Located just off Bond Street in Mayfair is the Westbury Hotel, from the outside it looks very little to any other 5star London hotel, but it houses a special restaurant; Alyn Williams at the Westbury. Mr Williams has come through the ranks the hard way, no TV fame & quick route to the top for him, prior to opening his eponymous eatery, Mr Williams was Head chef at the 2Michelin starred Marcus Wareing at The Berekley, racking up a total of eight years service with the former right hand man of Gordon Ramsay. Other establishments that appear on his CV include: Teatro; Gordon Ramsay at Claridges; The Groucho Club; Petrus and Savoy Grill. As well as an impressive pedigree, Mr Williams is also the reigning Chef of the Year, until next week when somebody else will take over the title. So, how did I arrive at the decision to dine at Mr Williams’ eatery? As I was going in to London on the train, I flicked through the various dining websites to see what offers were available. And as I’ve said, not just on this site, but others as well, if you want a good deal but not the associated prices with Michelin starred dining, then go for lunch. Yes you’re not going to get foie gras, langoustines & scallops in any great quantity, if at all, but you’ll get technically great food because it is with cheaper cuts etc. Alyn Williams at The Westbury’s offer represented outstanding value for money; £25 for three courses and a glass of fizz, plus you know at this level there will be ancillary items as well: pre-starter, bread and if you’re lucky petit fours. The downside is that you’re probably not going to be eating from the a la carte, infact it is probably a very restricted menu indeed.
Alyn Williams’ eponymous restaurant is located just to the left off the main lobby which is acres of deep polished wood and thick pile carpets. On my visit for lunch I was surprised to see the vast dining room only being filled by 3 or so tables, surely with Mr Williams’ reputation and the value for money his lunch menu offered it was the best kept secret in town? The front of house staff later informed me that they had done a large corporate table,who had since left.
As I’d booked online I was only offered the lunch menu, but after looking at the restaurant’s website there are several dining options:
- Lunch menu, three course and a glass of fizz £25.
- A la Carte menu, three courses £55.
- Tasting menu, seven courses £65, with matching wines £125 / £190 or matching beers £110.
- Vegetarian a la carte & tasting menus both £55 & £65 respectively.
So even in the grand scheme of things and with aspirations to move forward, the pricing is probably one of the keenest around. My decisions were made, and the order relayed to the friendly & charming front of house staff, who duly dispatched it to the kitchen. Next up was wine list, not so much of a list, more a book. Now I’m the kind of person that knows what he likes, yes I enjoy being challenged with new wines & combinations but in the main you’re not going to get a bad wine in a restaurant generally speaking, and sommeliers these days know better than to try & rip you off.
The sommelier at Alyn Williams really is top draw, I explained that I was interested in a particular half bottle, and although it would have worked nicely with my choice of main course, it was a poor match for my starter. Instead, for around the same amount of money he recommended two wines by the glass, one white & one red (a Zinfandel); the restaurant of course is likely to make a minor profit over if he’d have sold the half bottle, but the level of customer service & enjoyment far exceeds that. As soon as the wines had finished being discussed some warm cheese gougères arrived, which were so light and yet pack a decent cheesy punch.
Not long after the gougères, the bread arrived. A magnificent selection, even for a table of one; a salt & pepper crispbread, white rolls & slices of multigrain. I greedily sampled all three, such was the contrasting styles. The white rolls were about as good a specimen you’re likely to see, a wafer thin crust and yet the delicately light as a cloud fluffy inside didn’t disappoint. The crispbread was very moreish, the seasalt flakes and cracked black pepper juxtaposed in terms of seasoning & spice. Even if you were served the multigrain slice as a breakfast toast you’d be a happy person, it oozed quality and moistness, yet with a chewy crust. I’m sure sometimes restaurant staff find it hard how to approach the single diner; are they an inspector? would they like to be talked to? There must be a myriad of questions, and one of the unfortunate things I find as being a blogger is when I pull out the Nikon it all becomes apparent. Fortunately the front of house staff, some of which have been with Mr Williams for a considerable time, are perfect judges. The restaurant manager often chatted with me,(the ice breaker was actually my camera,) about various other restaurants and how things were progressing within, clearly a well informed chap on the European culinary scene.
After a short pause, my starter of beetroot, ricotta, blackcurrants & gorse vinegar arrived. It was a triumph in terms of seasonality, variations on a theme and a display of a deft touch. The ricotta piped into a thin crisp tube added an additional texture to the various ones supplied by the beetroots. The blackcurrants provided a fruity kick which was just reinforced by the gorse vinegar. It really was a victory for simplicity over what could have been a car-crash of bold flavours, but somehow Mr Williams, like a conductor of an orchestra, manages to harmonise each big player to bring a beautiful starter together.
My choice of main course was Braised beef cheeks over the Rainbow Trout & smoked Eel combination, after such a light starter I felt that I’d want something of more substance than some fish. This dish for me was on the whole a success, all classic flavour combinations, just given a twist. Fermented turnips and a light, cream based horseradish mousse along with charred onions, all brought bold flavours to the party. But, for me, and this may just be a personal thing , although the beef was well cooked it could have done with a touch longer, it lacked the really flaking tenderness that the same cut had when I visited Pollen Street nearly two years ago. It wasn’t unpalatable, just not as tender as you’d expect.
Granted this was a little bit of indulgence as an additional course at £12, but I’m partial to a decent cheeseboard. When people talk about the dining experience, I feel that they often over look the staff that contribute to that said experience. Whilst many hanker for the sanitised version of the waiter, the one that speaks like he comes from the Home Counties, it is the individuals that will stand out. One such person is the gentleman who over saw the cheese trolley, he had a cheeky chappy cockney accent, and although his professionalism shone through, he judged that I was more about it being relaxed rather than starched. As much I know many patrons will judge him purely on his accent, he really was a credit to the team, laying out the cheeses from mildest to strongest, and spotting when I was running short on bread & crackers. The cheese selection is wide and varied, taking in continental Europe & the British Isles.
With the expanse on the plate one could be confused into thinking that there may have been some at the table theatrics about to take place, but sadly not. This isn’t to say that this dessert was a disappointment, delicate would sum it up better. The transparent & wafer thin croquant melts in the warmth of your mouth, coupled with the creaminess of the hazelnut chiboust. Even though many will look at this dessert and think where is the rest of it? It was infact enough, there were deft touches with the ‘soil’ underneath the chiboust adding texture and a reinforcement of the nutty flavours, it was accomplished and restrained.
There is no doubting that Alyn Williams at The Westbury is an accomplished restaurant, the staff are great, the setting is magnificent, with the two wine caves in the middle of the room, but elements of the food require a touch more consistency. I have no doubt in my mind that we’ll soon see further accolades bestowed, on this hidden gem. The little things that can be ironed out, like the seriously chipped butter dish are the attentions to detail that can be avoided, especially when there are so few tables being used. And really that is about the crux of it, Mr Williams’ eatery really is that good, I have to look quite hard to find the flaws. But at £25 for three courses I think that you’d be hard pressed to get a better offer, as ever, the final bill starts to mount up, when you add in the wine, water, coffee & petit fours and an additional cheese course. But hey, you’re still getting a bargain.
Would I recommend Alyn Williams at The Westbury? Without a shadow of doubt in my mind and I can only predict bigger things for the future, Bravo Mr Williams.
How to find Alyn Williams at The Westbury: