“Yes, the restaurant has a bit of a ‘corporate’ entrance, and we have asked the council about being able to put up plants or something outside to make us more obvious, but they’re not keen on that,” says Ray, the manager of the year-old 108 Marylebone Lane restaurant. I had mentioned over a very refreshing Raspberry Cooler cocktail that, in the dark and despite the awning, we had nearly walked straight past as we came up Marylebone Lane (I hasten to add he had asked me if we’d found it easily enough – I’m not usually that rude).
The bar and restaurant were quiet (we visited on a Monday, so that was to be expected). Apart from ourselves, there were only three other tables of diners, but I was impressed to note that Ray was as attentive to all his guests as he was to us. And he began by explaining that the wholemeal and sour dough bread was made fresh on the premises each day. It was, as my guest (a keen and successful bread-maker) commented, flavoursome and well textured.
There’s far more to 108 than tasty bread. Head chef Ian Howard, transferred here from Rhodes W1 Brasserie just over three months ago, and has continued the restaurant’s tradition of sourcing basic ingredients from local suppliers for his excellent modern European menu. “I’m getting the most out of the local suppliers that I can,” he says. “They’re fab. Biggles Sausages down the road at 66 Marylebone Lane has been run by a husband-and-wife team since 1989, and The Ginger Pig Butchers have a fantastic farm in Yorkshire where they rear all their own cattle. The beef I use is their Longhorn beef, which is fantastic.”
How does he decide his menus? “I’ll usually see what the suppliers have on offer, using as many seasonal ingredients as possible, and then adjust my menu accordingly. No point in requesting some obscure ingredient! Vegetarian food isn’t my forte, though,” he added, “although having a 250-bed hotel above, we have the demand for vegetarian dishes, but we want to be a little bit creative with it.”
He most certainly was with my roasted baby beetroot and bocconcino goat’s cheese salad with walnuts and thin toast. The rich, creamy, brie-like bocconcino combined wonderfully with the textures of the fresh, sweet beetroot and crunchy toast and walnuts. I wasn’t surprised to learn it’s been a very popular starter. My guest’s red lentil and pancetta soup was a little salty, but meaty and flavoursome, and a smooth appetiser for what followed: a stunning, moist honey and soy glazed sliced duck breast with pak choy and Thai vegetables. It was melt-in-the-mouth, and she declared it the best duck she’d ever had. Ginger Pig also did Ian proud with my medium grilled rib eye steak with garlic confit and thyme butter. The steak was succulent and so simply presented with a roasted garlic and rosemary garnish, that it needed little other accompaniment. The smooth side of crushed celeriac that came with it though, was an excellent alternative to potatoes and a good foil for the buttery thyme sauce. Ray’s recommendation of a Bonterra Organic Shiraz 2005, which could easily have been drunk on its own, was a perfect match with the spicy duck, while a full-bodied, punchy Ravenswood Lodi County 2005 was a better accompaniment with the richer steak.
Both of us prefer savoury dishes, but we didn’t regret saving room for 108’s desserts. I chose a selection of farmhouse cheeses: pecorino with truffle, Tomme (a Swiss smoked variety) and gorgonzola, all from near-by La Fromagerie, served with mother-in-law’s tongue flaky wafer bread, radish flakes, grapes and a honey pot. My guest plumped for a rich, smooth, dark Valrhona chocolate mousse with raspberries and honeycomb. The combinations were inspired. My pecorino with truffle was both sweet and tangy, while my dining partner’s mousse was thick, creamy and deeply chocolaty, set off well by the sharpness of the raspberries. A sublime creation.
Presentation was superb throughout, right down to the cutlery from Divertimenti and beautiful flower arrangements from Jane Packer. It’s a worry that this smart, stylish yet welcoming restaurant blends maybe too well into the façade of its host, because anyone foolish enough to pass it by is missing out on a highly enjoyable and thoughtful addition to Marylebone’s excellent catering community.
A three-course meal for two with wine and coffee costs approximately £96.
108 Marylebone Lane: 108 Marylebone Lane, London W1U 2QE. Tel: 020 7969 3900
Reviewer: Bryony Weaver