Age brings its drawbacks, but it also brings its rewards. I’m lucky enough to have eaten in each of Pierre Koffmann’s London restaurants – one meal at La Tante Claire remains on my favourite five meals of all time. Pierre now presides over his eponymous restaurant at the Berkeley Hotel, and remains on my list of favourites. As I was organising a lunch to meet my new chum Charlotte Lynham and we had lots to discuss, I wanted a room which where the food would be delicious, but where conversation could flow. Frankly, I rarely need an excuse to go back to visit Monsieur Koffmann, and so the booking was duly made.
The restaurant is bright, comfortable and always very cheery. I’d identified my guest as a coeliac on the booking notice, and once we had been seated, the waiter discreetly inquired who was who. Charlotte was offered two kinds of gluten free bread, a white bread, and a seeded variety. At every stage of the meal Charlotte was advised which dishes contained gluten and what the alternatives might be. As Charlotte was effectively barred from the bread, I was offered the whole fabulous selection to myself. The star for me was the rosemary brioche – light, amazingly crisp, the rosemary neatly punctuating the richness of the buttery brioche.
Determined to get to the pistachio soufflé on the dessert menu, I opted to have two starters. Charlotte decided to join me as, having mentioned that she loved the game pie, the kitchen had kindly saved a duck pithivier for us to try before our mains.
To start I had fresh crab with a celeriac and apple remoulade. The dish arrives hidden beneath the carapace of a spider crab, which is lifted to reveal a beautiful delicate tower. The lightly dressed crab sits on top of a layer of crisp and slightly tart apple remoulade. The tower is topped with frisée, and disks of radish, all contributing to a light, crisp dish. Charlotte had the langoustines and scallops with shellfish broth, which I’ll come to in a minute.
As a middle course, we were brought the aforementioned duck pithivier. With the finest layer of perfectly scored puff pastry, the interior of the pithivier contained finely diced meat, placed on top of a rich unctuous red wine jus. It was rich, intense, but didn’t overwhelm the senses.
Charlotte decided to try the squid Bolognese-style as her main dish, and I managed to steal some from her. The squid had been cut into the finest, flattest tagliatelle, and served with a bolognese sauce. The sauce had been enriched with squid ink, intensifying the flavours. I thought the squid tagliatelle was absolutely exquisite, and frankly much nicer than pasta – perfect for coeliacs!
For my main course I had the langoustines and scallops with shellfish broth. The broth is presented inside another spider crab carapace, and is delicate yet deep and earthy. The tender and barely cooked langoustine sit with scallops and clams in a shellfish bisque scented with finely sliced chives. The bisque is a much lighter and brighter one than I’ve ever had before, and supported the delicacy of the shellfish, rather than overwhelmed it. Nestling amongst the bisque were also tiny little croutons, and we noted that these had been left out of Charlotte’s dish – the attention to detail in the kitchen is duly noticed out in the restaurant.
To celebrate the Epiphany, the lovely staff brought me a slice of Galette des Rois. This traditional holiday cake is made with layers of dense frangipane and crisp pastry, and here the top was beautifully scored and glazed. Charlotte was offered a lemon sorbet, and found that delicious.
Finally, desserts. I’ve had Pierre’s pistachio soufflé with pistachio ice-cream on many occasions, and have even described it in this blog as my joint favourite soufflé of all time. Today’s offering did not disappoint: a most perfect combination of pistachio paste and egg whites, the soufflé is presented whole and then pierced with a quenelle of pistachio ice-cream. This slips through the centre of the soufflé, creating an even more luscious layer of pistachio scented foam. As the soufflé dish is lined with shavings of dark chocolate, the outer layer adds the necessary bitter and slightly salty counterpoint to the soufflé. It remains in first place on my soufflé leader board.
The staff again advised Charlotte which dishes would be most suitable for her and she plumped for the chestnut and chocolate mousse. This is beautifully presented and the mousse is sandwiched between three layers of crisp chocolate. I couldn’t tear myself away from my soufflé, but Charlotte said that the mousse was delicate in flavour, and the portion just the right size to satisfy without overwhelming her palate.
More than fully sated, we sat for a while absorbing the atmosphere of the room, drinking tea and coffee, we then say our goodbyes and I disappear in to deepest darkest Mayfair.
The Berkeley Hotel
London, SW1X 7RL