The few-months-old restaurant stands inconspicuous amid the red bricks of Henrietta Street. More like a townhouse, the boutique hotel and restaurant is cosy, reserved and shies away from aesthetic over-indulgence. Manned by The Experimental Group and the renowned Chef Ollie Dabbous, the menu is minimal, sophisticated and seasonal. I have always regretted not visiting the eponymous establishment when I was living at its doorstep five years ago and it’s hard to ignore the echoes from the cries of praise, so expectations for Henrietta were undoubtedly high.
The dining room is as quirky as it is tasteful – mellow deep tones of emerald green, splashes of lemon and soft lines drawn by the sculptural chairs and tables. The restaurant is more spring than Spring itself (the Somerset House resident) and there’s no wonder why the Evening Standard referred to it as the most Instagrammable hotel in London. The clientele are equally subtle and stylish, where unconventional takes on sports jackets, Common Projects and classic cream Converse do not go amiss. You can bet at least one of them had a philosophy book tucked away in their designer canvas tote.
Our meal began with grilled flatbread with ‘straciatella’ comprised of burrata punctured with black olives, tomatoes and basil. Slightly charred with the exact balance between fluff and bite, for a non-bread lover, this was good stuff. Starters were not so strong – the octopus lacked that outer crispiness and its meat was pining for sweetness. As for the architectural beauty that is the mackerel carpaccio with radishes – what it had in looks it lacked in flavour.
The mains steered the meal back in the right direction and the steak with fries put Flat Iron to shame. The comparison comes only from the similarity of the plating and their proximity in location. Everything else departs from the cheap-and-decent chain to the model of what real steak should be (that is, if it’s not Japanese). Although, the accompanying herb sauce was distracting, superfluous and very heavy on the coriander. What really made me sit up in my plush cushy seat was the fries. Oh my gosh, the fries. Made from Agra potatoes, a species much drier than the others, the fries are able to retain their structure and comes out with a texture like a triple-cooked chip. An extraordinary quality was the smooth, almost creamy middle that finished with the slightest hint of vinegar.
The fish, while flopping behind the beef still had its strong points. Embedded upon black mussels, the bivalves were taught with intense salty sweetness. As filters of the sea, the dirtier the water, the more flavourful the flesh – and in case you were interested, these came from Portsmouth.
But where was this exquisite beef tartare I had read about so fondly in broadsheet reviews? The flora laden dishes so perfect for Instagram, if not the palate?
I’m not a dessert person but the seasonal offerings at Henrietta were tempting – chic spins on old school childhood desserts dominated, as well as the famous madeleines. However, not so tempting that I would go back to sample them.
Henrietta was a delightful experience, combining Covent Garden’s stylishness with no-waste, seasonal ingredients. But man cannot live on grilled flatbread and chips alone, and London will never stop churning out new, more enticing restaurants, possibly even with another Michelin starred chef.