Located on the top floor of No 1 Poultry, in the heart of the square mile, Coq d’ Argent is ideally placed at attract lunch and dinner trade from the City’s financial and commercial workforce. However, it is much more than a corporate restaurant, attracting a wide range of discerning customers since it opened in 1998. The evenings, in particular, show a more relaxed, informal atmosphere with an exciting buzz.
Accessed by private glass lift, which itself generates a special sense of anticipation, the rooftop terrace, brasserie and restaurant do not disappoint with their stunning views, sense of space and contemporary design. Architect James Stirling’s use of red Portland stone provides a fitting backdrop to the exquisite roof garden designed by Arabella Lennox-Boyd. Drinks can be enjoyed on the outside tables whilst absorbing the skyline panorama which includes the Bank of England, St Paul’s, the Monument and the Gerkin.
The restaurant itself features a huge floor to ceiling window facing the canopied, lamp heated terrace for al fresco eating. Inside the large dining room, green leather bucket chairs and soft banquettes provide comfortable seating. Square tables, rather closely spaced, align the sides, whilst round ones accommodate larger groups. Fine napery and glittering place settings anticipate a serious dining experience.
Head Chef Mickael Weiss (above) has produced a menu that reflects his extensive experience in England and his native France. This includes working in Relais & Chateaux hotels in France and head chef positions at Kartouche, Chapter One and the Bleeding Heart restaurants in London. Knowledge of City dining habits may have taught him the virtues of adhering to a largely classical repertoire for a largely conservative clientele.
Combinations of high quality ingredients are generally safe, with dishes being well executed. There is harmony in the balance of flavours and textures. A tendency to eschew the excesses of fine dining is shown in the absence of amuses bouches and pre-desserts. Those seeking cutting-edge cuisine must look elsewhere.
Ample choice on the carte is provided by 11 starters including a plateau de fruits de mer and Colchester oysters. Two vegetarian dishes supplement seven meat and three fish main courses. There are eight desserts and one cheese option.
To celebrate ten years in his current position, there is a six course tasting menu, with two alternatives in each course
Amongst the starters, snails in garlic butter, crevettes mayonnaise and smoked salmon were familiar, popular classic dishes. For those who spare no expense, the menu advised “a more extensive selection of caviar is available to pre-order.” Equally decadent but less expensive was the terrine of foie gras, a model of its kind, properly marinated and seasoned with a suitably rich, melting quality. This was offset well by delicately spiced pear chutney and accompanied by excellent toasted brioche.
Another starter of Devon crab salad featured a generous portion of utterly fresh white meat, and made good use of the brown meat in a well seasoned parfait. A puree of avocado and wasabi was well judged so as not to be too strong, although the dish as a whole would have benefitted from a citrus lift.
Mickael’s signature dish, Coq aux morilles, a well flavoured bird braised with onions, smoked bacon, mushrooms and the delectable fungus, has justifiably retained its popularity. Amongst familiar meat courses such as rack of with gratin dauphinois or the rump steak with seasonal vegetables, an assiette of pork offered a more adventurous, but not too innovative alternative. The cooking of the three cuts was finely tuned: the belly had the promised crisp crackling; the braised cheek was unctuously tender; and the fillet was pleasingly juicy. Garnishes of caramelised apple, plum, beetroot and port sauce might suggest a surfeit of sweetness but were remarkably well balanced in their composition and set off the dish nicely.
Skilled fish cookery was well exemplified in a dish of roasted halibut. A generous ultra fresh fillet was precisely timed to produce a golden crust with moist flesh. This robust fish stood up well to its wrapping of smoked streaky bacon and a grenobloise dressing of capers, brown butter and lemon. Saffron potatoes added colour and a perfumed note without being too dominant.
Desserts showed a greater element of flavour experimentation with violet and blackberry parfait, white chocolate and strawberry tart and pear and salted caramel miroir. However, many would opt for the classic tarte tatin for two. This had the correct degree of caramelisation, soft chunks of apple and crisp melting pastry. The crème fraiche accompaniment gave balancing acidity, whilst well made rich vanilla ice cream gave contrasting texture and temperature.
Other aspects of the meal – homemade breads, coffee and petit flours – were very good. Service, led by the Head Waiter, Nino Fernandez, was charming, efficient and knowledgeable. The sommelier expertly chose matching fine wines by the glass for the savoury courses; for instance, the Chablis 1er Cru Monte de Tonnere. Louis Michel 2008, was an inspired choice for both the halibut and pork main courses, albeit at £20 a glass. The award winning wine list, featuring distinguished vintages from Old and New Worlds, is a true connoisseur’s crop. To make some of these more accessible, the D & D group composes a “Love Wine” list for each of its restaurants. At Coq d’ Argent, Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Clavoillon Domaine Leflaive 2007 is a relative bargain at £98.00.
A visit to Coq d’Argent is not cheap, although the set lunch is an opportunity to sample Mickael Weiss’s cooking at more modest prices – £28 for two courses, £32 for three. Overall, the restaurant’s wide ranging menu of classic dishes, carefully rendered but with few frills, has proved to be a winning formula, both for City workers and those coming for a special occasion. Given its central location and rooftop setting, this success is certain to continue.