The Taste With Vir: Two great restaurants in London and Mumbai (and one to avoid)
The best meal I have had in a very long time was no surprise. I would have been astonished if it had been anything but excellent.
The restaurant was Davies and Brook at Claridge’s Hotel in London (Gordon Ramsay used to run a restaurant in the same room, a decade or so ago) and all its reviews have been raves. Fay Maschler, the Queen of London’s restaurant critics, gave it five stars, her highest rating.
The chef is Daniel Humm, whose Eleven Madison Park has held three Michelin stars in New York for nearly a decade and has also topped the list of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants.
By some coincidence, Humm was in London, at the restaurant, when I went and we know each other so I was not anonymous though it didn’t seem to make any difference to the food or the service. (Every table got loads of attention.)
The first thing that struck me about the restaurant was how Humm had managed to make stuffy, claustrophobic old Claridges, a little more like his warm but airy New York restaurant. In Gordon Ramsay’s day, the windows of this room had been covered up. Now, the walls had been ripped open and sunlight filled the restaurant. Eleven Madison Park is one of the world’s friendliest three-star restaurants (Humm wants guests to be relaxed and have fun) and Davies and Brook has that same sense of hospitality.
I knew the meal was going to be different when I saw the wine list (well, at least, the French section which was the only bit I knew anything about). The wines had been sourced from the best growers and negociants. Most of them came from vineyards with small productions and would have been impossible to find even at good wine shops. But, at Davies and Brook, the sommeliers went further. Many of these wines were available by the carafe (the size of a half bottle) so you could have both excellent whites and hard-to-find reds at the same meal.
The food blew my socks off. There was an amuse-bouche of delicate hand-dived scallop. (I have no idea what giving a diver scallop away free as an amuse does to the restaurant’s food cost.) Even as I was enjoying that, I tried a little of the flakey croissant-like bread which (as I said on Instagram at the time) was the best bread of any London restaurant I know and knew that this was going to be fun.
The plates were very Daniel Humm: simple, stark and without needless frippery. The food had the concentrated flavours that have now become Humm’s trademark. A foie gras tart with cocoa and plum had it all: texture, lightness, flavour and intensity. A simple baingan (aubergine or eggplant) with roasted garlic and coriander tasted more of baingan than any baingan I have had.
The dry-aged duck with lavender and honey, Humm’s signature dish from Eleven Madison, is on this menu too and of course, it lived up to its reputation. Milk and Honey is the chef’s most famous dessert and Davies and Brook serves the fifth version of the dish.
Buried in the set menu (though they will serve it à la carte if you ask) is the dish that marked Humm’s transformation from being merely a very good chef (he already had three stars when he created it) to becoming the leading American chef of his generation. (He is Swiss by birth but is an American for all practical purposes.)
Humm took a classic French technique of poaching a chicken in a pig’s bladder and turned it around by using a vegetarian ingredient: celeriac. His Celeriac With Black Truffle is one of the most influential dishes of its time because it merges his philosophy (simple intense flavours that retain the taste of the ingredients on stark, clean plates) with the techniques of classic French cuisine.
It was, as you would expect, spectacular.
Michelin is reluctant to give three stars to new restaurants so I imagine Davies and Brooks will start at two and then move up to the three it deserves.
But if you are in London: go. You won’t regret it.
If that was the best modern European meal I had in London, how about the best one I had in Mumbai?
Alex Sanchez is an American chef who cooked at The Table in Mumbai for years. He then left for an extended sabbatical during which he did what he calls his Eat-Pray-Love thing which included spending a lot of time in Italy, learning how to make perfect pizza in Naples, pasta from nonnas in Piedmont, etc.
He came back to India and opened Americano in South Mumbai and the restaurant has been packed from Day One. I tried to get a booking twice and failed. So when I finally got in, my expectations were high.
But Sanchez more than lived up to them.
I ate half the menu (because I was reviewing the restaurant!)and everything was wonderful. My favourites though were the Italian-inspired dishes. I had two house-made pastas, one of which was served with a beautiful clear consommé. The veal was bursting with flavour. (I am guessing it was young buffalo though that did not matter so much because of the cut he used.) There was lamb, crying out for good red wine. (The list is small but well-chosen by Sanjay Menon.) And the vegetarian options were delicious. There were charred broccoli, crisp Brussels Sprouts, delicious corn ribs, potatoes cooked as a sort of hommage to patatas bravas and easily the best pizza to be had in Mumbai.
The baking is outstanding (great sourdough bread) overall and though I am not a tiramisu fan, the Americano version was very nice.
If you left it to me to choose a restaurant for dinner in Mumbai, this is where I would go every night. (Assuming I could get a table, that is.)
Two more good meals --- both in London —that are worth remembering. Brooks in St James’s was founded in 1764 as a gentleman’s club in an era when that phrase did not refer to lap-dancing establishments. It is still very hard to get into. I don’t think women can be members. And it is part of an Establishment London that foreigners (or most English people for that matter) never really see.
I was in London for a trustees meeting of the Inlaks Foundation and Theo Shivdasani took us trustees for lunch there after the meeting. All of us were a little leery and expected nursery-style club food.
But actually, the food was light, modern and made with top-class ingredients. I had avocado and crab salad while others had a Creme Fraiche and Spring Onion tart. I went traditional for my main course (rack of lamb, though even that was cooked extremely well) but there was also a very nice cep and pea shoot risotto. And the wine, from the Club’s cellars, was excellent.
The other good meal I had in London was at Noble Rot. This is a wine bar with a restaurant attached and though everyone raves about the wine which is well-chosen and invitingly priced (I was quite boring and stuck with a can’t-go-wrong Chablis from Dauvissat) I thought the food was very good too: oysters with chorizo and roast pheasant. If you like wine and are in London this summer, this is a good non-touristy choice.
Here’s where you should not go. The Goring is one of the last old-style family-owned hotels in London. Its dining room has a Michelin star and is usually recommended for people who want a taste of old England.
The restaurant was nearly full (tourists and hotel guests, mainly) when I went, service was perfunctory and the food was second-rate: stodgy Beef Wellington, a rubbish seafood cocktail with a ‘historic’ name, half-witted wine service and an air of just going through the motions.
It is funny, eating in London these days. An American revives the Claridges restaurant. A centuries-old Gentlemen’s club serves light modern-style food. And a Michelin-starred restaurant serves the kind of food you would eat at an end-of-term dinner in a boarding school or a college.
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