All Aussies love a true ‘rise to fame’ story and Brett Graham’s rise from his Newcastle roots, to the chef owner of The Ledbury restaurant fits the bill perfectly.
Brett himself is rather charismatic and tells the story of his move rather humourously. As a 20 year old boy riding the glory of winning the coveted Josephine Pignolet cookery award for his early stint at Sydney’s Banc (where else!), he landed in London backpack in tow. After 3 years of working in the kitchen of The Square (and a dealing with a horrible house share in Earls Court), Brett opened his beloved Ledbury, working his way towards being awarded an outstanding 2 Michelin stars this year.
With visiting friends from Sydney in town, we booked in to pay the restaurant a visit on a easy Sunday evening. Amazingly the restaurant’s management is predominately Australian, and the service staff work to start your experience the very second you walk though that door. Even with a pescatarian on the table, the restaurant was more than happy to cater a tasting menu to our needs. Little did we know one of our dining companions has worked a few Australian chef masterclass events with Brett in the past and Brett promise to show us a good time.
Our tasting menu started with an amuse of a crumbed coronation chicken skewer with sultana puree. The amuse felt very much japanese katsu on a stick – one bite worth of fried crumbed chicken.
Bread soon followed and I opted for their delicious bacon and onion brioche. The bread is actually pretty standout and baked in-house and apparently there is someone out there that holds the record for 16 pieces in one sitting + tasting menu. Insane yes, but insanely delicious.
To accompany our first few courses, we chose with the help of our very knowledgable sommelier an Alsace Pinot Gris Clos Rebberg 2002 (£48).
Our first course proper was an amazing ceviche of scallops with a kombu and herb oil, kohlrabi and horseradish snow. Ceviche’s have somewhat gone down the ‘pork belly’, ‘fondant’, ‘salt pepper squid’ route (aka on every menu) in recent times and are mostly an over cured lemon fishy mess. Graham managed to fuse sweet thinly sliced scallops, with the crunchy texture of the kohlrabi and sweet apple pearls rather brilliantly. The horseradish snow added freshness and bite without pretention and the seaweed is present without being overpowering.
A heritage tomato salad with green tomato juice and goats cheese twill followed. The combination was an amazing spread of 4 types of tomatoes all sourced from France. Whilst this has been a dish on the menu for many years we were told that’s it’s only available for very few months of the year so we considered ourselves very lucky. The four tomatoes showcased different texture and tastes and in particular the green tomatoes were knockout.
Graham’s signature flame grilled mackerel with cured a mackerel shiso ‘pillow’ followed. This dish was clearly one of the standout of the evening. The mackerel had a wonderfully smokey crisp top, whilst the flesh below being so tender and juicy. I don’t even like mackerel and I was completely in awe of this dish.
Our second wine was recommended by Luke our sommelier and was a minerally, rich and rather unusual white blend of grenache blanc and Sauvignon blanc – 2006 Le Soula blanc, VdP Cote Catalanes, Gérard Gauby et Associés from Roussillon (£42). Rather complex and sweet yet minerally.
The Ledbury makes a point of helping you understand how exactly they prepare all their dishes. Prior to their signature ash baked celeriac is brought out, a baked dough is brought to the table which is ceremoniously cut to reveal the celeriac baked in ash with wood sorrel. Amazingly aromatic, the celeriac is then returned to the kitchen for plating. The sliced celeriac has a woody flavour almost reminiscent of mushrooms. The celeriac was served alongside a braised boar kromeski (which went fantastically with our wine) and hazelnuts.
Sake glazed terrine of foie gras was served next with sous vide sake infused apple and apple puree. The acidity of the sake infused apple cut through the foie gras nicely and the dish was served with a fantastic bread. I didn’t think much of the apple puree which was a little more baby food like than I would have liked, but the portion of terrine was huge.
