What the Doctor Ordered
When I lived in Baku, Azerbaijan from 2013 to 2015, I came across a young British Chef, Reuben Gould. So talented was he, that, like the Lovely Husband in the medical field, he had been especially commissioned by the president of the country to run several of Baku’s top eateries. Every meal I ate at any one of these restaurants during my time there was exquisite, and he has remained one of my favourite chefs of all times. We’ve peripherally stayed in touch via Facebook, so I was very interested to read one of his recent posts, extolling the virtues of iconic twice Michelin starred Les 110 de Taillevent on the smart Rue Faubourg Saint Honoré in Paris, which, he says, provided him with some of the best food he has ever eaten with wine to match. Coming from him, a culinary master par excellence, this is high praise indeed.
Much as I value Reuben’s recommendations and much as I adore Paris and good food, this was not reason enough to instantly book a Eurostar ticket but, as luck would have it, Les 110 des Taillevent opened in London in October 2015, so we hurried to book a table there. It’s located in Cavendish Square, just around the corner from Harley Street, the Lovely Husband’s old stomping ground.
Now, the name may seem peculiar until you understand that the 110 refers to the 110 open tasting wines on offer and Taillevent references Guillaume Tirel, known as Taillevent, a cook in the 14th century, who wrote the first cook book, Le Viandier, a firm favourite of Charles V of France. I obviously wasn’t initially aware of this; to me, with my limited French, Taillevent simply meant Windy Waist, which frankly, didn’t sound all that promising!
Inside, the restaurant has the vibe of a wine cellar. The wooden floorboards and tables, the tobacco brown walls and the dark green velvet curtains and banquettes make it look dark and very traditional, almost old fashioned, despite its big windows. Behind the small bar area is a huge wine store and it soon becomes clear that this is a place primarily for wine connoisseurs. The wine list quotes Salvador Dali:
“He who knows how to taste never drinks wine but tastes secrets.”
Sadly, these secrets are a bit wasted on the Lovely Husband and I; we like a good drop, for sure, but we are not experts, and we drink comparatively little. Neither of us ever drinks spirits, red wine gives us headaches and, to be honest, even champagne leaves me quite cold. Still, although we didn’t go for the wine matching, we did order a very nice bottle of crisp, cool Riesling at £50.
I very much got the impression that the food was meant to complement the fabulous wine choices available, and the menu certainly looked thoroughly delectable. Surprisingly, it need not be expensive to eat here. Les 110 de Taillevent does lunch and dinner menus at £20 for two courses and £25 for three courses, not bad at all! The Lovely Husband did choose two courses of the asterisked items on the menu but old greedy guts here went the whole hog and picked the most expensive dishes. Hey ho, you only live once!
But first things first: Right away, we were served four divine little Gougères, Gruyere Profiteroles, to get our appetites going while we perused the menu. Later, some excellent and very fresh sour dough bread with salted butter followed. My choice of starter was Scottish Langoustine Tartare, Courgette, Coriander and Cocktail Sauce. The tartare was wrapped in thin courgette slices and sat on the thinnest swirl of light pink cocktail sauce with coriander leaves and small, dark green herby gel blobs and it was supremely pretty, refreshing and delicious. The Lovely Husband went starry eyed over his Wild Seabream Carpaccio and Quinoa in a Fresh Langoustine Broth, which again was beautifully presented, the mildly tomatoey broth adding a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’.
My main course was Wild Sea Bass À La Plancha, Green Asparagus, Shellfish and Pasta Buccatini, which was simply gorgeous, the fish was moist with a crisp skin, the asparagus crunchy, the little mussels juicy. The few pasta strands enhanced the decorative look and added more texture but seemed almost unnecessary and somewhat out of context.
The Lovely Husband chose the Roasted Pollock, Stuffed Vegetables, Ratatouille and Parmigiano with an extra portion of Petits Pois. My my, what a feast for the eyes! A marvellously brittle parmesan net covered the perfectly cooked fish, giving it an instantly enhanced flavour and texture. The roasted stuffed vegetables, served separately, a tiny red pepper, a small artichoke and a mini aubergine, were to die for. I have no idea what they were stuffed with but whatever it was, I could easily have devoured twice as many! The Petits Pois were tasty and perfect. Yum, yum! This was turning out to be a meal for the Gods.
Following a suitable pause, after all one doesn’t want to come across as completely barbaric, it was pudding time. Our eyes fell on the Baba au Rhum, a dessert you don’t often see in the UK. This spongey yeast cake soaked in an alcoholic syrup and decorated with whipped cream is actually of Polish origin (baba means grandmother in the Slavic languages) and is said to have been introduced to France by exiled King Stanislaus l in the 18th century. Nowadays it is firmly associated with French cuisine. Vaguely reminiscent of trifle minus the custard, it is certainly a treat. Our shared portion came with fruit slices and a small scoop of icecream.
Finally, just to top things off, we ordered cheese, specifically Brighton Blue. Two lovely triangles arrived all by themselves on a plate. No crackers, no fruit, no quince jelly or chutney. The cheese was tasty and good, but every other dish had been so extraordinarily well presented, so thoughtfully curated and sublimely put together, that this rather plain serving was an unexpected disappointment. In the end, we asked for some more sour dough bread, which was duly provided. What a shame though, that our finale didn’t quite live up to all that had gone before.
The unimaginative cheese course notwithstanding, this is a restaurant well worth visiting, especially if you are a wine buff. The food is awesome, the wine list thrilling, service is very attentive and the atmosphere is casual and relaxed. I particularly liked that, despite the truly high gourmet quality of everything on offer, it is unpretentious and seriously good value for money.
We paid £158.63 for three courses each, including our £50 bottle of wine, a bottle of sparkling water, a cup of Mediterranean Mocha/Americano and service charge.
Thanks to Reuben Gould for such a fantastic recommendation. I am pleased to report that there was no evidence of Windy Waist whatsoever.
What I wore
Lilly Pulitzer dress with boat neck and 3/4 length sleeves, pink Marc Jacobs clutch bag, pink Beverly Feldman sandals
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