Tucked away amongst a flurry of flora in Mayfair, The Greenhouse is just about as tranquil as you’re going to get in London. And the Michelin-starred food from Antonin Bonnet isn’t half bad either.
Hay’s Mews, where you’ll find this charming little restaurant, sounds a little more salubrious than it is; there’s quite a bit of building work going on and you could be forgiven for thinking that a couple of the somewhat dishevelled facades are still playing host to a filly or two. The Greenhouse itself, though, is a completely different kettle of fish. Accessed by a lengthy bit of decking that pierces through a garden thick with perfectly aligned foliage, it’s a simple, refined affair that keeps up the retreat feel impeccably. However, floor to ceiling windows offer some very pleasant views out into the garden just in case you need a reminder that this is somewhere a world away from the rest of teeming London.
A restaurant of this repute, in such a pleasant area, should be busy - and this The Greenhouse most certainly is. Midday sees a wealth of well-to-do locals enjoying long lunches - be they business or pleasure - with evenings welcoming a few more from outside the locale, taking the trip to sample a restaurant that boasts pretty impressive pedigree – not least for that Michelin. The staff, led by maître d’ Arnaud Demas, is superb, and not afraid to engage in the odd spot of judicious informality - something that seems pretty well suited to a dining room that’s relaxed and chatty.
Expectations are always high at anywhere with a star, and these expectations are met – for the most part – with considerable aplomb. The a la carte is perhaps the way to go to sample the very finest of Antonin Bonnet’s clever work in the kitchen but for those on a budget, the impressive set menus represent some very good value, with three courses coming in at just under thirty quid.
There’s an emphasis on seasonality, so expect a menu that changes on a relatively regular basis. A beautifully constructed cylinder of Cornish crab salad with daikon and purple shiso leaf is an impressive showcase of the expertise in the kitchen, with the fresh, sweet crab working particularly well with the peppery notes from the radish. Those that know their tajines might want a little more spicy depth from The Greenhouse’s carrot version, even if there is some excellent sweetness from tamarind sauce, Sicilian Tarocco Nocellara oranges and sprinkling of sultanas.
The confit lamb shoulder is an excellent cut, perfectly kept and cooked to yielding perfection; the steak knife it comes with may look like an impressive bit of kit but it’s pleasingly superfluous here. The accompanying celeriac puree explodes with flavour in a manner that a very pretty sprinkling of liquorice powder can’t quite muster, even if it is an impressive complement to the lamb, nonetheless.
Pheasant and black trumpet ravioli boasts some corking flavours but is ever so slightly let down by pasta that’s a little too firm. The game and the mushroom work as excellent bedfellows though, especially when combined with a luxurious creamy chestnut sauce that’s rich, but thrifty enough to avoid overpowering the main players.
Desserts are very impressive, not least a rosehip soup that’s deliciously floral, with a syrupy sweetness softened by some brilliant yoghurt ice cream and a smattering of granola. A chocolate crème brulèe is most certainly its match, with a praline cream and cooling apple sorbet helping to balance everything beautifully.
With a reputation as being somewhere every bit as good for its wine as it is for its food, The Greenhouse doesn’t disappoint. An incredibly long list offers impressive scope whatever your budget, and whilst many may find the sheer weight of it pretty discombobulating, others will revel in being able to sit back and peruse what’s a fascinating selection. If you do want some help, though, Alexandre Ceret’s excellent team of sommeliers obviously knows its stuff, and can match with aplomb. So let them do so, if you can.
Particular highlights include a superb sparkling white from Nyetimber in West Sussex (Blancs de blanc 2001); a classic Austrian Gruner Veltliner (Josef Ehmoser, Wagram, 2010) that matches the crab perfectly; a sumptuous 2002 Bordeaux from Chateau la Gasparde; and a hearty, gorgeous 2007 Syrah from Tamboerskloof in Stellenbosch that works incredibly with the pheasant and black trumpet ravioli. Dessert wines also impress (try the 2009 Jour de Fruits from Domaine de l’Ancienne Cure in Montbazillac) but whatever your pocket, palate or persuasion there will definitely be something to tickle your fancy on a list that puts others to considerable shame. Or at least it should do.
The Last Word
Approaching any restaurant through a leafy garden is certainly a good start, not least for one in London. Thankfully, The Greenhouse flourishes inside too.