London: April 2022 | Reopened February 2022
The hiatus of the hardest restaurant at which to book in London has ended. The restaurant was a reference in the UK until the pandemic struck and chef Brett Graham was forced to close down. After Brett’s sort of farming sabbatical1, the place that shaped The Clove Club’s Isaac McHale, Lyle’s James Lowe, Atomix’s JP Park or Sollip’s Woongchul Park is back, with a much fresher look.
History and philosophy
Brett was an incredible young promise that had a meteoric career. First passing by Liam Tomlin’s Banc in Sydney, he quickly made his way to London. There, he fell into the hands of the finesse obsessive Phil Howard at The Square2. Brett’s talent was evident and the connection with Phil was immediate. He soon became The Square’s sous-chef. Not much later, in 2005 – at 25 years old -, he would open up The Ledbury with Phil as a partner. Despite not having written a menu or organised a rota in his life, 7 months later he was awarded his first Michelin star. In 2010, The Ledbury obtained its second star.
Part of the secret to The Ledbury has always been the take on fine dining with a friendlier, less imposing and more relaxed approach to that which was a standard in the mid 2000s. This is a neighbourhood restaurant and as such it aspires to soothe the customers away from the anxiety of daily life instead of surrounding them with the conventions and etiquettes of fine dining. Does the sound of the sommelier approaching your table with an indecipherable wine list stress you? In The Ledbury they will rather greet you and ask you about your day. Are the long descriptions of the dishes being served constantly interrupting your conversation? In The Ledbury, they will notice and shorten or omit them. This philosophy has had a clear impact on the industry, with the best example being The Clove Club, where this style of service has become a whole mark of the restaurant.
The Ledbury also pioneered the push for a cuisine led by British ingredients. Brett Graham’s cuisine The Ledbury also pioneered the push for a cuisine led by British ingredients. Brett Graham’s cuisine had always been seasonal and focused on sourcing great ingredients rather than on impressing costumers with novel flavour combinations. For instance, the quality of the game, with the chef being an avid hunter, converted the restaurant in a point of pilgrimage during the British game seasons.
In this search for better produce, his involvement in the farming processes and decisions also started to become more active. One could argue that one crucial turning point came from his rediscovery of native English breeds, bred through extensive farming. It first led to the replacement of all foreign beef for Belted Galloways cattle, but it would eventually lead to Brett managing a deer park in Aynhoe Park, Banbury (Oxfordshire) and another in Boughton House, Kettering (Northamptonshire). Nowadays, he breeds deers, Ibérico pigs and beef cattle through low-input farming, a laissez-faire approach3 whereby the cattle is let to roam freely and the effort is put on tendering for the grasses they feed on. The resulting venison and beef are among the best we have ever tried.
The new Ledbury
For the reopening, the interior of the restaurant has been refreshed. The white walls have been substituted for a palette based on greys and cream colours for a more modern look. With less curtains, the dining room suddenly becomes more luminous and lively. Even the architecture has been tweaked, installing slimmer columns to make room for a service table at the centre of the dining room and a large arrangement of dried plants on the ceiling.
The wine list is exciting, but fairly expensive with a mark up of around 2.5-3. It covers all the great classics extensively and possesses and impressive number of well aged mature wines. For the occasion, we went for the best value option, a 2015 Hubert Lamy – Les Chataigners.
|Hubert Lamy – Les Chataigners 2015
|Medium intensity. Lime and chalk with a mild touch of white peach. A faint note of French oak vanilla.
|Cool fruit: unripe white peach and lime on the attack. Medium concentration that shows well in the midpalate. The chalk appears in the midpalate and grows in the finish, until some thus far hidden TCA appears! But it can easily be neglected. The wine shows a very minimal use of new oak to round the edges. Very fresh for a 2015 (thanks to Hubert’s touch).
|Crisp, medium alcohol, medium body, dry. Medium finish.
For now, The Ledbury only offers a 8-course tasting menu priced at £185 per person. Prior to the first course on the menu, guests are served a few appetizers to start with: Oat Crisps with Whipped Cods Roe, Waffle with Artichoke and Truffle, and finally a house-made ‘Ibérico’ Ham.
The whipped cod’s roe mousse was Brett’s take on taramasalata, which in this case it was meant to be spread on a very thin and light-as-a-wafer oat cracker. The roe spread was delicate, creamy and rich. An emulsion that was probably aerated in a siphon. In combination with the savoury notes (similar to those of an aged cheese) of the cracker, it resulted in a delicious bite.
