Regular readers (I know you're out there somewhere) may have noticed I've dined a few times of late with one Chris Pople of Cheese and Biscuits fame (and I mean fame - he's the current go-to man for news and radio comment on the food blogging phenomenon). I'd like to take this opportunity to scotch any rumours... he's far too male for my tastes. He does, though, have a knack for snagging reservations at the hottest new restaurants, and I'm quite happy to tag along when I get the chance. So when he got in touch on Sunday suggesting dinner the following day at a place called Bar Boulud I was immediately intrigued.
Neither Chris nor the third member of the party hadn't heard of Daniel Boulud before but both had seen the buzz about his place on Twitter and read up on his back-story; for me it was the other way round: I'd taken my eye off the rumour mill so didn't know about his London debut but I knew a bit about Daniel Boulud, or at least the New York restaurant that takes his first name. Once I'd made the connection I was up for it like a shot.
Bar Boulud is to be found in some newly snazzed-up rooms in the lower reaches of the Mandarin Oriental. This is a hotel a mere precious stone's throw from Harrods so it's interesting to find such an accessible and affordable dining option among such exclusive, expensive surroundings. Later this year the same hotel will be home to Heston Blumenthal's first London foray, and although it seems unlikely he'll be indulging in quite the same level of expensive whimsy he does so well at The Fat Duck, I'm willing to bet you won't be able to get a burger and chips for twelve quid. You can in Bar Boulud.
And what's more you should: the burgers were among the highlights of a fantastic first Bar Boulud experience. Before them, though, came a sharing platter of charcuterie, patés and terrines. This was a generous portion for £14. I'd been angling for the bigger platter but, with the boudin blanc we ordered alongside, this was plenty for three. Just as well I was talked down: the restaurant had Googled Chris's name (either before or after the we got the cameras out, I'm not sure) and decided we merited special treatment, in this case a chat with Daniel himself and a few bonus dishes for us to try.
Anyway, of the cold meat selection the highlights were probably the jellied pulled rabbit and a lamb terrine that had distinct Tayyabs overtones. Never a bad thing. The boudin was excellent too: pillowy in texture and delicately peppery.
The first freebie was a block each of rillon: slow cooked smoked pork belly that was beautifully tender but with fantastically bacony crunch.
The mains were also spot on. Chris was momentarily distracted by some complimentary boudin noir and feeling more than a little daunted by all the special treatment (a discomfort henceforth to be known as the freebie-jeebies) so I snaffled a bit of his roast chicken with wild garlic. And it was good. Decent roast chicken that actually tastes of chicken is a rare thing indeed a restaurant. Almost as rare, in fact, as coq au vin, which was my choice. This was the real deal: three chunkly pieces of leg and thigh falling off the bone but still juicy, an inky black sauce and (I suspect) more of that rillon as part of the garniture. On the side a little pot of exceptional spätzle that made the waiter come over all unnecessary when I was ordering.
Dan had the piggie burger. It's odd to see burgers on a menu that's otherwise so relentlessly French but let's face it: the French know about both meat and sandwiches so why shouldn't they be able to perfect a burger? Turns out they can. Perfect pinkness, perfect seasoning, perfect fries, perfect bun: this was surely the perfect burger... Until we got to try another freebie, "The Frenchie", which ticked all of these boxes but also some another ones we hadn't considered before. Some umami alchemy involving confit pork and Morbier cheese rendered this the best burger I can recall tasting. And I've had a few.
After all this, we were too stuffed to contemplate pudding so we allowed ourselves to be upsold some macarons with our coffee instead. The strawberry ones were a bit jammy dodger for my taste but the hazelnut versions were cracking.
We were lucky enough to have a second chat with Daniel, who won't be in town for long, and the general manager, in whose safe hands the place will soon be left. We may have been getting special treatment because of our alleged importance as food bloggers but they both seemed genuinely delighted with our positive reaction to the food, interested in anything we thought could be improved and generally thoroughly enthusiastic about what had clearly been a very successful opening week. We were even shown the guest list for a "little gathering" of fellow chefs who were coming over later that evening: Robuchon, Atherton, Darroze, Hartnett, Blumenthal, Blanc, Wareing, Galvin, Bossi... There were 40-odd in total and it was like a Who's Who of current UK cheffery. With Gary Rhodes and Brian Turner thrown in. Boulud is already joining this list of household foodie names and on the evidence of this first meal it's easy to see why.
Bar Boulud, Mandarin Oriental, 66 Knightsbridge SW1X 7LA 020 7201 3899