I’m due to dine out with a couple of people who I’m sure don’t want to be named, so let’s call them Bob and Jim, even though their real names are Tobyn and Leaf. I let them choose the restaurant. I do this not because it’s one less thing for me to have to think about, which would be selfish, but because I am a generous-natured, generous person famed for my generous generosity. Ask anyone, apart from those who might actually know me and might hold a grudge for no good reason whatsoever.
Anyway, Bob and Jim, who are Tobyn and Leaf, but in disguise, eventually come back with The Ledbury. I look up The Ledbury and it is in Notting Hill, west London. ‘Are you sure?’ I ask. ‘We do have some very nice restaurants here in Crouch End, you know.’ They are sure, they say. Drat. As you know, I hate to leave my small patch of north London. I am, I think, the least adventurous person ever. I once went to New York and all I saw was the inside of my hotel room, because I was too frightened to leave it. I’ve given up on family holidays because it’s like saying, ‘Where shall we spend too much money this summer so we can all get on each other’s nerves and come back hating each other?’ Notting Hill isn’t exactly on the other side of the world (although try telling that to my minicab driver, who attempted to go via Walthamstow), but I still feel like a snail being pulled off a rock. Thanks, Bob and Jim. You do this to me, yet I’m still sufficiently generous not to give away your true names, which are Tobyn and Leaf.
So Notting Hill it is then, but not before I’ve dosed up on travel sickness pills and Temazepam, which do help to take the sting out of a journey. Notting Hill. Scary place, with its chi-chi boutiques and artisan food shops and no Carphone Warehouse. Scary people, with their smart 4x4s and huge double-fronted houses and weekends in Boden Land wearing sassy skirts. I’ve yet to buy anything from the Boden catalogue, which is weird, really, because I do yearn to visit Boden Land, where the women in sassy skirts drape themselves fetchingly on driftwood, the men are called ‘Simon’ and the children frolic companionably on beaches instead of beating the stuffing out of each other. I wouldn’t mind going there. Anyone know where it is exactly?
Now, where were we? Oh, yes, The Ledbury, which is quite a big deal. It has a Michelin star and has, at various times, been voted Restaurant of the Year and Restaurateur’s Restaurant of the Year, so we’re not talking Little Chef or low-key neighbourhood bistro. It’s owned by Nigel Platts-Martin and Philip Howard (who also own those top-end places The Square, The Glasshouse, La Trompette and Chez Bruce) and inside it does have a hushed, moneyed feel, with its thick chocolate drapes, black and white leather chairs, black chandeliers and fine linen tablecloths. It also, I should add, has a rather frightening corridor leading to the toilets. It’s dark and lined in black wallpaper illustrated with thin tree trunks waving skinny, witchy branches of the kind that are obviously out to get you. I feel like Snow White in the forest, but considerably prettier, obviously. (The other reason I don’t like travelling is my passport photo, which does me no justice at all. Even if I found Boden Land, they probably wouldn’t let me in.)
The menu is modern French, I would say, and it’s not cheap. In fact, get ‘cheap’ right out of your mind. The eight-course tasting menu, for example, is £60 a head, or £98 with wine, while the three course à la carte is £50, without wine. You’re basically not going to get away with less than £80–£100 a head, but as I have a very nice head I’m worth it. Bob and Jim also have nice heads, as do Tobyn and Leaf, because that’s who they really are, not that I’m saying anything. My lips are sealed!
Happily, the clientèle aren’t too stuffy in here. There are a few Simons and a few sassy skirts, but there are also quite a few tables of families obviously out for a top-notch celebration. I like that. As soon as we sit we are offered — well, how best to describe them? — sort of baked tortilla chips decorated with fat squiggles of foie gras. Foie gras: bad news for geese, excellent news for humankind. And it is lovely, lovely, lovely.
The menu, though, is quite horrific, mostly because I want everything on it. Ditto the wine list, which is so excellently compiled we simply cannot choose. Luckily, the lovely lady sommelier guides us helpfully — rather than patronisingly, which is often the way — towards a 2003 Spätburgunder (£49), a German red wine, can you believe? And? It is entirely delicious: a full-bodied, dark ruby red which is both Pinot Noir-ish and Very More-ish. ‘Fill ’em up, love,’ I would say, but don’t have to, because the service is so exemplary that they’re filled before you’ve noticed they’re empty. And discreetly, too.
In the end, after an agony of indecision, I go for the lasagna of rabbit with wild mushrooms, celery and thyme, because that’s the kind of chick I am, and then the Pyrenean milk-fed lamb baked in hay with creamed potato, celery and truffle. Both — and I’m so not kidding here — are knockout, exquisitely presented and bursting with flavours. The lasagna is a tenderly assembled hymn to both the rabbit and the mushroom, with neither taste eclipsing the other, while the lamb is tender, sweet and pink. I think I always want my lamb breast-fed and then cooked in hay from now on.
Bob and Jim? One has the terrine of Iberian ham with pork cheeks to start with, the other scallops roasted in liquorice, which sounds like an odd marriage, but a couple of days later the Jim who may be Leaf emails to say that he can still taste it. He means it as a compliment. Next he has the roast John Dory with squid sautéed with sake and sherry and caramelised onions, which he describes as ‘succulent, squishable and dreamy’.
Meanwhile, the Bob who may be Tobyn is happy with his venison roasted in juniper but feels the accompaniments — glazed pear, celeriac, chestnuts — distracts from the main show somewhat. Pudding? Lovely fresh sorbets, rhubarb and an ‘apple financier’, which did not, thank God, go on to make a takeover bid for my lamb overnight. All excellent.
In short, this is a serious, grown-up restaurant with all its wits about it. True enough, it’s expensive — and in Notting Hill! — but, go on, push that boat out. I would help you, of course, being a generous person famed for my generosity, but I am kind of busy at the minute.
The Ledbury, 127 Ledbury Road, London W11; tel: 020 7792 9090.