Sunday 16 May 2010

Bar Boulud, London - French food, New York style in Knightsbridge

Daniel Boulud is pretty much a superstar of the USA dining scene. He can lay claim to being the chef patron of many an acclaimed restaurant and his 3 Michelin starred Daniel in New York (a darling of The New York Times - it has received 4 stars from 3 successive critics no less than 5 times since 1986) was recently ranked 8th in San Pelligrino's World's 50th best restaurants. (The Greedy Diva had a solid but slightly less dazzling experience there in 2008 - which I'm sure has The New York Times thinking twice.) And now Monsieur Boulud has pitched his flag in the heart of London. I had my table booked before you could say "steak fri...".

While M. Boulud was born in Lyon, which plays a heavy influence on the food at hand, Bar Boulud has a swanky, New York feel (the music on it's website says it all).

Sister to New York's Bar Boulud, the London bistro decor is intended to be a modern interpretation of a wine bar. Elegant, sleek and sexy, there's a zinc bar, oak panelling and wooden floors (intended to be reminiscent of wine barrels), chandeliers, and swathes of red leather (intended to "conjure the warm depths of a delicious Burgundy" - the hint was lost on me at the time, but I suppose I get it in hindsight).  Overall, the decor is fairly understated - it's not going to bowl you over before you taste anything.

The classic French bistro menu holds much to allure. We took longer than usual deliberating over so many appealing options - the Boudin Blanc truffled white sausage with mashed potato is calling me, but so is the beetroot with horseradish and hazelnut, the fish soup and the coq au vin. But then what about the signature charcuterie plates from renowned charcutier, Gilles Verot - such as the Lapin de Garrigue - Provencal pulled rabbit, carrot, courgette and herbs terrine? Tempting.

In the end, we opt for the £20 menu prix fixe (we'll come back again if we like it), before my deliciously oaky Marsanne steals the last shred of my decision making ability (Andre Perret, Marsanne, Vin De Pays Des Collines Rhodaniennes 2007 - £6.50 - absolutely lovely).

I start with the luxurious rabbit terrine with cornichons and cocktail onions, toasted bread and a hearty mustard. Elegant and wantonly good, the 2 Frenchmen on the table next door have a serve each, then order another to share. Oui.

The Peanut Gallery starts light, with the Salade de Roquette - rocket salad, garlic confit toast, stewed tomato, tapenade and buffalo mozzarella. Each element is nice enough, although, not surprisingly, there's nothing here to showcase the kitchen's real strengths. TPG is pacing himself. I'm still in some shock over his choice here, but if we're looking for that silver lining, it certainly gives us just one extra excuse to come back for a face to face with the Boudin Blanc. (Can you tell that it's still playing on my mind?).

It's hard to go past the chance to devour a New York style burger - it's been a while. We both order the DBGB Yankee Burger - a grilled beef patty, iceberg lettuce, tomato, sweet onion, sesame brioche bun, cheese pickle and fries (£13 with cheese on the a la carte menu). In this price bracket, it's got to compete with my beloved burgers at Hawksmoor and Goodman. It does.

It might be the messiest thing I've eaten for some time (think shredded lettuce in a train wreck), but this baby is the closest thing I've had to that much sought after, but highly elusive, US style burger in London. It's reminiscent of Shake Shake (and this, for me, is a mighty accomplishment). But it's loftier, even if there's a little too much foliage. The meat is loosely packed, moist and sumptuously flavourful and mine at least was perfectly cooked to the recommended medium. Surprisingly, TPG's patty was a little more well done than mine. (But I still didn't share). The accompanying thin cut fries were are good as they looked.

On the a la carte menu, the Frenchie Burger comes with confit pork belly as well as the beef patty and there's a Piggy Burger with a beef patty and BBQ pulled pork. While these other combos sound tempting, the flavour of the beef can really sing in the classic DBGB Yankee burger.

Quite satisfied, I could eat no more than 2 scoops of refreshing mint ice-cream and a decadent chocolate sorbet. More could be made of the sugary biscuit in between if they're going to bother at all.

TPG finished with the Gateau Basque - custard cake with brandied cherries (£6). The cherries packed a strong punch, but the custard cake itself was boring and dry with a hint of orange that didn't succeed in lifting it out of the doldrums. Disappointing.

Next time, I'll be trying the freshly baked madeleines (£4 - if they're the same ones we had at Daniel, they're divine) or the macaroons (£5) - among other things.

We finish with a sweet Domain De Trapadis, Rasteau 2007 (£9) (rich, grape juice flavours, although nothing earth shattering here).

Although there's a wine list fit for the snobbiest of vinophiles, with a particular focus on Rhones and Burgundies, there's also plenty to keep the rest of us happy at a reasonable price range.

Prices generally are reasonable, and surprisingly so given BB's location in the heart of Knightsbridge. Service was friendly, helpful and generally faultless. It will be interesting to see if the standards keep up once some of the staff return to M Boulud's New York ventures in the coming weeks. I'll be going back to just to make sure.

Bar Boulud, Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, 66 Knightsbridge, London, SW1X 7LA.
Tel: 020 7201 3899
Bar Boulud on Urbanspoon


  1. That dessert really is a turkey. Surprised that it's still there! I would loved to have the Yankee, all the good things you would want in a burger. I'm going back to, but won't be ordering the custard tart.

  2. I might be the only food blogger in London who has not been here so far - and it has only been open a week or so! Sounds like it is worth the trip

  3. I've never had an interesting gâteau Basque. I think it's a fatally flawed recipe and should never have been born. In France we used to dip the especially dry ones into sparkling wine (Blanquette de Limoux); both cake and wine were improved immeasurably.

  4. The great reviews keep on coming! Only two weeks left to my booking...

  5. Tehbus - Yes it is quite a turkey - pity, since it sounded so good. I see you had a similar experience with it!

    Gourmet Chick - Someone needs to go back to check out if it keeps up the high standards once Daniel Boulud and some of the staff return to NY - you could be the perfect candidate for the job!

    Patrick - Aaah - the old sparkling wine trick. Love it! What could not be improved in such a manner!

    Emyr - It certainly is getting the thumbs up all round. I look forward to hearing what you think of it!

  6. I definitely need to give a try to this burger!

  7. Anonymous22 May, 2010

    Having just gone to my first set lunch at a posh restaurant (Arbutus), I'm looking forward to more of those and Bar Boulud definitely has to be on top of the list. Although I'm not having any more burgers! Thanks for listing the wines too,nice to see from you foodies ;-)

  8. Anonymous01 June, 2010

    GD did you see that AA Gill reviewed this on Sunday in Style Mag and naturally said pretty much the same as you. He probably had a sneaky read of the GD Blogspot before his went to print!

  9. Mathilde - Since you're always on the prowl for London's best burger, this one's not to be missed.

    Winesleuth - Hope you like it. I quite like Arbutus too.

    Anon - I did catch that one! He's clearly on my trail.

  10. This New York style burger looks tasteful :)



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