Flemings Mayfair, 7-12 Half Moon Street, London W1 Ormer restaurant
The best thing to come out of Jersey since those potatoes. Ormer is a restaurant that satisfies the highest standards.
Hotel restaurants have an uphill struggle in life. These days most big ones have two restaurants; one for the day-to-day guest work and one for outsiders and the fancier travellers. No one expects too much from the former but the latter has to work hard to overcome prejudice and pull in the diners.
Flemings Mayfair Hotel, located in the very best bit of the Monopoly board, has created Ormer restaurant to go with its multi-million refurb. It’s Shaun Rankin’s Ormer restaurant in Jersey translated to the smoke and if this is what Jersey can offer then look out Bergerac, I’m coming over with a knife (and fork).
The room is clubby, wood-panelled, a classic posh restaurant basically but not oppressively so. It’s comfortable and wouldn’t frighten anyone. Indeed, some diners seem very casually dressed, making me do an old-man tut when I see them. Still at least no one’s wearing a baseball cap but if they were the friendly staff would not, I think, draw attention to it.
It is, whisper it, fine dining but why not? Not everyone wants to sit around a scrubbed plank, eat with their hands and pour their own wine. That’s not what some of us call a special night out; we want plates and cutlery and, God help us, maybe a napkin too.
A stool for madam’s handbag seems a tad OTT though. Stools and bag hooks are for venues where either the management is worried about sneak thieves or the floor is horribly grubby. Neither of those concerns I should imagine apply to Ormer but I glance around suspiciously all the same,
I don’t normally rhapsodise over bread, but Ormer’s is truly stand out. Pocketed with air like a ciabatta but with a crunchy crust that is just oh so perfect. So too is the whipped butter that I ladle on. It may be a clichÃƒÂ© but when a restaurant cares so much about its bread, the cooking can usually be trusted to follow suit.
The idea of Ormer is to bring a bit of Jersey to London and P’s Jersey crab, Granny Smith apple, lime, vanilla, peanut dressing starter has her cooing about freshness and sweetness, as well as the joyful contrast of the crab with the nuts. The cheerful sommelier had suggested a Saki to go with it and she, while initially as sceptical as one would be, is now totally won over and impressed by his skill.
Again fresh from Jersey’s waters comes my lobster ravioli with a crab and tomato bisque and shallot salad. It’s a single raviolo tautly packed with excellent meat and the pasta is robust, not thick-eared but rolled out to less than the thinnest setting and that’s a good thing.
The bisque makes me want to call for a curly straw, it’s that good, and the shallot is a pairing that immediately makes sense once tried. Balanced and brilliant with Asian influences shining out via the soy sauce splashed through.
More fish for me for mains, I love turbot for it’s remarkable firm texture and flavour. The best I’d previously eaten was cooked over charcoal just a few yards from the boat that had brought it in, but this was a step up even from that.
I relish the pine nut crust, the grilled smoky cauliflower, the sweet, shy cockles and the saline tickle of the sea vegetables hiding underneath like fish under a coral reef on Life On Earth. And needless to say it looked beautiful, but the low light was not ideal for photography nor I felt was the experience. Cameras away everyone, concentrate.
Iberico pork “secreto” with calamari and chorizo chutney for P comes as two plates. The secreto is not so much a secret anymore of course, not since the wave of Spanish restaurants hit London, but it remains very special. Cut mostly, but not always, from the shoulder of the Pata Negra breed pig, Secreto is darkly coloured with a long grain and is densely marbled. It’s very juicy, very rich and you really don’t want to even think about overcooking it. It is of course cooked to perfection here.
P alternates this pork goodness with slices of the calamari and chorizo, using the Asian pear to cut all that richness as intended. It is sweet pear but it’s also aromatic and has a hint of spiciness too. A good choice. She clears her plate with small whoops and begins on the enamel just before it’s taken away.
Shaun’s’classic treacle tart’ was a star of 2009’s Great British Menu so I have to try it. It’s good but doesn’t quite live up to the billing, although the hints of salt are welcome and the raspberries alongside remarkably fresh. I wonder where they get them from at this time of year? Mint and clotted cream make it all very British, but a glass of 20-Year-old Spanish Moscatel is a fine chaser.
Banana parfait, Dulce de leche, caramel ice cream, peanut crumble does for P. More nuts here Shaun likes his nuts, and so does P. No I won’t rephrase that, get a grip. Lots of rich flavours, she says and not a heavy dish to end on despite its components.
They intend, they tell us, to create a separate door to the restaurant, which is the only improvement the restaurant needs. Best meal of 2016 in the UK? Well unless any late contender arrives now I would say a great big’yes’.