Iconic chef Daniel Boulud's first European restaurant, Bar Boulud at London's Mandarin Oriental hotel, has been a major hit with the food critics. Kerstin Kühn finds out why.
Daniel Boulud is one of France's most famous culinary exports. The Lyon-born chef has been based in the USA for nearly 30 years where he runs a successful empire of restaurants including the flagship three-Michelin-star Daniel in New York and a string of more casual bistros and brasseries.
This spring, he made his debut in Europe, with the launch of Bar Boulud at London's Mandarin Oriental hotel in Knightsbridge. It's the first high profile restaurant launch at the five-star hotel this year and will be followed by Heston Blumenthal's Dinner in the autumn.
Located on street level with its own entrance, Bar Boulud is a modern French bistro and wine bar. The interiors have been developed by US designer Adam Tihany and feature dark wooden floors, red leather banquettes and chairs, and photography of various renowned Lyon bistros and brasseries.
Divided into three separate areas - a lounge bar, main restaurant and two interconnecting private dining rooms - guests can also watch the chefs at work at the charcuterie bar running along the edge of the open kitchen, which is headed up by executive chef Dean Yasharian.
Charcuterie is a big focus at Bar Boulud - sausages and signature terrines and pâtés - which are made on site under the guidance of two full-time charcutiers who have joined the restaurant from Gilles Verot in Paris.
"Every chef knows how to make a terrine or a sausage but when you create a restaurant around this you need to collaborate with a real charcutier and have the proper equipment," says Boulud.
The selection includes rosette de Lyon (£8); jambon de Paris (£7); pâté grand-mère - chicken liver, pork and cognac (£6.50); pâté grand-père - foie gras, truffle jus and port (£8.50); and tourte de canard - duck, foie gras and figs (£11). A selection to share is available at £14 (small) or £28 (large).
In addition there is a range of signature sausages: Boudin Blanc (£11), a truffled white sausage; Boudin Noir (£9) made from blood and pig's head; and a Thai sausage (£8) with Asian spices.
Meanwhile the selection of entrées includes a range of lighter options such as asparagus and crispy egg salad served with poached egg dressing (£11); and cured Scottish salmon, beetroot, walnut and horseradish cream (£8.50).
"We cure the salmon in beetroot with vodka, salt and pepper and sugar so that it gets tainted and flavoured with the beets," explains Boulud.
Elsewhere on the menu Boulud's burgers have been a major hit with the food critics including The Sunday Times‘ AA Gill who gives them 10/10 in his review of the restaurant.
"I launched the gourmet burgers in New York 10 years ago and I brought them here to reflect the American background of our operation," Boulud says.
They include the DBGB Piggie burger (£13.50) with BBQ pulled pork and green chilli mayonnaise; and the Frenchie (£13.50) with confit pork belly, argula tomato-onion compote and morbier cheese on a pepper brioche bun.
Although the menu at Bar Boulud is primarily meat-driven, there is a big focus on seafood, too. Dishes include a seafood platter priced at £31 (petit), £59 (grand) and £92 (royal); butter poached halibut with green and white asparagus, spring chanterelles and mousseline (£21); and grilled Atlantic sea bass with crushed potatoes, fennel, tomato and preserved lemon dressing (£19).
The wine offer is overseen by sommelier David Vareille and it's all about Burgundy and Rhône, Boulud's favourite wine regions. The list is divided into three sections: Les Découvertes (the discoveries) ranging from £15 to £100; Les Classiques (the classics) priced up to £500; and Les Légendes (the legends), featuring the big, expensive winemakers with bottles priced up to £6,500.
While it's easy to spend a fortune on great wines at Bar Boulud, it's certainly not a necessity. With a prix fixe menu at £20 for three courses available for lunch and early dinner and the average spend for three courses à la carte at £35, this restaurant is not about ostentatious exclusivity but much more about offering a menu of gutsy modern French flavours with a distinct American influence that doesn't break the bank.
"To me the spirit of a bistro wine bar is not to be expensive. I might be a fancy chef with a big reputation but this restaurant is all about being affordable," concludes Boulud.
London SW1X 7LA
Tel: 020 7201 3849
WHAT'S ON THE MENU
• Chilled pea soup with baby carrot, rosemary cream and toasted crouton, £6
• Boudin noir - blood sausage with piment despelette and scallion potato, £9
• Slow cooked, spiced leg of lamb, aubergine and sweet potato, £7
• Sautéed sea scallops, mushrooms, fricassé of peas and watercress, £23
• Roasted chicken breast with wild garlic, fingerling potatoes and artichokes, £17
• Grilled lamb chop, spiced merguez, mint tabouleh and chickpea-pepper stew, £19
• Tarte au chocolat, mocha ganache and caramel ice-cream, £8
• Gâteau basque custard cake with brandied cherries, £6
• Poached rhubarb, floating island lemon curd, £6