“Alice laughed. ‘There’s no use trying,’ she said. ‘One can’t believe impossible things.’
‘I daresay you haven’t had much practice,’ said the Queen. ‘When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
Taking a long and lazy breakfast in the executive lounge of a luxury hotel in the financial epicentre of Europe, as swarms of people busily weave and wend their way to work, beavering diligently at the foot of your ivory tower as you tuck into a princely feast of eggs and bacon, toast and jam, croissants and pain au chocolat finished with fruit and yoghurt to aid digestion, can fill you with a sense of self satisfaction, the effect of which borders on arrogance. Views down on to Blackfriars Bridge from Crowne Plaza are a treat, and the advantages to this location don’t end there. Being located directly opposite the tube station is another bonus, and a short walk over the bridge and along, is the South Bank Centre with it’s assortment of restaurants and cultural destinations including the British Film Institute’s National Film Theatre. Further downriver is Tower Bridge, a national heritage landmark that no trip to London would be complete without visiting.
This particular morning however, we got off to a decidedly lazy start and headed back at lunchtime to Knightsbridge for more feasting, courtesy of Daniel Boulud, a globally acclaimed chef and restaurateur with an extensive list of restaurants under his name in The US, London, Singapore, Beijing and Toronto. As Daniel’s reputation had understandably preceded him, I was particularly excited to be dining at Bar Boulud, which takes up a large swathe of floor space at the grand Mandarin Oriental hotel, directly beside Hyde Park. Throughout his illustrious career, this auteur has amassed a long list of awards, and I had yet to speak to anybody in London who has reported anything less than a brilliant experience from dining at Bar Boulud.
You know you’re in good hands when it’s almost impossible to choose from a menu that reads so well it frustrates you to have to omit certain dishes. After much deliberating I chose to commence with the Duo De Crabe, while Canada plumped for Tiger Prawns. The charming and knowledgeable sommelier recommended a peculiarly interesting wine from an Oregon vintner that is a blend of nine varietals. On the surface this seemed a ridiculous prospect but after a quick swirl and sniff, I was taken in. One sip later and that was decided. It was an excellent complement to the varied flavours presented in the crab dish.
Soft shell, battered and fried to perfection afforded that sinful sensation of crunch that turns to a melt-in-the-mouth, with a suggestion of the sea coming through in the pressed crab meat. Orchard jelly had the concentrated flavour of real apples creating a piquancy that lifted the whole dish and made the wine flavours bounce with sharpness and acidity. The addition of celeriac remoulade provided a creaminess that created an interesting mix, although I was left wondering if it was entirely necessary. Lexington’s prawns were a feisty fresh flavour bomb, cooked to perfection and redolent of garlic. By now our table must have smelt like a seaside bistro in Marseilles, and all the better for it.
For the main course I chose Sole Forestiere. The flesh of Dover Sole is incredibly tender and has a fantastic flavour all of it’s own, whilst also serving as an excellent vehicle to many other flavours. This particular creation incorporates bone marrow, ceps, braised red cabbage and peppercorn jus.
It was a truly brilliant dish and even as I write this some weeks later I can still recount the aromas, flavours and textures. The fish was either pan fried or oven roasted and most importantly as with cooking any fish, it was neither underdone, nor overdone. Kataifi crust covered the fish, and the balance of sea to earth flavours between the fish and fungi alongside the rich earthy redness of the cabbage and tender pearls of marrow, was judged to perfection. The sommelier had recommended a Pinot Noir which again was an impeccably well judged pairing, as the flavours also worked alongside Alexandra’s Duo De Boeuf: beef tenderloin and braised featherblade, each cut as succulent as the other and again demonstrating characteristically rustic and unfussy preparation. This is high end bistro fare, prepared the with knowledge and finesse you would expect from a chef of Daniel Boulud’s calibre.
I almost wish there was something bad I could say about the whole experience, to knock them down a peg or two somehow, but in all fairness, the experience was right up there, and Alice heartily concurred.