What: I have the biggest weakness for superlatives. Everything in life is just fantabulous, the most incredi-scrumptious, I can’t help myself. Which makes Hélène Darroze at The Connaught tricky, because how do you describe a meal that makes every other dinner out look like a McDonalds’ Happy Meal without resorting to every superlative in the dictionary? If you don’t like effusive, over-the-top gushing then please just skip to the next article.
Hélène Darroze has won plaudits from pretty much everyone for her restaurant Hélène Darroze at The Connaught in, surprisingly enough, Mayfair’s Connaught Hotel, inspiring everyone from Michelin, who awarded her two Michelin stars, to Nicholas Sarkozy, who knighted her, and even Pixar even who based the Ratatouille character Colette on her.
And that really is the level we’re at, here, food so good it’s Disney blockbuster good.
Setting: Like I just said, it’s in Mayfair.
The Look: The look is quintessentially classic English old-school. Wood panelled walls the colour of David Dickinson’s face, carpets so deep you might be walking through the rough at a championship golf course and more mahogany furniture than you’d find round at Lovejoy’s house. Which is only right, it’s The Connaught after all; essentially a grand country house hotel that somehow got lost and wound up in central London.
And it’s the detail that grabs your attention, I’m here for the Le Poulet du Dimanche lunch and so there are a pair of beautiful porcelain chicken legs laid out on the table. The water jug features a glass fish that bubbles through the blow-hole as the jug pours, which the waiter tells me is specially commissioned from Italian designer Massimo Lunardon. And that’s the level of dedication, not just that they have a specially commissioned water jug, but that the waiter can recite exactly where it comes from.
On The Menu: Chicken. Lots of chicken. It’s the Le Poulet du Dimanche menu (come on guys, this is Tricolore 1 level French) so expect a roast, except not one like you’re used to.
What we ate: In my book eel is the opposite of appetising, but somehow Hélène Darroze has cast a spell to turn Delboy’s favourite fish into a mouthwatering delicacy, served as part of a trio of appetisers, including crispy skin and chicken liver (again liver there defying expectations to be fabulous) and a confit egg yolk and Parmeggiano Reggiano, presented on a spoon. Forget a spoonful of sugar, this medicine went down just fine.
And so to starter, le bouillon de la poule au pot comme le souhaitait Henry IV (okay, we’ve moved up to GCSE level French now, but basically chicken soup just like Henry IV liked it). When the French king Henry IV declared “I want no peasant in my kingdom to be so poor that he can’t have poule au pot on Sundays” I doubt he had anything like Hélène Darroze’s take on the dish, which was topped up with armagnac to create something not unlike a shooting party elevensies, but about five times tastier. The armagnac came from Darroze’s family farm and was exceptional and the dish was fit for a king as well as a peasant.
The main event was roast chicken, like Darroze’s grandmother Louise used to make it and came rolled in on a trolley. Theatrically carved at the table by a waiter wearing a Saville Row suit crisper than the chicken’s own skin (I’m guessing he’s in demand come family Christmas), it was divine. Deftly sliced, le poulet rôti was stuffed under the skin with foie gras and served with souffléd potatoes, asparagus and morel mushrooms. I was so busy gorging that I simple wrote in my notes ‘RI-DONKULOUSLY GOOD’. Which if anything underplays how great it was.
Any sign that the meal had peaked was quickly dismissed as we cleansed our palates with mini corn tortillas. Stuffed with chicken confit leg, Haas avocado, cucumber, coriander and mint, I’d have been happy to eat this alone. I’d have submitted a glowing review about how the corn tortillas at Hélène Darroze were the best in London; that this wasn’t even an actual course shows the level Darroze is working at here.
And finally on to pudding, simply called The Egg. The name being about the only thing that was simple about it. The dish comprised of an ‘egg’ that when broken revealed a mango and passionfruit yolk, suspended in a ‘white’ of ice cream with sponge soldiers for dipping. Extravagant, playful and utterly delicious. The dish was the perfect round-off (or oval-off?) to one of the most incredible meals I’ve probably ever had.
What We Drank: We went with a wine pairing that took us from Darroze’s native France (a rose Champagne) to New Zealand, Hungary (a wonderful Tokai), and back to France with one of the best glasses of Chablis I’ve had outside of Burgundy and left me wondering if Sarcozy should’ve knighted the somelier as well?
Go With: Take me, like, seriously, I’ll get my things and be ready in five.
Final word: Remember I said I was given to superlatives? Well no word of a superlative, Hélène Darroze at The Connaught might well be the final word in London restauranting. Go there by whatever means possible, mug a taxi driver, steal from your granny’s purse, do whatever it takes to go there.
Where: Hélène Darroze at The Connaught, The Connaught, Carlos Place, Mayfair, W1K 2AL, www.the-connaught.co.uk
Like this? Try these: This is the section where we normally list similar restaurants, but I’m not sure there’s anything I can fairly compare it to. Don’t try anywhere else, you’ll be disappointed.