Sunday, December 07, 2014

Canvas Chelsea – wipe the slate clean and try a new fine dining experience

For me, dining out should be far more than just good food.  Yes I write restaurant reviews, but I’m most definitely not a food ‘critic’ per say…  I do however like to think I know a good restaurant when I see one.  Somewhere that offers up a bit of an experience; something a little different…   Good service is a must of course and while my favourite haunts might not always be Michelin starred, they tick all of the boxes for a great night out.  Canvas, which has recently opened in Chelsea (Wilbraham Place) with head chef Michael Riemenschneider at the helm, is most definitely, in my opinion, one of those box tickers.

After a swift glass of Chablis in the Botanist (a favourite haunt of ours), we found Canvas on the street directly behind – just a minutes’ walk away.  Unassuming from the outside, we made our way down the stairs and into a small and intimate, beautifully set restaurant.  There are simple tables and striking red chairs, white walls with a contrasting black ceiling.  It’s all so elegant and contemporary and has a really fabulous feature wall - panning the entire width of the back of the restaurant, is a glass fronted wine cellar, meaning you can see the sommelier select his wines from a choice of around five to six hundred (that’s as far as we got counting…)

To the left is a stunning bar area, running the length of the restaurant.  No drinks menus here (well we didn’t see any!), which I loved.  Yep, just tell the wonderful bartenders what you fancy, whether it’s amaretto, vodka or sazerac and they’ll whip you up a clever concoction within minutes.  They use pebbles to chill the glasses (ice is so last year!)  They’ll even go as far as to provide a bit of theatre with some very clever dry ice trickery which makes you feel momentarily like you’re in Inferno’s dancing to the Baywatch theme tune with the smoke machine on full blast.  Except of course you’re just off the King’s Road supping on a sophisticated champagne cocktail with what look like real gold flecks in it.  If you want to order one, it’s a ‘Gold Aviation’ and it actually does have 24 carot gold liquer in it – how showbiz.  It’s all a bit Tom Cruise ‘Cocktail’ meets ‘Sex and the City’ and quite frankly I’m sold.  And that’s before we’ve even gotten to dinner.  In fact we’re having such a laugh with Kamil (formerly head of the Polo Bar) that we forget why we’re really here!

Lucky then, that the chef arrives to introduce himself at that very moment.  He’s a very tall man prompting us to ask if he’s a basketball player moonlighting as a chef.  It turns out that’s not the case (although he did used to play ice hockey.)  So, a man of many talents – his passion for food being the number one.  Michael Riemenshneider (he has his name printed on his whites so you’ll never forget how to spell it), trained in France, before working with the likes of Heston Blumenthal and Gordon Ramsey and takes great pride in his cooking.  So much so, that he doesn’t mind an audience, so if you’re after the full theatre experience, there’s the chance to book the ‘chefs’ table’ so you can watch the master at work in his kitchen.

What’s really nice about the menu is that you can basically create your own, from between one (that was never gonna happen) to 16 different dishes.  Then the sommelier will match your wines accordingly.  Fabulous idea.  Our tipples across the evening were really quite splendid, ranging from a 2012 Puligny-Montrachet through to a Louise Cheze 2009 Anges.

Presentation of the food is spectacular.  I suspect Michael might spend as long drizzling and dotting his balsamic, as he does cooking up these wonderful experimental dishes and with a menu like this, it’s a great excuse to experiment with food and flavours you normally wouldn’t go for.  We took full advantage of this.  Smoked crab with broccoli puree came first – served in an oversized brandy glass!  I’ve never had a broccoli puree and I’m happy to report that I may try it in my next smoothie.  Cod with barley, onion puree and wine puligny followed.  A gorgeous combination of flavours – the barley al dente and slightly sweet, the contrasting sharp smooth bite of the onion and the pan fried cod, tender and delicately flavoured, and absolutely deeee-licious.  Other highlights included the seabass with artichoke and onion, pigeon with home made sausage and that broccoli again…   A roller coaster of light and intense flavours for the palette and not a stomach churner in sight.  Every single dish, a winner.

With an early flight to catch the following morning, it was time to call it a night, but not before rounding off the evening with a cocktail designed to cleanse and settle.  Concocted using a home made lavender based syrup, lavender and lemon juice, we were again impressed by the flair and imagination of the brilliant and very talented bartenders.

A fantastic chef, brilliant staff, an inventive menu and beautiful beautiful dishes make Canvas one of my London ‘must eats’ right now.  It’s definitely a fine dining favourite.


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