A lively buzz of gastronomic excitement was almost palpable as we entered Bar Boulud. Apologetically, we confessed that this was our first visit to Daniel Boulud’s first UK restaurant which opened in May 2010. By the end of the afternoon, we realised how much we had been missing!
Located on ground floor of the Mandarin Oriental, Bar Boulud is much more than its name and understated entrance off Knightsbridge would suggest. The zinc topped curved bar and the glass wall of wine are indeed impressive, giving lovers of Burgundy and Rhone Valley vintages particular pleasure, although the 400 selection of wines features many other Old and New world selections. Beer drinkers are not ignored, with an extensive range of rare draft and bottled beers from artisanal continental microbreweries on offer.
However, all this serves to complement a thriving brasserie of two connecting rooms with seating for 169 guests. There are also two private dining rooms seating 20 each. Adam D Tihany, whose international CV includes his stunning creations at Dinner (also at the Mandarin), and Apsley’s at the Lanesborough, has transformed this previously underused yet spacious part of the grand hotel into a tasteful, comfortable venue. The low, modern vaulted ceiling, vintage oak floors and wainscoting, red leather banquettes and chairs, all contribute to a design inspired by the wines of Burgundy. Contemporary twisted pendants and cleverly positioned spotlighting provide ample illumination, whilst the walls are decorated with prints of celebrated brasseries and bistros in Lyons and framed wine stained napkins from Daniel Boulud’s favourite vintages. The far dining room also features a sleek, French tiled open kitchen with a long glass display and bar where seated guests can view the preparation of charcuterie, the restaurant’s speciality.
Yet location, space and design would count for little if the service and food were not up to scratch. This is where Bar Boulud really shines and explains why the restaurant attracts a staggering 14,000 guests a month, 80% of whom are regulars. Moreover, the restaurant never turns away those who have not booked, space being found, if needed, on the high tables near the bar.
From the initial welcome at reception to the final farewell on departure, the service on our visit, overseen by the charming and engaging Senior Maitre’D Paulo de Tarso, was flawlessly professional, yet relaxed and friendly. Nor did it show signs of flagging in the busy lunchtime service. Simon, who served us, was knowledgeable, eager to please, and efficient without being obtrusive.
A brigade of up to 20 chefs is responsible for an extensive all day bistro menu based on seasonal, rustic French cooking but which also features US style steaks, burgers, pizzas and seafood. A Bar Snack and Prix Fixe Menu are also available. Thus, a real embarrassment of choice faces diners at Bar Boulud.
However, the superb charcuterie is not to be missed. This are produced on site, under the direction of acclaimed Gilles Verot whom we were lucky enough to meet on our visit. This third generation charcutier, originally from the Loire Valley, spoke enthusiastically about the two renowned boutiques in Paris he runs with his wife, and how he has supplied Daniel Boulud’s New York restaurants before coming to London.
Employing classic artisanal, hands on methods, and sourcing highest quality pork from heritage farms, the pates and terrines of Gilles Verot are second to none. We sampled a magnificent tasting platter replete with all the varieties on the menu. Smooth Pate Grand-Mere, with chicken liver, pork and cognac, contrasted with the coarser Pate Grand-Pere, enriched with foie gras, truffle juice and port. A flavoursome, jellied terrine, Lapin de Garrigue, featured pulled braised rabbit, carrot, courgette and tarragon which gave a mild aniseed lift. Smoked duck terrine with red wine was equally accomplished in taste and mosaic like composition. A luxurious seasonal terrine of veal, pork and duck was studded with pistachio for extra texture and flavour, and encased in a sweet brioche crust. Similarly, a foie gras terrine saw a rich torchon with apriciot encased in a hazelnut crust. Best of all was the Fromage de Tete, densely packed cubes of moist, succulent pig’s head cheese terrine. This was the dish for which Gilles was awarded Champion de France du Fromage de Téte in 1997.
The platter also included salamis and three hams. The nuttiness of aged Iberico, whose rich creamy fat simply melted in the mouth, was an indulgent taste sensation. Bayonne ham was slightly sweeter, and more delicately flavoured, with a chewy texture and little salt to the taste. Delicious home cooked Jambon de Paris, I have it on good authority, is massaged by hand to tenderise the meat and work out the excess moisture!
To cut the richness of the porcine feast, a tray of accompaniments included grain and smooth mustard, cornichons and pearl onions. Beetroot and carrots were gently sweet pickled, but best of all was an accomplished celeriac remoulade which struck the right balance of slight acidity and mustardy creaminess.
A well executed Coq au vin could be seen as the acid test of classic rustic French cookery, and in this respect Bar Boulud did not disappoint. The use of free range boiling fowl, slowly cooked and using the sweeter thigh and leg joints, produced an unctuous, meltingly textured dish. Crisp lardons, pearl onions and Bluefoot mushrooms, added in the final stages of cooking to retain their individual flavours and textures, complemented the deep flavour of the red wine sauce which bought the dish together.
A special main course of roasted suckling pig was generously portioned in thick slices. The farce included celeriac, apple and onions which helped to cut the richness of the pork. A light but intense jus added more flavour. What a pity, then, that the delicate skin of the baby pig was not crisp – my only (minor) gripe in the whole meal.
Fragrant truffled mash, creamed spinach and pommes Lyonnaise proved ideal accompaniments for both main courses
For dessert we sampled two of the lightest options. Refreshing lime and kalamanzi and mango-coconut sorbets were smooth and intensely flavoured. The best-selling Coupe peppermint featured layers of flourless sponge, mint chocolate ice cream and hot chocolate sauce – a rich marriage of tastes and temperatures.
The meal was completed with good coffee, warm madeleines and home made chocolates.
Overall, our visit ticked all the boxes for a memorable meal in comfortable, relaxed surroundings. Given the wide range of dishes on offer, future visits are essential to sample the seafood, including queen scallop ceviche and razor clams; warm specialities such as crepinette ris de veau; and the variety of sausages and steaks. Perhaps more importantly, there is a need to try the NY grilled beef burgers – the Yankee, BB, Piggie and Frenchie – which were received with acclaim when Bar Boulud first opened and which are still hugely popular. We can’t wait to return!