It’s not unusual for me to receive invitations to dine at London restaurants with a view to reviewing them on Kavey Eats. A recent invitation contained an unusual twist – Arnaud Bignon, the chef and partner at a The Greenhouse restaurant in Mayfair wanted a group of us to taste a selection of dishes and provide feedback to narrow down which five would make it onto April’s tasting menu.
I don’t know how much influence our feedback had in reality. There was certainly one dish we all discussed and fed back on (in a less than positive fashion), but certainly we weren’t grilled for our thoughts on most of the courses in any structured or coherent way. Still, it was a great opportunity to sample Arnaud’s Michelin-starred cooking and was a convivial evening.
There were 8 courses on the printed menus we were given, but first three amuse bouche were served.
On the small spoons were liquid spheres representing a caesar salad. The flavours were great, though I’d have liked a little raw apple to give a crunch, and a touch more parmesan than the tiny morsel on top.
The mushroom meringues had the most incredible texture and flavour and were probably my single favourite course of the entire meal. They melted away so fast on the tongue but left behind an intensely earthy hit of fungi. It took all my restraint not to “accidentally” steal other peoples’!
The third mouthful was rather dull next to the other two. Prawns with a peanut coating were pleasant didn’t thrill.
The presentation of this dish was striking – and the bowl itself created crockery envy in some at the table. The crab was hidden underneath that green jelly layer and was tasty and fresh. The mint taste was a little too faint but certainly there. In the foam on top, the apple came through clearly. I couldn’t detect (on the palate) either the cauliflower or the curry.
I don’t think there was one person at the table who liked the various sweet red accompaniments to what was a very fine slice of foie gras. The strawberry liquid was far too sweet, cloying and overwhelming. The tomato actively clashed in a way I wouldn’t have thought possible until I tasted it. I adore foie gras and order it often, and have to confess that this was the worse foie gras dish I’ve ever tasted.
The seabass and yuzu sauce were superb. The fish was perfectly cooked, soft and tasty and the sauce provided a perfect creamy citrus lift. I didn’t really get the green polenta – the “chlorophyll” was clearly basil so I don’t know why it wasn’t just named so – the flavour was alright but it didn’t do much for me at all.
Another really excellent piece of fish, cooked just as it should be. To my surprise, I loved fish with the sweet earthiness of the beetroot. I didn’t really follow what vadouvan was when our waiter briefly mentioned it but Wiki tells me it’s “a ready-to-use blend of spices that is a derivative of Indian curry blend with a French influence”. Unfortunately, the French tendency to tone down spices to the point of homeopathy seems to have occurred and the spice flavours didn’t come through at all.
The lamb was delicious and tender and so full of flavour it was hogget- or mutton-like on the palate. The aubergine was soft and silky but not greasy. I liked all the flavours very much. The slick of sauce poured onto the plates at the table was so thin it ran immediately to one side of the plates, revealing the lay of the table and looking rather unsightly. I realise “jus” is still more trendy, but a little thickening into a proper sauce would have made far better visual impact, certainly.
I know I wasn’t alone in being surprised to be served poultry after the red meat, though I do appreciate that pigeon is gamier and redder than many birds are. The pigeon breast was pleasant, as was the rhubarb an onion. The little leg on the bone was dreadful, wrapped as it was in a surprisingly thick and flacid skin. I liked the almond crunch. More thin and bitty juice though.
The pineapple and pine nut were hidden under a light foam and lemon sorbet (and the pretty but not-so-pleasant-in-the-mouth petals). It was all delicious and I liked the range of textures very much.
This was a super finish. The orange sorbet was probably one of the best I’ve ever tasted; it made me sing Kia-Ora, too orangey for crows! I liked how it was served on a bed of crunchy meringue for textural contrast. The filo pastry with saffron cream was delicate and crunched satisfyingly as I pushed down with my spoon. And oh, the orange segments with tiny slivers of date and mint leaves delighted too. Everything on the plate worked separately and together, creating a complete and happiness-inducing dish!
There were wine matches too, but I can’t comment on them. I asked for dessert wine instead, and was given three different ones, all of which I enjoyed.
Of the restaurant itself, I particularly liked the secret-garden approach, hidden away in a quiet but very very expensive residential mews. Setting and service was traditional French formal, though hard to assess at this kind of special event.
The tasting menu is listed at £90, though obviously we were served more courses than are usually included.
Kavey Eats dined as a guest of The Greenhouse.