Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Lunch 'Til Dusk

Making a reservation at eat at The Greenhouse was perhaps one of the best decisions I made for our recent London trip. I followed my chef friend D’s recommendation to plan for a lunch there while we were in town (after hearing him raving all about it and its chef Alex Dilling’s cooking a few weeks ago).

I did feel a bit out of place when we made out 10 minute walk off the bus station into the posh Mayfair neighborhood to where the restaurant was located, tucked behind the block lined with gorgeous residential buildings. The venue was unlike any other restaurants in any metropolitan cities, with the beautiful garden leading to the entrance hidden on the side, and once we were inside, we were led into the tranquil and cozy dining room and to our table next to the window with the garden view. Only a handful of restaurants could have the luxury of having such space right in the middle of the city. 

We didn’t even bother to flip the menu when Neil the manager proposed that we left it to the restaurant team to decide the menu for us. Turned out that’s another right decision we have made as we were led to one amazing dish after another during our long lunch that lasted until the sun was set.

We began with a few snacks all brought to us at the same time, each well plated with interesting flavors and textures. The hamachi was slightly cured and wrapped with thin slice of radishes like a mini finger sandwich and garnished with edible flowers; the little parcel which looks like a pillow was filled with mimolette and topped with cream and a small round of black truffle – I love its earthy and rich taste that burst in my mouth; the white “sphere” on a tartlet turned out to be a smoked eel “bavarois” with a soft and creamy taste; and served on a long metal spoon was the spherified cucumber and lime gazpacho with its refreshing flavor. Rounding up all that was a crispy sardine roll topped with a piece of the salt-cured fish. These sure were one grand opening to a feast.

A few seafood courses followed. The langoustine tartare looks like a gigantic white chocolate truffles, with the tartare stuffed inside a white sphere (made of buttermilk) with aged caviar, then garnished with flowers and mini herbs on top, and underneath was a light cream sauce and bergamot gelee for the hint of acidity and sweetness. The complexity in tastes was mind-blowing. Oysters and potatoes were presented in different forms in our next course, with oysters turned into a marble-like gelee and the creamy bavarois, and potatoes done in confit and crisp as garnishes, and completing the dish was more caviar and a chilled vichyssoise sauce infused with more oyster flavor. There’s no better expression of the sea flavor with this one.

The presentation of the Cornish mackerel was stunningly beautiful, with two pieces of the fish fillet escabeche and place on a large porcelain plate, and on top, “leaves” cut with slices of heirloom carrots in different color, some raw, and some pickled. In the center was a clear sauce infused with apple juice and coriander oil. I like the line-up of different tastes and textures in these first three courses too – each different and excelled in their own ways.

The whole piece of foie gras au torchon was presented to us – like a log cake – before it’s carved into individual portion to serve. The Andignac duck foie gras was cured and poached whole, and it’s rolled covered in a thin layer of crème fraiche garnished with herbs, five spices and gold flakes. It’s then served with quince jam and “toast” on the side. I simply couldn’t have asked for a better execution of this classic dish – everything was so perfectly done and showed the techniques and attention to details by Chef Alex’s team in the kitchen.

We then moved to the hot dishes. The soft-boiled egg was served with polenta, parmesan foam, mushroom fluid gel and topped with chicken jus reduction and plenty of shaved white truffles. Not much of a surprise but it’s delicious – and I would never get tired of seeing the prized Alba white truffles being brought to us in great fanfare and carefully shaved on top of our dishes, and the sauce was top-notch. 

The dish described to us as “clam chowder” topped it all as the most impressive dish all afternoon in all categories. The pieces of clams were carefully arranged in a circle with aged caviar in the center, and underneath was potato confit and parsley fluid gel adding to the visual effect (like leaves), and the creamy velouté (made of cream and clam juice) was poured in to complete this “deconstructed” "soup". It’s pretty, with rich flavor from all the distinct ingredients, and nice textures too. Certainly the fanciest clam chowder I have had.

Chef Alex then turned the traditional bouillabaisse into something totally different in the next course. The piece of dover sole fillet was wrapped with a thin layer of red prawn which was mashed and rolled into a sheet. It’s then gently poached and served with the bouillabaisse sauce and dots of saffron aioli cream around. Love the firm texture of the dover sole to go with the sauce.

Our main course was “Landes chicken ‘hunter-style’”, but obviously it’s not of the rustic style as the name suggested. Again, the whole piece was presented to us then carved into halves to serve. What looked like a piece of whole chicken breast was in fact deconstructed (and re-constructed), with chicken mousse wrapped with foie and mushroom farci, then molded into shape and slow-cooked, completed with the “grill mark” with glazes. On the side, the most delicious albufera sauce was spooned on the plate, followed by the shaved white truffles. I had some pretty epic white truffle dishes this season at a few different places and I was happy to add this to my list. The dish was served with pomme souffle and savory cabbage rolls on the side too – that seemed like an after thought but nonetheless they were tasty. And later the "coq au vin" consommé was served in an espresso cup to us as well.

Before the dessert, we were served a mini course of “trou normand”, which was a quenelle of cultured buttermilk icecream with aged kaluga caviar. The combination of slight acidity from the icecream and the deep sea umami flavor of the caviar did work well as a palate cleanser. Two dessert courses were served – first the refreshing one with different textures of mango and cardamom mousse, then the rich one with Santarem Chocolate mousse paired with caramel icecream. And a few petit fours were brought to our table, and among them my favorite was the tare tatin macaron.

We did leave the wine choice in our own hands after consulting the sommelier, since we didn’t know what we were going to eat. Turned out the Riesling worked just perfectly fine. Nice acidity, subdued citrus on the palate, some pineapple and lots of mineral giving it a good grip, working well with the seafood.

No doubt this is a solid 2 stars, but destined for more. What was planned to be a quick lunch before a visit to Borough Market after turned into a 4-hour feast and it’s already sunset when we finished our meal at around 5. We were definitely spoiled by the chef and the whole team at the restaurant - so full that we could hardly move after. 
When? November 29 2019
Where? The Greenhouse, 27A Hay’s Mews, Mayfair, London W1J 5NY, UK
Menu Highlights? Clam Chowder with Aged Kaluga Caviar
Drink? 2017 Weingut Wittmann "Aulerde" Riesling GG Rheinhessen

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