When it comes to the gastronomic offering at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, both journalists and the public alike salivate over the prospect of securing a table at the 2 Michelin-starred Dinner by Heston Blumenthal. Therefore, due to the excitement surrounding that venue, the hotel’s more informal and straightforward restaurant, Bar Boulud, is sometimes unwisely overlooked.
I say straightforward in the best sense of the word, as Bar Boulud serves up delicious, no-nonsense rustic French cooking with plenty of American inserts in a relaxed setting. It’s the perfect antidote to those weary of fine-dining experiences, endless tasting menu explanations and the general fad of deconstructing every conceivable dish and its embellishments, right down to deconstructed pepper pot. Sometimes, you just want to eat simple food, drink, relax and not think too hard.
All vital ingredients to a successful meal at Bar Boulud. Arriving one Tuesday evening in December, the venue was packed with an eclectic mix of hotel guests, canoodling couples, suits and a health cross-section of tourists. The lighting is also well-judged; soft enough to foster a suitably romantic mood, but not to Hakkasan levels of darkness, where you struggle to read the menu.
But what really makes Bar Boulud is the atmosphere, buzzing with the sound of people having a great time, and in the case of the adjacent table occupied by a group of American visitors, voices screeching about a disappointing visit to Buckingham Palace. I wonder if they expected the monarch herself to lead guided tours of the privy?
We start with a much-needed glass of Franciacorta in Bar Boulud’s stylish bar area before perusing the choices available. The menu, or more accurately menus, offer an eclectic mix of brasserie dishes and American staples, including; daily specials, a Sunday brunch menu at £39 per head, top-notch charcuterie from Gilles Verot, plenty of fish and meat opinions and four different burgers, which our manager insisted, had won several awards. If you’re after wallet friendly, pre-theatre dining, the restaurant also offers a £17 two course or £19 three course ‘Bouchon Menu’, changing weekly Monday to Friday, available until 7pm. Feeling ravenous and carnivorous, I fancied a selection of charcuterie to share with my companion, in addition to squash soup, she then went for the Lemon Sole Grenoblosie, whilst I plumped for one of their signature burgers.
Our wine order is efficiently taken by the charming sommelier, who, like all the Mandarin Oriental’s staff, manages to be both professional and relaxed at the same time. Stuffiness and formality, it seems, it most definitely not tolerated at Bar Boulud, whereas warmth and charm flow easily. They even graciously tolerated my request to change table twice!
The charcuterie duly arrives and boy is it delicious, just as we’d hoped. Simply presented with a selection of hors d’oeuvres, pickles & mustards, it was so moreish that we almost ordered a second helping. A piping hot, perfectly spiced squash soup was another delicious highlight – every last spoonful of this gorgeous soup was wolfed down with an assortment of fresh bread.
Two glasses of Sancerre later, we were ready to try a bottle of spicy, yet elegant Cotes Du Rhone from Boulud’s extensive wine list. It cut through the richness of my burger nicely, a diet killer if ever there was one. A nice example of French-US culinary detente, the beef patty was piled high with pork confit and morbier cheese. Tasty fries in abundance and a nice healthy dose of cholesterol. A glass of Chablis was ideal with my friends lemon sole – ‘perfectly cooked and seasoned,’ she happily exclaimed.
Desserts rounded the evening off in spectacular fashion: Gateau Basque and Coupe Peppermint, a flourless sponge cake covered in hot chocolate sauce, served with a welcome dollop of mint-chocolate ice cream. Delicious, decadent and impossible to resist. After dinner, we were offered a few cocktails at bar area, feeling festive, we decided to accept. The perfect end to a seamless, thoroughly enjoyable dining experience.
Waiting for our jackets, I asked my friend Sara if Bar Boulud had lived up to her expectations. ‘Oh yes,’ came the instant reply, ‘it’s really fun, unpretentious and the staff are amazing.’ My sentiments exactly, for although Boulud doesn’t even attempt to break new ground in culinary terms, from a hedonistic perspective, it’s pure bliss – comfort food indeed. I anticipate a swift return.
Bar Boulud, Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, 66 Knightsbridge, London, SW1X 7LA. 020 7201-3899. Website.