1771 Restaurant in Belgravia: “The best food I’ve had over the last year”
I arrive at 1771 seeking refuge from the sharp cold. The sleek interiors and clean lines are accented with bold works of art, including Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol prints. The music is upbeat Motown, with lots of Stevie Wonder. A really good sign. The restaurant is the newest venture by Mark Jarvis, the chef behind Farringdon’s Anglo. With the young and adventurous George Malin at the helm of the kitchen, 1771 offers modern British fare to Chelsea’s discerning diners.
Our table is by the window twinkling with fairy lights. The restaurant is dimly lit and classic, with clean white tablecloths and a singular, romantic candle on each table. It makes me feel warm. I’m presented with two menus, one à la carte and one tasting for £68 per person (plus £40 for wine pairings). I dive in with a Winter Gin Negroni, containing winter spiced gin liqueur. It’s a dreamy, Christmassy cocktail that goes down a treat as I wait for my companion, poring over the names of the dishes and wondering what on earth “cordyceps” are. One for Google, methinks.
We opt for the tasting menu and are swiftly provided with the first of the “snacks”: Focaccia with Cultured Butter – both homemade. The butter is enjoyably spreadable (nothing worse than stubborn butter), and the bread is dotted with large flakes of salt. Next, a trio of snacks. With one spoon, I taste each. The Aged Chalk Stream Trout, Codium, Fermented Carrot offers fresh raw fish, generously salty caviar and a creamy sauce all in one go – with the lingering taste of dill oil and the texture of crunchy carrot.
The Hen Crab, Sunflower, Burnt Cream is intriguingly presented as two crackers seemingly sitting on top of a rocky beach. Soft bits of delicious crab are uplifted by the citrusy, tangy flavour of apple kombucha discs and more caviar (“because, why not?”, as the knowledgeable waitress suggests). Finally, the mind-boggling Venison Tartare, Mushroom Custard, Sesame. The umami magic speaks for itself, doesn’t it? The venison comes second place to the mushroom custard here, which is salty and divine with the crunch of the sesame. The little Alice in Wonderland-esque sprouts of mushroom aren’t just decorative but are packed with earthy flavour.
Next up, the Cauliflower Mushroom (which is actually just a type of mushroom and has nothing to do with cauliflower), Sunflower Seed Miso, Galangal Oil. This is served with a 2019 chardonnay from New Zealand’s Blank Canvas, a wine with a distinct popcorn-like aroma to complement the umami flavours of the dish. The mushrooms in this dish are done two ways: lightly battered tempura-style and grilled strands of incredible smokiness with a distinct BBQ char. Another layer of brilliance comes with the addition of galangal, a unique Thai spice from the ginger family. It doesn’t overpower the dish, but the subtle addition makes it unforgettable. It also doesn’t make the dish Thai, but takes a national staple and lends it to an unexpected setting. It occurs to me that this is fine dining like I’ve never had. It’s indulgent, unpretentious and actually very cheeky.
The cheeky vibes continue with the next course: a Fried Poussin, Preserved Lemon, Cordyceps (another type of mushroom) – a dish described by the maître d’ as “a sort of posh KFC”. The thick sauce surrounding the fried poussin is heavenly: herby, sweet, and again indulgent, with refined flavours of parsley, chervil and dill. Shame we have to use a knife and fork, really. Next, we veer away from cheeky and head back to classic with a beautiful fish course: Aged Market Fish, Miso Beurre Blanc, Swiss Chard. The 2019 Quinta da Boa Esperança Sauvignon Blanc this was paired with was the most memorable wine of the night, legitimately tasting of bell pepper to cut through the butteriness of the fish.
Served with a full-bodied Benito Santos from Mencía, the savoury courses end with the Koji-cured Pigeon, Violino Pumpkin, Thai Basil and the Sake Katsu Venison, Celeriac, Charred Savoy Cabbage. The former is a masterpiece and a bold medley of flavours, once again borrowing from Thailand with touches of Thai basil. The pigeon is smooth to cut into, and the pumpkin purée adds sweetness to cut through the fragrant basil. Meanwhile, the venison is enjoyable but overshadowed by its accoutrements: the creamy celeriac, the punchy wood-fired cabbage and the black garlic ketchup that’s thick like molasses.
It’s all so good that there’s no way I’m giving up yet. Before dessert, we’re offered a little palate cleanser: the Mango Chilli Kombucha, Bergamot Posset. It’s fruity with a sexy and subtle little kick. Our dessert is the Caramel Tart, Roasted Apple, Parsnip Ice Cream. The hard caramel tart is a sugary sensation, but the parsnip ice cream intrigues me most: the parsnip flavour is distinct but divine as it comes together with the burnt apple gel and the sticky caramel.
Some parting words to conclude my gushing. 2021 began with me holed up in my kitchen, making pizza and chateaubriand from scratch and desperately trying to replicate some semblance of the restaurant experience. Normal life slowly resumed, with masks being abandoned entirely as you’d walk into a restaurant to take your seat. And then the lockdown threat just before Christmas. Throughout this period, I’ve embraced the restaurant experience like never before, saying yes to every opportunity to dine out.
With the past year’s copious amount of dining out in mind, you’ll feel the gravitas of the following remark. The food at 1771 was the best I’ve had during the past 12 months. Not for the ambience, the company, the service or the wine (all admittedly brilliant) but the actual food. It surprised and intrigued me, and I really love feeling both those things.
Photos: Cristiana Ferrauti
To book a table at 1771, 18-22 Holbein Place Belgravia SW1W 8NL, call 0207 881 0886 or visit their website here.