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.

Hélène Darroze at The Connaught, Mayfair

Most hotel restaurants blend into their hospitable surroundings but at The Connaught everything evokes the style, life and character of the restaurant’s leading lady, Hélène Darroze. Proud and passionate about her roots in south west France, her cooking shows a clear influence of this area’s produce and culinary traditions.

Darroze was born into the industry, her family owned a renowned restaurant in the Landes region just north of the Pyrenees, to which she made a vital contribution. A disciple of the great Alain Ducasse, she learnt her craft while cooking as a crucial member of his team at prestigious restaurant Louis XV in Monaco. Darroze now runs two restaurants, both named after her, one in Paris and the other, conveniently close to where I work, in London.

My first understanding of her restaurant at the iconic Connaught Hotel was from my grandparents. They are the best food critics I know, and I trust their opinion on food above all else. It helps too that my grandmother is French and a superb cook herself, so she knows what to look out for. They often refer to Hélène’s cooking as the best in London, so I was extremely excited to be trying it at last.

Through the beautifully British lobby, we were led to the quietly sophisticated dining room and seated at a lovely window table with maximum natural light. The lunch began with a whimsical board game that challenged us to think about what ingredients we prioritise, and brought a sense of fun to the civilised restaurant. Extravagant items such as lobster, black truffle, foie gras and venison suggest that the meal ahead will be rich and heavy, but the culinary journey that followed was quite the opposite, light and magical.

Every meal at this restaurant begins with light focaccia with confit tomatoes and thin ruffles of noir de Bigorre ham from south west France which is carved authentically at the table. Immediately we were transported to France with its fresh and vibrant flavours simply presented before us. Next freshly baked artisan bread and espelette butter arrived, smelling as irresistible as it tasted… once again my resolution to resist bread was broken.

My three dishes were a vision of elegant indulgence and subtle, artistic precision. For once I was satisfied that I had chosen well, though observing other plates as they passed, I think I would have been delighted with any menu choice. Black truffle with onion, barley, and lardo di Colonnata is a delicate arrangement of floating ravioli triangles with black truffle, sprigs of lively greenery and translucent cylindrical onion pieces. Each element had its purpose; for texture, to add moisture or colour, and put together it was divine, both visually and to taste. I later discovered it is a new dish on the menu, and I think perhaps my favourite of the day. Those who enjoy fish should opt for the scallop with radish and shiso, it was an immaculately constructed work of art.

For main course the Pigeon with foie gras, spelt, dried fruits, peppermint, and “Sultan” consommé is a striking option. It tasted Moroccan inspired with dried fruit and peppermint but with a hint of French with the rich foie gras and delicious consommé. The meat was cooked to perfection and seasoned carefully. I had a slight twinge of food envy after trying the Venison with celeriac, pear, stilton and Mexican molle. The velvety intense flavours of the luxurious cut of meat and creamy blue cheese were combined in a wonderfully balanced dish – next time I’ll be ordering a plate for myself. For a little extra indulgence try the Lobster with calamari, clams, chorizo and “black rice”, a speciality of Hélène’s and a dish that was enthusiastically consumed by my colleague (you may have noticed this dish recently on Masterchef, The Professionals).

Pineapple with black pepper, coconut and lemongrass was a substantial but airy dessert, and an ideal palate cleanser to conclude a feast. Concealed beneath the soft light cream was a layer of crunchiness and humble chunks of sunshine yellow pineapple. It conjured up memories of Thailand for me, the combination of exotic, punchy flavours reminding me of the vast beaches and fresh fruit readily on offer. The pinch of pepper adds a kick of spice, a clever contrasting component with the other sweet and citrusy tastes. For chocolate addicts the sculpturally impressive chocolate sweet with glowing ruby grapefruit is a must.

Decorative Hermès porcelain cups and saucers arrived filled with dark, rich espressos, accompanied by dazzling glittery dark chocolate truffles, rich red macarons, and cream filled choux mouthfuls, a starring moment for the Connaught’s talented pastry chef. I savoured every mouthful and anticipating my cold walk home allowed myself one more of the devilishly good truffles.

More information and book a table at the restaurant here.