Every now and then you have to treat yourself. You need to take your feet off the metaphorical treadmill, relax and give yourself a little of what you fancy. Because it does you good. We cook a lot at home, and often shop around for food and groceries here, to save a little money there. So that when we want to really go to town, we don't feel guilty. Obviously, Hélène Darroze at the Connaught is a classy place. It has 2 Michelin stars, for goodness' sake! So we were expecting luxury, great food, and a memorable experience. Thankfully, our expectations were deliverered all round.
Hélène Darroze comes from the Landes / Gascony region of France. She comes from the south west of the country, close to the Spanish border. In this area, there is some cross fertilisation between French and Spanish ingredients and techniques. This region is home to foie gras and armagnac. Wine making and brandy distillation are key industries. Being on the coast, it is no surprise that food in Landes features a lot of fresh seafood.
We opted for the 3 course lunch with two glasses wine, petit fours and tea or coffee for £42.00 each. As I said, this was a treat, and not something we would do frequently. Every now and then, when you've worked hard you must say to yourself the words of the advert 'because I deserve it'!
Before we began the meal proper, was the customary offer of a bread roll with butter. The bread smelt irresistable; freshly cooked and still warm! There was a choice of a mini-baguette, wholemeal roll and this rather unusual looking offering:
Upon enquiry we were informed it was a Butter Roll, and that it was our waitress' favourite of all of the breads available. Very rarely have I been steered wrong by a recommendation, so I was more than happy to give it a go. It turned out to be fluffy yet moist and completely and utterly buttery. It smelt of butter, had the colour of butter inside, and was just full of buttery perfection. Did I mention it was buttery? My arteries will probably not thank me for eating it, but my tastebuds and tummy both groaned in delight.
Black and creamy Carnaroli Acquerrello rice, sautéed calamari with confit tomato and chorizo, slightly bitter jus with parsley, Parmegianno Reggiano foam
Well, other than the Parmeggiano foam, I have to confess that this dish looks horrible. And the squid ink is so thick, it coated my lips, making Him Indoors more than a bit worried that I looked like a complete nutter. However, in terms of flavour, it is wonderful. I've had Arroz Negro in Barceloneta, and Squid Ink linguine in Sicily. I enjoy the subtle seafood flavour and creaminess that squid ink gives a dish. But this is a new level of wonderfulness. Seriously. It is a triumph of contrasting flavours, counterpointed textures and masterly technique. The parmesan foam is full of umami flavours, balanced by the paprika oils oozing from the chorizo.
Brittany cauliflower ravioli with mascarpone, blue lobster, black truffle condiment
The blue lobster was light, fresh and cooked until literally just done. The ravioli made of handmade pasta which was neither heavy nor thick. Just enough to envelop the cauliflower filling without becoming dominant. The gentle aroma of truffle brought all the flavours and textures together; the aromatic yet gentle cauliflower, creamy mild mascarpone, delicate lobster and toothsome pasta.
Roasted XXL Scottish scallop on its shell with yuzu butter from Maitre Bordier, razor clams marinière with Japanese mushrooms, spinach and shiso baby leaves, lemongrass cappuccino
Scallops should be slightly sweet, meaty in texture and completely delightful. Only, however, if they have been cooked until JUST done. Once beyond that point, they run a very substantial risk of being chewy, rubbery and tasteless. I know, i've tried cooking them several times. Quite literally a minute over, and they're quite ruined. It's a stress that I'm not sure I can cope with, if I am completely honest. So, scallops are a dish I often order in restaurants. Better that people who are good at the critical management of timing cook them; they are noble beasts, scallops, and should be done justice. Here they certainly were.
Parmentier of "Axuria" milk-fed lamb from Pyrénées, white coco beans from Bearn with pimientos del piquillo, pissalat jus with anchovies from Cantrabrique
The lamb itself was tender and full of flavour. The sauce, I confess was a little rich for me. A full portion of the dish would have been overwhelming.
I didn't order this dish; Him Indoors had the following verdict:
I didn't order this dish; Him Indoors had the following verdict:
"Very tender, beautifully cooked. The sauce was very strong. You wouldn't want too much. Still enjoyable, however. I do feel it may have been overseasoned with salt. The bean accompaniment was fragrant and flavoursome. Beautiful smell, beautiful taste."
Pineapple, long pepper cream, lime and vanilla granite, crispy banana
The biscuit in the picture is flavoured with vanilla and is light and crispy. It complements the granite and cream perfectly, allowing for textures and flavours to meld and yet contrast and complement each other. The picture makes it look unfairly plain and uninteresting, which is a terrible disservice. This was a lovely dessert, made with great love and care.
Carupano chocolate and feuillitine slice, fresh candied kumquats, cocoa almond crumble
You will see the smooth chocolate sauce being drizzled over the dish in my picture. It looks great, doesn't it?
Well, it tastes as creamy, rich and gorgeous as it looks. The slice is just the right balance between chocolatey indulgence and lightness. The kumquats provide a bit of a syrupy sauce, whose citrus freshness cuts through the creamy richness of the chocolate. The subtle crumble gives a contrasting texture. This pudding was recommended to me by the staff, and they didn't steer me wrong in any way.
The waiting staff were helpful, courteous and recognised when to leave you well alone. I found them to be extremely warm and professional. In particular our Sommelier was kind, obliging and full of the enthusiasm for his subject. I greatly value service of this kind when making a substantial investment of hard earned cash into a 'special' meal out with my hubby, Him Indoors.
Time Out said of Darroze that she is "sincere, thoughtful, restrained". I would agree; she has achieved a wonderful mix of comfort, luxury and refinement without being fussy or precious. It is classy, but without undue formality. It is elegant without being rigid. Definitely worth visiting, particularly for a special treat (birthday or anniversary would be ideal).
Him Indoors and I deferred paying to our next credit card bill. It has taken me so long to post this review that the bill has now been paid in full.
Hélène Darroze at the Connaught
(020) 7499 7070