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Monday 14 July 2014

A Bastille Day Celebration - Parisian Flare in the Heart of Pall Mall

Name: Boulestin

Where: 5 St James Street, London SW1A 1EF

Cost: Bastille Day Menu for 3 courses is offered at £37.50. The Prix Fixe Theatre menus are also available at £19.50 and £24.50 for 2 and 3 courses respectively, and also for Saturday lunch. From the à la carte menu, hors d'oeuvres range from £9 to £17.50, fish dishes are from £19.50 to £27.50, and meat dishes range from £23.50 to £29.50. Desserts cost from £7.50 to £9.50, with French cheeses including a selection of 4 for £16.75.  

About: Marcel Boulestin (1878-1943) was a French chef and restaurateur, who opened his eponymous restaurant in 1927 in Southampton Street, Covent Garden. He was also the world's first TV chef, appearing in 1937 on the BBC. After his death, the restaurant continued under various managements until it closed in 1994.

In September 2013, restaurateur Joel Kissin (co-founder and managing director of Conran Restaurants, now known as D&D London) opened Boulestin in St James as a 60-seat restaurant with a private dining room, an outside courtyard and the bistro Café Marcel. It specialises in the sort of classic French cuisine Marcel Boulestin popularised in the UK, led by Head Chef Andrew Woodford (ex The Wolseley, Colbert and Rules).

The restaurant is at the southern end of St James Street, next door to Berry Bros & Rudd's Wine & Spirits Shop. With a black and white tiled floor, starched white linen tablecloths and green leather chairs, set in a dining room flooded with natural light from the skylight, it's an elegant spot for lunch or dinner. It is only a stone's throw from Fortnum & Mason, Burlington Arcade and the luxury shopping area of Bond Street.

What We Ate: We started with the Jambon Persille, a terrine of ham hock and parsley, this is a specialty of Dijon in Burgundy of which Boulestin’s was a fine example.

We also had a magnificent Octopus Salad which included samphire, tomatoes, potatoes, olives, capers and lemon, this was a delicious dish reflecting the Mediterranean coastline of France, with a generous serving of tender octopus and fragrant olive oil.

For mains, we had one of the restaurant’s signature dishes - Tete de Veau - calves head, tongue and brains, with carrots, potatoes and celery. The Tete de Veau took me straight back to my Cordon Bleu days – classic French cooking at its best. A highly complex dish to assemble and cook (best left to the professionals), Boulestin's appeared effortlessly put together with tender calves’ head meat accompanied by a delicate but intensely flavored broth.

Dr G opted for the Roast Rabbit, served with mustard sauce. The rabbit was attractively presented with Girolle mushrooms, the saddle cooked in a balotine in a water-bath, perfumed with tarragon then wrapped in carrot slivers, and served with a fine mustard sauce, gherkins, capers and parsley. It was tremendous, and a reminder of just how fine a meat rabbit can be when expertly cooked.

Before dessert, we opted for the platter of 4 French cheeses, all from nearby Paxton & Whitfield (£16.75). This included Brillat Savarin, Beaufort, Foure D' Ambert and Mothais-Sur-Feuille. The cheeses were of excellent quality, and perfectly ripe.

For dessert, we had the cinnamon doughnuts and a fruit tart. This was a French tart of crème pâtissière, blackberry, strawberry, raspberry and blueberry, with a perfectly crisp and crumbly short crust pastry base.

The doughnuts were light and airy, with a delicious coating of cinnamon and sugar.

What We Drank: Impressively, the house Champagne is the "R" de Ruinart Brut, available for £14.75 by the glass, or £70 per bottle.  Wines have a strong French influence, but there are also options from the rest of Europe, Australia, South Africa and the Americas. They are priced from £19.50 for whites, £20 for reds (both from Pieno Sud, Sicily, a Trebbiano and Sangiovese respectively).

Our choices on the evening were guided by the friendly and knowledgeable sommelier Alessandro Talento, we couldn’t have been in better hands. We kicked off with an Americano (£12), a cocktail made from sweet vermouth, Campari and a splash of soda.

The vermouth was a Cocchi from Torin, a magnificent sweet, boutique vermouth made from the moscato grape, unlike the big brand vermouths usually made from Trebbiano.  The Americano was a superbly refreshing, and appetite stimulating start to the evening.

With the starters, we had an Albariño 2012 from L&L, Rias Baixas (£42).  With vibrant peach and tropical fruit characteristics and balancing acidity, this was a very good partner to both the ham and the octopus.

To enjoy with the veal and rabbit, we had a glass of Saint Aubin 1er Cru Derriere la Tour 2011, from Domain Jean Claude Bachelet (£59.50).  This was a classic example of pinot noir, with elegant redcurrant and raspberry fruit, light tannins, and great complexity and length.

With the cheese, although we were considering the selection of fine Ports on offer, Alessandro recommended a glass of fine aged Colombian rum - La Hechicera. Aged in sherry casks, it had none of the sweetness or caramel flavours that we usually associate with rum, but instead had nutty and dried fruit flavours, rather like an Armagnac. This was an unusual suggestion to partner our cheese platter, but it worked really well, balancing out the rich (let's be honest, fat) French cheese with a clean but complex spirit.

With the doughnuts, we had a couple of “After Dinner” cocktails. These included a glass of La Pommier, with fresh apple, vodka and eau de vie. With the fruit tart, we had a Sauternes de Luxe cocktail, made from fresh orange, home-made vanilla syrup, bourbon whiskey and Sauternes. Both expertly made and excellent pairing to our puddings.

To finish, we had a small tasting of two Italian artisan amaretto spirits and a fine drink created by Alessandro himself to demonstrate some of the flavours of his loved Italy – with Amaretto, Frangelico, sugar, ginger and cloves. A very fine end to our meal.

Likes: Great cooking, friendly service and a fantastic bar headed by Alessandro Talento.

Dislikes: None.

Verdict: Boulestin serves classic French cooking in an elegant setting in Pall Mall, and from the 14th July 2014 for one week, the Bastille Day menu priced at £37.50 will feature a selection of great dishes from the restaurant's repertoire. Highly recommended.

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