Summer on the tube (insert groan). Anytime on the tube! The bleeding Circle line pushes along the tracks, screeching to a holt at every stop. The doors slide apart and release a whiff of warm air. A clammy lady sweats beside me reading Heat magazine. Just seeing the word “Heat” brings on another bout of heavy breathing and the sweats.
Once outside I gasp for air and cross the road into Holland Park. It’s beautiful. Full of beautiful people reading and sunbathing. All the gardens are neat. I walk towards the centre to where The Belvedere sits and hear peacocks parading themselves like the once wealthy Jacobean gentry. There’s a picturesque fountain and other birdsong.
There are few restaurants situated in truly stunning settings, especially in the city and grubby stains of London. The Belvedere in Holland Park, Kensington, has a spectacular location, once the former grounds of the Jacobean Holland House. Its ownership has passed through various parties over the years, all trying to define the menu and atmosphere to equally match the romance of the grounds, and currently residing in the large hands of Marco Pierre White.
After a dramatic redesign by David Collins, Belvedere has been re-launched to much acclaim and now offers superb cuisine in a unique location. Its name sounds traditionally English, ghastly almost in a higher class cliché, an upstanding Lord or country house butler.
I was with ‘The Boss’ from the office and meeting a client for lunch. The three of us sat outside on the balcony looking over the gardens and great banks of rhododendrons and azaleas. The sun in our eyes. There’s a Set Menu: two-courses for £15.95 and three-courses for £19.95, the A La Carte Menu and the Sample Menu De Jour with prices ranging from £14.00 to £22.50 (Grilled lemon sole (on the bone), cêpe mushrooms, potato purée, and Beurre Noir). All is developed and supervised under Head Chef, Bill Reid, “With fine French accents that lift and refine some of our favourite dishes” (www.belvedererestaurant.co.uk).
Reid has worked for White at L’Escargot in Soho and gained a Michelin Star at the Vinyard at Stockcross, so you know what you’re in for here. He has the appearance and overall presence of the ‘Great White’ too: sturdy, tough and a chef you wouldn’t wanna cross.
There’s a seasonal and impressive selection from the different menus and if you’re selective with your choices than very well priced. The ballotine of game with apricot chutney and hot toast was a firm pâté but rather dry with no real burst of game flavour, and in all, rather bland. It was not a soft cut, and for all my efforts, was impossible to spread on the toast.
My main of confit de canard grand-mere (this is The Belvedere, remember my dear! It’s chicken), was good. A large portion thoroughly cooked and with a crispy skin.
Other sampled dishes were: Penne all’Uovo Arrabiata (part of the Set Menu), reports where good, not a lot to this dish except well made pasta in a bowl but it’s a dish that pleased and did exactly what it promotes – “All’arrabbiata” meaning “angry style”, named as such due to the heat of the peppers.
Wines are pricey; however there are reasonable gems to be found: a £16.00 St Véran Burgundy and an £18.00 Fleurie, I think are cheap, cheerful and fine offers. We started with a Jean Marc Brocard Chablis (£21.00) followed by a very nice 2004 Jim Barrie Macrae Wood Shiraz upon recommendation (£55.00). Ouch!
The restaurant itself is large, white and clean looking. There are huge archway-windows over-looking the glorious park scenery and allowing sunny fingers to poke through and light up the dining room, in which sits a gleaming black piano and the most stunning chandeliers which slowly move to form a kaleidoscope effect. There are curtains and drapes which hang in a Moroccan fashion and seal away those “no-go” areas. All elegantly done. An evening in the dining room would be a vastly different experience from our summer lunch on the balcony, not least because there are no flowers on tables or Victorian potted palms needed.
The service was impeccable, and my glass my never empty. The food was delivered promptly and we were well looked after by our Sommelier.
A selection of English cheeses finished the meal and it all seemed very quaint and summery on the balcony. Not like an English summer at all! Stilton, Pout-l Evéque, fresh goats cheese, and two other clunky European varieties* which I did not take note of, and that cheeky cheese that forever makes an appearance, “Brie”, was delicious as a finish. You can dip in-and-out of cheeses, sample as little or as much as you’d like from a wide variety or hard, soft, smelly, vile, stinking, blue, mouldy, aged, cave-grown cheeses. I think that’s their draw? It’s so English while being so French. Now then, to the tube…
* Naporne and Fardambay? Let me know my mistakes.