I have been looking forward to returning to Almeida for Chocolate week, based mainly on my experience last year. I have had drinks, lunch and several dinners at Almeida since then. I do rate this place as a good choice for eating or drinking at any time of the year, however it does seem to manage to raise its game during Chocolate week.
Head Chef, Alan Jones has teamed up again this year with chocolatier Paul A Young, to create the Chocolate Menu.
We started with Chocolate Martini’s (not on the drinks menu, so made to order), a good start to this themed occasion. The Truffle and Honey Risotto was well received, very rich. The main courses of Halibut and Pork Belly were more subtle, although the Pork Belly recipe last year may have had the edge. We tried a different Portuguese wine this year (Crasto, Douro, 2005), which worked well with the Chocolate theme, and switched our dessert wine choice on the Sommieliers recommendation to a bottle of Maury, Mas Amiel Vintage, Roussillon, France, 2007. Which I certainly enjoyed with the Ported plums roasted with orange in dark chocolate consomme and Paul A Youngs sea salted caramel.
The service although friendly was flawed, staff were weak on ingredients in the dishes, and our coffee arriving before we had finished dessert is a real no no, when you are trying to have a relaxing evening.
So although the meal was good, it did not quite reach the heights of last years.
There have been lots of recent reviews about Bar Boulud at the Mandarin Oriental. Most of them hightlighting just how quickly this restaurant found its feet. Certainly on our visit, barely two weeks after opening, it was running very smoothly indeed. Especially when you consider just how busy it was.
The first thing that hits you when you sit down, is the level of service. There are a lot of staff both in the kitchen and in the dining room. It is actually quite entertaining to watch them skillfully almost dance around each other.
This is a great people watching venue. The Tables are very close together and there is an almost frantic buzz of activity and noise when the service is in full swing.
Bar Boulud menu combines French charcuterie and bistro cooking. So to start we shared a small plate of charcuterie. The waiter made a point of explaining that all the Terrines were home made. It was certainly a good varied selection (although not the best charcuterie I have had in London, Almeida does a really good charcuterie trolley which I thought had the edge on the Bar Boulud selection). For the main course we tried the now famous “Frenchie” burger (a great burger almost as good as the one in Moovida – praise indeed) and a more traditional Steak frites. The burger looked small but was perfectly cooked and actually very filling, as was the equally well cooked steak.
For dessert we choose the lightest dish on the menu, a sort of tropical fruit sundae with lovely moist coconut biscuits in it. It seemed to be the most popular dessert.
We ordered a la carte and had some expensive wines so our bill was over £100 for two people, but Bar Boulud can be more reasonable, the set menu for example is £20 for 3 courses.
My only criticism is that it was all a bit frantic…but then that’s what a busy bistro is. So do not expect a quiet lunch.
The restaurant is a very popular pre-theatre venue, so it was a bit more difficult on a Saturday night to get a seat in the bar area. The room is fairly large, but perhaps not ideal for big groups, our table was a bit cramped for 8 people.
On the food front the highlight was the charcuterie trolley service, which several of my companions ordered. This is something the Almeida is famous for reviving, it includes home made rillettes, terrines and patés served with homemade pickles and I must say that it provides for a fairly substantial starter. One I wished I had ordered. My venison salad was very nice, but it did not have the wow factor of the trolley service.
For my main course I had the rib eye steak with lovely fluffy pommes pont neuf – certainly the best Jenga chips I have had for a while!
The rest of the menu was fairly classic for this type of venue, it included oysters, duck, beef and suckling pig.
To finish the meal I had a surprisingly light pineapple tarte tartin. This dish takes 20 minutes to prepare as it is created from scratch – its worth the wait.
UPDATE : March 2010 – made a return visit and ordered from the charcuterie trolley; highly recommended.
In celebration of chocolate week, Almeida has joined forces with chocolatier Paul A Young to create a unique three course “chocolate” menu. Each dish being combined with a complementary chocolate. So basically instead of wine matching, it’s chocolate matching!.
The whole concept of a chocolate menu seemed a bit of a gimmick, so I was pleasantly surprised just how serious this food was.
The meal began well with a very nice goats cheese appetizer/canapé. Then I had a stunning foie gras dish (described as pan fried foie gras, chocolate and orange – 64% Dominican Republic chocolate with a balance of sweetness and a delicate nutty, smoky taste.) I thought this dish was very subtle with great flavour combinations.
For my next course I went with the pork (braised suckling pig, creamed savoy – with Paul A Young’s Ras el hanout spiced chocolate), again it was a dish that was beautifully complimented by the almost savory chocolate sauce. We even asked the waiter for the recipe and to his credit he went out of his way to get it for us.
One of my chocoholic companions decided to forgo the main course and have two desserts instead. No problem, they just provided him with a “jumbo” sized dessert as the main course. For the rest of us, there was a choice between two desserts. A chocolate souffle that was not so well received and a stunning dessert called Chocolate 3 ways, which included some lovely fudge.
On the wine front to match the chocolate theme, we went for a rather nice Portuguese red.
The only low mark here related to the wine service where the waitress kept overfilling glasses, which meant that the wine was not evenly distributed and forced us to get a second bottle to make up the short fall. (We would have gone for a second bottle anyway, but would have preferred to do it in our own time).
We then finished the meal with coffee and petits fours.
The layout is very well designed with a distinct bar area and a dinning area that consists almost entirely of round tables. I love round tables in a restaurant, they work so well for both groups of two (both dinners can face into the room) and groups of 6 (much more sociable as you can have cross table conversations with everyone). The acoustics were also very good, we could not hear anything from the neighbouring tables.
The bar is worth a visit on it’s own, we mainly indulged in yummy Chocolate Martinis, but there are some other cocktails on the menu that are worth trying. One of the champagne cocktails, “The Morgan” (Morgan’s Spiced rum, gomme syrup, cranberry juice and champagne) was very nice too.
The restaurant has 2 AA Rosettes, which it certainly merits. It is also off course an ideal pre-theatre venue for the Almeida Theatre. I certainly plan to return, even without Chocolate week.