Recently I was invited to review the three course Menu Du Jour lunch at Céleste, the Michelin-starred restaurant at The Lanesborough. This was my second visit to the restaurant but the first for Kris.
To recap, last time I was bowled over by their stunning interiors (who wouldn’t be!) and impressed by the food in general; it was very refined but highlighted the need for injecting some innovative twists and tweaks into the dishes. Well, it looks like I have been heard as this time not only have they preserved the fine quality of their cooking, but there was quite a bit more technique and complexity to the dishes on display.
But first, lets take a moment to admire the interiors of the restaurant. This time, I had bit more of a browse of the rest of the place, apart from the high-ceilinged, magnificent central space. The interior scheme of soft duck egg blue walls, festooned with gilded mirrors, alongside elaborate cornicing wraps and spills into the rest of the space too, giving it a cohesive luxurious and regal look.
We kicked things off with a glass of Champagne each (included in the offer). One of the staff members served us some homemade Sourdough (freshly baked, thick and crusty) and Whipped Butter with Black Breadcrumbs. The amuse-bouche was an intriguing Trout and Sea Bream Tartare, finished with some Coconut and Cucumber soup. The combination of the coconut and cucumber made it silky and cooling to taste. It was very refreshing, apt for a summery menu.
For my starter, I decided on the Sea Bream Ceviche, Sweet Potato Purée, Crispy Corn and Tiger’s Milk. It was a warm day and this Peruvian-inspired dish was perfect to whet my appetite. It had lots of sharp, acidic notes coming from the sauce, which was based on fish broth, lime and ginger. It had a fragrant, spicy kick but not super hot. Swimming in that aromatic puddle were tiny translucent chunks of sea bream, which were absolutely lovely and fresh. The little bits of corn kernel added texture and crunch whilst the pomegranate seeds provided a contrasting colour. Overall, it was a pretty good starter.
From Lima to Tokyo; Kris’ starter of Onsen egg – Smoked egg, Spring vegetables and Truffle Mayonnaise was complex and technically accomplished. It arrived inside a smoked cloche and was lifted on the table to release all the smoky aromas. The scent lingered for some time, drawing us in. The spring vegetables looked bright and vibrant against the backdrop of the grey plates; there was a real freshness to their flavour. The smoked egg and the mayonnaise blended it all together nicely. The egg itself was cooked perfectly to achieve that runny consistency (35 minutes in 64 degrees) without tasting ‘eggy’. To us, this was a stellar dish.
Both our starters were super impressive and tasty, and I particularly loved the subtle global inflections in both dishes.
After two glorious starters, our expectations had skyrocketed! I have a feeling that the chefs in the kitchen may have telepathically heard us at this very particular moment and said amongst themselves – challenge accepted! What was about to follow was even better.
Kris ordered the Shetland Mussels cooked in Bouillabaisse Jus, Rolled Potato and Aioli Sauce. It was presented in a deep bowl with the Bouillabaisse poured over at the table. The soup was quite thick with the flavour coming from its main ingredient – Stone fish. The potato roll, enlivened with spiced butter, was the centrepiece; there were bits of celery and samphire sprinkled on top and the dish was finished with that velvety soup. The colours and aromas were spectacular. Kris, who normally doesn’t go for mussels dishes, lapped it all up.
My main of Pork Belly – Slow cooked with Fresh Herbs, Spring Cabbage Salad, Honey and Sesame was insanely good too. A deep, square slab of rich, fatty pork belly came perched proudly on a bed of spring cabbage which had been marinated with chardonnay vinegar. Now in my relatively short (ahem!) lifetime, I have had my fair share of pork belly and this was up there in the top five of all time. The divine taste comes from it being slow cooked for 14 hours with herbs and then glazed with honey and sesame dressing. My knife sliced through all the rich layers like butter. Furthermore, the tanginess in the cabbage offset the meaty richness of the pork quite nicely. Finally on top, a quenelle of bacon, grainy mustard and crispy pork skin added a wallop of saltiness. It is hard to make Pork Belly look elegant so well done to the team for getting the presentation right.
In the end, we both loved our mains but were equally envious of each other’s dish.
The most memorable part of the meal from our last visit was the Dessert course. So needless to say, we were very much looking forward to the puddings, this time as well.
The Berries – Vacherin, Vanilla Chantilly and Strawberry Sorbet was definitely me. It was a stunning display of colours, shapes and forms. I thought it looked like a deconstructed Eton Mess but the waiter said it was inspired from an old recipe from South of France. It was almost too pretty to eat. The Chantilly cream offset the cooling sorbet nicely. The rest of the ingredients also worked together really well on the plate – thin meringue dome, fresh strawberries, little tangy jelly squares of lime and tiny sprigs of basil.
Kris had the Lemon – Linzer Sablé, Meringue, Lemon Thyme Sorbet. The scene-stealer again were those porcelain white shards of meringue. The dessert was heavy on texture and the lemon flavours came through nicely; not overpowering yet not too sweet either.
Céleste’s desserts are irrefutably excellent. Upon enquiry, I was told that the pastry chef is a relatively new recruit. Well, I hope they get to keep him because he is skilled, especially when it comes to those perfectly-formed shards and blobs of meringues.
I have to say a word or two about the service because they deserve a mention and some applause.
I am always nervous about fine dining restaurants, as sometimes the staff can come across stiff and robotic. None of that existed in Céleste and that goes for both the times I visited – as a guest and as a paying customer. The staff were swift, meticulous but at the same time warm-hearted and pleasant; some even had a sense of humour which helped ease the formality of the space. The service was flawless from start to finish. But perhaps the best moment was when Chef Steeven Gilles himself came out of the kitchen to say hello. We appreciated him doing so which made us feel even more welcomed and special. It was a genuine pleasure to meet him.
Céleste have definitely upped their game. The food delivered on the promise of adding twists and little unexpected surprises that worked. The menu tries to achieve that exquisite balance between classic flavours and modern techniques.The majority of the produce is sourced from British suppliers. The chefs in the kitchen are constantly striving to create something special with the food, even with challenging and lesser refined cuts. The seasonally shifting menu keeps it new and exciting.
When I have a good first time in a restaurant and go back a second time, it never quite matches up. Much like a sequel to a blockbuster movie. But I left Céleste the second time feeling even more in love with this place and the food.
The seasonal Menu du Jour with a glass of Champagne (£39 for three courses) is available on offer until 1st of August 2018. They also do À la Carte, Tasting menus and Afternoon Teas. The Menu Du Jour changes every month so for July expect some Cod and Barbecued Short Ribs (you read it here first!).
More information can be found here.
N.B. I was invited to review but all photos and opinions are mine.