London is full of restaurants, old and new, well-known and tiny newbies, the ones that fill you with joy and merriment and the ones you wish you didn’t go to. You probably have a chance to try most of the cuisines of the world, if you put your mind to it, but tell me, how often do you go out to eat and want to come back to the restaurant as soon as the meal is finished? Koffmann’s at the Berkeley Hotel is definitely such a place for me.
Last weekend was Russian Christmas and while we don’t tend to celebrate it grandly in my family, I thought it would give grown-ups a very good excuse to go out and have dinner, after going to the Russian orthodox church to light up the candles. We mulled over where we wanted to go but couldn’t agree, so yours truly took the initiative in her own hands and made a reservation at Koffmann’s.
Pierre Koffmann used to run a very much loved establishment La Tante Claire at the Berkeley hotel for many years ( I used to go there with my father, when he came to London on business ), then things gone quite for a little while, before the Master of Gascon cuisine re-emerged with the aptly titled Koffmann’s.
Even before you enter the restaurant, just as you are coming down the steps and see a large, straw pig, standing proudly to the side of the entrance, you smile in anticipation and then you glance at the bright lights inside, shining over happily relaxed people, bekoning you in.
The reception area is small, but the staff welcomes you with a wide smile, your coats are taken swiftly to be hung and you walk into the restaurant that is divided into several areas. A slightly more intimate front room to the right ( where there is also a private room ( The Camille Room) that you can hire for a truly memorable lunch or dinner with up to 16 family memebers or friends), the bar/small sitting area to the left, also leading to another level of the restaurant which also feels welcoming, but maybe slightly less intimate-but then everyone’s perception of intimacy is different.
The place itself is just perfect in terms of design-from the general lighting to the books stacked on the shelves in the sitting area, to the colourful glass lamps hanging over the bar and even their bathrooms-they are the cutest, cleanest & chicest ones I have seen in a long time-I am blushing but I can’t stop gushing-and I was there well over a week ago-see the effect that place had on me?
The menu offers you a wide choice, so you will have to explore it by yourself, I am only going to let you in on the impression that a few dishes that were eaten at our table left on me:
-try ‘Calamars facon bolognese/Squid Bolognese style’-it looks beautiful but the taste…I can’t even begin to describe it, all I can say that only a true genius of a Chef can achieve such perfect balance of flavour and joy from every mouthful is immense-and that is only a starter .)
-I tried ‘Pied de couchon aux morilles/pigs trotter with sweetbreads and morels’ as my main course-that is one of the signature dishes of Monsieur Koffmann, but it was a little too rich for me-mind you, it was perfectly assembled & executed. When making my mind up about what to have for the main course, I was seriously torn between this dish and another one, that was a combination of veal kidneys and sweetbreads and I long to be taken to that restaurant as soon as possible for that dish alone .)
-For dessert-oh my God, the choice and the visual prettiness of desserts-some are so sublimely beautiful, you struggle to put your spoon in them, in fear of destroying a visual masterpiece! I wanted to go for an apple pie, but went with the advice of our lovely Italian waitress and had ‘Glace pousse tout/ Armagnac & agen prune ice-cream’. I have had the pleasure of tasting prunes in Armagnac ( a very boozy dessert, you have been warned ! ) in Chez Ami Louis in Paris (you have to go to that restaurant at least once in your lifetime but a word of warning if you score a reservation-be very polite with the staff ! Before my amused eyes one of the customers, an American gentleman, left huffing and puffing, seemingly dissatisfied and passing snide comments as he walked past our table. Most of the waiters at the restaurant have been working there for years and they seem to belong to the ‘old school’ in the best sense of the world and the way they handled that difficult customer, with exacting politeness but a sharp sense of humour, left everyone present under the impression that that particular customer will never be able to get into this restaurant ever again! The whole scene was so theatrical, I nearly cried from quiet laughter ). But I wondered off, forgive me! Koffmann’s take on this dessert is by far my current favourite dessert-you eat it and you feel like you are the Princess resting on a beautiful cloud-sublime is not even the word for the taste of that dessert !
We left the restaurant happy and sated and even if I wanted to-and I wouldn’t even dream of it ! -I can’t fault Koffmann’s on anything. The team that runs this restaurant can give lessons on how to run a perfect restaurant-from the way you are greeted to staff’s uniforms to the opinion of sommelier and the choice of wines on offer, the space between the tables and the unobtrusive, yet very efficient service you receive. I had the most perfect dinner experience on that night, Merci!! And I can’t wait to come back again and again!