Sunday, 10 February 2013

Roux at the Landau

Modern dining trends are great. I am all for the new generation of restaurants with a near obsessive interest in quality and authenticity. Often inspired by the founders' travels around the globe, these establishments try to capture the essence of some of the greatest travel and food experiences. Sometimes when you go out, you want to be transported to a quintessentially Andalucian tapas joint, or a Bombay Irani cafe or a Venetian bar. These are great places to eat, and have made the London restaurant scene the envy of the world. And if our restaurant isn't the envy of the world, it is only because the world has not yet realised how awesome it is!

But I digress, as is my habit. What I wanted to say is sometimes you want a little more space. Space to relax, with a big enough table that you aren't squashed. Time enough that you can properly chat and catch up and make an evening out of a meal. When those occasions call (as it recently did for Him Indoors and I when we wanted to catch up with one of my dearest old school friends), we needed to think long and hard about where we went. We didn't want a place with a 'no reservations' policy, or who knows how long we might wait for a table? We didn't want an establishment playing music so loud you can't talk, when the whole purpose of the evening was to chat, catch up and be sociable. We wanted a place with good food, an ethos where a good experience was key, and where the service was professional; attentive yet low key. We decided, eventually on Roux at the Landau.

Roux at the Landau is located at the Langham Hotel, Portland Place, literally across the road from the BBC's iconic building near the top end of Regent Street. Thankfully, it has its own entrance, so you don't have to feel the need to explain to the dapper and exceptionally polite staff that 'err.... umm..... I'm just looking for the restaurant. I'm not actually staying here....'! The restaurant, whose head chef (chef de cuisine) is Chris King, is run overall by Albert and Michel Roux Jnr. Chris King is the protege of Michel Roux Jnr, and worked at that pinnacle of restaurant perfection, Le Gavroche, for 5 years. So we were looking forward to a special evening of food, chat and a little luxury.
Canape: Fresh olives, stuffed with veal
Olives are often an acquired taste and we frequently find the preserved variety are too sour or salty. These fresh olives had a mere hint of bitterness; the real flavour of the olive unadorned by preserving agents, but with a hint of fruit. The olive's texture was firm, and the veal stuffing soft and toothsome, providing a wonderful contrast. A teasing hint at the food to come. 

Poached duck breast with savoy cabbage 'rillettes' and walnut juniper dressing
Usually 'rillettes' means you receive a pate-like dish. Commonly made of pork, the meat is cooked in fat, very slowly with copious amounts of salt. The meat is then turned into a pate or paste by slicing or shredding and then combining it with the cooking fat. However, here the rillettes are a vegetable pate made of finely chopped savoy cabbage. The cooked duck has been finely sliced and has been gently cooked to keep its consistency and flavour. The presentation of this dish is just astonishing. It is art on a slate.

Classic salmon and scallop cervelas with shellfish butter sauce
Again, we have a traditionally French dish, given an original twist. This time, cervelas, which would usually be a sausage made of pork and beef (often with bacon), has been made of seafood rather than meat. The balance of salmon and scallop is well observed, because it would have been easy for the stronger flavoured salmon to  dominate the delicate scallop. But, we are in the hands of a master, so no danger there. The cervalas was gloriously yielding, soft and tender. The shellfish butter sauce gently reminds me of the sea; tasting "of the sea" but not at all fishy. 

Spit roast chicken with pecorino-basil gnocchi and young artichoke ragout
The chicken is one of the smaller ones; not those tasteless rapidly grown ones whose flesh is open textured and full of water. It has been roasted such that it is still moist and flavourful. The gnocchi are breadcrumbed and not quite what I was expecting. My only criticism is that I can barely taste the basil, one of my favourite herbs, evoking sunny days spent in Italy. But the artichoke ragout is gently cooked and coats the chicken and gnocchi, bringing out their textures and flavours with a complimentary flavours.

Butter roast beef chateaubriand, fondant pink fir apple potatoes and Roquefort hollandaise
Rich and satisfying, the beef is delightful. With the creamy deliciousness of the Roquefort hollandaise, this is not a dish where you consider the calorie count, but one to chalk up as a decadent treat for yourself. Pink Fir Apple potatoes are rare, overshadowed by Anya and other small potato varieties. It's a slight shame that there were not more of the actual potatoes served, since they are nutty and delicious.


French and British Artisan cheeses
First, let me show you the selection. Other than Le Gavroche (whose cheese selection takes up a table top on a rolling trolley of at least 4 feet by 2.5 feet!!), I don't think I have ever seen such a large array of cheeses to tempt the most varied palate. Oozy, young, mature, hard, soft, blue, goats milk, lambs milk, cows milk; all tastes are catered for. Onion marmalade, pickle and quince jelly are all supplied

Ice cream sundae du jour
Served theatrically in a bowl of ice, this is spectacular. Very high quality ice cream, it needs the ice to allow you enough time to eat it without turning into slush! Topped with thin, delicately baked biscuit, this dessert selection of our guest was demolished with relish.

The desserts were enjoyed with glasses of Chateau de Cerrons dessert wine. Indulgent, but it complimented both the ice cream and cheeses with its cool, sweet raisiny tones.

I didn't take pictures of the Petits Fours. The lights were fading and flash simply ruins all attempts at food photography. Besides, my dinner companions were getting more than bored on my insistence to take photos of every single dish, often more than once. I can vouch for the fact that the forest fruit jelee was intensely flavoured with fruit with just enough gelatine for firmness, the mini-palmier light with a hint of chocolate  There is a choice of coffees or a variety of teas, all of which are a very high quality. 

Turning to the service, I cannot fault it. It is kind, polite, attentive yet unobtrustive. Sometimes I find too much attention a little intimidating. And I really don't like snootiness, which I have experienced both in London and elsewhere.  Here the courses are not rushed, guests are given the time to eat, chat and settle down. You aren't faced with the next plate of food as soon as you've finished the last. This is exactly how I like it. There was no hint of the pushy and sometimes aggressive table turning which blights so much of the London high-scale market. We were not rushed in any way, even after we'd paid the bill but wanted to finish off our teas and coffees.

For such an upmarket restaurant (the dinner guest that Him Indoors and I brought along exclaimed 'Fancy!' as one of her impressions of the place), there is little pretension about Roux at the Landau. The service is unbelieveably polite but with a kindness and charm that is sometimes absent from 'posh' eateries'. There is none of the typical pressure to choose 'still or sparkling' water. Good old London tap water is brought to you without any sniffy attitude, which many London restaurants should note. We customers are already paying top banana for our meal - with wine - so we don't see any reason to pay between £5 and £9 for plain old H2O! 

Overall, my assessment is that the food, wine, surroundings and service here are amazing. It does, however, come at a price. It isn't excessive, for what you get. I just think it is a place for you to choose the suitable occasion for - then relax and enjoy in the care of experts in their field.

Snigdha, Him Indoors and our friend paid proper money - AKA pictures of the Queen - for their meal.

Roux at The Landau on Urbanspoon

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