The third and final part of our dining adventure in London was Sunday lunch at Koffmann’s, the French bistro style venue at the Berkeley, which offers, according to its website, ‘informal dining for serious foodies’, courtesy of legendary French chef, Pierre Koffmann. Koffmann’s opened in June 2010, and although Pierre previously held three Michelin stars for his work at La Tante Claire (also at the Berkeley until its closure in 2003), he has stated that he is no longer chasing Michelin stars and is happy to cook the Gascon-style food that he remembers from his childhood. Either way, we were incredibly excited about trying Koffmann’s for the first time, with a recent mention from Michael Winner saying that there is currently no better place to eat in London.
Our visit started well with a carafe of Sancerre (my favourite white wine, bar none) in the small bar area that is on a kind of mezzanine between the two dining levels of the restaurant. In this area there was also a small ‘sweet shop’ style display, which seemed to prove very popular with the visiting children (of which there were more than you would normally expect, due to our visit being timed to coincide with Mothering Sunday!) We were given ‘nibbles’ of olives and some of the most delicious honey roasted cashews I have ever had the pleasure of tasting. I could easily have filled up just on those!
As it was Sunday lunch time, we decided to have the Prix Fixe menu, which sounded lovely and was an impressive £26 per person – excellent value considering many of the main dishes on the a la carte menu came in at more than this just for a single course. The wine was a different story, but what we had (several carafes of Sancerre and a couple of Brouilly) was truly excellent.
We were brought a delicate little amuse bouche of crab salad with a wafer thin toasted crouton. When we tried it, we said at this point that if this was a sign of things to come then we were certainly in for a great meal!
The Prix Fixe menu changes daily, but according to the Maitre d’, some dishes – or variations on them – do appear regularly if they’ve proven particularly popular. To start, I chose pike mousse with fresh herbs sauce. I’m not sure that I’d knowingly tried pike before, and I’m still not sure what type of fish it would be in terms of texture, but the flavour of the mousse was certainly delicious, and the texture was out of this world. It had just the right amount of bite so as to not disintegrate or be mushy when combined with the sauce – which was similarly absolutely lovely. The presentation was also beautiful, and I am sure my photography doesn’t do it justice.
Mr W’s starter was even better: a pork and foie gras terrine, set in duck consommé. I’m not always a fan of terrines: I sometimes find them a bit gelatinous, or find the chunks of cold meat a little bit unpleasant, but this was sublime. The consommé was not in the slightest bit jelly like and served to hold the terrine together, but instantly melted in the mouth to give a huge amount of flavour without any unpleasant texture. The small chunks of pork and foie gras were delicious too, and the three flavours came together perfectly.
The bread also deserves a special mention at this point. We had five individual rolls delivered to our table, each of them different. I already felt I’d overdone it with the divine cashews, so didn’t want to go mad, but I had a nibble of what I think was a roll with sundried tomato and cheese, and was compelled to finish the whole thing, it was so delicious. I am sure the others would have been equally good, and wish I could have taken them home!
My main course was confit duck leg with sautéed potatoes. I was almost tempted to go for one of the choice of roasts that they had on offer (we saw several fellow diners eating them and they looked exceptionally good) but the duck won in the end. Our hopes were high after our starters, and we weren’t disappointed. A perfectly crispy skin with meat underneath that fell off the bone, and deliciously crisp potatoes. Oddly, what I thought was a wedge of al dente cabbage on the side turned out to be iceberg lettuce with a drizzle of dressing! It shouldn’t have worked – but it did! I commented to the Maitre d’ about how unusual it was, and was expecting a story about how the flavour combination had been developed, but instead was told simply that they usually serve it with cabbage, but their supplier didn’t deliver any and sent lettuce instead, so they decided to serve that with the duck! Amazing, but it was a fantastic combination.
Mr W ordered monkfish bouillabaisse, which arrived not looking much like a bouillabaisse, but rather just a collection of pieces of fish with a little drizzle of sauce. Again, though, despite not being a traditional offering, it really, really worked, with a hint of aniseedy fennel flavour, and delicate fish coming through.
Our mains were accompanied by chips (excellent) and honey roasted carrots (sweet and tasty).
Finally, I chose a chocolate delice. I don’t normally go for chocolate desserts as they’re not my favourite, but Mr W had already nabbed my other choice (and is even less likely to choose chocolate than I am), and I was unconvinced by the other options of peanut parfait or ice creams and sorbets (which I am sure would have been good but I felt the need for something a bit more special to round off what had so far been a fantastic meal). I wasn’t disappointed – the layers struck the right balance of lightness and richness, with only a very thin sponge base, and it really hit the spot without being sickly or overly filling. The only slight complaint I could find with any of our food was that this was topped with a few pieces of popcorn, which I didn’t think were necessary, but it was far from being a problem, as after trying one, I just removed the others!
Mr W had my first choice of lemon tart, and waxed similarly lyrical about it. I’m running out of superlatives for this review, so I’ll keep it brief and say that this too was divine: crisp pastry, topped with a tart lemon filling, and a small scoop of ice cream to temper the sharpness of the tart.
Finally, we had a coffee, which was served with some lovely little orange scented madeleines, which were warm and crisp on the outside. Mr W had a cognac with his, and a dedicated member of staff wheeled over an impressive trolley for him to choose from, making some recommendations and offering a taster.
We loved the ambience in Koffmann’s. It’s big enough that you can feel anonymous dining there if you want to, but small enough to be intimate, with a light and airy decor that lets you know you’re somewhere special without being stuffy, and has a few homely touches – like the ‘sweet shop’ area – which we really liked. We also liked the layout of the restaurant: tables for two were tucked away at the sides, with larger tables in the middle, and the two dining areas, separated by the bar, made it feel more exclusive.
The service, in keeping with the food, was second to none. We chatted to the Maitre D’, who was excellent, and we couldn’t have felt more welcome or accommodated by all of the staff who looked after us, who also managed to get the right balance between making the place feel ‘special’ and being friendly and approachable.
Koffmann’s is going to be a Love to Dine ‘first’ – receiving five stars across the board, as I honestly can’t fault it. We will be back!
Food: ***** Service: ***** Ambience: *****
Koffmann’s, The Berkeley, Wilton Place, London SW1X 7RL