ILeicester Square and all that garish is easy to laugh at – the pure sea of humanity, the queues outside the Lego store, the screaming lights of M & M’s World, the street performers painted in silver, the constant fear of being picked up at any time… I could go on. Its only winning quality is that Chinatown is just a stone’s throw away. So with all of that in mind, you might forgive me for being a little skeptical about being invited to by Whitcomb, a French Mediterranean restaurant within the recently opened Londoner Hotel.
But it was a pleasant relief to walk in and away from the hustle and bustle and grime of Leicester Square. The hotel advertises itself as a “great boutique hotel”, although in all fairness I have no idea what that means. It is clearly a (quite fancy, I have to say) business hotel, judging by all the business types that throng the lobby.
We are introduced to the restaurant with its subdued and airy light, its walls and even the ceiling covered with contemporary and modern shapes. Oddly, there’s a table laden with product displays in the middle of the dining room, which doesn’t feel out of place. But aside from the cornucopia, the space is sleek and chic enough that I wonder if I should have worn heels instead of my everyday sneakers.
Kevin, who turns out to be the Dream Waiter, talks to us through the menu. He tells us that people who live in the French Mediterranean usually have two (two!) Starters, a small plate and a pasta or risotto course, followed by a shared main course with sides, then a dessert. I, having never been to the French Mediterranean, have no choice but to trust Kevin, my eyes widening at the thought of all the food to come.
Choose the tuna tartare (tuna tartare with candied egg yolks and Oscietra caviar), baked cheese (cooked Gruyère, Emmental, cognac and Dijon mustard, hold the pancetta, served with slices of baguette), followed by a lobster rigatoni (seared lobster with rigatoni and labneh Scotch bonnet cream) to share for our starters.
Without a doubt, the tuna tartare was the star of the show. First of all, it’s always a pleasure to crack an egg yolk and watch it ooze, coating everything it comes in contact with, in this case the delicate cubes of tuna and the perfect little spheres of caviar. . The dish was hearty but a hint of citrus pierced the smoothness, the oily fish melted on the tongue… I make my mouth water when I think about it now. It is a dish that deserves our attention.
There was no such luxury with the deliciously drizzled baked cheese. Although it came in a piping hot skillet, it was a battle against the time to eat as much cheese as possible before it turned into a stringy mess, and even more before it completely hardened. Perhaps it would be wise to take a leaf from the Swiss Book and serve it over a small fire. This would certainly allow for a more relaxed start to the meal.
When the lobster rigatoni arrived I was surprised at how generous the lobster pieces were (although with a price tag of £ 28 I might have had even higher expectations). The perfectly al dente rigatoni lent a well-deserved bite to the chewy lobster, all generously topped with the more gourmet labneh cream, which had only a hint of Scottish bean warmth. But I’m starting to worry that we’ve already bitten more than we can chew. As the area rolls in, I feel like I already need a break.
But the sight and smell of sea bass à la marinière (sea bass seared in white wine, parsley, shallots and lemon), accompanied by fries and butter mushrooms, rejuvenates me, and I am more than ready to dig.
Now, in my opinion, crispy fish skin is one of the great pleasures in life, and soggy fish skin is one of life’s great tragedies. To my delight, it was the first. The bar’s skin was perfectly grasped, making a slight but satisfying crackle as I poke it with my knife. My table mate is not a fan of fish skin, but that’s only to his detriment and to my delight, as I greedily take the skin he throws aside.
The creamy marinière sauce, which smells so deliciously of shallots and herbs, is incredibly addictive – I find myself putting more of it on everything, especially the crispy, crispy fries. I’m even considering sponging it up with the leftover bread from the fondue. My tongue cries out, “Yes, more! My stomach screams, “Save room for dessert!” The latter wins.
Kevin returns, all smiles, and offers us the dessert menu. My guest and I are okay with sharing just one dessert, but give us 15 minutes, would you like Kevin? We might need to take a nap first.
We order a jar of chocolate cream (jar of chocolate cream with spiced rum and cocoa nibs nougatine), which is much larger than expected. The alcoholic cream is dark and silky, a bit too rich if it wasn’t for the sweet and sour nougatine providing a much needed crunch. Despite our sighs and moans at being too full, the dish is taken away clean.
The classically rich, creamy and buttery French cuisine that Whitcomb offers is done simply and nicely, but it’s the unexpected accents of tart, spicy and bitter that I found most appealing during my meal there. . And, surprisingly for a hotel restaurant, the meal was good value for money, given that our main course and sides were £ 43 and would have fed three people very comfortably.
Although I was completely out of my element of being around business people, why should they be having fun? Whitcomb’s is an oasis of chaos in Leicester Square, serving truly delicious food. I will be back to try the rest of the menu.