If there’s one chef who seems to be really making a name for himself in central London right now, its Mark Jarvis. He’s consulted for a neighboured Mayfair Bistro which had rave reviews from the critics, runs the ever popular Anglo restaurant in Farringdon, famed for its exciting tasting menus and now is the proud owner of Stem in Mayfair. A modern, British restaurant focusing on its tasting menus and gosh are they good.
Until further notice, Stem is currently offering its lunch tasting menu (check website for offer availability) for half price making it an absolute bargain – so book now! The proud owner of three AA Rosettes, Stem is run day-to-day by Head Chef Sam Ashton-Booth and on the floor is general Manager Emma Underwood. The staff are so friendly here and the small, simple space is the perfect canvas to show off the menus. Comfortable, practical and very modern – but still retaining a bistro like setting.
We started with a couple of cocktails to settle us. An excellently crafted Negroni and a Bourbon & Hay. Both delicious, full of bite and very refreshing. My favourite way (and I think everyone else’s) is to look over any menu with a drink in hand – preferably a delicious Negroni.
As any good meal should, it started with some outstanding sourdough bread with whipped butter. If I owned my own restaurant the most important thing for me would always be the bread. It’s almost always the first thing you smell and eat and really sets the scene for the food you’re about to eat. Here it had a lovely crunchy crust. The inside was fluffy and chewy like a crumpet and the butter was fantastic. Served with the bread was some roasted shallot gougère’s which I’m glad to say were some of the best I’ve eaten. Light, fluffy and oozing cheese from the middle as you bite into them.
First of our dishes from the kitchen was a small wasabi decorated bowl filled with seabream, more wasabi and parsley. The fish was lovely and that wasabi gave just the right amount of heat and flavour. A surprisingly refined and delicate dish, with each flavour contributing the other perfectly.
Next to arrive was my favourite of the vegetarian courses. Steamed leek with Jerusalem artichoke. It didn’t give much away presentation wise, but everything was prepared with meticulous precision which you could taste in each bite. A little smokiness, earthy artichokes and juicy leeks. The latter is one of my favourite vegetables to eat, after Brussel sprouts. If the dish wasn’t already good enough, the Perigold truffle shavings made it so.
As we worked through the tasting menu, we realised Stem was already quickly becoming one of our favourite meals of 2019 and this piece of skate wing confirmed our suspicions. Another dish, cooked to such perfection. The wing was like eating two separate pieces of fish. The top was meaty and a firm. The bottom side was succulent and it melted away In the mouth. Served with calcot onions and monk’s beard, this dish is reason alone to visit.
Potato gnocchi with lovage and Romanesco broccoli was a nice surprise, especially as the gnocchi was stuffed. I did enjoy this dish, but if being critical it was a little too “lovagey” in some mouthfuls packing quite a punch. Still, the quality of the gnocchi and texture was well worth it.
Another stunning plate of food was the roast beef fillet with grilled lettuce and cauliflower. The beef had a nice touch of age to it, the grilled lettuce is always a winner in my books and the cauliflower which had been turned into a glossy puree was caramelised, giving it a rich sweetness. The puree really was incredible, as was the jus which married everything on this plate together so beautifully. I couldn’t find fault in this dish whatsoever, other than I wanted more.
Lemon and basil foams (and gels) were the perfect palate cleanser, transitioning us into the dessert course. As a palate cleanser or pre-dessert – this was one of the most interesting I’ve had in a while.
Braeburn apple with vanilla ice cream and hazelnut, is how our dessert read on the menu. The vanilla ice cream seemed a bit more like a yogurt in flavour as opposed to vanilla (though I still loved it either way). The soft, juicy apples, hidden at the bottom of the bowl were topped with a thin & crispy pastry disc which reminded me of a palmier. Finished with caramelised hazelnuts, the only way of describing this dessert was as a sort of deconstructed tarte tatin – but also very different and very, very delicious.
There’s another restaurant not too far from Stem focusing on the tasting menu concept and it reminds me of that a lot (I won’t drop names). However, I feel like Stem is much more accomplished, exciting and refined. Given this restaurant is still relatively new (nearly a year), I have a feeling Stem is going to become even more special as its menus continue to evolve. We may have dined on a half price tasting menu, but even at full price this is a fantastic deal. Expect to eat a lot of expertly prepared food, drink a very interesting wine list focusing on smaller producers and enjoy relaxed, but polished service. Would we return? Absolutely.