The Ledbury – London

127 Ledbury Road

Notting Hill

London W11 2AQ

Tel: 020 7792 9090


The Food:

Amuse-bouches: smoked eel, white beetroot baked in clay, sake cream and char roe; tartlet of morel mushroom and Earl Grey tea; roast scallop with liquorice and elderflower

Datterini tomatoes with lobster claw, sorbet and seaweed

Twelve-year-old River Teign oyster with potato butter and sea purslane

Cornish cod with sugar snap peas and black truffle

Cutlet of Ibérico pork, pork jowl topped with Caesar’s mushrooms, black pudding with beer and shallot cream

Herdwick lamb with salt-baked turnip, garlic scape and ewe’s milk

Wild strawberries with buffalo milk meringue and olive oil

Eucalyptus chocolates

The Wines:

1975 Dom Pérignon P3 97
1991 Domaine Olivier Leflaive Montrachet Grand Cru 93
1999 Domaine Jean-Claude Ramonet Montrachet Grand Cru         98
2001 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Montrachet Grand Cru 95
2000 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Richebourg Grand Cru 92
1971 Petrus 97
1964 Podderi Aldo Conterno Barolo Riserva Speciale 96

Strangers ask me if it’s true: Did I really celebrate my big four-zero at The Ledbury when, at my behest, celebrated chef Brett Graham summoned all his astounding culinary skills to pimp up the KFC menu? Did he discover Colonel Sanders’ secret herbs and spices and sprinkle them over the finest poulet de bresse instead of poulet de indeterminate taxonomic origin? Did the staff really troop down to the local Notting Hill branch to purloin condiments and buckets? Was the popcorn chicken washed down with flagons of 1971 Cheval Blanc? A straightforward Internet search will confirm whether it is true (or not).

I began dining at The Ledbury in 2005, the year that Graham became the latest in a line of naturally gifted chefs backed by Nigel Platts-Martin. Like Chez Bruce down in Wandsworth, the location might be considered out of the way, being sited on in Ledbury Road, on the frontier between millionaires’ Regency palaces and the no-go council estate. Yet few openings in the last two decades have ignited such a buzz, such a frisson of excitement. I vividly recall my first visit, soaking up the electric atmosphere and marveling at the dishes. This was the place to be. From the very beginning of his tenure, Graham was conjuring magic on the plate, and he was going to get better. The Ledbury became a regular haunt for the capital’s wine community and hosted countless winemaker dinners, including one I co-hosted with Robert Parker on a rare visit to London, not to mention numerous/bibulous private soirées with fellow wine nerds and bimonthly “WIMPS” lunches, when the entire restaurant was closed to hold what was ostensibly a West End La Paulée. Irrespective of occasion, the standard never dipped, and inevitably The Ledbury was awarded two Michelin stars in 2010. In fact, I was decompressing after a very liquid lunch there when news leaked of its second star. Cue applause and another bottle of Dom Pérignon.

Smoked eel, white beetroot baked in clay, sake cream and char roe

That second star was a turning point. Demand for one of the 50-odd covers flooded in from around the world. Expectations heightened overnight and everything had to become more serious; The Ledbury grew up. Prices became commensurate with such a lauded restaurant and reservations increasingly hard to come by.

Despite this, thankfully, The Ledbury remained the same, even if KFC-themed banquets were off the menu. Certainly Brett Graham never changed, rarely venturing out from the cubbyhole of a kitchen but always affable and down-to-earth when we did meet. The waiting staff and sommeliers have always been top-notch, and the look of the restaurant was unaltered. Due to travel commitments, I visited less often, though it was always a joy to return. Truth is, I had not dined there for three years when a good friend invited me to a small lunch accompanied by a gaggle of spectacular fermented grape juices. Having created so many fond memories of astonishing lunches and dinners, would The Ledbury live up to my stratospheric expectations? Well, of course it bloody did.

