Monday, 17 October 2011
The Athenaeum (Toptable deal), 116 Piccadilly, Mayfair, London W1J 7BJ
If you'd read the previous post, you might recall that we tried to sort out a whole civilised tea / theatre day out but because the theatre bit couldn't be booked, we had to settle for tea and then dinner instead. And since we were going to get all dressed up for the theatre, surely we had to get all dressed up for this replacement dinner too. And if we were going to dress up for dinner, we had to go somewhere nice.
However, somewhere nice doesn't always equate to 'blow the budget' so we decided, like a lot of Londoners do, to go for a Toptable deal at a posh nosh restaurant instead. As we'd previously dined at The Athenaeum restaurant before (and loved it), we decided to go there again.
Toptable offer: Love Food Give Food - 3 courses and a glass of champagne £29.50 from a set menu
This hotel is located a little off the beaten path. That isn't to say it's not right smack in the middle of town, because it is. It's just that it's a little off the touristy path, although, ironically, it's also quite close to Hard Rock Cafe by Green Park station / Hyde Park Corner station. With most posh hotels (this one is 5 stars), there is usually a sense of 'Oh dear, I hope I don't drink the handwash water' faux pas extravaganza worry, but with the lovely waiting staff at this hotel, they sure know how to put their diners at ease. I felt immediately comfortable when sat down at the table, although I'm sure the cosy surroundings and plush seats helped too.
It wasn't just with us either, because although we did come in at a time when there weren't any other diners and so, could make as much noise as we wanted before we settled down, the waiting staff were just as friendly, in a kind way, to all the other diners who came in after us. Pleasant, with just enough chat so as to put us at ease, and always at hand to fill up our glasses with tap water (I know! They serve tap water, the darlings.)
The restaurant interior feels very comfortable, with just the right amount of posh to keep us feeling quite special for the evening. Couples get allocated to the private booths while bigger groups get the comfortable side tables. From the moment we sat down to when we left, we had about 2 waiting staff constantly at hand, making us feel looked after.
Oh yes, and did I mention they have a very wide, and very good, selection of whiskies? Husband was very pleased.
The first thing that was brought to the table, even before the menu, was this bread bag. The cherry seeds at the bottom of the sack which were quite warm kept the bread rolls nice and warm for quite a while, and the butter and sea salt was the perfect accompaniment to the soft and fluffy bread. My personal favourite was the olive bread.
The menu for the Toptable offer. Since we'd taken up the 3 courses and a glass of champagne for £29.50 deal, we went all out with the starter, main course and of course, the pud too.
Starter 1: Cream of broccoli and stilton soup
Portion size was perhaps enough to feed one person as a main. Not that we were complaining, but if you were the kind of person who couldn't left your food unfinished, then you might be a tad full at the end of this meal. J who had it said it was very nice indeed. In fact, she'd had it before and ordered it again because she liked it so much.
Starter 2: Ham hock, kohlrabi, chervil and orange salad
Husband ordered this just because it had meat and he likes ham (we had ham hock at our wedding dinner though it didn't look like this version). He seemed quite disappointed with the shredded ham as I think he was looking forward to a chunky piece of meat to bite into, and so, sat there with a bit of a sulk - nibbling the julienned vegetables and ham, muttering to himself.
I, on the other hand, took a mouthful to try, and can say most objectively that it was quite pleasant, actually. The salty ham contrasted very well with the slight tang from the orange salad, and I quite liked the fact that it had been sliced fine rather than served in a chunk. That'll teach him not to order anything which says 'salad' in the description.
Starter 3: Home-cured spiced salmon, Asian salad and soy dressing
This was my starter and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It could've done with a bit less oil though, as it didn't seem to add any flavour to the dish, and left a rather unpleasant oily feel around my mouth. The fish was sliced quite thick which, to me, is always important with cured / smoked fish because if it's too thin, it's simply impossible to get the full benefit of the chewy smoked texture. It tasted somewhere in between smoked salmon and raw salmon; while the vegetable (a bit of mango in there) provided a good contrast to the chewiness. It was just the right amount too, as if there had been any more, it would've been a little overwhelming.
Complimentary amuse-bouche - Parsnip crisp and truffle mousse
Free stuff!!! Always like some free stuff. This wasn't any ol' free stuff. It was AMAZING free stuff. When the waiter put it down, he mentioned 'truffle' and when I said 'truffle what?' (trying to figure out what the white mousse-thing was), he said 'truffle' again, so either I didn't hear what he was saying, or he missed out a word in the description? I could taste earthy mushroom in the mousse-thing, so am guessing it's a mousse made with truffle. Parsnip crisp was perfectly crispy - fine line between crisp and just burnt. This was on the right side of the divide. The mousse was so unbelievable airy; it was like a floaty cloud of truffly goodness.
Main course 1: Seared English beef rump with green beans, herbed creamed potato and mustard jus
3 out of the 4 of us had this - must have been all the cake we had earlier which made us crave a bit of meat. I had mine rare, and they must have mixed the orders up as my dining companion's piece of steak looked a lot rarer than mine. But anyhow, it was cooked really well and for a rump cut, definitely tender and easy to eat. The mash was out of this world. Soft and creamy, with a hint of cream -I scoffed the lot. And as a final compliment to the chef (for this course), how did you make those green beans taste so good? Not only were they crunchy, yet soft (bewildering) but they managed to retain flavour! You are indeed a cooking genius.
Main course 2: Braised leg of rabbit, pearl barley and glazed carrots with a rabbit sauce
This was what J (the little rebel diner) had. We all had beef, she had rabbit. Now I've not had wabbit before, so she generously offered me a nibble. I said what no one should say of wabbit, and that was 'It tastes like chicken.'
Pudding 1: Lemon curd tart with chantilly cream and fresh berries
And since we'd already stretched our bellies quite a bit that day, we thought, why not have more pudding. Also, it came with the promotion set, so we'd be incredibly generous (and logical) to have said no to it.
Lemon curd was a very good way to slice through the grease from the earlier bits of the meal. With just the right amount of tang and zest to bring out the drool from the back of the mouth (you know what I mean), it was also creamy at the same time. The strawberries were amazingly sweet for this time of the year.
Pudding 2: Vanilla crème brûlée
My pud. Usually I try and pick the least indulgent dessert on offer, because I know my own lack of self-control when it comes to not finishing the whole thing. This time, however, I decided to go with the crème brûlée, which most possibly comprised my calorie intake for the month. It was worth it, though. Each mouthful was cloyingly creamy, with beautiful flecks of vanilla emersed throughout the dish. I just had to finish the whole thing, sugar crust by sugar crust. And when I was done, I nearly finished J's portion but I just about held myself back. Well done, me.
So, overall, a most enjoyable dining experience had here with some of the most pleasant waiting staff in the whole of London. Would recommend again and again.
Nearest tube: Green Park / Hyde Park Corner (hotel link)
Telephone number: 020 7499 3464