Are you already missing Summer? Looking for a taste of the Mediterranean in London to remind you of your holidays? Then you might want to book a table at Bar Boulud at the Mandarin Oriental.
Although Mediterranean flavours are among my favourites, having grown up in Paris, I do believe that French cuisine is often overvalued. You can have a much better meal in Glasgow for instance, where restaurants still tend to offer value for money. My theory was however recently proven wrong by Daniel Boulud’s inventive and award winning food. Perhaps the reason for this can be found in the fact that Daniel doesn’t stoically stick to tradition and is more than happy to experiment and reinvent himself.
Whilst Daniel Boulud’s stateside restaurant might have two Michelin stars, it does seem a little extravagant to jet to New York City for lunch. So instead Gray and I popped along to Bar Boulud at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park to check out his London base.
ABOUT MICHELIN STARRED BAR BOULUD
Bar Boulud is a French-style bistro and wine bar that showcase’s Daniel Boulud’s distinct contemporary brand of sophisticated French cooking… with an American twist. Born in Lyon, Boulud trained under Roger Vergé and Michel Guérard. He then spent 25 years establishing his reputation in the New York food scene and crafting the vast restaurant empire that is now his. Although Michelin-starred chef Daniel, isn’t as well-known in the UK (at least not if you compare to tv-chefs such as Jamie Oliver and Heston Blumenthal) as he is across the pond, those in the know were extremely excited when Daniel Boulud finally brought over the vibrant flavours of Italy, France and Morocco from his New-York based flagship restaurant Boulud Sud to London. Indeed London’s fairly recently opened Bar Boulud, is the only outpost of the Bar Boulud franchise in Europe. His other eleven brasseries are all either located in the United States or in Canada and Singapore.
LOCATION OF BAR BOULUD
If you are out and about spending your well-earned money on a sunny weekend, then Bar Boulud would be the perfect place for lunch. Knightsbridge is one of the most prestigious shopping neighborhoods in London. Indeed several famous retail giants such as Harrods and Harvey Nichols, call this borough their home. Most of London’s famous museums are also based in the area. Bar Boulud is located within the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, straight off from the hustle and bustle of Knightsbridge. Luckily the restaurant isn’t quite as expensive as this might make it seem.
INTERIOR AND ATMOSPHERE AT BAR BOULUD
We arrived at quarter to one and were met by a fairly relaxed atmosphere even though the restaurant was buzzing with people enjoying their lunch.
As we passed the long sophisticated bar, I noticed that Bar Boulud offers a variety of intimate seating arrangements before taking my place on a long bench at the back of the room.
It was only however when I visited Bar Boulud’s plush bathrooms that I realised how vast a space is occupied by the restaurant. The generously sized interior has been separated into several areas lending the restaurant a far more intimate feel.
Bar Boulud has put a lot of effort in to offering a varied composition of seating arrangements. This makes the restaurant very flexible and well suited for a whole range of occasions. You could for instance pop-in for an impromptu cocktail at the zinc topped bar, book a table for an overdue chinwag with a close friend or cosy dinner with a loved one in the banquettes or enjoy a convivial gathering at one of the long tables. There is also a small private dining room set back from the main dining space, for business events.
In the main restaurant area adjoining the bar and around the corner you’ll find a second dining room with an open kitchen to provide entertainment, should the conversation flag. You can even get front seat view if you chose to eat at the counter and watch the charcuterie being prepared.
The interior of Bar Boulud was created by Adam who also designed the Mandarin Bar and Heston Blumenthal’s restaurant upstairs in the Mandarin Oriental hotel. His overall style can be described as sophisticated, metropolitan and luxurious.
His design for Bar Boulud takes inspiration of the traditional wine cellar, although it’s so understated that if I hadn’t told you might not have registered the chandeliers in the shape of a wine cask, the oak tables and floors and the leather seating that has the exact shade of a fine red burgundy. Black and white photographs of Daniel Boulud’s favourite brasseries in Lyon are proudly displayed on the walls. The low ceilings and open kitchen create an informal and attractive space. The overall effect is an elegant and relaxed reinterpretation of the French bistro theme, with not a red checked table cloth or Gaulloise stub in sight.
