LONDON--After a few years of total hysteria, hype and insanity in the food world, this city is returning to its senses. One can at least sail along into a new sea of calm and quality.
Pierre Koffmann, long one of my favorite chefs here, is back on track in a new location, serving up his sensible, well-thought-out fare that harks back to his southwestern French roots.
In a large and spacious dining room decorated in pink and blue pastel tones, Koffmann's La Tante Claire is all that one looks for in a classic, well-bred place. (Those looking for shocks and excitement in decor, clientele, service or food, should look elsewhere.) Guided by a young, well-informed staff without a gram of ''attitude,'' and seated at tables spaced far enough apart to allow a sense of privacy, the scene is set for smooth sailing.
For a soothing starter one could do worse than Koffmann's giant, silken ravioli of langoustines, a single huge round of pasta wrapped around the sweet, pillow-like crustaceans, and set upon a bed of crunchy cabbage.
Reminiscent of a Joel Robuchon creation of the early 1980s, it is the sort of contemporary classic that will be around for a long while, elegant in its purity and simplicity.
More daring and modern are his seared scallops set in a shiny sauce of squid ink, accompanied by two sauces, one of whipped cream laced with red pepper, another of whipped cream laced with garlic, offering a seasoned contrast of colors, textures and flavors.
But Koffmann's signature dish, and one not to be missed even if offal is not your thing, is the pieds de cochon, or pig's trotters, stuffed with a complex blend of wild morel mushrooms, chicken breast and veal sweetbreads. Arriving almost as a gift-wrapped mahogany-toned package, the pig's trotter's are set in glistening, fragrant stock.
Although it's a modern creation, it is the sort of culinary tour-de-force that is to be admired for its complexity and balance, its mastery of technique and its ability to induce pure satisfaction.
on to the connaught While still in a traditional mood, I headed over to the Connaught Hotel, where the restaurant and grill room continue to win service awards and the kitchen applause for its care and attention.
Seated in the rather shocking minty-green Grill Room, I felt like a queen who had just been helped from her carriage. The well-seasoned French and Italian waiters have that old posh, debonair quality that makes you want to lift your pinky and swirl a glass of champagne.
The menu could not be more conservative in the best sense of the word. Starters of langoustines amoureuses (really a high-protein seafood salad of langoustines, shrimp and lobster) and oysters Christian Dior (warm, cooked with cream, wine and a scattering of black truffles) set the stage for things to come. The daily special - the old-fashioned coulibiac of salmon - is a complex, layered affair that includes salmon, rice, hard-cooked eggs, crepes, mushrooms and onions wrapped in a pastry shell and baked. Here it was luscious fare, doused with a warm butter sauce, pairing perfectly with a simple white Macon-Villages.
I loved my sole meuniere seche (sole pan-fried in the usual manner in butter, but served without the cooking juices), though it was a tad dry and overcooked.
The tarte Tatin - prepared with bland-tasting apples and a nondescript pastry - was, alas, not on par with the rest of the visit.
La Tante Claire
The Berkeley Hotel
Wilton Place SW1
Closed Saturday lunch and Sunday. Most credit cards. £28 at lunch, a la carte, about £65 for dinner, including service but not wine.
The Grill Room
The Connaught Hotel
Carlos Place W1
Closed Saturday lunch. Credit cards: American Express, Visa. A la carte, about £70, not including service or wine.