2010 was a very fruitful year for both sides of the Roux family. For Alain and Michel Roux Senior the celebrations to mark the Waterside’s 25 years of three Michelin stars marked the climax of their achievement. Meanwhile, Albert Roux expanded his Scottish interest at the Inver Lodge Hotel above Lochinver, and the prestigious Greywalls East Lothian Hotel.
For Michel Roux Junior, the pace was more hectic: apart from overseeing operations at Le Gavroche, giving brilliant guidance and critiques in Masterchef the Professionals, and filming his series on Service, he found the time and energy to launch Roux at Parliament Square in the autumn. Then, near the end of the year, and in collaboration with his father, he opened Roux at the Landau. Housed in The Langham, one of London’s original grand hotels, the restaurant has the potential to succeed at the highest level. Not that this is immediately apparent given the hotel’s unattractive exterior, reminiscent of a railway terminus hotel.
However, the dull facade belies the glamour of the bright, palatial interior. Diners are advised to enter by the main entrance, where they can experience the grandeur of the lobby and glimpse into the stylish Artesian Bar, both of which are missed if using the side entrance. Either way, it is easy to walk by the “reception”, which, strangely enough, is a recess in a narrow corridor – confusing for first time visitors. Having finally been greeted, guests are led to their table through an impressive vaulted glass fronted wine corridor, displaying the finest of rare vintages.
The restaurant itself – originally the hotel’s ballroom – has been restructured to produce a lower ceiling and a symmetrical capsule shaped dining room. It is dominated by a magnificent bow window giving views of All Souls Church and Broadcasting House. The sumptuous décor is unmistakably David Collins, whose wood paneling, antique brass chandeliers, comfortable banquette seating and generous sized tables harmonise well with the spacious dimensions of the room.
No expense has been spared to produce a feeling of luxurious elegance. Table settings include Riedel glassware decorated in the restaurant’s twin horse motif, and Bernardaud porcelain designed by Vera Wang. Napery shows great attention to detail, being “oversized with buttonholes for men and black for ladies in little black dresses.”
All this forms the backdrop to the cooking of Chef de Cuisine Chris King, the latest protégé from the kitchens of Le Gavroche. With stints also at Per Se in New York and Roux at Parliament Square, he combines the best of his lofty experience with his own interpretation to produce a menu of contemporary European dishes, attractively presented and using first rate British seasonal produce whenever possible. Quirky combinations are avoided, whilst the imaginative use of underrated ingredients such as chicken oysters, razor clams, hake, kale and Swiss chard is clearly evident. Inventive variety is successfully used in cooking techniques and the composition of dishes: organic Salmon is citrus cured; Acquerello rice is used in a cep risotto; pumpkin, pear and gingerbread accompany seared foie gras; shitake mushrooms are matched with heirloom carrots in a vegetable terrine; and truffle is used to perfume a hollandaise garnishing a grilled steak
The ambitious carte of nine starters, nine mains and seven desserts reflects Chris King’s passion for his craft. This embarrassment of choice – which can be solved by opting for the seven course tasting menu – provides dishes to suit most tastes. Starters such as oysters or foie gras and mains of Dover sole meuniere or grilled rib eye steak will please more conservative diners. For the more adventurous, lobster roll with pickled vegetables or Salt-cod brandade with crisp squid to begin, followed by poached hake with razor clams and Serrano ham or a vegetarian dish of Swiss chard pierogi with buttered chestnuts and sour cherries should prove highly satisfying.
Fine Dining Guide visited Roux at the Landau on a Monday evening in January and found much to admire in the selection of dishes sampled.
At a time when many top end restaurants opt to serve an amuse bouche instead of canapés, the appearance of a tray of these bite sized morsels was a welcome change from the ubiquitous root vegetable veloute. All three canapés showed exemplary attention to detail and timing, the soft boiled quail’s egg with celeriac remoulade and the crisp pastilla roll filled with chorizo being particularly memorable.