The smoked eel and roast scallop are two of the three mouthwatering amuse-bouches

The Ledbury’s amuse-bouches are the stuff of legend. The smoked eel, white beetroot and char roe was a lethal combination, the eel subtle in flavor, the miniature golden baubles of Arctic char roe sweeter and less iodine than black caviar, the crunchiness of the white beetroot just perfect. This opener was about texture and umami as much as flavor. The tartlet of morel mushroom and Earl Grey tea was a pop-it-in-your-mouth flaky disc of brilliance; my only complaint was that there was not another. Hot on its heels came a skewered roast scallop seasoned with liquorice and elderflower. Neither of those seasonings was particularly obvious, allowing the perfectly cooked scallop to seduce you with sweetness and consistency. Simplicity was the key.

Datterini tomatoes with lobster claw, sorbet and seaweed

The first main course was a bowl of Datterini tomatoes with lobster claw, sorbet and seaweed. Graham told me that he uses red or yellow tomatoes, the clear tomato juice thinned down and churned with extra virgin olive oil and a Chardonnay vinegar adding bite. For me, it was this dish that revealed a more nuanced side to Brett Graham’s cooking. In the past, my only criticism was the richness and occasional heaviness of some of the courses, which tended to veer toward red meat, simply because it was so damn delicious. (Graham spends many a weekend hunting his own game, and I must have devoured an entire herd of Muntjac deer over the years.) This exceptional dish suggested leitmotifs of freshness and lightness - a healthier take on fine dining. It delivered tons of flavor, the tomatoes popping with sweetness in the mouth, the lobster claw perfect in terms of consistency and the sorbet binding everything together. At the same time, it was just so fresh, revivifying your taste buds so that you were set up for the next course.

Twelve-year-old River Teign oyster with potato butter and sea purslane

The next course was outrageous. We were each presented with plates straining under the weight of 12-year-old oysters from the River Teign in South Devon. I asked Graham how he prepares these monsters. “First we steam it inside the shell, then remove the oyster, trim off the outside and clean the shell. We finish [cooking] it over Japanese charcoal brushed with grilled oil and a few drops of sherry vinegar. Once carved we put it back in the shell that we preheat and serve with some smoked potato butter, finger lime and sea purslane, with a gentle pickle with Fino and Pedro sherry. Then we tie up the shell and serve on salt.” This must be tasted to be believed. The oyster had retained so much moisture and intense flavor, the umami sensation more like sea urchin than oyster. I paused to consider the hedonistic, almost outlandish pairing of this oyster with three magnificent Montrachets. Just a month earlier I had been enduring hospital “food” that would embarrass a maximum-security prison. The daily budget for NHS patients is £1.30. How life changes.

Cornish cod with sugar snap peas and black truffle

Cod and black truffle is a novel combination, but it worked beautifully on the understated next dish, which was all about simplicity. The truffle was not too strong in flavor, so it complemented rather than dictated to the perfectly cooked cod. What I loved here were the sugar snap peas. At the moment, I’m a bit obsessed with peas – the diminutive king of vegetables. Graham told me that the peas are warmed in a dried bonito sauce, steamed for 30 seconds. Small, dainty, cooked to perfection and probably the nicest peas I have ever eaten.

Cutlet of Ibérico pork, pork jowl topped with Caesar’s mushrooms, black pudding with beer and shallot cream

It was meat o’clock. Two courses today, pork and then lamb. The former comprised a mouthwatering cutlet of Ibérico pork with a judicious amount of fat. This came with a rectangular cut of jowl, cooked for eight hours, brushed with dark cider vinegar and sprinkled with black pudding, chopped shallots, crackling and golden-hued mushrooms. Graham later informed me that these are Amanita caesarea or Caesar’s mushroom, which, as their name suggests, was the favorite of Roman emperors. These are shaved and seasoned with cep oil and chives. Finally, there was a shallot and beer cream sprinkled black pudding and a perfect slither of potato gratin. The plate was finished off with a drizzled sauce made from roasted Padrón peppers and blanched herbs that Graham had designed to complement the green bell pepper aroma occasionally found in red wine - as in the case of the accompanying Richebourg. Flawless.

