Editor's note - in January 2013 it was announced that the restaurant would close and be relaunched as a Portuges/Spanish restaurant.
In the old Leith’s premises, this feels a little like the Lindsay House in style; they have gone for the dark look with just a small candle on each table, which may create a romantic mood but also means that on a winter evening the menu can be unreadable without a torch. The Notting Hill brasserie has a dining room split into several cosy areas, with subdued lighting. It has somewhat odd décor, with bare wooden floors, white linen tablecloths and cream walls with (to me) distinctly unusual wall ornaments, such as what looks like a couple of ornamental spades and a piece of wood with some cloth attached to it; I have no idea what these things are, but it is peculiar given the otherwise tasteful setting. There was live piano music, the pianist playing relaxing jazz (though this incurs a £2 per person surcharge). The menu was very appealing, with sensible ingredient combinations, but prices were high. Starters were £11 - £14.50, main courses £21 - £28.50, desserts around £7, with vegetable side dishes an extortionate £6 extra for each side dish. The wine list was two pages in length, roughly half from France and the rest a scattering of New World offerings. The growers were, with some exceptions, fairly obscure. A glass of wine started at £4.50. Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2007 was £57 for a wine that costs around £14 in the shops, while a Mersault Domaine Michelot 2005 was £72 for a wine that you can buy for about £33.
Bread is apparently now made on the premises and is an excellent choice of rolls: fluffy plain white with a soft crust, black olive with plenty of olive flavour, and superb walnut and raisin with excellent texture (easily 16/20, more for the walnut and raisin). I began with a pair of large, sweet scallops, carefully timed and served with creamy peas and beans, a few little pieces of morel and a miniature wild mushroom lasagne; the elements went together well, the vegetables were nicely cooked, the scallops served whole and were of high quality (16/20). Pea soup in itself had quite good taste, though for me it could have been a bit more intense, but mini fish and chips with it involved thin, soggy chips and some battered fish where the batter was greasy (13/20 overall).
A main course of halibut was better, the fish baked a fraction longer than ideal so having dried out a little, but still having good taste. This was served with artichoke gratin, tasty mixed wild mushrooms, salsify and a pleasant red wine sauce (pushing 16/20). I had chicken breast, nicely cooked, served with a mini lasagne of wild mushrooms, a white asparagus and truffle veloute, and a slab of braised lettuce (15/20). A side order of mash was far too buttery, the potato swimming in liquid butter (11/20).
Desserts were a let-down, with Brillat Savarin cheesecake needing more biscuit base relative to the overly cheesy filling, with a few ordinary strawberries (12/20). Vanilla yoghurt with poached apricot was just what it says and no more, pleasant enough but needing an extra element to make the dish interesting (13/20). Coffee was of good quality and served as a decent sized cup, but one small chocolate between two seemed mean as an accompaniment. Service was friendly but lacking in effectiveness, with the starters delivered confidently the wrong way around, and coffees delivered to a different table altogether, this despite there being only half a dozen or so tables taken in the dining room.
The sommelier was ineffective; he had no idea what food we had ordered when he came to discuss the wine order, and when I asked for advice on what would go well with our dishes once I had explained our choices the response: ”well, do you prefer either red or white?” was not the kind of expert input I was hoping for. When pressed for a recommendation he plumped for a logical enough choice but in the upper reaches of the price range. The meal was very good in places, the scallop starter in particular genuinely well made, but desserts were of a lower standard. Karl Burdock seems a good cook, but should look carefully at the pastry section. My main issue is with the prices, which have risen steeply since my last visit two years ago. There are no amuse-bouches or pre-desserts here, and one tiny chocolate as petit fours between two people. Yet the food here is about the same price as the nearby and clearly superior Ledbury, where numerous additional elements are included in the price.
What follows are notes from a meal in April 2007. Starters were in the £8-£14.50 range, main courses are £19 - £25.50, with desserts at £6.50.
Mark Jankels had developed his cooking to a high level, but has now moved to be executive chef of the little restaurant group of which this is part, and his ex sous chef Karl Burdock is now cooking here. Unfortunately the transition has not been seamless, and although this is still a very pleasant restaurant, Mark's talent in the kitchen is missed.
