The Ledbury: A 2-Star Michelin with No Dress Code
No pomp. No ceremony. And we love The Ledbury for that.
Australian-born Chef Brett Graham opened The Ledbury in Notting Hill in 2005, at the young age of 25. Bright eyed and bushy tailed, the restaurant catapulted into a string of successful accolades after grappling with poor business premonitions in its virgin years. Sure, its location in the quaint and moneyed zone of Notting Hill might have posed a challenge in luring the lunchtime spenders, but eventually fortitude paid off, and now tables at The Ledbury are among the hardest to score in London. Key to the achievement is the restaurant’s capacity in tackling the paradox of white linen service. My visit to The Ledbury allowed me to experience something beyond peerless service and fluid movement. It’s not just supremely masterful dishes, it’s a dining experience.
It all began some 2 days before the dinner itself (and a tedious 3 months before spent frantically locking in the reservations online), where a cordial confirmation call sought to discover the intent of our “celebration dinner”. From that point in, the experience was impeccable. The champagne flutes were topped up the instant our tushes took to the cushioned seats. Of course, that was a pleasant welcome. We know what you’re thinking: the staff were priming our wallets for the big splurge. But we would do it all over again—in a heartbeat. The morning after peek revealed a bill that had ‘fortuitously’ missed including our epic cheese course.
Graham expounds on the bounty of British produce with a certain light-footed flair. This place is not going for the classic, overdone contemporary French vibes. The divergent menu has proven to be a culinary trailblazer, even for the most high-strung and fatigued palates. If you’ve been put off by fine dining experiences in the past, the romantic alchemy forged by amicable service and flawless courses at The Ledbury will ameliorate the sourness.
There are two ways to approach dinner: one is to go ahead with the tasting menu featuring 7-courses or the 4-course option, which touts a healthy selection of four choices per course. Given that I’m a little restless when it comes to long-drawn-out dinners; our table opted for the latter.
The trio of amuse bouche teases huge flavours into dainty bites of myriad colours, teetering on the edge of plates with much exquisiteness. Guinea fowl puffs are lighted up with a sliver of mead jelly, flattered by miniature crumpets slathered with brown butter and a nice surprise of sweet crab meat.
Graham’s style of cooking is nuanced, his plating lyrical and the flavours are often delicate and subtle. Our first course manifested in a crystal goblet, with seasonal Datterini tomatoes fashioned in a sorbet floating above a shellfish emulsion. A meaty morsel of lobster claw completes the illusion. The harmonies were right on key, soft undulating waves of seaworthy traits from the seaweed and emulsion, to the zing from the tomato sorbet. Here on out, your head is turned, and still, things are only beginning to warm up.
We break into warm sourdough bread and slap on too much molasses butter, washing it down with the intensely citrus Jurançon Sec “La Part Davant” from Cavin Larredya. The veal tartare was equally self-assured—Cumbrian veal graced with grilled artichoke is flanked by a thick toasted soldier generously pimped with aged beef fats. What a dish.
Moments like this don’t tend to happen a lot: dishes of Cured Cornish mackerel are ferried to the table, compliments of the restaurant because “we had travelled so far”. The humble fish elevated with shiso dressing and keltic mustard oozed sophistication.
Going from strength to strength, the kitchen champions the Bantam egg with a draping of celeriac, trompette mushrooms and dried ham. It’s a work of art, the rich yolk crescendoing the multicomponent spread. Across the table, the Cornish cod ornamented with a stellar gold crust of caramelised Richmond Park honey steals my glance for a moment or two.
The next dish of Pork Jowl is an elegant celebration of the delicacy of the English seasons. Perfectly cooked, the wobbly slabs are christened with pearl barley, ‘hen of the woods’ mushrooms and bacon chips, while a dollop of potato emulsion weaves in more bliss factor. A dark fruit Cigliuti Langhe Nebbiolo gets a billing, and I greet this with much enthusiasm for its bracing earthy and smokey notes. Top end service continues into the wine experience, as waitstaff and sommelier stand ready to jazz up orthodox choices for liquid indulgences.
Desserts are going to trip you up—what do you go for? The Cheese course or the infamous Brown sugar tart? When in doubt, have both. And so we did, with swiftness and aplomb. Brightening the whole cheese cart smorgasbord with two glasses of vintage port. The brown sugar tart is a beacon of accessible warmth, a bit of rusticity to follow all that opulence—and it’s magical. Smooth, warm and enveloping like a velour bathrobe, the accompanying scoop of stem ginger ice cream further provides hits of familiar spice.
Punch-drunk, bursting at the seams from a powerful sense of contentment, we departed the glowing embraces of the restaurant with more than just heartache. There are good restaurants and there are great restaurants, and then there are a rarified few that are best reserved for a momentous occasion like tonight. The Ledbury has just burrowed its way straight into my heart.
127 Ledbury Rd, London W11 2AQ, UK, +44 20 7792 9090