Test Driving Xier - Carlo Scotto puts on an epic modern tasting menu

tart2Things kick off at Xier with the canape, which something that will change the most. On our visit, it was a lemongrass tart - filled with a mix of lemongrass, sweetcorn and smashed beans. Oh, and delivered on lemongrass over dry ice. It's quite the start (we do love a bit of dry ice theatrics). 

What can you tell us about Xier?

It's a restaurant from Carlo Scotto, the ex-Head Chef of Babbo and who's also worked with Angela Hartnett at Murano (he sees her as his mentor). Xier sees him take on his own restaurant in Marylebone. Well, two restaurants, to be precise. 

It's a restaurant of two halves?

Indeed - the ground floor is XR which is more of a casual dining restaurant, while upstairs - where we ate - heads more into fine dining territory with a 10-course set menu the only option. 

Where is it?

It's on Thayer Street in Mayfair (it took over the site of the old Pizza Express). You'll be led upstairs to a room that seats around 25-30 people, so it's a much more intimate setting than downstairs. That said, the sound from the busy downstairs room does filter upstairs too, so it never feels too quiet. That helps Xier to avoid the sombre effect that a fine dining restaurant can sometimes have - it creates a slightly livelier atmosphere. 

roomThe upstairs room at Xier

Where's good for a drink beforehand? 

There are quite a few good pubs in the area, but there a caveat in that they can get rather busy in the early evening (the Coachmakers Arms is a good bet if it's not rammed). If you're just after a quiet pre-dinner drink, then we actually found the counter at the Ivy Cafe just around the corner to be very handy indeed. And nearby wine bar 28:50's also a good choice if you're looking for a special glass of wine. 

And the only choice at Xier is to have the 10-course menu?

Yes and no. You have a choice of the standard or the vegetarian tasting menu (we'll get to the latter in a bit) - both at £90. On that menu, for the two main courses, you have the choice of a couple of dishes. Otherwise, it's a case of strapping yourself in for the full event.

The idea of a tasting menu has come under some fire of late - and indeed it's something that we ourselves are a little wary of. However, the menu at Xier showcased a parade of highly inventive dishes, delivered at a gentle pace and we never felt overwhelmed.

Following the canape which you see above, here's what we had on the night (beware spoilers, of course, but some of these dishes will change with the seasons)...

breadWe love a good bread course - and this includes coffee butter (left). Try not to fill up on this, there's a lot to come...

stratStracciatella, wild strawberry, calamondin, organic honey - frankly we can't get enough of stracciatella and this combo was gorgeous.

crudoRed Prawn Crudo, Raspberry, Red Caviar, Yuzu - beautifully presented and seasoned.

salmonRose Cured Salmon, Foie Gras, Gariguette, Bramley Apple - the foie gras is hidden in the background, actually covered in a beetroot gel - that works surprisingly well. Note one of our paired cocktails in the background - that's the Monzanita - more on that below. 

gintonicThe "Cleanser" which is really a granita and sorbet version of a gin and tonic.  

fishRed Mullet, Burnt Aubergine, Leche De Tigre, Carrots Escabeche (with the paired pear manhattan in the background)

codBlack Cod in Caramel Miso, Asparagus, Artichoke, Duck, Perilla Infused Oil - the duck (balanced on the fish) and the cod are a perfect match here. 

pigeonPigeon, Beetroot, Foie Gras, Purple Potato, Hazelnuts Crumble - the two meat mains come with a little extra on the side, presented in the background - here, it's pulled pigeon. 

beefBeef Cheek, Bone Marrow, Wild Hops, Apple and Nettles Purée - the cheek cooked till just on the point of falling apart. 

cheeseSwedish Cheese, Fresh Fizzy Grapes - the cheese course (with another cocktail!). The star of this course is definitely the fizzy grapes, which apparently came about because of a happy accident in the kitchen. They really do taste fizzy. We wanted a lot more of these.

dessertsThe Sweet Tooth - this is the dessert course. Yes, that's right, all these are delivered together and take over the entire table. Ideally, you'll be sharing them all - but if you have someone who just hates sharing stuff (we know a few people like that), they can keep one all for themselves. The desserts include; rhubarb in three ways (two of these are bottom left and top right), a salted caramel peanut tart (top left), chocolate and piedmont (centre), and chocolate ice cream with creme Anglaise (bottom right). Pretty full-on but a great way to finish. 

What about vegetarians?

As mentioned earlier, there is an entirely separate vegetarian tasting menu to choose from. Some dishes stay the same (the kombu tea, the stracciatella and the cheese and dessert courses) but there are new dishes too. These include "Arancino, Kohlrabi Jam, Pickled Kohlrabi, Spinach" and "Bianchetto Truffle Risotto And Sumac". Essentially, if you're vegetarian, you get the full-on tasting menu experience too. 

And how about drinks?

We went with the pairing option, which comes to £175 all-in. If you can stretch to it, we'd definitely recommend it - mainly because it's a mix of wines and cocktails throughout.

For example, the rose cured salmon comes with a Monzanita cocktail - Absolut Elyx vodka, absinth, apple liqueur and passion fruit. There's a very orange wine for one course (Jakot, Radikon 2011), a Pear Manhattan and more wines served throughout. It's a great way of breaking up a wine pairing, keeping you engaged with all the different drinks you're being brought. It worked wonders, we thought. And the cocktails aren't too alcoholic - so there's no worry of getting up from the table after 10 drinks and falling flat on your face. Thankfully. 

Overall thoughts

Such a long tasting menu may not be everyone's cup of tea (it takes at least three hours) but, like Grace Dent, we think that Xier's epic menu really showcases what's possible with such an event. Really inventive cooking, food that delights instead of overwhelming and all paired with service that seems both perfectly timed without being too overwrought. It really adds something to the London dining scene and we think it's well worth checking out.

Now can we have some more fizzy grapes, please?


More about Xier

Where is it? 13-14 Thayer Street, London W1U 3JR

How much: £90 for the tasting menu, £175 with matched drinks

Read more about Xier

Book Xier Fine Dining


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