It takes a lot for a meal to sweep me off my feet and I have encountered a rare few of these moments (mainly in Sicily, Italy). London was the last place where I expected this to happen. In comes Otto’s, in my opinion the best old school French Restaurant in all of London. What started off as an old school French menu that peaked my interest turned into what Pat calls “The best meal and service I have ever had in my life,” or as the French would say, “La crème de la crème.”
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Hidden on Gray’s Inn Road, just a couple of minutes from the heart of London is Otto’s, a traditional old school French Restaurant. Step in and it is clear that you are not in a French nouveau restaurant. Envision whitewashed walls, art nouveau lamps, kitsch old European vibes, various ceramic busts, and rich red drapery.
As we sit down we are handed menus. When planning our 3-day London travel itinerary, I knew that the first dinner was going to set the tone for the rest of the trip. Forget the nouveau French menus, what drew me to the restaurant were Otto’s traditional dishes made with fresh ingredients.
The owner of the restaurant, Austrian-born Otto Albert Tepassé, stopped by our table to introduce himself. The man was gregarious, passionate, and interested in our own personal stories as he began to tell us his own story and background. Otto has worked at the famous Tour d’Argent restaurant in Paris, where the specialty of the menu is pressed duck. After a pleasant banter, Otto offered us a complementary Bellini as an appetizer before we started our meal. Otto’s was off to a great start in our book!
Pat and I had settled on just a single appetizer to split until Otto came along and recommended otherwise. Otto directed us away from getting a single Smoked Salmon starter and recommended Pat try the French boudin noir, or black blood pudding, instead. Without hesitation, Pat said “Why not!” We had no idea what he had just ordered and we were in for a big surprise.
APPETIZER: FOIE GRAS DE CANARD SPREAD
Long regarded as the ultimate culinary luxury, foie gras de canard is the liver of specially fattened duck. The satiny-smooth foie gras de canard spread was served with warm slices of crusty bread. Pat and I devoured it before our appetizers even came out. It’s rare that we are able to taste such a French fine cuisine since it is not cheap to come by and it paired great with the Bellini!
ENTREE: SCOTTISH SMOKED SALMON, HAND CARVED AT THE TABLE, TRADITIONAL GARNISH
I started with thinly sliced pieces of hand carved smoked salmon to refresh the palate. The Scottish smoked salmon was brought to our table and hand carved into thin slices right before our eyes providing much theater. Now that is what I call high class. The waiter then came over and offered me a variety of seasonings to drizzle on top of the salmon. I went with my go-to’s – some simple parsley and lemon. Scottish salmon is deemed to be the king of all salmons and the naturally pink color and smell of mine reiterated this point. Soft and velvety, not watery and not too salty, this is definitely a meal for any and all smoked salmon connoisseurs.
ENTREE: FRENCH SOFT BLACK PUDDING, CARAMELIZED APPLE, MADEIRA SAUCE
Pat was leaning towards the salmon as well but thanks to ottos recommendation, had the Boudin Noir instead. We had never heard of black pudding and had no idea what to expect. For those of you who like us are clueless about black pudding, it is a rich pork sausage made of pigs blood flavored with spices and packed with a healthy dose of iron to ward off the winter blues. Paired with sweet apples and Madeira sauce, a French brown sauce prepared with Madeira wine and peppercorns, the incredibly soft pork melted in Pat’s mouth as his eyes flew wide open at his first bite—“AMAZING.” Blood pudding didn’t really seem appealing to me (after all…it’s boiled pig blood!), but given Pat’s reaction I decided to give it a try—likewise, “AMAZING.” It is a must for this time of year in England. The rich sweetness of the Madeira wine blends well with the meat, which is a typical addition to English food. The level of detail in this traditional dish made it the unexpected star of Pat’s meal.
MAIN COURSE: ROAST MILK-FED PYRENEAN LAMB, DAUPHINOISE POTATO, ROSEMARY JUICE
For the main course we both opted for the Pyrenean milk-fed lamb with Dauphinoise potatoes and rosemary juice. The lamb was incredibly tender to the point where it would melt in your mouth. It was rich with a beautiful, gentle, detectable earthy flavor carried by the rosemary juice. The Dauphinoise potatoes were thinly sliced and catered to our creamy indulgence. Absolument magnifique!
QUICK TIP: Otto’s is notorious for his pressed duck or Canard à la Presse. Otto practiced this renowned and fine cuisine at the Tour d’Argent restaurant in Paris and has now brought it to London. Unfortunately, you had to order it in advance so that he could go get it fresh for you that day, so we were not able to order it that night. He orders his ducks from the very same place Tour d’Argent does, where each duck is given a special number and a diner certificate to signify its quality of excellence. I highly recommend you give it a try! The theatre behind the preparation is unbelievable. Imagine being presented with a plucked duck on a silver platter before it is made and pressed for you before your eyes. You are even invited to press it yourself!
DIGESTIVO: CARMES DE RIEUSSEC, SAUTERNES, BORDEAUX, FRANCE
We typically top off our luxurious and rich meals with a Port Wine to cleanse the palate, but at Otto’s we were offered a complementary Carmes de Rieussec, Sauternes wine from Bordeaux instead. Even better! For those of you who do not know, Sauternes are the king of dessert wines. It is a sweet wine that is super concentrated in flavor. Our Sauternes wine had a myriad of bright flavors including sweet honeyed apricots, candied citrus peel, pineapple and guava. It was exactly what we needed.
DESSERT: CHERRY MOUSSE IN A BRANDY SNAP TUILE
Pat and I were full so declined dessert (we were also trying to not spend to much money to be quite honest!). Yet to our amazement, once again Otto’s surprised us with a complementary Cherry Mousse dessert served in a brandy snap tuile to accompany our Sauternes. This was the cherry on top of our already amazing evening (no pun intended)! This rich, frothy and devilishly good dessert was (what we thought) the perfect ending to a mouth-watering meal.
DESSERT: HOMEMADE DARK CHOCOLATE
Right when we thought we were done, one of Otto’s waiters runs out with a tray full of homemade chocolates in the shape of seashells. Pat and I shook our heads, “Oh my goodness, more! We are so full!” But the waiter insisted, “Please, please, have one or two, they were just freshly made by our men in the kitchen and put in the fridge to cool.” Let’s be honest, Pat and I were not going to refuse. We are never one to refuse EXCELLENT and free food, let alone dessert! So we placed a couple onto our plates and thanked the waiter. Never in my life had I tasted homemade chocolates that had been put in the fridge or freezer to cool. The cool taste of dark chocolate was refreshing to our senses. Once again, un-be-lievable.
The food was excellent, both beautifully cooked and well presented, and the service was impeccable. Otto offered interesting conversations, pushed our limits and directed us to explore different tastes, and his staff was quick, courteous and knowledgeable. Otto’s may not be the modern, French nouveau cuisine that is trending now a days, but it is, in a way, competition for those places. It offers a stage and an audience for an Austrian Chef’s talent to revive old school French cuisine. It defies their notion that the best stage for a chef’s talent is the most expensive one and offers an intimate, theatrical one-of-a-kind experience unlike any other. Needless to say, Pat and I will be stopping by Otto’s every single time we are back in London!
QUICK TIP: In order to get a table at Otto’s you MUST reserve a couple of days in advance. Otto’s is an extremely intimate and curated experience to the point where if you book a table for dinner or lunch, you will be the only person at that table for the entire night or afternoon. The table is only for you. They do not want to rush people out of their restaurant and prefer to create a unique experience for every person who walks in. So do not expect a quick 40-minute dinner or lunch, but rather a long and interesting 2+ hour meal.
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