Another day in London, and another new opening. It's been open a mere 4 days and already quite a buzz lingers around Bar Boulud in Knightsbridge. Located in the Mandarin Oriental, it is the latest restaurant from none other than Daniel Boulud. Fear not if you haven't heard about him yet, but you most certainly will in the near future. Bar Boulud is his first foray into the British market, but he is one of the most established chefs across the Atlantic in the US. This year, Daniel NYC, the flagship of the Boulud empire and owner of 3 Michelin stars, was named as the 8th best restaurant in the world at the San Pellegrino 50 Best restaurants awards, a rising star, having jumped a massive 33 places. Basically, it's a bit good.
So what’s this place all about then? Well, I was meeting the delightful @gourmetraveller and she had kindly sent me the menu in advance. This was a bad move, well, for my laptop anyway. French food with American influences, I was drooling quite heavily at his charcuterie, sausages and burgers, all things that the Boulud empire was famous for. Unfortunately in my unemployed state, I couldn't go crazy and give the menu the workout I desperately wanted, but the £20 prix fixe is pretty astounding value.
I started with a "Salade glace de petit pois" or a chilled pea soup. I was looking for something light to prep my stomach for the impending burger feast, and this certainly fulfilled that criteria. The first few mouthfuls were flooded with fresh flavours of pea and mint, with hints of rosemary from the dots of cream. As I delved deeper, I chewed on a crisp and delicious croutons and started to scoop the billed "spring fricasse" from the bottom. I'm not sure if my brain was playing tricks on me but the soup garnered a deeper, meatier flavour as I neared the bottom of the bowl, although I sense the "fricasse" had something to do with it.
So, the burger. The chosen burger was the "Frenchie", a burger comprising of a brioche bun, topped with confit pork belly, Morbier cheese and rocket, all sat atop a tomato and onion confit. I say chosen, the choice was thrust upon me. I did ask whether we could swap the "Frenchie" for another burger on their menu but I was shot down after a rather prolonged visit to the kitchen. Pretty disappointing seeing as the Frenchie is actually the most expensive burger on the menu. The poor waiter mumbled something along the lines that the kitchen was unable to accommodate me, a blip on an otherwise excellent service. The burger itself vexed me. I poked around and the advertised "confit pork belly" appeared to be two small bits of what looked suspiciously like bacon. I took a bite and the juices of the beautiful beef patty, perfectly cooked medium pink, flooded my mouth, only to be barged out of the way and invaded by the rather strong tomato and onion confit. As I continued eating, pockets of mustard were so strong that they started to burn the sides of my mouth. The beef is excellent but all the other flavours were so strong that they struggled to represent themselves, ending up in a bit of a mess. A little bit like the current election.
There were other good things about the burger than just the quality of the beef. The peppered brioche bun was just about as perfect a vehicle for a burger as you will find. It was light and slightly sweet, with a substantial amount of give, although keeping its shape and not falling apart. And I even liked the Morbier cheese used, which I really thought may overpower the burger, but in relation to the other battling flavours, was subdued and complemented the beef. Chips were ok, and had transformed from chunky chips earlier in the week, to thin and crispy (if slightly over salted) ones.
Unfortunately, things didn't get a whole lot better with my choice of the Gateau Basque. Advertised as a custard cake with cherries, the flavours from the cake again had my brow furrowed. The pastry was immense, as it was light and tasty, breaking away with a swift crack of the spoon, but the custard had a very odd flavour. Predominantly orange with a background metallic twang, I really wasn't sure if it was meant to taste like this but I wasn't particularly enjoying it. A tiny puddle of vanilla custard (no flavour) and a pile of cherries (redundant and probably an afterthought) sat alongside, looking at each other, outcasts wondering if they had been invited to the wrong party.
The Gateau Chocolat-Framboise was much more highly accomplished, a classic combination of flavours well executed in an extremely rich dark chocolate cake. Extra flairs of raspberries filled with raspberry coulis, an excellent sorbet and even a decorative raspberry chocolate stick were all touches so drastically missing from my dessert.
I know that I may have been quite critical but there were glaring faults in my dishes that left me rather disappointed. Daniel Boulud has a fearsome reputation and those burgers should be the burgers of my dreams. Instead, it felt like a burger that was just trying too hard to impress. And frankly, on reflection, I thought the dessert was a bit of a car crash. I still can't get that metallic flavour out of my mouth and that's even after a few mini martinis straight after. I really do like the room, a fairly open clean space, and the service was for the most part excellent, if a little too over attentive at times.
I realise that I only ate off the lunch menu, and I really do want to give it another go once I get on the payroll again, but it was a disappointing meal. However, it is still early days, and I spotted Daniel Boulud himself walking the room and chatting to none other than Lloyd Grossman who was dining behind me. I overheard that he is here for 2 weeks to ensure that the ship is sailing at an even keel and I do realise that we are only 4 days in. I am sure things will only get better.
Bar Boulud - Mandarin Oriental, 66 Knightsbridge, London SW1X 7LA
p.s. You should definitely check out his website. It has the funkiest music of any website I have ever heard.
This is the first review I've read that hasn't been glowing - really looking forward to making my own mind up in a couple of weeks.
Shame but my interest in piqued, and the soup sounds wonderful.
Great to read a review from someone who isn't as starstricken as some by Mr Boulud! That burger certainly does sound cacophonous, particularly the Morbier which strikes me as being a very odd choice of cheese for a burger (perhaps DB thinks Europeans expect ash with everything at the moment?)
That said, there's no arguing with £20 for 3 courses even if the pud was a turkey, and the soup/salad sounds amazing.
Let me know when you're working again (as you surely will be soon) and we'll go for a proper blow out!
Interesting. I'm really looking forward to trying it out on Friday night. I have my eye on the burger, so will keep your thoughts in mind.
Agree with Emyr, it's the first negative I've seen... join the grumbling ranks!
As always, well written and considered. I look forward to taking my seat there in a week or so!
I think GBP 20 is not good "value" if the food is so-so, don't you?
There's no reason to expect that Daniel Boulud can make a good burger (I'm not saying it's impossible that he makes a good burger, but just that I have no reason to expect him to do so). It's not as if he's built his reputation on burgers. His flagship, Daniel (which was excellent the one time I ate there) serves haute cuisine, and I don't recall anything remotely burger or chip-like on the menu there.
@Emyr - I strongly recommend you try. The stuff I ate may not have been great but the menu does look good.
@Niamh - Be good to hear your thoughts when you check it out.
@HW and @AIL - Agreed. A few issues with the burger, but there were other choices on the prix fixe too. A story of bad choices I think, not to rule out straight away.
@GG - Ha! It doesn't make me happy to grumble. I would much rather it was amazing ;)
@GD - I look forward to reading up your thoughts on the experience.
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