Sommelier’s Table, Hélène Darroze at The Connaught

Hélène Darroze at The Connaught is one of the most special restaurants in London… and those in the know book the exclusive Sommelier’s Table downstairs in the intimate wine cellar.

Helene Darroze

A select group of foodies gathered at noon in the hotel lobby before lunch. After a quick peek into the sophisticated dining room, we headed downstairs to the wine emporium. Champagne was served as we ogled at the beautifully set dinner table and took a seat.

Helene Darroze

The decadent four course lunch was centred around a selection of fine Pinot Noir wines selected by the Connaught’s sommelier. For each of the wines Hélène presented an immaculate recipe focussed on seasonal wild mushrooms to match the wine flavours and intensity.

The first course was a subtle veloute with pink garlic, ceps, parsley and lardo di Colonnata. The light and creamy soup was a delight on the palate, with a luxurious, oozing poached egg and earthy, lusciously juicy ceps. It was served with a glass of 2011 Pinot Noir from Terravin, Marlborough, New Zealand.

Helene Darroze

The next dish was easily my favourite of the day. A stunning leaf-shaped mini lasagne, with layers of frog leg, ricotta, and Parmigiano Reggiano. It was a beautiful assortment of flavours and textures that perfectly complemented the 2010 Pinot Noir “Barda” from Bodegas Chacra, Argentina.

Helene Darroze

We knew it was time for main course even before it arrived at the table because an irresistible scent of richly flavoured pastry wafted through the room. Waiters arrived with platters of Grouse Wellington, which tasted as regal as it looked. The game was stuffed with foie gras and cep, and was served with a caramelised sweet fig and a wonderfully aromatic whiskey jus. The 2011 Gevrey-Chambertin, Olivier Bernstein from Burgundy, France managed to majestically stand up to the bold flavours of the dish, it was a delicious match.

Helene Darroze

The Signature Savarin was a boozy dessert doused in Hélène’s brothers Armagnac. Topped with tart apple and nutty chestnuts, it was a dish that tasting like Autumn. Champagne Eric Rodez, Blanc de Noirs, Grand Cru from Ambonnay provided a light and floral finish.

Helene Darroze

Every experience of Hélène Darroze’s food is a treat, but when you try a specially crafted food and wine menu at the Sommelier’s Table, the culinary memory is unforgettable.

More information on Hélène Darroze at The Connaught and the Sommelier’s Table here.

Hélène Darroze Sommelier’s Table

I am lucky to have tasted the culinary creations of Hélène Darroze on several occasions. Her restaurant at the Connaught Hotel is renowned for its spectacular food and exemplary service. Using rich memories of her upbringing in south west France, her beautiful cuisine illustrates a love of fine ingredients and family heritage but also an imaginative spirit that means her ideas evolve as she travels more of the world.

A few weeks ago I dined at the exclusive Hélène Darroze Sommelier’s Table Supperclub, along with a group of London’s top food bloggers. Beneath the kitchens, down a discreet staircase, the chilly cellar is found. Holding an impressive collection of valuable, exceptional even, bottles of wine, this cellar is only used for the most elite meals, a special hideaway for wine connoisseurs and food lovers.

A seven course menu was designed specially by Hélène for the occasion, and master Sommelier Mirko Benzo selected unique vintages to complement each course. Sitting around the grand circular table, I felt like we had travelled back in time, a regal feast in a secret cellar. It is an enlightening experience tasting dishes with wine that balances so miraculously with every ingredient and flavour. We were invited to blind taste the wine initially, a task which I did spectacularly badly at, but one that really stirred my interest in this world.

Meanwhile Hélène’s head chef Alex Dilling was presenting plates of food that thrilled the Instagrammers round the table. Caviar with crab, radish and hass avocado looked like a dreamy garden in the bowl. Foie gras with wild strawberry, rhubarb and lemon verbena looked pretty, pink and perfect, but was complex and sophisticated in taste, the sweetest of the fruit cutting through the rich smooth foie gras. Coco bean with eel and shimeji then Lobster with asparagus, botargo and seaweed followed. The kitchen continued to wow with luxurious ingredients prepared in inventive and delicious ways.

Though I can be squeamish the Sweetbread course was a resounding success around the table, I heard whispers of ‘this is the best dish I’ve tasted all year’… which is high praise from people who eat and judge food for a living! The sweetbread was like very tender pork, paired with earthy indulgent morels, fresh seasonal asparagus and vin jaune (from the Jura region of France). It was paired with a glass of 2008 Gevry-Chambertin “Les Jeunes Rois”, Domaine Geantet-Pansiot.

For the double dessert extravaganza (courses six and seven) I had to engage my second stomach. Traditional Baba Armagnac (using the Darroze family Armagnac) was up first. A light but boozy treat accompanied by strawberries and fluffy banana cream. I imagine it would be the kind of grown-up dessert James Bond would order when out on a date. The second dessert – Chocolate with ginger and bourbon vanilla provoked childish oohs and ahhs from the team of eaters. Once all the photographic evidence of the chocolate masterpiece had been recorded, the table was silent as we consumed the delightfully indulgent pudding.

Satisfied and stunned by the array of culinary creations and magical wine journey we had experienced, we ate our final mouthfuls of French patisserie and sipped the last of the dessert wine before saying our goodbyes and stepping back into the real world upstairs.

More information on the Sommelier’s Table here, learn more about Hélène Darroze here.

London’s Perfect Pancakes

The French favour a cool, skinny crèpe; in the States they serve them silver-dollar style; the Irish have theirs with potato; Scots make ‘em with oats; and Japanese okonomiyaki include cabbage – however you have yours, here is a round up the most tempting Shrove Tuesday specials London has to offer.

Bread Street Kitchen Head Chef Erion Karaj’s ricotta pancakes (£7) are a staple of his breakfast menu, served daily with fresh banana and sweet honeycomb butter. If you’ve ever had a flipping disaster or batter breakdown, follow Erion’s recipe for lighter-than-light pancakes.

It’s your last chance to indulge before Lent, so pep up your crêpe with chunks of fresh lobster, earthy mushrooms and creamy, smoked garlic bisque at The Botanist on Sloane Square. This super-indulgent pancake (£32) is to be savoured rather than scoffed and is available for lunch or dinner this Shrove Tuesday. If there’s room, follow it up with deliciously sweet marshmallow pancakes with hot chocolate sauce and coconut ice-cream (£7).

Head to Jackson + Rye for an adult-only version of their signature buttermilk pancakes made with a dash of wickedly good rye whiskey. The deliciously fluffy flippers cost £5.95 for a stack of three, served with a generous helping of rye-infused whipped cream. Top with sweet ‘n’ salty maple slab bacon (£3.50) to make it extra indulgent. Available on Pancake Day at all Jackson + Rye branches: Soho, Chiswick and Richmond.

In Canary Wharf, One Canada Square will serve hot ricotta pancakes with cooling rhubarb and custard ice-cream (£6.50) on Tuesday.

Saving the best till last, the Hélène Darroze sumptuous stack of pancakes is flavoured with an assortment of alluring ingredients. Served with lemon, thyme, maple syrup, creme fraiche, banana and peanut brittle they are the ultimate indulgence before Lent begins. See the recipe here to create Hélène’s recipe at home.