Next was a roast turbot with grilled cauliflower, hand rolled parmesan gnocchi and truffle puree. The fish was well cooked, but was almost insignificant next to the delicious cauliflower puree, grilled cauliflower and gnocco all atop a bed of truffle puree. Topped by shavings of a local english truffle this vegetable side of the dish could have been standout on its own even without the fish protein.
Our red was a fruity yet full-bodied 2008 Saint-Joseph made by Rene-Jean Dard & Francois Ribo, Rhone (£58). From what I understand both wine makers have individually developed a cult following from wine aficionados and after 25 years are again working together on this label.
With grouse shooting season commencing a few weeks ago, Graham is quick to incorporate freshly shot grouse onto his menu. Like the celeriac, the cooked whole hairy legged bird is brought to the table to explain the hay cooking process. The dish is masterfully presented showcasing both the breast and leg meat of the bird. The breast is tender and juicy, the leg almost with a confit texture and the heart served on a skewer is crunchy and without an offal taste. Alongside crispy potatoes and slow cooked prunes, the dish was pretty amazing. My first grouse experience, and my gosh it was grouse.
The Ledbury really laid on the desserts for us which whilst nice, was really a bit over the top. A pre-dessert olive oil pannacotta with peaches & peach sorbet was light and not overly sweet.
Our dessert of a brown sugar tart served with ginger stem ice cream was deliciously rich and smooth. The ginger ice cream was fairly gingery without being bitter and was the perfect ending to the meal.
At this stage we were pretty happy and content but then our waitress came to check on us joking that they would have to maybe put together two tables for our ‘real’ dessert course. WHAT?
Our sommelier helped us choose a selection of 4 sweet wines by the glass of varying weight.
What came next, literally blew us away. A honey souffle with thyme ice cream was really out of this world. I have no idea who the pastry chef is behind this restaurant but this airey and rich version was hands down the best souffle that I have eaten. And that’s a lot of souffles.
Chocolate Crèmeux with Walnut Ice Cream and Warm Chocolate Madeleines was an equally as rich chocolate ganache. Though I could only fit in single few bite of this dish it was actually a pretty amazing dessert that I regret not being able to finish.
A vanilla cream caramel served with cardamon and clementine ice cream was amazing smooth and choc full of vanilla beans. The clementine ice cream was tart yet sweet at the same time.
A final dessert of Raviolo of Rhubarb with Buttermilk and Hibiscus was nicely acidic but again, I only sampled a very, very small bite.
We finished the meal with mint tea to aid digestion which of course was served with petit four. I am really embarrassed to say that I didn’t even touch the petit four – which I am actually pretty upset about – as I was so so full. But my dining companions reassure me that the meringue coconut ball, gold chocolate and turkish delights were equally as delicious as the rest of the meal.
Towards the end of the meal, Brett had a quick chat with us explaining in detail the thinking behind a few more of his dishes. He is very much a down to earth antipodian and it’s clear that his main focus is food and his customers, with or without the Michelin stars.
I honestly didn’t have such high expectations walking into the Ledbury perhaps because I was expecting food something along the lines of other Banc alumni (Sydney chefs Matthew Kemp, Colin Fassnidge, Justin North, Warren Turnball et al), which whilst good, doesn’t wow. Clearly Graham’s experience at The Square and working in Europe has allowed him to develop his own unique creative pallete but unlike many other young chefs, he understands when to pull back when enough is enough.
I can say without a doubt that this meal is probably the culinary highlight of my year so far. Our bill totalled around £140 per person including wines so the meal doesn’t come cheap, but it definitely represents very good value in comparison to many other London restaurants. Apparently the restaurant offer a £27.50 3 course lunch set menu which is an absolute bargain as a few of Graham’s signature dishes are on offer on this menu. I have read elsewhere that the Ledbury allow BYO at a very reasonable £25/bottle (very Australian) so a fantastic reason to take in something special from the cellar.
Fantastic service, memorable food and I am already thinking about my next visit back. I cannot recommend this restaurant highly enough.