Provence goes East at Embassy Mayfair, where classic French cuisine is served up with an Asian twist – and a laidback party vibe
19:37 GMT, 13 July 2012
Molecular gastronomy, nouvelle cuisine, fancy foams. Fads come and go. But when the thrice-cooked chips are down, it's dependable food and a brilliant atmosphere that brings diners back again and again. And that is just what you get at Embassy Mayfair.
The restaurant, which opened eight months ago on the site of the old Embassy bar, has carved out a
charming place for itself in the time-honoured Mayfair haunt, and it suits its new
purpose in a way few who have spent a forgotten evening in the dark
confines of Embassy in its original guise could have imagined.
spacious room is now bright and airy by day, candlelit and intimate by
night – striking the right chord for an afternoon's
conviviality (you can lose hours in the place), an evening deux, or a night fuelled by heady cocktails.
Riviera chic: The interior of the restaurant is inspired by the airy decor of the French coast
Nicoise was perfectly pitched, with creamy pieces of tuna nestling
among well-dressed leaves, roasted peppers and a just-so soft boiled
egg; right, salmon with juniper berries and citrus dressing was ultra
Set up by Joel Antunes, the chef who earned a Michelin star for Les Saveurs in the Nineties but who spent the past decade at large in the U.S., Japan and Hong Kong, the kitchen is has just been taken over by sparky, passionate French chef Benoit, who is slowly making his mark on the established menu.
Thanks to the influence of Antunes, who was raised in the countryside of France, the cuisine is largely Provencal, but nuanced by his travels with an Asian influence that runs like a seam through the menu.
Classic: Le Kit Kat, a peanut and chocolate parfait, continues to win rave reviews
Speaking to Antunes when he launched the place, he told me that with his passion for good, honest, cooking, and above all, consistency, he just wanted to make
his customers happy.
Benoit, with his boundless enthusiasm, has the
Aside from people pleasing, something else close to the heart of the chefs at Embassy is the issue of sustainability.
They refuse to ship from afar and 99 per cent of the produce, which is mainly seasonal, comes from the UK or France.
Meat and fish come predominantly from the UK and Ireland, and produce that is from further afield is sustainable: line-caught over trawled, hand-reared over factory farmed. Endangered bluefin is strictly off the menu.
But such lofty values must be
reflected in the cost of the dishes, something which has caused some
consternation among reviewers, who laud the food but loathe the prices.
Mayfair though, those offending price tags – from 9 for a starter, 18 for a main, are unremarkable – especially given the generosity
of the portions (my only quibble in that regard was with a plate of
asparagus for 13, which would be great value if it came with a glass of champagne on the side).
cocktails: The Lazy Lavender, with homemade lavender syrup magicked up
in-house mixed with tequila and violette liqueur; right, the Coco
Chanel: Ciroc vodka, rose liqueur, rhubarb, apple and grapefruit
Hearty French classics like coq au vin make
an appearance, and a wonderful roast quail,
caramelised and served on a mound of nutty puy lentils with
tendrils of rocket.
There's a melt-in-the-mouth lamb, slowly
cooked sous-vide until fork-tender then flashed in the pan to give it a
rich intensity of flavour that marries harmoniously with chick peas,
sweet peppers and capers.
Benoit has the same passion for raw fish that Antunes had and, as such, there's plenty on the menu.
A Nicoise salad flouts convention with chunks of succulent raw tuna steak nestling amid well-dressed
leaves, roasted peppers, anchovies and soft boiled egg.
A fresh tuna tartare has a featherlight creaminess cut through with a scattering of capers and dill (and, chef whispered, a drop of distinctly un-Gallic Worcestershire sauce). There's a yellowtail ceviche too, and salmon gravalax.
They exist not only to satisfy Benoit's passion for poisson but to please those for whom ordering the suckling pork shoulder or the dry aged cote de boeuf would be anathema.
Indeed, the menu dances that line with agility, balancing the hearty with the supremely light, and diners can just as easily cruise the starter menu as go for the traditional three courses.
Baby artichoke salad with avocado and
a zesty lemon dressing or baked sea bream with ginger broth offer a perfect fusion of flavours for the delicate
appetite; roast duck with date chutney or lamb shoulder
with fresh harissa suit the more robust.
Embassy has a 40-seater terrace open until 3am where
diners can enjoy a sunny brunch, while away a balmy summer's evening or
just work their way through the cocktail menu
As for the puddings – they are ingenious. Most visitors rave about Le Kit Kat, a parfait of peanut and chocolate.
But I loved the mouth-chilling coffee granita with toothsome caramel chunks; the lemon sorbet doused liberally in vodka; or the strawberry sundae, speared with tubes of chewy strawberry meringue that had us wondering at the alchemy that goes on in the kitchen.
Quite apart from the food though, so much of the charm of Embassy lies in its ambiance.
Work of art: Pineapple pavolva
It's a restaurant, it's a bar, and it's a destination.
There's a 40-seater terrace outside, and inside a DJ subtly ramps up the vibe throughout the evening so that before you know it it's the end of the night and you're wishing you could carry on the party, not head home to bed.
The front-of-house staff are welcoming and enthusiastic, the bar staff slick and inventive, the sommelier friendly and brimming with decent suggestions that don't lead you to the bottom of the wine list by default.
And if you care about that kind of thing, it is currently quite the place to be.
Christina Hendricks, Vivienne Westwood and PPQ held parties here; the Harvey Weinstein crowd celebrated their many successes with a bash after this year's BAFTAs.
On any given night, you're as likely to see a famous face tucking into a plate of seafood pasta as you are a family enjoying a burger.
The charged atmosphere makes it feel as if something exciting is just about to happen – and it frequently does.
Last month, legendary grafitti artist Blek le Rat casually stencilled a one-off work of art on the wall outside, while last night street artist Mr Brainwash turned up with a paint-splattered leather jacket and an arty entourage for dinner.
Stars aside though (of the Hollywood or the Michelin sort), when you dine at Embassy, you leave feeling as though you have had an experience.
And that is what will keep customers coming back time and time again.
Embassy Mayfair, 29 Old Burlington Street, Mayfair, London, W1S 3AN. Telephone: 020 7494 5660. Visit the website at www.embassymayfair.com