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The Belvedere of Holland park, London W8

One of London's most beautiful dining rooms!

I have to say that I was quite blown away by The Belvedere. Apparently it was once the ballroom, or at least a grand Italianate garden pavilion, of the great house whose extensive grounds have long been one of London's most intimately attractive small parks. It's a space with imposing internal arches, high ceilings and opulent reflective surfaces, recently given a discreet makeover by that maestro of restaurant design, David Collins. I was told that the owners, Marco Pierre White and Jimmy Lahoud had wanted a change away from its former incarnation as a special occasions destination restaurant towards more of a buzzy neighbourhood dining room. In a neighbourhood where even a modest apartment comes to the market for little less than a million, the Belvedere may well be your local diner, for the rest of us it remains somewhere to go for a bit of a treat, and deservedly so.

The chef is Billy Reid, who has both gained and retained several Michelin stars, just as MPW  was handing his back. I suppose the stars are talismans of what can and has been achieved, although Marco, quite rightly in my opinion, finds the quest for them, in today's more informal and creative culinary environment, too inhibiting. I took two extremely sophisticated, perhaps even world weary, restaurant going gentlemen with me to put the place to the test. I'll call them RB and CZ.

The first thing I'll mention is the service, because I'll admit I too often consign the subject to a sentence or two at the end. The front of house manager is Julie Blay, who is Billy's partner. Sometimes the front of house can let the kitchen down, but I've never come across that sad state of affairs when there's been a partnership team running the show. And it's not always the guy wearing the trews who's out in the kitchen (take John and Emma Gilchrist at The Crooked Billet, for instance). From the moment we walked in, I could tell that someone was coordinating a serious team of professionals. We arrived fairly early, so the staff to customer ratio looked a bit over generous, but by nine o'clock the place was buzzing and the staff were moving about like cogs in a well oiled machine.

The menu is quite extensive with choices from fifteen starters and salads, eight pasta and risotto dishes and the same number each of fish and meat main course dishes, not including a few daily "specials". Sides of vegetable were billed as "available... but not necessary", and I can assure you they were not. Billy Reid's cooking is nothing if not generous - no mimsy-pimsy portions here.  RB had the rillette of duck: the slow braised leg meat had been properly forked off the bone to make two schmaltzy quenelles served with crunchy toast made from Poilane bread. CZ had a Tian of cured skate and salmon, which was a special dish of the day. Home cured salmon is also a fixture on the regular menu. Pasta dishes are offered in starter or main sized portions, so I tried the risotto, billed on this English menu as a risotto of feves, presumably to give the waiting staff the opportunity to translate feves as broad beans. This they managed to do without a trace of superiority. But feves are not in season, even in Holland Park, and they added a somewhat mealy texture to the rice, which hadn't quite yielded up that starchy creaminess that is the hall mark of really excellent risotto.

RB's boned leg of lamb boulangère was good meat, tastily prepared with a nice contrast between well done outside and still just pink inside. He had ordered extra French beans, but the Mediterranean vegetables proved sufficient! CZ had the calves' liver and bacon. Here's an interesting communication problem. When you say "rare", do you mean French "rare" (i.e. pretty much raw), English "rare" (nice and pink), or even American "rare" (where more than a hint of pink is deemed "gross")? CZ is used to the French terminology, and asked for his liver medium rare. He seemed to be tucking in happily enough and I asked him how he was doing. Something about his reply sounded just a little too polite. When pressed, he volunteered that a hint of pink would have been better. 

I had no reservations about my veal chops: two perfectly cooked thick cutlets were deliciously pink inside (eat your well done heart out George Dubya), propped on a pillow of fondant potato that demonstrated traditional kitchen skills, with a gravy lightly infused with fungal flavours

We drank a very nice fruity Sauvignon de Touraine to start with, followed by Norton's earthy Argentine Malbec. These wines were in the lower end of the wine list's very comprehensive price range at around the twenty pound mark.

Puddings are all £6.50 and if you want a brilliant display of kitchen wizardry go for the blackberry soufflé, authentically served  with an additional shot of blackberry purée poured into the soufflé at the table. The terrine of dark chocolate and biscuit and raspberry sorbet was also excellent. As RB remarked, there must be a first rate pastry chef in the brigade.

All in all a very good meal, enjoyed in delightful surroundings which although opulent and atmospheric on a dark winter night are probably equally lovely in summer daylight. I can't wait to spend a leisurely July evening there.  

Clifford Mould December 2004

The Belvedere of Holland Park
off Abbotsbury Road, Holland Park, London W8

Tel: 020 7602 1238

Open for Lunch: Mon - Sat Midday - 2.30pm
Sunday: Midday - 3.30pm
Dinner: Mon - Sat 6.00pm - 11.00pm

Starters mostly cost £8.50, main meat dishes  £11.00 to £19.00 for the veal chops;  

It's halfway between Holland Park and High Street Ken Underground Stations. The Holland Park car park is adjacent, but don't forget to feed the Pay and Display machine!

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