This, well last, Christmas, Florian and I decided that we weren’t going to gift each other presents. Instead, we were going to treat ourselves to a meal in London. After going through various blogs and websites, we finally whittled it down to Hélène Darroze at the Connaught – a two-Michelin starred restaurant with French chef Darroze taking the helm.
Entering The Connaught was in itself an experience. It was so cosy despite the richness that dripped off its walls and furniture. I loved the oldness of it, but at the same time, I was shocked that they had people in their toilets to wait on you – literally turning on the taps, adjusting the temperature to the right degree, before allowing you to wash your hands. It was an experience, but not one I plan to get used to.
We entered the restaurant and were led to our seats. I had a plush corner of a long, high back, sofa, while Florian sat across from me. The restaurant itself was tastefully furnished, with extra high ceilings and a long table placed in the middle, displaying all the lush ingredients that were ‘extras’ on their menu eg. truffles, cheeses, jamon…
We were presented with a choice of two menus, their 3-course lunch tasting menu and their degustation menu.
We pretended to hem and haw when really, we had already settled on the lunch menu weeks before. Firstly, because the lunch menu was £60 a head (excluding coffee, tea and other beverages – sparkling water in our case) which isn’t particularly cheap, and secondly, because we both couldn’t imagine going through and 8-course meal midday, and thirdly, because we enjoy trying new restaurants with accolades but don’t think it’s necessary to spend sooo much on them. Unless of course, the food is mind-blowingly out of this world, then we’d definitely consider a return. Maybe.
We began with a trio of snacks –
A trio of tuiles – Salted cod and Lemongrass?; Chorizo with Chilli and Tomato; Anchovy with Sweet Onion. All were good. Thin crisp tuile encasing fillings of salty, spicy and sweet.
We were also presented with a warm loaf of bread served with pure, unadulterated unsalted butter, and a cone of chilli butter.
Delicious bread with a hint of maltiness. The only downside is having to refrain from having too much bread lest it takes up too much stomach space for other food.
Flo and I both opted for a starter of Lobster.
Lobster Tortellini with Chestnuts, Parsnips, Pomegranates, Lemon and Tarragon Foam, and Bisque. Oh this was joy to the palate! The freshness of the produce shone through and the acidity of the foam gave a nice lift to every mouthful. The pops of poms added some sweetness and texture but truly, the tortellinis were the stars. Delicate, silky pasta wrapped around plump fillings of naturally sweet lobster. Given the choice, I would upsize this dish and make it into my main.
While Florian chose the Beef Cheek as his main, I opted for the Cod.
Confit Cod with Black Pudding, Sorrel Salad and Pork Jus. The fish was well cooked, tasty on its own and went interestingly with the punchy flavour of the pork jus. I never saw myself a black pudding person but as I type this, a month after this meal, I can still taste the savoury sweetness of the smooth puree lingering on my tongue. Yes, I actually enjoyed the black pudding. All in all, this was a well-executed main, although not as tantalising as the lobster starter in my opinion. Perhaps if I never had the lobster, I’d have relished this course more than I did.
Just before dessert was brought to the table, we were served this intriguing pre-dessert of Home-made Bread Ice Cream with Olive Oil and Blueberry Jam. This was exceedingly clever!
The crusty, barely there yeasty flavour played on our tongues and was complemented thoughtfully by the fruity oiliness of the olive oil. At the bottom was the sweet blueberry jam. I was so excited by this little number that I ate before the camera did and only remembered to snap a quick photo half way through before quickly returning to give it my utmost attention. Flo was raving about this ice-cream throughout our holiday, and even yesterday evening, was sharing about it to our friend over dinner.
We each picked a different dessert so that we could have the best of both worlds. Since I called dibs on Chocolate, Flo went with Grapefruit.
Grapefruit was paired here with Earl Grey.
Candied grapefruit, fresh grapefruit, grapefruit mousse, earl grey cream on top of deliciously buttery shortbread bases, and earl grey ice-cream. This was sweet, tart and bitter all at once. Refreshing for sure with the citrus fruit taking the spotlight while the earl grey mellowed it down. Not quite my cup of tea especially when being compared to the Mighty Chocolate!! You can hardly ever go wrong with chocolate!
Taïnori Chocolate with Passionfruit and Coffee Cream.
The passionfruit ice-cream was lusciously sour in a good way. It helped balance the rich, bittersweet chocolate that came in deep, dark blobs of ganache, and as a mousse perched on top of perfectly tempered shiny discs of chocolate that snapped beautifully as our spoons dug into it. It was an impeccable end to our short but delectable gastronomic journey through Hélène Darroze’s menu…
Or so we thought.
Petit-fours were delivered to our table along with a small menu for coffee or tea.
Since we were already treating ourselves, we treated ourselves further with an espresso for the man, and a small pot of earl grey tea for the lady to accompany our dainty sweet bites that were sure to fill up the last few empty spaces in our stomachs.
Manjari Chocolate and Apple Tarte Tatin with Caramel and Vanilla. Florian indulged in the bite-sized treats swiftly and after popping the mini tarte tatin into his mouth, his eyes went big with excitement as he savoured it. Then, when he was sure he had experienced the full splendour of it all, he gushed to me about how this morsel of dessert brought him straight back to childhood with the flavours of caramel and apple, some small chunks cooked just soft enough to create some bite and texture, the comforting scent of vanilla beans. I know that apple anything screams loudly at Flo of his younger years – apple strudel, apple cake, apple pie, apple puree… But especially, especially, apple strudel. So I can totally see why this tarte tatin stole his heart.
When it was my turn to have the tarte tatin, I was blown away. You wouldn’t expect a petit-four to be packed with so much flavour and complexity but it was. It was amazing. The entire thing went into my mouth and created a flavour explosion with its creaminess littered with bits of tiny apple pieces, buttery shortbread at the bottom added texture and we all know that fat is flavour, the slight astringency from the caramel, and the homey feel of vanilla.
Flo asked the server if it was possible to have an extra piece of tarte tatin. He obliged and returned not long after with not one more piece, but another four pieces!
Florian happily lapped up one more before asking for the other three to be boxed up so he could have another for later, while saving the other two for Mum and Dad to try.
Just before we left, we were each gifted a little box to remember our meal there.
It was a Canelé de Bordeaux with Armagnac and Vanilla.
I’ve never had the real deal before which is a bit of a pity considering that I’m in pastry. So I was really excited to try this. We shared one with the family after dinner while the other was eaten a day or two later. My suggestion is to have it fresh.
The canelé had a lovely crust that had a slightly burnt char to it while the inside was soft and spongey and moist and not too sweet. Honestly though, I’ll have the tarte tatin over this any day. But hey, who am I to say anything since I don’t know nuts about canelés.
All in all, it was a memorable meal that we had at Hélène Darroze. And compared to many other two starred restaurants in London, their lunch menu was affordable and the quality and use of the ingredients were outstanding. Almost all their servers were French, which unfortunately made them sound highly judgemental and snobby, but the truth is, they were extremely knowledgeable about the menus, highly attentive, and very accommodating to our whims and fancies – think: tarte tatin. So yes, if you were to visit London and consider a single meal to splurge on, I wouldn’t hesitate to suggest you visit Hélène Darroze at The Connaught. Remember to make your reservations!