One of the things I loved about living in San Francisco was the number of restaurants that used an abundance of fresh products (vegetables, grains, meats, fish) from local merchants and farmers. There's nothing better than going out to dinner and wishing you could've prepared this meal yourself, working hard all day and combining the most flavorful ingredients to create a spectacular menu. So when I went to Villandry, which was nearing the end of a complete rehab, I was completely bowled over about how much it reminded me of eating in the Bay Area.
The foodstore/restaurant/bar is located in Central London, in the Fitzrovia district just off Tottenham Court Road not far from Bloomsbury and Soho. After its conception 17 years ago (and moving to its current location on Great Portland Street in 1997), Villandry's makeover appears to be doing this bistro some good.
Walking in, we had to dodge workers painting the gourmet foodstore upfront to make it through to the restaurant. The space itself was beautiful and earthy, with both blond and dark wood set against muted greys and natural hues, giving an overall warm autumnal feeling.
But it was really the food -- and phenomenal service -- that was noteworthy. The menu, which changes monthly, takes its cue from a French brasserie featuring gratin of macaroni cheese, moules mariniere and cassoulet with just the slightest English influence.
For starters we chose terrine of foie gras with apple and cinnamon chutney; whole globe artichoke with hazelnut vinaigrette; fresh greens and cold asparagus salad. But the best: an incredible bowl of French onion soup with the most delicious, oozing melted cheese swirled around thick, broth-soaked bread.
To complement the food, we indulged in a bottle of Innocenti Rosso de Montepulciano. This medium-bodied slightly spicy Italian red was a perfect addition to the flavors on the table. Its robust cherry fruit and smoky finish blended beautifully with the ingredients. Choosing this bottle was no easy task given that Villandry has an eclectic, well-priced wine list comprising bottles from Napa, Burgundy, Tuscany, Rhone, Coonwarra (Australia), Bordeaux, Rioja and more.
For the main course, I had ordered the pan-fried Scotch fillet of beef with bearnaise sauce. It initially came out overcooked (while my friend who ordered the same had a perfectly grilled piece). When I pointed this out, it was taken away -- no questions asked -- and replaced moments later with another steak as I had requested it (I did mention the service was wonderful, didn't I?). My partner ordered the seared scallops with creamed leeks and crispy bacon, which was without a doubt one of the best things I've ever eaten. I'm a massive fan of scallops and these were a true delight. They were cooked to perfect tenderness, allowing the scallop to melt in your mouth, but when paired with the crisp bacon, the dish was pure heaven. With everything we ate, the icing on the cake had to be the plate of hand-cut chips. Like scallops, I love my french fries. These were the perfect crispiness with just the right amount of salt and seasoning.
At this point, while we should definitely indulged in dessert, we couldn't, especially since one friend wasn't a dessert eater (how that's possible, I don't know). Instead, we capped dinner off with some espresso and called it a night.
If there's any place you've heard of eating in London -- Nobu, Hakkasan, St. John, Gordon Ramsay -- I highly recommend taking one dinner at Villandry. At the very least, pop into the food shop and pick up some fresh housemade pastries or dried meats.
Especially now that the paint has dried.
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