This D&D London-designed French institution, right in the heart of London, has had a skilful redirection from head chef Frederick Forster. Hannah Thompson reports
It has been said that the newly reopened Le Pont de la Tour restaurant in London Bridge was designed around the idea of an old-fashioned French cruise liner. Given the classic elegance of head chef Frederick Forster's new menu, this seems entirely apt.
Forster has worked with some of the biggest names including Raymond Blanc, Gordon Ramsay, John Williams, Simon Rogan and the Galvin brothers, and has almost as much of an impressive pedigree as the restaurant itself. He says his approach is to balance simplicity with French tradition, along with a sprinkling of international influences to keep things interesting.
An example of this is the loin of Yorkshire venison (£28), one of the bestsellers. It is roasted with black pepper until rosy pink, and simply served with poached quince and a stir-fry of cime di rapa (turnip tops), plus a red wine jus with cinnamon and star anise. This is accompanied by a tiny pot of tender and intensely flavoured venison parmentier, which has been roasted for 24 hours and then topped with potato purée. This taking of simple ingredients and making them sing is one of Forster's central philosophies.
"I love the idea of having multiple items of the same animal," he explains. "I enjoy that: taking something mundane and making it into something that is, hopefully, very tasty."
The idea to place only three ingredients on a plate is also key. "I like it when people can identify what they are eating very comfortably. There might be only three things on the plate, but I want people to think, wow, beautiful piece of meat, beautiful purée - that's enough for me. There is also minimal room for error. You have to be focused on technique and the seasoning has to be on-point. It has to deliver what it's supposed to."
Talking of "supposed to", one can scarcely imagine such a site re-opening without that timeless dish, lobster Thermidor (half £19, whole £35). "Less is more," says Forster. "Some dishes just need to be left alone; if you order lobster, foie gras or caviar, you want to just eat those things. When I came to D&D, that is what I believed it was all about: traditional French cooking in an iconic place."
Other classics include foie gras terrine with clementine compote (£11.50) - cooked for 24 hours with Madeira and port at 65Â°C - foie gras with red wine jus (£15.50), and crÁªpes Suzette (£8.50), which is a key fixture on the dessert menu.
This simplicity isn't solely about taste; it's also, Forster admits, to ease service. The site has a 90-cover higher-end restaurant alongside a 50-seat bar and grill, plus a 20-person private dining room and a terrace in summer. "I've had to adapt my cooking style," he admits, "But that's a reason I wanted to come here. This is the only place I've worked in terms of these numbers, except perhaps the Ritz. 'Less is more' really had to come to fruition."
The bar and grill menu gives Forster a chance to try out more innovative flavours, such as the baked aubergine ravioli (£13.50), which consists of baba ganoush, tapenade, basil and confit tomatoes, or the poussin with harissa (£14.50). Dishes such as this sit happily alongside the typical French dishes, which Forster admits is a direct result of his time spent cooking in Dubai and the Caribbean.
"I believe in what these ingredients can do to a dish," he says of Middle Eastern and international spices. "I think it takes them to another level, and helps bring out the flavour if you use them in a subtle fashion."
Similarly, dishes such as the ravioli are part of a roster of vegetarian options, which is a conscious effort from Forster to please the widest spread of guests possible. Other plates, such as the crab caviar (for two, £18 per person) - which comes with crab prepared in five different ways including white meat and dark meat mousse - are easily shared.
"I think cooking has changed a lot over the years, and when people want to go out, they want to just enjoy themselves and be sociable," he says. "I like to create dishes that encompass that, and ones that I would like to eat myself, and that I can imagine my friends eating."
We may still be aboard Forster's maiden voyage at Le Pont de La Tour, but it's clear that if the intention is to evoke the feeling of a grand dinner aboard an ocean liner, then having this chef at the helm is the way to do it.
From the menu
- Marinated native lobster, sweet peppers, black olives £16
- Roast Potimarron squash soup, sage, flat parsley
- Dover sole, grilled or Meunière, Charlotte potato £36
- Roasted veal sweetbread, kohlrabi, truffle £26.50
- Tarte tatin, crème fraÁ®che £7.50
- Chocolate crème, caramel and sorbet lemon, mango £8
Le Pont de la Tour
36D Shad Thames, London SE1 2YE