Saturday, 4 May 2013

hélène darroze at the connaught: saturday brunch - review


Well I've only gone and found the best brunch in London. A bold statement, but allow me to explain.

The Connaught is a prestigious five star hotel nestled in a quiet corner of Mayfair Village and is home to the two Michelin-starred Hélène Darroze restaurant

Each Saturday, in the dark wood panelled room with carpeted floor and Damien Hirst originals, you will find a feast available in the form of a buffet brunch. Or as I like to refer to it, 'two Michelin-starred all-you-can-eat'.  Yes, you heard. I suspect this needs no further sell. But indulge me.

There are three courses to this exercise of epicurean endurance. The first and final course are self-serve buffets. Take any preconceptions associated with the dirty b-word, and along with those dark and lingering memories of the petite mort experienced the last time you overindulged at Mr Woo's £12.95 all-you-can-eat-MSG offering, lock them in the basement of your mind. 

Instead take this word and elevate it to the highest pedestal in the land, because it's these dizzy heights of ingredient quality and exceptional front of house service we're dealing with. For your main (and middle) course, a menu is available to make a single selection from and this is prepared and delivered whenever you are damn well ready for it. No rush, no pressure. Just uninterrupted, unadulterated pleasure.

Pictures speak more than words can do justice to this meal, so I'll let them do most of the translation from the tangible we experienced to the viewable equivalent.

Starters

Charcuteries: Basque black pork from Pierre Oteiza; ham seasoned with Espelette pepper sliced 'a la minute' on the antique Berkel machine; saucissons; Jésus; chorizo (above).

Home-made pork terrines and galantines. Grilled vegetable antipasti and aubergine caviar. 
Assortment of fresh salads including a Mariette with orange citrus dressing; Mesclun (small young leaves) with chervil; The “Connaught” Caesar with parmesan and anchovies; bitter chicory and Stilton. 

My favourite was a beautiful pink beetroot and buffalo mozzarella of which I kept returning to.



Smoked Scottish salmon, smoked halibut and smoked eel with the choices of garnish from: capers, dill, spring onions, chives, confit tomatoes, olive tappenade, sour cream, Greek yoghurt. 

Scrambled eggs with Royal Bortago (cured fish roe).


Freshly baked breads and an assortment of Viennoiseries made by chef including pain au chocolats, croissants, raspberry or hazelnut chocolate filled brioches, the most incredible 'butter bread', small baguettes, rye buns.


my first plate

a shot of creamy artichoke soup

Recline and perhaps take a little stroll to the lobby and back for some tactical internal space making. Maybe order a pot of green tea to assist the digestive juices.

Ready for the next course? 


Mains

From the main menu, both Matt and I initially ordered the braised Aberdeen Angus beef ox cheek burger, mounted by a saddle of duck foie gras. What red-blooded human wouldn't order that? 

With the gathering benefit of hindsight realised half way through my second helping of starters, I decided to change to the oysters to ensure I had room for everything to follow. These were 
Maldon oysters from Kent served with shallot vinegar, apple and celery, lime emulsion, and French pork crepinettes (a type of flat sausage). 

In all honesty, these were not the best oysters I've had (the reigning title holders are those from The Wright Brothers Oyster and Porterhouse), but I should have known better. As they say, one should only eat oysters in a month containing the letter 'r' to get them at their peak (i.e. September - April) and we are indeed a whole four days into May. 

I doubt my palette is that attuned to the changing tides of seasonal produce, but I certainly found them lacking in that unmistakable flavour of the sea. But I find the slippery bastards difficult to resist when they flirt so outrageously with me from the menu. The hot porky balls of goodness served on a square of slate were delicious though.
my second plate

The burger was delivered in a package smaller than a usual burger, a welcome sight after a no holds barred round of starters. 


The braised cheek patty was thick and intense with the concentrated flavour from the prolonged low cooking and with the slab of fatty duck liver astride, the combination delivered wonderful rich and meaty flavours laced with a hint of iron, lightened by the small side salad that accompanied it. 

