The opening of Roux at Parliament Square has finally given Westminster – for so long a gastronomic wasteland – a restaurant of which it can be proud. Located in Great George Street opposite the Treasury, it is housed in a Grade II listed building, home of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors
MPs, ministers and mandarins, many of whom have grown up on public school stodge, can now enjoy the delights of fine dining on their doorstep. Not that the general public are excluded, but they must prepare for the formality, luxury, tradition and quality that are the hallmarks of the Roux brand.
Entering under a Doric columned portico, through plate glass doors, one can defer entry into the restaurant by ascending the elegant staircase to the spacious bar which occupies most of the first floor.
The décor and furnishings, whilst not cutting edge designer chic- and more the better for it – are in perfect harmony with high ceilinged, sash windowed Georgian building. In the bar, Aubergine is the dominant colour of the floral motif carpet, chairs, and tasseled lampshades.
All this gives a certain gravitas, reminiscent of a gentleman’s club, but without the stuffiness. Downstairs, in the two dining rooms, the same aubergine and beige colours predominate, with the floral motif of the grey carpet repeated on the white painted wall. Again, banquettes offer luxurious alternative seating. Tables are well spaced and lit with spotlights – a concession to modern design.
Head Chef Toby Stuart’s cooking, whilst based on the classical techniques, adopts a contemporary interpretation and presentation; the aim is definitely not to emulate the gandeur of Le Gavroche cuisine. Nevertheless, retrained sophistication is much in evidence. Smears, foams, purees and jellies appear on artistically arranged plates, but never to excess, and are always intended to enhance the main component. Flavour combinations of seemingly incompatible ingredients such as apple and tarragon or black beans and lemon, actually work. The sourcing of top quality seasonal ingredients – often British – is impeccable. These are deftly employed in the carte of six each of starters, mains and desserts which amply display a wide range of high level skills.
On the day of Fine-Dining-Guide’s visit, a glass of Albert Roux rose champagne and well made canapés of salmon rillettes and crispy ham hock croquettes were enjoyed in the bar before descending to the dining room for a three course lunch from the Carte.
To start, a pumpkin veloute lacked the intensity and depth of flavour diners have come to expect from this near ubiquitous amuse bouche. This was the only blemish in an otherwise excellent meal
A generous tranche of seared foie gras had all the rich, melting qualities of this delectable piece of offal. Topped with a anise crumble which added texture and spice, it was garnished with Brogdale apple and tarragon leaves which gave a balancing acidity and enhanced anise element.
(Wine: Muscat de Rivesaltes, JM Lafage, Languedoc-Roussillon, 2007)
An alternative starter comprised a trio of plump langoustines, perfectly poached in butter to retain their sweet succulence. With summer truffle, sweet corn and lamb lettuce accompaniments, this combination came shrouded in an ethereal seafood foam which lifted the whole dish
(Wine: Pernand Vergelesses, Domaine Remi Rollin, Burgundy, 2007)
Another starter, presented as an intermediate course, proved to be a star dish. How pleasing to see cod cheeks, often used on the continent but neglected here, cooked in a cassoulet with chorizo, black beans, lemon and parsley. The chorizo did not overwhelm the fish, but added a spiced richness, showing real skill in balancing flavours.
(Wine: Albert Roux Blanc de Blancs (Lenoble) N/V)
For the main course, Squab pigeon came in two forms: roasted breast and a croquette of shredded confit leg. The Middle Eastern influence was shown in the carefully judged Ras el Hanout spicing and Medjool dates which enriched the dish. Muscade de Provence squash added colour and, whilst oven dried cauliflower discs gave texture and a muted flavour.
(Wine: St Joseph, Andre Perret, Northern Rhone, 2007)
The other main course sampled was a Rose Veal fillet, cooked pink with its caramelized sweetbread – crisp on the outside, creamy within. This was a master class is sensitive handling of top quality ingredients to maximize their flavour. The same is also true of the cooking of an attractive bouquet of summer vegetables which retained their crisp textures and inherent sweetness. Whilst the pomme mousseline was so gently smoked as to be hardly noticeable, this did not detract from the overall success of this luxurious dish.
(Wine: Chateaux La Crois des Moines, Lalande de Pomerol Bordeaux, 2006.)
For dessert, White Peach souffle was well risen and perfectly textured. It exhibited a depth of flavour one might not have thought possible from this bland, delicately scented fruit. With the addition of amaretti, lemon verbena and prosecco ice cream, this proved a rich but light finale to a memorable meal.
(Wine: Muscat de Rivesaltes, JM Lafage, Languedoc- Roussillon, 2007)
Other aspects of the meal such as good bread, coffee and petits fours, showed the same care in preparation and presentation. The assistant sommelier carefully matched a selection of wines to match our separate choices of starters and mains. The wine list itself is international, but strong on Bordeaux and Burgundy, as one might expect. Overseeing the front of house with friendly charm was Restaurant Manager Johan Brouckaert, ex food and beverage manager at Cliveden. In the great Roux tradition, service was professionally formal but conducted with seemingly effortless ease. In reality, however, it is the result of scrupulous attention to detail and strong leadership.
Roux at Parliament Square is not a restaurant for those looking for a lively night out – although people of all ages would appreciate the food. The elements of refinement and formality – although the dress code is not as strict as Le Gavroche – combined with a more conservative décor might not appeal to all age groups. Rather its attraction to a political, professional and media clientele – even in an age of austerity – along with discerning foodies, is unquestionable. The whole operation exudes class, with food certainly of Michelin star standard. We await future publications as confirmation of this verdict.