It’s changed over the years. The first few times we visited – many moons ago, customarily for lunch – the Greenhouse in Mayfair was a place populated by suits. But that was before the dining room was bathed in the light of a second Michelin star. And Mayfair was different then. Pre-Little House. Pre-Arts Club redux. These days, it’s a different kind of destination, and The Greenhouse is so much more than a banker’s canteen.
On a Saturday night you’ll find Mount Street-clad Asian gourmets on European tours, and locals celebrating significant occasions. There’s a glass room-within-a-room that serves as the private dining space – offering a level of seclusion, but still allowing you to feel like you’re a part of the restaurant. Why does anyone ever book a private dining room that’s an afterthought in a basement? Or, as at the likes of Nobu, just a vanilla hotel function suite. We’d rather stay home.
There have been major changes over the years at The Greenhouse: Today it’s Arnaud Bignon rather than Antonin Bonnet in the kitchen. Bonnet was good, but Bignon really is one of the best chef’s cooking in London right now. He worked under Éric Fréchon at Epicure at Le Bristol and The Greenhouse showcases a similar style to Fréchon’s – big on meticulous French technique (best demonstrated in the £110 Tasting Menu, or the longer £125 Discovery Menu) – but it has broad horizons, most obviously and pleasingly in an easterly direction.
You can feel the despair in the server’s hands…
After a salvo of amuse-bouche, dishes include Orkney scallop, freshened up with yuzu; lobster, with blackberry and shimeji; monkfish with banana, kaffir lime and dukkah, and some memorable deserts – the miyagawa citrus fruit makes an appearance as one of the few ingredients that has flown long haul rather than been sourced in the UK.
Service at The Greenhouse is just the right side of formal – it’s studied but not glacial. And perfection is all. If – as on a recent visit – the contents of a lobster claw should arrive at your table horizontal rather than vertical, as plated, you can feel the despair in the server’s hands…
The pairings globe trot with élan: from a bright Riesling from Crawford River, Australia to a sticky from Mosel, Germany.
What really makes The Greenhouse so good, in a world where restaurants think it’s okay to “respectfully” request their tables back after 90 minutes, is the overall sense of sophistication. There’s no music. The acoustics of the room are perfect. Look out of the window and you feel as if you’re in a secret garden. Look across the room, and people have dressed for dinner, not to go bowling. The lighting is flattering, but you can see properly. Just about every table has eyes out. And you know what’s really wonderful about The Greenhouse? It has tablecloths. Remember tablecloths? God. Weren’t they wonderful?
The Greenhouse may be expensive, but we’ve greedily racked up £100 at Barrafina in about 45 minutes. And that’s sitting on a stool after having queued for an hour. And sometimes you just want somewhere special that doesn’t slap you around with how fabulously Millennial it is. C
The Greenhouse, 27a Hay’s Mews, London W1J 5NY UK
020-7499 3331; greenhouserestaurant.co.uk