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Villandry Review

Thanksgiving should be left to the Americans

Written by . Published on December 1st 2011.

Villandry Review

IN America, Thanksgiving is as sacred a holiday as Christmas. Families and friends gather for what we deem to be the beginning of the holiday season. Admittedly this is essentially a celebration of how we stole land from the native Americans, massacred most of them because they put up a fight and then threw a big dinner party with our spoils – but since when have we let a little thing like historical facts get in the way of a good party?

The point is, for most families there is a very strong sense of tradition surrounding this holiday. Recipes are precious and, in the South where I am from, passed down through the generations to be guarded and never shared with anyone who doesn’t belong to your bloodline. Things like baked sweet potatoes (with a generous spattering of marshmallows toasted to perfection), green bean casserole (with canned fried onions on top), cranberry sauce (sliced in all it’s tubular glory straight from the can), peanut butter pie (even worse than it sounds) and any number of items made with Crisco (lard). We even deep-fry the turkey.

With the twinkling lights and table of four morbidly obese Americans squeezed into the table next to us it felt like home...

It’s not to say that people don’t veer from these delicacies, but one thing is always consistent – there must be enough food to feed a small army. The thought of eating out on such a sacred food day was blasphemy – until I moved to NYC that is, but we’ll save that story for another day.

Speed up to the present: This year was my first Thanksgiving in London and while I wasn’t expecting miracles, I was hoping for a bit of food nostalgia (that didn’t involve curry, kebabs or fish and chips). After some involved research I narrowed my choices down to two restaurants. I tried Christopher’s in Covent Garden first as it seemed they had the most choices, but after sending an email ‘requesting a reservation’ I was sent a form and asked to fill it out – again ‘requesting’ a reservation – and supply a £20 per head deposit. I even got a follow up phone call asking if I wanted to ‘request’ a booking. “Um, no – I want to make a reservation. It’s dinner, not an interview with an A-List celebrity.”

We decided on the Villandry instead. A much easier process and to my delight located in the American ex-pat heavy Marylebone. I was first drawn to Villandry because about a year ago the eatery was bought by Philippe Le Roux, founder of the Belgium-based chain Le Pain Quotidien; their hazelnut spread is one of my few guilty pleasures. Plus there is something quaint about drinking your tea from a bowl.  


Like Le Pain Quotidien you enter through the market place, which is a culinary toy store. It’s chock-a-block with a laundry list of many things that I don’t need, but now am finding it hard to live without. It’s also a perfect place to stock up on Christmas presents (thank me later).

We were seated promptly at a table with a lovely, festive view of homes that were worth millions and millions of pounds (most of these ex-pats are clearly bankers). There was a set four course menu for £45 a head, extremely reasonable considering there was no baking or basting to be done on my part – I would have happily paid £95 each for that.

While a red wine would have been an obvious choice for the forthcoming hearty meal, we decided it was a bit warm in the restaurant and went with a Viognier (£24) instead. Perhaps it was because I was feeling festive or perhaps it was the heady smell of money emanating from the neighbourhood around me, but I found everything, from the wooden box of bread to the concise well-curated wine list, charming.

PhotoCheese soufflé

We didn’t have to wait long before our starters arrived, cheese soufflé and an artichoke stuffed with greens. For the next twenty or so minutes we tore off every leaf, dipped it in the hollandaise-tasting sauce and scraped the teeny bit of flesh off with our teeth. It does get tedious that, but the real prize was the meaty heart at the bottom. I’ve never seen an artichoke heart of that girth – it was impressive, and tasty I might add. It made the cheese soufflé seem very anticlimactic and miniature. And in all fairness, I have had better.


For our mains my date, of course, ordered the full Thanksgiving pile-up, which included all the usual favourites: turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, potatoes and green beans (not a canned fried onion in sight). I went for the slightly less glutinous choice of spinach and ricotta stuffed squash. While not a triumph by any means, they were cooked perfectly and left just enough room for the third course. In defence of my squash, most Thanksgiving dinners are based on comfort food, not Heston Blumenthal works of art and by that standard they passed with flying colours.

Photo[8]The mysterious and sad-looking pumpkin pie

Dessert is really what all good Turkey Day celebrations are about and so I was expecting fireworks. I got sparklers. Nothing beats a good slice of homemade pumpkin pie, but when I was served a brown slab of pie alarm bells immediately went off; it's supposed to be orange. Much like green key lime pie, which is naturally yellow, it was a sure sign something had gone awry in the kitchen.

It tasted like pumpkin pie, but I just couldn’t get over the brown-ness of it. My date ordered pecan pie, which was again somewhat of a disappointment. Pecan pie is meant to be so sweet and nutty that you nearly go into diabetic shock; this one was sweet – a little stingy with the pecans – shamed by a second piece of pastry crust running through the centre. But why?

 When the cheese came we were too full to even try it – a nostalgic Thanksgiving memory relived. And while it smelled amazing in all it’s stinky glory, the presentation was this: cheese on a slate board. Stark, uninviting, disappointing. Though to be honest, with the twinkling lights and table of four morbidly obese Americans squeezed into the table next to us it felt like home and I barely minded.


70 Great Portland Street
London, W1W 5QB


Rating:        16/20
Breakdown:   6/10 food
                    5/5 service
                    5/5 ambience


Follow @CaseyGillespie on Twitter

Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1 – 5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6 – 9 get a DVD, 10 – 11 if you must, 12 – 13 if you’re passing, 14 – 15 worth a trip, 16 –17 very good, 17 – 18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: We get carried away.

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