Hélène Darroze at the Connaught ★★ // Mayfair // London

Hélène Darroze divides her time between her new restaurant in Moscow, as well as Paris and London – so the waitress told us. But right at that moment, she was in her native Basque Country. One look across the menu and it’s clear to see that showcasing Southwest French produce is an important part of her style. And while Basque flavours and combinations are a constant theme across here cooking, many British products take centre stage too. It’s the mix of these magnificent products, with high-level technique that creates the wonderful Darroze experience.

The panelled dining room is decorated with beautiful furniture and elegant table settings. Waiting staff are warm and attentive, with a mix of business and private diners, all well spaced across the room. The resulting atmosphere is blissfully relaxing, but with an expectation of great things to come.

The caviar starter is both stunning and delicious. A clear green gel is punctuated with delicate cucumber cylinders. Violet petals are delicately placed alongside a sprinkle of hazelnut texture. A rich, generous spoon of Iranian caviar adds a slight salty note to the plate, contrasted against a buttery, earthy cauliflower ice cream. While it seems a shame to eat, the combination of the flavours and textures is just magical; fresh, salty, crunchy and velvety.

The Northern Irish lobster dish is a delicate pleasure too. Sweet, soft, natural flesh sits alongside tender mussels with slightly crisp, barbequed courgettes. Below, lovely clear consommé is filled with the taste of pork and smoked paprika, giving you the feeling that you’re eating the elements of a luxury seafood paella.

The Scottish grouse, seasonal to late summer, is celebrated in a simple yet mouth-watering dish. The breast and thigh are both still juicy – no doubt sous-vide – but the skin is roasted to crackling perfection. Hiding below the meat is an enormous pan-fried circle of foie gras, which gives even more depth and richness to the meat. Earthy notes come from roasted yellow and scarlet beetroot, but the real surprise is the addition of strawberries. Their acidic, sweetish taste rounds out a complete palate of flavours, while freshening up a dish that might otherwise be heavy.

In the end, too many things are good to talk about. What can simply be said is that this is a demonstration of what sets **2 stars apart from *1. Darroze is clearly a master of technique and flavour balancing, but it’s her reinterpretation of Basque combinations and use of supreme products that sets her apart. This is why Hélène Darroze at the Connaught is a restaurant that really makes you feel special.

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