Like many luxury hotels, Mandarin Oriental in Knightsbridge is home to several reputable restaurants, including Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, where Chef Savla took me for my birthday meal a few years ago, and Bar Boulud. Chef-owner Daniel Boulud has opened numerous ventures around the world – New York, Miami and Singapore to name a few – but BB is his sole spot in London. After hearing rave reviews from a foodie friend (FF), my sister (MM) and I decided that this was the ideal location for a long overdue catch up.
Ambiance and decor
The long, curvaceous bar is the first thing you see as you enter before your eyes are drawn to the seductive wine cellar on the left, flanked by obscenely large bottles; the restaurant opens one melchior (18L) a week and serves it by the glass. There are some open-ended booths en route to the dining area, which is split into two areas, with the back section adjacent to the open kitchen. Counter seating is also available for those who enjoy being on the front row. The atmosphere is NY-style steakhouse meets glamorous wine bar.
The hostess offered to take my coat on arrival, but didn’t hear MM say that she also wanted to check hers in. Service was smooth after this minor mishap, and our waiter Gabriele was incredibly patient while we deliberated at length over the tempting options. His cheerful personality immediately put us at ease as he discussed what he himself liked about our choices, asked what we thought of them at the end of each course and successfully persuaded us to round off dinner with something sweet.
Food and drink
We went early on Saturday evening as we were initially tempted by the Menu Bouchon (2 courses at £18; 3 for £21). However, I’d had a burger craving all week and MM had a hankering for lamb, so we chose à la carte. The decision took longer than necessary as we got sidetracked by baguette slices with the perfect crusty exterior to fluffy interior ratio.
For starters, FF had recommended gougères: light, Gruyère-flavoured balls which seemed to dissolve on the tongue and had you greedily reaching out for more.
BB offer 3 beef burgers: Yankee, Piggie and “BB”. Starting at £17, they don’t come cheap, but if you’re going gourmet, no-one does it quite like the French. With this is mind, and my natural bias for all things Francophile, I jumped in at the deep end with the BB burger. Sandwiched between a toasted black onion seed bun, the thick 8oz patty came rare and was juicy and flavourful. Topped with seared foie gras and short ribs, adding a slightly fatty velvetiness to proceedings, this was one tasty tower of food. I did try eating it with my hands, but since there was no way of doing so with dignity, the cutlery had to get involved. The pommes frites would’ve been spot on if they’d been a touch crunchier.
The Agneau Rôti expertly combined colour, flavours and textures with Gallic flair. The sweetness from the pea purée and sugar snaps complemented the rich, tender slices of lamb rump, which were delicately fanned out on top. White anchovy and confit tomatoes are interspersed, and their sharpness completed the picture. Our wine (Fabre Montmayou, Malbec Grand Reserva, Mendoza, Argentina, 2012) matched both dishes well.
MM has a very soft spot for dark chocolate and is drinking more coffee these days, so “Le French Coffee” was singled out. A hot Armagnac and Kahlua sauce was poured over a dark chocolate sphere at the table, slowly melting the dome to reveal coffee ice cream and “crispy pearls”. The result is a tempestuous yet successful marriage of sweetness, creaminess and intensity.
My assortment of macarons was a less exciting affair, but I’d have struggled to eat an entire dessert after that burger. The trio included coconut, violet and hazelnut, and I started with the latter; not the best move as it was dense and chewy, creating a poor first impression. The violet was an improvement, with a light and crispy coating and soft, fruity centre. Finally, the coconut was subtle at first then caught you by surprise with a hidden hint of orange in the middle.
For me, a pleasurable dining experience is the result of the following components (in no particular order): good company, delicious food, memorable surroundings and friendly, engaging service. Bar Boulud ticked all of these boxes, and I’d heartily recommend a visit for business and pleasure alike. I went in with pretty high expectations of the food, especially the burgers, which were exceeded apart from a couple of disappointments. However, they were trivial and can be easily overlooked since the overriding memory is of a fantastic evening.
Budget: £50 pp (including 12.5% service).