UK / Europe

Masterpiece at The Gallery

Amy Hughes

Historically, hotel restaurants have gotten a bad wrap.

And while that still holds true in some cities, London’s hotel restaurants have been making a name for themselves over the last five or so years.  Some even host big name chefs like Gordon Ramsay.

Personally, while I’m all for haute cuisine, I prefer a simpler, less complicated style.

Food, like works of art, needs their own space to be admired, and consumed. Brian Fantoni, the chef at The Gallery, in Mayfair’s Westbury Hotel, appears to share this view with a menu drawing on Provencal/Nicoise, and Northern Italian influences.

The room has all the classic elegance of London’s National Gallery, without the cool detachment.  Low lighting and wonderfully eclectic music warm the room perfectly.  My companion and I wondered how any restaurant exists without music.

Getting it right is the key…not too loud, not too soft, and preferably something that enhances or helps create atmosphere, rather than distract.

Crystal chandeliers and a beautiful mosaic tile floor form a stunning environment…one which could fall into the trap of over-formality, but doesn’t.  It’s a grand, yet inviting space.  The kind of place one wants to get dressed for on a Saturday night.

A lovely Brazilian sommelier suggested we begin with smooth and substantial Bordeaux.  The La Rose de Gruard, from St. Julien was almost a meal in itself and complemented our dishes perfectly.

We were tempted by the prix fixe menu – a steal at £19 for two courses, £23 for three, and included monkfish as one of the mains.   Food and atmosphere at these prices, just off Bond Street, are rare.  But the octopus Carpaccio (absent from the set menu) took both of our fancies and begged to be tried.  Delicate, paper-thin slivers of octopus covered a rectangular plate, with olive oil, and little drops of colour from chilli and other herbs, creating a plate which mirrored the mosaic –tiled floor.

We both gasped as the plates were set down.  The Carpaccio was almost too stunning to eat.  We managed to get over the beauty and agreed we could easily make a meal of the dish.  The simplicity, yet perfect execution, and presentation are exactly what I seek out in a restaurant.

We were both lured by the stone bass, served with risotto and a tomato salsa vierge.   A request to substitute the risotto for green beans and shallots was met with an easy smile.  The bass was delicious and light, but the real star of the table was the untraditional side dish of baked aubergine with tomato and parmesan.  I’ll admit to a bias; this is a long-time favourite dish of mine, not least of which because it’s a labour of love to get the aubergine tender, soft and sweet.

Many good Italian restaurants struggle to get it right. The Gallery does not.

If there is one dish to order, it’s the baked aubergine.  In fact, the wait staff seems to agree.   We drooled over the aubergine to every server who came to our table and each one of them concurred it was their own personal “must-have”.

It was so good; we greedily ordered a second portion.  The key, I was told, is that the chef doesn’t fry the aubergine, like most do.  Instead, he simply layers the slices together with the tomatoes and cheese, and bakes it in a very, very hot oven (over 250c).  The result is melt-in-your-mouth, tenderness.  I’d suggest they offer this as a main course, but it could wind up being the only thing anybody orders.  It’s that good.

Dessert was a lovely gianduja layer cake, stolen from the set menu.  I once ate at a restaurant which refused to swap dishes from different menus coming from the same kitchen and it struck me as terribly rigid.  Thus, when there’s an opportunity for pick-and-mixing, I’m always curious to see the response.

The staff at The Gallery were more than accommodating.  Nothing was too great a request and each were appropriately engaging.    Even better than the dessert, in my opinion, were the “afters” … gorgeous, I.M. Pei-inspired triangles of cocoa-dusted truffles.  The pastry chef showed a sense of humour, topping each one with a criss-cross of white chocolate, making for a view of Mont Blanc.

The Gallery is a masterpiece of quality ingredients, well-executed food, and artistic, but not over-the-top presentation.

The Gallery at the Westbury Hotel

www.westburymayfair.com

+44 (0)207 078 9577

37 Conduit Street (off Bond Street)

London

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