In recent years the north-east quadrant of Mayfair has seen the proliferation of fine dining restaurants, with Sketch, Hibiscus and Wild Honey joining The Square and Umu in gaining Michelin starred recognition. Given competition as strong as this, it is a brave chef indeed who dares to enter the fray. Yet this is what Alyn Williams has done with his eponymous restaurant at the Westbury Hotel; and, given a recent visit by Fine Dining Guide in its second week of opening, the signs are most promising.
What used to be the Artisan restaurant has, thankfully, been transformed out of all recognition into a stylish, contemporary dining room. Alex Kravet’s design features handsome rosewood panelling, attractive bespoke lighting and richly tufted grey carpet – complete with glitter which adds an opulent feel. Well spaced tables and light cream velvet backed chairs and banquettes accommodate up to 45 diners, plus the spectacular glass walled Wine Room – complete with 600 bottles – adding eight more places, with another 18 in the adjacent private dining room.
This is a fine setting for the cuisine of Alyn Williams, whose impeccable CV includes – most recently – four years as Head chef at Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley, as well as experience at Gordon Ramsay’s restaurants in Royal Hospital Road, Claridges and the original Petrus in St James’ Street. However, whilst his skills were honed in some of the finest Michelin starred kitchens in London, he has not embraced the style of his mentors, developing instead his own brand of innovative, modern European cooking. His dishes, using top quality, well sourced seasonal and mainly British ingredients are strong on technique, clear on flavour, harmonious in combination and artistic in presentation. Nor is his cooking without humour, wit and surprise. Menu descriptions list the main components of each dish but totally understate the complexity of cooking methods and the beauty of presentation.
High quality canapés were impressive in themselves and augured well for the meal to come: dainty gougeres had crisp choux pastry, strongly flavoured with Fourme d’Ambert; risotto balls were gently perfumed with truffle; delicate prawn crackers were filled with prawn and tom yum mayonnaise; and beignets of rich sea bass belly – so often discarded by lesser chefs – were accompanied a smooth taramasalata of its roe.
Next came two delightful amuse–bouches served in cocktail glasses. A layered dish of white crab meat, beef cheek and onion consommé had beautifully clear flavours, whilst creamy cauliflower panna cotta was dressed with acorn shavings and given contrasting texture with shredded fried leaves and filo wafers filled with cream cheese.
A first course of “sand carrot / liquorice / foie gras” surprised the diner in both taste and texture. The semi freddo mousse, moulded into torchon shapes, was more subtle in taste, less rich and fatty than classic foie gras dishes. Pickled sand carrot gave a sweet and sour dimension whilst the liquorice based dressing added a background herbal note which complimented the other elements well.
Seared Orkney scallop was perfectly timed to retain its succulence and sweetness. It was balanced by a Mersea oyster, less salty that other varieties, and topped with Aquitaine caviar. Sea purslane and a refreshing cucumber jus, poured at the table, finished this composition of different tastes, temperatures and textures.
Sauteed veal sweetbreads, marinated in sherry had a creamy moistness which obviated the need for a sauce. Artichoke puree and braised celery and button mushrooms added earthy notes and textural complexity to balance the luxuriously rich offal
Hake in seaweed butter made good use of this underrated and underused fish. Its robust flavour and firm texture stood up well to the imaginatively chosen whelk, sea vegetable and autumn truffle accompaniments.
Sous vide smoked duck egg provided the flavoursome dipping sauce for toasted “soldiers” sandwiched with fragrant autumn trnffle. Celeriac remoulade and Jangold apple discs added a different crunch and gentle acidity which this rich dish needed.
Cotswold white chicken – perhaps the English equivalent of Poulet de Bresse? – came in three forms: a lightly battered nugget of its breast; a rich confit of its leg and a beautifully clear, intense consommé. Onion ravioli and celery root provided more robust elements to this highly satisfying dish.
Even more accomplished was the next composite dish. Herdwick lamb fillet, pink and tender, was given added richness by a bacon of its belly. A delicate parmesan custard, spinach and fennel provided more savoury notes to balance the sweetness of the lamb, whilst the whole dish was brought together by a deeply flavoured jus.
Desserts showed same creativity and attention to detail as the other courses, together with a certain nostalgic playfulness.
A pre dessert of crème Catalan and pear granite excited the palate with its clean flavours and differing textures.
“Walnut whip” featured a feather light mousse, rich velvety ice cream, and a candied nut topped with gold leaf.
A terrine of layered caramelised apples came with an “afternoon tea” of mini scone and clotted cream, and a brilliantly conceived sorbet of blackberry and apple “mivvi”
Other aspects of the meal were also first rate.
Well made breads comprised firmly textured stout and star anise, light potato sour dough; and crisp Persian lavash.. These came with unusual but delicious whipped caraway seed butter. Good coffee came with indulgent chocolate and coffee truffles.
Head Sommelier Alex Gilbert paired food and wine with consummate ease whilst Giancarlo Princigalli managed the knowledgeable, unobtrusive service with professional skill and charm.
Prices at the time of writing provide a clear incentive to dine at the Westbury. Three lunchtime courses are competitively priced at £26. The carte, with five options in each course comes at £45, modest by West End standards and at this level of cooking. However, an even better deal comes with the seven course tasting menu, a real bargain at £55.
Clearly Alyn Williams at the Westbury has made an impressive start to what is likely to be a successful future. Here is a highly experienced, creative chef near the top of his game, but still with an energy and creativity to produce refined, innovative dishes. There is no reason, therefore, why he should not emulate his distinguished neighbours in achieving the Michelin starred status he deserves.