The Ledbury

127 Ledbury Rd

London W11 2AQ


The Food:

Amuse-bouches (including Iberico ham, cured trout and crackers)

Portland crab with swede, buttermilk and apple marigold

24-hour Poole Bay grey mullet with radish, dashi and smoked cream

Jersey beef veal sweetbread with parsnip cream, black garlic and black truffle

Wild sea bass, Chinese artichoke, trout roe and finger lime

Mushrooms from the cabinet (eryngii, hen of the woods, oyster and shiitake) with potato, yeast and rosemary

6-year-old Jersey beef with Roscoff onion, kombu and caramelized cep cream

Sauternes custard, hoshigaki and bee pollen

Bergamot meringue with pear, sour cream and Douglas Fir

Millefeuille, salted milk and Yorkshire rhubarb ice cream, stem ginger and matcha tea

The Wines:

2004 Salon 90?
1999 Domaine Vincent Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet Clavoillon 1er Cru 95
1959 Domaine Vincent Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet Les Pucelles 1er Cru       ?
1991 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Richebourg Grand Cru 95
1981 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Richebourg Grand Cru 96
1971 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti La Tâche Grand Cru 98
1959 Poujeaux 90
2018 Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux Vosne-Romanée Les Grands Suchots 92
2008 Joh. Jos. Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese A.P. #12 92

The pandemic spared nobody in the restaurant industry. The landscape is most likely permanently altered. The Ledbury was cruising at high altitude and ostensibly had the world at its feet when I last entered its doors in June 2019. A pair of Michelin stars and chef Brett Graham’s pulling power conferred immense interest amongst gourmands that hailed it as one of the country’s most desirable fine dining destinations. Forced to shut his doors, Graham took stock of his career, like so many of us did. I mused about where a chef goes having achieved so much. When we met at a private lunch during lockdown, Graham was unsure whether The Ledbury would reopen, and his mindset seemed more focused on his passion for rearing livestock instead of donning his whites and working those long hours again.

Closure automatically extinguished those hard-earned Michelin stars. Yet to my pleasant surprise, in February 2022, the Ledbury reopened with Graham back at the helm in the multiverse that you and I inhabit. Same chef, same name, same location - but it would be a different restaurant. My instinct was to return as soon as its doors opened. Instead, I waited a few weeks to give the team time to settle. Others flocked back in droves, treating it as a signal of life returning to normal, yet one or two notable food critics gave Ledbury 2.0 a few stern words. My wait turned from weeks into months until last New Year, when an extremely generous friend hosted dinner at my old haunt. It proved to be a stellar night on the wine front, which I will tackle later.

In the meantime, the pertinent question is whether The Ledbury has changed and were initial grumblings merited? Should you queue up for one of its sought-after tables? Has The Ledbury regained its pomp?

The Ledbury interior

My taxi pulls up outside its corner location in Notting Hill. The exterior looks the same as before. The interior occupies the same space. The Ledbury has never been a commodious restaurant. It is cozy, though tastefully refurbished, so that its ambiance instantly feels more spacious. A waiters’ table occupies the center, the kitchen is still tucked away downstairs. Glancing around, I notice several young Asian couples, just as there were three years earlier. Unlike before, there is no à la carte, but rather a single multi-course set menu that can be adapted upon request. The Ledbury is not cheap. At £185.00 per person, this is one of London’s most expensive places to dine. Then again, they could probably double that, and the queue will not shorten.

Regarding the cuisine, the dishes continue in a lighter vein than before. It is less calorific. Memories of early dinners are filled with unctuous sauces painstakingly reduced over several centuries, whereas now there are hardly any on the current menu.

Iberico ham

We commence with an array of canapés. The highlights are predictably wafer-thin slithers of Iberico ham reared by Graham himself, draped temptingly over a black rock. They have a gossamer luster and melt-in-your-mouth consistency. Stunning. I am also partial to the cured trout, even if it might not be something you could find elsewhere. None of the canapés are what I would describe as showstoppers, and I find the cracker too spicy. Otherwise, they are all quite delicious.

Portland crab with swede, buttermilk and apple marigold

The nine-course tasting menu begins with Portland crab, swede, buttermilk and apple marigold. This is one of my standout dishes. The crab is exceptionally fine in quality, a nuanced yet fresh and revitalizing dish that I could eat again. The 24-hour Poole Bay grey mullet with radish, dashi and smoked cream follows in the same vein as the crab. Perhaps the dashi could play more of a role; it’s a little crowded out by the smoked cream.

