The Ledbury, London W11

The Ledbury's head chef Brett Graham may be very young at just 26, but his cooking demonstrates an accomplished maturity far beyond his tender years
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The first thing served at The Ledbury is a small dish of tomato tea jelly, tuna and avocado purée. It is pure joy in the mouth, the quivering sea of clear gel set around a heart of creamy avocado, topped with a tiny dice of jewel-like tuna and The World's Smallest Croutons, as crunchy as sugar crystals. It's a very good start but, then, Brett Graham, the 26-year-old chef, knows all about getting off to a very good start.

The first thing served at The Ledbury is a small dish of tomato tea jelly, tuna and avocado purée. It is pure joy in the mouth, the quivering sea of clear gel set around a heart of creamy avocado, topped with a tiny dice of jewel-like tuna and The World's Smallest Croutons, as crunchy as sugar crystals. It's a very good start but, then, Brett Graham, the 26-year-old chef, knows all about getting off to a very good start.

When I first met him in 1999, Graham was a 19-year-old cooking at Sydney's highly acclaimed Banc restaurant under Matthew Kemp, himself a brilliant young chef who had cooked with Phil Howard at The Square in Mayfair. Graham's passion and commitment to his craft were even then so bleeding obvious that he walked off with that year's prestigious Josephine Pignolet Award as Sydney's best young chef. Soon afterwards, he moved to London to work at The Square himself. Made sous chef at 23, he was named the 2002 British Young Chef of the Year by the Restaurant Association.

Three years later, backed by Howard and The Square's co-owner Nigel Platts-Martin, Graham takes on his first head chef post at what used to be the brunch-babes' Dakota in deepest Notting Hill. It is a dream of an opportunity. The dining-room is gorgeous, pleasingly proportioned, elegantly tall and solidly built, with a good mix of dark fabrics, polished woods, gleaming silver and glossy black glass light fittings. Money, in other words, Has Been Spent.

The service team has similar polish, with the likes of New-Age sommelier, Dawn Davies, formerly of the Boxwood Café and ex-Connaught maître d'ette, the wickedly named Helena Hell. But it is essentially on Graham's broad shoulders that the success of The Ledbury rests.

It is hard to tell how much of the menu is Graham and how much is the influence of The Square, given that he has been under that influence all his working life. So they share foie gras (here, with a tarte fine of figs), lasagne (here, of rabbit and morels), roasted scallops (here, with cauliflower, cèpe and potato emulsion), roast pigeon (here, with a cèpe and Madeira consommé), and fillet of beef (here, with a croustillant of snails, oxtail and celeriac).

At least the first course comes as a triangle rather than a square, along with some seriously good, warm house-baked sourdough bread rolls and a pat of lactic, complex, creamy Somerset butter. A terrine of lobster, leeks and Jersey royals is small, richly oceanic, subtly mouth-filling, and worth ordering for the accompanying frog's-leg beignets alone. These crisp-fried little lollipops with their little stick-leg handles are unbelievably good, imploding in the mouth like genuine cromesquis. A salad of spring vegetables with quails' eggs, truffle and pea shoots might not sound very exciting, but it is. The baby broad beans, infant carrots, toddler beetroots, tiny-tot peas, pre-school mangetouts, and newborn asparagus are coated in a light, balanced truffle cream and stacked like kindling. Add a scattering of soft-boiled quails eggs and young leaves and spring has definitely sprung; fresh, clear-flavoured and bright.

Rarely does a sommelier throw herself into the job quite as ardently as Dawn Davies, part of the new breed of no-nonsense, new-wave, not-French somm's who are revitalising the profession. Davies is so keen on the New Zealand 2001 Palliser Estate Pinot Noir (£29.50) that I expect her to sit down and pour another for herself.

A main course of roast pigeon comes in a shallow pool of cèpe and Madeira broth studded with beetroot dice and soya beans, the nubs of pigeon like stepping stones in a pond. The skinned meat is neither well done nor blood rare but achieves a comfortable tender, livery, melting quality in between that's lifted by the ripe berry of the Pinot. Little foie gras-filled tortellini hover nearby to add richness. A fillet of brill with tomato butter is the one that got away, an inkling the young kitchen might be facing a bit too much pressure. It's not bad, just boring - a bit too Roger Vergé 1985, with its rich sauce and fussy flourishes of courgette purée, tangled julienned courgette, lobster beignet and roasted cherry tomatoes.

The kitchen is back on form for the finish, however, first offering an elegant little pre-dessert shot glass of tongue-tingling passion-fruit mousse topped with luxurious white-chocolate mousse. A copybook chocolate soufflé served with banana ice cream, chocolate sauce and bits of crunchy honeycomb makes me as happy as a kid in a sweet shop. A less showy vanilla-yoghurt parfait is also impeccable, crisply sandwiched and wearing a lush ball of blueberry sorbet. Three miniature churros come with it, although I am not sure why. There are no little treats offered at the end of the meal, which feels a bit mean (now there's the place for those cute little churros).

The Ledbury is lively, lovely, and seriously good. Alas, it is also seriously priced, so I won't be able to go as often as I like. If anything, I think Graham is currently cooking more conservatively than he has to for the sort of rich, louche, loud Notting Hill crowd the place is attracting. But at least he's off to a very good start.

16 The Ledbury, 127 Ledbury Road, London W11, tel: 020 7792 9090. Lunch and dinner served daily. Three-course dinner £39.50; two-course lunch £19.50, plus wine and service

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

Second helpings: Other chefs under 30

St Ervan Manor near Padstow, Cornwall, tel: 01841 540 255 Nathan Outlaw has packed a lot of cooking into his 27 years, working with Rick Stein, Gary Rhodes and John Campbell before starting his own restaurant, the Michelin-starred Black Pig in Rock. In March he moved to St Ervan Manor, a family-run, Grade II-listed B&B where he turns local produce into celeriac soup with roast scallop and truffle, and turbot with brown shrimps, leeks and potato.

Wildebeest Arms 82 Norwich Road, Stoke Holy Cross, Norfolk, tel: 01508 492 497 It's not every 19th-century country inn that features African masks, primitive instruments and tribal-art as décor. The food, however, is mainly modern European, thanks to 29-year-old Daniel Smith. His John Dory with brown shrimp risotto; cumin and yoghurt marinated lamb rump; and seared scallops with warm apple boudin have snared a coveted Michelin Bib Gourmand for the Wildebeest.

Anthony's 19 Boar Lane, Leeds, tel: 0113 245 5922 After cooking at Abac and El Bulli, 25-year-old Anthony Flinn has injected some Spanish new-wave flair into the Leeds food scene. While dishes are adventurous and out there, they never seem silly or trite. Flavour combinations such as skate wing with smoked eel and foie gras terrine, and new-season lamb with quinoa and fresh mangosteen work effortlessly. This is extreme gastronomy disguised as enjoyable dining.

Email Terry Durack about where you've eaten lately at t.durack@independent.co.uk

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