Daniel Boulud is a star chef across continents, but if it’s Mediterranean sun you’re looking for then under the Mandarin Oriental Hotel will be the best place to start.
Below leaden grey skies on the first day of June, it’s hard to feel summery in London. I look up at the clouds and get drizzle on my glasses before diving down the Alice in Wonderland doorway into Bar Boulud under the massive pile that is the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Knightsbridge
This part of the building was once, I believe, the laundry and storage areas but for the past six years so it has been the London sister restaurant to the popular New York Bar Boulud.
The eponymous chef is in the house; Daniel Boulud hails from the food centre that is Lyon in France, and is one of the most famous French chefs in New York. He wanders the large low-ceilinged room dispensing bon mots and bonhomie in equal measure to the food writers, reviewers, bloggers and blaggers assembled to sample his’pop up’ summer menu Boulud Sud (Boulud South), an incarnation of his restaurant of the same name across the pond.
A glass of pastis doesn’t bring the sun but it certainly warms me up nicely as a selection of plates from the Sud menu begin to fill the table.
A meze selection has a spicy Moroccan hummus, herby sweet falafels and a rich babaganoush. All kinds of crispy thin breads wave in the breeze from the air conditioning and are used to help shovel up the treats.
Quarters of artichoke cooked a la romana (which sounds better than’deep fried’ come with a Nipatella Aioli, nipatella is an Italian herb with mint and oregano notes, to be dipped and dredged in, while a Sicilian Sardine Escabeche that follows is soft and melting enlivened by olive oil, sweet white raisins and the crunch of pine nuts.
Spaghetti Nero is stained dark with cuttlefish ink is twisted around chunks of cuttlefish with spikes of Calabrian chili and smoked uni, the less scary name for sea urchin one of my very favourite things to come out of the sea. Apart from Daryl Hannah that is.
And then there was Moroccan Chicken Tagine with the, for me, has to be obligatory preserved lemon, and for dessert a rather wonderful hollowed out grapefruit stuffed with sesame Halva, Rose Loukoum and a sorbet made from the grapefruit flesh.
This I ate too quickly and got massive brain freeze as a result, just as Daniel sat down opposite for a chat. I think he thought I was starstruck, but my lack of conversation and odd mewling noises were just me trying to fight the pain of someone using a drill on my forehead.
That apart, it was a spectacularly good meal and credit has to go to Thomas Piat the Executive Head Chef at Bar Boulud as well.
The Boulud Sud pop up menu will run July and August 2016