Herdwick lamb with salt-baked turnip, garlic scape and ewe’s milk

The Herdwick lamb is a mainstay at The Ledbury. Here the lamb was topped by a lamb jus reduction split with garlic oil, thyme-dried olives, and served with salt-baked turnip, garlic scape and ewe’s milk. Reared on the lush green hills of the Lake District, the lamb was utterly divine. It was not a huge cut of meat, which I was thankful for. This was just right.

My compadres opted for the exceptional cheese board, though due to my diet, I skipped the fromage and headed for the dessert of wild strawberries with buffalo milk meringue and olive oil. Simple but devastatingly effective, it formed a fitting end to lunch. Finally, I popped a eucalyptus chocolate into my mouth for a tortuous journey home thanks to striking train drivers.

Wild strawberries with buffalo milk meringue and olive oil

Now for the wines, all generously bought by my fellow diners. The Ledbury has always had an outstanding wine list, although they are amenable to BYO within reason. The 1975 Dom Pérignon P3. This epitomizes everything I adore about champagne. Iridescent in the glass, it is blessed with a show-stopping bouquet, initially slightly metallic, though this ebbs to reveal mirabelle and crustacean aromas (shucked oyster shells and cockle sheds), hints of orange blossom emerging later. The palate displays exquisite balance and is surfeit with tension from start to finish, becoming increasingly sapid over the course or two or three hours. Maybe I did not find this quite as austere as Antonio Galloni when he tasted it in 2017, but my appreciation for this champagne is the same. 

Next was a trio of Montrachets, as you do on a Wednesday. The 1991 Montrachet Grand Cru from Domaine Olivier Leflaive is stylistically different from the other two served alongside by dint of age; however, it is certainly not embarrassed by the Ramonet or DRC. Burnished straw in color, it shows initial mustiness that soon dissipates to reveal attractive scents of damp straw, almond flakes and hints of wild field mushroom. There is also a subtle seawater aroma that emerges after an hour in the glass. The palate is slightly viscous, suggesting that there might have been a soupçon of botrytis in the vineyard. Yet its smooth texture and harmony shine through and it displays impressive salinity on the waxy, walnut-tinged finish. This bottle suggests little upside in cellaring longer, but after 28 years it has certainly matured well. The 1999 Montrachet Grand Cru from Domaine Jean-Claude Ramonet was my pick of the three wines, a stunning expression of this vineyard. Limpid silver in hue with green tints, the wine offers a bouquet that is ineffably complex and bursts with energy. The mineralité is palpable, which is some achievement given the warmth of that growing season. Scents of hazelnut and black currant leaf appear with a couple of hours in the glass. The palate is intense and supremely well balanced, balancing tiptoe on an absolute killer line of acidity with hints of gunflint and bitter lemon toward the astonishingly persistent finish. This flirts with perfection. The 2001 Montrachet Grand Cru from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti is an outstanding white Burgundy, although juxtaposed against the ’99 Ramonet, I feel that it was always playing catch-up despite melioration with air. Clearly, it takes time to open, and I only begin penning my tasting note after two or three hours, for there is a mote of reduction. Eventually it reveals, almost reluctantly, scents of lemon zest, white peach, nectarine and a light wet limestone/petrichor aroma, although it never quite achieves the crystalline precision of the aforementioned Ramonet. The palate is beautifully balanced thanks to its nigh perfect acidity, and quite powerful in style, with a penetrating, tropical-tinged finish. So Ramonet took the gold medal, DRC silver and Leflaive bronze, but all three were winners.

We then enjoyed three reds from Burgundy, Bordeaux and Barolo, basically any wine region that began with “B.” The 2000 Richebourg Grand Cru from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti is a vintage that I have not tasted since just after bottling. (As I wrote recently, the millennial Burgundy reds, especially from the Côte de Nuits, are currently performing above expectations.) Now showing a little bricking on the rim, it boasts an engaging and transparent bouquet, tinctured with the green bell pepper trait common in this vintage. I admired its conspicuous undergrowth element although others might perceive it as a weakness. The palate is atypical for a Richebourg in terms of lacking the backbone of this Grand Cru, and in some ways it comes across more like a Romanée-Saint-Vivant. Sour red cherries, red currant and wild strawberry slowly give way to secondary notes of tobacco and more of that bell pepper. It is a nimble Richebourg that is a point, though it should give another 12 to 15 years of drinking pleasure.

