Booked way in advance, my friend and I were eagerly looking forward to lunching at The Ledbury. Our various friends have recommended it highly, so with the advance booking, we were really looked forward to the experience. However as the day approached both of us were rather worried, for we had individually caught, for myself a cold and sore throat, and my friend the beginnings of a cold due to a heavy workload. But we were still determined, so slightly drugged up with paracetamol we made our way to The Ledbury.
The Ledbury is based in Notting Hill and just a stone’s throw away from Portobello market. The dining room is actually not particularly large, but with one wall fully mirrored in a tasteful way, it gives the impression of a very spacious restaurant. I can see in fine weather there may be the opportunity of opening the terrace doors to include some of the outside space as a dining area. What I love the most is the casual yet formal and friendly atmosphere they have, from your arrival to your departure – a fine balance that The Ledbury have definitely achieved.
As we were shown to our table I had my first of many smiles – being ladies, there were a couple of handbag hooks waiting for us as we sat down. I didn’t bring my own on this occasion as I was carrying a rather large bag so that I could carry my Olympus OM-D in it. I normally don’t come across many people let alone a restaurant that use handbag hooks, as this custom is seemingly from a different era. The last person I knew who habitually used these was the grandmother of a friend of mine and we used to always have a little chat about our handbag hooks when we met.
So one smile down… the next one came straight away…
Due to my illness, it was best that I kept to drinking hot beverages so I requested some hot water (very Chinese). There wasn’t a hesitation to my request at all, and a few minutes later I was presented with a lovely cup and saucer, followed by a miniature glass teapot full of hot water… my smile got bigger! And I would like to add, I was supplied with a constant flow of hot water throughout my meal by the discrete waiting staff without having to remind them.
We perused the menu, really for perusing sake, as my friend and I had, prior to our arrival, already discussed about trying The Ledbury’s tasting menu. I was a little concerned as we have slightly quirky eating habits and from one of my last experiences of another restaurant in Brussels also holding Michelin stars, I was not over optimistic that we would be accommodated. However, we were assured by the charming Restaurant Manager, Darren McHugh, that at The Ledbury, they are concerned that we enjoy the experience with them and that there was no problem in adjusting the menu accordingly. He set about immediately establishing our quirkiness and offered us alternatives that brought huge smiles to our faces.
So that makes three smiles already, and we haven’t even had a bite to eat!
What to drink with the meal was next to consider. We really had bad timing with our illnesses. Alcohol and medication definitely do not mix, but stubborn as we are, we thought at least a glass each would be fine! But what wine would possibly go with all the different courses that we were about to taste? A New Zealand Chardonnay was suggested… we are both partial to reds, and on the mention of an Austrian red – 2011 Saint Laurent, Johanneshof Reinisch, Thermenregion, Austria – apparently my eyes lit up according to my friend! It really is more that it is unusual to find Austrian wines on the menu outside of Austria. I have only really tasted Austrian wines while in their country and they have a fantastic selection that I hope people will at some point get to know and try. The wine list at The Ledbury is very interesting, quite a selection for wine by the glass, but the next time I will definitely be choosing by the bottle! They have in their cellars one of my favorite Northern Italian wines – Barolo from Aldo Conterno.
With the Austrian red as our choice, perhaps not the best one but it will be interesting to see how it changes, compliments or not with the forth coming tasting dishes. And that was smile number four by the way!
The ordering now out of the way, we settled down to the Amuse Bouche that was placed on our table.
Amuse Bouche: with the intense discussion of the tasting menu and wine selection, I’m afraid I was very bad at remembering what the amuse bouche consisted of. What intrigued us initally was how to eat it! Knowing how bad I am at not making a mess when biting into food, I opted to break off in thirds (logical as you can see in the image) but this was also my sneaky way of finding out if the “biscuit” the turbot roe sat on was really biscuit and edible or not. The presentation was really clever, as the “biscuit” really looked like small tiles of slate.
Beetroot with Cherry: I’m afraid I am at a loss to the correct name of this dish, but as our first dish we were very impressed. What we found was that we could taste each individual ingredient and especially with my cold, this was amazing! Next discovery was the creation of additional tastes, when we started to combine the main ingredients together instead of tasting them individually; here a new taste experience came about. And the wine? Still young and fresh with this dish, as it was with the amuse bouche – the lunch experience at The Ledbury had begun!
Ceviche of Hand Dived Scallops with Kohlrabi, Seaweed Oil and Frozen Horseradish: I have never had a ceviche of scallops before and I also wondered why the frozen horseradish… to taste it is to realise why! A pure timing of the how the flavors emerge to your taste buds. I felt the consistency of the scallops with the kohlrabi first, then the ‘taste of the sea’ followed by the horseradish coming through at the end. If you try this dish, you must let me know if you experience the same thing! One sip of the wine and we were bowled over, too powerful for the dish, it was as if there was a clash of tastes, the dish and the wine trying to gain the upper hand.
