I absolutely hate when my food expectations are way off and a restaurant disappoints, even more so when it is expensive. Sadly, Bonhams was one of those cases. I had heard great reviews and had seen tantalising pictures splashed all over Instagram, with strong expressions of love for Bonhams (I am starting to seriously question some Insta-foodies that purely rave about anything and everything constantly), so I was challenged not to have high expectations.
Bonhams Restaurant is located inside the Bonhams gallery and they just serve lunch and dinner a few days a week with just twenty seats in the petite dining room one flight up from the four seat bar.
We had made plans to go with Gabi and Angel; with our friend Guy from L.A. visiting, we dragged him along.
We all arrived on time and sat at the bar downstairs for drinks. The bar area, like the restaurant, is plain and somewhat corporate (clean lines, recessed lighting, and stone surfaces that feels cold more than cool). I felt like we could have been at an airport lounge or something similar. Service at the bar also didn’t impress. I was expecting an enthusiastic bartender who would introduce me to interesting cocktails or great wines – I had heard that they had a well-priced and interesting wine list. Instead we were patiently handed cocktail lists without chat or enthusiasm.
When Stewart arrived we headed upstairs to start our meal. The restaurant only serves a five course dinner option priced at £60. They had emailed us the menu that week to check for any allergies, even though they usually don’t make changes. We were offered the wine pairing alternative and since Angel immediately jumped in, we had to be good friends and agree to all do the same so he wouldn’t feel lonely (yeah right!).
Upstairs as below, our waiter seemed bored and unenthused. We would have hoped to have him come by and explain the dishes with enthusiasm; instead we got monotone descriptions in a whispering voice. If the place hadn’t been half empty (I thought it was a tough reservation to get?), we’d have struggled to hear him at all. The sommelier weirdly also didn’t always present the bottles and, in some cases, we got the food before wine. She did tell us the names of the wines or the type, but no background story, why the producer was special, or why it would pair well with each dish. In hindsight, the wine pairing choice for the additional £45 was a waste, as they had decently priced wine options on the menu and we could have each had a bottle for the price.
What we ate:
Snacks of rabbit croquette with tarragon mayo and seaweed cracker with chu toro. Both good. Trouble though, when a rabbit nugget is one of the tastier bites of the night…
Seafood salad: with seared langoustines, rock oyster tartare, confit lemon and a dashi vinaigrette. The salad had a strong seafood scent, but the taste was almost too subtle. The small bites of seafood were placed on top of greens and doused with the sauce. The lobster was tender, but the whole thing was just not interesting.
Burford brown blanc manger: this was the best dish of the night and the only truly interesting or exciting course. It is hard to describe, but I’ll endeavour. It was like Îles flottantes (floating islands), but savoury, and when we cut into the stiff egg whites, we discovered an oozing and delicious bright orange yolk from a Burford Brown (breed of chicken). The blanc manger sat atop red pepper coulis, which blended with the yolk in a way that made the two indiscernible and was surrounded by morels, peas and brioche croutons. A delicious and interesting dish.
Rack of lamb: served with seaweed butter, ramson coulis (wild garlic) and jus gras (fatty juice or dripping and gravy in the bottom of a roasting pan). It was served with a jumbo asparagus and some shaved asparagus. The lamb was well cooked, moist, tasty, but a small potion and not original or special. Gabi and I had beef instead (she doesn’t like lamb and I tagged along even though I love English lamb—they begrudgingly made this substitution) and it was very good, apart from half of my piece being inedible from a really tough fat cap.
We ordered one cheese course to share. Once again, the explanations on the cheeses were disappointing (brief and lacking any colour commentary) and so were the varieties offered, even though they were from Neal’s Yard. We got four pieces, they were fine, served with crackers. Not memorable at all. I wish they had good cheese like at Marianne’s or other places.
Coconut sorbet with canelé tuile and cocoa nibs: small scoop, served in a boring little bowl and entirely forgettable.
Gariguette strawberries: sweet and juicy strawberries served with vanilla ice cream and pieces of lime meringue, all drizzled with 20 year old balsamic. Come on, strawberries with vanilla ice cream? Couldn’t they be more creative? I had seen amazing pictures of chocolate tarts from Bonhams that others have posted; sadly it wasn’t on the menu when we were there.
In sum: our bill was £130 per person and we left underwhelmed and disappointed. My friend Gabi is going to culinary school and had heard interesting things about the blanc manger—and though it was the star, we agreed that the overall dinner was weak. For this price, there are way too many better restaurants in town, with better setting, more interesting food, and enthusiastic or at least informative service.
7 Haunch of Venison Yard, London W1K 5ES