Has anyone else noticed the subtle shift in Mayfair over the past few years?
The neighbourhood today is as much about its old-world charm, heritage architecture and quintessentially British quirks, as it is about avant-garde art, show-stopping couture and a modish mix of drinking and dining destinations.
At the epicentre of all this change is Mount Street. The picturesque parade is home to fashion-forward retailers from Delfina Delettrez to Oscar de la Renta; venerable institutions such as Scott’s and the Audley (pub); the finest Indian food (outside of my grandma’s kitchen) and cosy local fixtures which can now count chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten’ new opening at The Connaught among their ranks…
Occupying pride of place at the front of the hotel, the airily bright restaurant embodies a relaxed approach to all-day dining, matched by a gregarious five-star service.
It’s a sleek exercise in understated glamour, marrying minimalist shades of grey with wistful mosaics; and with kidney-shaped seats fitted snugly around low tables, which mirror the leafy surrounds in their shiny marble tops.
My friend Su-Lin‘s first remark as we settle in, is what a joy it is to see the sky so clearly at lunch-time. It’s almost like sitting outside in the heart of Mayfair! Our coveted window seat in the conservatory proves the perfect spot for promenading and we indulge in a bit of idle people-watching, in turn looked back at by the fashionable folk passing by outside.
The seemingly-neutral yet inviting setting is quite artful in its ability to cater to the eclectic groups surrounding us inside, on this surprisingly busy Monday afternoon. There are several suits, ladies who lunch, ladies working through lunch, as well as hotel guests, holidaymakers, locals and walk-ins. Heck, we even notice a budding romance – facilitated in no small part by the love seat configurations!
The menu(s) should find a widespread appeal too, not least for their whimsical covers designed by the iconic French illustrator Jean Jullien!
If you go early enough (before 11.30 a.m.), you can have eggs any way you’d like ’em, alongside breakfast bowls (laden with homemade nut butter), French brioche toast or dosas served with avocado.
There’s an afternoon tea designed by pastry chef Nicolas Rouzaud, while lunch and dinner options find a happy harmony between Jean-Georges’ signature dishes – similar to the menus at his iconic New York-based restaurants, ABC Kitchen and The Mark – and British classics (expect fish & chips in the offing too).
A basket of homemade breads (including a deliciously-zesty rye variety) – served along with a pristine tower of butter – take the edge off our hunger as we decide on how best to divide and conquer the menu. A glass of Laurent Perrier isn’t amiss either (we chalk it down to #MondayMotivation).
Su-Lin opts for the grilled octopus and is quick to appreciate its distinctive preparation compared to typical octopus dishes, in which the underlying flavours are sometimes lost in the surrounding sauce.
Here she finds the octopus beautifully charred, really succulent and robustly-spiced with a paprika mayonnaise. Even the tiny potatoes, smashed beneath, retain their flavour through and through, their crisp and crumbly finish contrasting with the dense and creamy texture of the octopus!
As for this vegetarian, I start with an exemplarily-creamy burrata paired simply with herby basil and farm-fresh heirloom tomatoes. The rustic bread on the side is perfect for sopping up all that tartly-sweet pool of tomato jus at the bottom of the bowl.
We also split a kale salad – a virtuous move which gratifyingly pays off dividends in the form of cloudy wisps of (egg) white, a runny yolk and an after-kick of green chilli in the minty-dressing!
As Su-Lin points out, the generous size of the starters means that we could have easily chosen a couple of these and felt no need to order a main… But of course, we do anyways. The prospect of a black truffle and fontina pizza is really too irresistible to pass up…
Made with a two-day fermented dough, the pizza’s base is generously layered with a black truffle paste and fontina cheese, before baking in a state-of-the-art Pavesi wood-fired oven. The result is wildly hedonistic, with the rich earthiness of the truffles decadently complimented by the melted butteriness of the cheese.
Although it’s of a manageable size, we take our time in savouring it and are pleased to find that even the last slice packs in a potent bite, in no small part thanks to the trivet which it is served on (to keeps the base from going soft).
The best part? It can be ferried across the corridor to the Coburg Bar too (where I’m often found ensconced with a French Martini), or carted off in a take-away box (oh the perks of counting The Connaught as a neighbour!).
Desserts play their own part in enlivening the meal, courtesy of the supremely talented pastry chef Nicolas Rouzaud (previously at Céleste at The Lanesborough).
The visual fun kicks off with hot coulis being dramatically drizzled across a cloud of candy floss (freshly made in The Connaught’s new candy floss machine!).
It melts to reveal a summery medley of roasted peaches and peach sorbet, cocooned within a swirl of impossibly-light almond mousse. The red currant coulis adds to this glorious gallimaufry with its pleasingly jammy texture…
Peach Candy Floss at @ChefJGV's new restaurant @TheConnaught 👌🏻👌🏻👌🏻 Special kudos to pastry chef @NicolasRouzaud for this sublimely-light & summery finish to an idyllic afternoon (which also involved *that* black truffle & fontina pizza!)… Welcome the neighbourhood , guys 🙌🏻 #BestStartToTheWeek #JGattheConnaught #TopLondonRestaurants #TheFoodieDiariesLondon
While Su-Lin makes quick work of the Peach Candy Floss, I find a fix for my inevitable chocolate cravings in the After Eight dessert, which doubles as a rather fine palate cleanser. I’m not entirely convinced about the kermit-green shards or the mint mousse (it’s sort of a cross between a marshmallow and pure foam), but the sharp-as-a-tack mint sorbet – speckled with bits of chocolate – is rather dreamy if you’re keen on the eponymous After Eight thins.
Just as soon as I share snippets from the afternoon on my Instagram Stories, my phone blows up with Direct Messages and Whatsapps inquiring about the final verdict, and when they should plan to go.
The simple answer? Whenever.
Speaking for myself, I can definitely see myself popping back at various points throughout the day – whether for a late morning coffee and breakfast bowl, a light bite during the day, afternoon tea and pastries, or for an evening out with friends and family.
Just don’t be too surprised if you spot me waiting (im)patiently for my pizza-to-go either!
Jean-Georges at the Connaught, Carlos Pl, London W1K 2AL