Flame Grilled Mackerel with Pickled Cucumber, Celtic Mustard and Shiso
and the “Risotto” of Celeriac with Wild Mushrooms and Parsley: our fourth course was the first where my friend and I diverged in our tasting dish. This is my quirkiness: I don’t seem to be able to appreciated cooked fish dishes. If it was raw or semi raw as in the ceviche of scallops, I am fine, the moment a fish is remotely cooked, my taste buds seem to object. Though the dishes differ, I understand the “pairing” of these whether intentional or not, both dishes had very delicate flavors, and the theme of emerging complex tastes was carried further as the more you tasted the dish, the more combination of tastes you found. The mackerel according to my friend is usually quite over-powering but in this case it was delicate and the play with texture and timing of when the different tastes come through in your mouth very well done. The risotto likewise, the choice to pair these two dishes together was perfect! How is it that even with my cold I was able to distinguish the subtlety of tastes? I take my hat off to the Chef Brett Graham and his team. Needless to say, the wine remained a little over powering but at least there wasn’t a war of our taste buds this time.
Hampshire Buffalo Milk Curd with Saint-Nectaire, Truffle Toast and a Broth of Grilled Onions: when I saw this dish on the menu I really wondered how it was possible to not have the Saint-Nectaire over power the entire dish. That and the truffle as well! Before it even arrived at the table, we could smell the truffle, then the Saint-Nectaire! We gazed at the dishes before us as the waiting staff poured the broth over our buffalo milk curd… where should we start? Perhaps most, as we did, tried the buffalo milk curd first, reasoning that the toast would probably over power our taste buds. Broth and curd, taste and texture… it works very well! So curiosity got the better of me, I decided not to wait till I finished this and to try the toast risking the possibility of having a taste satiation. My friend agreed. One bite… and to our surprise, the subtleness was immediately evident, the toast actually complimented the broth and curd, we discovered even more new tastes!
The wine this time complimented and circled the dish both adding to and dividing all the flavors and textures. Oh I forget to mention, with each dish our smiles grew and grew, I have stopped counting now…
Cornish Turbot with Broccoli Stem, Crab and Black Quinoa (minus the quinoa for our tasting as my friend is allergic to it)
and Creamed Jersey Royals with Wild Herbs and Morels Cooked in Earl Grey Tea: again our dishes split, being a cooked fish dish again. I have to own up here, my friend had to try my dish as my taste buds were not up to the subtlety of the earl grey tea. She assured me it was there, definitely another dish to try again on my next visit.
Roast Quail Breast with Apricots and Fresh Almonds: the first of our two meat dishes. I think I can safely say it was wonderful! The conversation stopped at the table and we could only concentrate on eating!
Aged Fillet of Belted Galloway Beef with Celeriac Baked in Juniper and Wild Hops: my comment on this? If I said that my friend does not normally eat red meat, but ate this dish with absolute delight, I don’t think I need to say more!
Selection of Cheese: which we had to have of course (an addition to the tasting menu), how could you not when you have a cheese plateau as below. We did take the advice to share the cheese dish though, a good compromise between our eyes wanting and our tummy’s protesting don’t you think?
Pre-dessert – Citrus Granita with Lemon Verbena Meringues and Warm Citrus Beignets: at least that is what I am calling it. Another one of those taste and texture specialities! I have become a fan of it now; this time the citrus flavors hit you as you crunch through the granita. But this doesn’t last as the granita melts, so before you could comment that the granita could have been colder so that texture could have been prolonged, the meringue kicks in and takes over the ‘crunchy’ texture providing this time a more subdued citrus flavor with the combination of the sweetness of the meringue.
Brown Sugar Tart with Poached Grapes and Stem Ginger Ice Cream: we had just enough room for this dish, and I love the combinations more than the individual tastes. If I had my wish I think I would have had more of the poached grapes as this in combination either with the brown sugar tart or the stem ginger ice cream was really a favorite.
So that was the tasting menu of our lunch… finished off with some rose tea for my friend and an espresso macchiato for me. Might I add that we were the only guests left in the restaurant at this point, and it was a marathon six hour tasting lunch that we had at The Ledbury – I would gladly do it all again.
And does The Ledbury live up to its name? Definitely! For innovative and consistently high standards not only in the food but also in their staff. I noticed how smartly the staff were dressed at all times, especially noted that the suits when worn actually fitted and complimented the person – an ill fitting suit isn’t exactly disastrous but a well fitted suit just has the extra to make the person. Discretion too, my friend and I loved the different kinds of table service used to serve the dishes in, especially the pottery orientated ones. We did try to find out where they sourced it from but were told that it was specially made for the Chef here at The Ledbury. As I also had a cold and sore throat, my taste buds were definitely blunted but here at The Ledbury, I could still distinguish the subtlety of tastes, so I would really like to return, sans illness, to experience again but this time with my taste buds at 100%.
Any negatives? Well… the floors were too highly polished if you can call that a negative! I had to walk on my tip toes as with my high heels on, I thought I was sure to slip and fall unceremoniously, and I couldn’t even blame it on too much drink if it happened!
My last smile as I left The Ledbury? How the staff were inconspicuously dressing the other tables for the dinner seating that night so as not to alarm us to hurry up and finish our lunch!