Tried & Tested

Tried and Tested: Alyn Williams at the Westbury

3 Apr 2012 by BusinessTraveller

BACKGROUND Alyn Williams opened his first eponymous venture in the Westbury hotel in London’s Mayfair in November last year, having previously been head chef at the two-Michelin starred Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley for five years. Alyn Williams at the Westbury replaces the hotel’s previous restaurant, Artisan, and serves “refined contemporary French cuisine based on British produce”.

THE SPACE The restaurant is located off the lobby and is an elegant space with muted lighting, wood panelling, large, widely spaced circular tables bedecked in crisp white tablecloths, banquettes and a sparkly carpet. The main dining room seats 45 people, while the adjoining Aspen room, which can be closed off, can be used for private dining for 18.

There is also the Wine Salon, in which eight diners can sit surrounded by floor-to-ceiling glass wine cabinets containing fine vintages. The whole restaurant is available for private hire. When I arrived at about 7.20pm on a Friday evening it was quiet, but over the course of the next hour or two the room became about two-thirds full and had a nice buzz. Still, the overall impression is serene. Dress code is smart casual.

THE FOOD Exquisitely prepared and presented fine dining. I went for the seven-course tasting menu (£55, or £115 with matching wines). To begin we were served some light-as-a-feather cheese puffs and an amuse bouche of rice balls and sea bass bites, along with a bowl of freshly baked breads served with two types of butter, one a delicious whipped Caraway seed variety that complemented the bread perfectly.

The first course was French onion consommé, beef cheek, crab, gruyere and potato wafer – served in a martini glass, with the consommé poured in at the table. I thought it very creative and well conceived, and the flavours worked together brilliantly. This was followed by “Orkney/Mersea/Aquitaine” – tender sliced scallop topped with caviar and a trimmed oyster I could taste the sea off – and English veal tartare with sea beet, grapefruit and pumper nickel, which was deliciously delicate and only disappointing in that the portion was very petite (understandable given it was a tasting menu).

Next up, a beautiful piece of salmon mi cuit (semi-cooked) served with Welsh beach vegetables, ramsons and some lovely, earthy and very mini Jersey royals, then a cut of perfectly pink and well spiced glazed wild pigeon with chickpeas, hazelnut and lovage fritter.

I then paused for a selection from the cheese trolley (£10 supplement), which included a superb Cashel blue, before having a Cornish cows curd cheesecake with passion fruit and honeycomb served in a tiny glass dish (again, so lip-smacking that I would have liked a little more). The intense fruit flavour acted as a palate cleanser for the second dessert, baked apple compote, hazelnut ice cream and a “rolo” chocolate filled with divinely creamy caramel. The meal was completed with rich petits fours and espresso.

My companion had the vegetarian tasting menu, which was the same price – cauliflower panna cotta with acorn and cream cheese wafers (again in a martini glass); smoked egg, celeriac, apple and truffle soldiers (a playful take on the breakfast classic, which he thought was fantastic); beautifully presented sand carrot, sea radish and mustard; perfectly al dente pappardelle, rape greens and richly flavoured Roscoff onion; Crapaudine beets, gnocchi, puntarella, parmesan and fennel; and the same desserts.

He mentioned to the waiter that he had to leave the chocolates behind as he was on a Lenten fast, and shortly afterwards was presented with a bowl of bite-sized spiced cakes straight out of the oven, which was a lovely touch.

The tasting menus are available weekdays for lunch and Monday to Saturday for dinner. Otherwise, there is a three-course lunch menu (£24) available weekdays, and à la carte menus (£45 for three courses) served weekdays for lunch and Monday to Thursday for dinner.

THE DRINK Head sommelier Alex Gilbert made some excellent choices to match the dishes – my French onion consommé was paired with a surprising but inspired DW Golden Ale from Sharps Brewery, Rock, Cornwall, while the whites included 2010 Gruner Veltliner Messwein, Stift Goetweig, Austria, a floral 2010 Vina Esmerelda, Torres, Spain, and 2008 Semillon Woodcutter, Torbreak, South Australia. The sole red, 2009 Torbreck Cuvee Juveniles from South Australia, had just the right body for my pigeon, and the dessert wine – 2003 Castelnau de Suduirat, Sauternes, Premier Cru Classé, France – was rich and delicious.

THE SERVICE Faultless – friendly, attentive, refined and discreet. The meal service was swift without being too quick, and the large team worked together like an orchestra, one person taking my order and advising knowledgeably about the dishes, one bringing out a dish from the kitchen to be met at just the right moment by another to deliver it to the table, another on hand to direct me to the washroom when I rose from the table.

THE VERDICT A pure pleasure. Wonderful, adventurous food, perfectly presented, and first-class service. I would certainly return.

OPENING HOURS 12pm-2.30pm Mon-Fri, 6pm-10.30pm Mon-Sat. Closed Sundays.

CONTACT Alyn Williams at the Westbury, the Westbury hotel, 37 Conduit Street, London W1S 2YF; tel +44 (0)20 7078 9579; westburymayfair.com

Michelle Mannion

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