Helene Darroze at the Connaught, Mayfair, London
Lunched there a few months ago and sampled the pea-centred lunch menu. (Just looked and it's now all about aubergines.)
A baguette with glorious crust and a beautifully soft almost wispy centre. Loved the dense cushony chestnut bread, with the endearing sweetness of chestnuts.
A shot of vegetal and mildly nutty white aparagus soup topped with basil foam. Spicy bits of chorizo in a dry crumbly cheesecake (made with some sort of hard cheese iirc) with a somewhat parmesan like flavour that comes across as rather light.
A pea gazpacho was very nice in light of the hot day, the peas lending a nice green sweetness but also more substantial body, with a tiny bit of graininess. I liked the layers of herby, vegetal flavours and the contrast with sour pickled girolles, the occasional snappy texture to a even soup. Little gnocchi were like bites of clouds, excellent light texture and a bit of clean creamy flavour.
A croquette of Landes (where HD is from) duck confit, moist, tender and firm. Good deep frying, crispy on the outside but no greasiness. Scattered leaves of green to cut the richness of the duck, sweet/smoky red peppers to enhance it. Peas are the side here, in a little bowl with carrot and shallots, the vegetables with all their different kinds of sweetness. I did wish that the peas were cooked a little less, allowing them to pop like oversized caviar, rather than just yield softly.
I loved the pea-based dessert, a pea cream that took advantage of the natural sweetness of peas, allowing it to shine with an excellent supporting cast that provided varied textural contrasts: a lemon granite with its icy crunch, a puffy soft meringue, and a crumble of ginger confit. The flavours worked together wonderfully, especially the lemon and the pea combination.
Bright liquid passion fruit in a shell of well tempered chocolate on a leaf of spiculoos (a cinnamony belgian cookie). A truly rosy turkish delight, the texture nicely tuned to a light chewiness. A boozy clear flavour of raspberry liquior, an aura over the raspberry tart. Perhaps others that slipped my mind.
A very balanced Brazilian coffee, with a clean sweet finish, and very very smooth. Thin crunchy sesame chocolate pralines from Pierre Herme as accompaniment, good temper in the shiny chocolate. (Perhaps a bit pricey at £8, since a few pieces of Pierre Marcolini chocolate with coffee from Monmouth would be about half the price. The difference would have to justified by value one places on the gilded interiors and polished service.)
A cannelle as a parting gift (a speciality of SW France, roughly a vanilla custard baked in a mold with the exterior glazed with honey). The interior was moist and vanilla-rich, but the exterior was still a little soft, and yet to develop a nice delicate crunchy shell.
A not bad blanc de blanc whose acidity paired well with all the savoury items.
Although I wasn't blown away it was nice to be pampered for a couple of hours and I enjoyed the food enough (multifaceted but subtle flavours, careful technique and plating, everything cooked properly) to contemplate dinner there.
I believe they are the owners, or part owners; their stock list includes quite a few Chateau Darroze Armagnacs so may be worth checking out to see if they are all available retail:
1995 DOMAINE AU MARTIN à Hontanx
1992 DOMAINE DE POUNON à Labastide d’Armagnac
1990 DOMAINE DE RIESTON à Perquie
1989 DOMAINE DE SALIE au FrêcheA
1987 DOMAINE DE JOUANCHICOT à Mauléon d’ Armagnac
1986 DOMAINE AU DURRE à Saint Gein
1981 DOMAINE AU MARTIN à Hontanx
1977 DOMAINE DE PEYROT à Ste Christie d'Armagna
1972 CHA TEAU DE GAUBE à Perquie
1970 DOMAINE AUX DUCS au Bourdalat
1966 CHA TEAU DE GAUBE à Perquie
1965 DOMAINE DE PEYROT à Ste Christie d'Armagnac
1962 CHA TEAU DE GAUBE à Perquie
1951 CHATEAU DE LASSERRADE à Lasserrade (Appellation Armagnac Contrôlée)
1945 CHATEAU DE LASSERRADE à Lasserrade (Appellation Armagnac Contrôlée)
1936 DOMAINE DE PEYROT à Ste Christie d'Armagnac