This fine dining restaurant in the heart of London’s West End deserves all the awards, as Scott Manson discovers….
Eating out in 2020 has been such a weird, fragmented affair that, when the window of opportunity opens, my instinct is to raise the gastronomic bar. This means Michelin-starred (or at least a Michelin contender), with all the wonderful restaurant theatre that goes with it. When it came to choosing my ‘‘just out of lockdown’’ dining spot, London’s Xier was top of the list. I’d heard nothing but good things about this upstairs dining room on Thayer Street, not far from Oxford Street, with many tipping it as star-worthy. It’s a great location – close enough to the West End for potential post-dining fun but sufficiently tucked away that it’s apart from the tourist hordes.
Best of all, the kitchen is helmed by Carlo Scotto, who trained under Angela Hartnett, and in Xier, the head chef has devised a wonderfully sophisticated menu which takes its cues from modern European cuisine. It’s a dual project with another, more casual, restaurant – named XR – on the ground floor. As we walked through, I noted that it was packed on a cold midweek night and a quick glance at the menu showed me that it also offered an elegant European menu with more-ish offerings such as black cod gyoza and lamb sliders. One to remember for another day, for sure.
But upstairs was where the magic awaited us, behind a heavy curtain that was pulled aside to reveal a tasteful, spacious room picked out in muted creams and greys with the odd splash of colour. The tables were sensibly spaced apart and the whole place had a confident, quiet buzz. We dined from the 10-course tasting menu which lasted around three hours. Xier actually offers two tasting menus, the standard and a vegetarian. We ate our way through both, in order to see just how inventive this renowned chef could be. We also went with the pairing option, at £175, because this is occasion dining and, after the year we’d had, we felt we deserved it. It proved to be a canny decision, as the sommelier brought out not just perfectly matched wines but also a couple of cocktails each with the first courses. Fear not, though, there is a temporary break in the wine delivery around course five, presumably so guests don’t get too tipsy. You certainly wouldn’t want to smash any of the beautiful crystal wine glasses which, our waiter revealed, cost around £60 each.
Because you need to have all your senses awake for food of this quality. Yes, it’s beautifully presented and technically brilliant – but it’s also more than clever cheffiness. Taste bombs explode constantly, and often in the most surprising ways. From the dinky iced glasses of pine water to cleanse the palate, to the basket of fresh, warm sourdough with coffee butter and the fresh rose-cured salmon, paired with a generous topping of foie gras, dusted with beetroot powder and arranged around dots of Bramley apple puree, the dishes became more inventive with each course. Nothing was hurried though – the meal unfolded like a narrative arc of a particularly satisfying novel, building slowly to some truly showstopping dishes.
The red prawn crudo with raspberry, red caviar and yuzu was one such dish, impossibly beautiful and utterly delicious. Similarly captivating was the black cod in caramel miso, and the beef cheek served with a blueberry salsify and nettle pureé, with a side order of ‘‘British wood.’’ Yes, you read that right – a pot of small branches (put through some insanely complex curing and cooking process) was placed at our table to gnaw on. It was a brave piece of dining room experimentation but not one, personally, that I’d seek out again.
That small blip aside, the puddings are next-level lovely – think elegantly sculpted chocolate mousse and tiny rhubarb tarts – paired with a creamy, fresh Moscato D’Asti 2018. This final course was made all the sweeter as the head chef joined us for a quick chat at our table. An affable fellow, this was far more than the standard glad-handing, as he and I got into a fascinating discussion of various cooking techniques. A conversation that I’ll be sure to pick up next time because, whether I’m dining in Xier or downstairs in XR, this feels like one of my best restaurant discoveries of the year – and I will be back.
For more information and to make a booking, go to www.xierlondon.com.