SERVICE AND STAFF AT BAR BOULUD
Bar Boulud is a large restaurant. It was busy during our weekend lunch and I would imagine that things might get a little hectic when the restaurant is at full capacity.
However, from what I could tell, there are plenty of staff members and I therefore don’t believe that service would slow down noticeably if every table was occupied.
We were served by a number of very friendly, polite and eager-to-please staff. They were impressively efficient, whilst retaining the quality of a fine dining restaurant.
I particularly loved the open kitchen and popped over to watch chefs putting the finishing touches to beef tartares and Moroccan tagines.
DRINK CHOICE AT BAR BOULUD
If you enjoy good wine then you would be well advised to peruse Bar Boulud’s comprehensive wine list, which has a particular emphasis on French wines. Your first clue that Bar Boulud takes wine seriously, comes as you enter the restaurant and are immediately faced with a wall of wine bottles. Bar Boulud even ships in jeroboams of Bollinger special Cuvee champagne and magnums of fine vintage Chablis, Sancerre and Chateauneuf du Pape for guests to buy by the glass, so make sure you check what’s open when you visit.
The wine list features specimens from the Burgundy and Rhone region of France with a nod to fellow cousins made elsewhere in the world. There is also a selection of “decouvertes” – good value wines from smaller producers. I particularly loved the fact that Bar Boulud does not only offer wine by the glass but also by 300 ml carafe, as is frequently done in Europe.
David Vareille is the head sommelier of this restaurant. He grew up in the wine-growing Chablis region of Burgundy and has been running his own wine cellar since the age of 14. He is more than happy to put together a selection of fine wines for you to try during your meal.
The cocktails at Bar Boulud are seriously delicious and full of character. To start off our lunch, I ordered the weekly special, a mixture of orange, grapefruit and apple juice, Aperol spritz, sparkling wine and crushed ice. This cocktail packed a punch and filled my mouth with succulent bitterness, just about tamed by sweetness. Gary on the other (being the designated driver) chose an aniseedy elderflower and grapefruit tonic.
THE MENU AT BAR BOULUD
The menu at Bar Boulud, which of course I perused in detail before ordering, is extensive.
The restaurant specialises in Mediterranean inspired dishes such as calamari, grilled octopus, taramasalata, squid ink pasta, poached cod and Moroccan chicken tagine. A large part of the featured dishes, however, are French with an American twist. There is also a clear influence from Daniel’s Lyonnaise background, particularly noticeable in the charcuterie and sausages.
In summary, the menu at Bar Boulud is a fanciful fusion of the urgent bustle of New York with the sensibilities of Burgundian and Lyonnais traditions.
STARTERS AT BAR BOULUD
BREAD AND BUTTER
The staff at Bar Boulud, automatically served us some freshly baked bread and salted butter, minutes after we had sat down. I don’t know about you, but for me bread is a true guilty pleasure, especially when it is still hot from the oven. Often Gary won’t find a starter that meets his very particular taste. This being the case at Bar Boulud, he simply enjoyed his basket of bread.
PARMA HAM AND FRESH MELON
I, on the other hand, am currently following the Slimming World diet. So although I was very tempted by the famed Charcuterie board, opted for a somewhat healthier alternative: a Parma ham and fresh melon salad. The salad itself had the perfect crunch and the exact right level of seasoning. The whole dish was very elegantly presented with a mix of melon chunks including watermelon, white honeydew and cantaloupe. The salad was complimented by just about the right amount of elegantly folded thinly sliced Parma Ham. Although we chose not to order any wine, I would imagine that this starter would pair beautifully with a dry or subtly fruity white wine.
