Home Food and Beverage trends news Pavyllon, London: ‘Serious drama, both on the plate and off’ – restaurant review

Pavyllon, London: ‘Serious drama, both on the plate and off’ – restaurant review

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Pavyllon, London: ‘Serious drama, both on the plate and off’ – restaurant review


Pavyllon, The Four Seasons Hotel, Hamilton Place, London W1. Starters £19-£69, mains £28-£179, desserts £18, wines from £38, lunch menu £55.50, tasting menu £148

Good things don’t always come easy. Those good things include a table at Pavyllon, the sprauncy new restaurant at the Four Seasons Hotel in London from French superstar and award-crusted chef Yannick Alléno. I book by typing my debit card digits into Open Table only to get a message telling me I will receive a security email that I must reply to within 12 hours, or they reserve the right to give away my seats. It doesn’t arrive. This is then followed by a to-and-fro of roughly 10 phone calls with the restaurant, an email asking me to re-input my card number and another telling me my booking is cancelled. It’s seemingly endless.

If you’re bored reading this, imagine living it. These are my struggles. Pray for me. It’s a shame, because once I do finally get there, I am served a £55.50 five-course lunch menu, which manages that rare and blissful trick of showcasing brilliant ingredients and technique without ever losing sight of the imperative to feed. This is a fancy way of saying it is lick-the-plate delicious. It is, I suppose, what we should expect from a chef who holds 15 Michelin stars across 17 restaurants worldwide, whose number includes two other Pavyllons; a chef who, in pictures, wears his whites like generals wear their medals. But we are in the world of gastronomic ambition, which often prioritises pretty over nice. Not here.

‘Perfect smoked salmon is topped with blinis the size of 5p pieces’: smoked salmon. Photograph: Sophia Evans/The Observer

It begins with fat-cheeked baby beetroot, perfectly cooked so that they retain bite, then dressed with a cacao vinaigrette. That’s a chocolate salad dressing, which has never been high on my gastronomic to-do list. It turns out that in the right hands, which are the ones in the open kitchen over there, all these sweet and bitter tones can have something to say to each other. There’s a décolletage of two plump, breaded and deep-fried oysters in a fabulous set beurre blanc, dotted with trout roe, both small and tiny, and chopped chives. Stare at it awhile. Then eat it. Follow that with a steamed cheese soufflé of ineffable, butterfly-wings-on-your-cheek lightness, with translucent cubes of celeriac. It comes in a celeriac broth dusted with nutmeg.

These have all been relatively diminutive. But here comes the main event, a spectacularly well-cooked and sizeable skin-on chicken breast, with a sticky jus in shades of deepest amber, with plentiful girolles and, on the side, a pot of French butter-boosted pommes purée so rich it would force an Instagram wellness influencer into lengthy therapy. It ends with a roasted apricot set into caramelised puff pastry, with a scoop of cool lavender ice-cream and spirals of honey. A corner of the pastry is a little more caramelised than perhaps it should be, but even that burnt sugar bitterness adds something.

‘Spectacularly well-cooked’: roast chicken.
‘Spectacularly well-cooked’: roast chicken. Photograph: Sophia Evans/The Observer

The floridly written à la carte, meanwhile, is broken up into headings like “our meat” and “our fish” in case you might confuse them with someone else’s. There’s also “our creative vegetables” as against the dullard ones. Think “potatoes glazed with lovage mayonnaise, kombu broth, seaweed and cucumber”. Pricing-wise, it’s all “bloody hell” and “how much?” A smoked salmon starter “frivolité” is a less than frivolous £25. A perfect smoked salmon mousse is wrapped in taut smoked salmon and topped with blinis the size of 5p pieces, like shirt buttons, alongside a horseradish cream and beetroot.

