Approaching birthdays seem to strike terror into the hearts of many people that I know – for a huge variety of reasons – but I’ve always just seen it as an excuse to hang out with the people that I love and as a reminder that life is too short to drink bad coffee.
Last year I celebrated a milestone birthday, and managed to eke it out to 6 weeks of celebrations (which is ludicrous, I know – but we had to wait for Dinner at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel to finish their renovations. Honestly, Heston, really did you have to make us wait so long?) so this year as it wasn’t a milestone, I managed to tamp things down to around a week – which I think is totally reasonable in the scheme of things.
Booking in a few lunches and dinners with a load of good people who helped me to celebrate, first up was a leisurely (ahem, four hour) lunch with Shikha (Why Waste Annual Leave) and Connie (Connie Consumes) at the luscious Connaught Hotel.
When we were scheming our overdue Monday lunchtime get-together over London Restaurant Festival Week, to say we were spoilt for choice is an understatement. With a bit of to-ing and fro-ing we narrowed our choices down to three, and eventually decided that the two Michelin star Hélène Darroze at The Connaught would do the trick quite nicely.
Taking advantage of the set menu lunch special (because: Monday), we began as all good meals do – with a champagne toast (juice for Shikha) and warm rustic bread spread with a selection of their butter. Whilst we perused the simple, but delicious sounding French-inspired menu, a selection of hors d’oeuvres (which I always attempt to spell ‘hor devours’ quite aptly) graced our table.
Now, I have a confession to make – too busy catching up with these two ladies I didn’t note down what they were, but take our word for it – they were lovely.
We began all round with pastry surrounded slices of the Burnside Farm grouse terrine (thanks for the terminology Connie), plated at the table and married with foie gras, pistachio and Lardo di Colonnata to create forkfuls of the French countryside. Paired with the miniature salad roll and the light creamed mustard, we inhaled our generous starter.
Whilst we nibbled, Shikha told us about Helen Darroze herself; a fourth-generation chef, the previous three having run a family restaurant in Villeneuve-de-Marsan, France and learning under Alain Ducasse. Amazingly, as an unmarried incredible successful businesswoman, she has also adopted two daughters from Vietnam, Charlotte and Quiterie, alternating on a weekly basis between staying in London and in Paris, in order to split her time between two of her restaurants.
Amidst chatter of recent trips (Russia, Porto and the planning of an EPIC round the world journey) we split the choices of main; Shikha enjoying the Cod, whereas Connie and I as Kiwi’s chose the Welsh Venison from the Rhug Estate. Served perfectly rare alongside Brussel Sprout fronds, Sarawak pepper, butternut squash, crescents of pastry, Chasselas grapes and a breath of foam we daintily emptied our plates.
Enjoying a dill granita as a surprising and delicious plate cleanser, we perused the dessert menu, and unable to decide I panic ordered the chocolate dessert; an amazing selection of delicate and rich mousses that I wasn’t even going to pretend to share.
Our appetites more than sated, but not quite ready to leave the table, we ordered tea and coffees from their varied menus, and to my utter surprise, a little birthday surprise arrived on the corner! Presented with a lit candle and sweet (literally) square chocolate sign saying ‘happy birthday’ the ladies wished me many felicitations for the year ahead.
This was the best few nibbles of them all – a coffee infused confection with candied walnuts that make me murmur in delight.
With our pots of tea and coffee a stand bearing two more petit four arrived at our table, and we sighed in contented food comas.
But best thing about the whole day? These two ladies without a doubt.
Our meal was a delight; hearty French fare with simple ingredients that weren’t messed with to create strange marriages of flavour or fussed with so far that you couldn’t recognise what they were. The surrounds are stately and plush, and our waiters were ever so patient with our chatter and indecisions. We did giggle at the dishes with supplement costs that were more than the whole meal, but that’s what you get for a Mayfair restaurant with two Michelin stars.) Overall we really enjoyed ourselves – and were loathe to leave at the end of four hours.
Where is the tastiest lunch that you’ve ever had?