Tuesday, 13 October 2009
Pierre Koffman's Restaurant on the Roof, Selfridges
I'm not normally one to dash to restaurants in their first weeks of opening, but if you want a meal at the Restaurant on the Roof you don't really have much of a choice. Pierre Koffman is cooking here for just less than a month, and the news of his return to the stove after so many years away was greeted with feverish delight and the swift snapping-up of tables by London foodies. But no 'bedding-in' period, no settling down of service, no soft-opening - just 3 Michelin Star food, at £75 a head, from day one. From a temporary kitchen, and with a temporary front-of-house team. Ambitious doesn't even begin to describe it. Could it even be done?
For a time, it seemed my fears were well-founded. Reports from guests in the first week complained of indifferent service, hour-long waits between courses, and uninteresting food. One particular sticking point seemed to be the production or otherwise of the petits fours - the fury unleashed on Twitter when it became apparent some people had received them with their coffees and some hadn't was terrible to behold. But forewarned is forearmed, and I made my way past the statuesque blonde guarding the special Pierre Koffman lift (opposite the Chanel perfumes) vowing to make damn sure I got my petits fours.
Whichever design team is behind the Restaurant on the Roof (and one eagle-eyed member of our party spotted the same antler chandelier used at the Reindeer popup a year or two ago) certainly know how to impress. Down a long, softly-lit corridor lined with white chiffon you go, into a large reception area populated by a mysterious porcelain statue, up some stairs into a baroque-themed bar/waiting area and finally the restaurant itself, a vast white marquee with walls gently shimmering against the late evening London breeze. We were greeted by none other than Claire Koffman, partner of chef, who confessed to being baffled by the "huge number" of young people she'd seen sporting oversized cameras. How times have changed since La Tante Claire....
And so to the food. An amuse of pig's head and celeriac was a dreamy combination of glistening, salty pork and creamy vegetable, perfectly seasoned and bursting with fresh flavours. If this was a sign of things to come, we were in for a treat.
My starter was a special made by Bruno Loubet, Koffman's aide in the kitchens that day. A langoustine bisque, swirled with cream and topped with fresh herbs it definitely looked the part, and brought a heavenly seafood aroma to the table. It also tasted superb, with a silky smooth texture and lovely deep prawniness. Other starters were equally fantastic, such as an earthy bone marrow and snail and a semi-ironic lobster and avocado cocktail.
I have to admit to my heart sinking slightly when my main course of duck arrived. Could they not have found a better way of presenting this dish? It all looked a bit thrown together, with a confusion of sauces and haphazard scattering of weirdly-cut vegetables. Fortunately it tasted a lot better than it looked, the meat being cooked perfectly medium-rare and with an impressive crispy skin. Best of the other main courses on our table wasn't (shock horror!) the Famous Pig's Trotter (though I did try some and you can see what all the fuss is about) but instead a hare cooked three ways - braised shoulder, pan-fried breast and what was presumably the 'other bits of hare' pressed into a terrine. It reminded me, with its bold game-yness, of the Rules grouse. And there can be no higher praise than that.
I think I must have been so bowled over by my dessert of Pain Perdu that I forgot to take a picture of it, so you'll have to take my word that it was perfectly well presented. But the taste was extraordinary - gorgeous flaky pastry and impossibly light eggy filling, and served with a scoop of perfect coconut ice cream. I almost couldn't believe how good this deceptively simple dessert was. Beautiful. Most desserts around the table were equally stunning, particularly a pistachio soufflé, but I was unimpressed that none of the cheeses on the cheese course (£5 supplement) were British, and they had gone with a rather prosaic selection of Roquefort, Epoisses, Camembert and the like. Fine, but not really worth the supplement, and the Epoisses looked like it could have done with being a bit more room temperature.
And that was that, a thoroughly accomplished and enjoyable meal and a rather magical evening. We experienced none of the service issues that seemed to have plagued others, and yes, we even received a pretty tray of petits fours in a timely fashion. This doesn't, sadly, appear to be the experience of everyone in the room that evening, more of which I'm sure you'll hear about in the usual places. But I can only report on what happened on our table (the presence of a Guardian journalist perhaps swinging events in our favour), and we honestly had no complaints. If you're lucky enough to have bagged a spot at the Restaurant on the Roof then you should be looking forward to your meal enormously. Just make sure you get your petits fours.