French chef Hélène Darroze opened her “exceptional” dining room at The Connaught at the trail end of the fine-dining boom in 2008. Having sensed that luxury in the 2020s will be very different to the noughties version, she has treated her restaurant to an update which has transformed the previously stiff-upper-lip British surrounds into something more chicly French and, in her words, feminine.
The wood panelling has been brightened by several shades, the straight lines replaced with flowing curves (including the tablecloth-free round oak tables) and a soft pink colour scheme introduced. The old duffers who were apoplectic when Angela Hartnett became The Connaught’s first female head chef in 2003 must be turning in their graves.
Darroze’s cooking remains a lightened-up version of the classic haute cuisine she learnt with Alain Ducasse, showcased on two tasting menus which clock in at £120 for five courses and £160 for seven – and if you want to push the boat out even further, there are supplements for lobster, caviar and wagyu beef.
Not that there’s any need for such opulence when diners are treated to the likes of sweet Cornish crab counterpointed with a clean-tasting pomelo mousse and the smoothest of foie gras contrasted with a crunchy topping of koji rice. The greatest flavour revelations, however, are reserved for humble ingredients elevated into the most refined morsels: mackerel in a gazpacho consommé, say, or sweetbreads with a vadouvan emulsion – the sort of subtle spice note that distinguishes much of the cooking.
Genuinely welcoming staff wheel the Darroze family Armagnacs round on trollies, typical of the “attention to detail” and “excellent service” you’d expect at this level of dining. Even if you’re not partial to a post-prandial snifter, do order the brandy-soaked baba in which the Armagnac is an intriguing alternative to rum.
Readers have always rated this place as “fabulous for special occasions”; if you want a truly bespoke experience, book the new pink-marble chef’s table, though anybody hoping for a ringside seat in an arena of swearing and sweating will be disappointed by the zen-like cool with which the chefs go about their business.