In addition was a pot of chips which were essentially a single potato cut into four large wedges and an espresso cup filled with home made tomato sauce. Some might say the chips were an unnecessary addition to the already hefty burger bundle, but they went well with my oysters.


Other options from the main menu included e
ggs Benedict with York ham and black truffle from Perigord (£5 supplement); macaroni and cheese with an aged Comté and Bellota ham gratin; and a chicken based one I alas can't recall.

Dessert

You'll likely be a good hour and a half to two into this marathon by now. Hopefully you've paced yourself, strategically not filled up on the incredible breads, gone for a short jog around the block, and have room for yet more. And quite a bit more there is.

My third plate consisted of sourdough filled with hazelnut and raisins enjoyed with the assortment of cheeses, grapes and cubes of quince. Generous slabs of Manchego and Comté along
 trinket sized mounds of goats cheese. The nutty sheep's cheese of Manchego is one of my favourites and I indulged in a couple more visits back to the board.



my third plate

A wonderfully friendly French man of statuesque Amazonian proportions guarded the dessert corner - tables laden with fresh fruit, cookies and cheesecakes, brownies and mini-cup cakes, poised ready to slice and plate up as small or large a portion as you desired. 


But probably more importantly, he stood behind a large bowl of waffle batter and a waffle maker. Say hello to freshly made waffles with your topping of choice at the wink of an eye. Matt built up such a rapport with this gentleman that after a huge first portion, that was all the communication needed for a second plate of hot and quartered waffle excellence to be delivered. 

Maple syrup and honey our drizzling of choice, but also available was quince jam, Greek yoghurt and more. The aroma of these freshly cooked permeated the whole room - if you didn't think you had any room yet, tap into the reaches of your second stomach for these.


my fourth plate, plus a quarter of a waffle

Matt's second waffle round

the waffle man

Coffee

If you haven't already had your caffeine hit during this meal, now would be a good time. Short of injecting a double espresso straight into the jugular, you're going to need some help fighting the onset of fatigue induced by your blood directing itself straight to your gut by this point. 

And all the espressos, cappuccinos, Americano's, flat whites, special blend teas and fresh juices you could possibly want come as part of the buffet brunch. The coffee was not only of superb quality, but served in beautiful Hermès crockery. The silver service and heavy deep-cut crystal water glasses were touches of finesse that helped sharpen the whole experience.


A special mention must be given to the front of house staff as they were without fault. From the maitre d', to the waiters, to the  waffle man they were all attentive and smiling and raconteuring with the clientèle.

We were there for around three hours and at no point did we feel rushed - we were positively encouraged to make further visits to the buffet bars, frequently asked if we would like any further drinks, and I was fully indulged when I requested to photograph the displays with responses of 'please madame, of course'.

the first to be seated - it soon became full

The whole experience as you would hope from a double starred venue was exceptional. A classy yet leisurely and informal way to start the the weekend.

The room quickly filled with an array of first time diners, couples on birthday treats, anniversary
 brunches, tourists, gathered families and morning shoppers alike.

My advice would be to reserve a table close to opening, request a paper from the lobby and savour the full term of the brunch. The hours of service are from 11am - 2.30pm. Our table was for 11am and we somehow managed to roll ourselves out at around 2.15pm.


When considering the quality and abundance of food on offer, the service you receive, the duration of the stay and the setting you're housed in, I regard this meal to be of exceptional value despite what may initially seem to be a hefty price tag.

The food consumed during this meal prevented me from feeling hungry again until around 8pm - and if you know me, that's saying something.

This makes a wonderful alternative to a dinner treat for someone close or for that special occasion. Who wouldn't appreciate such quality ingredients on tap, all morning long. What special Saturdays were made for.

Three courses £55.00

Three courses for children £39


Liked lots
- quality of ingredients; impeccable service; unlimited tea
, coffee and juice; unlimited starters and desserts; waffles made to order; the outstanding butter bread; grand setting
; the beautiful Hermes crockery
Liked less - people on neighbouring tables chewing with their mouth open; the oysters
Good for - a special occasion; whiling away a Saturday morning; not needing to eat for the rest of the day

Alfiyet olsun.

Hélène Darroze at the Connaught on Urbanspoon
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