Located near in the northern end of the fashionable Marylebone village in central London, Orrery continues to attract a broad range of discerning foodies in an area where competition is fierce. Pre dinner drinks can be taken in the brightly coloured bar or, in fine weather, on the stunning rooftop Summer Terrace, which also has four tables for al fresco meals
The 75 cover restaurant on the first floor is long and narrow, with well spaced tables on either side of the central aisle. Large arched windows face the leafy gardens of St Marylebone Church and give plenty of natural light which is emphasised by mirrors on the opposite wall. The barreled ceiling houses an array of spotlights which, mercifully, are not dimmed in the evening. Light wood dividers separate tables along the interior wall, although diners can discretely adjust the swivel panels to peek at their neighbouring table’s food. Blue leather banquettes and chairs with arms offer comfortable seating, whilst the shape of the room keeps noise levels down, even when the room is full.
The clean lines and elegant sophistication of the restaurant’s décor and furnishings form a fitting backdrop to chef Igor’s cuisine. Following a succession of chefs which did little for Orrery’s continuity and consistency, Igor arrived in 2008 with an impeccable CV of experience at Michelin establishments. This included three years as Head Chef at Mirabelle, sous chef at L’Oranger and head chef at Maison Nouvelli. With Marco Pierre White and Jean Christophe Nouvelli amongst his mentors, and drawing on his own classical French training, Igor now leads a team of nine in the Orrery kitchens, developing an extensive, ambitious repertoire.
Orrery is the restaurant that takes its name from a mechanical model of the solar system. It once held a star – a Michelin one – and is aiming to recapture that ultimate stellar accolade. Originally the flagship of the Conran empire, but now part of the D & D restaurant group, its fortunes, as far as the critics and guides are concerned, have fluctuated since 2007.
However, it is now making an impressive comeback under its current Head Chef Igor Tymchyshyn (below left). The use of seasonal, top quality British ingredients, now almost a cliché amongst top end restaurants, is nevertheless taken very seriously here. It helps to account for a constantly evolving menu to take advantage short term market availability. However, ingredients from further afield such as truffles, foie gras and poulet fermier are not ignored, adding diversity andluxury to the menu.
True to his philosophy of giving diners a wide choice and value for money, Igor’s carte of eight starters, ten mains and five desserts showcases his extensive skill and versatility. It offers retro dishes including Escargots Bourguignon, Tournedos Rossini, Turbot Veronique, Tarte Tatin and Rum Baba alongside more contemporary offerings. There is no stinting on luxury ingredients, and portions are large, even on the five course tasting menu. Precision in cooking, creativity, attention to detail and attractive presentation are much in evidence. Menus are at £48 for three courses, or £59 for the tasting menu (with a vegetarian Potager alternative). fine-dining-guide visited on a busy weekday evening.
An amuse bouche of wild garlic veloute prove too hot – we should have been warned – and thin when sipped under the parmesan foam. Certainly, this was not an auspicious start to the meal.
Much better was a starter of foie gras parfait with an exemplary smooth texture. Carefully prepared with proper marinating and seasoning, it came with a scoop of lighter foie gras mousse. The unctuous richness of elements was offset by a gently spiced autumn chutney. Sourdough Poilane toast provided a robust alternative to the brioche accompaniment usually offered in most restaurants. (Wine: Henriot NV Champagne Brut, Riems, France)
The most popular starter on the menu was seared Orkney scallop. A single, giant specimen was perfectly timed to retain its succulence under a browned crust. Jerusalem artichoke puree added a deep earthy note to balance the sweetness of the shellfish, whilst a potato crisp provided a contrasting texture. Finally, a veloute of Perigord truffle, ceremoniously poured at the table, added an ethereal fragance which lifted the whole dish. (Wine: Albarino Rias Baixas,Spain 2008, (Terras Guarda)
An intermediate course of risotto proved to be a tour de force of serious cooking. The rice was cooked in a well flavoured stock to the correct degree of creamy sloppiness. Soft herbs and Parmesan gave added fragrance and richness, whilst Melanosporum black truffle again provided the luxurious, heady ingredient that made the dish magical. (Wine: Pernand Vergelesses, Sylvian Loichet, Burgundy 2008)
Exemplary fish cookery was seen again in a main course of fillet of Cornish sea bass. The delicate, melting flakes of white flesh under a crisply roasted skin allowed the full flavour to shine. A citrus and coriander dressing was well judged so as not to overwhelm the fish. A stuffed courgette flower and fennel puree added more savoury, aniseed notes. (Wine: Seresin, Pinot Noir (Leah), Marlborough NZ 2008)
It is rare to see stuffed pig’s trotter on a menu, so it was a surprising delight to see this tribute to Pierre Koffmann offered. Foodies in search of this exquisite dish phone Orrery in advance to ensure it is still available. The one offered was the largest I have ever seen. Visually stunning, the deboned back trotter resembled a glove of lacquered mahogany with a gelatinous, melting skin. Although the chicken mousse which bound the sweetbread stuffing was perhaps not set enough, it did not detract from the overall effect of this labour intensive dish. Speckled with truffle, dressed with a rich Madeira sauce, and accompanied by a perfectly smooth pomme mousseline, this was an unashamedly rich and decadent main course, (Wine; Tounga Nacional Blend, Symingtons, Altano Duoro Valley, Portugal 2008)
Although we did not have room to sample them, there was an impressive selection of farmhouse cheeses. Desserts were not in the same league as the savoury courses, although a choice of classic and more innovative dishes was offered. An example of the latter was Pannacotta with orange and champagne terrine and fennel essence. All the elements were well executed and worked well together. This was a rich but light dessert.
Unfortunately, passion fruit soufflé had no flavour at all, possibly because the kitchen had forgotten to fold in the fruit pulp? I was told the first one had collapsed, so they had to make another – perhaps in too much of a hurry? The accompanying ice cream was of white, instead of the billed dark, chocolate, and had partly melted – presumably whilst waiting for the second soufflé? This was, no doubt, a rare and forgivable glitch in what otherwise was a good meal.
Service, overseen by Shana Dilworth, was friendly and knowledgeable, with the assistant sommelier giving enthusiastic, well informed and concise commentary on the matching wines. If constructive criticism can be offered, it would be that the service needs to be more consistent throughout the meal, and during the pre-prandial drinks. There were sometimes over long waits, possibly the result of lack of communication amongst the front of house team, and between them and the kitchen. For instance, only a tasting size of risotto was requested, yet a full portion of this delicious course was served, much of which was left to allow room for the courses to follow.
Overall, Igor’s cooking ability is up to the standard of his predecessors, and certainly offers more variety. Given such an extensive menu, the danger might be one of stretching his skill too thinly. Happily, this was not evident in the most of dishes tasted, and others looked equally polished in their execution. He does, however, need to full support of the front of house to do his food full justice.