Jersey beef veal sweetbread with parsnip cream, black garlic and black truffle

Veal sweetbread with parsnip cream, black garlic and black truffle is thankfully not too grand in size as this is a rich dish, though the parsnip cream delivers a lovely earthiness that marries well with the garlic and truffle.

Wild sea bass, Chinese artichoke, trout roe and finger lime

Another highlight is the wild sea bass served with Chinese artichoke, trout roe and finger lime. Featuring some of my favourite ingredients, this will always be a winner. The sea bass has a meaty texture and is perfectly cooked; the Chinese artichokes impart bitterness and the trout roe salinity, finger lime and citrus notes. It’s a dish that could easily be unbalanced, but here it is executed to perfection.

The Ledbury mushroom cabinet

The next course is entitled “Mushrooms from the cabinet”. This is a literal title as you walk past the cabinet to go downstairs to powder your nose. The fungi constituted eryngii (King Trumpet), oyster, shiitake and Hen of the Woods, known as maitake in Japan. This last is a treat because though no more expensive than any other mushroom in Japan, they are darn impossible to find in Europe. (Incidentally, the name in Japanese translates as “dancing chicken” because when they are found growing wild, the person is said to dance around with joy.) This course is not technically complex, yet the mushrooms are exquisitely cooked and flavoursome, autumnal as can be.

Mushrooms from the cabinet (eryngii, hen of the woods, oyster and shiitake) with potato, yeast and rosemary

The main meat dish is a cut of six-year-old Jersey beef with Roscoff onion, kombu and caramelized cep cream. The beef is absolutely delicious, tender and perfectly matches the Roscoff onion and cep cream. The dish is, again, small in size, so if you are someone who likes large portions, you might feel short-changed. For myself, I think it is ideal – more can be less. The beef made its impression and sets up the three dessert courses nicely.

Six-year-old Jersey beef with Roscoff onion, kombu and caramelized cep cream

I pick the Sauternes custard with hoshigaki (Japanese dried persimmon) and bee pollen. The pollen really stands out and combines wonderfully with the custard that is not too heavy. The bergamot meringue with pear, sour cream and Douglas Fir is capable, but overshadowed by a flaky mille-feuille with salted milk and Yorkshire rhubarb ice cream, stem ginger and matcha green tea. This is a fabulous combination and a perfect finish before the petits fours. 

The wines on this occasion were brought by guests, including our host, who redefined generosity. The Ledbury has always been flexible apropos corkage even if you must pay more than in the past. The wine list is quite superb, and I will point towards a healthy selection of Burgundy with a bit of bottle age without attendant eye-gouging prices. The following wines were all served blind except for the claret proffered by yours truly.

We started with a 2004 Salon. I have to admit that this bottle does not bowl me over. Steely and aloof, I find the aromatics “distant”. The palate is taut and malic, with just a hint of orange zest coming through with a sapid finish. Fine length, but I could not engage with this champagne, leaving me a bit cold. Too young? Quite possibly, though, I have enjoyed other vintages of Salon more than this.

Sauternes custard, hoshigaki and bee pollen

The 1999 Puligny-Montrachet Clavoillon 1er Cru from Domaine Leflaive is utterly sublime, to wit, one of the finest bottles I have tasted from this era. Awe-inspiring delineation and cohesion delivers seductive aromas of crushed stone, orange pith and a hint of wild peach – effortless and divine. The palate is quite intense with ample weight yet retains heavenly balance, a subtle smoked walnut note emerging with time. It builds and builds until you cannot wipe the smile from your face after one sip of this elixir. The 1959 Puligny-Montrachet Les Pucelles 1er Cru from Domaine Leflaive represents the oldest bottle I have ever encountered. Alas, the cloudy color does not bode well, and it is oxidized, albeit in a totally undrinkable way. I doubt that I will ever see it again – you win some, you lose some.

The following three wines were poured blind together by our host, who was determined to kick off the year in style. Each corresponded to the year of our births, which admittedly did make me feel a bit old. All three came from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, an upcoming grower you should keep your eye on…

The 1991 Richebourg Grand Cru is better than the example tasted three years ago. Wonderful delineation on the nose; there are blackberry and earthy notes, still those hints of meat juice, perhaps more transparency than other bottles. The palate is medium-bodied and framed by filigree tannins, with sour cherry hints commingling with black truffle and cedar. There is a little more tartness on the finish with a sweetness that leaves you utterly smitten, just a suggestion of menthol emerging with time. Maybe at its peak? Whatever, it is a sublime wine from an outstanding vintage for Aubert de Villaine and Bernard Noblet. The 1981 Richebourg Grand Cru is the revelation of the night. I am unfamiliar with the vintage apropos DRC but never foresaw how well this would show. With stunning aromatics and darker fruit than the 1991, it offers hints of morels and pressed flowers, fleeting glimpses of Earl Grey and fish scales. There is real weight and backbone, to the degree that I suggested it might be La Tâche. With perfect salinity and stunning balance with utmost precision, this bowls me over. Glorious. How did they produce something as good as this in such a challenging season?

