18 April 2019
Opened in 2011 by the (then) relatively unknown protege of Marcus Wareing, Alyn Williams at the Westbury has weathered London's notoriously cut-throat dining scene remarkably well. London takes few prisoners, which suggests there must be something quite special about this intimate Mayfair restaurant. Moreover, Williams recently left his position as chef patron at The Wild Rabbit in Kingham – his entire focus is now squarely on elevating his signature Mayfair restaurant to new culinary heights.
Alyn William pulls off the enviable trick of appealing to a wide audience – during my lunchtime visit, an assortment of couples, suits and tourists stop by to savour William's classy cooking. What initially lured in gastronomes more than seven years ago remains the same; sophisticated, playful dishes served in a smart, urbane restaurant. It has retained its single Michelin star since 2012.
However, the culinary ethos is quite distinct from other Michelin venues in London. Intelligent textural contrast underpins every dish, without lurching into molecular territory. It's playful cooking that doesn't lose sight of the imperative of the central ingredient, which can be a very difficult balancing act.
Williams presents a very winning combination of exciting flavour, texture and temperature contrast, be it rabbit encased in a rich pastry envelope, paired with heritage carrots and tarragon for a bit of crunch, or Orkney scallops atop white asparagus and morels. Indeed, cooking has subtlety as well as power.
Poached halibut required no fussy embellishments – it was a fillet of fish, perfectly cooked, that would have been ruined by too much intervention in the kitchen. Most spectacular of all was the Cumbrian beef sirloin and cheek, the latter silencing my companion for a good ten minutes. As he put it: “No dish that includes Cumbrian beef can ever be bad.” Of course, that deeply-flavoured, gamey quality is not to everyone's taste, but the accompaniments – turnips, pommes Anna and a moreish Bearnaise sauce - will find few detractors. Of our two desserts, a salted caramel tart served with baked apple ice cream was the showstopper. But more importantly, it tasted nice, which can sometimes be a curious afterthought in Michelin-starred kitchens.
Service is another strength, which is probably why the restaurant has endured, while other venues have crumbled. Nevertheless, I cannot help but feel that Alyn Williams is sometimes unwisely overlooked by critics. The owner isn't a media star, and consequently the restaurant doesn't seem to garner that much attention. Instead, it just quietly gets on with the business of serving fantastic food in the most convivial and sophisticated of settings.
Alyn Williams at the Westbury
37 Conduit St, Mayfair,
London W1S 2YF
020 7183 6426