Peter Morrell is impressed with the elegant twists on traditional French food in this smart Westminster restaurant
Walking across Westminster Bridge on my way to the restaurant the view down the river was a reminder of London’s pre-eminent global position in every sphere of life and this is particularly true in the culinary world. Many top chefs choose London as the place to showcase their cooking talents and I was about to sample the creativity of one, Walter Ishizuka, Executive Chef at Brasserie Joël.
The restaurant is located on the first floor of the well-appointed Park Plaza hotel and from the moment of arrival there is a sense of occasion, from the doorman to the décor. The restaurant itself has an understated modern theme and the sophisticated fellow diners were providing a background buzz giving the space atmosphere.
As we sipped on a preprandial Bellini my wife and I browsed the menu. A basket of warm, home-made bread arrived and the rolls flavoured with lemon were really quite moreish. There were a lot of tempting dishes to choose from. After the walk across the windy bridge the French Onion soup looked attractively warming as did the baked Camembert. However for our entrées my wife chose the chicken, duck and orange salad and I went for the charcuterie platter.
They were both good choices, my wife’s salad was enhanced with the freshness of coriander and a piquant orange sauce while my dried and cured meats offering ham, sliced sausage, duck terrine and country bread was rich and satisfying.
The choice of mains was also extensive and it was good to see not only a good selection of vegetarian dishes but also a couple of gluten and dairy free options. Fish eaters were also well catered for, for example there was plaice, cod and lobster and carnivores could choose from a wide range of steaks, duck and a delicious sounding 12 hour cooked shoulder of piglet.
The kitchen has a Josper grill, this is an enclosed high temperature charcoal barbecue that cooks very quickly, so the food retains its moisture and flavour. My wife’s whole wild sea bass was cooked in the Josper and the result was remarkable, that prized, intense flavour of the fish was there is every mouthful. Another pleasant surprise for her was the side dish of chestnuts which introduced a pleasing balance of sweetness.
My choice of main had a definite Iberican twist, char-grilled squid with chorizo on a bed of black risotto. This is my food of choice, distinct punchy flavours that come together into a harmonious taste experience. Along the way there were pings of flavour from slivers of parmesan cheese and pea shoots.
The wine list, as you would expect, had a good selection of French vintages together with reds and whites from other European and New World countries, including the quite rare and aromatic Torrontes from Argentina. Our wine for the evening was the Borsari inzolia 2013 from Sicily. This white is made from a grape indigenous to the island and had herbs and flowers on the nose, which developed on the palate into a more smoky, flinty flavour and ended in a long and pleasant finish.
It was time for pudding and although tempted by the Hibiscus crème brûlée and Île flottante we decided to share three scoops of ice cream. It is all home-made, working our way down the flight of flavours we started with the salted caramel, which was good, hazelnut, intriguingly novel but the last one, made with fresh basil was a definite ‘wow’ moment. This was a fitting and symbolic end to the meal.
Any dining experience is more than just the food, the service from the front of house staff was first class, from the greeter who got us seated to the restaurant manager who expertly guided us through the menu and the servers who made sure we had enough butter, wine and water.
At the end of the meal I spoke with chef Walter, who is passionate about sourcing the freshest seasonal ingredients. His food has a good balance of flavours and textures with some innovative twists and I was interested to find out about his background. He is French and learnt his skills there, but his father is Japanese, so his heritage is a fusion from two of the world’s finest cuisines.
When you have finished your meal it doesn’t mean the evening is over. The Park Plaza has a comfortable bar split into two. In one half you can relax and enjoy a digestif while in another section there is live music performed every evening.
In every aspect, location, décor, atmosphere, service and food this is a dining experience which I can thoroughly recommend.
Park Plaza Westminster Bridge
London, SE1 7UT
Tel: +44 (0)20 7620 7272
Price Guide: Around £65 per person including drinks and service
Brasserie Joël has got a special chocolate inspired menu for Valentine’s Day. Click here… for more details
There is also a special offer running until 28th February. Go to the website for details and terms & conditions