In celebration of the annual Chelsea Flower Show and the Open Garden Square Weekend, Le Cercle restaurant is currently offering a Flower Menu, available now until the end of June.
The day before it launched, Pete and I went along to sample all five courses (£35), and the matching wines (£25).
My first hurdle was the tiny entrance lobby, where the reception and cloakroom is located. The space is so tiny that more than two people is a squeeze, which isn’t ideal if you arrive as other guests are leaving.
Additionally, the stairs down to the basement dining room are poorly lit (a number of the floor level lights were broken on our visit), the steps don’t extend the full width of the stairwell and the bannister is troublingly thin. These in conjunction with my vertigo meant I my heart was thumping by the time I reached the bottom and we were shown to our table.
Most tables are in the open central area of the room, but I spotted one very private table in a curtain-protected alcove and there are two larger booths on a platform level a few steps above the main floor.
Both types of bread (plain brown and one made from an eggier dough full of plump spiced dried fruit) were lovely.
They were served with a pat of butter heavily sprinkled with multi-coloured dark crystals. On asking, I was told it was a home-made mélange du trappeur (trapper’s mix) including sugar, salt and pepper, dried garlic and onion. Whatever was in it, I absolutely loved it, particularly with the sweetness in the fruit bread.
The idea behind the flower menu is to use local flowers and herbs in all five dishes. For me, the theme was a little tenuous in the starter of confit salmon, white beetroot, horseradish granite and borage, with only a single borage flower as edible decoration.
Still, I enjoyed the dish. The salmon had a decent strong smoke and was oily soft.
I loved the cold white horseradish granita which worked on texture, taste and temperature fronts.
Inside the salmon was grated white beetroot with a semi-crunchy texture which reminded me of celeriac remoulade.
Instead of seasoning, fat orange salmon roe provided mouth bursts of saltiness.
Lastly, there was a tiny spoon of a brown jellied substance. I’ve no idea what it was, nor did I like the flavour, but wonder whether it was an additional use of borage?
The first wine, a very “fresh, green” dry white from Alsace, did a good job of cutting through the strong, oily fish.
Next came the pan fried seaf bass, green almond coulis, black aubergine and daisies. I’m not sure that green almonds are either local or fit the flower theme, but the smear of puree was alright, if not thrilling.
The sea bass was beautifully cooked and very enjoyable; soft flesh and crisp skin.
But the aubergines were the best thing on the plate, marinated or basted in something sweet that intensified their flavour during cooking, resulting in rich, sticky, sweet and savoury goodness.
Again, the single daisy on top struck me as decorative rather than integral to the dish. I know daisies are edible, but I didn’t eat mine.
Pete commented that he’d had a moment where he came over all “Mastercheffy” and put a little of all three main elements on his fork at the same time. It was, he said, “very tasty”!
This dish was matched with a really fruity organic rosé from the South of France. Pete liked it’s “dry fruitiness” with the fish.
The plate of roasted lamb chump, polenta fries, confit tomatoes and rosemary flower was generous, with two large pieces of meat. The lamb was very full flavoured, so much so that I thought it might be hogget, but its tenderness belied that possibility; it was super soft. The surface was properly browned, giving lots of flavour, with the inside a deep pink.
I dislike polenta; there’s something about that granular texture that simply doesn’t sit well with me. Pete thought the fries were OK but we both agreed we’d have enjoyed potato ones far more.
The gravy, still with flecks of meat clearly visible, rather than strained and made to gloss, was deeply savoury.
Again, the flower theme seemed a bit of an afterthought with just one single flower on the plate, which I failed to capture in my picture. Instead of the rosemary flower listed in the menu, a pretty purple-pink chive flower was used, with a delicious raw garlic bite which was lovely with the lamb. A couple more would have been nice.
Pete wasn’t as sure about the choice of a full bodied Bordeaux red which he felt was too big a wine for the sweetness of the lamb, with its punchy tannins knocking that aside somewhat.
Though the menu listed St Maure and lavender it hadn’t come in on time so we were served a slice of Langres, preserved figs and rhubarb pate de fruit. Langres is a cheese I love, a mild smelly sock odour and matching taste. The figs were preserved like a chutney, spiced and brown, but whole or halved rather than chopped up small; very good. The square of green jelly was apparently made from rhubarb, though it didn’t taste like it to us, with a herbal rather than tart fruit taste.
The cheese was served with a dry red from Saumur, a wine Pete really liked, describing it as “a proper lip-curling Saumur”. That said, he didn’t rate it with the Langres, though liked it better with the fig chutney and jelly. We suspected it had been chosen for the original dish of St Maure and lavender.
Finally a dish where the chosen flower was integral – a dark chocolate tart and violet ice cream.
The pastry shell was thicker than one often encounters in posh restaurants (or patisseries) but it was so buttery soft and crumbly, and perfectly cooked, that I liked having a little more of it. The chocolate filling was deliciously dark and certainly melt in the mouth smooth.
The faintly purple ice cream was subtle but at the same time, the perfumed flavour of the flower came through clearly. I’d have liked it to be just a touch stronger to hold its own against the chocolate, as it was lost a little when the two were eaten together. On it’s own, it worked well.
The Gaillac dessert wine was a good choice, not quite as syrupy sweet as some, but still sweet enough not to be rendered unpleasantly acidic by the tart and ice cream. Pete felt it reminiscent of mead.
With tea and coffee, chocolate truffles and very mini macarons were served. The macarons looked adorable but tasted of very little. The truffles were good, though.
We enjoyed the special menu, but didn’t feel as strong connection with the proposed floral theme as we’d hoped for.
Kavey Eats dined as guests of Le Cercle restaurant.