In researching the ‘must do’ food experiences of London in preparation for our recent trip, I kept coming across the names ‘Brett Graham’ and ‘The Ledbury’; they were everywhere – the Sydney Morning Herald good food guide, TripAdvisor, the Red Michelin Guide…every guide book I read – so I thought I should check the place out. Our walk from Kensington Palace to Notting Hill provided a scenic starter for the gastronomic experience that was to follow under the care of Australian chef Brett Graham and his outstanding team.
The Ledbury currently has two Michelin stars and is number 13 in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants List. It’s an open, airy space, with tall windows, white walls, high ceilings with recessed lighting, and rich chocolate and gold accents. In the centre of the dining room there is a modern central lighting feature, round and layered in fringes of bone, undulating in colour from marbled chocolate to a dark golden cream. This piece hints at an art deco influence, which is echoed by the wooden panelled columns, wide and flat with rounded edges.
Sam, the maître d’, showed us to our table, and deftly replaced the menus with exclusively vegetarian ones when we mentioned our tastes (also quickly checking that there were no other dietary requirements). We sipped on some Bérèche et fils brut reserve bubbles while making our decisions on our meals, and what a rare and lovely event that was – actually being able to have a choice in a restaurant, rather than simply having the one and only veggie option available for each course. And we had ample choice. In fact, of the 6 dishes on offer, we were told that we could have any of them in any course size. So, naturally, we ditched dessert and had 2 starters and a main each, swapping half way through each dish to give us our own little degustation of 6 exquisite and exciting culinary creations. Starters were: heritage tomatoes with goat cheese, dried olives and green tomato juice; curd of Hampshire buffalo milk with truffle toast and a broth of roasted cepes; new season’s beetroots with salted cherry blossom and red leaves; broccoli stem with natural yoghurt and Indian spices in brown butter. The two mains were: steamed green asparagus with cauliflower and seaweed butter; ‘risotto’ of celeriac with wild mushrooms and parsley. A bottle of Savennières L’Enclos, Eric Morgats 2010 from the Loire saw us through this truly wonderful gastronomic experience.
After our meal, Darren McHugh (the restaurant manager), asked if we would like to have a tour of the kitchen. We tried to act all uber cool, like we are asked to inspect kitchens in world-renowned restaurants every day, but I don’t think he was fooled, and our delight was obvious, and he was kind. The visit to the pulsating room downstairs was thrilling enough on its own, but it scored off the charts in excitement when we were introduced to the chef and owner, Brett Graham. He was so incredibly generous with his time and knowledge, even commenting on the change in dietary trends with vegetarianism becoming much more popular. He told us that four other diners requested the asparagus after seeing it being served to us, when there had been no veggo requests for a week – interesting. This guy was just so laid back and friendly in his manner, both with us and his team. There is no ‘bunged on airs and graces’ here, yet even though they call him ‘Brett’, he still runs a completely professional and meticulous kitchen.
Brett asked if we’d ever had fresh almonds before, we hadn’t, so he called Raymond over and got him to peel us a couple. I’d not even seen one in its ‘natural state’ before, and they are about 4cm in diameter, hard, green and slightly fuzzy. The small box Raymond was sourcing these from contained about £30-£40 worth of almonds… His generosity didn’t stop there, when I mentioned how much I loved his celeriac ‘risotto’, he promptly printed off a copy of the recipe for me. Too lovely! The whole time that Brett was chatting to us like old friends who have popped around for a BBQ and are hanging in the kitchen, he was also casting a discerning eye over each plate before it went through the door to the dining room.
Brett displays a boyish pleasure in creating with food. There is not a whiff of pretention in the entire place – just style and class. His fastidious attention to detail is contrasted with the sense of hanging about with mates – he was SOOOO relaxed, yet his standards were pole-vault-high. He is a complete juxtaposition to most famous chefs in the way his kitchen is run – a true leader, not a tyrant. I think it’s quite telling that the website has photos of the team, as well as the chef.
It is no surprise that this restaurant has received its many accolades, because everything about our experience here was perfect and simple, yet deceptive in that simplicity! We left The Ledbury with a very strong desire to return, and some ‘petits fours’ boxed up to go.