It’s not as French as you think, nor as good as you’d hope
It’s well known that media ownership in the UK is concentrated in the fat, gold-encrusted hands of an increasingly small group of notorious moguls, shadowy oligarchs and ex-porn barons. While restaurant ownership is far more diversified, in London at least, a similarly small group of names do keep popping up – usually when you least expect them. For example, I had no idea that the people behind the disappointingly dreary Q Grill also run Le Chalet, a pop-up restaurant on the roof of Selfridges that’s currently due to end sometime in February, until after I had finished my lunch there. If I had realised this before, then I would’ve saved Snaggletooth, Shoe Leather and myself the trouble of a thoroughly undistinguished meal.
Despite its status as a winter pop-up and its French name, Le Chalet’s menu isn’t especially wintry or French. The most seasonal thing about the place is the hallway leading to the main dining room – the clever use of wallpaper, lighting and actual branches gives the brief illusion of depth to their fake forest. The dining room itself was thoroughly plain though. While the big windows let in a lot of light, if it’s at all sunny then the sunlight will almost certainly blind anyone unfortunate enough to be facing them – and there apparently aren’t any blinds to provide some relief. Staggering.
We started off by sharing a fondue of roquefort. The distinctive bitter astringent tang of the cheese was somewhat muted, but still discernible and enjoyable. The toasted slices of garlic bread were too hard and not at all absorbent though, making them ill-suited both for spooning the cheese into my gob and at complimenting the taste of the roquefort.
Things didn’t get any better with our starters – if anything, they got a whole lot worse. The cheap crab head meat served on toast was bland, forgettable filler. The best thing about it was the accompanying coleslaw – mildly creamy, not too overpowering or sickly.
Snaggletooth wasn’t impressed with his cured salmon either. He found the thin slices of salmon obscured by the overwhelmingly strong tastes of the accompanying slices of beetroot and orange.
Despite my better judgment, I followed our efficient waiter’s advice to have my venison cooked medium rather than my usual rare or medium rare. I was rewarded with a slab of mildly earthy meat livened up by a fruity sauce that was slightly sweet. Although not bad, it wasn’t anywhere as tender or gamey as the venison steaks from the Wild Game Co.
Snaggletooth ordered the ‘barked’ beef short rib against my advice. Served on the bone, the beef wasn’t anywhere as moist, fatty or as tender as the best, properly barbecued examples of beef short rib. There was at least a lot of meat as well as a large helping of creamy parsnip mash, but it was all clearly a case of quantity over quality.
Shoe Leather wolfed down the spit-roasted pork with chorizo cabbage and apple sauce. It sounds like a sure-fire winner, but the pork was tough and bland, the cabbage was pedestrian and I’ve had cold McDonald’s apple pies well past their sell-by date with more fruitiness than the apple sauce here. The least offensive part of this was the crisply coated black pudding, but this was still relative – the dry, bitty pudding underneath lacked the decadent rich salty meatiness I would expect.
The chips were really just bog-standard fries dusted with tame paprika.
Apart from a very light creaminess, Snaggletooth was deeply unimpressed with his bland, soulless Black Forest cheesecake.
The highlight of my meal was the Eggnog snow egg. A crisp biscuit shell hid a fluffy globe that had a lightly sweet, boozy, slightly acidic, bitter and astringent taste. The puddle of thin, lightly creamy custard also had a similar boozy bitterness to it. It was unique and interesting, but very much an acquired taste that won’t suit everyone.
Shoe Leather devoured the steamed chocolate and toffee sponge despite its intense mediocrity. The cake, while moist, was tasteless with only a chunk of actual toffee providing any sweetness while the ice cream was little beyond a glop of coldness.
Le Chalet is not just a disappointment. It’s a cynical way to trap unsuspecting provincial Christmas shoppers who don’t know any better with a selection of dreary dishes that don’t live up to their attractive menu descriptions and thus can’t justify their high prices. Le Chalet should be ashamed for peddling such third-rate cooking and Selfridges should be ashamed for giving them an outlet for it. February can’t come soon enough.
What to order: Venison.
What to avoid: Everything else.
Name: Le Chalet at Selfridges
Address: Rooftop, Selfridges & Co, 400 Oxford Street, London W1A 1AB (ask for directions to the special lift on the ground floor – you will get lost otherwise)
Phone: 0207 318 3287
Opening Hours: call to confirm
Reservations: highly recommended
Total cost for one person including soft drinks and coffee when shared between three: £50 approx.