The next serving consisted of a brown butter waffle with artichoke cream and a julienne of black truffle alongside a few slices of their own Ibérico pork ham. For an Ibérico breed, the ham lacked the intense oleic flavours of Spanish Ibérico ham. It felt more like a take on prosciutto di Parma – sweeter and lighter flavours – made from British Ibérico pigs. The waffle itself was rather unremarkable, with an undefined soft texture. It was a mere carrier of an artichoke cream and the semi-aromatic black truffle.
When the first starter arrived, we felt almost like travelling back in time to the 80s even though we only know this era from books and our parent’s memories.
Served in an insulated martini-style glass bowl, the Cornish Crab, Cultured Cream and Frozen Citrus could easily be confused with a prawn cocktail! Jokes aside, one could find a salad of picked crab with frozen segments of blood orange and pink and white grapefruit. Cubes of lemon jelly were scattered under the crab and following an analogy with a lobster roll salad, baby tarragon, chives and baby coriander were added as an aromatic herbal layer.
As a result, the sweetness of the crab in contrast with the fruit acidity worked very well. The frozen citric freshness was intelligently counterbalanced by a cultured cream to lubricate the palate. However, perhaps the dish doesn’t deliver as intended in the textural department. The frozen crunch is perceptible, but it doesn’t shine. Moreover, the temperature contrast is rather weak given the fact that all the other components were already cold.
The second cold starter was a Cured Mackerel, White Beetroot and Seaweed. The mackerel was prepared as it usually is nowadays, which involves a light cure of the fish and a light searing of the skin until crisp, merely bringing the fish to a lukewarm temperature. This results in an enticing bite: tender, yet firm. The intense and oily nature of mackerel was balanced with a creamy horseradish and white beetroot sauce. Discs of confit white beetroots gave another respite of delicate sweetness. More as a decorative touch rather than flavour, a julienne of green apples, some fermented kombu, nasturtium leaves and seaweed oil garnished the dish.
No one will be disappointed with the bread and butter course, our favourite course of the evening! In the ‘Brett basket’ one can find an individual Brioche with Caramelised Onions, and a slice of Sourdough with Goat’s Whey Butter on the side. Their version of brioche lies somewhere between an enriched bread dough and a croissant dough, with two layers of lamination, the butter and the caramelised onions. The result is excellent, it yields a very crispy, deeply caramelised and buttery ‘briossant’ (don’t tell Dominique Ansel, he might trademark it) that we devoured with additional butter.
Alongside the briossants, there were a couple of slices of their house-made sourdough. The bread itself was heavy on rye, intense in flavour, but perhaps a bit too vinegary for our taste4. Structurally, the bread had an open crumb, although tight enough to spread as much butter as one wishes. The crust was covered in oats and cooked bien cuit, which yielded an intensely caramelised, thick and crispy layer.
The butter had an interesting texture, almost as delicate as whipped cream. It was supposed to contain some goat’s whey, so probably the water content was higher than in an ordinary butter. Additionally, in order to achieve such light texture, the butter was indeed whipped before being reshaped into a cube. For the final aesthetic and palatal touch, the cube was sprayed with balsamic vinegar, creating a puzzling appearance as if Yayoi Yusama had broken into the kitchen the night before. Delightful taste and eye-pleasing appearance, well done!
As the first hot starter, we were served a Warm Hen’s Egg with Brassicas, Pig’s Trotter and Truffle. Outwardly, this is an inconspicuous combination of the ordinary and the extraordinary, with ingredients that are sometimes overlooked such as trotters against those considered ‘luxurious’ as truffles. If you removed the shaved truffles (whose flavour was surprisingly rather imperceptible), the first bite of this dish would bring back my childhood memories of my babushka’s Friday dinners in Poland. The appearance of the dish resembles a Polish classic – gołąbki – which is usually made with a mix of pork and rice that is encased in a braised cabbage.In this case, the cabbage was braised and lightly charred and enfolded some buckwheat in the place of the rice. The strict grandma-style cuisson of buckwheat was elevated with a gently poached egg that lubricated each grain with its velvety golden sauce. It was a delicious fusion of the two of Polish classics!
