The latest Roux venture is housed in the very grand setting of the Royal Institute for Chartered Surveyors, just off Parliament Square. The dining area is segmented into sections that reminded me of Gauthier, with carpet rather than a wooden floor, generously spaced tables and no muzak. It is clearly aiming at a place suitable for relaxed conversation rather than a buzzy atmosphere, and may be well suited to its potential local clientele of civil servants and politicians.
The room was largely unchanged from my previous visit, the dining area split into separate rooms, carpeted and with surprisingly small tables, quite closely packed. In charge of the kitchen at present is Toby Stuart, previously sous chef at Galvin at Windows; Toby was away this evening, but the kitchen was in the capable hands of Steve Groves, previously sous-chef at Launceston Place and Masterchef Professionals winner in 2009. There is a quite large brigade of ten chefs.
Starters ranged from £10.50 - £17.50, main courses £18.50 to £32.50, desserts £9.50 to £12, with a tasting menu at £70. Bread was now made from scratch, a choice of slices of white, brown and multi-grain bread. I liked the crust in particular on the bread (5/10). Nibbles of ham hock, and tuna were adequate but hardly interesting (2/10). Better was an asparagus mousse with Parmesan foam, served cold. The cheese flavour was too dominant, but still this was an enjoyable if rich dish to eat (4/10).
My starter of crab raviolo with leeks and avruga caviar (actually avruga is a caviar substitute made from herring and squid ink) was covered with a champagne veloutè. The pasta had good texture and the crab flavour really came through (5/10). A starter called “cheese and pickle” was an original vegetarian dish of carrots and radishes sitting in a Montgomery Cheddar cheese mousse with oat biscuit crumble on top. The vegetables had good flavour, and although the cheese was a little dominant as a flavour, it was nice to see a different vegetarian dish (4/10).
My “pigeon Kiev” featured foie gras rather than garlic butter along with the pigeon in its wrapper, and as a concept I am not sure this worked that well. The pigeon was pink and the summer vegetables (peas, beans, mousserons, courgette flowers) were nicely cooked, but the foie gras was a rich flavour adding to the inherent richness of the pigeon, the Madeira sauce adding yet more richness (4/10 at best). Steamed halibut with asparagus, morels and lemon thyme mousseline was better balanced, the lemon providing some useful acidity, the fish carefully cooked and the morels good (5/10).
A pre-dessert of peach fool featured a great deal of cream and perilously little peach (2/10). Lemon tart was served with yoghurt sorbet, passion fruit and basil. This featured good, soft pastry and smoothly textured filling with a fair amount of acidity (personally a little more lemon would have been welcome), and the rather unnecessary basil flourish was, fortunately, muted. Blackberry and apple crumble soufflé was served with green apple and Calvados sorbet, and was very well made, the sorbet light and the apple sorbet providing welcome balancing acidity (5/10).
Service was surprisingly sloppy. There was a long wait to take the order, and there were several occasions where there were no waiting staff in the dining room. I have no issue if the waiting staff leaves the wine within reach for me to top up, but here it was whisked away, in which case the topping up needs to be attentive: on three separate occasions I was left with an empty glass. The bill was £93 a head with a modest bottle of wine (£38) and a glass of dessert wine. This feels like a lot of money given that the kitchen has yet to entirely settle down and the service was far from perfect. This said, I thought that the meal tonight was better than my previous visit, so the kitchen is heading in the right direction.
The notes below are from my first meal here, in May 2010.
The menu is less traditional than Le Gavroche, but still rooted in the classics of French cuisine. In the evening three courses cost £55, with a three course lunch menu is available at £29.50. The chef at opening was Daniel Cox, a Roux Scholar who has worked in private dining as well as doing a stint in Spain at Can Fabes. However he stepped down in late July 2010 so a new head chef will be appointed in due course; I'll update this when I know who it is.
The wine list has the merit of having a good selection of options at the low end, such as Spy Valley Pinot Gris 2008 at £30 for a roughly £9 retail price, but Chapel Down Bacchus 2006 at £46 (+VAT) is a lot for a wine you can buy in the shops for around £9. Leoville Barton 1996 was £240 compared to a retail price of around £73, Weinbach Cuvee Catherine 2007 at £96 for a wine that costs about £23, while there are a few high prestige wines for passing investment bankers, such as Romanee Conti La Tache 1996 at a chunky £2,800 for a wine that can be found for around £740.
Bread was from a baker in Greenwich I have not come across before, and was pleasant enough, of which a plain sourdough was the best choice that was sampled (4/10). Little anchovy nibbles were fine, though ham hock with mustard mayonnaise, though pleasantly spicy, but was too salty even for my taste. An amuse-bouche of morel mushroom jelly with mushroom foam was served with a cold beignet of foie gras and raspberry. The acidity balance of this was good, but I am never sure about the wisdom of a cold beignet (3/10).
Langoustines were served with a little Jabugo ham, pea mousse and baked white onion. The pea mousse was excellent, packed with flavour, but the langoustines, being slowly cooked sous-vide, ended up being lukewarm; personally I would have preferred to see them pan-fried, since lukewarm is for me not the optimal state for shellfish (3/10, but more for the pea puree). The best dish was Berkshire black pork, served as tenderloin and also belly pork, along with excellent crackling. The pork had lovely flavour, and both forms of the meat were cooked precisely. This was served with carrots, spring greens and mustard gnocchi, which for me could have been firmer in texture (5/10).
Strawberry sorbet with vanilla panna cotta had good texture and was a refreshing pre-dessert (4/10). However my lemon tart with yoghurt sorbet and garnish of raspberries was lacking in sufficient acidity in the lemon filling, while the pastry was a little harder than ideal; it was still a decent dessert, but I would have expected better from a Roux restaurant (perhaps 3/10).
Overall the cooking felt a little like a work in progress at the moment, which admittedly was in its first few days of opening (a 30% discount to reflect the early state of the restaurant certainly helps soothe niggles, and given unusual restraint with the wine on my part the bill only came to just over £50 a head with the soft opening discount). There is clearly talent here, best shown by the lovely pea puree and excellent pork dish, but it does not feel as though the kitchen has yet hit its stride.