Tasting success served up on a plate: Jean-Christophe Novelli, the new chef at the Four Seasons, has talent and a Michelin star for starters, and Emily Green predicts that fame is to follow

Any hotel that aspires to be a world-class pit-stop will require more than a flag and an oil can. Among the prerequisites are a frightfully posh address, a pleasing view, sumptuous appointments, fleet staff, a harpist and a famous chef.

The Four Seasons almost fits the bill. Situated in Mayfair, it has a lovely view of Hyde Park. No expense has been spared, no comfort skimped. A pianist - not a harpist - tinkles away, the barmen, manager, waiters and sommelier are elegant pros, and the chef is Jean-Christophe Novelli.

When this young Frenchman arrived at the hotel last autumn he had a powerful referee in Marco Pierre White. He certainly had the talent. He even had a Michelin star (earned last year at the Provence restaurant at Gordleton Mill, Hampshire). There was one problem: he was not quite famous.

Doubtless this will change. The food at the Four Seasons is already good, and is likely to evolve handsomely. Mr Novelli is in the demanding position of having to prove himself to the public and his bosses. And his devotion to the task is best illustrated by the exultation with which he greeted his Michelin star: it was, he said, 'like a first communion'.

As a chef, Mr Novelli is a member of a highly ornate church. Make that baroque. His dishes look like the view through a kaleidoscope. No doubt those gripped by puritanical contempt for haute cuisine will take this as a sign of folly, or even as some violation of the Trades Descriptions Act. (Beef, they will say, should look like beef.)

I used to believe this. Now, after years of restaurant reviewing, I have come to the (unfashionable) view that a cook should follow his or her heart, do what he or she believes. If this is bog rustic and good, then hooray. If the application of a chive requires a microscope and tweezers, and the final result is a delight, that is fine too - or, in Mr Novelli's case, better than fine. These tiny ministrations are done with love, to flatter, impress and amuse.

He is especially eager to flatter, impress and amuse Michelin inspectors. These are nothing less than God's score-keepers to most young French chefs. And Mr Novelli is so ambitious, so reverential toward good food, that I believe he would forsake all earthly pleasures to please them.

His devotion starts with the best of raw ingredients: quivering sea-fresh scallops, newly snipped chives. Almost everywhere he has cooked in Britain (Geddes in Southampton, Nansidwell House Hotel in Falmouth, Floyd's pub near Totnes, the Provence in Hampshire) Mr Novelli has laid in herb gardens and salmon smokers. I have seen him dash to them at the height of meal service. Yes, he slaves over garnishes, but not (as mean-spirited Puritans might claim) to disguise rottenness, rather to signpost exquisite freshness.

Moreover, these twiddly bits often deliver something special. When you taste, for example, a trimmed and quartered spear of asparagus garnishing an appetiser, you are hit by a glorious flavour - with traces of what taste like star anise pointing up the earthiness of the vegetable.

This snippet of asparagus came in a remarkable dish. Salted cod and salmon brandade in a baby pumpkin was either going to be delicious or absurd. It was delicious. The salmon brought freshness to the traditional Portuguese dish of cod puree. The mix sat in a little pumpkin, its garnishes strewn around it like an autumn leaf-fall.

One could endlessly praise his handling of meat. He marshals cassoulet into terrines and into crepinette; his game terrines are moist, and taste fresh and clean; lamb cutlets will be superbly cooked - though they may be adorned with little stilton mousse souffles, an experiment I hope he will abandon.

For a devout chef, he plays some irreverent games; but when they work, it is disarming. This was the case with blanquette of langoustine, scallops and baby squid, which came with vanilla. It is an old trick to bump up the sweet, rich taste of lobster; here, little strands of the vanilla pod, like brown chives, sat criss-crossed over the fishy bits. The scallops were as plump as any I have seen, and lightly cooked for perfect moistness. The vanilla accentuated their natural sweetness, seconded by deglazing the saute pan with veal stock and using the juice for a drop of flavour and colour.

Such risk-taking, however, lays Mr Novelli open to errors of judgement and even the occasional howler. The cooking was exact in a panache of fish with a super- light saffron sauce; its freshly made pasta would pass muster with the most Francophobic Italian peasant. Its fault, for me, was that red mullet is not well complemented by mussels, nor mussels by salmon, and so on.

Another dish he has attempted in the past, and which seems already to have joined underwater fireworks in a museum of misbegotten inventions, is mint lasagne. This pudding comprised sheets of his prizeworthy, silky thin pasta layered over fig, what tasted like creme frache, and a sauce dominated by creme de menthe.

This is not to say that the Four Seasons is weak on puddings. Mr Novelli generously credits his pastry chef, Mike Ouchbakou, in the menu, and a Middle Eastern hand is subtly evident in a superb orange sorbet, its fruit freshness lent extra perfume by flower water. The whole construction, served on a thin, delicate sponge and surrounded with little orange-chocolate petals, looked like some elegant relation of Sixties flower-power. As a friend commented: 'It's a happy pudding.'

Speaking of happy, most of the waiting staff (whose English appears to be a second language) are charming in the flesh; but on the telephone, when taking a booking or answering a query, they choke on North American platitudes, presumably scripted by the restaurant's Canadian owners; when forced to depart from the script, they can even succumb to confused irritation. Do not put up with it, and do not be put off.

Four Seasons Restaurant, Four Seasons Hotel, Hamilton Place, Park Lane, London W1 (071-499 0888). Set lunch pounds 25- pounds 28; a la carte meals, from approx pounds 40- pounds 50; with medium-priced wine, from pounds 70. Open daily lunch and dinner. Major credit cards.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
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.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £30,000+

£16000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are looking for individual...

Recruitment Genius: IT Project Coordinator / Manager

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Mortgage Advisor - OTE £95,000

£40000 - £95000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Vehicle Inspectors / Purchasers

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Vehicle Inspectors / Pu...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

How to find gold

Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

Not born in the USA

Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
10 best balsamic vinegars

10 best balsamic vinegars

Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy