Pavyllon, London, review: Yannick Alléno’s 16th Michelin star shines brightly in Mayfair

Roasted duck magret with marinated daikon radishes is a dish that cannot be missed  (Hannah Twiggs)
Roasted duck magret with marinated daikon radishes is a dish that cannot be missed (Hannah Twiggs)

Dining at the restaurant of a chef with a career as glittering as Yannick Alléno is somewhat daunting for a food journalist. The onus feels more on me to enjoy it, to understand it, than for him to impress me.

While the French chef is only really known in the UK among foodie types, few names carry as much gastronomic heft as that of Alléno. Pavyllon at the Four Seasons, inspired by his restaurant of the same name in Paris, is his London debut and within six months of opening won a Michelin star: the restaurant’s first, Alléno’s 16th.

So I arrive with trepidation in my step – and stomach.

I have to say it’s not my favourite part of town. Not even my favourite part of Mayfair. There’s something clinically wealthy about it. There’s plenty of exceptional places to eat, but it doesn’t have the hustle and bustle of neighbouring Soho. This is reservation-only, arrive by car (in heels), be greeted by name at the door territory. There’s a charm in that, too, but walking down the deserted Hamilton Place to the Four Seasons in the dark feels more like seeking out a concealed underground car park off the beaten track, not a five-star hotel.

In fact, I walk right past the entrance to Bar Antoine, Pavyllon’s adjoining cocktail spot, named after Alléno’s late son.

Eventually inside, it’s a jarring mix of high ceilings and low slung, low lit couches; an invitation to get comfy, but not too comfy. The restaurant feels more familiar – in fact, it’s an exact replica of Alléno’s Pavyllon in Paris. Pole position is at the dominating open kitchen counter. I’m not entirely convinced my posture will last the night on the too-high stools with too-low backs, but it’s the best spot from which to observe the ebb and flow of the pass and the “oui, chefs”.

When the food begins to arrive, quietly and without pomp and circumstance, my nerves dissipate. I’m not sure what I had expected; perhaps another aloof hours-long tasting menu where enjoyment gives way to endurance after the 25th plate and third bottle of wine, especially on this stool. But this is not that. There are no wax-sealed scrolls with arm-length lists of ambiguously named dishes. Nor are there sermons to sit through on the provenance of this and the techniques of that, all while your food goes cold. In short, there’s no faff.

Efficiency isn’t something one necessarily associates with the French, nor moderation, but the Immersive Mayfair menu, one of two set menus we go for, is a pleasantly concise six dishes, with the exceptions of canapes and bread, because, well, that’s how it goes. That’s not to say they’ve just cherry picked the MVPs for convenience. It reads, and tastes, more like a story, with opening chapters of delicate flavours building into climatic main dishes and finishing with big, punchy desserts. Wine, the narrator.

The starters begin with a curry-flavoured scallop tartlet and a light-as-air comte cheese souffle (Hannah Twiggs)
The starters begin with a curry-flavoured scallop tartlet and a light-as-air comte cheese souffle (Hannah Twiggs)

The prelude, then, is a palm-sized curry-flavoured tartlet harbouring scallop carpaccio and smoked pike roe in a deliciously buttery sauce that is as delicate in appearances as it is in taste. The merest hint of curry adds a pang of warmth to the buttery, sweet scallop, all in a nutty, almost caramel-like emulsion. Then there’s a light-as-air comte cheese souffle drenched in an Escoffier-inspired Albufuera sauce (the optional foie gras supplement very much not optional for my professional plus one Alicia) that’s so light and creamy I want to spread it like butter on bread – which is plentiful and so I do, though I don’t think bowl licking is acceptable here.

The next chapter is confit cod – a technique usually associated with duck (or, according to TikTok, garlic) but is very much suited to the tenderness and flavour of the fish. But it’s the main dish that really stuns me. Slithers of rich and gamy roasted duck magret – from the breast of birds fattened for foie gras – tinged even redder from beetroot powder, under papery slices of marinated daikon radish that look like silk bed sheets. A bowl of impossibly creamy mashed potato is the perfect vehicle for soaking up the (delightfully heavy on the madeira) Perigourdine sauce.

The finale, of course, is dessert, which I am usually indifferent about, if not averse to, but in this case am enamoured by. There are two. The first is a mound of meringue, a “meli-melo” (literally “mish mash” in French) of berries, lemon verbena and Genepi jelly, vanilla cream and sorrel sorbet. It tastes like walking through a garden. Palate = cleansed. The other is described, accurately, as a “sweet spiced cloud”, and is indeed what I imagine eating a cloud to be like, albeit one that tastes like coffee and cardamom, a duo I will be recreating at home.

One dessert tasted like walking through a garden; the other like eating a coffee and cardamom-flavoured cloud (Hannah Twiggs)
One dessert tasted like walking through a garden; the other like eating a coffee and cardamom-flavoured cloud (Hannah Twiggs)

There’s no plot twists or cliffhangers to speak of. Alléno is famous for modernising the famously inflexible French cuisine and it’s executed at Pavyllon with precision. The waiters don’t dilly dally or linger – in fact, the only indication that the meal was over was their sudden absence. Not that we were overlooked, just left to chat. The sommelier was perhaps a little baffled at our choice to forgo the wine pairing – we were having somewhat of a dry, if not moist, week – so much so that he served a red with the cod. The only misstep in what was a delightful surprise of a meal. That and the terrible chairs.

Clearly, the days of drab hotel restaurants with about as much charm as a school canteen are over. Nowadays, they’re Michelin-starred, expensively renovated destinations with a glitzy name above the door for people who want to eat well without staying the night (which, for context, at the Four Seasons would be about 10 times the cost of eating there… though I did check my bank balance while waiting for a Tube for the hour-long journey home).

I can’t help but wonder, though, if this is the right place for Alléno. Not that London needs another French bistro. Please, God, no. He’s always been a luminary, but to become a household name in the UK, he needs to get out of Mayfair.

Our rating: ★★★★☆

Six course Immersive Mayfair set menu is £110 per person, with a wine pairing ranging from £110-£220

Pavyllon at the Four Seasons, Hamilton Place, London, W1J 7DR | 020 7319 5200 |