Dine Online Restaurant Review

Les Saveurs, W1

This review is completely out of date. We leave it here, because old fans of the original restaurant and chef Antunes like to read it! (April 2001)

French restaurants in London have had a hard time of it lately. They are in the thick of powerful home-grown competition from an ever increasing band of bright young British chefs who are out to prove their mastery of different styles.

Some of the French establishments have chosen to rest on the laurels of tradition (and it shows). Others - in particular Les Saveurs - continue to demonstrate that the finest culinary arts can evolve whilst still maintaining the traditional standards. Although it is Japanese owned, Les Saveurs is a truly French Restaurant: its chef Joël Antunés has an impeccable élévage, but his spell as head chef at the Oriental Hotel in Bangkok broadened his view, and very subtly influenced his cuisine.

His use of spices, which he buys on his regular visits to the far East, is judicious but extraordinarily effective. To me, even more interesting is the way M. Antunés uses fruits to provide complementary flavours and richness in place of the more conventional dairy products. Thus roast pigeon is served with a date compote and cocoa beans. My wonderful fillet of hare was served with a fig compote that was perfectly contrasted with the close textured rich meat.

They bring you all sorts of charming little appetisers to keep you amused whilst perusing the menu and the wine list which is a massive affair in a ring binder. The two of us chose equally from the excellent Lunch Menu (Stg 22.50 for three courses), and the Carte (Stg 47.00 for three courses). After considering, from the Carte, the Terrine de foie gras aux pommes de terre et truffes, the feuilleté de légumes aux sept herbes, my companion chose Coque d'oursin, concombre et caviar. You've guessed it, it's fricassée of sea-urchin and cucumber with caviar. This appeared served in the spiny and purple shell of the said urchin, filled to the brim with this amazingly exotic concoction. It was very delicate and rather feminine and it suited my companion rather well.

From the lunch menu, I agonized over canelloni of snail with celeriac and the tartlet of sardine a la Basquaise. Finally I decided on creamy pumpkin soup with ravioli and truffle, out of this world, its velvety texture hiding the softest parcels of creamy cheese and topped with some generous shavings of the most aromatic truffle imaginable.

There are useful suggestions of sensibly priced wines at the bottom of the lunch menu, but the very helpful Sommelier, Claude Douard is really enthusiastic about recommending wines to go with your choice from the menu. We had some superb white Crozes-Hermitagefrom Alain Graillot (Stg 28.00) which for a 1993 was incredibly golden in colour and fully aromatic, with mineral structure. It went wonderfully with my soup and truffles, but perhaps it was a little overpowering with the sea-urchin. The St-Veran-en-Creches 1994 from Saumaize at Stg 26.00 might have been better. It must be a hard job for a sommelier who tries to please everyone!

All was by no means lost, because the Crozes came back into its own with the Red Mullet with lentils in parsley sauce from the Lunch menu. The fish was strongly flavoured, and the lentils were a surprisingly brilliant combination that worked well. I had the hare with fig compote from the carte. Afterwards, in the kitchen, I saw the perfectly cut strips of back fillet marinading in virgin olive oil and herbs. The meat thus prepared stayed moist and the sauce had a hint of sweetness that did not cloy. The whole thing was very delicious, but my only grouse with restaurants is that they don't have the courage to hang their game for long enough. I like game that's a bit high and it seems the only place for that is a good gentleman's club.

With my hare I had a glass of Cotes du Rhone 1993 from Columbo that was like a mini Chateauneuf-du-Pape. M. Douard certainly knows how to pick his wines! And his glasses are big generous ones with plenty of room in which the wine can expand.

We shared a hot lime soufflé for pudding. The keen lime zest rounded off our meal to perfection. I'd like to return to try the gingerbread, vanilla and chestnut pyramid, and I bet their tarte tatin is a dream.

Les Saveurs, in its central Mayfair location, with luxurious yet rather understated decor is not in the least intimidating. The service is immaculate, under the direction of the youthful but highly professional Frederic Serol. Without anyone hovering obsequiously, the diner's needs are observed and acted upon efficiently. Main courses are delivered with ceremony, but there are sufficient touches of self-effacing humour that prevent the ritual from looking ridiculous. Why can't more restaurants manage this standard of hospitality?

I particularly recommend the Lunch Menu here. There is also a gourmet dinner for Stg 30.00, no choices - I love that, let them just bring me wonderful things. But you can eat and drink like royalty here for just under thirty pounds a head. However, the sky's the limit, so watch it!

Les Saveurs, 37a Curzon Street, London W1
Tel: 020 7491 8919

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