The chef behind The Ledbury is Brett Graham, an Aussie and Philip Howard protégé, who in 2005 was tasked by the Howard/Platts-Martin team of running their newest venture. Their faith in the young chef paid off in spades, and The Ledbury achieved the rare accolade of gaining its first Michelin just one year after opening. Since then, the restaurant has quietly gone from strength to strength winning a multitude of plaudits and awards, and the blogosphere seems to be packed with universally gushing reviews. The Ledbury's stock has continued to rise, and earlier this year the restaurant went on to gain a much-deserved second Michelin star – all this before Graham's 31st birthday.
The Ledbury is located on a quiet residential corner in London's Notting Hill. The high ceilings and the intelligent use of mirrors belie the dining room's relatively small size and it never feels anything less than spacious. The heavy dark drapes and chandeliers may be just a touch dated but I think the term 'classically elegant' describes the interior better. Mrs. Nibbler and I both opted for the 8-course tasting menu with matching wines which, although not cheap at £130 per person, represents reasonable value for this sort of thing (a similar meal at elder sibling, The Square, will set you back £175).
We started with a canapé of creamy foie gras parfait encased in a wafer thin pastry crust. The rich, but lightly textured foie gras was balanced with a hint of ginger, and I was sure I could detect the faint suggestion of curry powder. It was a wonderful opening salvo.
We were offered bread next. I'm not usually a fan of bread baskets, as all too often they just fill you up with unnecessary stodge, but as soon as I got a whiff of the bacon & onion brioche that was being offered I knew I had to try some. The warm, moist roll full of sweet caramelised onion and intensely savoury pieces of bacon was a revelation. Mrs. Nibbler opted for some chestnut bread, and it too was delicious, redolent of autumnal forests.
An amuse bouche of deep-fried quail's egg, chestnut purée, and black truffle was next. The quail's egg was cooked to perfection. I pierced it with a knife causing the unctuous yolk to ooze out and mix satisfyingly with the chestnut purée. This softness was offset by a galette made from shards of crispy potato, and the black truffle shavings added a heady scent of luxury.
The first course in earnest was a ceviche of thinly sliced scallops with seaweed and herb oil, kohlrabi, and frozen horseradish. This was an intriguing dish; an unusual combination of flavours that worked beautifully together. The sweet scallops were supremely fresh and vibrant, and their soft flesh contrasted with the cool, crisp slivers of kohlrabi. I loved the way the frozen horseradish 'snow' gradually melted to create a sort of sauce, although if I was being picky it perhaps detracted a teeny tiny bit from the taste of the scallops (I tend to like my seafood simple, and to let the freshness do the talking). This course was perfectly matched with a glass of briny sherry.
If there is such a thing as a signature dish at The Ledbury, then our next dish was definitely it. Flame grilled mackerel with cucumber, Celtic mustard and shiso. Mackerel can be a tricky fish to tame – its oily fishiness is always in danger of overwhelming the taste buds. Here the fish was cooked to perfection; the core of it was soft, almost sashimi like, while the skin magically retained a smokey crispness. Accompanying this was a little parcel of smoked eel wrapped in a translucent film of cucumber jelly. A lightly pickled cucumber and delicate leaves of shiso and coriander cress added the needed acidity. I was lost for words at how good this dish was – one of the real highlights of the meal. Magnificent!
Next we had root vegetables baked in salt and clay with Lardo di Colonnata, roasting juices, and hazelnuts. Nuggets of celeriac, beetroot, white carrot, Chinese artichoke, and parsnip had been baked to perfection, emitting that heavy scent of the earth, while the lardo (cured pork fat) added some slippery fattiness to the dish. Again, another superlative dish.
The fish course was next and this was roast monkfish with truffle purée, shavings of truffle, cauliflower, parmesan gnocchi and sea vegetables. I have also seen this dish served with turbot and it is another classic at The Ledbury. I always tend to overlook monkfish. Although delicious it can sometimes seem like just a dense mass of white protein. In this dish it was accurately cooked and perfectly fine, but the real stars of this course were the accompaniments. Light and chewy parmesan gnocchi, a tiny crisp romanesco cauliflower, salty sea purslane, and more glorious truffles, puréed and grated (is it ever possible to have too much truffle?).
Brett Graham is an avid game fan and it tends to be a feature of The Ledbury menu. In fact, on the night we visited we were told he was away on a shoot in Scotland. The main meat course was poached and roasted partridge served with white carrots, beautiful blobs of sweet Pedro Ximénez sauce, and toasted grains.
We were then served a pre-dessert of passion fruit jelly with sauterne mousse. This served as perfect palate cleanser – the tart, refreshing jelly made my mouth water and lips pucker up, while the soft, sweet vanilla-infused mousse reminded us that it's time for dessert proper. I could happily have eaten a few of these.
The main dessert was a velvety rich crème caramel, its sweet egginess offset by some apricot confit, orange sorbet and jasmine ice cream. It was cleverly paired with a dessert wine from Italy (I forget which) that had a beautiful and fragrant taste of marmalade. What a wonderful way to end the meal.
What Brett Graham has achieved with this restaurant is nothing short of remarkable. But what is truly astonishing is that given his young age, you expect the path of his cooking to lead to even greater things. The real test of the quality, though, of any restaurant is whether you desire to return, and in The Ledbury I see a restaurant that I want to come back to time and time and time again.
Food: 9 / 10
Service: 9 / 10
Ambiance: 9 / 10
127 Ledbury Road
London, W11 2AQ
Tel: +44 (0)20 7792 9090