The last thing you would expect in a brand-new restaurant in a swanky hotel such as Grosvenor House is the smell of piss at your table. The culprit lies in front of me – a solid chunky sausage of pig's intestines with a smell straight from the pissoir. At the risk of coming over all Marks and Sparksian, this is not just any andouillette, but a certified AAAAA andouillette, endorsed by the Association Amicale des Amateurs d'Andouillette Authentique, an association formed in 1988 to champion the very best andouillettes. A true French foodie would take five As over three stars any day.
Here at Bord'eaux (the apostrophe is theirs, not mine), the total sold rises dizzily to two or three a week, probably only to 'omesick Frenchmen. But it says much about Bord'eaux's intent to be London's answer to brasseries Balzac, Bofinger, and La Coupole. The vast, high-ceilinged room certainly looks the part, from its genuinely bashed-up black-and-white tiled floor, to the wood-panelling, padded banquettes, frosted-glass panels and gleaming brasserie lights.
Chef Ollie Couillaud cooked at some of London's fancier restaurants before going back to his own roots, so his menu covers the rustic cooking of the south-west of France, right down to the Spanish border. There is all the usual brasserie fare, from fruits de mer platters to daube de boeuf – as well as some substantial share plates and the odd Basque dish such as piperade, a tangle of sweet peppers and eggs with rice and Ossau-Iraty cheese.
A glazed earthenware bowl of salade Landaise (£8) has a mix of frizzy leaves, fine green beans, warm roast-duck slices, cured duck, confit duck gizzards, lardons and a warm poached egg. It needs more acidity, but is lively enough. Another starter, of creamy, emulsified salt-cod brandade (£7.50), is dramatically presented in a cast-iron pot on a wooden board, with wafers of crisp Melba toast for dipping. It's lush and smooth, but low on salt-cod flavour.
There are lots of things to like. The excellent breads, complimentary rillettes and beautiful French butter. The lovely crystal decanter that comes when I ask for tap water. The Peugeot salt and pepper grinders. The south-western focus on the wine list, with its fresh and citrusy 2006 white Irouléguy from Vignerons du Pays Basque (£29). And the aforementioned andouillette (£12.50); a fine example made by Daniel Lebon of Jully-sur-Sarce, served with excellent chips and a mustard sauce that is too sweet with shallots. Again, there is a lack of acidity and balance.
Spit-roast Landes chicken "façon grand-mère" (£14.50) comes in a big cast-iron pot, but the waiters thankfully stand by with warm dinner plates. The slash of breast and drumstick feel tight and firm in their saucy tumble of shreddy mushrooms, pearl onions and shrivelled lardons, but an accompanying pomme purée is just as smooth and lush as the salt-cod brandade. To finish, gateau Basque (£6.50) is a wedge of custard tart served with a stunning tongue-tingler of a lemon-curd ice-cream.
The palatial 160-seat room is hardly busy, but it looks and feels very handsome, and there is no lack of caring. Waiters vary from accomplished senior to nervous junior, acting collectively like a swarm of blowflies that needs swatting away.
With time, and more people, hustle and bustle, Bord'eaux could be a very handy choice for a quick bite or a banquet. It even has that rare thing, an al fresco terrace with a view. Couillaud is a nice chap, but he is juggling brasserie, bar, and patisserie/café with one hand, and hotel room-service with the other, which tempers his success in the dining-room. At the moment, that untoward apostrophe only emphasises we are on the "other" side of the Channel waters.
Scores: 1-9 stay home and cook, 10-11 needs help, 12 ok, 13 pleasant enough, 14 good, 15 very good, 16 capable of greatness, 17 special, can't wait to go back, 18 highly honourable, 19 unique and memorable. 20 as good as it gets
Bord'eaux, Grosvenor House Hotel, Park Lane, London W1, tel: 020 7399 8460. 7am-10.30pm Sun-Thur; 7am-11pm Fri-Sat. Around £90 for two for dinner, including wine and service
Second helpings: More brasseries in hotels
Sofitel St. James, London SW1 Tel: 020 7968 2900
Named for chef/consultant Albert Roux, this former Banking Hall provides a grand setting for classic French fare such as chicken liver parfait, pike quenelles, and coquille Saint Jacques a la Parisienne.
Brasserie de Malmaison
The Mailbox, 1 Wharfside Street, Birmingham Tel: 0121 246 5000
Shop your way through the Mailbox, then drop into Malmaison's smart, buzzy, brasserie for trad faves such as steak frites and duck confit. Or try the special "local produce" menu.
The Queens Hotel, The Promenade, Cheltenham Tel: 01242 266 800
While not actually part of the hotel, Cheltenham's outpost of Brasserie Blanc shares the same building, with a modern brasserie menu that runs from guinea fowl rillettes, to calves liver with colcannon mash
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