Aubaine is a casual Mayfair restaurant with the nice added touch of its own in-house bakery and patisserie. With a bit of improvement in the execution of this concept, it could be the jewel in Dover Street’s crown.
Blink and you’ll miss it, Aubaine blends in among the shop fronts almost too well, the front curve of glass offering a small glimpse of what is a very beautiful restaurant. Muted in a palette of blue-grey, this is a restaurant that has gone upmarket without veering into the realm of the pretentiously ostentatious.
Instead, soft white leather mixes with pretty wooden chairs, and simple metal tables sit alongside wood and marble. White tablecloths are refreshingly absent but the tables are meticulously laid out with gleaming glassware and cutlery. Instead of flowers, cute little plants sit on the tables and a curved bar acts as a centrepiece without looking tacky or in your face. They have struck a balance here – and struck it well.
Aubaine has an understated simplicity about it that is refreshing, particularly in an area that glorifies in its own sense of smug superiority. Still, on a Friday night when the atmosphere should be bustling, it all feels a little empty… a bit flat. That said, the staff are excellent and the service impeccable as restaurant etiquette is observed, and you are made to feel well looked after.
The thing to be wary of at Aubaine are portion sizes, which veer randomly from huge starters to small main courses. For example, the scallops (£16.50), listed as a main, is actually much better served as a starter. Four plump scallops cooked just on the right side of being over-done are flavoursome and not overpowered by the creamy cauliflower sauce and soft caramelised endives. Pomegranate is an intriguing addition to the dish, adding a pleasant crunch to the texture and sweetness that cuts through the rich creaminess. Alternatively, the wild mushroom friand with duck egg (£9.50) is almost too filling for a starter, even if it is delicious. The friand has a rich earthiness courtesy of a selection of boldly flavoured wild mushrooms encased in the perfectly-cooked, delicate puff pastry. The duck egg is nice and runny, although a clearly present, slimy albumen is off-putting. It works well with a deliciously creamy, slightly acidic hollandaise and the mix of bold flavours is balanced perfectly.
Order the smoked salmon salad (£12) as a starter at your peril as it is a huge portion, although it looks beautiful. A variety of vibrant green lettuce leaves is dressed in a vinegary, acidic dressing that lifts the dish nicely. Chunks of smoked salmon add a pleasant saltiness that works with the fresh, earthy beetroot and soft chunks of new potato. Finally, a dill crème fraiche brings it all together nicely. It is surprisingly filling for a salad and a side of crisp French fries really isn’t needed. Alternatively, the well conceived cod (£18) sounds like a great dish but is poorly executed. A beautiful piece of fresh cod has a skin that’s borderline-sloppy and sits in an overpoweringly rich sauce that makes the texture too soup-like in consistency. The red wine braised squid is a nice idea but doesn’t work; instead, the squid is chewy with an unpleasant aftertaste.
When it comes to dessert, the course is brought to life as they bring you an entire board filled with exciting-looking pastries and sweets to tempt you. Each looks beautiful, with prices starting at just under £4. However, the flavour doesn’t live up to the presentation. A baba is similar to a trifle with a layer of fruit compote, a sponge layer and cream. However, the sponge tends towards dryness and the cream is lacking in flavour, although the compote has a pleasant sweetness that’s not overpowering. Alternatively, the mille-feuille perfectly illustrates the danger of showing customers the desserts in advance, as what you receive can look less enticing than what you’re shown. In this case, the millefeuille is too dry, too flavourless. A shame, because the pastries board is a lovely, theatrical touch.
The wine list at Aubaine is a pleasing mix of French-skewed bottles, ranging from the affordable to £100+. Their house Champagne is particularly pleasant and easy to drink while the choice of reds, whites and rosés cover most grape varieties. They haven’t really pushed the boundaries with the selection but there is a good choice available by the glass so you can mix and match and pair with food, which is a nice touch.
The Last Word
Aubaine could be a really great restaurant… it’s just not quite there. Yet.