If you were in London last Wednesday you’d know it was grey and rainy, as you would expect it to be mid-week. So when I got a call from work inviting me to review the seven-course taster meal launching at The Cumberland’s new restaurant W1 by head chef Paul Welburn, you can imagine my face lighting up like we all wish the skies did that day.
The first thing that struck me visually about the restaurant were the chandeliers, where crystal beads hung round the light, which caused hints of blue green and red to refract through the gently lit room. This magically set the mood, which served only to entice my imagination for the flavours to come. The anticipation built, as did the empty champagne glasses on the bar, before finally Paul, the head chef, made an appearance and humbly introduced himself and launched W1. He also, rather touchingly, dedicated his menu to the two chefs from ‘The Fat Duck’ who died earlier this week, before moving on to welcome us and usher us to our seats and to the first course.
My colleague Jonny and I sat at a four table and were lucky enough to dine with Sophie and Rhone (South African, I hope I’ve spelled it right), who clearly shared our passion for good food.
The first course arrived, an English carrot mousse with salted walnuts, burnt orange and coriander. I’ve had dishes similar to this in the past, however none so light and delicate, I felt it was a fantastic way to break the palette; a subtle blend of sweet and savoury which achieved exactly what the chef had set out to do. As enthralled as I was by the course, there was an element of mystery to it, the blend of flavours was so composite it was difficult to separate and understand. Quite the bemuse bouche.
The courses followed on one after another, each more welcome than the last. One course which stood out was the foie gras with parfait, pineapple, duck ham and monbazillac, which usually I would have reservations about eating, just from bad experiences as a young child and my father trying to mature my tastes too soon. However in the hands of Paul Welburn the dish was divine and I might even consider eating it a second time.
To each course was it ‘s own wine, well chosen, effectively complimentary of the course it was sharing. A particular favourite of the night, and not just from myself was the Lagrein, alongside the Squab pigeon.
The highlight of the meal had to have been the monkfish, perfectly cooked and exuding flavour. Even the way my knife managed to delicately cut through the morsel had an incredibly appealing aesthetic, which only served to further drive my appetite. The Squab Pigeon with a confit leg, cep risotto and espresso jus was equally delightful. Though the monkfish was a tough act to follow, I felt it held up well.
Lastly the deserts were split into two taster courses, the first being a Chocolate cremeux, soil, peanut and salted caramel, and the second a pear, hazelnut, Brillat saverin, and anise syrup. If I had to find one fault throughout the entire night I would say that the wafer of caramel covering the chocolate, whilst a good idea and perfectly complimenting the rest of the textures and flavours, was annoying to have stuck to my teeth after everything, but maybe that’s just me and my irrational fear of fillings.
The contour of textures and flavours throughout the evening was well structured; every course flowed from the previous and led to the next with a precision that gratified whilst keeping you guessing as to exactly what was to come. Honestly I believe that the dining experience here has been perfected, as by the end of the meal every one of my expectations and desires had been skilfully satisfied leaving me content to enjoy the rest of the evening.
Paul and indeed all the staff at the W1 should be proud of a successful launch, and the delicious taster menu we enjoyed that night. I sincerely hope I get the time to visit again and the chance to compliment the chef myself. Highly recommended.