Four fat langoustine cost £68, so that’s £17 each. It says they’re lightly crumbed and deep-fried, which makes me think scampi. But these are more crusted, and come with a “curry mayonnaise”, the kind of condiment that only really exists in French gastronomy. Forget the price; they are delightful. In any case, there’s a langoustine tart at £78 and a wagyu and blue lobster tail mille-feuille at £179. So, y’know, bargain! Come the revolution and all that. It ends with wild strawberries “underneath a pomegranate veil”. That’s the sort of description that should get you thrown out of any self-respecting creative-writing MA. It means a jelly disc. Under the strawberries is orange blossom-flavoured whipped cream. Behold, £18 of loveliness. The menu also includes a “veil of seaweed” and a “badaboum” egg.

‘Sweet and bitter tones’: beetroot, chocolate vinaigrette.
‘Sweet and bitter tones’: beetroot, chocolate vinaigrette. Photograph: Sophia Evans/The Observer

That’s three à la carte courses for £111, or five for £55.50. Even if you go for the cheap option, you’ll still get the stool for the lady’s handbag and columns of waiters who will ask you anxiously if your day has been good so far with such intensity I’m tempted to invent a rigorous mugging and a distant relative’s death just to see how they’d cope. They will bring you ice when your £7 bottle of mineral water turns up warm and replace it unbidden every 10 minutes. The room, dressed in shades of what I believe Farrow & Ball would call Lulworth Blue, looks comfortable and padded, but isn’t really. I can only assume designer Chahan Minassian is 5ft tall. The banquettes are so low that if you’re any taller, there is nowhere for your legs. And yet for all that I still feel warmly cosseted. There are also low chairs that look like the sort Middle Eastern despots sit on side by side for a press photo op before a rancorous summit.

Today’s lunch comes with a side dish of drama. At 2pm the fire alarm sounds. We are told cheerily that it’s a test. Why a five-star hotel like the Four Seasons would plan its test for the middle of lunch instead of, say, 4pm, God only knows. But it gets better. The moment finishes with an announcement that the test is over. If the alarm goes off again, we should follow advice. Ten seconds later it does indeed go off again. It continues for many minutes. In between there are calm recorded announcements telling us to leave the building. Nobody moves. The staff grin. The Klaxon honks. And honks. And honks. The lady’s voice politely tells us to save ourselves.

‘£18 of loveliness’: wild strawberries.
‘£18 of loveliness’: wild strawberries. Photograph: Sophia Evans/The Observer

Eventually it stops. We have survived. At the end I ask for the bill which, with two glasses of house champagne at £31 each, should be around £285. We are told there is no bill. I insist. We pay for every meal we review. “No, sir,” the manager says. “You don’t understand. Because of the fire alarm we have comped the entire restaurant.” So there you have it. If you want a bargain lunch at Pavyllon on London’s Park Lane, pray for a faulty fire alarm, or just sell a kidney. Good luck booking.

News bites

A new hospitality industry training scheme has been launched by a group of restaurant sector veterans including Neville Abraham of Groupe Chez Gérard, Michael Gottlieb of Smollensky’s and Deborah Jelffs of MW Eat. The Jupiter Restaurant Scholarship, which operates on a charitable basis, offers free apprenticeship-style training in the hospitality business to successful applicants, followed by placements with a leading restaurant company. The scheme is designed to tackle staff shortages in the industry while also providing career opportunities to people from diverse backgrounds. The scholarship is open to anyone aged 23 or over and applications close on 15 September. Visit jupiterscholarship.com.

The American fried chicken brand Popeyes, which catered Beyoncé and Jay Z’s wedding, has announced the launch of a UK wedding catering service. They are taking bookings through until the end of 2024, with orders limited to a maximum of 150 chicken sandwiches and 150 hot wings. The event must be within a 30-minute drive of one of their 20 or so branches. Who said romance is dead? Get more info here: popeyesuk.com/wingsandrings.

The challenges facing the hospitality industry have been made plain by the latest measure of food price inflation for the sector courtesy of the CGA Prestige Foodservice Price Index, which saw costs rise 22.6% year-on-year to June. While supermarket food prices rose 0.4% in June, the index was five times higher for the month at 2.2%. The disparity is down to the multiple small businesses that restaurants source from, as against the economies of scale available to the major food retailers.

Email Jay at jay.rayner@observer.co.uk or follow him on Twitter @jayrayner1



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