A serious restaurant for serious times: the Ledbury in Notting Hill. It’s a good time to do it, as the dreams of the Notting Hill set crumple to dust and Jacob Rees-Mogg rides out in his stupid hats.
It has sat in its former pub on Ledbury Road since 2005. It won — and has held for seven years — two Michelin stars. It has featured in the gruesome S. Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants List, which is, among other things, a rebuke to tap water.
Its most interesting moment was during the riots of 2011, when the nation conspired to make David Cameron return from his summer holidays early.
Annoying David Cameron is always fun, because he takes himself very seriously. I once asked him what his favourite supermarket is, and he said, very slowly: ‘Not Waitrose.’ I think this means it is Waitrose, but he was running for election and I forgave him for pretending to long for Tesco Extra. After all, he had a dream. And he forgave me for my follow-up — ‘Do you believe in aliens?’
Anyway, the Ladbroke Blood gang and the Lisson Green men suspended hostilities and invaded the Ledbury with batons and knives that night, and pulled a woman’s wedding ring from her finger. The kitchen staff, mindful of both jus and justice, fought them off with kitchen implements; and the historian Dan Snow, in a victory for nerds everyone, wrestled a rioter to the ground. I wonder if he replays it in his mind often. The question this column must answer is — was it worth it?
It was a very English counter-revolution, and a paradigm. The riots ended. The Ledbury remained the same.
The exterior is also a paradigm, at this time of gentrification, and so pointed as to be almost witty; a once tatty pub on a wide street, now painted the dull and fashionable grey that says: wealth immutable, eternal and grey. There is foliage, a plant equivalent of a velvet rope, and an awning, which seems completely pointless this close to the Westway.
Inside, it is a temple to small food in a room which looks like almost every other room that rich people have sat in since 1996. There is brown, to reduce pathological dependence on grey (the walls), and white (the tablecloths), and gold (the light fittings, which fell off a giant middle-class woman pretending to be a gypsy in 1973). The lighting is extraordinary, and its purpose is to spotlight the food that is prettier than you. The food is very bright, and the faces are dim, and that is a misanthropy that I can live with in Notting Hill.
A bird flies across the menu. I don’t know what kind, but it’s probably dead, from pollution or cats. Inside, there is a tasting menu (that means the chef has control issues obviously) as good as anywhere, if haute cuisine S&M is your thing, though more expensive than some. He wants us to beg, and we do: through a warm bantam’s egg with celeriac, dried ham, arbois and truffle (very nice); through Herdwick lamb with salt-baked turnip, padron and garlic (also very nice); and a raspberry tartlet with camomile cream and vanilla (exceptional). It’s a wonderful place to spend £400, including three glasses of wine, and remind yourself that you are rich, and that food can be very small and pretty, and that historians can, when necessary, wrestle activists — are we calling them activists yet? — to the floor. We may need that again.
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