So far during our 3 month sabbatical we’ve enjoyed weekday lunches at Hawksmoor, Bob Bob Ricard, and Launceston Place. These were before our trip to the Falklands. We carried on as soon as we got back, through late February and March, though I’m a bit late posting the reviews!
The L’Oranger lunch menu offers a choice of four starters and four main courses and one can select a dessert from the full dessert menu. At £27.50 for 2 courses and £31.50 for three it’s a little more expensive than some of the other lunch menus we’ve enjoyed but still reasonably priced, I think. And having so many dishes to choose from, all of which appeal, is always a pleasure.
The room clearly has history, which is not surprising given it’s prime St James Street location. Inside are beautiful age-worn mirror panels, elegant ceiling roses and cornices and, nearer the front of the restaurant, wooden panelling, though the panels nearer the front seem to have been painted with a faux-wood effect, which doesn’t quite fit with the rest! The main dining area is bathed in light from a beautiful skylight which suggests it may have been an orangerie; perhaps this is what the restaurant is named for?
We are initially seated beneath the glass roof, but I suspect my sneezing might be triggered by the huge display of flowers just next to us, so ask if we can move. We are given a spacious table nearer the front of the restaurant.
As usual, we ask for tap water, which is regularly refilled without prompting. We are offered a range of bread, both types tried are fresh and fantastic. I like that the butter is served with crushed peppercorns rather than the ubiquitous sea salt – this gives a wonderful fleeting heat to each bite!
Tiny cups of hot, thick and creamy cauliflower soup drizzled with a garlic-herb oil whet our appetites. I like this simpleoffering much more than the complex, strangely sour, runny cauliflower amuse bouche at Launceston Place.
For his starter Pete chooses the ‘tartelette au boudin noir et pommes fondantes et croquantes, vinaigrette truffée – thin tart of black pudding, green apple, truffle vinaigrette’. The tart, in this case, consists of a very, very thin and crispy toast or pastry circle on which the black pudding is piled. Pete is surprised by the meltingly soft texture of the pudding and, whilst he enjoys it immensely, says he prefers the slightly more solid texture of puddings with added filler, though I love it as it is. The apples and dressed salad both work well next to the iron-rich pudding.
My beautifully plated ‘l’oeuf poché sur canapé croustillant, duxelle de champignons Mousseline de clémentine – poached egg on toasted bread, wild mushrooms, clementine mousseline’ is a work of art! I know many will dismiss it as unbearably poncy but for me, whilst taste will always remain the most important aspect, I’m quite happy to enjoy the visual thrill of delicious food presented so delightfully. I adore the deep, woody flavour of the duxelle between slices of fried toast. The egg is perfectly poached and subtly enhanced by the very light mayonnaise sauce – I’m guessing this is the clementine mousseline, though I don’t detect any citrus flavour in it myself. Pete says he’d probably leave the clementine segments out of the dish but I love the burst of sweet juice they provide. I could happily eat this again right now!
Both the other starters – a mascarpone and Serrano ham risotto with Parmesan grissini and a pumpkin & chestnut velouté with smoked bacon bits – also appealed.
The ‘rumsteack sauce aux poivre de Séchouan, gratin de navets au parfum de muscade – beef rump steak, Sichuan pepper sauce, gratin of turnips, slightly flavored with nutmeg’ is a fairly classic steak dish. Served medium-rare, as requested, it’s tender and full of flavour. The turnip gratin is beautiful – thick, creamy, cheesy and with that hint of earthiness from the turnips. The sauce is a simple but nicely executed pepper sauce.
I almost order the steak too but am determined we should order something different. I so very, very rarely order chicken in restaurants that, after a brief discussion with the maitre d’ I opt for the ‘pot‐au‐feu de volaille, garniture grand‐mère, toastinette mousse de foie’. The translation of ‘poultry pot‐au‐feu, garniture grand‐mère, chicken liver mousse on toast’ is probably not that helpful for those who aren’t familiar with pot-au-feu (I am but only with beef). And I check whether my guess that the garniture grand‐mère means vegetables and broth from the pot‐au‐feu – it does, though I’m told that I’m welcome to switch to a regular side serving of vegetables instead.
I’m quite surprised when the dish arrives as I expected the chicken to be served with it’s broth – instead it’s beautifully cut and propped up with the toast, and dressed with a creamy sauce and what I think is the same garlic-herb oil that we tasted in the cauliflower soup. I’m mollified when my vegetables arrived – these are served with some of the pot‐au‐feu cooking broth. The chicken is wonderfully soft and tender though I’m glad of the sauces to give a kick of flavour. The winning element for me though are the vegetables in the broth. The courgettes and shallots in particular, are extremely good. The broth itself, I think, might have been boosted with a splash of brandy or wine. This isn’t at all what I’d normally choose and I relish stepping outside my red meat rut!
Neither of us were in the mood for fish, though the salmon fillet en croûte and the fillet of sea bream in a lobster sauce sounded good.
I can’t tell you the exact names of what we ordered for dessert as I didn’t note them down but I can certainly describe them!
Pete selects the Saint Honoré – a profiterole on a crushed blackcurrant base with vanilla and violet cream. It is decorated with thin chocolate sticks and is a resounding success, both visually and in tastes and textures. The sharp blackcurrant, flowery voilet and delicate vanilla complement each other well.
I don’t love my matcha madeleine nearly as much. For a start, I am disappointed that it is described as a madeleine, such a specific shape and texture, both of which are missing in this dessert. In place of a soft, moist sponge is a soggy green layer with very little clear matcha flavour. What flavour there may have been is probably masked by the very strong flambéed banana layer – this is as described but, in retrospect, clearly far too robust to be combined with the delicate green tea beneath. The morillo cherries are welcome, their fresh sharp sweet flesh is reviving. I really don’t like the appearance of those lurid orange chocolate sticks – whereas the plain ones look so elegant on the Saint Honoré these vivid carrot-like shafts look garish and gimmicky. To top it off, the overly sweet syrups decorating the dish aren’t very nice either, both in terms of flavour and appearance. I am all the more disappointed as there were a number of other very appealing choices on the menu; I am kicking myself for choosing poorly!
By the end of our meal, we are too full even for coffee though I do enviously eye up the petits fours at a nearby table!
Service is very good here. Friendly, knowledgable, unintrusive yet there when you need them. It certainly adds to the positive experience that the food itself generates.
I’m not sure how regularly they change their set menu dishes – the same ones are still listed on their website, as they were before our visit a few weeks ago, so I’m assuming they are still being served. I would prefer a faster turnaround as this would certainly encourage me to visit again.