The month of January definitely calls for 'cheer-me-up' jaunts, and a trip to London is always a treat for country mice like us.
We were lucky enough to be heading to The Ledbury, the renowned two Michelin starred restaurant in Notting Hill, for lunch with our good friends, Carol and Scott. Carol trained as a chef in several of the capital's finest restaurants, working under Simon Hopkinson at Bibendum before going on to help set up the Vinoteca group. Her husband, Scott, worked front-of-house at such illustrious places as The Dorchester and E&O. Together, they now own and run a much-loved pub-restaurant in Rutland, The Wheatsheaf so it's fair to say they know good food and how to enjoy it - rather like us. So when they suggested a gastronomic trip to London, we knew it was going to be good.
Headed up by Brett Graham, The Ledbury is one of London's finest restaurants and regularly tops 'top restaurant' polls. Having never dined at such a starry establishment before, the stakes were high but I'm very happy to report that all my expectations were exceeded.
It was daylight when we entered...
And dusk when we departed...
A glass of champagne made the perfect aperitif, accompanied by a procession of amazingly delicate and oh-so-delicious canapes...
A taste of the sea in a single bite
Guinea fowl puffs with sauternes jelly
Tiny homemade crumpets with shrimp butter
I wish I had the imagination and lightness of touch to create such beautiful mouthfuls.
These were followed by the first proper course of the tasting menu...
Chantilly of Oyster - Tartare of Sea Bream and Frozen English Wasabi. Such a subtle combination of flavours and velvety-smooth textures. It's worth mentioning that every dish was presented on an array of gorgeous, distinctly Catesbys ceramics.
White Beetroot - Baked in Clay, English Caviar and Smoked Eel. I would urge you to try Smoked Eel if you never have. I would also humbly recommend the stunning caviar from Exmoor Caviar - simply divine, and a snip at £2,000 a kilo.
Warm Bantam's Egg - Celeriac, Arbois, Dried Ham and Black Truffle. Vegetarians apart, who doesn't love bacon and eggs? Such a beautiful flavour of the egg with truffle.
Cornish Cod - Anchovy Cream, Green Olives and Radishes. By common consensus, the best fish any of us had ever eaten.
Hen of the Woods - Potato Emulsion and Rosemary. I never realised I actually liked mushrooms until my first forkful. This dish had the added theatre of being served from individual French copper pans with smoking rosemary sprigs, filling the air with the sweet scent of woodsmoke.
Pyrenean Milk Fed Lamb - Mozzarella, Jerusalem Artichoke and Hispi Cabbage. An unexpected bonus dish and quite simply the best lamb I've ever eaten.
Chinese Water Deer - Smoked Bone Marrow, Salted Plums, Red Leaves and Vegetables. Rich, wintery and deeply delicious.
Cheeseboard - a selection of ten cheeses chosen for us from the trolley, accompanied by delicate fennel tuiles, walnuts and beer honey.
Rhubarb - Rhubarb with Clotted Cream Ice Cream... Such a tasty dish, jelly and cream elevated to new heights. Accompanied by a warm cinnamon doughnut and served in another stunning bowl.
Chocolate - Dark Chocolate Chantilly and Clementine Leaf. The last word in chocolate desserts, bar none.
Brown Sugar Tart - Stem Ginger Ice Cream. The ultimate tart. (and another bonus dish). We ate the two desserts together: clearly, we have no shame!
Followed by beautiful petit fours which we miraculously found room for, by which time we were the only diners remaining. An amazing progression of tastes and textures, laughter and wine. Lots of wine (we were definitely the table having the most fun, I think you could say).
Four hours after taking our seats, and twelve glorious courses later, we reluctantly left this beautiful bubble of gastronomy to make our way back to Rutland through the rush-hour crowds. Even Kings Cross station on a Friday evening couldn't spoil our mood, that's how good it was.
The skill of The Ledbury, quite apart from the food and wine, is their ability to make you relax, smile and take pleasure in what you're eating. No starchiness, no standing on ceremony, just effortless hospitality and amazing food. A lunch to remember, for a very long time.