MAINS AT BAR BOULUD
SEA BASS WITH FREEKEH RICE AND APRICOT HARRISSA
Continuing my health trip, I ordered Seabass as my starter. The sea bass was served with freekeh rice, a type of wheat grain, and citrus, peach & rose harissa. These unusual ingredients, immediately caught my eyes as I scanned the menu. The Sea Bass was cooked perfectly, in that way where the flesh simply falls away in flakes, and with a crispy skin. I would, however, note that the fish was slightly on the oily side for my personal taste. My first introduction to freekeh rice, a close cousin to bulgur wheat, went very well. The delicate grains packed a surprisingly potent crunch, holding their own against the tender fish and fiery harissa. The citrus, peach & rose harissa was a bit of a surprise and probably my favorite part of the dish. The harissa had a slight sweetness, that wasn’t too overpowering and balanced well with the slight tanginess of the sauce. Overall I would describe this dish as rustic and comforting, with a modern twist. Perfect for a contemporary French bistro – the kind you really don’t see very much of in London at all.
No lunch at Bar Boulud would be complete without at least one of Daniel’s famous burgers. Indeed Daniel Boulud was one of the leading chefs to re-invent the American hamburger as an upmarket dish, as opposed to simply being fast food. It won’t come as a surprise therefore that Gary choose the Piggie Burger. The ingredients of the Piggie Burger read as follows: beef patty, bbq pork, jalapeno mayo and cabbage in a cheddar bun. Everyone has their own opinion on what makes a perfect burger. However I can tell you this much, the Piggie Burger at Bar Boulud was perfectly proportioned and had the ideal size to eat it with your hands. The medium rare patty was juicy and delicious, perfectly cooked with a slight char and blush in the middle. It had a great balance of salt, garlic, and chilli and was in no way too salty or too rich. The other ingredients mixed well together, with the jalapeno mayo giving the burger some much needed “zing”. The french fries were delicious too, with a fluffy centre and crisp exterior, just as I like it. Overall I would say that this dish had an excellent balance of flavours and textures.
DESSERTS AT BAR BOULUD
After having enjoyed such high-quality food we couldn’t resist trying the desserts. Let me tell you Bar Boulud reached new heights with their presentation on this round! Gary’s coupe peppermint with a crisp chocolate cover offered the most theatrical moment of the meal. This dessert was served with a molten sauce that our waiter swiftly poured across the top, causing the crisp chocolate to melt luxuriously and reveal the peppermint mousse beneath. With its light texture and the perfect amount of sweetness, Gary’s coupe peppermint was rich, extravagant, and such a magical way to round off an excellent lunch!
I, too, couldn’t resist my sweet tooth and thus ordered the Rhubarb Soufflé. What arrived was much more substantial than I had anticipated but thankfully still extremely light. The soufflé itself was light and airy. But as a dug a little further with my spoon, I revealed a gooey rhubarb centre. Rhubarb is one of my favourite dessert fruit and so I was glad to find it on the dessert menu. Note however that the flavour of the souffle changes on a weekly basis, depending on what exactly is in season at that point.
Our visit to Bar Boulud was definitely a memorable one. The gourmet menu, tasty flavors, excellent cooking techniques, buzzy restaurant and friendly warm service combined to make this a very enjoyable meal.
I wouldn’t necessarily call this fine dining. Nor is it a budget option for lunch in the city. But with a sharing platter of charcuterie price at £16 and burgers for around £12, Bar Boulud certainly isn’t charging anywhere near as much as they could for cooking of such high standard, especially considering the Knightsbridge location.
The restaurant caters for all. You could happily bring you (well-behaved) children to this restaurant, without worrying that they will kick up a fuss. Even Gary, the picky eater, found plenty of appealing dishes on the menu.
Overall, I would describe our experience at Bar Boulud as good honest French brasserie food with a New York twist gratifyingly-rich and comfort laden, enjoyed in an elegant and comfortable surroundings.
A big thank you goes to Daniel Boulud and his team for hosting us for an incredible lunch.
Address: Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, 66 Knightsbridge, London, SW1X 7LA
Telephone: 0207 201 3899
Mind The Gap:
Mon – Sat: 12pm – 1am
Sun: 12pm – 12am