However, there were a few confusing details. Sadly, we could not taste any piggy that day, even though we suppose it was meant to play a bigger role since the trotter was mentioned in the name of the dish. On the other hand, there were ingredients that were not mentioned in the menu, such as ‘kale leather’, but they turned out to impact our impressions considerably. The waiter presented it as a crispy kale, but there was neither crispiness nor flavour. Instead, the ‘kale jerky’ was chewy and quite bitter. Lastly, the truffles seemed to be an issue that day, as we already mentioned earlier. Somehow chefs think that it is better to serve the truffles no matter what. We are sure that they would work perfectly in this amalgam, but this wilted, scentless petals of truffles probably waited too long on the pass for their moment to shine.
The first main arrived in the form of a fish dish, Grilled Turbot, White Asparagus, Trout Roe Hollandaise and Sorrel. The turbot had been cooked on the bone, slightly over the 54C that we prefer, but that is a stylistic choice. Firm and juicy, it played beautifully with the brown butter and dulse sauce that had been poured on top. As an accompaniment, poached white asparagus (poached in their own fermentation liquid) were served under a rich hollandaise topped with the crunchiest trout roe we had ever had. The explosive texture gave a refreshing twist to an otherwise traditional pairing for asparagus. The second twist came through the use of a preserved Buddha’s hand brunoise. Scattered under the fish and the asparagus, it gave a citric kosho note that brightened up the whole dish. A julienne of sorrel and baby sorrel leaves finished the dish adding some colour.
One of the new ideas of The Ledbury 2.0 has been the addition of a mushroom cabinet, where Brett and the team are growing their own set of mushrooms for service. With the popularity of meat and fish fridge cabinets in restaurants, where dry-aged cuts are usually exhibited, this is an inventive way to propose something different. Ideally, when the mushrooms grow more vigorously, Brett’s intention is to allow customers to choose their favourite ones. Lions mane, shiitake, hen of the woods, yellow, grey and king oyster will eventually be grilled, barbequed or pan fried on demand5.
Three small slivers of a selection of the current best specimens were served in Mushrooms from the Cabinet, Potato, Yeast and Rosemary. For us, these were a hen of the woods, a king oyster mushroom and a yellow oyster mushroom, all cooked until soft and caramelised in a pan. At the centre of the dish, a rich aereated emulsion of potato and roasted yeast powder brought the dish together. Right beside it, the drizzle of buckwheat koji infused cream attempted to add some complexity, but lacked definition. The mushrooms were sprinkled with micro-planed Périgord truffle to complement them with its perfumed aromas whereas the whole plate was sprinkled with mushroom powder. Finally, as a garnish, pickled wild garlic topped the potato emulsion in the middle. Among all these elements, we struggled to find the rosemary oil that supposedly was used in the dish. In general, the ideas of both house-grown mushrooms and this mushroom serving were fun, but we hope that the execution will get more precise over time so that these layers become more perceptible.
The meat courses in The Ledbury have a legendary status and our expectations were equally high. The offering becomes even more interesting during the game season, of which Brett is an expert, but in mid-April the serving was Sladesdown Farm Duck, Earl Grey Tea, Carrots and Pink Radicchio. Here we can see the whole animal approach in this restaurant, with slices of the duck’s breast, heart and leg being served. Unfortunately, the dish felt a bit disjointed, mainly due to execution issues. Where can we start? Let’s be positive first. The heart was perfect, juicy, intense and with a tender consistency. The breast was also well cooked – to the point that the overall dish would have been better if they had served more than a single slice. The pieces of carrots, caramelised endives and rhubarb were delightful and brought freshness and sweetness to the dish. On the other hand, the leg, probably confited and then seared, showed up with a cuisson that in our opinion was too dry. Furthermore, the duck jus was overwhelmingly flavoured with rosemary. It did act as a much needed lubricant for the duck leg, with the trade-off that the rosemary covered the otherwise intense duck flavours. Lastly, only one of our dishes was overly vinegary. The pink radicchio was glazed with a sort of vinaigrette, with an emphasis on ‘vinaigre’, so the smoked beetroot sauce flavour was compromised at the expense of the vinegar.
