It is some considerable time since members visited a venue in the financial heartland of the City of London and it is always a little special when our host is not only a fellow gastronome and chef-patron but a celebrity chef in his own right. A visit to the immaculate kitchens, with mine host Herbert Berger, confirmed the origins of No 1 Lombard Street— prestigious City bank .The refrigeration is set into the original bank vaults and I was assured that security was of the highest order and pilferage of goods inwards non-existent!!
This is an extremely successful business serving over 600 covers a day, commencing with breakfast. The loss of the Michelin star appears to have had no detrimental effect upon the site—in fact many hoteliers and restaurateurs are quite happy ,for soundfinancial reasons, to avoid the Curse of the Michelin Star—particularly in the present climate.
Members felt the standards of service were exemplary and outshone many established banqueting venues. As a fellow dinner commented, the restaurant manager watched the room the whole time (a dying art?) and a very small team gave a faultless performance.
The skill to deliver outstanding restaurant food in a banqueting scenario was obviously perfected at the Cafe Royale ,in its time one of the busiest U.K. banqueting venues, where Herbert was awarded a Michelin star—the only chef ,in its entire history to receive such an accolade and, amazingly under the T.H.F. banner!! The cooking at Lombard Street was accomplished and at the highest level; the caramelised scallops were quite modern in concept, with Pacific Rim influences, but adhered to sound culinary principles. A great start to the evening—possibly the best starter of the year to date?
The modestly titled Chefs Middle Course was anything but. Pan-fried Foie gras perfectly cooked (no mean feat for 40 covers) was accompanied by braised endive and chocolate sauce. Sounds bizarre but it worked.
The quail, consisting of pan fried supreme, Confit leg with morels and vin jaune was reminiscent of Herbert s signature dish –the poulet noir which is served daily in the restaurant. For those members who were fortunate enough to have had this dish cooked by Nico at Lordship Lane it would have brought back many happy memories. Our quail dish was outstanding.
All the above was accompanied by copious and generous amounts of Vin de Pays— the red blend of Grenache and Syrah received many plaudits.
My dining companion was fellow gastronome Nick Walford, a retired member from Lymington, Hampshire, who entertained us with many hilarious anecdotes of his time as Banqueting Manager at The Savoy Hotel during the golden era of Brigitte Doyle Carte and Sir Hugh Wontner. Nick succeeded the famous Evangelo Brioni (alias Brian Evans from Swansea !) in his banqueting role. Fortunately a modern Sir Hugh would be prevented, by present day European law, on insisting H.O.D. s change their nationality before taking up an appointment at The Savoy Hotel.
Nick, who worked with fellow gastronome Julian Payne at the Savoy before his retirement, had not attended Reunion supper for over 12 years! We need to see more of our retired members.
The overall attendance was disappointing; fortunately numbers were boosted by committee member Serge Pradier bravely inviting the whole (?) of his company as guests. Serge also takes great credit for arranging the evening with Herbert. The comment was passed that Herbert Berger is truly a chef’s chef. We are proud to have him as a fellow gastronome.
EDITORS NOTE….. Herbert holds some extremely strong views on cooking skills, training and gastronomy in general. He is kindly submitting an article for the magazines December edition. If any member wishes to contribute on matters gastronomic which will be of interest to the Reunion, kindly contact the Editor (firstname.lastname@example.org).