Helene Darroze at the Connaught Hotel in London is a restaurant offering equal parts elegance and whimsy.
Case in point: The restaurant has 2 Michelin stars (and is working towards a third) and the little game board in the photo above is the menu/game you play as soon as you are seated.
It's sophisticated without being too stuffy.
I love places like this.
This is how it went:
First of all, we had made reservations through a concierge service and when we arrived we were told that they had tried to call and confirm our reservation and that no one answered so they cancelled our booking.
After further investigating we found out that the number they were calling was not our number but they managed to find us a nice table even on a busy night.
It could have gone much worse but the host did a great job of accommodating us without making the whole situation weird and awkward.
Once we were seated, we were given the game (in the photo above) as well as this accompanying little menu:
Then a delightful woman came by asking about any food restrictions, letting us know how Chef Darroze uses espelette pepper instead of black pepper (which is super duper yums btw) and explained that the paper menu was a more detailed explanation of the dishes and that there were 3 options: a 5 course menu consisting of 1 dessert, a 7 course menu consisting of 2 desserts or a 9 course menu where the food is left up to Chef Darroze to decide.
The server let us know, in her thick French accent, that the last choice would result in us, "being 'ere until tomorrow morneeeng, so keep zat in mind."
We decided to go with the 5 course menu.
We've got places to be and people to see.
Those being: home in bed and actors on Netflix.
To order, you place the items you don't want on the outer rim and keep your order on the inside of the game board:
I loved this whole process. It was playful, thoughtful and just plain fun.
As a fellow female, I couldn't help but repeat, "this is a woman's touch" throughout the entire night.
Although it felt playful, you never forgot that you were at a fancy place.
The French have mastered that.
It felt inappropriate to whip out my huge digital camera at a place like this, so I opted for my iPhone and some stealthy ninja moves.
The first thing they brought were the canapés:
At the back, are cheese croquettes with an espelette aioli (absolutely divine, cheesy, creamy and a little subtle spice from the espelette aoili).
On the right is a chilled green bean velouté soup with a little Parmesan cheese. As a green bean lover I was so impressed with the idea of turning them into soup. I don't see that very often and I felt inspired to try making this at home.
Finally, there was a tomato chutney stuffed crispy log topped with, "special ham from ze South of France."
All of them were a delight.
Then came bread service:
There was a regular salted butter and continuing with the espelette theme, an espelette butter. Both used amazing high quality butter from Brittany, France.
(P.S. Look at my mom's lovely hand in the background.)
After the bread I got my first course, a raw salmon dish with fennel and a teeny tiny squash with it's itty bitty blossom attached. Next to it is a tapioca crisp with salmon roe.
Here's a close up shot of the salmon:
I'm not the biggest fan of raw fennel, but the preparation here made it taste quite mild and fresh. The tapioca crisp had a needed textural contrast to the soft salmon and the salmon roe was a needed burst of salt on the palate.
Next was the foie gras with various forms of strawberry topped with shaved pistachio and served with warm grilled bread.
(Look at my mom's fancy hands again.)
Here's a close up of the foie dish:
Look how cute the little elderflowers are!
This dish was tasty, but compared to the others it was my least favorite.
It was also the only dish I did not finish.
It wasn't that the dish was bad, I just found it too heavy to complete and I wasn't a huge fan of the strawberry and foie gras combination. I get what Chef Darroze was trying to do, it just wasn't really working for me.
Next up was the scallop with tandoori spices, rainbow carrots and a carrot puree:
Here's a different angle of the dish.
According to my server, "Zis dish is my absolute fayvoreeet. Iz so deeeleeeshos. Also, zees iz a famooos deesh of Madame Helene."
This was my second favorite dish (my favorite one is next).
I expected the tandoori spices to overwhelm the delicate and slightly sweet scallop.
It ended up highlighting the delicate sweetness of the scallop and it was cooked to perfection.
No rubbery scallop here.
The carrot puree was insanely good. I scraped as much off the plate as I could without losing my decorum.
The fourth course was my favorite.
The lobster with white asparagus, botargo and seaweed beurre blanc:
Dude, I wanted to lick the plate.
The lobster was fork tender, and the asparagus still had a bite to it (which I love, I hate mushy veggies) and the seaweed beurre blanc, oooh the seaweed beurre blanc.
If I could write a poem about the sauce, it would go something like this:
Salty, Creamy, Delicious, Dreamy.
I'm not a poet and I know it.
The dessert was a celebration of strawberries.
It was a rose panna cotta, candied rose petal with strawberry sorbet, farmed strawberries and tiny wild French strawberries that are packed with so much intensely sweet strawberry flavor and they are also my new favorite fruit.
They also bring a few little pastries with dessert as well.
The experience reminded me a lot of Alain Ducasse's 3 Michelin starred Le Louis XV in Monte Carlo, Monaco, which I reviewed as well.
Once we asked for the check they gave us a little pastry to take home.
The damage was $512.62
This is the price for the 5 course option for two people and no alcohol.
It is worth mentioning that both of us chose a few dishes that were considered supplements, which added to the price.
Final Say: Go if you want to celebrate, treat yourself or just want great food and exceptional service.