GFG archives

From the GFG archives: Chez Nico scores a perfect 10
Published 12 September 2023

In the 1998 edition of The Good Food Guide, Nico Ladenis scored a perfect 10 for Chez Nico at Ninety Park Lane. Here's what the Guide had to say.

Nico Ladenis began his restaurant career in Dulwich 25 years ago and, apart from an awkwardly timed move one year, has appeared in every edition of the Guide since. Single-mindedness, and a fiery determination to produce the best, have landed him an enviable record. It is easy to slacken off once you get to the top, but Nico still runs a tight ship and wows the customers. 'Faultless, the best meal of my life,' concluded one. The room is 'gracious' for a big West End hotel, with a generous and uncluttered use of space, and one first-time visitor, noting that not everybody dresses up, was surprised at how down-to-earth the whole thing seemed.

The food is 'no frills, no smart tricks, just the best', although inevitably anything considered the best can raise expectations alarmingly. But this food is not designed to be flashy or innovative, or to break new ground with knock-me-down flavour combinations. Rather it aims to excel within neoclassical French boundaries. The menu may not change radically, but a few variations keep the whole thing moving along. It is also written in English, which is considered a plus and, although it is sad to see bills falling into line with everywhere else and adding a service charge, at least the credit card totals are filled in. Options include a ten-course 'gastronomic’ menu at £75, considered good value in view of the luxury ingredients, balance and variety of flavours and exceptional craftsmanship.

The set lunch is three courses, on one occasion goats' cheese ravioli, crisp-skinned salmon on basil mash with chive veloute, and a 'pretty damned good' chocolate tart that was 'rich and dense'. 'You won't beat this', maintained one reporter, and I doubt if there is much better value at the price'. Immediacy of flavour has shown itself in, for example, foie gras (with bitter-sweet caramelised orange) that tasted 'as if taken from the duck or goose that morning'. 'Forget any other chicken,' wrote one who ate a breast of corn-fed bird on a bed of leeks in a cream sauce, while another's herb-crusted saddle of lamb was 'simply the finest piece of meat I have ever eaten', accompanied by vegetables that 'delivered all the flavours and textures of Provence in one small compass'. Risotto is 'light in texture, intense in flavour', and the kitchen 'really does know how not to overcook fish'.

The glazed lemon tart with raspberry coulis remains exemplary, although chocolate ‘Negus' runs it a close second, and coffee includes a magnificent collection of petits fours. Waiters are 'attentive and expert but don't fawn', although one reporter who was brought a fresh glass when he changed from Perrier to Badoit wondered if this might be going a bit far. Wines are very good, mostly French, and very expensive, though ten under £30 are singled out for attention, and three dry wines are available by the glass.