The 1971 Petrus is a wine that I have encountered three times in the space of six months (though not in the hospital, since there was no Petrus on the cardiac ward’s wine list). The last two bottles represent the best of over a dozen I have had, so either I have been lucky or it has blossomed in its dotage. This has a “warm” bouquet with scents of fireside hearth infusing the mellow red fruit, developing hints of black truffle and pressed rose petal aromas. The palate is medium-bodied with slightly rustic tannin, sappy and showing a little more roundness than previous bottles, and perhaps more cohesion. While it does not quite match the 1975 Petrus, this is such a refined and elegant Pomerol that you cannot help falling for its charms.

The final wine took us to Barolo. The 1964 Barolo Riserva Speciale from Poderi Aldo Conterno is absolutely divine. This predates the formation of the estate by five years, although as Antonio Galloni explained in his article here on Vinous, Aldo and Giovanni Conterno divided the family’s stocks and labeled bottles under their respective names. Deeper and slightly more turbid than the 1971 Petrus served alongside, it has an entrancing bouquet with rose petals and melted tar on a hot summer day, traces of Montecristo cigars and lavender emerging with time, and everything given a subtle lift by a touch of VA. The palate is very well balanced quite youthful for a 55-year-old Nebbiolo. And the finish? Actually, it was easy to see some resemblance between the Barolo and the aforementioned Pomerol, both being mellow and slightly floral, charming yet not powerful. I can envisage this giving another 10 to 15 years of drinking pleasure, subject to provenance.

That completed what had been a more or less perfect lunch in terms of three fundamentals: food, wine and company. The Ledbury had delivered, perhaps even exceeded my expectations. Whereas nearby “competitor” Core had set out to impress and amaze throughout every course, here I felt Brett Graham’s menu eschewed the more ostentatious aspects of fine dining at this rarefied level. Sure, one or two dishes had a bit of theatre, not least that oyster. But others dazzled by their disarming simplicity, testament to a chef who, while constantly challenging himself, knows what he is doing. The overall effect is a multi-course meal that delivers all the flavor you wish for and yet never leaves you feeling bloated. Another sign of a restaurant at the top of its game is that although the menu had been discussed in advance with Brett Graham, sous-chef Jake Leach was manning the stove without any perceptible compromise in standards. His is a name to look out for.

One observation is that I noticed how the clientele has changed. All but one of the tables was occupied by East Asian diners, some of whom seemed to be eating in complete silence or, in one case, idly swiping their smartphone. Of course, you pay the money, £150.00 for a set lunch, so anyone from anywhere can eat however they want. It did slightly mute the atmosphere, however, especially when I thought back to some of the livelier lunches and dinners in the past. Maybe it is just a sign of the times, though I know that in Tokyo, for example, top sushi restaurants are known to manipulate diners to balance locals and regulars with those making their pilgrimage. That’s a whole different area of debate.

Otherwise, this lunch was a delicious confirmation that The Ledbury remains the best restaurant in London. A few days afterward, I did ask Brett Graham if we had simply chosen lighter dishes or if he has tweaked his approach. “Yes. Over the years, the cooking has definitely become lighter and I don’t cook with much butter unless necessary,” he answered. “We have many different techniques we have worked on, which helps the small details you’re noticing. The produce has become more important and we spend more time sourcing special ingredients like the oysters.”

Some people say that it is long overdue a third star, but in my opinion, Brett Graham’s cooking is content, perhaps even flourishes, when operating at two-star level, giving him the flexibility that can be denied chefs striving for accolades rather than simply furnishing diners with the most delicious dishes possible. If you want to experience the apotheosis of London’s fine dining scene, then a table at The Ledbury is obligatory.

Oh, and by the way, you can rest assured some idiot will not be eating pimped-up KFC at the adjacent table.

(Thanks to my fellow diners for inviting me to this special meal and their vinous generosity.)