>> Thursday, August 08, 2013
This is the third post in the Work Week in London series. Other posts in this series include Hibiscus and Pied a Terre.
It's very unusual that a meal turns out to be perfect in almost every single way. More often than not a tasting menu has a mix of truly incredible courses and "OK but forgettable" courses. For me, the problem is further compounded by the fact that I have a pretty small stomach. I often start becoming full about halfway through the meal, which makes it even harder for me to fully appreciate those final "heavier" courses.
Rare is the meal where every single course truly delights and impresses the palate.
So when I walk out of a meal feeling like I really enjoyed every single point of the evening (especially all the way to the end), you know I've stumbled upon something really special.
And that, my friends, was The Ledbury - by far our favorite restaurant from this London trip.
Open since 2005, the Ledbury has received endless amounts of awards, accolades, and top spots on well-respected lists around the world. For example, The Ledbury is number 13 on the S. Pellegrino list of the world's 50 top restaurants for 2013 (way above The Fat Duck, which clocked in at number 33 this year). It has kept its two Michelin stars since earning them in 2010. It's been named the best restaurant in London by numerous entities, such as Zagat, The Sunday Times, and Restaurant Magazine. Clearly Chef Brett Graham is doing something right.
Our meal started out with a tiny amuse bouche: Squid Ink Crespelle topped with turbot roe and dill. We both absolutely loved the contrast of the delicate, salty "crisp" with the creamy dollops on top.
We nibbled on these long, flat crisps that I believe were sitting in tea-smoked black rice. It reminded me of a potato chip, but obviously much more refined.
Then a server arrived holding a tray full of beautiful bread. It was hard to choose which ones to try. Between the two of us, we managed to try most of them: the crispy malt bread, the bacon brioche, and the sour dough wheat. Though all were fantastic, we were surprised that both of us liked the crispy malt bread the best (pictured on right). It had a nice, warm, "malty" flavor and we loved the crispy topping (was it seeds?) on top.
I know you're not supposed to fill up on bread so early in the meal, but this bread was really, really good.
Next we had the Crispy Quail Egg. This single egg was somehow delicately wrapped, deep fried, adn served with crispy bacon on top of a pea purée. This is best enjoyed as one bite, since the egg pops and out bursts an explosion of warm, flavorful liquid (the yolk!) inside.
Served in a cold martini glass, the next course was the Chantilly and Tartare of Oysters with Frozen Horseradish and Dill. This unusual dish included raw oysters tossed with cucumbers, dill, and roasted seaweed powder and then topped with frozen horseradish. It was cool, refreshing, and quite good.
The next course, Flame Grilled Mackerel came with pickled cucumber, Celtic mustard, and shiso. The server told us it was the most popular dish at the restaurant. The fish has a ton of umami and Bryan loved the cream sauce. Overall, we both thought the dish was excellent - perfectly balanced in both flavors and textures.
This next course was one of my favorites. Creamed Jersey Royals (a type of potato) were served with morels mushrooms cooked in Earl Grey tea. The creamed potatoes were incredibly smooth - they reminded me of the famous Joel Robuchon mashed potatoes. The morels gave the dish a rich and deep mushroom flavor. I can't even tell you what the mashed green sauce was, but it was incredibly flavorful and very, very good.
Living in the US, we are so used to getting fresh salmon from Alaska. In England, it's all about Scottish salmon. Here we enjoyed the season's freshest salmon from Scotland. This was a simple, farm fresh preparation with Mousseron mushrooms, asasparus, sugar snap peas, and a mushroom cream sauce.
At this point the server came out holding a large plate. On it was a pork jowl with a gorgeously crispy skin topped with copious amounts of star anise, along with many other herbs. The smell was intoxicating, it was so good.
The server began explaining.
"This pork jowl has been cooked for eight hours at eighty-five degrees with anise and various other herbs. We then cook it under high heat to crisp the skin."
It looked fabulous.
The server then whisked it away. They were going to cut it up for us.
When plated, we each got a slice of the pork jowel along with a parsnip emulsion, parsnip chips, and walnut crisps. The reddish sauce had a really nice intense kick to it. The dish most certainly had elements of Asian chili flavors - we just couldn't quite place which ones.
The dish was very memorable. The pork itself was very soft, juicy, and incredibly tender. We loved the combination of the tender meat, crispy skin, and accompanying components. It made for a lovely dish.
The waiter had strongly recommended that we try the Fillet of Belted Galloway, a 35 day dry aged beef from Galloway (a region in Scotland). He said that the beef was rare and hard-to-get. The restaurant only gets a small amount, and therefore can only offer it occasionally on the menu. Apparently it was our lucky day since this was the first day it was back on the menu.
The perfectly cooked piece of filet was topped with bone marrow, which Bryan loved. This was served with potato crisps and celeriac baked in juniper and wild hops.
Cheese is an optional course (only £10 extra!) and definitely fun to share. The server rolls a cheese cart out and you get to choose whichever ones you want to try.
We ended up getting an assortment, including a Gruyere, a goat cheese, a blue cheese, and one other. We enjoyed these with honey malted crisps, walnuts, biscuits, grapes, and a pear apple apricot chutney.
For "pre-dessert", we enjoyed a mix of lemon verbena ice cream, orange granita, and pieces of meringue. I loved the fragrant flavors, and the contrast between the cold, icy granita and the creamy ice cream worked surprisingly well. It was definitely refreshing and cleansed the palate perfectly in preparation for our next dessert.
Our final dessert was a Brown Sugar Tart with Poached Grapes and Stem Ginger Ice Cream. The tart was creamy and dense, sort of like an egg custard. The ginger ice cream had a lovely, intense ginger flavor, and I really liked it (even though I typically don't like ginger!).
Finally, they sent some mignardises as a final small bite: Mandarin jelly, dark chocolate, and juniper cookies.
I can't say enough nice things about this restaurant. The servers are attentive, friendly, and not the least bit stuffy. The ambiance is spacious, bright, and relaxed.
The food is excellent. I was delighted and surprised by several courses, and I honestly can say there was not a single course I did not really enjoy. There's a reason why this restaurant is so consistently praised by everyone. It truly stands out.
Bryan and I both have really fond memories of our entire experience at the restaurant. For some reason, the combination of the excellent service, fantastic food, and beautiful space made it nearly the perfect night out.
The Ledbury is on Ledbury Street in a beautiful part of London called Notting Hall (yes, made much more famous by the movie!). I actually took one of those double decker red buses there. I think Bryan took a cab. You can take the tube as well, but the double decker buses are fun!
You can either eat a la carte (£80.00 for three courses) or you can do the tasting menu (£105.00 (£175.00 with wine)). The set lunch seems like a nice way to try the restaurant without spending too much: £30.00 for two courses £35.00 for three courses. We only booked about a week before dining there and it was not too hard to get a 7PM reservation. For some reason, I've found that it's not as hard to get a reservation in London at a really good place compared to in other cities. I used TopTable (UK's version of Opentable), which worked out beautifully.
127 Ledbury Road
Notting Hill, UK W11