Here's a bit of ancient history. I had this meal weeks and weeks and weeks ago with a couple of friends I met on a food forum, Jon and Fi. It was Jon's idea to meet for Saturday lunch at Foliage, the highest end restaurant at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Mayfair. He'd spotted the restaurant's new style menu, where you could choose four dishes in any combination you liked - four savoury dishes or four sweet ones. Each dish is between starter and main course in size. The lunch deal is also a bit of a bargain - this is a haute cuisine restaurant offering four dishes for £27 or £35 if you add two glasses of accompanying wine.
Because I've been a tardy, disorganised twit and only just got round to posting this my memory's not as fresh as it might be, hopefully the photos will be informative. I also have some good notes from Fi and I'll indicate when relaying those.
As an amuse bouche we had this rather nice white onion veloute. You can probably see that it's been lightly frothed, the bits in the middle are, I think crispy pieces of onion, chervil and parsley oil (Fi or Jon, please jump in here if you think this is wrong). This was delicious, the smooth soup flavourful with the additions adding textural interest - nicely chewy and crispy, but not demanding in any way.
For the next course I had this dish of foie gras with apple caviar and pain d'epice. When it arrived at the table I piped up and asked the waiter what the apple caviar was, he started what was clearly going to be a comprehensive explanation, "It's made using something-chemical-ase something something". "Ah, you mean it's jelly", I cut him off. Most other days I would have happily attended seminars on culinary jelly techniques, but I was feeling slightly next-day-ish (this was lunch on a Saturday, remember). These attractive green beads were not really up to scratch flavour-wise though. The strongest flavour on the plate came from the pain d'epice, but overall the dish was a bit bland. In terms of texture, the foie gras dominated . . . perhaps that's how it should be, it was a mite cold though. It does looks great though, doesn't it?
Fi had, "Crab, fennel, langoustine - came in a beautiful black glass vase-shaped bowl - attention to detail meant even the stand was warmed. Was a soup of white crab meat + langoustine bits in a lemony/fennel broth. Pool of (chive?) oil sitting just under surface of broth (possibly trapped under the crab meat?) so when you dug your spoon in, little green beads floated up. slices of poached fennel at the bottom. Personally I'd have taken the core out of the fennel, bit too unwieldy to eat whole (and though they did provide a knife + fork they're impossible to use in a vessel shaped basically like a bowl on a high stand). Very thin crackly toast separately, spread with dark crab meat mulch."
My next dish was frogs' legs with a potato foam soup with hazelnuts. You can't see the hazelnuts, they lurk under the surface of the soup, ready to surprise you with their slightly too sweet chewy crunch. Those are mushrooms in between the frogs' legs. I took it that you were meant to pick up the legs and dip them in the foam and that seemed to work pretty well. A pretty good dish, but again not tasting spectacular.
Fi's next course: "Tuna, red cabbage, sesame, something else - square of nice rare tuna rolled round a little cylinder of foie gras, foie gras sauce round also. Fine, but foie was unadvertised + had I been vegetarian I'd have been cross. Red cabbage served in diminutive bowl at the side in the form of a tiny, beautifully sharp + slightly spicy salad. Really good counterpoint, both flavour + texture-wise, to rich tuna. Tiny purple shiso leaf garnish was scrunched with joy"
My next course was fantastic -a real step up a gear. This picture shows trout skin, quinoa, trout, beans and clams. This had subtlety and interest. Every mouthful left you wanting more. Every so often there was a new flavour point - the saltiness of the clams, the marinated red pepper flecks. The quinoa offered give way granularity contrasting the thin crunch of the fish skin. The fish is soft but flaky, the beans are soft, but solid. The clams offer chewiness to the diner and flavour to their bean bedfellows. Lovely.
I had gone for four savoury dishes and the next of these was also a triumph: rabbit with lemon couscous and parmesan. The couscous was packed with freshness and flavour - the dominant one being bitter lemon, chilli offering hot highlights, the rabbit was boned and rolled, wrapped in ham and containing the animal's liver. The richness of the liver worked well against the couscous. Enjoyable eating from start to finish.
I'm afraid I don't have a record nor photos of Jon's dishes - but they were disappearing remarkably rapidly into the man with the bottomless stomach.
Wines were . . .ok. Again, no details jotted down I'm afraid. The
punchy red with my rabbit and couscous was the best of my two.
The next photo is of Fi's dish of duck, prunes, red cabbage and cucumber. Here's what she thought: Duck, prunes, red cabbage, something else - four little slices of magret, nice crackly skin, served pink (think Jon's wasn't pink). A little chewy. Prunes really good with the duck; red cabbage not as nice as the one I make at home.
And finally here's Fi's dessert: "Pineapple, coconut, chili - butter-poached (?) pineapple ring, centre filled with pineapple jelly with the faintest suggestion of chilli, but mainly lemon; scoop of coconut parfait topped with dried pineapple ring (crackly + delicious); smear of pineapple sauce (which tasted tinned! maybe that was the desired effect?); three little cubes of perfect vanilla panna cotta (my desert island pudding). Could have done with more chili - it was advertised on the menu + if I hadn't seen it on there I would honestly never have detected it in the pudding."
Overall, although this is a slightly subdued 'hotel' style of cuisine, this lunch deal offers a fantastic way to enjoy a high standard restaurant at a very reasonable price. There are other fine dining restaurants which offer great lunch deals, but many of these are only open on weekdays and are aimed at the business diner. The real winner though is this format for lunch, a really nice semi-grazing effect which will appeal to those who want to taste as many things as possible, it also encourages relaxed dining. Jon was truly relaxed and did want to taste as many things as possible and promptly ordered a fifth dish - available at £7.50 I supped a final Armagnac and floated out into the cool bright day . . .
Foliage, 66 Knightsbridge, SW1X 7LA +44 (0)20 7235 2000