When I sat down to reflect on, then write about my top ten list from 2015, one restaurant stood out above all others.
I’d love to have said it was a Hong Kong restaurant; but despite having some amazing meals in my new home, it was a UK restaurant that had won my heart.
You can check out the list here – but it was Phil Howard’s two Michelin Starred restaurant, The Square, that provided my most memorable meal of 2015. In fact, one of my most memorable ever!
When news broke in 2016 that Phil Howard was selling out of The Square after twenty years at the helm, my heat broke a little. I so wanted to enjoy the hand crafted meals from the legendary chef’s hand, and feared it may never happen again. That fear was short lived, with news that he was to open a new venture.
So, it was no surprise that it was the first restaurant I booked for my most recent trip back to London (although not the first I had visited).
It had been a big day of eating for me, by the time I’d arrived at the suburban bistro, I’d already eaten at world #26 The Clove Club (post pending here) followed by five hours of grazing around the bakeries of Shoreditch.
Of course I’d been true to form and arrived well early, so much so that I’d had to wander the streets of Chelsea – freezing temperatures and drizzling rain ensured that I was a little miserable by the time I finally entered the doors of the restaurant. Shedding my heavy coat, gloves and scarf, I started to feel a little more human as I was led through the relaxed and homely dining room to my table.
A departure for the very formal environment that was The Square, Elystan Street was very much the bistro environment, resplendent with simple wooden tables and a kaleidoscope of different coloured chairs. My table was decorated with with a simple daffodil, adding further colour.
My mood was rapidly lifting and by the time my Aussie waiter brought over some nibbles in the form of nuts and olives, I’d forgotten my last few hours of the cold and rain (and even snow) that had been assaulting me that day. Crusty bread and hand churned butter were followed by a copy of the menu, which ably held my attention while I quietly munched down the lovely bread.
The menu itself had not titles, suffice to say that the differentiation between entrees and mains was determined by which half of the menu it resided. Pricing was also graduated, least expensive to most; however a quick explanation from my new Aussie friend left me in no doubt about how the menu worked, as well as a slew of recommendations for my meal!
My choice of entree was inspired! A huge rabbit ravioli was presented in a textured bowl, topped with a glazed carrot and surrounded by smoked bacon crumbs. Creamy bacon foam filled the rest of the bowl and a touch of crispy sage finished the dish. It was the bacon foam that sold me, but it was the combination of the succulent and exquisitely cooked rabbit ravioli with the bacon that won me over. There was an intensity to the bacon crumble that drove the dish, but never overpowered the rabbit, which is a subtle flavour. It was one of those dishes that you wish would go on forever and was possibly the best thing I’d ever eaten!
While I enjoyed my main, a rustic chicken dish; it would have been impossible to top that starter. The breast of chicken had been slow poached before finished off in the pan to crisp up the skin, then was surrounded by butternut gnocchi, chanterelle mushrooms, charred onions and truffle. I loved the texture of the chicken which was soft and succulent and the crisply skin was wonderful, but I was less enamoured with the gnocchi – which was just a little stodgy. There was a hint of truffle, which was accentuated by the stronger flavoured chanterelles and the whole dish was finished with an intensely flavoured sauce.
With rhubarb clearly in season, I couldn’t pass on the rhubarb with Victoria sponge crisp and vanilla parfait. The elegant looking dessert was presented in two halves, the parfait topped with the ruby coloured fruit on one side, and a quenelle of creamy vanilla ice cream on the other; a rhubarb syrup connected the two halves to form the whole. While I loved the flavours of the dessert, I found the parfait to be a little rubbery and the sponge crisp to a little hard; which made eating a little challenging. Minor issues of slightly weird textures aside, I very much enjoyed the sweet end to my meal and quickly cleared the plate!
Dining solo often gives you the opportunity to meet new people in circumstances that are quite unique, and I was able to spend quite a bit of my evening chatting to my Aussie waiter. Even as the restaurant filled as the evening wore on, we were able to keep chatting, which helped the time pass nicely. The service was friendly and professional and definitely in keeping with the relaxed style of the restaurant.
Elystan Street is definitely not The Square 2.0 and is all the richer for it. There may not be the same excruciating level of detail in the menu, nor a compelling tasting menu that borders on perfection; but there are interesting dishes laden with bags of flavour. In fact, my starter of rabbit ravioli was simply sublime.
In fact, it was so superb that I was forced to choose the dish again when I visited Elystan Street a few days after my first; this time with work colleagues. Fortunately, one of my dining companions knew Phil quite well, which meant that I got to meet the great chef a couple of times throughout the night.
What a way to finish my time in the UK before slipping across the channel for the Paris leg of my trip.