EAT - DRINK - BE MERRY
Helene Daroze at The Connaught
I’ve always been sceptical about Neuro Linguistic Programming, its’ the kind of psycho-babble that mugs believe will help them be happier rather than putting the real effort into counselling which will definitely make them feel better. NLP is a method of getting your own way by using subtle changes in the way you talk, so instead of saying to your boss “is there any chance that I could take next Wednesday off?” you say “I’m taking next Wednesday off”. It’s assertive, clear and direct, and I think I became a victim of it having lunch at The Connaught.
“Happy Anniversary” said the very French Maitre’D as he took us to our table, “You will want a glass of Champagne to celebrate” and he then ran us through his three excellent selections. I had every intention of having a glass of Champagne but I have to say I felt a bit bullied into it and the way it was introduced into the conversation it almost felt like he was suggesting that this is on the house. But that’s the passive aggressive nature of NLP.
But whereas I wanted to buy Champagne, I most certainly did not want to buy bottled water. I never buy bottled water in any of the posh places I go. But they bloody well suckered me in with “Will you be having still or sparkling for the table?” the assumption being that we would have one or the other and that you simply can’t get water from a tap in Mayfair. I was so engrossed in my fizz that I simply said ‘still’ and then felt like a total mug as the waiter disappeared. And here’s the thing, having been ‘sold up’ on the bubbles and water I had absolutely no idea of the cost of either (£18 for a glass of rosé fizz, £18 for my Lanson and £5 for the Evian, thanks for asking).
I’m most annoyed with myself for not having the confidence to say ‘tap water will be fine’ rather than being hoaxed by a Jedi mind trick. And so I’m now in a bit of a mood and looking for faults - which is not the best frame of mind in which to review a restaurant or enjoy a good meal. But here goes.
The room is formal and smartly decorated, dominated by a large central service station with massive glass domes protecting cheeses from unknown lands. This is very definitely top end and this is mirrored in the menus, the al la carte is classical French and there’s a truffle based menu with some hefty supplements. Al la carte has three courses for £80, again with many dishes incurring supplements, there’s a fantastic looking Helene Daroze Signature Menu at £85 (have a look on their website) which is great value for the six courses, and naturally enough we opt for the £42 Lunch with two glasses of wine.
Starters included a pumpkin soup with girolles and agnolotti flavoured with honeycomb and sage. Beautiful to look at, delicate and so sweet it could almost be a dessert. I had a warm salad of beans and peppers with roasted squid and a razor clam in a garlic and parsley butter. Again delicate, extremely well balanced and cooked with precision, oh yes and a supplement of £5. For mains we had a rolled Iberico pork dish with gnocchi and artichoke, which for me was slightly unbalanced having too little veg and jus to balance the larger amount of meat, tasty nonetheless. Then came a venison stew, they call it a civet, but we all know what a stew is, with celeriac purée and jus. This time there was plenty of jus but the seasoning was a little heavy handed, oh yes and an £8 supplement.
Desert was a pistachio sponge with ruby grapefruit and an apple compote, both excellent - no supplements.
All in all the overbearing up-selling and squeezing every last penny from the punter made me over critical of the food. The food is good on the whole but restaurants like this must really stop being so aggressive to screw the customer. I really don’t mind paying for good food but at the same time I want value for money and at £176 for lunch for two the Connaught did not deliver.