Usually I don't get excited about new restaurants. Yes, I get excited that there will be somewhere great and new to eat, but I don't have that thing about rushing out to try somewhere as soon as it opens. I'm perfectly happy to wait around until it is convenient for me, or the big primary rush is over before I try somewhere. However, when I heard that Hotel Chocolat, one of my favourite companies was opening an outpost of their St. Lucia Estate restaurant Rabot 1745 in one of my favourite places in London, Borough Market, I got very excited.
I got so excited, that for the first time ever I had a Saturday lunch time table booked well before the restaurant opened, and it was a good thing that I did book in advance; it is a pretty difficult reservation to get hold of at the moment, and now I have tasted the food, I completely understand why. While they don't really like London, and it is impossible to get them up here, my parents even hopped on a train to join me for the occasion, which I appreciated because it meant that there were plenty of different dishes to sample!
On the table while we were waiting for our food to arrive we each had three Ecuadorian cocoa beans, roasted downstairs on site to sample, so we could taste the cocoa in it's natural state. This was all explained to us by our server; the service throughout the meal was simply excellent. The whole bean is edible, but it you break it between your thumb and forefinger you can get to the most flavourful part of the bean in the centre. Wonderfully chocolatey, not sweet or savoury, just a pure coca flavour. It made a great nibble while we perused the menu, sipped our cocktails and waited for our food to arrive.
My Mother ordered The Spritz, which was a Northern Italian aperitif, served with Hotel Chocolat's amazing house Prosecco, Campari bitters and fresh citrus. It was sharp, refreshing and she told me it made the perfect start to the meal. Also, while the restaurant itself costs a bit more than most of the places I normally review, all the cocktails were £9, which is actually very reasonable for somewhere in London, I was surprised.
I'm usually as predictable as ever, if I see a Sloe Gin drink on a menu I'll order it, but my Sloe Gin Fizz was put paid to by the fact they were out of Sloe Gin (it happens), so I ended up choosing the Moscow Mule. It was probably a good thing, it actually forced me to look past my usual drink of choice and actually look at the menu. It was perfectly balanced, and a good choice for me to enjoy alongside my fish starter, because we'd chosen a bottle of Chateau Rozier Saint-Emilion Bordeaux to go with our meal.
Usually I don't bother photographing the table water, but I think the addition of Fresh Mint gave it a lovely, subtle twist.
Our amuse-bouche came in the form of a shot of velvety vegetable soup, and a dipper of fresh bread spread by what literally was cocoa butter - unsalted butter enriched with cocoa nibs. I did not mention this in my introduction, but while you might forget about it while dining Rabot 1745 is a concept restaurant; absolutely every single dish in the menu has cocoa beans included somewhere. Most of us think of cocoa as just chocolate, so I think it is wonderful that Rabot is really showcasing what a unique and versatile ingredient it really is.
I had originally planned to have what my Mother had for her starter as we both simply adore scallops: a scallop salad served with a beet carpaccio, apple-beet matchsticks, wintercress leaves, curried nib oil and a horseradish white chocolate condiment. I tasted some of her scallops and they were rich and melt in your mouth; at the very top of the scallop game, and when it was set down in front of her I experienced a serious case of order envy. Thankfully, my own starter was good enough that I soon forgot what was on her plate!
I would like to mark this moment as the first time, after realising how much I actually liked it after being served it at Lima and at the Bar Chocolat pop up, that I actually ordered a raw fish dish for myself, and what a great dish it was to start. I was unsure about my Sea Tartar when it was set down in front of me. However, the catch of the day marinated in cacao pulp, horseradish, fennel, cucumber and roast nibs had a great balance between sweet and savoury. I also noticed that it was cut up very nicely; the pieces were small enough to form a terrine, but chopped large enough so you could get bites of all of the different flavours. Also, I need to give a shout out to the piece of pickled celery that was on my plate as the garnish; I gobbled it up in one bite and it had a delicate aniseed flavour.
I only stole a bite, but what a flavour full packed bite it was of my Father's starter of Seared Plantation Pork Terrines, made of saddleback pork with gribiche sauce, crisp sweetbread and served with a cacao nib condiment. He proclaimed that it was one of the best starters he'd ever had.
For his main he went for the Slow-Roast Shoulder of Lam, basted with cacoa balsamic and served on a bed of roast garlic mash and seasonal vegetables. I also stole a bite of this (when I say steal, please refer back to this blog post where I have described what it is like to try and review a restaurant with my Father in tow), but I'm not really a lamb fan so I can't really give much of a comment, apart from to say that the meat was very tender, and he raved about the mash.
