Obsession 2016: Arnaud Bignon review

Obsession 2016: Arnaud Bignon review

by Mecca Ibrahim 10 February 2016

Mecca Ibrahim tastes the delightful, playful cuisine of Arnaud Bignon at this year's Obsession festival.

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Mecca worked as head of social media at Great British Chefs and joined at its launch in July 2011.

Mecca worked as head of social media at Great British Chefs and joined at its launch in July 2011. Prior to that, she spent the last eighteen years at some of the biggest and most innovative internet businesses out there (Yahoo, JustGiving, E-How, Moo.com and Joost). She was winning awards for her blog when most people didn't know what a blog was. She also ran the multi-award winning London Underground Tube Diary which launched in 2003.

With his sights set very firmly on obtaining a third Michelin star, I knew that I was in for a treat. Arnaud Bignon is one of just twenty-two chefs in the UK with two Michelin stars, yet his restaurant, The Greenhouse, is very much a secret haven. It’s tucked away in a tranquil Mayfair mews on the ground floor of a block of mansion flats, partially hidden by box hedges and bay trees. So it was with some irony that my first taste of Arnaud’s cuisine was not a few stops away on the Tube but a few hours on a train to Langho, Lancashire.

I was attending night eleven of the culinary extravaganza that is Nigel Haworth’s Obsession. There was a real air of excitement as we sampled the delightful canapés prepared by Nigel and his team; not only in anticipation of Arnaud’s menu, but because myself and my dining companions (including Great British Menu banquet winner Michael O’Hare) were going to be at the coal-face, eating at Northcote’s Chef’s Table, so we could see the preparation of the dishes in full.

It was an extremely well-oiled operation, with over 100 covers to be delivered. Yet calmness reigned under Arnaud’s expertise and truly meticulous plating.

The dishes


Cornish Crab – cauliflower, curry, mint, coriander

Although Arnaud’s dishes have their roots very firmly in classical French haute cuisine there are strong Asian influences in all of his cooking. This was certainly true of our first course; refreshing, light and bold, the clever combination of mint, coriander and curry proved to offset but not overpower the gentle Cornish crab and cauliflower mousse.

I was a little worried when I heard it would be matched with a Greek wine. I’ve been to Greece about eight times and sadly never found a wine I enjoyed – admittedly, I was dining mostly in touristy seaside tavernas, so I wasn’t expecting much. However, Northcote co-owner and master of wine Craig Bancroft presented us with a Greek wine I would be happy to drink with any seafood. Malagoussia, Ktima Gerovassiliou is now on my list of special wines and made me re-think Greek wines completely.


Black Truffle – Jerusalem artichoke, hazelnut and chestnut

Another light and fluffy dish followed the crab. Hidden in the earthy and seasonal Jerusalem artichoke mousse were little pieces of chopped chestnuts and hazelnuts. Topped with very, very generous shavings of black truffle, the dish was a perfect balance of interesting textures and luxurious taste. It was pleasantly matched with a crisp Austrian wine – Grüner Veltliner from the Kamptal Reserve.


Monkfish – dukkah, onion, banana, kaffir lime

For me, this dish clearly had the strongest Asian influences. I’m a big fan of Thai food and kaffir lime with fish is one of my favourite food pairings. Served with perfectly cooked pak choi, the meaty monkfish held its own against a delicate banana, dukkah and onion purée. The gentle foam provided a lovely balancing texture against the heavier elements of the dish and gave it a classical French look.


Venison – cocoa, Brussels sprout, sorbe, parsley root

When it comes to artful plating, the meat course also displayed French flair. The venison itself was everything it should be – gamey, earthy, slightly bloody and rich. The topping of cocoa nibs just seemed to intensify the meaty flavours, as did the swirl of chocolate sauce. I’d never eaten parsley root before; it was a little like eating celeriac mash, yet delicate and slightly sweet, with (as you’d expect) a very herby taste too. I’ll certainly be looking out for this tasty winter vegetable in the future. The dish was paired with a Châteauneuf-du-Pape from the Rhone Valley called L’Accent de la Roquète, which provided a sharp yet fragrant balance to all the rich and dark flavours in Arnaud’s dish.


Pear – chestnut and chocolate

This was a dish that literally transformed my opinion of pears. I don’t consider myself a particularly fussy eater, but I’m really not a big fan of the classic English fruit. I wouldn’t go as far as pushing them to the side of a dish, but if given the choice I certainly wouldn’t order them. Naturally, I felt a little trepidation when discovering they would be on the menu; however, the minute I saw the dish, I knew my pear prejudices would be put to rest.

It was one of the most perfectly plated dishes I have seen first-hand – small spheres of pear glistened on a rectangle of chocolate mousse, each alternated with a small globe of hazelnut purée. The spheres were topped with vibrant edible flowers while a beautiful, jauntily placed bow of tempered chocolate set off the dessert rather cheekily.

It seemed a shame to eat this dessert, destroying its beautiful appearance, but once we finally dived in with our spoons we were rewarded with a masterful end to the meal. Or so we thought – soon after we were treated to a rather wonderful cheeseboard with juicy grapes and delicate crispbreads. There were also some superb handmade chocolates which we just about found room for with our coffees and teas.

Arnaud’s menu proved he is a true master of taste. His knowledge of ingredients and artful presentation are clearly worth two Michelin-stars. I will certainly seek out more of his food at his hidden away restaurant in Mayfair to see how he handles some of our best summer produce.