It was a sign of the seriousness with which top US chef Daniel Boulud takes his new London outpost that he was there in person for the opening lunch service, despite having just flown in on the red-eye from New York. And not to glad-hand the punters either: his role was obviously to see that everything in his new restaurant was running like clockwork.
It’s this kind of maniacal attention to detail that explains Boulud’s phenomenal success and why this smart new restaurant in the Mandarin Oriental looks like it’s been open for weeks. The menu combines the ‘greatest hits’ of his casual New York restaurants, Cafe Boulud, Bar Boulud and the funky DBGB - French classics like coq au vin and croque monsieur, burgers and sausages - and a serious wine and beer list.
There were few of the expected concessions to British ingredients and taste he’d been talking about when I interviewed him last September. Apparently a few dishes have been tweaked - the coq au vin for example is served with spaetzle rather than pasta, the menu is a shade lighter and the portions, I’d have said, slightly smaller, a concession maybe to the ladies who will be lunching (Harvey Nix is just across the road).
I tried two of the dishes I’d tried in New York - the charcuterie and the aptly-named Piggie Burger, which is topped with pulled pork and served in a cheese crusted bun. It was perfectly cooked. The charcuterie, which has been devised, as in New York, by Parisien charcutier Gilles Verot is quite brilliant. Much less fatty than conventional charcuterie with some highly original seasoning and flavours. I particularly liked the Lapin de Garrigue - pulled rabbit with carrot, courgette and herbs and Joue de Boeuf compote of ox cheek with onion confit and pistachio. The board arrives with delicious condiments like celeriac and apple remoulade and two kinds of mustard.
We had a couple of glasses of wine from the impressively wide-ranging wine list - in my case an exemplary Pinot Blanc from Henri Bouges and a Nittnaus Pinot Noir from Austria - a stellar match with my burger. (They are going to follow the Bar Boulud practice of opening large format bottles every evening and selling them by the glass.)
Was it as good as New York? Better I’d say although that may be due to the fact The Boss was present and that the restaurant wasn’t yet full. (It’s big - a couple of large rooms). Service was impeccable though again toned down slightly from the New York experience - there are only two greeters instead of three and ‘we don’t keep trying to sell you things’ as the restaurant manager nicely put it. Prices - for the moment - are more than fair, especially the £20 three course lunch.
Quibbles. The room is a touch corporate for my taste but it is a hotel dining room and we are talking Knightsbridge. The air conditioning is a fraction too cold, the chips very slightly less crisp than they might be, a problem which was clearly exercising Daniel who was talking about cutting them more finely - although he did point out they stayed crisp for 10 minutes which is obviously a key Boulud test. Oh, and they were serving Heinz ketchup which struck a slightly jarring note, given the quality of the burger and the bun. But I suspect he’ll change that to home-made.
I’m casting around. This is a great playground for winelovers and Francophiles where you can drink good wine, eat classic French and American food and be treated like you would in a three Michelin star restaurant. A winning combination, I’d have said.
I ate at Bar Boulud as a guest of the Mandarin Oriental hotel.