Carole Hamilton happily heads to The Connaught to sample our guest chef’s stunning take on contemporary French cooking
You could be forgiven for expecting a rather stuffy (albeit stomach-pleasing) lunch when combining the formidable talents of Hélène Darroze, two-star Michelin chef, and The Connaught, the grande dame of London’s Mayfair’s hotels. But set aside those preconceptions; you’re in for a treat.
Restaurant Hélène Darroze is quietly elegant. The centrepiece table, covered with an eclectic mix of colourful vegetables, jostled together under glass cloches, is unexpected and raises a smile. As you take your seat, the message is clear – fresh ingredients will be taking centre stage.
The food and drink
Hélène is a legendary chef, one of only a handful in the world to have two Michelin stars. But she doesn’t take herself too seriously and I love her approach to menu presentation – a wooden board with marbles, each one enscribed with a different ingredient such as red mullet, John Dory, scallop, foie gras, grouse and chocolate.
Choose five (£95) or seven (£130) and these ingredients form the basis of your lunch. Without even considering how these will be served, you happily leave your meal in the hands of Darroze, simply selecting the ingredients you like best. A novelty maybe, but I enjoy the theatre and it certainly makes you feel involved in what goes onto your plate. There are also optional wine flights, including an awesome premium selection that kept my companion bragging for weeks to come. Too much for your wallet? The £55 set menu has to be one of the best-value lunches in London; comprising Hélène’s stunning cooking plus canapés, three courses, two glasses of wine, coffee and petit fours.
Star of the show for me is the exquisite scallop. It arrives solo on its plate like a jewel, with a melt-in-your-mouth texture, its tandoori seasoning delivering a punch of flavour.Hélène really likes to allow the quality of her ingredients to shine.
Another highlight not to be missed is the restaurant’s signature baba. This is not soaked with rum but Armagnac; well drenched in the boozy syrup then further doused at the table with Armagnac poured from a magnum – the liqueur courtesy of Hélène’s brother who operates the family distillery in France.
I could go on and on about Hélène’s cooking, but don’t listen to me – go and try for yourself.
Treat your tastebuds to that amazing value set lunch and sample what truly great cooking is all about.
Carlos Place, London W1K 2AL, 020 7499 7070, the-connaught.co.uk