The Greenhouse, Hay’s Mews, London

Discreet charm

The frenetic round of openings on the London restaurant scene can make eating out feel a bit like speed-dating; all those sexy new arrivals tend to distract from the charms of the tried and trusted candidate who's been waiting in the wings. Then no sooner have you started to get acquainted when the flashy newcomer lets you down, or disappears off the scene altogether.

That's when an old-stager like The Greenhouse comes into its own, stepping in like Colonel Brandon to offer solid staying power and low-key charm. In my promiscuous quest for thrills, I'd somehow overlooked this debonair old smoothie, which has been feeding and cosseting the Mayfair set since 1977.

Despite its reputation as a perennial, The Greenhouse has played host to a succession of culinary rising stars since it was launched by Brian Turner. Gary Rhodes worked up his repertoire of updated British classics there, Paul Merrett won a Michelin star, Bjorn van der Horst hung on to it and was working towards a second when he passed the baton in 2006 to Antonin Bonnet, who trained under the French master Michel Bras.

A recent redesign gave me the excuse I needed to make a first date with The Greenhouse, and boy, does it know how to sweep a girl off her feet. From the little table that's discreetly positioned by madam's chair for her handbag, through the trolleys that circulate like vintage Bentleys, bearing champagnes and cheeses, to the emergence of Chef Bonnet at the end of the evening for a cruise'n'schmooze, this is clearly a restaurant that's aiming to be more than a one-night-stand.

A formal, spotlit garden buffers The Greenhouse from the residential street outside, but the low-slung dining-room is standard-issue Mayfair minimalist, with a mushroom-velouté colour scheme, slate floors, and the odd spotlit objet d'art. (The controversial decorative birdcages of the last redesign have thankfully disappeared.) Given the bunker-like dimensions of the room, the effect is more de luxe garage conversion than greenhouse.

The menu, though, is full of surprises. Expecting haute-French classicism, we were taken on a roller-coaster ride of unfamiliar flavour combinations and cutting-edge techniques which place The Greenhouse firmly on the modernist end of the spectrum, and Antonin Bonnet in the vanguard of chefs currently working in London.

He had us from the off, with a duo of sensational amuses, a tube of carrot-flavoured tuile filled with a coconut and celeriac cream, and a spoonful of coriander jelly containing a liquid hit of apple and celery, to be swallowed in one intense mouthful. Next, a vivid mint and pea velouté containing a deliquescent droplet of pea pod jelly, with a grissini of cardamom-flavoured yoghurt to temper the sweetness.

Bonnet's passion for Asian ingredients means that a starter of Limousin veal sweetbreads with caramelised garlic cloves and the leaves and flowers of wild garlic gets an unexpected lift from whole Szechuan peppercorns. Scallops come with a yuzu lime dressing, and a silky purée of liquorice and pumpkin that demonstrated Bonnet's willingness to push dishes further into the realms of sweetness than is the norm. It worked with the scallops, but a main course of wild turbot served with a sweet, nutty couscous and a cardamom-scented foam was unbalanced by the further sweetness of a sticky date and tamarind purée.

The other main course was a perfectly cooked fillet of exemplary beef, with grated horseradish and a beetroot reduction; fabulous, but again that sweet tooth surfaced in a side dish of "confit" Charlotte potatoes which was plain odd.

Overall, though, this is cooking of rare flair and precision, showcasing the highest-quality ingredients and delivering intense flavours with the lightest touch. The atmosphere, too, is refreshingly unstuffy, partly because the clientele seems fairly, well, normal, for a Michelin-starred restaurant in this area. The staff, too, seem relaxed and can even be seen laughing and joking – a sacking offence in most restaurants of this formality.

The only other weak link came with a young sommelier who lost interest when it became apparent that our exploration of the 90-page wine list was going to be limited to one of the younger and cheaper (at £58) white Burgundies, a 2005 Coche-Dury. The look of distant martyrdom that crossed his face whenever he approached our table brought to mind Buzz Lightyear's lament – "Years of academy training – wasted!"

The sweet elements that recur throughout the meal make the desserts seem a less attractive prospect than the superlative cheese board, which reflects the new mood of entente amicale by offering Stinking Bishop and Berkswell alongside a wide range of peak-condition French cheeses. These include a four-year-old Comte, for which I was more than willing to break my informal rule never to eat anything that's older than one of my children.

We ended up as the last customers in the house, working our way through the superfluous (but immaculate) desserts and petit fours while the manager chatted to us. It's a good sign when a date doesn't rush you out to a taxi as soon as the action is over, and The Greenhouse is pretty much the dream date, albeit not a cheap one. Youthful experimentation and stamina, coupled with smooth and confident experience. What more could any woman ask for?

The Greenhouse, 27a Hay’s Mews, London W1 (020-7499 3331)

Food 4 stars
Ambience 4 stars
Service 4 stars

Ala carte dinner £60 per head plus wine

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
News
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
football
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Life and Style
tech
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Business Development Manager / Sales Pro

    £30 - 35k + Uncapped Comission (£70k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Business Develop...

    Day In a Page

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering