It’s always nice to welcome an old friend down to London for a long overdue catch-up. When I say old by the way, I’d like to clarify that I have known Elaine a long time, not that she is old in any way – she’s more active, in better shape and packs more into her life than I do (and I thought my London lifestyle was pretty hectic!) Back in the day, when I was young and impressionable, she was my boss. My first real boss, in fact, so I am very grateful that we have managed to stay in touch over the years. As a fellow foodie, she’s always up for trying some new places as well – between us and our respective company credit cards, we always seem to enjoy an evening!
On this particular visit, I was in charge of picking the restaurant and have always fancied the look of Kettner’s – very sleek and white and continental, it feels like a place that you go to for a treat without being overly pompous. Even on crossing the entrance, you are greeted in front of a winding white staircase that graces the central hallway of this Georgian townhouse and get a sense of the history of the building, the period in which it was at its peak and the lifestyle that its late 1800s clientèle will have enjoyed on a daily basis. I half expected to wander into the drawing room and spot Oscar Wilde at a corner booth. But alas, we had not actually stepped back in time. So instead we were whisked past a white baby grand piano (if only there were someone playing) and shown to our seats in the brasserie.
Despite putting the meal on work expenses, we decided not to go crazy and stick with just two courses. Of course that then poses the question of starter & main or main & dessert? I actually often flit between the two depending on my mood, but on this occasion I wasn’t very taken by the starter options so opted for an unknown choice of desserts. Risky manoeuvre, will it pay off? A fairly typical choice of brasserie cuisine for the mains, so I decided to keep it a bit lighter and went for a fish option (normally I’m a meat eater). Elaine by contrast went for red meat (and she’s more of a fish fan), so sea bass and pork it was.
The sea bass was moist with a crispy skin, but still felt like a substantial meal. I have to admit I haven’t had it with a red wine sauce before, but the fleshy sea bass was able to stand up to the heady, rich reduction that was peppered with smoky bacon flavours. The bacon was a bit chewy for me, slightly softer with the velvety fat texture would have been ideal but added some lovely saltiness to the dish and was nicely balanced with the sweet onions. I ordered some green vegetables as accompaniments (keep it healthy!) – I am not a fan of al dente broccoli I have to say and so these had too much crunch for my liking. Elaine’s pork was cooked well also – a bit pink on the inside with a rich cassoulet to compliment. The smoked garlic mash was too smoked for me, it overpowered the flavours a tad.
From mains to dessert and I was very happy with my decision to forego starters this time. I love French desserts and this menu didn’t disappoint – crème brûlée, chocolate and praline mousse, tarte tatin were all close contenders. But in the end I was won over by the oreo cheescake with white chocolate sauce (my sweet tooth won out in this decision!) and Elaine went for a poached red wine pear with blackberry jelly. We often find desserts tricky as Elaine is gluten intolerant, so she often asks about the ice creams – disappointing choice here though, vanilla and chocolate! Pedestrian flavours.
My cheesecake was fine, nothing special though. Creamy, yes; oreo flavour; yes; popcorn on the top; nice touch; chocolate sauce; too sweet. But it wasn’t too large a portion, so the sweetness was ok. Elaine’s poached pear was nice and soft but needed some more of the poaching liquor to add aroma. The jelly was really good though, not too sweet and full of tart blackberry.
So overall, the food was good and not overpriced. It didn’t quite stack up to the surroundings, but then again I shouldn’t expect that of a brasserie. Points for them to note – when you mention one diner is gluten intolerant, you should be advising her straightaway of dishes that are suitable or not. They didn’t even acknowledge this, which I would typically expect in this kind of establishment.
29 Romily Street, w1D 5HP