After time in kitchens across the world, Alex Dilling has returned to London, tying in the influences he picked up along the way, while always staying faithful to France. James Stagg reports
Tucked away behind a garden in a mews in London's Mayfair is a restaurant that flies relatively under the radar. The Greenhouse has held two Michelin stars since it secured the prized accolade in 2013 under then head chef Arnaud Bignon, but the secluded location of the Marlon Abela-owned fine-dining stalwart means it's easily missed.
t the Greenhouse, Dilling is keen to put those talents back to use in the kitchen. "The last two years with Hélène was more of a corporate chef role - overseeing London, Paris and external events in Mexico, New York and Japan, as well as a pop-up in San SebastiÁ¡n," he explains. "It was a lot of time behind the computer, so this transition is exactly what I wanted. I'm back in the kitchen cooking every day and doing mise en place with the guys."
Dilling is enjoying being back at the stove, serving a maximum of 60 covers and having a hand in every dish that leaves the pass.
He has redesigned the kitchen and negotiated to close the restaurant for two and a half days a week, so that the same brigade of 15 is present for every service.
The dishes Dilling has developed are based on classics, brought up to date and presented artfully on bespoke crockery. "I'm obsessed with china and plates," he says. "I went to Limoges to meet the woman that hand makes the plates.
"For the blanquette de veau, we tried about four dishes to get the balance of sauce to sweetbreads right. It really makes a difference to the dish: the balance of ingredients, how the sauce will fall into the dish, how the ingredients will incorporate, and of course, the aesthetic. Our guests expect every aspect to be perfect."
The veal dish (on the four courses for £110 Á la carte menu) is a good example of Dilling's style. "There will always be a nod to classic French dishes, as that's where my heart is," he says.
t's based on a classic white veal stew, with crispy veal sweetbreads on top of a dice of vegetables that would usually feature in a blanquette sauce. The veal sauce itself is both liquid and foam and includes puffed rice and buckwheat.
A similarly impressive dish is the oeuf noir (which features on both the Á la carte and £155 tasting menu). It is inspired by oeuf meurette, where eggs are poached in red wine sauce. In this case, a Breckland Brown egg is cooked in the shell before being soaked in smoked water. It is then covered in a stock of roasted mushroom, caramelised onion and truffle, to which is added a little gelatine to set it around the egg. The egg is served with Fumaison (smoked cheese) and a pain au lait.
"It's turned out to be one of the dishes that has touched the guests the most," says Dilling. "Once we realised this would be a dish we were keeping on the menu, we bought eight kilos of Australian black truffle and preserved them to get us through to the French Périgord season."
The menu isn't strictly French influenced, since Dilling is open to ingredients from elsewhere. For instance, he serves a Wagyu beef dish with a soy and truffle gel resting on top. He says: "The meat isn't seasoned after being cut, so the gel is intentionally very salty. You should barely have to touch it with the knife and it should add the right amount of seasoning. It has Asian overtones, with the beef being from Japan, but we keep the French technique."
an influences can be found in the desserts too, which include Li Chu chocolate, served with vanilla and miso. "The dish is paired with a vanilla that's been caramelised, in the same way you'd do a praline, and served with miso," Dilling says. "It sounds weird to put miso in a chocolate dessert, but it works super well."
Those experiencing the tasting menu are served every dessert, and though they may not get through them all, Dilling likes the idea that diners are being spoilt. "We like the generosity of serving all the desserts," he says.
Guests will be left in no doubt that the Greenhouse is a restaurant that doesn't hold back.
From the menu
•Duck foie gras from Landes, marinated Cévennes onion, lemongrass, champignon de Paris and lemon thyme
•Cep tart, four-month Comté, vin jaune d'Arbois, "persillade"
•Grilled scallop, cauliflower, coconut and galangal emulsion
•Brittany turbot, Boudin noir, girolle, young sorrel
•Roast grouse from Rhug Estate, Lardo di Colonnata, hazelnut, pink peppercorn, braised lentils
•Coconut, Piedmont hazelnut, white chocolate
•Soufflé, chartreuse, baba, lime
The Greenhouse, 27A Hay's Mews, Mayfair, London W1J 5NY www.greenhouserestaurant.co.uk