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Two Michelin Stars, London

Reviewed by Justine Murphy, CEO of mymuybueno – February 2017

Hélène Darroze trained under Alain Ducasse at the three Michelin-starred Le Louis XV restaurant in Monte Carlo. She went on to become Head Chef at her family’s Relais & Châteaux restaurant in Villeneuve-de-Marsan, before opening Restaurant Hélène Darroze in Paris in 1999. Just three months later she was awarded her first Michelin star, and then a second one in the restaurant’s third year. In 2015 she was awarded the Veuve Clicquot World’s Best Female Chef. In 2008, Hélène took charge of the restaurant at The Connaught, receiving her first star in 2009 and the second in 2011. The focus is on selecting the best and freshest ingredients from the network of suppliers Hélène has spent a lifetime gathering, The resulting menu celebrates the tastes and textures of the individual produce, which are prepared in a way that allows each ingredient to shine.

The menu is presented in a very novel way – as a wooden solitaire board with sixteen white ceramic balls, with each ball labelled with the key ingredient of each dish. Caviar, Foie Gras, Turbot. You simply select the balls you want to stay on the board, therefore creating your very own personalised dream menu which is lovely. If you like the idea of two of the starters, you can have them, and you can select 3, 5 or 7 balls. Of course I went for 7. It’s an innovative and very entertaining way to start the indulgent culinary experience ahead.

The menu is presented in a very novel way – as a wooden solitaire board

An Amuse Bouche of a Beef Tartare was served, with chilli pepper and greek yoghurt presented as miniature ice cream cones. Crackers with Crème Fraiche, and Smoked Eel. Oysters with a foamed Grapefruit Emulsion. The tartare was my favourite, really tasty and beautifully seasoned.

Fresh bread was served with two butters, one unsalted butter and one flavoured with chilli, with a side of some Jamon Serrano. This gesture reminded me of my experience at Murano, which almost feels like a nod to the Connaught’s previous chef patron, Angela Hartnett. I’m sure it’s not, but I like the idea of that connection. I also love that this hotel has been home to two utterly amazing strong female chefs and business women. Those who follow me on Instagram know I’m a big supporter of women who work, especially mothers, and women like these really do provide an inspiration to many.

Back to eating. The tuna from Tarragona in Spain was presented on a silver platter. Bluefin Tuna – Daikon, Avocado, Shiso. This was a perfect loin of fresh tuna sashimi, which was accompanied by avocado, daikon and a delicious warm dashi tuna consommé, as well as a crisp pastry cigar filled with tuna tartare. Dashi pear pearls adorned the plate, along with a touch of wasabi. Beautiful, both on the eye and on my palate. A burnt lime was presented on the side to add a different flavour and dimension to the dish.

Foie Gras, Black Truffle, Green Apple, Celery, Brioche. This comprised of an incredibly buttery and delightful brioche, laced with foie, black truffle and smoked duck between the layers. This was mind-blowing. So good, so clever. The Foie Gras had a jelly of duck consommé on top, with a Madeira port wine, and  there was a salad of green apple, celeriac and black truffle. The crisp, fresh apple and celeriac perfectly cut through the richness of the foie. I adored this dish. I really, really did.

delightful brioche, laced with foie, black truffle and smoked duck between the layers

Scallop, Tandoori, Carrot, Citrus, and Coriander. This was a good dish, with a well-cooked scallop, and a lovely carrot and citrus purée. I recently had enjoyed a similar dish at Benares. Tandoori spice works well with scallop and it worked just as well again here.

Onion, Black Truffle, Barley, Lardo di Colonnata. An onion ravioli with black truffle, red onion and barley consommé. Clean and beautiful, this was a fragile dish with delicate flavours.

this was a fragile dish with delicate flavours.

Cod – Oyster, Dill, Potato. Fillet of cod, with a confit in olive oil, and cod brandade. A classic brandade is a mixture of poached salt cod and olive oil. Dill and plankton powder coated a crispy potato cracker on the top, and a creamy, light oyster sauce married everything together well. This was heavenly. It was the most perfect balance of flavours – the cod was sublime and the whole dish was a joy to eat.

Dill and plankton powder coated a crispy potato cracker

Turbot – Leek, Champignon de Paris, Long Pepper, Champagne. This was a very beautiful dish. Once again the fish was cooked perfectly, and was presented with a champagne sabayon. A stuffed leek with a crème and turbot filling, lined with cockles worked particularly well.

Chicken, Black Truffle, Celeriac, Sorrel. I usually don’t opt for chicken on any menu as it’s a dish I eat often at home, but when it comes to French cooking I make an exception, as the quality of bird used is always beautiful, and I expect amazing rich, buttery, salty and crispy flavours. This did not disappoint. Different elements of the corn-fed chicken – breast, wing and oyster – were brought together with plenty of truffle from Perigord, sorrel leaves and an arbois wine emulsion. The chicken was just beautiful and the ingredients all just really spoke for themselves.

Lamb – Chickpea, Pimiento del Piquillo, Muscat Grape, Raz el Hanout. This was milk-fed lamb, with a chick pea purée, shallots and a Raz el Hanout tapioca cracker, which was amazing, I’m loving the crackers that are coming out of the kitchens across many restaurants worldwide, and this one was splendid. Flavours of piquillo pepper, muscat grape garlic, thyme and parsley, and lamb jus were all brought together in an stunning glossy reduction, which carried such a stunning depth of flavour that it enveloped the whole dish, and made this both refined and comforting, with a real taste of Morocco.

enveloped the whole dish, and made this both refined and comforting

Baba – Exotic fruits, Black Pepper. This comprised passion fruit jelly, fruits of kiwi, pomegranate, pineapple, and mango, with a Chantilly cream served to the side. For my Baba I could choose a brandy from the bottles presented to me on a trolley, and I selected the 1985 bottle. I have never had a brandy baba before, and it was incredibly good. These brandies all hail from the Darroze family distillery, which is run by Hélène’s brother.

brandies all hail from the Darroze family distillery which is run by Hélène’s brother

Rhubarb – Almond, Rose. Almond mousse, champagne rhubarb, rose petals and a rhubarb jus. This was delicate and floral without being too much, because the rhubarb had just the right amount of sharpness.

Petit Fours of hand made chocolates were presented with coffee. By this time I was just so full, but I managed a small bite to taste and they were very good.

Wine:
Champagne Krug, Grande Cuvee, France
Le Chene Marchand, Sancerre, France, 2015
Cevrey Chambertin, Mes Cinq Terriors, France, 2013
Bas Armagnac, Darroze, France, 1985

Favourite Dish:  Foie Gras, Black Truffle, Green Apple, Celery, Brioche.

Napkin Fold: Yes

Menu to take home: No

Meal for two, including wine, water and service: £450.

Final Thought: I had a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon. The food was excellent and the ingredients used here are really and truly the stars of the show – just exceptional produce. The service was flawless and the atmosphere made it a really welcoming and unpretentious environment for any occasion. Real gems such as the brioche stood out for me. There is a Jean George opening here in the spring here too, so double the reason to visit again at a later date.

Hélène Darroze at the Connaught
Address:
The Connaught, Carlos Place, Mayfair, London W1K 2AL
Telephone: + 44 (0) 20 3147 7200
Hours:  Monday – Saturday Lunch: 12pm – 2pm Dinner: 6.30pm – 10pm
Sunday Lunch 12pm – 3pm Dinner 6.30pm – 9pm
Website: www.the-connaught.co.uk