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)

News
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
news
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
Sport
footballMatch report: Real fight back to ruin Argentinian's debut
News
Bruce, left, with Cream bandmates Ginger Rogers, centre, and Eric Clapton in 1967
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
News
i100
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
arts + entsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
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

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker