127 Ledbury Rd
London W11 2AQ
BY NEAL MARTIN | MARCH 03, 2023
(including Iberico ham, cured trout and crackers)
crab with swede, buttermilk and apple marigold
Poole Bay grey mullet with radish, dashi and smoked cream
beef veal sweetbread with parsnip cream, black garlic and black truffle
sea bass, Chinese artichoke, trout roe and finger lime
from the cabinet (eryngii, hen of the woods, oyster and shiitake) with potato,
yeast and rosemary
Jersey beef with Roscoff onion, kombu and caramelized cep cream
custard, hoshigaki and bee pollen
meringue with pear, sour cream and Douglas Fir
salted milk and Yorkshire rhubarb ice cream, stem ginger and matcha tea
|1999 Domaine Vincent Leflaive
Puligny-Montrachet Clavoillon 1er Cru
|1959 Domaine Vincent Leflaive
Puligny-Montrachet Les Pucelles 1er Cru
|1991 Domaine de la
Romanée-Conti Richebourg Grand Cru
|1981 Domaine de la
Romanée-Conti Richebourg Grand Cru
|1971 Domaine de la
Romanée-Conti La Tâche Grand Cru
|2018 Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux
Vosne-Romanée Les Grands Suchots
|2008 Joh. Jos. Prüm Wehlener
Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese A.P. #12
pandemic spared nobody in the restaurant industry. The landscape is most likely
permanently altered. The Ledbury was cruising at high altitude and ostensibly
had the world at its feet when I last entered its doors in June 2019. A pair of
Michelin stars and chef Brett Graham’s pulling power conferred immense interest
amongst gourmands that hailed it as one of the country’s most desirable fine
dining destinations. Forced to shut his doors, Graham took stock of his career,
like so many of us did. I mused about where a chef goes having achieved so
much. When we met at a private lunch during lockdown, Graham was unsure whether
The Ledbury would reopen, and his mindset seemed more focused on his passion
for rearing livestock instead of donning his whites and working those long
automatically extinguished those hard-earned Michelin stars. Yet to my pleasant
surprise, in February 2022, the Ledbury reopened with Graham back at the helm
in the multiverse that you and I inhabit. Same chef, same name, same location -
but it would be a different restaurant. My instinct was to return as soon as
its doors opened. Instead, I waited a few weeks to give the team time to settle.
Others flocked back in droves, treating it as a signal of life returning to
normal, yet one or two notable food critics gave Ledbury 2.0 a few stern words.
My wait turned from weeks into months until last New Year, when an extremely
generous friend hosted dinner at my old haunt. It proved to be a stellar night
on the wine front, which I will tackle later.
meantime, the pertinent question is whether The Ledbury has changed and
were initial grumblings merited? Should you queue up for one of its
sought-after tables? Has The Ledbury regained its pomp?
The Ledbury interior
pulls up outside its corner location in Notting Hill. The exterior looks the
same as before. The interior occupies the same space. The Ledbury has never
been a commodious restaurant. It is cozy, though tastefully refurbished, so
that its ambiance instantly feels more spacious. A waiters’ table occupies the center,
the kitchen is still tucked away downstairs. Glancing around, I notice several
young Asian couples, just as there were three years earlier. Unlike before,
there is no à la carte, but rather a single multi-course set menu that can be
adapted upon request. The Ledbury is not cheap. At £185.00 per person, this is
one of London’s most expensive places to dine. Then again, they could probably
double that, and the queue will not shorten.
the cuisine, the dishes continue in a lighter vein than before. It is less
calorific. Memories of early dinners are filled with unctuous sauces
painstakingly reduced over several centuries, whereas now there are hardly any on
the current menu.
commence with an array of canapés. The highlights are predictably wafer-thin
slithers of Iberico ham reared by Graham himself, draped temptingly over a
black rock. They have a gossamer luster and melt-in-your-mouth consistency.
Stunning. I am also partial to the cured trout, even if it might not be
something you could find elsewhere. None of the canapés are what I would
describe as showstoppers, and I find the cracker too spicy. Otherwise, they are
all quite delicious.
Portland crab with swede, buttermilk and apple marigold
The nine-course tasting menu begins with Portland crab, swede, buttermilk and apple marigold. This is one of my standout dishes. The crab is exceptionally fine in quality, a nuanced yet fresh and revitalizing dish that I could eat again. The 24-hour Poole Bay grey mullet with radish, dashi and smoked cream follows in the same vein as the crab. Perhaps the dashi could play more of a role; it’s a little crowded out by the smoked cream.
Jersey beef veal sweetbread with parsnip cream, black garlic and black truffle
sweetbread with parsnip cream, black garlic and black truffle is thankfully not
too grand in size as this is a rich dish, though the parsnip cream delivers a
lovely earthiness that marries well with the garlic and truffle.
Wild sea bass, Chinese artichoke, trout roe and finger lime
highlight is the wild sea bass served with Chinese artichoke, trout roe and
finger lime. Featuring some of my favourite ingredients, this will always be a
winner. The sea bass has a meaty texture and is perfectly cooked; the Chinese
artichokes impart bitterness and the trout roe salinity, finger lime and citrus
notes. It’s a dish that could easily be unbalanced, but here it is executed to
The Ledbury mushroom cabinet
next course is entitled “Mushrooms from the cabinet”. This is a literal title
as you walk past the cabinet to go downstairs to powder your nose. The fungi
constituted eryngii (King Trumpet), oyster, shiitake and Hen of the Woods,
known as maitake in Japan. This last is a treat because though no more
expensive than any other mushroom in Japan, they are darn impossible to find in
Europe. (Incidentally, the name in Japanese translates as “dancing chicken”
because when they are found growing wild, the person is said to dance around
with joy.) This course is not technically complex, yet the mushrooms are exquisitely
cooked and flavoursome, autumnal as can be.
Mushrooms from the cabinet (eryngii, hen of the woods, oyster and shiitake) with potato, yeast and rosemary
main meat dish is a cut of six-year-old Jersey beef with Roscoff onion, kombu
and caramelized cep cream. The beef is absolutely delicious, tender and
perfectly matches the Roscoff onion and cep cream. The dish is, again, small in
size, so if you are someone who likes large portions, you might feel short-changed.
For myself, I think it is ideal – more can be less. The beef made its impression
and sets up the three dessert courses nicely.
Six-year-old Jersey beef with Roscoff onion, kombu and caramelized cep cream
the Sauternes custard with hoshigaki (Japanese dried persimmon) and bee pollen.
The pollen really stands out and combines wonderfully with the custard that is
not too heavy. The bergamot meringue with pear, sour cream and Douglas Fir is
capable, but overshadowed by a flaky mille-feuille with salted milk and
Yorkshire rhubarb ice cream, stem ginger and matcha green tea. This is a
fabulous combination and a perfect finish before the petits fours.
wines on this occasion were brought by guests, including our host, who
redefined generosity. The Ledbury has always been flexible apropos corkage even
if you must pay more than in the past. The wine list is quite superb, and I
will point towards a healthy selection of Burgundy with a bit of bottle age
without attendant eye-gouging prices. The following wines were all served blind
except for the claret proffered by yours truly.
started with a 2004 Salon. I have to admit that this bottle does not
bowl me over. Steely and aloof, I find the aromatics “distant”. The palate is
taut and malic, with just a hint of orange zest coming through with a sapid
finish. Fine length, but I could not engage with this champagne, leaving me a
bit cold. Too young? Quite possibly, though, I have enjoyed other vintages of
Salon more than this.
Sauternes custard, hoshigaki and bee pollen
Puligny-Montrachet Clavoillon 1er Cru from Domaine Leflaive is
utterly sublime, to wit, one of the finest bottles I have tasted from this era.
Awe-inspiring delineation and cohesion delivers seductive aromas of crushed
stone, orange pith and a hint of wild peach – effortless and divine. The palate
is quite intense with ample weight yet retains heavenly balance, a subtle
smoked walnut note emerging with time. It builds and builds until you cannot
wipe the smile from your face after one sip of this elixir. The 1959
Puligny-Montrachet Les Pucelles 1er Cru from Domaine Leflaive
represents the oldest bottle I have ever encountered. Alas, the cloudy color does
not bode well, and it is oxidized, albeit in a totally undrinkable way. I doubt
that I will ever see it again – you win some, you lose some.
three wines were poured blind together by our host, who was determined to kick
off the year in style. Each corresponded to the year of our births, which
admittedly did make me feel a bit old. All three came from Domaine de la
Romanée-Conti, an upcoming grower you should keep your eye on…
Richebourg Grand Cru is better than the example tasted three years ago.
Wonderful delineation on the nose; there are blackberry and earthy notes, still
those hints of meat juice, perhaps more transparency than other bottles. The
palate is medium-bodied and framed by filigree tannins, with sour cherry hints commingling
with black truffle and cedar. There is a little more tartness on the finish
with a sweetness that leaves you utterly smitten, just a suggestion of menthol
emerging with time. Maybe at its peak? Whatever, it is a sublime wine from an
outstanding vintage for Aubert de Villaine and Bernard Noblet. The 1981
Richebourg Grand Cru is the revelation of the night. I am unfamiliar with
the vintage apropos DRC but never foresaw how well this would show. With stunning
aromatics and darker fruit than the 1991, it offers hints of morels and pressed
flowers, fleeting glimpses of Earl Grey and fish scales. There is real weight
and backbone, to the degree that I suggested it might be La Tâche. With perfect
salinity and stunning balance with utmost precision, this bowls me over.
