The Greenhouse: Alex Dilling’s new tasting menu
The two-Michelin-star restaurant has a new executive chef
Hunkered down under a tall mansion block and secluded from its London mews by a garden of potted shrubs and trees, for four decades The Greenhouse has been quietly satisfying the exalted residents of Mayfair. They, along with the bucket-listers drawn by the lustre of two Michelin stars, had to look elsewhere over the summer as the doors closed for a kitchen refit and a change at the helm. Now it’s back in business.
The new executive chef is Alex Dilling, late of the Connaught, which should calm anxious minds: the venerable hotel retained its two-star status throughout Dilling’s tenure, and his previous haunt, Caviar Russe in New York, gained a star while under his command.
At a recent launch event, his new tasting menu provided further reassurance. Nine courses, each described in a word or two, followed three amuses bouches, the most invigorating of which was a sphere of gazpacho soup. Punchily seasoned and acid-sharp, it burst forth from a jellified shell as soon as it left the spoon.
What followed was more restrained, but no less delightful. Described on the menu with the single word “caviar”, it looked like nothing of the sort. The ivory cream in the white porcelain bowl was smoked sturgeon mousse, under which lay a salad of crab meat. Then the mystery was solved as dark Oscietra caviar was spooned over the top from a silver tureen. It was a beguiling combination: the mousse brought out the creaminess of the roe, the crab its saline tang.
We stayed by the sea for the next course, of raw mackerel in rock oyster cream, then turned inland for foie gras, brightened with lemongrass jelly. There was fresh wine too - a new terroir for the new terrain - as crisp chenin blanc made way for a blend of roussanne and viognier to accompany three elegant globes of foie gras and bright lemongrass jelly (top picture).
It was less sweet than the traditional pairing of sauternes, though beautifully fragrant. The sommelier, Elvis Ziako, said he likes to break with tradition from time to time, an irresistible temptation given the 3,500 wines at his disposal at The Greenhouse. Apparently no London restaurant has more.
The next glass, an august white burgundy, is drier and sterner - necessarily, given what it’s up against. The “oeuf noir” might well be this menu’s signature dish. Its dark truffled shell is Easter-egg pretty but, sliced open, it reveals a sunny, savoury, soft-boiled yolk.
Then we were blazing through the fine-dining shibboleths: turbot followed blanquette de veau, and then came the wagyu. But none merely ticked a luxury box: the rich veal sweetbreads were lifted by a hint of ginger, the turbot girded with boudin noir. The beef, almost too tender, gained backbone from a brandy-snap cigar, filled with citrus-spiked meat and tipped with gold leaf.
Surprisingly sweet for a main course, the latter heralded a transition to desserts. Memories were a little hazy by this point, but a tuile with apple mousse was - mercifully - light and refreshing, and then a potent, quivering gel of chocolate and miso delivered the coup de grace. Those of us who could picked our way through a bowl of buttery lemon-thyme madeleines, and then we were out on the garden path and heading back into the real world - or at least Mayfair’s approximation of it.
The Greenhouse, London W1