Last Updated on March 7, 2022
A culinary journey through Europe at the LaLee, Chelsea
What’s your favourite way to spend time with friends? Top of my list is sharing a meal somewhere glamorous but relaxed where the food is excellent without being too fussy. Those MittelEuropean grand café-restaurants hit the spot perfectly, which is perhaps why the likes of the Wolseley and the Delauney have been so successful. Now, the Cadogan, a Belmond hotel, has reinvented their dining room as the LaLee, a new all-day neighbourhood café-restaurant in the heart of Chelsea (you’ll find the hotel on Sloane Street, equidistant from Knightsbridge and Sloane Square). Inspired by one of the hotel’s most legendary past residents, actress and socialite Lillie Langtry, the café-restaurant takes guests on a culinary journey to the grand cities of Europe, with tableside theatre, iconic and rare wines by the glass and playful cocktails all taking centre stage.
Notorious for romantic scandal and famed for risqué stage performances, Lille Langtry didn’t shy away from drama. Bringing dramatics back to the dining room, The LaLee offers a selection of signature dishes prepared tableside, including Beef Tartare, Caesar Salad and Dover Sole, all served with a touch of tableside theatre. And, there are over 80 wines on the menu served by the glass, together with a selection of classic and bespoke cocktails.
When we arrived it was all quite lively in the kitchen while the restaurant itself was a cosier version of its predecessor, albeit still with the stunning stuccoed ceilings and parquet flooring. It reminded me of a comfier and more elegant version of the Wolseley – though that might simply be because right now it’s pleasantly busy rather than packed out. I suspect that won’t last long. Curated by Executive Chef, Chris Hill, the new all-day menu serves up familiar and favourite European dishes, crafted with the finest ingredients sourced from London and the UK. Dishes range from Aubergine Parmigiana and Wiener Schnitzel to desserts such as Rum Baba and Café Gourmand.
We started the evening with a glass of the special Rathfinny brut that has been created for the restaurant and with the restaurant’s own twist on a negroni, a Rome-Groni-Rome. My companion, who enjoyed the cocktail was impressed by how well the espresso-infused Campari worked in this pimped-up classic based on Gin del Professore Madame, Martini Reserva Speciale Rubino Vermouth and the aforementioned espresso Campari, Meanwhile, I sipped on a dainty glass of Rathfinny Brut, an English sparkling wine that is a great example of how far winemaking has come in this country in the last few years. Biscuity, with a fine mousse it was an excellent aperitif.
There are some people who claim you can judge a restaurant on its bread and butter – and the LaLee would get top marks with a light springy warm boule served with salted bungay butter (which I believe is one of very the few raw milk butters available.
I started the evening with a dish of hand-dived scallops, with truffle hazelnut and apple. Perfectly cooked sweet scallops with a generous helping of freshly grated truffles, in a red wine sauce, topped with ultra-thin slices of apple. A gorgeous and slightly decadent starter that I could have eaten all over again.
My companion opted for the prawn and lobster cocktail because as he said he was just in the mood for a posh prawn cocktail. Lots of prawn, crab and lobster meat in a lightly spiced Marie Rose sauce with a lettuce garnish served in exactly the same way that I remember enjoying a prawn cocktail 30 years ago.
For my main course, the special of the day was irresistible- a 45 day aged beef fillet with pommes boulangère, a classically delivered plate with moderate portion sizes served with smoked shallot, and a red wine jus. All the components were perfectly cooked, with tender full-flavoured, lean meat served medium-rare.
My paired wine was a Cotes de Rhone 2018, Domaine Saint Gayan. It’s a classic Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre blend which exemplifies all that is great about Southern Rhône reds. And a delicious pairing with the beef.
My companion went for the Dover Sole. Now, he is very capable of filleting fish (I’ve seen him tackle a turbot for two in a restaurant before). But, Billy, our waiter (who is taking part in the Young Waiter of the Year award) did a sterling job of preparing the Dover sole. What was left on the plate was a perfectly filleted Dover sole with a lightly springy texture, just as it should be, served with a Meunière sauce, seasonal vegetables.
We also shared a delicious plate of zucchini fritters, hot from the fryer and with a generous portion of mayonnaise on the side.
He thought his Aligoté Borgogne, Bernard Defaix 2020 didn’t have quite enough body for the sole. But wine pairings are at least in part personal taste.
By this stage, I had eaten far too much and was really happy to see Cafe Gourmand on the menu. It’s an option you don’t often see on the menu but here, for £7.50 you get a freshly baked madeleine, a chocolate bonbon and a macaron. I indulged in a glass of port too.
Meanwhile, my companion ordered the real McCoy – a scandalously sweet dessert to make you swoon with lime mousse, coconut and strawberry. He cheered up a lot with a paired glass of Cssensia orange muscat 2019 which was light, fragrant and citrussy – a good pairing for the lime mousse.
I really enjoyed the LaLee. It’s a great fit for the Cadogan with the kind of menu that will work well for everyone, from visitors to the hotel through to the Knightsbridge glitterati. It’s the kind of place to go for a meal with friends, for a business dinner or just for a night out with family.
Open: daily, 7am–10:30pm
Address: 75 Sloane St, Chelsea, London, SW1X 9SG