October 11 2010
Just occasionally, diners stumble on a menu from which the joy of ordering a dish is slightly blighted by the sadness of missing out on the other options.
This difficulty can be alleviated in three ways. Firstly, turn up hungry and over-order; secondly, pinch a lot of food from your companion’s plate; finally, keep going back to the restaurant until you have tried everything on the menu. At Pierre Koffmann’s new Knightsbridge restaurant, I accomplished the first two and have plans for the third.
When Koffmann popped up on top of Selfridges this time last year, “Koff on the Roof”, as it became known, provided a glimpse of what London had been missing since the eponymous Gascon chef sold his La Tante Claire restaurant to Gordon Ramsay. Tante Claire briefly reappeared at The Berkeley hotel, but it had lost the charm of the original.
His new place is also at The Berkeley, in the subterranean space that was previously the Boxwood Café, and before that Vong, Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Thai-French joint. It looks best in its present incarnation: blond wood floors, textured wallpaper and terrific lighting, with a big picture window looking into the kitchen (ask for table 24 if you like a little cheffy theatre with your food).
The style is brasserie-de-luxe, the staff dressier than the diners, led by the consummately suave Eric Garnier. A small bar separates the two halves of the room, its bookshelves stacked with old Michelin guides and battered copies of Escoffier’s musings. The bartender mixes a mean Gibson: a happy variant of the martini, and the only way I have discovered to get a pickled onion in a posh restaurant.
To the food. Snails and girolles are served in a pretty pot with chlorophyll-heavy parsley foam, garlic butter and silky mash: they are heavenly. Sweet, firm scallops are given depth with a glossy slick of squid ink, while a foie gras terrine combines refinement and rusticity. I told you I over-ordered.
A special main course of saddle of young rabbit, wrapped around black pudding (again with girolles), was ethereally delicate. As a small nod to modern tastes, little pots of vegetables arrive with the main courses, as well as Le Monde-wrapped cones of perfect skinny fries. Some things never change, though; ravens will flee the Tower before the sticky perfection of his morel-stuffed pig’s trotter leaves the menu. Cheeses are exemplary. A neat rectangle of Comté partnered a loose, flaky, caramelised apple pie beautifully. The wine list is defiantly French – and none the worse for that.
It is masterful cooking. Slightly lighter than once it was and considerably lighter on the wallet; I could have had a classic tournedos Rossini – fillet steak, foie gras and truffle – for a mere £25. That, however, would have been just plain greedy. There is always next time.