My Mother went for a dish that I was tempted by, the Steamed Plaice with lemon thyme, cracked pepper and a nib mousse, and served on a bed of sautéed leeks and salsify, port cacao nib sauce and portabella mushrooms. As ever, I stole a bite and the fish melted in my mouth.
I had the Roast Saddle of Rabbit (just like I always order the Sloe Gin, I can usually be relied on to also always order the rabbit when it is available), but I don't want to talk about the rabbit right now, fantastic that it was. I want to talk about the most unique and delicious thing I ate at Rabot, the swirl of white chocolate mashed potato that my rabbit was served alongside. It was so unexpected. Here you have white chocolate, mixed into mashed potato. Then you have white chocolate being served on the same plate as rabbit and a little jug of its jus. But it really, really worked. The smooth mash tasted lightly, but still very distinctly of white chocolate, but while it was a little sweet, it was not too much so. In a bite with everything, the mash, the rabbit, the vegetables and the jus it complimented everything, and really surprised me. God knows how I would go about trying to work out a recipe for making it myself, though.
As I have already mentioned, my saddle of rabbit was served alongside white chocolate mashed potatoes and flavourful seasonal vegetables from the market downstairs (a special shout out to the delicate fennel, not a vegetable I usually go for), and it was wrapped in bacon and stuffed with a pungent mousse of its offal. Rabbit can be done either very well, or very badly and this definitely fell into the former category.
Dessert time. Between The Rabot 1745 Mousse Collection and the Chocolate Genesis my Mother and I just could not decide, so we ordered both and shared each others. First on the left here we have the 90% mousse topped off with toasted almonds, from Hacienda Iara in Ecuador. In the middle, topped off with fresh mint and two mouthwateringly good cherries soaked in kirsch we have an 80% mousse made with cocoa from the Mekong Delta in Vietnam, and on the right we have the lightest, 50% milk chocolate made with beans from the Island's Growers in St. Lucia and topped off with a liberal sprinkling of Cornish sea salt. I think the darkest offering (dense and full of such a strong cocoa hit) and the milk mousse which was so light in your mouth were my favourites; I was not sure about the Vietnam offering. Our server told me that that mousse had actually proven to be a rather controversial one since the restaurant opened; people either find it is their absolute favourite, or like me they were not really a fan; no one sits on the fence with it.
The Chocolate Genesis was all about just tasting the chocolate. There were a few more roasted beans here, and while I don't know what was in the tasting spoon of sorbet, I could have done with a lot more than half a mouthful of it. A few notes here; the dark truffle was so powerful and dense it is overwhelming in the best possible way. The chocolate baton, not really remarkable at first glance to anyone, like us as a family who tend to have either French chocolate or Hotel Chocolat in the house rather than cheaper, lesser chocolate so are familiar with the unique shape, but it is special in that it was actually made from the beans to the baton in house. The dark chocolate coated candied orange baton made me resolve to start buying the things from their store, and the white chocolate truffle made me wish that they sold those in their stores, too. My parents (all three of us managed to share one truffle, god knows how) did not notice it at first because the flavour was not familiar to them, but it was subtly flavoured with jasmine, which hits you more on the aftertaste. They actually have a Jasmine White Hot Chocolate on the menu, so based on this truffle that is something I'd really recommend.
Moving away from all things chocolate, my Father is a bit of a panna cotta fan, so it was a given he was going to order the coconut milk and rum number. Speaking as someone who has spent hours experimenting to work out gelatine rations in panna cotta recipes I can tell you it is something of a science, so I was overly impressed by the wonderful wobble it had; it wibbled wonderfully every time someone knocked the table even slightly, but it was still wonderfully set yet creamy inside. The flavour also was out of this world. I also rather enjoyed the fresh papaya and mango salsa on the side, which I got to myself as my Father is not really one for tropical fruits.
I know this review has come across a lot more gushy than usual, but I was honestly blown away by the meal, everything was fresh, creative, unique and delicious, even down to the little dark chocolate drops that had been made, again, on site that came with the bill. The service was fantastic, and the three of us, who are usually hyper critical diners could not find anything to fault. However, such a wonderful meal comes at a price. I'm usually on a bit more of a budget while dining out, even though I do tend to be willing to invest a bit more money into eating out than most people, because I usually dine out at least twice in any given week in London. However, this was something of a treat meal (we called it out management Christmas dinner!) and the bill came in at about £175 for the three of us. I could not recommend the meal enough for a special occasion though, but I warn you that tables are rather hard to come by at the moment!