I’ll admit it: I am horribly nosy. So my idea of heaven is those guilty-pleasure, fly-on-the-wall documentaries that give you an otherwise off-limits view of the world. And a particular favourite of recent times is ‘A Very British Hotel’: a glimpse behind the scenes of Knightsbridge’s 5-star Mandarin Oriental. It’s, as you’d expect, the true cream-of-the-crop when it comes to temporary dwellings: so much so that things like napkin folding and oh-my-look-how-many-suitcases become things that’re worthy of air time.
And so it follows that the Mandarin Oriental should play host to truly world-class restaurants. Found on the lower level and entered via a discreet doorway from the main street, Bar Boulud (from eponymous Michelin-starred chef Daniel Boulud, and little sister of hot-property Bar Boulud in New York) is a buzzy lair celebrating all things French. The palette is cream and crimson (a possible nod to the unbelievably comprehensive list of whites and reds), the open kitchen is alive with activity, and displays of fresh produce bring a hint of rustic, French-chateau charm to this unwavering 5-star spot.
The extensive menu takes a distinct influence from the Loire Valley, with these bold regional signature dishes running in perfect tandem with the encyclopaedia wine list. There’s the option to enjoy things traditional 3-course-dinner style, as we do, or perch at the curved bar and enjoy a pick ‘n’ mix of small plates. (We’ll definitely be back to give the latter a whirl).
And so, itching to try the thing Bar Boulud is famous for, we make a start with their renowned house-made charcuterie. Along with the soft, meaty squidge of Rosette de Lyon, we spread heady rabbit terrine onto still-warm, crusty bread. Pâté en croûte with wild mushrooms and foie gras is of the Instagram-worthy variety: an immaculate meat-stuffed slice, surrounded by perfectly golden pastry.
Light-as-air batter encases tender, juicy calamari, served in paper for a hint of cheeky chip-shop charm. Liberal dollops of fragrant basil mayonnaise are applied: it’s so good, there’s a minor tussle for the final piece.
Accompanying sipping-material is a White Cosmopolitan – a must-try, we’re told (correct) – with a swirl of Snow Queen vodka and elderflower poured from miniature jug to ice sphere-filled glass, which melts away to reveal edible nasturtiums. Next, G&T: meticulous to the point that each gin is paired with its own tonic: the heady pang of Old Raj saffron gin mixes dreamily with an aromatic cardamom-infused tonic and star anise.
Alongside impeccably matched wines (Rhone varieties, naturally), we feast on masterful meat and fish mains that inspire much ‘how have they made this taste this good?’ chat.
Smack-bang in the middle of grouse season, gorgeously rosy breast and juicy, crispy-skinned leg is even lauded by my normally game-averse guest, served with earthy artichokes, mushrooms and the sweetness of poached pear.
Next, charred-skinned yet succulent sea bass is served with hearty toasted freekeh rice, and autumnal plums soaked in olive oil and lemon.
Despite thinking we couldn’t be any more enthused by our plates, desserts were almost laughably good. First, rum baba that I’ve managed to shoehorn into about 17 conversations since eating it: smooth, whipped Chantilly with a school-pudding-style, golden-yellow sponge, scooped up with the boozy punch of rum.
Next, a delightfully boingy chocolate soufflé, towering high, with an airy-yet-smooth, purple-hued cocoa middle. Our waitress didn’t seem surprised by both of our unashamedly cleared bowls: we’re thinking this must happen a lot.
Channelling Parisian chic, we finish with espresso and a bowl of gorgeous sugar-dusted Madeleines.
Bar Boulud isn’t just worth checking out on account of insatiable nosiness: it’s the sort of spot you’ll be telling people about long after you’ve left. Now it’s 18 times I’ve talked about that rum baba, and counting…
Book Bar Boulud’s Star Deal menu here: 3 courses, bubbles & coffee for £30
Mandarin Oriental, 66 Knightsbridge, London, SW1X 7LA