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The Greenhouse in London - 2 Michelin stars

Rating: 91.
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Among London's nine two-star restaurants, The Greenhouse in Mayfair is an establishment with a long and successful history. The restaurant first opened its doors in 1977 and through the years there have been many great chefs behind the stove, such as Brian Turner, Gary Rhodes, Paul Merrett, Bjorn van der Horst and Antonin Bonnet. Under the reign of Gary Rhodes the Greenhouse was awarded a Michelin star in 1996, but Gary Rhodes left the following year and the restaurant lost its star. In 2003, when Paul Merrett was head chef, the Greenhouse was once again awarded a star, which it has held on to since. When Antonin Bonnet left the restaurant in 2012 for Le Sergent Recruteur in Paris, he was succeeded by Arnaud Bignon who got the restaurant a second star the next year, in the 2014 Great Britain & Ireland guide. Perhaps this was not completely unexpected, since Bignon came with high credentials. Prior to his move to London, he had been head chef at Spondi in Athens since 2005, a restaurant that was awarded 2 Michelin stars in 2007. Before that he was Eric Frenchon's sous-chef at three-star Epicure in Paris for 7 years.

The Greenhouse is open for lunch and dinner Monday till Saturday (no lunch on Saturdays). The restaurant offers an a la carte menu (2 courses £80, 3 courses £90), a 6-course tasting menu for £100, a multi-course 'Discovery' menu for £120, and there's a set lunch menu (2 courses £35, 3 courses £40). I had lunch with my husband at the Greenhouse on Thursday 4 September 2014 and we both ordered the set lunch menu and an extra course from the a la carte menu.

First to arrive were three delicious and precise canapés. There was a crisp and airy fennel macaron with a creamy avocado filling; a mini taco with a filling of feta cheese cream, sun dried tomato, black olive crumb and finely diced cucumber; and finally a tuna and melon maki sushi.

The first course of the lunch menu was an elegantly presented dish of silky and smooth white Paimpol bean soup, delicately flavoured with coconut and coriander oil, and jewelled with caramelised fried potato gnocchi, topped with sliced fried ceps. A wonderful combination of warm and comforting flavours and the potato gnocchi were superb. The soup was well-balanced, the main flavours coming from the beans, with just a hint of creamy coconut in the background.

This was followed by the extra course. A very big slice of duck foie gras, caramelised with balsamic vinegar, presented in a circle of creamy corn puree, and topped with satay popcorn. Perfectly cooked foie gras, with a lovely creamy texture, and it combined well with the corn cream, that had lovely pure, mildly sweet corn flavours and a buttery texture. The satay popcorn on the other hand didn't deliver the characteristic flavour I had hoped for, simultaneously failing to add the touch of tension and excitement that this dish certainly needed.

Main course was beautifully cooked duck breast, covered with crisp gingerbread crumbs, and served with port-glazed figs, a light duck jus and some cep 'marmelade'. A refined dish that had a wonderful elegant richness to it, the figs delivering a delightful combination of sweet and more green flavours, and the warm spicy flavours from the gingerbread complemented the duck nicely. Lovely richness and intensity from the cep marmelade, which was basically roughly chopped ceps mixed with a thick cream. 

Dessert was a meringue cylinder filled with marinated strawberries and a vanilla-pistachio crème, accompanied by a fresh and sharp lemon sorbet. A simple but lovely dessert, although I wasn't really convinced by the presentation.

With a history of almost 40 years, The Greenhouse is a well-established restaurant in Mayfair. What it is really famous for, is its wine list. It includes over 3,000 labels and has won Wine Specator's Grand Award every year since 2005. I do not routinely talk about wine prices in my restaurant reviews, but this time I feel I have to make an exception. Wine in Mayfair restaurants will always be expensive, but here we enter cloud cuckoo land. Francois Raveneau Les Clos (2005) is available for £910 - a wine that I have enjoyed in numerous two and three Michelin star restaurants in the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium and France for prices ranging from €120 to €160. Meursault Les Luchets 2002 from Roulot is £590 - a half bottle of the exquisite 2007 at Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons (hardly a budget restaurant itself) set us back £82 in 2010. Claret prices can be equally ridiculous. La Mission Haut-Brion 2006 is widely available in the marketplace for around £120 in bond, and yet The Greenhouse manages to attach a price tag of £900 to it. Giscours 2003 is £225 for a wine that my husband and I bought "en primeur" for €28 including VAT. I really don't understand the reasoning behind this inhospitable pricing policy, to be honest. Is it because "there's a sucker born every minute"? We limited ourselves to a rather lovely £45 bottle of Barbera d'Asti Petraia 2010.

But back to the food, which is certainly very good. It needs no saying that Arnaud Bignon is a very accomplished, experienced chef and his food bears this out on the plate. The dishes in this meal were skillfully cooked, pleasing to the eye and Bignon incorporated some creative touches. I particularly liked the soup and the duck, but sadly the satay didn't come through with the foie gras and the dessert was rather simple. Overall a very competent performance but without a lot of wow-factor. Service was smooth and professional, always very correct, but also mostly distant and quite formal. I guess hospitality is also about connecting with your guests, but I did not get the impression that's what the team in the dining room were after. Is this because it isn't the most inspiring of dining rooms to begin with? This slightly stuffy restaurant claims to be a tranquil oasis in the hustle and bustle of Mayfair and this lunch was certainly tranquil but also, in a way, uneventful. The overall experience left me indifferent and it did not manage to make a lasting impression. It was fine but it also was a rather 'beige' affair - just like the walls in the restaurant.

Posted 23-11-2014


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