There comes a time when a chef wants to leave a well established kitchen and place his own plaque on the restaurant door featuring his very own name. That was the very case for Alyn Williams after tours of duty celebrated restaurants like the now defunct Michelin starred Les Allotters with his great mentor Michel Perraud. Then there were stints at The Greenhouse; Zeferano; Chez Bruce; the esteemed Pétrus under Marcus Wareing and then back to Restaurant Gordon Ramsey in 2001 with Head Chef Mark Sergeant – the same place he undertook his first work placement. After a subsequent spell at the Groucho Club, he returned to work at Marcus Warering at the Berkeley Hotel, who were awarded their second star in 2007 with Alyn as the Head Chef. What a guy. He settled for 5 years there before moving on and got his own plaque down at the Westbury Hotel armed with (I can only imagine) the discipline, craft, precision, respect and high standards gained over the years in the aforementioned restaurants. Alyn’s technique is classic French, which has evolved over the years from his travels overseas and it’s really good cooking, he got a Michelin star within a year of opening and won the National Chef of the year award too.
The menu is a la carte only at £65 per head for 3 courses.
First up on the amuse bouches, served on piece of bark, we have smoked salmon with crème fraîche piped into crispy pastry cylinder that shatters beneath the teeth. You can’t help but to marvel at its gloriousness.
Choux pastry with blue cheese & parmesan were next the amuse bouche’s, they were as light as air, crisped and a lesson in cheese subtlety. Not as interesting as the salmon but tasty nonetheless.
The Maître’d brought a little copper pan to showcase their alba truffles, their sweet stench perfumed the room. This was a gesture to let truffle heads know that they will rain truffle for you if you dip your hands into your wallet. I couldn’t resist a feel and a sniff, it would have been rude not to, the unshaved one gave the strongest aroma.
For those who have read my other reviews on here, would have gathered that first impressions count – usually in bread form and it’s exemplary here. There was a staple sour dough which had a lovely flavour and the Provençal fougasse bread was light and bouncy – the crust was also crisp and sweet. The beurre noisottte you can see on the right totally outshines the butter on the left, it was so good that another two servings were ordered. Spreading it on the bread made it decadent and sweet – sweetness from the molasses infused into the beurre noisette.
Our sommelier had skills – not only did he help us choose the excellent Bosquets Gigondas, he managed to expertly place the wine foil back onto the bottle seamlessly. The wine was unctuous and had a fresh juiciness too.
Buttery smooth foie gras that could have been mistaken for Worthers Originals in appearance came with Medjool dates, yogurt, chestnuts and orange segments.
Pink centered marinated quail came with red cabbage, violet mustard, confit yolk and an emulsion of baked potato. The quail had a deep caramelised skin, it almost livery in texture – in a good way of course and then the layers of spice wrap around my tongue like a soothing ointment. Our Maître’d informs us that star anise, fennel and coriander seeds are in the marinade. The emulsion is so full of flavour too, creamy yet light and perfectly seasoned.
Onto the mains now: Devon ruby beef with an oyster, confit potato, tartare and a tang of sherry vinegar. I can see where the beef gets the moniker from – just look at the deep ruby red hued centre, it was so tender, knife action was negligible. The meat was sweet, the entire dish was just balanced with all the technique and flavours.
The dish entitled 50 day aged pork/Roscoff onion/sage/cider/Cumberland gravy was pork that tasted intensely of itself came in two ways, a caramelised chop and cubes of crispy skinned belly covered in a sticky jus that tasted like a reduction only hours of nursing can produce. Balance came from the sweet tang of apple balls and a crunch of bitter radishes.
A pre-desert-desert of blackberry jelly, vanilla panna cotta and limonchello sorbet. I’ve never had sorbet with panna cotta before, it was interesting and I’m on the fence a little. The crispy buttery biscuits were on point though.
Liquorice ice cream; my dining companion insisted on trying some of this, my greed happily obliged. He opted for the warm Manjari chocolate & praline fondant also that came with a tropical rush of passion fruit and banana sorbet. (Manjari is chocolate producer located in the small town of Tain L’Hermitage not to far from Lyon to save you from googling). It was every bit as excellent as it looked, bitter sweet larva oozed out of the chocolate shell. The citric push from the sorbet kept things in balance.
“Autumn berry pavlova/liquorice ice cream” came with a shatteringly crisp meringue with a compote of hidden berries, the flavour balance was the perfect amount of tart and sweet. The liquorice ice cream was the same as what we ordered before – decadent work.
Petit fours – salted caramel chocolate. Mouth waveringly good, simply stunning, we were even given a little gift box to take home with us.
Here’s the masterful man himself, we chatted to him for a while an he turned out to be thoroughly down to earth chap.
When did I go? Dec 2015
The damage: Expect to pay £130-£150 per head with drinks/wine.
The good: From beginning to end, amuse bouche to petit fours, every dish was outstanding. The plates of food were well constructed, giving balance throughout and our front of maitre’d was a fountain of knowledge. The pork had huge concentrations of flavour and the beef was as sweet as they come. Alyn also greeted us at the end of our experience, unsurprisingly he turned out to be a very nice chap. When I asked him about which restaurants he enjoyed he responded with “I don’t usually have time to eat out but when I do I like Goodmans and Polpo”. Not bad choices at all and if I was as skilful as Alyn in the kitchen I wouldn’t be eating out much either!
The bad: Not a lot to grumble about, but just a small quibble with one of the waiters – I believe his name was ‘Alessandro’, he was quite robotic and looked like he was sucking lemons all night. All he needed to do was bring his smile, I’m sure he’s got a fantastic one!
Would I go again? An emphatic YES!