“One for the Bois”
The Boisdale of Belgravia Wild & Foraged menu left our reviewer well fed and satisfied; his only regret he had no time to stay, drink drams and enjoy the music at this understated but fun restaurant
Review by Winston Chesterfield
It’s a bit unfair calling Boisdale of Belgravia a ‘British restaurant.’ It’s Scottish – from the tartan chairs and staff in kilts to the wild, meat-filled menus. Particularly given that everyone else in the trade is getting inordinately precise about their cuisine’s geographical origins (“No we won’t do pasta – we serve Venetian food”), it feels strange to apply the term ‘British’ to what Boisdale is trying to achieve.
In actual fact, come to think of it, it’s not really completely accurate to call Boisdale a restaurant. It is in the sense that you can eat food there, but that term also feels a bit erroneous. It’s somewhere between a members club and a 1960s jazz parlour; music is a large part of the Boisdale experience, and it is this magic ingredient that prevents the crimson-walled clubbiness from plunging into stuffiness.
Though they have three other restaurants in London – Mayfair, Canary Wharf & Bishopsgate – it is the Belgravia branch that stands out, mainly because it is in a much more residential area. This results in an interesting hybrid between a destination restaurant of legend and a local for the well-heeled neighbours. It also means that they have had to squeeze this Caledonian experience into a Regency townhouse on Ecclestone Street, rather than a purpose-built restaurant.
Inside, various examples of taxidermy & old musical instruments adorn the walls, which are a rich blood-red. The smell of cooked meat pervades the air and, upstairs, private dining rooms and a cigar terrace reverberate with the guffaws of the largely blokey patrons. It is undeniably masculine, and, from the menu (if not the surroundings alone) rather unsuitable for that catch-up dinner with your sensitive vegan friend.
By contrast with some of the celebrated & polished restaurants in central London, Boisdale of Belgravia looks and feels like a much-loved armchair. There’s no copper or trendy lighting, and everything is well-worn and ‘lived in.’ This produces a very relaxed, understated atmosphere – which lasts until the musicians tap the microphone, and Boisdale’s dining room is transformed into a private party venue.
The a la carte menu of Boisdale is best described as hearty. Words like ‘haunch’ and ‘leg’ appear throughout, and the portions are generous. Some would say too generous, and it is certainly possible that those with small appetites only avail themselves of a single dish – which, in all honesty, would be a great shame.
Cue the Wild & Foraged menu, launched this year, and designed as a seven-course tasting menu to allow diners to try a variety of Boisdale’s different dishes – without the Mr Creosote result at the end.
The experience starts with an amuse bouche, followed by the bona fide starter, a fish course, then a meat course which is followed by cheese, dessert and petit fours.
I’m not normally a fan of huge tasting experiences, as the various courses are often interspersed with an additional trail of snacks and sorbets. It ends up being a continuous interaction with the waiting staff and almost like watching 15 film trailers rather than one film. However, the Wild & Foraged menu feels like a meal without feeling like a feast, and the portions are sizeable enough that you’re not looking around for them to be cleared as soon as they’ve been set down.
The oyster tempura amuse bouche, with samphire and violet petals, was a perfect marriage of citrus and salt that was a delicate reminder of the dexterity in the Boisdale kitchens – blokey it was not. The Cornish crab & salmon eggs that followed was fresh and zesty, but made the introduction of the next fish course somewhat unwelcome, as I was eyeing the steaming plates of venison and beef drifting out into the dining room.
Moving on, the fish was Cornish turbot, with crunchy wild rice and butter-soft broccoli, served with a fish volute. It was a comforting and substantial dish with some contrasting textures and a somewhat unnecessary squid ink tuile, but the majesty of the meal was the haunch of Scottish red deer with crispy moss and pear.
Though more delicately presented than the backside of a wild animal would normally be, this was the most baronial. Like a Regency dandy, the deer was plump, soft and eye-wateringly rich, so much so that the pear disappeared behind the intensity of the meat. As the climax of the meal, it worked extremely well, but the meaty-salt tang left on my tongue afterwards certainly needed the introduction of the palate-cleansing blackcurrant sorbet.
By the time we had reached the pistachio crème brulee dessert – a mere five courses down – we were readying the white flag, but for a restaurant that prides itself as a live music venue, the food is remarkably good.
By the time we had washed down the last of the dessert, the party was in full swing – and most of the other diners were just starting to arrive. A procession of them strode into the dining room to the sound of 1950s crooning jazz in a mixture of outfits from pinstripe suits to cashmere jumpers and cords – the local residents making themselves conspicuous by their looser interpretations of a dining dress code.
We left well fed and satisfied – though slightly regretting the fact we couldn’t stay, drink drams and shout loudly and inappropriately for the band to play Bee Gees songs.
Enquires: Boisdale of Belgravia, 15 Ecclelston Street, Belgravia, London SW1W 9LX / 0207 7306922 / www.boisdale.co.uk/belgravia/the-venue/ / Other venues Cabot Place, Canary Wharf, Swedeland Court, 202 Bishopsgate & 12 North Row, Mayfair