Lunching in London – The Menu Gourmande at William Drabble , st James Hotel and club
I had to get the `Google street maps` fired up on my mobile to find 7 Park place ,as it`s tucked away pretty well in a very quiet little corner of St James near Mayfair. Fortunately my nifty little moving arrow guided me straight to the front door of the establishment and into William ( Billy ) Drabbles new Michelin starred venture where he took over the driving seat as Executive chef little over a year ago.
I first met Billy back in 1997 when i was thrown into the deep end after deciding that i could be a `chef for a night` for a new series on Channel 4. Basically it was a TV series for enthusiastic amateur home cooks ,presented by Roy Ackerman and entertaining the 8 million viewers whom all enjoyed watching the amateurs fail miserably during their attempts to take over a restaurant kitchen and run it for the night. Luckily my attempt worked out very well , thanks to my `mentor`…..Mr Drabble , and i ended up successfully cooking a 6 course menu for 45 demanding diners at the Old Vicarage in Witherslack. At the time , Billy was working up in the Lake district in a country house hotel called Michaels Nook , a wonderful old English escape in Grasmere.Billy headed up the team there and earned them a Michelin star for his efforts.Classic training under the Demi god of chefs Nico Ladenis ( 3 star Nico at ninety ) made Mr Drabble my kind of chef…..Oh how i love the `old school classics` , reduced sauces tasting of roasted bones , lots of butter and lots of cream. There really should be a national campaign to bring it all back. Billy left the lakes in 1998 to take over as head chef at Aubergine in Chelsea after Mr Ramsay departed.He stayed there for 10 years gaining a Michelin star before accepting the Executive chef position at 7 park place, St James in late 2009.
There are a number of choices on the various menus available in 7 Park place restaurant. Basically it`s one of those menus that`s impossible to pick from and just reads so well from start to finish.Foie gras, scallops , crab , langoustines , truffle , sea bass , turbot , foie gras , foie gras, stuffed oxtail , truffles….and more foie gras…Totally fantastic, where do i start ?. Firstly there`s the lunch menu , no scrimping on luxury here , it`s a 2/2/2 choice menu at £29.50 and starring ingredients like Fillet of veal , Monkfish , Foie gras parfait and fresh crab. Then there`s the serious food , Two courses are available for £ 49.00 off the a la carte menu, Three for a very reasonable £ 55.00. The best option for me had to be the 6 course Menu Gourmand for £ 65.00. ( Cheese course and coffee with treats were extra ). I like to choose the gourmande as i find it a good insight into the Chefs culinary journey over the years. Also its a good test of the sommelier and i chose the recommended wine flight at £118 all inc with the food.
So on to the food - we were presented with the menus and wine list but we had already decided long before to go for the Gourmand and selected wines , choice was made. We chose a couple of non alcoholic cocktails ( £8 ) from the list and they were mixed at the bar in front of us.They were served with green olives and smoked nuts at the bar.The bar itself was a beautiful sight , bright colours , nothing drab , clean cut and modern.The unusual mixture of art all around us was a definite leaning towards the `gentlemans taste`, a terrific gallery of nude and saucy semi nude ladies all around us…..i wasn`t complaining , it was a wonderful start to an exciting lunch.There was no sign of an `amuse bouche` , canapes , or a small taster of any kind from the kitchen which is normally `par for the course` these days before the action starts.I would like to have seen that to start the show off.Instead we were offered a selection of sliced fresh bread , white, brown , sesame and fruit and nut. Basic , well baked, fresh , simple and very enjoyable.
The set meal starter was a very generous slice of seared Foie gras sitting on a piece of brioche with sweet confit of quince and surrounded by toasted Hazelnuts.The sauce was a sticky , shiny and classic reduction that had such a `wow` factor.I loaded my fork up , took a mouthful of the food , closed my eyes and floated away.It`s quite a few years since ive experienced those wonderful flavours and it all came rushing back to me at once…..`who the hell needs drugs` ? This starter could never be improved. 10/10…..and a great feeling that this was going to be a wonderful lunch.
The next course was the classic, a single Ravioli of Langoustine , encased in fresh, soft and perfectly cooked pasta.The truffle hit me immediately , the aroma dominating the air all around us , it was amazing.The ravioli sat on a little mound of buttered cabbage and was accompanied by a generous serving of truffled butter sauce.Simple , rich , very moreish , i could have eaten a dozen of these but unfortunately there was just the one…..and then it was gone…i immediately craved more.
Next course was the Grillet fillet of Red Mullet with caramelised fennel and `sardine` puree.I have to admit , this was the only part of the menu i wasn`t too keen on.I had only eaten red mullet the one time and it was far
too strong of a fishy flavour for my liking. Paired up this time with an even stronger `puree of sardines`, quite unusual and sounding fishy to the extreme…..I was wrong , totally wrong.The fish was cooked to perfection,the `fishy` flavour that i was expecting turned out to balance out perfectly with the sweet and salty sardine puree and the sweet anise tones of the caramelised fennel topped the course off and had me sitting like a very happy little chappie indeed.
Our next offering was the Roasted Turbot fillet a meaty punch of goodness , caramelised perfectly on the outside and moist in the middle.It was presented on rich braised lentils , a greener than green parsley puree and a very hearty reduced red wine sauce.I`m sitting here writing this now and i can taste this dish in my mind, i just want to get on the train and head back for more.I think it was at this point that my dining companion commented on the food. It was a simple – “This is better food than the Waterside”. So far this year he had done a dozen of the top flight restaurants , Ducasse, Fat duck , Dinner , Lenclume, Martin wishart ,whatley manor , le manoir , Kitching , Northcote , Sharrow bay and the waterside.He rated Waterside as his all time favourite all round dining experience ever….then he went to Drabbles place.
Main courses were up next and to be totally honest i would have preferred to change the Lamb for the dish that ill never forget from Michaels Nook in Grasmere. `Pot roasted corn fed chicken with foie gras and truffle sauce`….how good does that sound ? Along with `Boudin of wood pigeon with foie gras, caramelised turnips and Madeira sauce` its one of a few Drabble signature classics that have been with him for years.I`ll never forget my day in the kitchen with Billy up in Grasmere , it was a case of “Alan…..taste this” , Billy shouted me over to the pass and spoon fed me a little taste of heaven , a rich cream sauce of truffled chicken , enriched with melted foie gras and the worlds smallest Morel mushrooms.That one taste will stay with me forever….and there`s something very similar on the a la carte menu….minus the baby morels. ( hint hint William )
Anyway , i felt a bit cheeky asking to change the main course on the tasting menu so i settled for the Lamb .It was a `best end of Lune valley lamb with confit potatoes , caramelised onion and a thyme jus`…Ahhhhhh ,more of the rich stuff again. When it comes to learning to cook lamb to perfection Billy had the best teacher in the business.., Nico Ladenis , a god of the Eighties cooking scene in Britain. During that period`sous vide` wasn`t a word that was used in the kitchen very often and it was a time where classic and traditional methods were widely used in cuisine.The lamb at Nico was legendary , melting , tender , pink to perfection all the way through and surrounded by a delicate coating of soft herb crumb. Nico passed his `special` cooking method over to Billy and it has stuck with him ever since.If anyone wants to sample lamb at world class level then simply book a table at 7 park place. It looks like a staple on the menu now so its something that has to be eaten by every serious food lover.The sauce tasted seriously of roasted bones , classic reduction methods and old school skills.The accompaniments matched up perfectly.
At this point in the meal we were offered the Cheese as an optional extra (£13 ). It was a simple selection of 4 well matured British cheeses by Paxton and Whitfield of London. Blue , Goats , hard and an English brie. We got this selection as a taster between the pair of us just to try it out.It was accompanied by plain oat and charcoal crackers and fresh grapes….simple selection that hit the mark perfectly.
Now then….here`s my favourite part of the meal.The part that i look forward to all the way through to feed my sweet cravings.I have to admit , i had a little look at a few other diners puddings during a couple of trip to the washroom so i kind of knew what was what by then.I wasnt too keen on the tasting menu dessert after i had spotted `chocolate` on another diners plate near to me so i decided to chance my arm and ask for something
different than the pineapple dessert off the tasting menu. ” Absolutely no problem sir” , it was a simple as that and the young lady was off into the kitchen to order our two Dark chocolate Negus desserts with coffee ice cream and gold……Ohhhhhh dear , i was starting to feel funny all over. The dessert landed , it was rich, it was gooey , it was sooooo chocolatey with gold and chocolate biscuit and rich coffee ice cream, could life get any
better than this ?
Coffee and treats came as extras and not included on the tasting menu.I prefer to see it as part of the meal and wouldn`t mind that extra fiver added to the set meal price , looks better that way.Anyway, we chose whatever coffee we fancied , and it was accompanied by a strange wooden box.The box was opened at the table by one of the front of house staff.She certainly wasnt going to leave go of it either as it contained a wonderful selection of sweet jellies and handmade truffles….” Fantastic , i`ll have one of each”,….. it wasn`t a problem.
Once these had finished we were full to the brim and starting to loosen clothing off for comfort.A small silver container arrived at the table containing pink and white marshmallows , “Ohhhh jeez” , impossible , yet it
was our duty as two working men to eat them all.We both gave up after only a couple.
So summing up William ( Billy ) Drabble at Seven park place , St James – Rich , classic , luxury ingredients , accurately and very well sourced and cooked by very talented chefs.Very much old school ( which i adore ) yet very modern English / European in their 2011 skin. I cannot recommend this place enough , for me it ticked every single box and i left the place vowing to return as soon as possible……and now , a week later , im craving to go back….Please try it and i sincerely hope it does for you what it did for me.