I knew Helene Darroze at the Connaught hotel was going to be something special. She’s one of the few female chefs with two Michelin stars under the belt, one couldn’t help but raise your expectations. Everything fitted the bill and the food had to be good, and it was, it really was.
Walking into the elegant Helene Darroze, the first thing I noticed was a long table packed with freshly baked breads and cheese. Breaking through that gentle cloud of bakery smell, we sat down at our table, closely next to our neighbours. Yes, listening to their hilarious business conversations was quite fun! The setting was classic French, yet very cosy and non-pretentious.
Menu wise, there was quite a few menus, including the 9 course inspiration menu at £115, the 6 course signature menu at £85 as well as the 3 course a la carte at £80. Since we were in truffle season, every course in the a la carte had a special truffle dish for you to pick. Most of the dishes were French with modern twists, including a small number of European dishes. For example the Iberico ham, focaccia canapés etc. We selected our own 4 course a la carte with two starters each. My dinner partner was very hungry!
We started with some focaccia and ham, both had great flavours. Watching our host quickly slicing the ham was definitely entertaining. However, I questioned the soup. My dinner partner described it as the broth from a pot noodle. Basically, the broth after you boil your noodles in the packaged sauce. I have to say I agree, it was very strange in taste.
Bread and butter
Loved the baguette, crunchy crust with a soft core, perfect with the salted butter.
Pre-starter: artichoke mousse with foam
I loved this artichoke mousse! Intensely rich but just the right amount of cream. It had a difficult to explain flavour as the artichoke’s earthiness wasn’t strong to dominate. Something fragrant infused through and I was troubled in placing words on the precise flavour. You’ll have to come and try it out yourself!
Pan roasted Scottish scallop, cauliflower and hazelnut couscous, cauliflower mousseline, parsley jus, garlic emulsion
Scallop was cooked well, but the stars of the dish were the two sauces. The cauliflower mousse was intensely creamy, its flavours rivalled a freshly made cauliflower soup. On the contrary, the parsley jus wasn’t creamy at all. It was clear, fresh and condensed from a garden of fresh parsley. The two sauces produced a balanced harmony, giving the tender scallop an innovate yet delicious edge. Only downside to this dish was the grainy couscous. It wasn’t really a couscous since it was minced cauliflower and hazelnut. Raw or not, it tasted like raw cauliflower and hazelnut grains. The dish overall was awesome!
Goose foie gras, confit terrine with Jurancon wine, banana puree, celeriac and gomasio, crispy toast of ginger bread (£20 supplement)
We both spotted this foie gras on the menu and it was for two people to share (minimum). When this large bowl of foie gras came, I knew we couldn’t finish it no matter how delicious. It was strange to see a banana on the plate, with black sesame and banana puree as complements. I was lost on where to start and what combination would produce the best flavour.
Separately, the banana and puree were both excellent. Like eating raw bananas with extra caramel sweetness. Err I wasn’t sure where the ginger bread was! Eating foie gras without any bread was overwhelming greasy. We tried our best, but it was too much to take without something to balance. The small salad did its job but compared to that large bowl of foie gras, it was really the size of an ant.
Roasted corn-fed chicken breast stuffed with wild mushrooms, presse of confit legs, gratinated macaroni with roasted horn of plenty mushrooms and parsley, yellow wine with Arbois sauce
This was one of the most beautifully plated chicken I’ve encountered. The towered pasta was an art on its own! My friend’s comment to her dish was the chicken was a bit dry and pasta was too salty. Though she still cleaned the whole plate..
Roasted line-caught seabass, girolles, chestnut emulsion, white truffle from Alba (£20 supplement)
Foam seemed to be a habit here, I can’t remember any dish without it! The sea bass was roasted perfectly with a near crispy edge and an easy to cut through juicy flesh. The chestnut emulsion was brilliant, a tint of sweetness and perfectly infused with some addictive cream. The only problem was the roasted sea bass overpowered the natural truffle aromas. Rather than infusing the sea bass with extra fragrance, I could’t taste truffle’s presence at all, which spoiled the point of adding an extra £20 for truffles.
Pre-dessert: pumpkin mousse
Lightly sweetened pumpkin mousse with a thin layer of pumpkin jelly on the top. Like I was surrounded by autumn leaves, my last memory of pumpkin pie quickly popped up.
Chestnut from Ardeche, light Chantilly cream with sponge biscuit, yuzu curd and sorbet
The yuzu sorbet was so sour, like eating raw lemon or lime. My friend couldn’t finish it. Though she said the overall dish was good.
Exotic fruits with citrus wafer, ginger cream, coconut mousse and crumble
I was impressed by the precision on the cylinder shaped caramel. Taste wise, I loved the coconut mousse and crumble the most. The mousse did a tiny pop then melted in my mouth leaving behind a shortbready crumble.
It shouldn’t be called ‘petite’ anymore! Instead of a trolley of cheese, we got a trolley of chocolates! Unfortunately both of us were stuffed at this point and I only tried one of the biscuits, which was deliciously sweet.
I had to mention something about their china. First of all, the tea/coffee china was from Hermes, which tempted me to discretely sneak some in my bag. I wasn’t sure the brand for others, but all the tableware looked so beautiful!
Verdict - 4/5
Food (amazing) - I loved the food at Helene Darroze, two Michelin stars well deserved. The dishes were French classic with clever modern twists. I was most impressed by the accompanying sauces. Whether it was the chestnut mousse, the parsley jus or the cauliflower mousse, it made a world of difference to each dish.
Service (friendly) - Service was excellent too, comfortable and not too professionally disturbing. We were able to engage in our conversation while enjoying our food that came at the perfect time.
Cost (too expensive) - Maybe we had too many dishes with extra supplement plus the additional starter, but our meal came to £320 without any wine. Quite pricey, but if you go with a standard tasting menu it’ll cut this down quite significantly. Overall, a great place to dine, though pricey, it was definitely better than the three Michelin starred Gordon Ramsay.