Bonhams, London, review: 'Stunning, clean, unfussy dishes' 

Bonhams interior
Happy with your lot? Bonhams, London Credit: Sophia Evans


Bonhams 7 Haunch of Venison Yard, London W1K 5ES
Contact 020 7468 5868;
Price Open lunchtimes and Thursday eves. Three courses with wine: about £65 per head

There’s something weird about the idea of lunching in an auction house. What if you scratch your nose and end up paying £3,000 for the bread basket? Will you become embroiled in a bidding war for the last chocolate fondant? Will an OTT doorman launch himself at your umbrella like a marine spying a grenade? The answer to the last one, at least, is “yes”. For the past year, Bonhams in London has been harbouring a modern European restaurant in its basement – awarded a star in September by Michelin’s cadre of Monsieur Creosotes.

As I attempted to gain access to the building, a security guard lunged for my umbrella, scrutinising it for evidence of artwork-ravaging raindrops in a way that seemed unnecessarily intimate (“Is it wet? Can I touch it?”). Then I found myself gawping through a giant glass window into a saleroom where gents were bidding for priceless bibelots. Then down a staircase, past the loos, up again through a wine bar and – finally – there I was, ensconced in Bonhams’ dinky 24-seat restaurant.

Décor-wise, the upstairs dining area is not unlike an art gallery, appropriately enough: white walls, white linen, airy atmosphere, a smattering of Bridget Riley and Damien Hirst. One notable thing is the view of Christie’s Mayfair nearby. If you’re positioned correctly, you may find yourself being furiously eyeballed by Salvador Dalí. And even if you’re not, you can’t fail to note that Bonhams’ rivals have hijacked the view by covering over their windows with big grey bits of advertising hoarding that say “Christie’s: The Art People”, but which might as well say “Sod your Michelin star!”

The menu is brisk – three choices for starter, four for main, three for dessert; no sides at all. Unfortunately, service quickly proved a little off-colour for a restaurant in this price bracket. Actually, I’m only saying “off colour” because I don’t like cruelty to serving staff. Really, I mean “like being served by someone who’s stoned out of their gourd”. Our guy wandered off halfway through taking our order, forgot the names of half the ingredients on the menu and dropped an amuse-bouche on the floor (cue the click of an unseen phone receiver being lifted and a voice hissing: “Tom! We lost an eel!”). He seemed nice, though (please don’t fire him).

When the starters arrived, things did not appear to be improving – my buckwheat ravioli being one of the least visually appealing things I’ve ever seen on a plate. A flaccid sheet of thin greyness, it looked like a damp latex glove sprinkled with gravel; less a piece of food than something you’d expect to find peeking obscenely out from under Tracey Emin’s bed. At this point, I began to suspect that the Michelin team had either visited the wrong restaurant or had been smoking whatever our waiter appeared to be on.

But oh, how wrong I was. Because the starters turned out to be stunning: clean, unfussy dishes whose simple cooking and astonishing ingredients punch you in the taste buds and leave you thinking daft thoughts like: “Wow! I didn’t know mushrooms could taste so… mushroomy!” Even that god-awful-looking ravioli proved to be a revelation; far from being miserable, the flood of zingy parsley purée, egg yolk and sweet, creamy roux that burst forth from the grey pasta package was so vibrant that they shouldn’t have named the dish “Buckwheat ravioli”: they should have called it “Don’t judge a book by its cover (you idiot)-ioli”.

Expect clean, unfussy dishes at Bonhams Credit: Sophia Evans

Clearly, this is also a restaurant that knows its way around a piece of meat. A main course of beef short rib had an outside that was slow-roasted to the point of caramelisation, yet was pink as a ballet slipper at the centre – an achievement as tricky as parallel parking a limo at 90mph.

A roast loin of sika deer (an ornamental Japanese breed that looks like Bambi’s mother) was a moist, watermelon-red hunk of beastie that vanished in seconds (sorry, Bambi). It came with a smear of chestnut and juniper purée that would have been sweet to the point of cloying were it not for the salty, bitter contrast of cime di rapa – steamed turnip tops – which made for a hell of a mouthful.

Desserts were light and gorgeous. A delicately caramelised pear was served atop a smoky peanut and polenta crumb that I could have eaten all over again. A hefty slice of chocolate “sabayon tart” looked as though it would sit on your stomach like a paving slab, but was a light, fluffy masterpiece packed with bubbles so big they might have escaped from a Radox ad. As the restaurant of an auction house, this place makes perfect sense. The cooking is a paean to craftsmanship, the ingredients are a masterclass in paying for quality.

One of the many well-crafted dishes at Bonhams Credit: Sophia Evans

They’ve even let the auction house’s wine experts loose on sourcing some of the list’s more high-end choices – including rare Loire whites and Australian shirazes (shirazzes?) which they claim are on sale at retail price. On your way out, you discover another important thing about an auction house restaurant: there’s a discreet rear exit. As I step through it, my umbrella goes mercifully unmolested.