db Eats: Les 110 de Taillevent

25th September, 2017 by Lucy Shaw

db’s Lucy Shaw heads to the Marylebone wine mecca for langoustine three ways, lobster risotto, and liquid treasures from Selosse, Leflaive and Ornelliaia.

The concept: Two years ago, French brothers Thierry, Laurent and Stéphane Gardinier opened a London version of their popular Parisian wine bar and bistro Les 110 de Taillevent, which itself is a sister site to the two Michelin-starred Taillevent, one of Paris’ most iconic restaurants.

Taillevent opened in Paris’ eighth arrondissement in 1946 just after the end of the Second World War. The restaurant takes its name from Guillaume Tirel, author of France’s first cookbook, who was nicknamed Taillevent (meaning ‘wind cutter’) due to his long nose. Taillevent is said to have inspired the 2007 Pixar film Ratatouille about a rat who dreams of becoming a chef.

Langoustine ravioli

As the name suggests, the London outpost of Les 110 de Taillevent serves a staggering 110 wines by the glass from a cellar stocked with over 360 different labels sourced from high-end suppliers like Berry Bros & Rudd, Justerini & Brooks, Corney & Barrow and Fine & Rare.

The décor: Housed in a former Coutts bank in Cavendish Square, the interiors are the work of Pierre-Yves Rochon, who was in charge of the recent redesign of The Savoy, and also put his hand to the earthy décor at Les 110 in Paris.

Working with materials used in the winemaking process, oak plays a pivotal role at the London site, and is used not only for the floor but also the walls and ceiling. Arched windows are large and let in lots of light, while banquettes and curtains are olive green and the far wall boasts a sketch of a calming vineyard scene.

The food: The London menu is similar in style to its French cousin, specialising in simple, classical French cuisine. A reasonably priced £27 three-course set menu with four wine pairings is available at both lunch and dinner.

The menu has much to tempt the eye, from Cornish crab remoulade with dill and fennel, to duck foie gras mi cuit with peach chutney, pistachio and brioche. I went for the langoustine starter, which is served three ways: as a tartare rolled in razor-thin slivers of courgette; a juicy roasted tail; and, most successfully, stuffed in a ravioli swimming in an orange-scented bisque.

The divine lobster risotto

The tartare was pretty as a picture, nestled among swirls of baby pink Marie Rose sauce, while the tender meat in the solitary tail left me begging for more.

My companion’s mushroom tart was also a hit – the pastry rich and buttery, while the earthy notes in the tart were enhanced by a powerful cep foam in a symphony of savoury flavours.

Signature dishes: The star of the show and utterly unmissable is the spelt lobster risotto served in a rich lobster bisque. I’m often wary of ordering risotto in a restaurant, as it can so easily be messed up, and if the rice grains turn to mush it tastes like wallpaper paste. Taillevent’s, however, is exemplary.

Served with a glistening chunk of lobster meat floating on top, the rice had the perfect amount of bite, while the bubbly bisque had all the rich, savoury seafood flavours you hope for and was an unashamedly decadent joy to eat.

Being a French restaurant, they do duck with flair – the sauces and garnishes accompanying it varying depending on the seasons. On my visit two perfectly pink hunks came slick with honey glaze, the skin on top pleasingly crispy and full of fatty flavour. Beside them, baby turnips added little in the way of flavour, but a side of impossibly creamy mash brought buttery comfort.

Regret: I should have ordered the calamansi lemon pud

The wines: The 1,100-bin wine list is overseen by Pierre Berot, who has looked after the wine offering at Taillevent for the last 20 years, meaning a heavy French focus. For each of the 30 dishes on offer there are four suggested wine pairings at different price points: £8 and under; £14 and under; £20 and under; and over £20.

Wines start at £6 but the majority fall within the £15-25 bracket. Among the best of what we tried was a glass of rich, nutty, apple-laced Jacques Selosse Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne, which paired a treat with the lobster risotto.

Another wine highlight was a glass of 2009 Ornellaia dispensed from a Coravin when our 2006 Chave Hermitage proved a little too wild on the volatile acidity front, though still displayed the elegance and finesse the château hangs its hat on.

The silky, perfumed Ornellaia meanwhile, seemed sprightly and incredibly young for its years, with velvety tannins and alluring notes of cedar and cassis.

Who to know: Head sommelier Christopher Lecoufle is one of the friendliest and most informative somms in town.

Brimming with passion and enthusiasm, he’s a font of knowledge, so seek him out if you’re in need of a recommendation or are keen to try something quirky. If you’re feeling particularly brave then leave the wine choices up to him – his suggestions won’t disappoint.

Don’t leave without: Ordering the signature dessert ­­– a citrus riot involving calamansi lemon, passion fruit, meringue, shortbread and Tequila & lime sorbet, which proved a big hit at this year’s Taste of London.

The lemon is cleverly crafted in such a way that it looks like the burnt orange cellophane bottles of Cristal Champagne come wrapped in. I made the mistake of ordering the banana and maple syrup pud with walnuts and caramel ice cream, which, while providing me with a welcome sugar hit, lacked the charm and sophistication of the lemon sensation – an error I’ll need to rectify on return.

Last word: All London-dwelling wine lovers should make the pilgrimage to Les 110 de Taillevent at least once to try some of its liquid treasures. Our visit highlighted the old adage about there being no great wines, only great bottles, and particularly with the older vintages, bottle quality is a bit of a lucky dip. Nevertheless, the magic of the Coravin means you don’t need to commit to a full bottle, and can instead sample a series of different stellar wines by the glass.

Your wallet won’t thank you for it, but I challenge you to find a more pleasurable fine wine experience in London outside of the rarefied realm of 67 Pall Mall. And while wine may be the focus, there is much to delight on the food front, particularly when lobster and langoustine are involved.

Les 110 de Taillevent, 16 Cavendish Square, London W1G 9DD; +44(0)20 3141 6016

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