Haute Cuisine And Heartbreak
Venison at The Greenhouse: As velvety and perfect as we had tried
I had booked The Greenhouse for my boyfriend’s 26th birthday at the end of January. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it much past New Year. Still, lovers may come and go but a two-star reservation is something you really want to hang on to, so I took my dad instead. Mainly because the last time I told him about a break-up, he asked me if I fancied a pork pie.
Unlike many of the restaurants in the billionaires’ slum of Mayfair, The Greenhouse is actually all about the food, which makes for a lovely atmosphere; no footballers, no screechy desperate women in Alaïa corsetry, no roaring hedgies. The restaurant feels wonderfully hidden, approached along a quiet mews and a wooden walkway in a peaceful Japanese-style courtyard. Diners’ moods range from happily expectant to barely-contained glee, décor is simple without being stark, whimsical wood and leaf features gesturing to the secret-garden feel. Once the plates start arriving though, you begin to feel as if you are in Narnia.
Arnaud Bignon, now in his fifth year at The Greenhouse, is a supernova of a chef. After seven years under Eric Frechon at Le Bristol in Paris, he moved to Spondi in Athens, for which he won a second Michelin star, a feat he has replicated in London. Bignon cites the influence of his French grandparents’ garden in his cooking, as well as his early training in cuisine bourgeoise, which allowed him to amass the “building blocks” of gastronomic technique, upon which he has constructed a style of extraordinary creativity and intelligence. Precision and lightness of touch might be his watchwords, but Bignon is too modest about his aesthetic talents — the subtlety and skill of his presentation renders his food as exquisite to look at as it is to eat.
Pa and I began with a glass of Alcarva Pinot Gris, from one of New Zealand’s southernmost vineyards, zinging with apples and smoky lava. This accompanied the amuse-bouches of chorizo marshmallow, smoked duck on a spelt crisp with aioli and a “bouillabaisse tart”, constructed on the same principle as the Chinese soup dumplings xiao long bao, an exploding mouthful of Marseilles waterfront. The pre-starter, avocado and ponzu jelly with sea lettuce mousse and coconut and turmeric ice cream, was as surprising and vivid as the preceding trio, a perfectly orchestrated contrast of distinct texture and exuberant flavour. “Pretty ace,” said Pa.
As I was nursing a broken heart, we pushed the boat out on the wine, a Chambolle-Musigny Premier Cru from Ghislaine Barthod, which tasted exactly as a good Burgundy should, that is, like an expensive tart’s armpit. (Though it was a bit eye-watering; I’m told one can have a similar experience, though without the wine, for about half the price at certain establishments nearby.)