Being a foodie, it’s difficult not to get excited about doing a review at a brand new restaurant and the concept at Canvas by Michael Riemenschneider is intriguing and original. The menu features fifteen dishes (five seafood, five meat and poultry and five desserts) and the dining party creates their own tasting menu with three, four, five, seven and ten course menus available with optional wine pairings from a range of classic or iconic wines. There is also the possibility of choosing the ‘Menu Surprise’, for which Riemenschneider chooses six courses for the table based on the finest produce from the day’s market.
The restaurant, which opened in Marylebone this year, has only twenty covers and, although the kitchens and bathrooms have been modernised and there are pictures (on canvas) featuring tempting drawings of some of the restaurant’s dishes, much of the décor from its previous incarnation has been preserved, including smoked glass mirrors at the entrance and mahogany shelves that house the wine fridges and partition off the private dining area at the rear.
We were shown to our seats by restaurant manager Arnaud and we didn’t feel crowded, even though at other small restaurants you can feel you are seated almost in the laps of other diners. However, once we had chosen our dishes – a conservative five courses – we were given an aperitif of NV Ruinart that was noticeably under-chilled. Charlotte, as a champagne aficionado, enquired about this and was told that additional wine fridges would soon arrive to allow the sommelier to chill the champagne separately. However, much to our delight, sommelier Alis proceeded to wow us with the rest of his wine choices for dinner, leaving us in no doubt about his substantial knowledge and passion, not to mention an adorable, light-hearted charm.
But on to the food review.
After some spiced peanut popcorn (its flavour vaguely reminiscent of an Indonesian snack called rempeyek kacang), dense bread with salty anchovy butter and an amuse-bouche of smoked trout and goat curd, we were on to our own tasting menu. Our first course was scallop, with an artful painted stripe of sharp, powdered juniper and creamy cauliflower purées. This inventive combination really set the scene for the rest of the meal, and an Eroica Reisling from the USA complemented the dish with powerful fullness and fruit notes.
Our menu favoured ‘Sea and Coast’, our next course being lobster with white chocolate, broccoli and infusions. The helping of lobster was generous, with an additional spoonful of the delicious meat hidden inside a dainty raviolo, and the sauces echoed the green freshness of the broccoli. The flavour of the white chocolate jelly was an unashamedly sweet component rather than any kind of savoury interpretation, a point of daring that recurred in the meat course. A glass of The FMC, Stellenbosch 2011, was our aromatic accompaniment, with its richness and flavours of spiced fruit providing an excellent backdrop for the delicate lobster.
Our final seafood dish was langoustine with pearl barley, veal and jus crustace. This dish is one of the ones that appeared in the art on the wall and we were happy to see that the design on the canvas had been executed perfectly on the plate! Four asparagus spears formed a rectangle around a stack of pearl barley, which had been combined with shredded veal and had absorbed much of the veal flavour, yet managed to stay just al dente. On top: two pieces of tender langoustine that weren’t overpowered, but rather enhanced by the salty meat. A Didier Dagueneau Blanc Fume de Pouilly, Buisson Renard 2009, was Alis’ choice for this course and it did not disappoint, with flint on the palate and substantial body that prepared us to switch to red for our next course.
If I were to choose my favourite dish of all time, the venison at Canvas is a strong contender. Served with earthy greens and solferino, the venison was medium rare but the combination of the juicy meat with the bitter-sweet, crunchy, dark chocolate dust and walnut toffee brittle was inspired and, for me, better than any venison dish I have eaten. Anywhere. Ever. There was a swish of chocolate paint and no punches were pulled on the sweetness – again, a brave decision to allow the chocolate to work without the compromise of a savoury sauce. Better still, the wine, a two year aged 2009 Syrah from Domaine Louis Cheze Saint-Joseph Anges, was full of chocolate tones that brought out the spiciness in the chocolate dust to perfection.
Our final course, chocolate ‘7’ with pineapple, coconut and Malibu, arrived while we were still drinking our Syrah. We were not asked if we wanted to wait until we had finished our glasses and been given the dessert wine. I can’t help feeling that the size of the restaurant again proved the disadvantage, in that there would have been nowhere for our desserts to be stored in the meantime. Perhaps not so much of a problem with a dessert served cold, but had this occurred between the fish and meat courses, we might have been required to forgo half a glass of white in order to enjoy our vension warm and with the correct wine.
I did, however, enjoy the dessert enormously, perhaps more so after having it sit tantalisingly in front of me for five minutes… The tangy pineapple jam and coconut cream brought a lightness to the dense chocolate dessert that anyone but a committed chocoholic might otherwise have found a little daunting (unable to watch Charlotte struggle through the ample layers of the cake, I bravely stepped in and relieved her of a few bites). Again, there was an abundance of the divine chocolate dust and we finished the meal with an extra glass of the wine that had accompanied our dessert, a rich fortified Mudigliza wine that was dark and complex, with medium acidity that was perfect for chocolate.
A foodie could not fail to take an interest in this restaurant, where the food – and the concept – is inventive and exciting, the sommelier is a remarkable asset and the combinations bring a breath of fresh air to modern European fine dining menus in London. I have the utmost confidence in the culinary skills of Michael Riemenschneider and I look forward to a second visit after the installation of the champagne fridge and the perfection of the timing of service. After all, in the words of Charles Dudley Warner, ‘a great artist can paint a great picture on a small canvas’.
Canvas by Michael Riemenschneider
69 Marylebone Lane
London W1U 2PH