I had not been to Villandry, towards the northern end of Great Portland Street, for some time. It was an enjoyable eating experience then. Would it remain so? An invite to lunch there was a chance to find out.
Villandry has a triple life. It's a very upmarket food shop; it has a bar area for drinking and some casual dining; but the best space - for which I headed - is the airy restaurant with its big clear windows looking over an adjoining residential street. And with the sad forthcoming closure of the nearby Galvin Bistrot de Luxe (a victim of staff shortages following the UK decision to leave the European Union) it's a venue that could feature more in my life.
It describes itself as "offering a selection of light Mediterranean dishes including fish, salads, steaks, burgers, seafood and all day weekend brunch served by attentive staff in a relaxed atmosphere."
So that covers the food, ambiance and service. How well did it live up to each of those statements? I'll ignore the brunch as I went midweek. And start with the food.
I opened with Salt and Pepper Squid served with Tartare Sauce (£9). The squid, thin slices covered in a light batter with some very visible salt and pepper was excellent. The Tartare sauce, served separately, was either very light on the tartare ingredients or more like mayonnaise but that avoided overwhelming the squid. Whichever, that was good.
My fellow diner went for Chili Squid with Harissa Sauce (£9) - again an appreciated choice.
For my main course, I went for the Roast Breast of Guinea Fowl (£19.50), served with coq au vin garnish and mashed potatoes. It was a good sized portion of meat - tasty but slightly dry for my liking so it probably needed a little more garnish. Green vegetables are an extra (one of London's worst habits) - but again a generous serving.
My friend went for Roast sea bass with a confit of fennel, crispy kale and Bouillabaisse Sauce (£19.50). He enjoyed it.
And as both of us were gluttons - we went for puddings - a crème caramel and a tarte tatin. Both were delicious but you would expect a sweet dessert to be more than acceptable.
Ambiance-wise, it's roomy, comfortable and (had it not been one of the dullest days in January) full of light. It's a good space - but with nothing to say positive or negative, leaving diners to concentrate on their food rather than the artwork or the décor.
The service - and others have marked down Villandry for this - was mixed. At times it was attentive - drop a knife and another one appears almost immediately - but there was no instant offer to take our wet coats on entering. And while I take no exception to ordering coffee with my dessert, it should not arrive before that course - as it did, leaving me with the choice of cold coffee or drinking it before the final course. Neither is acceptable.
My verdict? Food good to great, ambiance comfortable, relaxed and uncomplicated but service a bit of hit and miss.
Washed down with a white Rioja, the bill totalled £118.
170 Great Portland Street London W1W 5QB
020 7631 3131
Nearest station: Great Portland Street