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November 2019 / Food & Drink / by Liz Skone James

Hot Table: Hélène Darroze at The Connaught

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)