January 09 2012
Regular readers will know that the search for a decent meal takes The Gannet to many corners of the globe. It is a little ironic, then, that perhaps the best meal I have eaten this year was at Australian Brett Graham’s modern French restaurant The Ledbury, a mere sprat’s throw from The Gannet’s roost in Notting Hill, west London.
The area’s restaurants have smartened up in recent years: my favourites are Tom Pemberton’s Hereford Road, which offers the best lunch deal in London, and the divinely Neapolitan Pescheria Mattiucci, where you can chomp through a great plate of crudo – raw fish – with a glass of something chilly from Campania, and finish with a proper espresso.
Not that Notting Hill’s traditional edginess has entirely disappeared. The Ledbury was picked on by a bunch of young thugs during the recent rioting season, its staff bravely fighting them off and sheltering diners in the wine cellar; among several innocent victims was the cheese trolley.
When I first moved to Notting Hill, the corner site now occupied by The Ledbury was a particularly scuzzy pub. A string of unsuccessful restaurants followed before present owners Nigel Platts-Martin, Phil Howard and Graham set it straight. It is now a lovely place to eat: light and airy, smart but not stuffy. The friendly front-of-house staff exude confidence, a quality one finds in restaurants where the kitchen is on top form.
Which, on my visit, it certainly was. I had eaten happily at The Ledbury several times before, but this was extraordinary. A thick slice of pain Poilâne, for example, fried in butter, stickily smothered in Saint-Nectaire cheese, scattered with wafers of summer truffle. Then a plate of freshly picked crab with a tangle of courgette and a dusting of parmesan “snow”; sweet, yielding lobster, a purée of watercress, a young leek chargrilled like a Catalan calçot, with lobster roe that was dried and shaved like bottarga.
Then, game on: partridge paired with nuts and seeds, crunchy as an autumnal stroll, and fallow deer (why do most restaurants describe the wildly different meats from several species of deer simply as “venison”?) with earthy flavours of beetroot and celeriac. And a superb pudding: passionfruit soufflé, into which the waiter gently slipped a perfect quenelle of Sauternes ice cream. It was the sexiest act I have ever seen performed by a man. The wine list is long, classic and captivating, with the occasional bargain in its pages. It is beautifully served, too.
I am not alone in my admiration for The Ledbury: the contributors to both Harden’s and Zagat’s guides this year rated it London’s best restaurant for food. Home truths, indeed.