Sometimes, a restaurant really takes you by surprise. Not just because of the exceptional quality of the food, but because of the lingering memories and overall experience it gives you. Alyn Williams at The Westbury is one such place.
Welcomed in the hotel lobby by big, genuine smiles and immaculately clad staff, we settle in to comfy vanilla coloured chairs – a eye-catching contrast with the mahogany high-ceilinged dining room in the core of the hotel. We are suggested the tasting menu and are pleased to see an equally tempting vegetarian tasting menu, no doubt spurred by Alyn’s wife who is vegetarian.
The experience kicks off with some thoroughly clever amuse bouches – all very special, and the provenance of which is explained to us in detail at our table by head chef, Tom. Alyn Williams is clearly a devotee of fresh and local seafood – glimpses of which are first seen with a crab tart which cleverly used all the marine flavours of the crab in one morsel, with the crab itself sourced straight from Colchester that morning. The real surprise comes with the Cornish prawn, served skewered on a stick of seaweed. It’s fat, juicy and shocking that it comes from local waters! Also, very good is the tempura fried shimeji mushroom from the vegetarian menu, somehow evoking the strong taste of the sea, but with a fungus.
For a £17.50 supplement, you can enjoy a half native lobster tail served alongside its own bisque and a generous 20g portion of Royal Siberian caviar. The lobster is beautifully served with plenty of rich bisque and a pea purée – I should add that every course, snack, and plate served here is breathtakingly presented. It’s not just about pretty food though, Tom previously explained to us that all ingredients are ethically sourced, and they go above and beyond to use everything and waste nothing. Another gem from the vegetarian menu is a Australian black truffle risotto. The risotto is creamy, savoury and comes with fresh paper-thin shavings of that Australian truffle.
We are seated beside floor to ceiling glass wine cabinets which take up one side of the dining room, a unique feature which also acts as an intimate private dining room. Looking around the restaurant, I notice that the atmosphere feels luxurious with no pretension, rare of a restaurant of this calibre with a Michelin star.
As I continue gazing around the room, the “house salad” arrives. The most unassuming dish on the menu ends up being the most interesting. Served in a sherry glass, a light green, delicately chilled vegetable mousse is layered with fronds of cress and wisps of translucent raw asparagus – it’s a delight that cleanses the palate and also demonstrates the head chef’s innovative skills. For mains, Herdwick lamb is served two ways, delicate ovals of meat, rosy-pink with shallots and broad beans, and then the shoulder crisped up into a meaty gratin.
The wines paired are well thought out choices, and in keeping with the chef’s like of pushing boundaries, do not always come from the stereotypical wine regions. I sample an interesting Pinot Noir from Oregon and a white from Thracian Valley in Bulgaria, among others. Our sommelier Manuel is attentive and is able to answer all my probing questions about the wine, even surprising us with an English strawberry cider with our dessert of strawberries and clotted cream.
For those who prefer a cheesy end to their meal, this is one of the few restaurants in London to still have a cheese trolley in the dining room. You can choose from a large selection of soft, hard and blue cheeses with house made breads, crackers, chutneys and of course, a wide selection of port.
This is the kind of place you want to celebrate life at. The atmosphere that this talented team have created through the variety of ingredients, taste, textures and techniques and on each individual dish were a fantastic showcase of the expertise of Alyn Williams and his team. From the wonderful service, striking dining room, locally sourced, seasonal produce to the innovative flavours, this restaurant has it all. It is bizarrely underrated and you should go before it inevitably attains that second Michelin star.
To book, visit: www.alynwilliams.com
By Geeta Kana