More food and wine pleasures in London, as my friend Nicola and I visited The Gallery, a new restaurant which has opened adjacent to the the Westbury Hotel, on Conduit Street just off Bond Street.
The head sommelier, Boris Poliakov, is a long time friend of Nicola’s. He has been with the Westbury for a year or so as sommelier in existing restuarants, before starting this project, and has a wealth of experience at other top London venues including the Maze Grill (a Gordon Ramsey restaurant) as head sommelier, also the Ritz, and oddly enough, the Tamarind where we had dined the previous night.
The Gallery opened in early July in a newly acquired and remodeled space adjacent to the Westbury Hotel. Boris explained that this restaurant is meant to be the “value for money” restaurant at the hotel, and I think they are getting it right: the selection and quality of both food and wine, service, and ambience taken altogether made a dining experience of a very high quality for a reasonably priced (by London standards) menu. There are more plans afoot at the Westbury, with the Artisan Restaurant due to re-open under a new chef later this year, and a new, private, members-only club to be opened downstairs – Boris gave us a peek at the works in progress, and it promises to be extraordinary – I especially liked the black crystal chandeliers, and hope some day I will have a chance to see them lit up, I bet they will be spectacular!
The ambience is lovely, luxurious, welcoming and calm, with a terrazzo floor, and a warm taupe, cream and wine red colour scheme to the furnishings. Clearly great attention was paid to every detail to ensure a consistent image and mood. Nicola and I both admired the silverware – not your usual hotel restaurant traditional “Olde Englishe” sort of pattern, but a rather attenuated, elegant and well balanced contemporary design, and the plates were white with a simple design of gold strokes. Nicola admired the handsome wine cooler next to our table, and Boris said he must have looked at hundreds of wine coolers before choosing this one. Nothing else quite fit the decor and the look they were trying to achieve, so they went with this beautiful silver plated design, despite the price.
The menu is focussed on southern French and northern Italian cuisine. The abbreviated Sommelier’s Wine List which is bound together with the menu is Boris’s own pick and includes a nice range of champagnes, red and white wines, sherries and ports. One particularly welcome feature is that all except the least expensive wine in each group are available by the glass as well as the bottle, which means you can try some extraordinary wines even if you don’t need a full bottle, or treat yourself to a glass of each of two wines to try side by side with a dish. I was particularly pleased to see my two favourite tawnies listed and available by the glass: Ramos Pinto’s Quinta de Ervamoira 10 Year Old and Graham’s 20 Year Old. The full wine list is very extensive, and is an ongoing work in progress, as they use up the contents of an inherited cellar while Boris begins to bring in more interesting choices.
The food was excellent, and beautifully presented, and Boris’s wine suggestions were a joy, enhancing the food, and the food bringing out the wines, just the way it should be. Between us, Nicola and I enjoyed (and I mean thoroughly enjoyed, every bite and every drop):
Chilled cantaloupe melon soup, pine nut crumbs & mint, Riesling Halbtrocken, Reichsrat von Buhl, Pfalz. I think it was Michael Broadbent who once commented the only meal for which he’d never found a good wine was breakfast. That this wine paired so well with the cantaloupe in soup form is giving me ideas…
Warm goats cheese, plum tomato stuffed with aubergine & basil, Vermentino, Poggio al Tesoro, Bolgheri, Toscana This was my starter, and goats cheese is always a bit of a challenge to a wine. Too often wines lose flavour and show up as metallic and terribly acid against goat’s cheese, but this very crisp, fresh Vermentino had enough weight and character to stand up and complement the cheese very well indeed.
Poached Scottish lobster, baby leeks, potato gnocchi, orange & lobster dressing, Pinot Gris Schieferkopf, Michel Chapoutier, Alsace. I hadn’t realised Chapoutier made wine in Alsace too, I have always adored his Rhone wines. It appeared Nicola enjoyed it very much, I don’t think I even got a sip!
Ravioli of langoustine with fennel & tomato confit, Viognier Les Countors de Deponcins, Francois Villard, Rhone. (Note: could not find a website for the producer, but Berry Brothers & Rudd, a London wine merchant, has a brief profile here.) This wine is a vin de pays, not an appellation Condrieu, fresh, clean and floral. I think Boris was startled when I said it was the first French Viognier I had ever liked, I have only ever enjoyed the Portuguese versions up until now (read more about that in my discussion of Portuguese wines made from Viognier.) Though distinctly floral on the palate, it it did not make the impression of cloying sweetness which I have always associated with Rhone Viogniers, this one had a fresh acidity that both cut and complemented the richness of the langoustine and its very savoury brothy sauce. I was sorry when I finished both the dish and the wine, the thought of asking for second helpings actually crossed my mind, they were so good.
White chocolate and pink peppercorn Bavarois, wild strawberry salsa, strawberry sorbet and Breton biscuit, Moscato d’Asti, G.D. Vajra, Piemonte 2010. Moscato d’Asti is an underrated wine, I think. This was a lovely example, with a slightly frizzante texture and fresh fruit flavours. I bet it cut through the richness of Nicola’s bavarois beautifully. Also, I loved the bowl it was served in – the mouth of the bowl is angled, which somehow just makes the contents appear so much more invitingly accessible than your usual level-topped bowl!
Valhrona dark chocolate and olive oil parfait with caramel cream, orange confit and golden raisin puree, Rivesaltes Ambre 10 YO, Jean Marc Lafage. Rivesaltes comes from the Roussillon and is a vin doux naturale – which is French for something like port, a wine whose natural fermentation has been halted by the addition of spirit whilst there is still some natural sugar left, in this case made with with white grapes. This was very good, I have to admit, though I was fantasising about possible Port combinations with this luscious intensely dark chcolate parfait cake. Also fascinated by the concept of a parfait made with olive oil – must experiment with that some day in my own kitchen, and if I get the parfait right, settle down to try it with some ports.
Altogether, a wonderful meal, excellent wines, and a highly recommended restaurant and sommelier.