A Day @ Hélène Darroze
I looked up the word serendipity to make sure I am really using it right. “Serendipity is a propensity for making fortuitous discoveries while looking for something unrelated.” Yes! That sufficiently describes being able to spend a day in the kitchen of Hélène Darroze at the Connaught in London.
But first, a little background. I am a godparent to a little bundle whose parents are dear friends of mine, extraordinarily sweet …and also not exactly the plan-ahead-kind-of-folks. So I found out, with about two weeks notice, that they would love if I could come to my godchild’s christening…in Bolton, England, the father’s hometown. Where IS that exactly. About 20 minutes outside Manchester, and it took planes, trains, and automobiles to get there!
Needless to say, I used this excuse to spend a little time in London. I am a GOOP reader, and Gwyneth's endorsement of the Connaught was all I needed to book a room there. They have both traditional and modern wings, and the rooms were stunning (I’m a modern gal, myself).
Another great friend of mine who lives out there and is seriously on the pulse of the London lifestyle declared the Connaught Bar “brilliant!”, which it was. Amazing bespoke martinis and a room that oozes elegant, glittering sex appeal. Like the Blue Bar at the Berkeley’s sophisticated older cousin. A few pics that don’t do it justice
So the serendipitous part. The restaurant at the Connaught happens to be none other than Hélène Darroze. She, herself, is iconoclastic – a Michelin-starred chef who left her family’s traditions to start her own. She trained under Alain Ducasse during a time when female French chefs were scarce (they still are) and has a restaurant in the Left Bank in Paris and this one at the Connaught. BOTH hold Michelin stars…
Hélène and her awesome Chef de Cuisine, Raphael, spent some time at Per Se while I was there, so I gave Chef Raphael a quick call asking begging him to let me come trail for the day. And he agreed! He was so kind and accommodating, and the kitchen there is such a complex operation. I left totally amazed and impressed.
Only 6 chefs work in the fine dining kitchen, and they quickly turned out dishes for service like the escabeche-style marinated mackerel with warm potatoes with pesto and pimientos del piquillo (yes, that’s one dish) and duck foie gras from les landes with a seasonal fruit chutney and grilled country bread (another).
You’ll notice in these pictures the lighting is different. That’s because they are plated on the “pass”, which is the area of the kitchen where dishes get their final touches; this one has a warming light. The line-caught calamari ravioli with Swiss chard, confit tomatoes and capers from Pantelleria, black ink reduction, and Parmigiano Reggiano emulsion looked amazing as did the poached, soft-boiled egg with white asparagus and truffles.
The Chef also showed me the Sommelier’s Table, which is a super-cool subterranean (I think! The place was a maze, and we took an elevator and some stairs to get there.) private dining room adjacent to a temperature and humidity-controlled wine room. The wine room is built from some imported, French stone that is supposed to be the best material for maintaining the room’s ideal conditions. The concept behind this dining room is that the patrons choose specific wines from the vault, and the chefs design (on the spot!) a bespoke menu for the evening’s dinner.
It was an incredible day. I feel so fortunate to have had this opportunity, so thank you to Chef Hélène and Chef Raphael for allowing me a glimpse of a brilliant restaurant.