Sunday, 4 November 2012

Alyn Williams at The Westbury

The Westbury is one of the fairly grand hotels of London tucked away in side streets just off Regent Street. I am not usually a fan of hotel joints as they seem a little stifled in their creativity and act merely as bolt-on of the hotel itself like an attraction. As high quality hotel restaurants go, The Westbury is fairly standard. Dark shiny wooden panelling, beige cushioned couches, soft lighting, black hole-like atmosphere and old men dining with impossibly beautiful young women. These places serve a specific clientele and something that I enjoy in strict moderation. The venues lack individuality and become a blur of floor to ceiling wine racks and oak cheese trolleys.

That being said, Alyn Williams is another Marcus Wearing protege (see James Knappet at Bubbledogs), which immediately excites as Mr Wearing is known for his impossibly high standards. The cooking is an array of techniques, colour, and clean precise flavours. However, it lacks the joy and passion that Knappet clearly displays over at KT. The tasting menu we had started great but faltered as the evening wore on. Still, it was a great display of Alyn's skills.

While enjoying a £12 gin and tonic we were brought blue cheese pastry puffs that were rather heavenly and if I'm honest, I may have had about 6. The house bread was hit and miss, the soda bread was great but the aniseed bread with caraway butter was far too overpowering and unsuited with its flavours and felt a little odd to begin a meal with.

Cheese puffs.

Crab Bloody Mary with celery crisps. The crab was beautifully fresh and the tomato and vodka consomme that was poured over gave both cleanliness and intense flavours in the mouth. The dried celery crisps gave a real punch of aniseed and acted as a nice palate cleanser.

Crab Bloody Mary with Celery Crisps

The scallop that followed was delightful. Plump, juicy and beautifully caramalised. The use of pumpernickel and watermelon contrasted well with each other and fought for attention. In the battle of the scallops, I'd have to say Williams tops Knappet, but only just. I also liked the delicate slicing of the scallops as presentation. It prevented one from eating it too quickly and forced you to savour each sliver.

Orkney Scallop with pumpernickel and watermelon

Foie gras semi freddo was so chilled that the flavours were quite dampened even as it melted on the tongue. Personally I prefer foie to be served a little more naturally. The coldness and cumbleness of the foie left the carrot a little redundant and the liquorice was lost.
Foie Gras Semifreddo

A huge bounce back came in the way of the mackerel.  It caused my companion to declare it like "being back in Tokyo''. Fantastically fresh and the vacuum cooking left it with a delicate flaking texture. The samphire added a salty bitterness and the cauliflower crumb was a notable textural addition. A seriously accomplished and confident dish.
Mackerel with samphire and cauliflower crumb.

There was only one choice on the menu, lamb or pork. Both my guests ordered the lamb as the main course so I plumped for the pork. I had a few tasters of the lamb and was disappointed. I was disappointed a Welshman could serve lamb this tasteless. The tzatziki seemed confused on the plate and the purees were lacking in flavour.

The pork however was impressive. Loin, belly and a corndog with girolles, sweetcorn puree and charred kernels with shaved truffle added at the table. The plate gave off a hugely heady aroma only added to by the warmed truffle. The loin was perfectly cooked and full of flavour, the belly had a great crackling on the skin and had a good fat to meat ratio. The corndog was playful however overly sweet for the dish. Overall a very enjoyable plate however a few less kernels wouldn't have been missed.

Cornish cows curd, passionfruit grantina and honeycomb did exactly what it said on the tin. Clean and crisp, it finished off the savoury courses perfectly.

Dessert was baked apples, a play on a rolo, and hazelnut ice cream and biscuit. The rolo was sticky caramel covered in shiny smooth chocolate. Whilst tasting great, it was overly cloying in the mouth. The baked apple still had some bite and the sugary rolo added the sweetness they needed. Overall however the dish didn't hit the heights of some of the other courses.
Baked apple, rolo and hazlenut

Overall after eating at KT@Bubbledogs the same week, the meal fell a little flat by comparison. That is however an unfair yardstick as the cooking Knappet & co is hitting some dizzying heights and has the added theatre as an experience. The meal had some very highs and some rather uninspiring lows, but overall nothing unworthy of the noises Williams is currently making in food circles (Williams was just named 2012 National Chef of the Year and won its first Michelin star). These are high accolades indeed, and for his star to continue to rise, some of the inconsistencies in dish construction and flavour profiles need to be addressed. I have no doubt however that this will be found and the Winter Truffle menu will be a big hit for those with the wallets to accommodate it.

How much: 310pounds for 3, tasting menu plus wine.

Where is it: The Westbury Hotel, 37 Conduit Street, London, W1S 2YF
Phone: 0207 078 9579

Food: 8/10
Service: 9/10
Slosh: 8/10
Value: 8/10
Overall: 8/10

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