The Butcher’s Block, Malmaison London (8.5/10)

Background:

I was recently invited to have dinner at The Butcher’s Block, a private dining room at the Malmaison London Brasserie, and write a review about it. Even though the meal was complimentary, I was nevertheless very conscious of the need to treat it exactly like any other meal that I would have paid for myself. I looked upon it as an interesting experiment to see if I was still able to write a fair and balanced review. I think I was successful. I also took along with me the vegetarian husband, who is my toughest critic and whom I thought would present a challenge to the chef and his meaty menu!

First impressions:

Being located just round the corner from Smithfield Market (meat suppliers to the Brasserie), it is only appropriate, I suppose, to have a huge, solid Butcher’s Block located in a cosy and dimly lit vault, set aside from the main Brasserie. It seats up to eight diners around it, perched on high stools, and has its own separate menu. There are striking portraits of butchers on the walls, meat hooks lining one wall and a hurricane lamp hanging from the ceiling. And you can still see out into the main dining area through the floor to ceiling glass, but at the same time, be cut off from the noise. After having been seated for no more than five minutes, I was already contemplating which of my friends could join me for my birthday dinner there…

Recently promoted manager Helen Gibbons looked after us from start to finish. She was extremely knowledgeable about the menu, especially the cheeses, about which she is evidently passionate. I have to point out that even had we not been at Malmaison on invitation, I am sure she would still have looked after us very well, as I observed her with the other guests and she spent just as much time with them.

You don’t have to pay any extra to reserve the Butcher’s Block, and on a quiet evening with no other bookings, even two people could be seated there, although ideally it’s best to have at least six diners to enjoy the space to the fullest extent and dine from the special Butcher’s Block menu.

Menu:

You can see from the standard à la carte menu that the simple dishes are prepared with an emphasis on local ingredients. Malmaison also do a simple Homegrown & Local set menu (£14.50 for two courses, £17.50 for three courses), which changes weekly. The Butcher’s Block menu is different in that the idea is to share a ‘family meal’, so one starter, one main and one pudding for the whole table to share are selected from a choice of five starters, four mains and five puddings including a cheese selection (costing £45 a head, minimum six people).

Being the Butcher’s Block, meat naturally dominates the menu, with the mains consisting of four bone rib of naturally reared, grass fed beef; roast sirloin of Aberdeen Angus beef; four bone rack of Herdwick lamb and Pugh’s suckling pig. However, if you’re a vegetarian, the chef will come up with something suitably delicious for you, so don’t worry.

What We Had:

Starters consisted of Maldon hot & smoked salmon with capers & toasted sour dough and chicken liver & foie gras parfait, served with grape chutney and toasted brioche. I didn’t like the salmon quite so much, but the husband (who occasionally eats fish) enjoyed it served with sliced shallots and capers.

However, I fell in love with the chicken liver & foie gras parfait, which came as an alarmingly large block. It was so light and heavenly that I wanted to take the rest home with me and share it with friends. If you ever eat here, you must absolutely order it. If I hadn’t been conscious that there was a lot more food to come, I would have happily eaten nothing else but this.

As the husband isn’t a meat eater, he was served a wild mushroom risotto with plenty of fresh black truffle shavings. It came in a copper pan, the correct way to serve risotto, and was pronounced ‘perfect’ by the fussiest eater I know. I, on the other hand, had to eat the Donald Russell 28 day rib of beef (which serves 4) on my own, which also came with an obscene amount of black truffle shavings, two pieces of roast marrow and salad. Carved at the block, this was a succulent piece of meat, but I personally would have preferred it without the black truffle shavings, the pungent smell of which somewhat distracted me from enjoying the meat more.

A little about the three sides – the signature zucchini frites, pommes dauphinoise and creamed spinach. The zucchini frites, served with grated Parmesan in a cone like very thin fries, were delicious (if slightly greasy, but that’s to be expected). I loved the pommes dauphinoise too. But I didn’t like the creamed spinach, which was too rich. I think the third side needed to be something a little more simple and less strongly flavoured to balance out the other two.

Then came five cheeses, all personally selected by Helen – Tomme Marc Raisin – tangy cheese coated with marc (seeds, skins and stems after making wine), Mimolette – which reminded me of Chinese pork jerky I used to eat as a child, while the husband described it as Parmesan with carrot, Fleur de Marquis – a sheep’s milk cheese from Corsica with sage and rosemary, Vacherin Mont d’Or and Barkham Blue, the only English cheese and yet also very good.

Finally came the two puddings. I wasn’t expecting pudding, let alone two puddings, after five cheeses so it was a struggle. Pear tarte tatin and apple crumble were both served with vanilla ice cream. The apple crumble was served in a shallow cast iron dish, but was rather bland when compared to the more magnificent pear tarte tatin.

The verdict: 8.5/10

I would certainly return to the Butcher’s Block, because it is a intimate and cosy space and I don’t think I could bear to be seated in the main dining room after having experienced it. But I would have to choose a small group of meat-eating friends in order to make the most out of the meaty menu. It’s not cheap though, and alcohol and service charge have to be factored in too. So the Butcher’s Block is more of a special occasion place for a small group for birthdays and other celebrations, rather than a romantic dinner for two.

10 – Perfection, 9.5 – Sensational, 9 – Outstanding, 8.5 – Superb, 8 – Excellent, 7.5 – Very Good, 7 – Good, 6.5 – Above Average, 6 – Average All the London restaurant reviews on World Foodie Guide Contact details: Malmaison London 18-21 Charterhouse Square London EC1M 6AH T: 020 7012 3700 www.malmaison.com Helen Yuet Ling Pang @ World Foodie Guide Tags: dining out, food, London, Malmaison, meat, restaurant review, restaurants

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