The Greenhouse: Much ado about a carrot (August 2013)

I have always associated The Greenhouse with special occasions (birthdays, anniversaries and the like) and so it seemed fitting to come here to claim my award for being Square Meal’s Critic of the Quarter (thank you Square Meal). The location undoubtedly hints at something special, in order to enter, the diner must walk down a tree-lined, sculpture-bedecked passageway, tucked away at the end of a quiet mews. Such impeccable discretion – and accompanied by a Mayfair postcode, two-Michelin stars and a French chef – really should suggest that an unforgettable dining experience ought to be on hand. While it would be far too easy to sound some combination of arrogant, complacent and snobbish, the conclusion, however, was that both my dining comrade and I were somewhat disappointed. Things began well enough. We were shown to our table by a beaming assistant, seated with a wonderful view and calmed/ charmed as ever by the décor of the room. Per the restaurant’s name, the interior is furnished around a horticultural theme, think (real) sticks and leaves (the latter only in wallpaper format) in pleasant shades of green and brown. Having a champagne trolley with some ten varieties then brought alongside our table seemed the height of decadence. (indeed, I remarked to my comrade what a nice Christmas present such an item might make – at least if we had a dream house and a butler to serve it – but, hey, it’s fun to fantasise). Anyway, after that it was downhill. Despite having specified that my comrade was vegetarian, our pre-dinner appetiser was whisked away just in the nick of time by one of the many (too many?) staff on duty. “We just wanted to check your wife doesn’t eat fish.” Since when did vegetarianism equate to fish-eating, and surely if there had been any doubt, then they might have thought to ask me this on the phone when I had specified her dining preference? The replacement duly arrived, but comprised a little piece of cucumber covered with a few cumin seeds. Really, in a restaurant like this, they ought to be able to do better… In terms of food, we opted for the tasting menus (me omnivorous, my wife vegetarian), noting that the number of courses was fewer than in some other establishments and the price higher. Six courses (including the pre-dessert palate-cleaner) ought not to stretch a talented chef too much, but if there was one culinary moment that summed up the evening, then it was my wife’s second dish, the oh-so originally entitled “carott” (sic) on the menu. Perhaps use the spell-checker next time you print your menus? As we discussed, the carrot is a wonderful yet humble British vegetable, how might a top chef prepare it? Well, there are only so many things one can do to a carrot – slice it, grill it, puree it etc. – but, at the end of the day, it remains a carrot. Last time I was in Tesco, I paid about 70p for a bag of them, I think. So, message to the Greenhouse, maybe next time think of a more ‘interesting’ vegetable, or at least pair it with something else. Thinking about it, maybe the conclusion was perhaps just that they were trying too hard, attempting (and not always succeeding) in being innovative. For example, my Cornish crab with mint jelly, cauliflower, apple and curry seemed over-engineered and almost impossible to tackle. When presented, it appeared like a poached egg seated in very green soup – not the most visually inspiring. I tasted crab and perhaps some mint, but not a lot else. Something much simpler like the roast beef with wasabi was a much greater success. At least the wines paired with the food were a delight (and some interesting ideas too – a Hungarian red for example, and a Monbazillac to finish), although the enthusiasm of the sommelier in presenting them did seem to flag towards the end. In summary, maybe our expectations were too high, but we certainly felt that the Greenhouse was nowhere near as good as it used to be (admittedly the head chef had changed) and that indeed there are far better dining experiences in London (for us, certainly the Ledbury and L’Autre Pied this year). It seemed almost a fitting end to the evening that even our car journey back was not as good as it should have been. After having asked the Greenhouse to order a taxi for us, rather than the black cab we had expected, a private car appeared, took a slow route home and charged well over the odds.