The Landau is a peculiar restaurant: its high ceiling and broad, ovoid shape jar slightly with the faux-industrial lights and neo-art deco fittings. The overwhelming openness of the main room is probably enough to set off an attack of agoraphobia, yet it is accessed by a narrow, even pokey, little corridor from the Langham’s lobby. Though easy to mock, David Collins’s efforts to redesign the space, a decade ago, resulted in a room with a sense of purpose, every bit as bold and self-assured as the cooking.
Prior to the Roux takeover in 2011, I used to be a reasonably frequent visitor to the Landau – however, this is my first visit since. A new menu is being introduced and this means a month-long soft launch (alas, I missed the soft dinner, available only for a week). This means that people like me can consider eating there.
Upon arrival, we were each presented with a small stack of still-hot sourdough slices. My father, convinced that the set menu that we had been handed had already had the 50% discount factored into it, was keen to clarify the matter with the waiter. The biggest difference between a restaurant of this ilk and the sort that I normally find myself eating in is not the quality of the food, but the service. The Landau did not disappoint, all four of the waiters we spoke to were charming, confident and superbly courteous. They struck the balance between friendliness and professionalism without once resorting to over-explaining the ‘concept’ nor stooping to forced matey-ness.
It transpired that the set menu was normally £25 for two courses or £30 for three, but that we would be paying half that. Well, not quite – once you add two glasses of Chablis (one of the cheaper options) at £11 each, plus service, it still has a way of adding up! Nonetheless, £25 doesn’t necessarily get you an awful lot in the West End nowadays, and a hotel like this could easily charge more on a busy weekend.
The menu was compact, with four choices for each course, but managed to remain appealing by avoiding the usual clichés. I began by ordering the ‘smoked sea bream ceviche’ with aubergine and white miso. Whilst this really was not a serious attempt at the often-tongue searingly-spicy South American delicacy, the firmness of sea bream made it an interesting alternative to more commonly-fumigated fish. The earthy sweetness of the miso provided a pleasant distraction from the salinity of the bream, while the aubergine lent a gentle mushiness to foil them both.
The choice of main courses was rather more conservative than those for the starters or desserts – perhaps customers want something a bit more familiar for the most substantial bit (although ‘substance’ is relative, in this case), or perhaps this is how restauranteurs persuade people to order the three courses nowadays. Having so often been disappointed by ‘Artichokes à la Barigoule’ in other places, I spurned it in favour of the ‘day-boat cod’, served with leeks, gnocchi, Falmouth mussels and a ‘Dieppoise sauce’. This is probably the first time I have ever gone out of my way to choose cod, but I did not regret doing this. The flesh was polite, but firm – however, crucially, it was not the hard, mean-spirited fish you so often find served up. Sauce Dieppoise should really have tiny grey shrimps in it, but none were visible in this (otherwise flawless) rendition. While the mussels fell into the usual English trap of being a bit of the hefty side, they had been expertly cooked and melted on the tongue.
However, the desserts were where the kitchen’s creativity really came to the fore. After much torture, I settled on the ‘Manjari moelleux, cardamom ice cream and caramel cloud’. Manjari is a type of Valrhona chocolate grown in Madagascar, made from a blend of criollo and trinitario beans. It takes choco-snobbery to a new level. The idea of Cardamom in an ice cream, on the other hand, is nothing new – it can be found in almost any Indian restaurant menu, between that odd ‘Punky’ confection and perma-frozen coconut thing. The caramel cloud turned out to be a sauce, but it was able to keep the ice cream floating above the moelleux. As an ensemble, it worked rather well – the Manjari’s light, faintly citrus taste was still apparent, even when doused in the fluffy caramel foam, while the aromatic headiness of the cardamom served to flatter rather than overpower the other two components.
Whilst I doubt that I shall ever have the pleasure of eating any of these things again (I am not a wealthy man and chef’s whims are fickle), at £25-£30 a head, you would be hard-pressed to find better cooking of this kind in London. The à la carte menu does not offer a considerably wider choice of dishes (although the ‘tasting menu’ might), but you will spend the same amount on a single course. Nonetheless, I shall save up and bring LBJ with me next time.