A starter of free range hen’s egg, soft boiled, bread crumbed and deep fried was perfectly timed to produce a rich, runny yolk. The accompanying sauted chicken oysters and a wafer thin crisp of chicken skin made creative use of neglected yet flavoursome parts of the bird. The addition of endive, shallots and hazelnuts added more savoury notes and crunch to make this a perfectly balanced dish. (Wine: Moliun-a Vent, Bojalun, France, Henry Ferry 2009)
Seared Orkney scallops had a caramelized crust and succulent flesh which showed precision in their cooking. A puree of Jerusalem artichoke proved a suitable partner and a welcome change from its clichéd cauliflower equivalent. However, the truffle shavings and split truffle dressing which liberally dressed the dish proved excessive, almost overwhelming the delicate taste of the seafood. (Wine: Pinot Bianco, Leon Bayer, Alsace, France 2009)
A terrine of heirloom carrots and shitake mushrooms was stunning in its visual and taste composition, its inherent sweetness being offset by a gently acidic and spicy carrot juice and ginger dressing
Main courses offered well rendered meat and fish dishes.
Roast rack of Romney Marsh lamb, cooked pink, was moist and deeply flavoured, with an intense jus. This dish was enriched with a persillade sauce instead of the usual garlic and herb crust, and given an additional earthy quality with the addition of artichoke hearts and ceps. (Wine: Layton Spring Paul Craper, Ridge Vinyards, Sanama County USA, 2007)
Of the fish main courses, hake was the most adventurous. Not only was it good to see this underused fish on an English – rather than Spanish – menu, but also its presentation, resembling a coastal rock pool, was stunning. The fish, rolled as a cylinder, was gently poached and garnished with razor clams, and Serrano ham. A gentle lemon butter sauce brought the elements together in a first class composite dish.
Grilled Castle of Mey rib eye steak with pommes Sarladaise and truffle hollandaise was a safer main course, but nevertheless well executed. (Wine: Chateau Pavel du Lug, Margaux, Bordeaux, 2005.)
Desserts revealed matching strengths that did justice to the starters and mains.
Making good puff pastry is the acid test for any patissier and here the kitchen passed with flying colours with an excellent millefeuille. Delicately crisp layers sandwiched a rich aged Calvados bavarois in what seemed to be a playful mock version of an ice cream wafer. Crowning this were quenelles of caramelized apple, the whole plate being streaked with a not too sweet caramel sauce. This was a delicious, memorable dessert in its balance of tastes, textures and temperatures.
Another imaginative creation was the Pear William and walnut soufflé. It was well risen, lightly textured with an element of crunch, and topped with poached pear. The bitter chocolate sorbet was intense in flavour and velvety smooth, proving an excellent foil for the sweet, gently alcoholic soufflé,
Others aspects of the meal – a choice of three breads, coffee and petit fours, and the sommelier choice of wines – were all first rate. Service was friendly, helpful and knowledgeable without being obtrusive. The distinguished green livery of the waiting staff reflects the near military precision of the service. This professional formality, so rarely seen nowadays except in the most distinguished of restaurants, is overseen by restaurant manager Franco Becci, whose extensive experience at Brown’s Hotel and the Savoy Grill has made him a master of the classical tradition of service.
Overall, a meal at the Landau is a highly memorable experience. Chris King has already justified Michel’s Roux’s description of him as “a rising star” and he clearly has a great career ahead of him. To be given charge of a prestigious London restaurant of 90 covers (with an extra 18 in the Postillion private dining room) is a testament to the enormous confidence his Roux mentors have in him. Not that Chris is content to remain in the shadow of Le Gavroche: whilst emulating its deserved reputation for luxury and excellence in cooking and service, he has offered his own take on classical European cuisine that will definitely appeal to discerning diners. Although it is too late to gain recognition in the 2011 guides, his impact will definitely be felt next year.