Last week I had the pleasure of hanging out at the recently opened Bar Boulud in London with a select band of London food and lifestyle bloggers at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. On our table were social-media supermum, Eva from Nixdminx, boutique hotel guru, Anthony from Mr & Mrs Smith and food bloggers Miss Gourmet-chick, Miss Londonelicious and Mr Laissezfare. Don’t think I’m being rude in not mentioning their names – food bloggers are a shy bunch and prefer to go unrecognised in the restaurants of London. Apparently all the top restaurants these days keep a rogue’s gallery of restaurant critics and now food bloggers are being added to the hall of fame – hence the need to remain incognito. Now, if I was recognised from my carefully edited blog photos, I’d be thrilled to bits that someone was actually reading my stuff.
The evening didn’t get off to the best start when a delayed train from Bristol to London made me annoyingly (or was it fashionably?) late. The taxi ride from the station, through Hyde park on a warm July evening, soothed my spirits a little and when I arrived the other bloggings were sipping their way through a wine tasting with plates of charcuterie. Soon I was sniffing and sipping with the best of them.
Those of you who reside on the far side of the pond will no doubt have heard all about big name chef, Daniel Boulud, with his flagship 3 Michelin star restaurant Daniel and his stable of other restaurants including Bar Boulud New York. But to us Brits he’s a bit of an unknown quantity – that’s to say he doesn’t yet have a TV show over here or appear on UK supermarket ads – although all the food bloggers had heard of him of course. The charmant Monsieur Boulud grew up near Lyon in France but he’s established his reputation on the New York food scene with his sophisticated interpretation of French regional cuisine. The opening of this first outpost of the Boulud empire in London at the Mandarin Oriental had by all accounts set the London food scene a twitter and there seemed to have been hardly a London food critic or food blogger that hadn’t paid a visit in the first month of opening. We were looking forward to seeing what all the fuss was about.
If you didn’t guess that Bar Boulud is serious about its wines, you’d get a big clue as you enter, from the glass wall of wine bottles and the sweep of zinc covered bar. They even ship in jeroboams of Bollinger special cuvee champagne and magnums of fine vintage Chablis, Sancerre and Chateuneuf du Pape for guests to buy by the glass, so make sure you check what’s open when you visit. The wine list focuses on wines from the Burgundy and Rhone region of France with a nod to their cousins made elsewhere in the world and some “decouvertes” of good value wines from smaller producers. They’ve certainly found the man for the job in the Head Sommelier David Vareille, who grew up the wine-growing Chablis region of Burgundy and has been running his own wine cellar since the age of 14. He’d put together a great selection of wines for us to try with our meal, from the house white Vermentino to the soft-cherry Irancy Burgundy – they were all slipping down very nicely. Now I can’t pretend to be a wine coinnesseur, being more from the ‘I know what I like’ school of wine tasting, but I was impressed with the knowledge and passion that had gone into selecting these wines.
Our group was seated in the main restaurant area adjoining the bar and around the corner you’ll find a second dining room with an open kitchen to provide entertainment, should the conversation flag. You can even get front seat view if you chose to eat at the counter and watch the charcuterie being prepared. The restaurant décor is by Adam Tihany who also designed the hotel’s Mandarin Bar and the soon to be opened Heston Blumenthal restaurant upstairs. His style might be described as sophisticated, metropolitan-luxe, and in the Bar Boulud design there’s a wine cellar theme going on, although it’s so understated that if I hadn’t told you might not have registered the chandeliers in the shape of a wine cask, the oak tables and floors and the leather seating just the shade of a fine red burgundy. On the walls are black and white photographs of Daniel Boulud’s favourite brasseries in Lyon but we agreed that the framed wine stains, looking a little like splashes of blood were more of a talking point than something you’d want to gaze at over lunch. The overall effect is an elegant and relaxed reinterpretation of the French bistro theme, with not a red checked table cloth or Gaulloise stub in sight, although I noticed some lacy curtains at one of the entrances.
