlessly wafted us into tables of twos or fours, depending on how many tickets had been booked together. This was nice, a true 2* experience (I have never been hugely into sharing a table with strangers), and quite an achievement under the circumstances too.

Seated in prime position, we pounced on the bread like wolves, the hunger really kicking in now after our fishy sliver of a starter. It didn’t disappoint. White was crisp and pointy with a fluffy interior. Brown was hefty and hearty. Butter was perfect.

Square mallard

Fay Maschler of the Evening Standard was our host for this course, a rich, decadent and autumnal French dish of wild mallard served two ways - pan fried breast and a pie (or should that be a pastie?) of rich, dark, slow cooked leg with port and raisins, all served with pumpkin and chestnuts.

Our high expectations of The Square were fully met, resulting in an impromptu (and somewhat alcohol fuelled) dash to the front desk by me to make a dinner reservation for December. Phil Howard worked the tables, although he didn’t get round to us (maybe next time?). He obviously had huge passion for the food and quite right too as it was sheer perfection in duck form.

Main course over and visions of Phil's glorious raspberry souffle came to mind. We really didn’t want to leave, but leave we had to. Back on the bus, next stop The Greenhouse.

The Greenhouse is tucked away in a Mayfair mews that was too tight for our bus. It’s one of those places like Roussillon that I had heard of but never got round to visiting. It really was like a greenhouse, all subterranean, moist and leafy. And, well, green.

The dish was described as “CarrĂ© Dubuffet” Chocolate Biscuit and Vanilla Ice Cream. Not the most exciting of desserts we thought, but that was until we saw the plates.

Greenhouse choc ice cream

The “biscuit” was a triumph - a sort of brownie, mousse, tuile combination that managed to be rich and chocolatey and moist and gooey and crisp all at the same time. Here we were seated at a table of four, more civilised than Nobu but more sociable than The Square. We were paired with a lovely couple from Cambridge who obviously knew their restaurants and made great foodie dinner companions.

And so we came to the end, back on the bus to the Met Bar for a final bellini and some Stone Roses nostalgia. Then we teetered home, feeling slightly disorientated by the large amount of alcohol and food consumed in broad daylight and hoping that we wouldn't fall asleep on the train home.

The Gourmet Odyssey was a fabulous experience and, although expensive at £130 for lunch, it gave us a great introduction to some restaurants that we otherwise might not have tried. It wasn't a typical Michelin star experience due to the logistics of herding such a huge group around, but all things considered, it was a pretty slick operation and we left with our tummies full, our palates titillated and our minds brimming with new ideas.

And as for kicking my restaurant habit? Not a chance. We now have reservations at Nobu, The Square and The Greenhouse to look forward to later in the year…

Nobu, 19 Old Park Lane, Mayfair, London W1K 1LB
The Square, 6-10 Bruton Street, Mayfair, London W1J 6PU
The Greenhouse, 27a Hays Mews, Mayfair, London W1J 5NX


Bethany (Dirty Kitchen Secrets) said...

Hello Alex,

I just discovered your blog through London Food and Drink. My name is Bethany and I write the blog http://www.dirtykitchensecrets.com here in London as well. A few other bloggers and I are organizing a conference on Food Blogging on the 28th of November, 2009 in London.

We would love it if you could join us. Depending on the number of food bloggers who RSVP, we hope to also have guest speakers talking about relevant issues to Food Blogging such as “How To Improve On Food Photography” or “What Makes A Good Food Blog” amongst others. In any case, it will be an opportunity to meet other food bloggers, some of which are coming from France, Germany and even India, and network, eat delicious food and have a good laugh.

For more information please visit http://www.dirtykitchensecrets.com/

We hope to see you there.

Bethany and the other organisers; Mowie Kay- Mowielicious, Jamie Schler- Life’s a Feast and Hilda Saffari- Saffron & Blueberry

Craig said...

Sounds like a fun day.

Did think about going on one of the tours, but managed to get a Koffman reservation for the nigt before :-)

How many people were on the tour? I thought it was a great concept and I hope they repeat it again in the future.

The main course at Square sounded fantastic. Sounds like another place to add to my ever expanding list of places I need to go to...


alexthepink said...

Thanks Craig, lucky you! Yes, The Square is definitely worth a visit. I think it's my favourite London restaurant, and it's much easier to get a table there than some places of the same standard.

Bethany - thanks but I'm in Edinburgh that weekend, pretty gutted :(