Glorious. How did they produce something as good as this in such a challenging
third in the trio ended a long-running saga that stretches back to the early
days of my career. I have encountered the 1971 La Tâche Grand Cru on
four occasions, and the bottle has either been corked or out of sorts each time.
This reached its zenith at a vertical tasting/dinner where Aubert de Villaine
joked that I would finally taste a sound bottle… He was as crestfallen as me when
it was found slightly corked. The only quibble about this bottle was that the
label had a tiny tear where the vintage was printed. Showing commensurate
maturity in colour for a 51-year-old red Burgundy, the nose unfurls with melted
red fruit, dry tobacco leaf, morels and freshly-tilled loam. With perfect delineation
and focus, it is spellbinding in terms of its untrammeled Pinoté. The palate is
perfectly balanced with red fruit, orange peel and a hint of spice on the
finish. It is (again) that transparency, that paradoxical combination of
intensity and weightlessness that leaves you lost for words. Ethereal.
a break from Burgundy because I have avowed that 2023 is the year Bordeaux
comes back. By that, I mean more bottles will appear in salubrious dinners like
this since you can pick up older vintages for much less than modern-day
Burgundy. To put that into perspective, the 1959 Poujeaux costs around 3%
of the market price of the following wine from Arnoux-Lachaux.
let that sink in for a moment. 3%...
need a bit longer, don’t you…?
63-year-old Poujeaux, from the era when the Theil family owned this
Moulis-en-Médoc property, punches above expectations. Guests around the table think
it is from the Nineties or maybe the Eighties! Minimal aging on the rim, the
nose offers dark berry fruit, liquorice and melted tar, a little rustic and
fungal, yet well defined. The palate is medium-bodied, with the richness one
anticipates from this season, not amazingly complex for sure, yet grippy, with
a slightly confit finish and a dab of brine on the aftertaste.
Vosne-Romanée Les Suchots 1er Cru from Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux comes
from a producer that continues to make waves, evidenced by the recent thread on
Your Say. I want to emphasize that this was poured blind like the others,
bought directly from their UK importer. It comes across highly perfumed with
red fruit, Morello cherries and cranberry on the nose, quite floral with neatly
integrated oak. Its precocity gives away the growing season. The palate is very
pretty, supple in texture and pure with a harmonious, silky-smooth finish. You
could describe it as a “dashing” Les Suchots, though it is missing the
complexity of its greatest exponents. I cannot see it closing down at this
stage, but let’s see where it will go.
in the mood for something sweet and a half-bottle of 2008 Wehlener Sonnenuhr
Riesling Auslese A.P. #12 from Joh. Jos. Prüm off the wine list was
perfect. Quite contained on the nose, it offers sublime white peach and light
honeysuckle scents, very well delineated. The palate provides marvelous balance with the weight and sweetness you expect from an Auslese, an extrovert
with a slight aniseed note on the finish. Drinking beautifully now, it will
surely drink well for another 20 years.
So, a stellar
line-up of fermented grape juice aside. No question of that. The burning
question is how the reborn Ledbury compares to its original incarnation.
thought long and hard.
not a dazzling return, for no single dish quite matched some of the breathtaking
creations at Moor
Hall. On the other hand, I don’t feel that is Brett Graham’s intention;
after all, he’s already done that. The menu is almost understated, and its
finesse is only appreciated retrospectively when later I found myself
reminiscing about that Iberico ham or that exquisite crab. There is little in
the way of theatre, though that has never really been Graham’s schtick.
Instead, you get service that is absolutely second to none and the sense of
dining in a London institution, a well-oiled one at that. Gripes lobbed their way
after reopening appear to have ironed out. It’s not cheap; then again, Noma’s
recent announcement that such altitudinous levels of fine dining are now economically
unsustainable means that costs have to be covered to remain viable. Some might
bemoan the set menu, but that is standard these days. For that matter, one of
our party’s last-minute requests for pescatarian alternatives was handled
without batting an eyelid, and I have heard the same for the vegan menu.
just the opening pages of a new chapter for The Ledbury. Give it a little time.
Intuition tells me that Brett Graham will pull a few more tricks from his
sleeve. In the meantime, let’s rejoice. The Ledbury is back.
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