For my birthday I usually treat myself to a new gadget or some camera equipment but as I didn't need anything this year, I decided to visit a few more restaurants than usual. On my actual birthday I went with a group of friends to Alimentum in Cambridge who treated me to a tasting menu of new dishes. I've written extensively about Alimentum's food before so I won't write a separate post but you can see the photos here
. While everything was excellent, the halibut dish was everybody's favourite.
The next day I took a train down to London to have lunch at Alyn Williams' restaurant at The Westbury
in Mayfair. I had read quite a few reviews both by journalists and fellow food bloggers who were all praising Alyn's cuisine. No wonder, really, as he'd spend the last few years as Marcus Wareing's head chef at the Berkely before he decided to set up his own restaurant at The Westbury so his reputation was already excellent.
The restaurant is set in a windowless but well lit room on the ground floor of The Westbury. The setting with well spaced tables dressed in white is elegant but not overbearing. Service was equally pleasant, friendly, efficient and invisible when not needed.
Considering the setting and area, one would expect a rather pricey menu but this is not the case. The set lunch menu is £24 for three courses, à la carte is £45 for three courses and the seven course (with two options for main) tasting menu only £55. This, considering the level of cooking and location, is a bargain (a service charge of 12.5% is added to the bill). Also, you have the option of replacing dishes from the tasting menu with one from the a la carte in case one isn't to your liking. As I'm unlikely to have the opportunity to go back soon I chose the tasting menu to be able to taste a good variety of Alyn Williams' cuisine. There are also separate à la carte and tasting menus for vegetarians.
As it was lunchtime and I don't process alcohol well during the day, I did not choose to have the wine flight with my menu so instead the sommelier suggested a glass of white and red each that would go well with the main sections of the menu. Just before my first course was served, Alyn Williams dropped by my table and said Hi before he went back to his kitchen.
Photos and descriptions of each course:
Canapés and bread. The former were just little bites (incl. very cheesy gougeres and prawn crackers) but full of flavour and a wonderful indication of what was to come. The bread was lovely, too, especially the dark sourdough which was the closest to German bread I've had in this country.
The first stunner: braised beef cheek, crab and onion consommè, served in a cocktail glass. The fresh crab worked really well with the strong beef.
This was probably the most beautifully presented dish I've had. A perfectly cooked scallop with an oyster on top. It was fresh and yet deep in flavour. Truly high level cooking. Marvellous.
A little extra course of smoked egg with truffled soldiers. Rich egg, crispy soldiers with added truffle flavour. Fun little dish.
Foie gras semi freddo, pickled carrot and liquorice. I'm not a huge fan of foie gras for various reasons and briefly considered asking for this course to be replaced but I was intrigued by the combination so I tried it and it was fine indeed. The richness of the foie was cut by the liquorce powder which wasn't too strong in flavour and balanced beautifully. The pickled carrots were perfect with it.
This cod dish was another example of the high level of skill in Williams' kitchen. Simple in principle yet spectacular in execution and balance of flavours.
The meat main was pigeon, seared breast and a croquette of slow roasted leg. Needless to say, this was also cooked on the spot with perfect sides. I wouldn't have needed that rather mean looking steak knife.
My meal slowly winding down, the pre-dessert arrived, a passion fruit "cheesecake", a brilliant combination of crunchy, sweet and tangy. Just a little portion (that is a normal tablespoon next to it) but perfect as a palate cleanser.
The main dessert consisted of a button of very dark caramel covered in chocolate, apple and walnut ice cream. I'm not a big fan of caramel but this was outstanding as it wasn't too sweet. You can't just see it in the photo, the disc of apple wasn't solid but consisted of long strips wound into a disc. It was soft but still had a little crunch and was lightly spiced. The walnut ice cream was smooth and worked perfectly with the other components.
At this point I was already thoroughly stuffed but on my way to my table I had walked past the cheese trolley which had a lot of the type of cheeses I love so I couldn't say no when the waitress asked me if I wanted some. The cheeses were perfectly ripe and kept in top condition. An excellent end to a wonderful meal. Now really full I had to decline the offer of coffee but the waitress kindly gave me a little box with four truffles to take with me.
After a quick tour of the kitchen and a brief chat with Chef Alyn, I paid my bill and staggered contentedly back to the tube which would take me to my hotel in Hammersmith.
In the evening, I saw the excellent Pokey LaFarge
at Bush Hall and back at the hotel afterwards the truffles were a perfect night cap. Needless to say, I didn't actually need dinner that evening.
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