We started with the a shared platter of charcuterie from Gilles Verot for which Bar Boulud is well known; there was pâté grand-mère with chicken-liver and cognac, grand-père with fois-gras and truffles and no doubt some of their grandchildren too, with pickled vegetables, and toasted sourdough bread. Then came a succession of sausages-around-the-world with Thai spices and green papaya salad, white truffled boudin blanc with mash and pork and beaujolais with pommes lyonnaise. As if to emphasise the point that this place glories in its meat dishes we moved on to the the burgers for which Bar Boulud is fast becoming renowned. You can choose from the Piggie, Yankee or Frenchie burger, all with slightly different trimmings, finely cut crispy fries and chopped steak burgers cooked to succulant perfection. They’re as far from fast food fare as a ripe Brie de Meaux is from a foil wrapped cheesy triangle – make no mistake these are gourmet burgers!
If all this meat is making you feel faint and you want to lighten up a little you might try the Chop Chop salad with eastern inspiration in a mixture of crisp romaine, chunks of water-melon, cashew nuts and a good soaking of ginger-soy dressing. If you’re feeling flush you can have some lobster on top for an extra £15, but without it’s £6.50 and makes as welcome change from the ubiquitous rocket. With my weakness for all things sweet, I couldn’t pass on the puds. Of the selection we tried my favourites werethe Pavlova with a light-as-a-cloud wedge of meringue sitting in a pool of custard and strawberries, and the Chocolat-Framboise gateau of dark chocolate layered with sacher biscuit and raspberry sorbet in a classic choco-berry combination. I’ve never been a great fan of mint (unless it’s garnishing a jug of Pimms on a hot summers day) and my least favourite was the Coupe Peppermint which was more Xtra strong mint than After Eight. With our desert we tried a delicious chilled sweet cider (although it was more like a wine) from Québec, made with 29 different types of apples – that the sommelier described as “Tarte Tatin in a glass”.
Eating out with bloggers so knowledgeable about food and wine was an education for me as the names of top chefs (Bruno and Heston), wine-makers (Michel and Robert) and restaurant critics (Jay and Marina) flew around the table – my dear, don’t say you’ve never heard of them! These bon viveurs are well-travelled folk too and we heard all about Miss Londonelicious haggling skills in the Syrian Souks (she’s a hard-nosed New Yorker), Miss Gourmetchick’s nights out in Beirut and Miss Nixdmix adults only weekend at Butlins where she was the only sad person with a lap-top – what glamourous lives we lead.
Surveying the packed dining room, it was difficult to pin down a specific kind of clientele at Bar Boulud. At the next table were a couple of stylish metro-chicks, groups of well heeled Knightsbridge locals, sleek suited businessmen at the bar and tucked in a corner was the Grande Dame of politics, Mrs Thatcher herself. Was she keeping company with a Yankee or a Frenchie you ask? I couldn’t possibly say, dear hearts – didn’t your mother tell you it’s rude to stare? Rumour had it that Jon Bon Jovi was also in the house but I can’t vouch for that. This is the kind of place that has a broad appeal, and there’s an element of comfort food reinvented in a pretty, stylish way as epitomised by the asperge et oeuf poché that looked like a grown-up boiled egg and soldiers your mum used to make you. This isn’t so much the place for a big ticket celebration meal, as a place where you can enjoy a glass of champagne at the bar, a lunchtime piggy burger or an evening meet-up with friends to share a plate of charcuterie. Bar Boulud is definitely a place to keep coming back to.
I should let you know that as I was a guest of Bar Boulud I wasn’t spending my own cash, but on surveying the menu I thought that the prices are moderate, considering the Knightsbridge location, the buzzy atmosphere, tip top service and quality of food. Charcuterie board £14 small £28 large, Sausage dishes £8-11, Burgers £13.50, Meat dishes £17-22, sides £3.50, Desserts £6-8. I hear there’s a well-priced lunchtime and early evening menu too. Check out the menus and wine list on the Bar Boulud London website and for more reservations contact the Mandarin Oriental, Hyde Park, London.
If you’ve been to either the New York or London Bar Boulud, do let me know what you thought.
What the other bloggers said
Miss Gourmet chick’s review of Bar Boulud
Londonelicious review of Bar Boulud
Laissez Fare review of Bar Boulud
Nixdminx review of Bar Boulud
Mr & Mrs Smith’s review of Bar Boulud
My review of Bar Boulud for Kiwi Collection
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