Alyn Williams at The Westbury
1 March 2012
As a part-time Freshfields paralegal and 100/200m sprint Olympic hopeful, I am in the throes of a hectic training schedule with less than six months until the starting gun fires on London 2012.
So, Alyn Williams’ eponymous new restaurant in The Westbury hotel would have to justify an evening of calorie-counting amnesia (and a night off from the running track ). For my dining companion – my mother – it also meant a night off from preparing my usually health-conscious dinner.
Nestled in a notoriously foodie corner of Mayfair, a stone’s throw from such landmarks on the haute cuisine map as Sketch, Hibiscus and Umu, Alyn Williams is among impressive pedigree. So for a first solo foray onto the restaurant scene, it’s a brave, some might say foolhardy, venture.
Having worked with superstar chef Marcus Wareing at The Berkeley for five years, Alyn Williams has earned his stripes and successfully replicates the fine dining finesse of his mentor but with his own understated twist. From the traditional rosewood panelling contrasting with modern shards of glass, to the soft leather booths and the attentive yet not overbearing service, the restaurant oozes low key and faultless elegance. The one exception is an ever so slightly out of place tufted glitter carpet.
Attention to detail is a continuing theme throughout the seven-course tasting menu, which embodies Alyn William’s emerging signature Modern European style fused with a sensitivity to local provenance.
The starter of French onion consommé with crab, gruyere and potato wafer combined delicate flavours, aromas and textures. A helping of foie gras with the surprising accompaniment of semi fredo, lime, frozen yoghurt and liquorice showcased an obvious talent for balancing unusual flavours perfectly.
Even the bread - slices of potato sourdough and Guinness and star anise rolls, served with whipped caraway seed butter – proved a talking point. And each plate and its many intricacies were explained to us by our waiters with passionate precision.
For our mains – the only choice on the set menu – we opted for one of each: Devon red beef sirloin with red wine, turnip and oxtail and Wiltshire Pheasant with river crayfish, scorzonera, borage and pied de mouton. Their descriptions on the menu did not do justice to the reality. Our plates were so attractively presented, it felt a shame to tuck in. But I was rewarded when I did, and from my companion’s musings, so was she.
Although a seven-course menu by name, we couldn’t resist rounding off the meal with a second portion of caramel and peanut butter ice cream. The serving staff happily obliged us. And beforehand, we were treated to the vision of waiters wheeling a cheese wagon of Trojan horse proportions through the restaurant, laden with crackers, walnut breads and honey gel.
Sitting next to the restaurant’s floor-to-ceiling wine collection, it’s clear that Alyn Williams isn’t just about the food – as good as the food is. The sommelier made thoughtful suggestions for each course and despite a pledge to avoid alcohol until the Games, I indulged in a tipple of red wine from the South of France.
Some restaurants enter the fine dining scene with a roar. In his inimitable style, Alyn Williams has done so with a whisper. With no windows, diners are cocooned from the outside world and the atmosphere – at least early on in the evening – is somewhat subdued. Despite it being a Friday night, the clientele erred more on the side of business than pleasure. But the food is the undeniable centrepiece, bringing together the virtues of simplicity and creativity. And from the ripples of recognition that are making their way through gastronomic circles, I’ve no doubt Alyn Williams will emulate the success of his neighbours and past employers before too long, and receive a star of his own.
Lucy Onyeforo is a paralegal for Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and one of the firm’s sponsored athletes. She is currently training with Linford Christie to achieve her dream
to compete in the London 2012 Olympic Games.
Best for: Client entertaining
Worst for: A romantic date