Tucked away in a quiet corner of Notting Hill, The Ledbury has been quietly accumulating culinary accolades ever since it opened back in 2005. Under the expert hands of Aussie chef Brett Graham, it gained a Michelin star within the first year of opening (Graham is no stranger to the coveted stars, having won two at his previous establishment, The Square) and last month saw the restaurant awarded with a much-deserved second star. During the lead up to this year’s Michelin rankings many of Graham’s contemporaries had already earmarked him for a second star, and in anticipation of the stampede for tables, I made the reservations for Saturday’s lunch well in advance. Indeed, when we arrived just after midday, the dining room was already three quarters full.
The smiling staff at the door greeted us warmly, and after taking our coats, led us to a well situated table beside the window. We eagerly scanned the menus set before us and within seconds simultaneously agreed to go all out and indulge in the 8-course tasting menu – it has after all been a while since our last visit, plus we had the whole afternoon ahead to recover from the ensuing food coma. Leaving B to peruse the wine list, I tucked into a canapé of Beetroot Meringue with Foie Gras Parfait (opening image) – the meringue was like air, instantly collapsing in the mouth leaving a hint of tartness followed by sweet creamy liver. I was still contemplating the delightful taste sensations when the waiter swooped over with the bread basket. There were three, possibly four breads on offer but I was blind to all except the bacon and onion. I have dreams about this bread, seriously it is that good – warm buttery brioche laced with sweet caramelised onions and bits of smoky bacon – heaven.
I devoured two in quick succession, and would have reached for a third if not for the timely arrival of our amuse bouche – a Ceviche of Hand-Dived Scallop with Kohlrabi, Apple Jelly, Horseradish Snow and a Herb oil. Pretty as a snowy landscape (and reminiscent in appearance to an exquisite squid dish we sampled at noma), the dish had a great textural balance – soft scallops and jelly against the gratifying crunch of kohlrabi. Everything in the dish was well considered and picked to cleanse and gently wake, but not shock the palate. There was a good amount of acid, however not so much as to become astringent, and the horseradish snow melts as soon as it meets the tongue, causing the coldness to dissipate instantly.
The Flame Grilled Mackerel with Cucumber, Celtic Mustard and Shiso was equally exquisite. One of chef’s specialities, the Japanese-inspired mackerel was moist and flaky, the oiliness of which cut through perfectly by the subtly vinegared cucumber. Also on the plate was a refreshing parcel of mackerel tartare rolled in a film of cucumber jelly. It was another perfect composition, from the sprinkling of nori powder that accentuated the taste of the sea to the scattering of fried onions, added for a crisp contrast. At first glance this delicate fish course may appear more appropriate for summer than the dead of winter, but in fact it was deeply satisfying and surprisingly substantial.
Next up was the stand-out ‘Risotto’ of Squid with Pinenuts, Sherry and Cauliflower. There is no rice in this innovative dish, instead the risotto consists of small pieces of impeccably cooked squid that were tender while retaining a slight bite – coincidentally (or not), as al dente risotto would be. Squid being inherently bland takes on flavours well, making it an inspired substitution for rice. Again, all the components here marry beautifully, the salty parmesan and deep, fruity sherry reduction against the mild, yet sweet squid and cauliflower (shaved and puree) elements – it is clear that Graham really tweaks and refines his food until they are ‘just so’. This dish works on so many levels, not only does it look and taste the part, it also manages to induce feelings of comfort as a classic risotto would.
A strong smoky aroma heralded the arrival of a waitress bearing our ash-baked celeriac. She presented the dough-encased root vegetable to us, cutting it open to let us have a whiff, then whisked it away to be plated. The Celeriac Baked in Ash with Hazelnuts and a Kromeski of Wild Boar is a bit of a mainstay on Graham’s menu so we have eaten it countless times in the past and were looking forward to it.
Wrapped in hay-infused ash then baked for 45 minutes at 165 degrees within a salt and dough crust, the roasted celeriac exuded an intense earthy flavour that paired wonderfully with the truffle mayonnaise. The accompanying wild boar kromeski (a croquette of sorts) was also a real treat but if I was to be critical this dish was perhaps not as balanced as its predecessors, lacking a little in acidity and the celeriac being a touch over-salted. Having said that, B did point out when savoured together with our wine (a zippy Schloss Gobelsburg Lamm Gruner Veltliner full of tropical fruits and hints of kerosene) the imbalance was quickly rectified.
Now I’m not usually a fan of cod (unless it’s of the black variety), finding it rather dull and often in desperate need of dressing up, but there was nothing pedestrian about the Roast Cod with Grilled Leeks, Hand Rolled Macaroni and Truffle Pureé. The fish was immaculately prepared – cooked till just done, with the roasted leeks lending a beautiful smokiness and the shaved truffles imparting a warm earthiness.
We would have been content if the meal had ended there but we still had a main and afters to tackle. The robust meat course of Pyrenean Milk-Fed Lamb Shoulder with Baked Jerusalem Artichokes and Winter Savory Milk was meltingly tender (having been cooked for a full 24 hours) and accented with a tasty rectangle of crispy skin. It takes a deft hand to turn the rustic lamb, onions and crushed jerusalem artichokes into such an elegant dish and how much we enjoyed it despite being so full was a true testament to the chef.
Over the pre-dessert of Creme Fraiche Panna Cotta with Blueberries and Blueberry sorbet, we had an insightful chat with John Davey, a seasoned hospitality consultant, who was working the front of house. His influence on the wait staff was clear to see, the service being professional yet friendly, leaving us at ease and feeling really taken care of.
The Raviolo of Rhubarb with Buttermilk and Hibiscus made a good finish to the meal, being light and refreshing although it was quite similar in flavour profiles to the pre-dessert and the buttermilk sorbet to rhubarb ratio was too heavily skewed towards the latter, making the dessert as a whole overly sharp and lip-puckeringly sour.
We weren’t sure if the Warm Vanilla Beignets were to be eaten with the raviolo, to us the two didn’t work together but those beignets alone were fantastic! (I may be biased though when it comes to donuts…)
A flat white and a selection of petits four (we both chose the earl grey macaroon and fennel marshmallow) brought one of the best dining experiences we’ve had in the past 12 months to a close. B commented during the meal that it felt like we had been transported out of London, onto one of our gastronomic tours. We have been lucky enough to have eaten at some of the best restaurants in the world recently, and The Ledbury is definitely right up there.
As we leave, John personally gets our coats and follows us outside bidding us farewell with an amusing anecdote, reminding us why it’s always at the top of our list when dining with visitors from abroad – not only is Graham’s cooking consistently stellar, but there is such a personal touch to the service. This is one restaurant that truly has it all.
127 Ledbury Road
London, W11 2AQ
t. 020 7792 9090