Highlights of my most recent recent were an excellent halibut with morel sauce and baby artichokes (16/20). However other dishes showed inconsistency e.g. my beef was very good, yet the vegetables served with it were cold and had to be sent back, and were far from ideal when they returned. My starter of scallop was pleasant, though the scallop was a fraction over-cooked, but did it really need black pudding, potato croquette, stuffed squid and chorizo as well as the very nice cauliflower puree? Just too many flavours were at work here, not all of them that complementary (14/20). On the positive side the extra are good e.g. enjoyable bread from a local bakery, excellent coffee. The restaurant was generous with amuse gueles and the menu itself is very appealing. However I feel that the kitchen has yet to fully find its feet under the new head chef.
Below is a review of when Mark Jankels was still cooking (December 2006). At this time I thought that the place was worth as much as 16/20.
On one vist, amuse-bouche of parsnip soup was excellent, the soup having strong parsnip flavour, creamy and frothed up, with little bits of parsnip to add some texture (17/20). Bread was very good, either rolls of white, brown, olive or walnut and raisin, served hot (16/20). Scallops with herb gnocchi and shallots featured unusually delicate gnocchi, nicely seasoned with herbs; this in itself was nearly as good as Zafferano's gnocchi, which is sublime. Unfortunately the scallops, which were diver-caught scallops (from the Shetlands) were marginally overcooked, and though moist and sweet were a fraction chewy. 14/20 due to the scallops, but otherwise this would have been a higher mark. Red pepper was roasted and marinated, spread out in a flat circle, topped with goats cheese, pine nuts and a garnish of rocket – an unusual idea with good quality ingredients (15/20). Sea bass was timed well, wild sea bass served with Provencal vegetables, pesto and some very good spiced aubergine (16/20). My venison was excellent, pink and sliced thin, served on a bed of good quality red cabbage that were cooked in alcohol, served with an intense parsnip puree (17/20).
For dessert, a mix of red berries, blueberries and blackcurrants were served on a layer of home-made vanilla yoghurt with berry compote – this had excellent fresh fruit, and was a well-conceived dish (16/20). My tarte tatin of apple had reasonable (though bought) pastry but apples that had not sufficiently caramelised; they were Braeburns, and the chef should try using Coxes, which are easier to caramelise (13/20). A side order of chips were wide in girth yet had excellent flavour and texture (16/20). Coffee was good, without petit fours. The wine list is rather esoteric, though service was pretty good throughout. Prices are fair for cooking at this level.
Here are notes from another earlier meal. This evening there was a pianist and bassist playing live jazz, which was pleasantly relaxing and unobtrusive. Amuse-bouche was a mini tuna tart with a baby artichoke on top, alongside a cup of lobster ravioli in a shellfish broth. The pastry and tuna were high quality while the lobster and pasta were tended and the shellfish veloute had great depth of flavour (16/20 for the tuna tart 17/20 for the veloute). Bread was either white, olive or walnut and raisin rolls, served warm. They get the bread from a small supplier, an ex chef at Mirabelle; it was quite soft bread but with good texture, is well seasoned and has plenty of flavour (15/20).
Scallops were sautéed and served as four rectangles of scallop, of good quality though seared on one side a fraction longer than necessary. This rested on some genuinely top class herb gnocchi, which had lovely texture (gnocchi was at least 16/20, overall 15/20). My wife's gazpacho was the weakest dish of the night, pleasant and made with good ingredients but a little thinner than is optimal (14/20). A middle course appeared from the kitchen of three slices of roasted magret of duck with caramelised onion puree and a little duck confit; the duck was served pink and had lovely flavour (16/20).
For the main course my wife had halibut, which was pan-fried, with baby artichokes, a little pancetta as garnish and the roasting juices (15/20). I had neck of pork, cooked slowly and served on a bed of puy lentils, alongside a slab of pork belly and good celeriac puree. Served alongside was a little cup of cassoulet, which was perhaps one thing too many and in any case was a little watery, though it had good beans (15/20).
For dessert a chocolate fondant had good quality chocolate and a rich liquid filling, though the fondant base itself was a fraction crisp when it should be barely solid, due to just a little overlong in the oven (15/20). Cocoa cream crème brulee had good texture though I am not sure cocoa beans are the most interesting thing as the flavour; here they were rather subdued, though coffee and white chocolate ice cream had great depth of flavour and smooth texture (15/20). Coffee was of good quality, both filter and cappuccino (16/20). The wine list ran over two pages and was mostly French with a few new world choices; it was not a great list but there were plenty of wines in the £30-40 range. The female sommelier (from South Korea) was pleasant and knew her list, and service in general was excellent. This is a charming place; no wonder it is full even on weekdays.