The third in the trio ended a long-running saga that stretches back to the early days of my career. I have encountered the 1971 La Tâche Grand Cru on four occasions, and the bottle has either been corked or out of sorts each time. This reached its zenith at a vertical tasting/dinner where Aubert de Villaine joked that I would finally taste a sound bottle… He was as crestfallen as me when it was found slightly corked. The only quibble about this bottle was that the label had a tiny tear where the vintage was printed. Showing commensurate maturity in colour for a 51-year-old red Burgundy, the nose unfurls with melted red fruit, dry tobacco leaf, morels and freshly-tilled loam. With perfect delineation and focus, it is spellbinding in terms of its untrammeled Pinoté. The palate is perfectly balanced with red fruit, orange peel and a hint of spice on the finish. It is (again) that transparency, that paradoxical combination of intensity and weightlessness that leaves you lost for words. Ethereal.

We took a break from Burgundy because I have avowed that 2023 is the year Bordeaux comes back. By that, I mean more bottles will appear in salubrious dinners like this since you can pick up older vintages for much less than modern-day Burgundy. To put that into perspective, the 1959 Poujeaux costs around 3% of the market price of the following wine from Arnoux-Lachaux.

Just let that sink in for a moment. 3%...

You need a bit longer, don’t you…?

Three. Per. Cent.

The 63-year-old Poujeaux, from the era when the Theil family owned this Moulis-en-Médoc property, punches above expectations. Guests around the table think it is from the Nineties or maybe the Eighties! Minimal aging on the rim, the nose offers dark berry fruit, liquorice and melted tar, a little rustic and fungal, yet well defined. The palate is medium-bodied, with the richness one anticipates from this season, not amazingly complex for sure, yet grippy, with a slightly confit finish and a dab of brine on the aftertaste.

The 2018 Vosne-Romanée Les Suchots 1er Cru from Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux comes from a producer that continues to make waves, evidenced by the recent thread on Your Say. I want to emphasize that this was poured blind like the others, bought directly from their UK importer. It comes across highly perfumed with red fruit, Morello cherries and cranberry on the nose, quite floral with neatly integrated oak. Its precocity gives away the growing season. The palate is very pretty, supple in texture and pure with a harmonious, silky-smooth finish. You could describe it as a “dashing” Les Suchots, though it is missing the complexity of its greatest exponents. I cannot see it closing down at this stage, but let’s see where it will go.

We were in the mood for something sweet and a half-bottle of 2008 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese A.P. #12 from Joh. Jos. Prüm off the wine list was perfect. Quite contained on the nose, it offers sublime white peach and light honeysuckle scents, very well delineated. The palate provides marvelous balance with the weight and sweetness you expect from an Auslese, an extrovert with a slight aniseed note on the finish. Drinking beautifully now, it will surely drink well for another 20 years.

So, a stellar line-up of fermented grape juice aside. No question of that. The burning question is how the reborn Ledbury compares to its original incarnation.

I thought long and hard.

It was not a dazzling return, for no single dish quite matched some of the breathtaking creations at Moor Hall. On the other hand, I don’t feel that is Brett Graham’s intention; after all, he’s already done that. The menu is almost understated, and its finesse is only appreciated retrospectively when later I found myself reminiscing about that Iberico ham or that exquisite crab. There is little in the way of theatre, though that has never really been Graham’s schtick. Instead, you get service that is absolutely second to none and the sense of dining in a London institution, a well-oiled one at that. Gripes lobbed their way after reopening appear to have ironed out. It’s not cheap; then again, Noma’s recent announcement that such altitudinous levels of fine dining are now economically unsustainable means that costs have to be covered to remain viable. Some might bemoan the set menu, but that is standard these days. For that matter, one of our party’s last-minute requests for pescatarian alternatives was handled without batting an eyelid, and I have heard the same for the vegan menu.

This is just the opening pages of a new chapter for The Ledbury. Give it a little time. Intuition tells me that Brett Graham will pull a few more tricks from his sleeve. In the meantime, let’s rejoice. The Ledbury is back.

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