As a sort of palate cleanser, we were served a Clementine Granita with Clementine Leaf Ice Cream and Verjus Italian Meringue. The choice of the pre-dessert really hit the spot, and made our taste buds go crazy. The use of whole clementine in two different preparations seems like a smart idea to apply the ‘whole fruit’, or ‘fruit to stem’ approach. From the bottom to the top: a generous spoonful of Italian meringue formed sort of a ‘bed’ for the clementine leaf ice cream. A few segments of frozen clementine were hiding beneath the ice cream, while the clementine granita and frozen meringue were scattered on the top of them. The quality of the ice cream itself was not the best we have had. Still, its lactic side worked well with the earthy and citrusy notes of the leaves. The granita was quite flavourful, and it delivered that taste bud awakening acidity. As a base for the pre-dessert, the dollop of lightly charred Italian meringue reminded us of an up-side down, crust-less lemon tart with a gooey meringue. The meringue’s sweetness was well balanced by the addition of Verjus in the preparation.
Just before the dinner at the Ledbury, we became obsessed with mille feuilles. We researched dozens and dozens of recipes, videos, and photos. We even did a few attempts ourselves at home, with a hand-made inverted pâte feuilletée. Some versions were more successful, some less, some were even burnt to a charcoal. Nevertheless, we had great fun.
We were ecstatic to have found out that The Ledbury was serving this French classic, and their version looked just perfect. This Mille Feuille was served with a Vanilla Crème Pâtissière, Rhubarb and Buttermilk Ice Cream. Let us start with the pastry. The layers of the mille feuille were made out of an inverted pâte feuilletée. It is likely that they weren’t baked in the traditional manner, which relies on containing the sheet of the pastry quite tight (about 1cm thick). On the contrary, the pastry chef let the sheet of the pastry expand in the oven as much as it can, in order to separate the airy block of the pastry into three parts later on. There are a few advantages to this method. First, this approach allows to produce a much airier and lighter pastry compared to the traditional version. The sheets of the pâte feuilletée are drier, and therefore more brittle and crispy. Lastly, since the hot air in the oven is able to circulate more freely, the pastry is more evenly baked and that ensures that every bite of the mille feuille will be equally crispy.
Unfortunately, our mille feuille idyll ended here. The pastry cream, mentioned a few lines up, was just unacceptable. It lacked in flavour, and the texture was rather improper. It was curdled, and almost chewy, as if someone added a large amount of stabilizer into it. Between the layers of the pastry, one could find pieces of rhubarb, probably just compressed as it retained its freshness. The rhubarb added a nice touch, but the pieces were so large that the perception of proportion was broken. This gave us the impression that the rhubarb was the main star of the dessert, and the rest just had a supplemental role. A quenelle of buttermilk ice cream and dots of rhubarb gel served as an accompaniment to the mille feuille. Lamentably, the ice cream was again lacked in flavour while the texture was just ordinary. On the other hand, the gel just tasted of rhubarb.
Overall, the pastry seems to be a strong side of The Ledbury. Both the bread course and the pâte feuilletée were very well done and showed high skills of the pastry chef. Unfortunately, all other components of the main dessert felt quite disappointing. We really appreciate simple desserts made with modest ingredients, however they have to be executed immaculately.
The closure of the meal came with the petit fours. The first, surprised us with a modernist concept that we would not have expected from The Ledbury: a deconstruction. Presented as an ice cream canelé, this was more of a semifreddo in texture. The semifreddo itself had been produced from the custard filling of the canelé, before being coated in a dehydrated powder of its crust. We are afraid that all this processes did not yield the same satisfying and wholesome experience of biting into a recently baked canelé. Finally, a chocolate truffle with caramel sauce.
We left with the impression that The Ledbury 2.0 has that same passion for finesse that Brett Graham is known for since The Square times. The work at the pastry section stands out with their breads and excellent lamination technique. Yet, after the restart from the pandemic, we feel that certain execution issues prevented some dishes from reaching that same level of finesse. Time is needed for the new team to polish certain details. We look forward to seeing how the restaurant progresses over the next few years. Meanwhile, we think that the best version of The Ledbury’s legacy nowadays lies in The Clove Club (service and refinement) and Ikoyi (passion for produce).
- Not only farming, but also working at his pub in Fulham, The Harwood Arms.
- Currently chef patron at Elystan Street.
- Analogous to low-intervention viticulture.
- Certain sourdoughs and certain fermentation processes can produce acetic acid.
- Head chef Tom Spenceley shows an improved and more copious version on his Instagram account @thomspencechef.