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Review

Aix en Provence

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The Halcyon Hotel, 81 Holland Park W11
Tel: 020 7229 8516
Cost: about £50 per person a la carte; £15 prix fixe two courses.

It’s strange sometimes the things that can make you feel you are in a foreign country. Immediately after being seated at Aix en Provence, a French couple at a nearby table was engaged in a very serious wine service discussion. The red wine, it seemed, was slightly too warm. “Shall we chill it on ice for a few moments?,” the sommelier offered. Then, it seemed, the glasses were the wrong shape, Bordeaux instead of Burgundy. As they were being changed, I was thinking that people are not so passionate about their wine in England. And then I remembered, I am in England. But the attention to detail is such that dining at Aix can feel like a two-hour vacation in Provence.

A good deal of thought has been expended on overcoming two potential problems, being in a hotel and in the basement. There is a separate and rather charming, terrace-garden entrance to overcome the first problem. Windows in one dining room and French doors leading to a small dining terrace in the other, combined with a good use of Mediterranean colours (duck egg-blue and a very typical pale neutral) pretty well overcome the second. Lingering doubts are swept away by the quality of food and service.

Piquillo peppers stuffed with cumin-scented, mashed aubergine were well presented on a roasted red pepper coulis. Fish soup is a properly served but rather substantial speciality. Warm young artichokes with rocket and Parmesan seem a good harbinger of spring to come. But it is hard to resist the last gasp of truffle season and the morel, truffle and leek risotto was handled very well. As was the deftly boned and re-shaped pot-roasted Poulet des Landes with braised chicory and aioli, a very hearty, lusty example of sophisticated country cooking. Fillet of brill with langoustines and egg noodles will have to be sampled some other time. Apple tart with caramel cream and blueberries is plate-sized and very thin with delicate, crisp mille-feuille. Aix chocolate pudding is quite bitter and rather grown up. The wine list’s greatest strength is, unsurprisingly, in French wines; its greatest weakness is the rather fierce pricing. With these sort of mark-ups, it is not surprising the French couple wanted their wine served just so.