Gastronomic Entente Cordiale at The Balcon – Sofitel St James:
This is part of a long overdue review of just part of a visit to the Sofitel St James Hotel. I’ve actually found it rather hard to work out where to start because our visit involved so much that is worth writing about. The restaurant is somewhere I’ve visited on numerous occasions in the past, before the current iteration as The Balcon. It was always a good experience but under the direction of current Executive Chef Vincent Ménager, standards are raised to a new level, as we discovered. Vincent explained to us that his aim was to use locally sourced ingredients and showcase a fusion of classical French and British cooking styles. And, it’s that combination of very fine ingredients, simple classic British and French dishes presented perfectly and a comfortable and rather beautiful but somehow not overly formal dining area that makes this a special experience.
Our meal commenced with champagne and a tasting of some of the charcuterie available from at the custom built bar, which serves a mixture of Trealy Farm meats from Wales and Mas Le Rouget from Cantal in the Massif Central in France close to the Chef’s family home in addition to homemade pates and terrines. Now, as I was going out for a meal that evening, in principle I would have been happy enough to stay and just continue trying the very fine meats on offer.
I’ve never tried Trealy Farm charcuterie before and I now understand why their produce is so highly regarded (they were winners of the Observer food awards ‘Best UK Food Producer’ in 2010). And the Mas le Rouget contribution was a perfect complement. To turn down lunch, however, would have been to miss out seriously. I did try to choose the lighter options from the menu…really.
To start, for me, Herefordshire snails, garlic jus, parsnip purée, Mas air dried ham & country croutons. Yes, a bit of a test because the last time I tried snails I WAS in France and they were overly garlicky and like small pellets of rubber. Not so this time. These were tender meaty little mouthfuls and I suspect the art of the perfect snail is in not overcooking.
Not that I’m planning on trying anytime soon, I manage to eat them but the idea of actually cooking or worse still collecting and then purging them to prepare them just doesn’t sit comfortably with me. Here, though, my pretty wooden trencher of snails looked appetising and tasted wonderful.
Sticking to my resolve of eating a light lunch I chose seared Cornish stone bass fillet with roasted cauliflower and black olive dressing for my main course. This was a perfectly balanced dish, again presented beautifully, with the caramelised cauliflower adding a touch of sweetness to the fish which was beautifully tender with crispy skin tasty enough to eat.
If I was just a little stronger willed, I might have skipped dessert. But, as it was, I am glad I didn’t. My blackberry financier with apple sorbet was a wonderful take on an English pudding classic. And, it was so light I am sure it didn’t have TOO many calories.
There was a lot more to our day at the Sofitel than Lunch. But, for me at least, it was Lunch at The Balcon that proved this Hotel is beyond the ordinary and provides something exceptional well beyond the norm for a Hotel restaurant. It’s the care and attention to detail in sourcing, in the menu and in the presentation of the food that distinguishes Balcon and makes it a worthy destination for dining in its own right,whether or not you are staying in the Hotel. The a la Carte menu is reasonably priced with most starters under £10 and main courses between £15 and £25. But there’s an extremely reasonable set menu too with two courses for £15 and three for £20. So, I WILL be back:)
Sofitel London St James
6 Waterloo Place
London SW1Y 4AN