Restaurant Review: Brasserie of Light, Duke Street in London
When I think of restaurants inside department stores, I don’t usually allow myself to get too excited. But we’re talking about Selfridges here, and Oxford Street’s temple of all things covetable wouldn’t dream of allowing anything less than fabulous to occupy valuable floor space. But this I was certainly not expecting.
The latest and possibly most sparkling jewel in the crown of Richard Caring (who also owns Le Caprice, The Ivy and the new Harry’s Bar in James Street just around the corner), Brasserie of Light is the first restaurant at Selfridges, since it opened 110 years ago, to offer all-day dining from breakfast until long after the store itself shuts (till midnight most nights, in fact).
This is due to having its own dedicated entrance on Duke Street — which is the one to use if you want the full ‘red carpet’ experience complete with swish doorman in sequin-studded overcoat and top hat — as well as being accessible through the menswear section on the first floor.
I arrived a little after 6pm on a cold, dreary midweek evening just a couple of weeks after Christmas — usually a dead time for the restaurant trade — and was stunned to find it chock full and positively buzzing. Inside, a vibrant and well dressed crowd comprised everything from out-of-towners rounding off a day’s shopping through to svelte black-clad fashionistas gossiping over their Cosmopolitans and, in the corner, a well-known TV presenter and his entourage celebrating a birthday.
There was barely a spare seat in the house but luckily a couple of spaces were found for myself and my companion at the uber-elegant Art Deco cocktail bar with its floor-to-ceiling mirrors. Here, whilst perusing the menu and at the same time indulging in a cheeky spot of celeb’ spotting, we ordered a “Queen of Time” (named after the Gilbert Beyes sculpture that sits above the entrance to Selfridges) made with Laurent Perrier champagne and rose liqueur, as well as the gin and prosecco based “Est. 1909” (the year that the store opened).
Drinks finished, the hostess escorted us to our table and it was time for the first jaw-drop of the evening. Suspended high on a wall that looks out across Marylebone through triple-height windows is a 24ft high crystal-encrusted statue of a galloping pegasus with 30ft wide wings outstretched. This stunning creation by Damian Hirst, the largest work of art he’s ever done in London, looks as though it is about to take off and fly over the heads of the diners beneath. The effect is breathtaking and it sets the scene for what I hope is going to be a memorable dining experience.
Nicolas, one of the head waiters, arrives to take our order, oozing professional charm and looking like he’s just stepped off the page of a Dolce & Gabbana advertisement. Indulging me my light journalistic probing, he reveals that David and Victoria Beckham held a party here last week with Gordon Ramsay in attendance. It’s at this point I have a sudden pang of fear that the whole scene might stray into that dangerous territory of ‘style over substance’ which has happened to more than a few “it” restaurants in London.
My lack of faith is misplaced, however, because it is then that the food arrives and any momentary doubts are laid instantly to waste. Our starters are simply excellent: mine a Dorset crab salad with watermelon, radish and a dreamily smooth lobster dressing; hers the avocado and sesame fried chicken with coriander, green tea and chia seeds; an accompanying jalapeño dip lending precisely the right amount of piquancy without over-spicing the subtle flavours.
At Nicolas’s recommendation, we’ve selected a fine and very reasonably priced Gavi to match both the starters and main courses which follow. I’ve gone for one of the signature dishes: roast fillet of salmon with caviar, sprouting broccoli and herb sauce — deliciously creamy yet light — and genuinely enhanced by the expertly paired wine.
My partner has opted for the blackened cod with charred broccoli and wasabi mayonnaise. For me, black cod is a slightly over-hyped dish which really needs to have something special to overcome my natural enmity towards what might be called “fashionable food”. She insists I try hers, however, and I’m amazed: it tastes so tender I can almost imagine I’m eating the finest sashimi at some outrageously elitist sushi restaurant in Japan. This is seriously good food.
Dessert continues to deliver the wow factor. We share an ‘Orbit’ which comes served like an astronomy lesson on a plate: honeycomb, hazelnut praline ice-cream and popping-candy filled chocolate orb in the shape of Saturn, surrounded by a milk foam ring and chocolate mousse satellites forming a galaxy of gastronomic delight.
Together, head chef Emanuel Machado (formerly of Balthazar in Covent Garden) and Martin Brudnizki, who consulted on the design of this and many other of Caring’s properties, have created something exceptional. For there are many restaurants in the capital where you can go to see and be seen in beautiful surroundings. And there are many others you can go to enjoy extremely well made food. But there are very few places where you can do both at once. Brasserie of Light is one of those rarities: style and substance together.
Address: Duke Street, London W1A 1AB
Phone: 0203 940 9600