Lady Barbara Judge has a fabulously fun evening at London’s Les 110 des Taillevent...
One of the first famous Michelin-starred restaurants that I ever went to in the 1970s and ’80s was in the centre of Paris: the Taillevent, famous even then. I vividly remember going there with three other lawyers with very good taste, who knew that the nicest thing they could do for their young associate (me) was to go to a Parisian palace of perfect food. I also remember that the décor of this palace was unlike any other that I had been fortunate enough to see. It was neither fanciful, nor country-printed, nor gold-encrusted. In fact, it was decidedly masculine, with warm wooden panelling and restrained lines, and dark rich colours; it felt more like a luxurious library than a dining room for delicious delicacies. In due course, the delicious delicacies did emerge – and I was thrilled to be able to enjoy them in such good company. Well, here we are 40 years or so later, and Taillevent is still going strong in Paris, providing elegant meals for elegantly tailored businessmen. What is even nicer, from my point of view, is that it has spawned a new experience for restaurant collectors, here in London, called Les 110 de Taillevent.
Like its older sibling, Les 110 de Taillevent is housed in an elegant, listed building on Cavendish Square (which, like many new London restaurants, used to be a bank). The interior reminds me very clearly of the original Taillevent, with its warm wooden walls, sleekly-contoured furniture and inviting velvet banquettes in exquisite dark hues – all new and sophisticated, but not too modern and not at all stark. I really loved the interior because it felt rich, and as if no expense had been spared to tastefully decorate what is actually a bistro.
So, it looks gorgeous, but what about the food – and in this case, the wine? The unique concept behind the name – Les 110 de Taillevent – is that there are 110 fine wines on offer, each available by the glass, or half-glass. There are four different price categories, from modest to premium. The menu is arranged so that each dish is paired with four different wine selections, at various prices. The food is listed down the centre of a menu, and on either side of each dish are two wine choices.
Neither William Norris – my favourite caterer and good foodie friend – nor I are consumers of great quantities of wine, but here we could order lots of different ones in very small quantities. First, we had a lovely Champagne that neither of us had ever tasted, Delamotte Brut – a perfect prelude to the feast that was to come. For entrées, we ordered squid à la plancha, sweet peppers, Iberico chorizo and squid ink, paired with Irouléguy ‘Hegoxuri’ 2014 from Domaine Arretxea, and langoustine ravioli with basil and citrus butter, paired with Chassagne-Montrachet 2009.
The langoustine ravioli and the squid were both perfectly prepared – light and beautiful to behold – but unsurprisingly it was the wine to which we turned our attention. The nicest part of the wine experience was that we could have it in quantities of 70ml. Those who often travel on aeroplanes and struggle with security will know that this is a small amount of liquid –and a perfect size for tasting.
The Hegoxuri was interesting, with sort of a Gascon wine quality, and the Chassagne-Montrachet from Domaine M Niellon was classically beautiful. Being able to try a bit of both was wonderful – and left time and space for the next course. There were so many good choices for the main course that we indulged in three, including the best blanquette de veau I have ever had. It was slow-cooked veal with a stock-based sauce rather than cream, which was exquisite, and did not overpower the delicate veal. We also chose the veal T-bone with lemon thyme, and the venison with a Grand-Veneur sauce. Each was a beautiful piece of meat – perfectly cooked and lightly sauced. We also ordered the mushrooms and mixed vegetables as garniture, which were well-chosen and well-cooked. The wine story here included Vacqueyras ‘Variation’ 2012 from Domaine de Montvac, IGP Côtes du Lot ‘Montaigne’ 2011 from Domaine Belmont, and Oregon Pinot Noir ‘Mount Jefferson’ 2012 from Cristom, United States. The last was particularly pleasant (and not just because I am American) although they were all good and complex. It was a rare treat to be able to have a taste of each.
For dessert, we ordered Sablé Breton,which was a thin cookie with small dollops of lemon cream, lime jelly and marshmallows. This was light and lovely, but the sphere of dark chocolate ‘Granny Smith’ was the winner. It was a chocolate ball melting to reveal apple sorbet nestled on the inside, which somewhat surprisingly made a splendid combination. The desserts were delicious and, with help from the charming sommelier, we paired them with two sweet wines – Sydre ‘Argelette’ by Eric Bordelet, and Moscato d’Asti 2014, from G D Vajra, Italy. I liked the latter best because it was uncomplicated and refreshing, but either was a good choice.
All of this eating and drinking (accent on the latter) left our table looking like a wineglass graveyard, with traces of wine left in each glass: the distinct hallmark of the hedonistic heaven to which we had been invited. When the waitress asked us how we had enjoyed our dinner, I said it had been ‘so much fun’. She responded that this was the first time she had heard food described as ‘fun’, but it was the truth, it was fabulous fun. I want to return as soon as possible to work my way through the whole menu – the food and the wine. Another tip: this new entrant to the restaurant scene of new restaurants in London is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner. I often have business guests on a Sunday night and struggle to find an appropriately interesting place for dinner – well, here is the answer! No doubt it is time to start being a regular because stardom is on the way.
16 Cavendish Square, London W1G 9DD / 020 314 16016
Lady Barbara Judge is currently the chairman of the Pension Protection Fund in the UK, and has held many posts across the corporate and charitable sector, including commissioner of the US Securities and Exchange Commission, and chairman of the UK Atomic Energy Authority. Lady Barbara has always had an abiding love for food, and her frequent international business travels have enabled her to indulge this passion in many top restaurants across the globe. (Lady Barbara Judge pays all of her own expenses.