This review was originally published in April 2017. Celeste has since closed and is now The Lanesborough Grill.
As we all know, the Michelin guide is very French-centric and somewhat self-perpetuating. When a doyen of French cuisine ‘comes over here’ and steals a chef’s job in a London restaurant, it’s going to get Michelin’s attention – but credit must be given where it’s due, and on this occasion I agree with them. In 2016 Celeste was awarded its first star and I was dying to try it. It deserves its accolade for executing classics very well, in comfortable surroundings and with almost faultless service. Eric Frechon is in charge here, a French chef who has worked at some of the finest hotels in Paris, and for many years has been chef patron at the wonderful Le Bristol (a must if you’re ever in Paris). At Celeste, there is a Versailles-like grandeur about the main dining room, verging slightly on the opulent. The table arrangement has been thought through carefully: there is no apparent imperative to cram in as many diners as possible; tables are spaced apart to give a good sense of espace personnel and no-one is plonked in the middle of the room and put on show. Because let’s face it, no-one likes that much exposure in a restaurant: it brings back too many memories of those horrible dreams where you realise you’re at a wedding, naked.
there is a Versailles-like grandeur about the main dining room, verging slightly on the opulent
Some of the presentation could be a bit unnecessary – a bit too Mastercheffy. Pouring onion soup from a tea pot and through a carved-out onion was a little silly; as was the cracking open of a chocolate dome to reveal the petits fours, which provided unnecessary fanfare to an already unnecessary course. But we all need a little excitement in these depressing times, don’t we? As long as these theatrical touches don’t mask bad cookery, I don’t mind all that much, and I’m glad to say Celeste has not fallen into the style-over-substance trap which can so easily seduce the Michelin inspectors.
A starter of baked celeriac was delightfully light and flavoursome and came with a judicious sprinkling of black truffle. I say “judicious” because black truffle is so often used for the damn sake of it (and to increase the cost) but this actually complemented the dish both in flavour and presentation. The main of lamb with rosemary was such a safe combination I did wonder why this was on the menu – but the sauce with it was the true accomplishment of this dish. Glossy and packed with flavour, it even reflected the glass roof above. On a clear night you could probably discover a new constellation of stars in this sauce, were it not for the ambient light pollution in London. Finally, a competently made chocolate soufflé oozed with satisfaction, complete with a little goldleaf for extra decoration. Have no doubt, this is a restaurant to luxuriate in.
It was a genuinely pleasing meal, one that really put a smile on my face… until I saw the bill
Service was generally good, though the waiter had to be gently reminded that we would actually like to drink the wine we ordered, not see the bottle left on the other side of the room. It was a genuinely pleasing meal, one that really put a smile on my face… until I saw the bill: £5.50 for a shot of espresso and a 15% service charge?? The service was good but not that good, so we asked for this to be reduced to 12.5% in line with the industry standard. It is discretionary after all.
For the full experience, be sure to bookend your meal at Celeste with a pre-drink and post-drink at the Lanesborough’s Library Bar – a truly magnificent bar.
The Lanesborough Hotel
Hyde Park Corner
London SW1X 7TA
by J A Smith