It’s been ten years since Hélène Darroze opened her eponymous eatery at The Connaught, and this summer the French chef closed up shop for two months while the space underwent a full refurbishment under the expert eye of interior designer Pierre Yovanovitch.
On a rainy September lunchtime, first impressions are good. The dark teak panelling which had characterised the original dining room was listed, so it remains, but has been lightened, giving the restaurant a brighter, almost Scandinavian vibe. White linen cloths have been done away with, exposing gorgeous light oak tables. And bespoke curved banquettes in soft shades of pink and green, upholstered in a mix of velvet and leather, give the space a relaxed, very modern vibe.
It feels a more fitting setting for Hélène’s contemporary French cuisine. The new menu celebrates provenance and embraces the changes in British weather and micro-seasons; it is shaped around the philosophy that the star of any dish is not the chef, but the produce it takes to make it. We choose the five-plate option, sensing seven will defeat us – there are no specific courses, diners are invited to create their own ‘tasting menu’ from a selection of equally sized dishes.
Gloriously fresh Cornish mackerel is presented in a delicate consommé of basil gazpacho; Lampong pepper lends its zing to brown and spider crabs, which are concealed beneath a cloud of heavenly pomello mousse, sprinkled with Insta-pretty edible flowers; and coco beans provide an unexpected complement to meaty flakes of turbot. Moving away from the sea for my final savoury dish, I choose the cep: the flavour of these richest of mushrooms is offset perfectly with snails and lardo (delicious, if not for vegetarians). Everything is artfully and exquisitely presented on hand-thrown ceramic plates, with sauces poured theatrically at the table.
We can’t find fault, and the Michelin inspectors clearly agree: in the latest Guide, published last month, the restaurant retained its two stars, proclaiming: “Excellent cooking, well worth a detour.” Though for us lucky Londoners, with its Mayfair location, the detour is nothing.
The Connaught, Carlos Place, W1K (020 7499 7070; the-connaught.co.uk)