There isn’t many a food lover who’s not familiar with the legendary Daniel Boulud, chef patron of a string of acclaimed restaurants, including the 3-Michelin starred Daniel in New York (recently crowned 8th in San Pellegrino’s World’s 50 Best Restaurants). His hotly anticipated venture onto our shores, Bar Boulud, is a French-inspired bistro similar to his casual eatery of the same name in Manhatten. Having only been to his eponymous brasserie in Vegas, where we had a somewhat disappointing “NY DB” burger – his signature sirloin burger stuffed with red-wine braised short rib burger with foie gras and black truffle (strangely absent from the London menu), I was keen to see if his first European outpost would fare better.
I arrived just before midday to meet K and found three people fussing about outside, polishing the menu cases and cleaning the glass panels (guess it’s opening week and they want everything to be just right). At 12 on the dot, as if on cue, they disappeared back inside. K arrived shortly after and we too headed inside to a warm greeting from the maitre’d. At our table an equally smiley waiter walked us through the menu, taking care to highlight the house specialty sausages, charcuterie boards and of course, the famous DB burgers. After conveying our selections to the waiter (there’s a reasonably-priced 3-course set lunch but we opted for the à la carte), we sat back and busied ourselves catching up over a glass of champagne (a pleasantly crisp, appley Veuve Borodin Brut NV).
We didn’t have to wait long for our first course, a shared starter of Boudin Blanc – a white sausage with truffled mashed potatoes, served with turned sautéed apples, an intense onion gravy and a handful of frisée. The soft, pillowy sausage was almost melt-in-the-mouth and fantastically decadent when eaten with the silky mash infused with the heady scent of truffles. The fruit and greenery I could have done without – after all, it’s a gloriously sinful dish that need not apologise for being so.
We were tempted by all three of the burgers and decided the best course of action was to select two to share. My pick was the “Yankee Burger”, which is the one closest to the traditional, with a grilled beef patty, iceberg lettuce, tomato, sweet onion, pickle and cheddar cheese (£1 supplement) all sandwiched between a soft sesame bun.
My friend went with the pimped up “Piggie Burger” which features barbecue pulled pork atop the grilled beef patty, and sits between a cheddar bun together with bibb lettuce, green chili mayonnaise and red cabbage slaw (both burgers came with a side of pomme frites). Ever the food blogger I got my pictures in before tucking in, which entailed us swapping plates so I could better photograph K’s burger. Noticing this exchange, the waiter and maitre’d both rushed over to inquire if they had mixed our orders. We assured them they had not, and that we intended to share anyway, to which they swiftly whisked away our plates to the kitchen to halve for us.
Et, voila! Our plates return with the burgers neatly portioned, with a ‘d’ cocktail stick on one half, and a ‘b’ on the other. The burgers have been scaled down for European consumption, and are compact enough to fit nicely in my hands (if I were to eat sans cutlery). However, as we weren’t at the local McDonald’s we ate with fork and knife, and unlike many so-called-burgers (yes, I’m talking about the imitators in ciabatta buns and the like) it didn’t fall apart as soon as you cut into it. Instead, the soft bun held everything together so you get a bit of meat, bun and salad garnish in each mouthful.
The loosely-packed patties were cooked to a perfect medium – pink but not bloody (just as the waiter assured us it would be), and the meat was moist and boasted a good beefy flavour. Although K and I enjoyed both burgers immensely, she preferred the punchier “Piggy” while if pushed I would go for the simpler “Yankee” as I favour a classic meat, salad and pickle combo, and the beef isn’t overshadowed by the smoky pork or cheesy bun. The pommes frites did let the team down a little, as although fluffy inside, they could have been a great deal crisper (the thick cut also rendered them more fries than frites). The spicy Achaval Ferrer 2008 (a Malbec from Argentina), recommended by our waiter, washed it all down nicely.
As soon as our empty plates were cleared the waiter waltzed over with the intention of tempting us with desserts, and would have succeeded in doing so (especially after he highlighted to us the Coupe Peppermint consisting of chocolate sponge, hot chocolate sauce, mint ice cream and chocolate sorbet) if not for K being already late back to the office. We asked instead for the bill, which promptly arrived, and having paid we left very content and well-fed, to a chorus of thank yous. We both agreed that although the burgers were excellent, and the boudin blanc exceptional, it was the impeccable service that truly made our meal. We felt so well looked after that we forgave the rather staid decor. Whether they can keep up this level of service remains to be seen, but I have a real good feeling.
**UPDATE: 10th May 2010**
I lunched again at Bar Boulud today (with the affable tehbus), opting this time for the Prix Fixe lunch menu; a steal at £20. As expected, the service was not as enthusiastic as when the restaurant had just opened, but the wait staff were still incredibly attentive. We were told that Boulud himself was in the kitchen, a fact which was later confirmed when we spied him making the rounds around the dining room (most notably to stop for a chat at Loyd Grossman’s table).
To start I had the Lapin de Garrigue – a thick slab of terrine packed with Provençal Pulled Rabbit, Carrots, Courgettes and Herbs, which was very pretty to look at and just as pleasing to the palate. I did question the presence of the sourdough, as the terrine lacked any wetness (that perhaps a pâté or rilette would have) to pair well with the dry toast – the cornichons, wholegrain mustard and salad garnish were sufficient accompaniments.
I had high hopes for the “Frenchie” Burger that arrived next as I had so enjoyed it’s siblings on my previous visit. First to catch my eye were the much skinnier frites (hurrah!) which were infinitely better than the fries I had last week. As for the burger itself, although the peppered brioche bun was soft and pliable, the flavour combinations of the burger were askew and I found all the extras of confit pork belly (aka bacon), morbier, rocket and tomato-onion compote too much of a distraction from the good quality beef patty. I will be sure to stick to the “Yankee” from now on.
The surprise star of the meal turned out to be dessert – a rich, luscious Gâteau Chocolat-Framboise with a refreshing raspberry sorbet and sticky raspberry jam, which complemented the layers of intense bittersweet chocolate mousse and sacher biscuit superbly. Sadly I was so full from the first two courses I failed to polish it off.
The verdict? Not as stunning a meal as my first visit, but still enjoyable and I will most certainly be back for a dinner outing very soon – in fact, the reservation’s already been made.
Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park
London, SW1X 7LA
t. 020 7201 3899