Mayfair's fine dining stalwart the Greenhouse has a new head chef who wants to gain the restaurant two Michelin stars. Kerstin Kühn reports
The Greenhouse is one of those restaurants the industry has tipped many times to gain a second star. But the closest Michelin's inspectors have ever come to agreeing was to award it the rising two star status in 2006. However, with new head chef Arnaud Bignon, who joined the Marlon Abela owned restaurant following Antonin Bonnet's departure in March, the Greenhouse might just get there.
The French chef has an enviable CV, having worked with some of Paris's most celebrated chefs including Yannick Alléno at Drouant and Eric Fréchon at Le Bristol, where he spent seven years as sous chef. His first head chef position took him from France to Athens where he joined the then Michelin-starred Spondi in 2006. Two years later, the restaurant gained its second star, an accolade Bignon retained until his departure earlier this year.
So how much of an ambition is a second star at the Greenhouse? "It's something I would like to achieve as soon as possible," he admits. "We work very hard every day to attain a high standard so we hope we will have this recognised."
He describes his food as light and fresh. "I don't like traditional French cooking with lots of cream and butter and heavy sauces," he says. "I like the freshness of vegetables and fruit and often use raw ingredients as I like their natural acidity. I also use a lot of spices to give dishes character."
A Highland scallops dish, which sees the scallops spiced with tandoori masala and served with cabbage, ginger and lemon confit (on the £90 seven-course tasting menu), is a perfect example of his culinary style.
"I first tried this recipe with sea bass but found it works much better with scallops as the spices don't overpower their flavour but just add a lot of freshness," Bignon explains.
Meanwhile Dorset lamb, also on the tasting menu, is inspired by the flavours of North Africa, particularly Morocco, using ras el hanout, a mix of 10 different spices (typically including cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, chilli, coriander, cumin and nutmeg). Bignon uses this like a condiment to intensify the flavour of the lamb, which he cooks sous vide at 57e_SDgrC before roasting. Aubergine is served simply on the side with olive oil, spring onion and coriander, with an intense red pepper purée and a deep-fried sweetbread completing the dish.
A signature dish is the Cornish crab, served with mint jelly, cauliflower purée and Granny Smith foam (£31). "We boil the cauliflower and then push out the water and poach it in milk, which gets rid of that strong cauliflower taste. On the plate we place the crab seasoned with curry oil, coriander and ginger on top of the purée and add apple foam," says the chef.
The best selling meat dish is a Limousin veal chop for two (£110). Bignon colours the meat with coffee seeds and makes a sauce out of the meat juices, adding liquorice. He then fills ravioli with Jerusalem artichoke and espresso purée and adds some morels simply cooked with chives on the side. "When all these different flavours come together it's a very nice dish," he says.
In addition to the à la carte menu and the tasting menu Bignon serves a special seven-course tasting menu (priced at£110) each month, focused on specific, seasonal ingredients. In April it was centred on crustaceans and shellfish, while in May green vegetables have taken centre stage and in June it'll be all about tomatoes.
Onto desserts and Bignon says it's very important for him to bring together different textures in a pudding. A case in point is tonka beans, chestnuts and orange (£15), which comprise a very light dessert that's not too sweet. Combining a number of different textures, with the crunchiness of the nuts and the softness of the ice-cream as well as a mix of coffee, chocolate and caramel, it's a perfectly rounded end to the tasting menu.
27A Hay's Mews, London W1J 5NY
020 7499 3331
Sample dishes from the menu
Vendée pigeon, almond crumble, candied leg, Soubeyranes spices, chickpeas £29
Scottish langoustine, calamansi, green and red radish, citrus powder £45
John Dory, iodised bread, artichoke, cuttlefish, capers, rocket £50
Limousin veal chop, Jerusalem artichoke, coffee, morels, liquorice £110 (for two)
Lemon textures, meringue, beurre noisette, citrus cake £15
Rhubarb, granola, ginger, cheesecake foam £15