Bar Boulud at the Mandarin Oriental, London
The ‘French Brasserie’ genre of restaurant holds an enduring appeal among discerning diners. With their large menus covering old-school Gaelic favourites and refined but unstuffy settings, they have continued to prove a reliable recipe for success.
In London one of the most lauded restaurants of this type is Bar Boulud, helmed by eponymous French-born chef Daniel Boulud whose flagship New York venue of the same name is the holder of two Michelin stars.
Nestled in the stylishly-designed basement of the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Knightsbridge, his London outpost eschews the grand trappings of the city’s other acclaimed brasseries in favour of a contemporary but tasteful décor, typified by vaulted ceilings, vintage oak tables and modern wall art.
On our weeknight visit, the restaurant was heaving, the noise levels ensuring that the close proximity of the tables – often the cause of stilted, self-conscious conversation – instead contributed to a vibrant, convivial atmosphere. An open-plan kitchen along which bar stool seating offers a close-up view of the action adds to the buzzy ambience, while attentive but unobtrusive front-of-house staff further lubricate proceedings.
Of course, the quality of the food also helps raise the spirits. At Bar Boulud, the presence of renowned charcutier Gilles Vero ensures that charcuterie is something of a brand signature, and a board featuring a selection of hams, salamis, terrines and pickles showed us why, boasting flavours and textures ranging from the mild and delicate house-made ham through to the deep and herby richness of the rabbit terrine. Washing it down was a light and fruity 2009 Fabre Montmayou Gran Reserva Malbec which was good enough for us to continue drinking for the remainder of the meal.
Also headlining the menu were Bar Boulud’s widely praised burgers. While lesser burger joints thrust the word ‘gourmet’ in front of their offerings with little to back it up, these are the real deal. I opted for the “BB” burger, comprising of a beef patty topped with foie gras, red wine braised short ribs, and truffle, on a black onion seeded bun. It was as good as it sounds, each component working in harmony, with the foie gras slice delivering just the right amount of rich, livery funk. The accompanying fries – thin, crispy and piping hot – were excellent too.
My companion chose the tagliatelle with white truffle – November being mid-season for the highly-prized delicacy. The house-made pasta was perfectly cooked while the finely shaved truffle had the delightfully earthy aroma for which this this rare, decadent food is renowned.
Desserts were superfluous by this point, but we indulged nonetheless. A pistachio soufflé with nougat glacé was the highlight; fluffy and soft, with gorgeous hints of pistachio and lime green hues beneath. My companion’s choice, a Crepe Suzette with a heavy kick of orange, came a close second.
It was the culmination of an exceptional meal served up by a restaurant at the top of its game, with attention to detail evident in every dish. On this form, Bar Boulud may just be the best French Brasserie in London.