NYC sends a slice of Gallic heaven

Bar Boulud
Mandarin Oriental, 66 Knightsbridge, SW1X 7LA, tel: 020 7201 3899

Cost per person without wine: £45

THE name Daniel Boulud is a huge deal in New York, where everything is either a huge deal or offensively passe. The Lyon-born chef’s cluster of Manhattan eateries has managed to remain on the “huge deal” side of that spectrum, despite being around for longer than two seconds. Well, London has just landed its first Boulud outpost: the signature Bar Boulud at the Mandarin Oriental. The room isn’t great; a bit formal and tacky with low ceilings – it’s a basement, after all.

But the menu is a boatload of fun and you can see why Boulud drives New Yorkers wild. It requires extensive deciphering followed by strategising; but in a good way that uses foodie intelligence. The first page is charcuterie and is devoted to the royalty of French meat, Gilles Verot. There is nothing apologetic here about the trussing up of mauled animal, from the four kinds of terrine (two chicken livers, including one with pork and cognac; beef cheek, and an incredible lamb tagine and carrot), to the horribly named “head cheese”, which includes bits of pig’s brain. It was alright to eat, though, if you like that kind of thing.

We discovered we were on a meat bender and supplemented the charcuterie board with a delightful brioche stuffed with pistachio-studded pink sausage, while somehow managing to resist the call of the pepper-coated pork belly rillettes.

Along with his famous burgers, another of Boulud’s specialties is sausages: you can have them either as a starter or a shared platter. We went for the former option, since obviously we were still a bit low on protein and also we adore sausages. Gliding – painfully – past the Thai spiced link and the boudin noir one, we settled on the (extremely helpful and witty) waiter’s recommendation: the Beaujolaise, with mushroom, onion, bacon and red wine. A good choice: the rough-textured pork was bursting with herbs and lacquered in a perfectly composed sticky gravy swimming with sweet onions. Heaven.

It was our strategy now to head for mains (called “plats de resistance” – ho ho) and miss out the fruits de mer and entrees. I’d ogled the salad with garlic toast, stewed tomato, tapenade, buffalo mozzarella, and the octopus with babaghanoush, tomato and chickpea cake but there’s only so much a girl can eat.

So it was plump scallops for me, on a punchy, spring-y puree of peas and watercress, and lamb chops with spiced merguez (more sausage, yes), with a lemon-mint tabouleh and chickpea-pepper stew for my friend – lovely. It was hard, meanwhile, not to stare at everyone else’s burgers which had a cartoonish quality: vivid hues of sweating red and brown, green and gold.

Our menu plan allowed for cheese and we availed ourselves of a selection of seven, the blinding stars being the rich and oaky Compte-style Ulceby Grange, the pale and luxurious Brie de Maux from the Ile de France and the intensely aromatic Devon blue. Finally, we tried a scoop of mint glace that tasted, rather incredibly, just like fresh mint tea, and some giant macaroons, of which La Durée had better live in fear, for they were arresting. The pale nutella-filled one would have made sweet-toothed Marie Antoinette weep with joy, and it rendered us speechless.

For all its fireworks, this is a reasonably priced menu – burgers are £12-£13.50. And it certainly has something (and more) for everyone. Apart, perhaps, for vegetarians.