'...Somehow merges simplicity with adventure in a seamless but coherent homage to fine French & British gastronomy '

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by Thomas Haydn Dee


Good restaurant reviews are harder to write than bad ones. Harder because you don't know where to start. You're excited but want to retain some sense of dignity rather than gush unashamedly about your new favourite place; and harder because when a restaurant is this good writers far more talented and experienced than you have revealed all the best bits already.

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I'm going to preface this review by warning that it was hard to write precisely because of all of those reasons. Consequentially, if you're hoping to rush through to the salient details of what we didn't like, you're in for a really disappointing read!

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The surroundings

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Firstly it is impossible to talk about xParamount without broadcasting one of its main unique features.

This exclusive restaurant & lounge is located on the 32nd floor of London's iconic concrete behemoth that is Centre Point. On the junction of Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road, this has to be one of the busiest, dirtiest and noisiest parts of London. The fact that one of the capitals' largest construction sites currently dominates the same corner does nothing to help matters. Exiting the tube here is particularly chaotic and it's fair to say that prolonged exposure to the area would make even the most chaste of puritans reach for a tall glass of something inappropriate, regardless of the time of day! However, enter the building and immediately none of that matters.

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The charming front of house team (nestling in what is seemingly a huge copper bullet) greet you warmly and lose no time in calling the lift to whisk you away to the top of the building. The lift itself is quite an experience (beware sensitive ears) and though pretty nifty, the sheer amount of distance it has to travel means you have time to forget about the troubles below. (My dexterous dining companion even had time to find and put on a tie!)

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Upon arriving at the top we discovered a decadent bar and reception area basking in a soft amber glow, which set the scene for the evening. The environment immediately instills a sense of intimacy, gourmandise and sophistication, which won�t let you go until long after you've left the building.

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We were greeted by Giles, one of xParamount'slong-serving team members; an extremely charismatic and amiable character he immediately made us feel at home and eased us into the surroundings with a personal tour of 'The viewing gallery'. This is the venues' highest point, which is home to an extraordinary 360 panoramic platform, perfect for a leisurely stroll around whilst sipping a cocktail. This onetime members-only haunt is now open to the public though operates a guest-list only basis so the only way you'll be dining here is by making a reservation.

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As it happened, we couldn't have visited on a more fitting evening as a full lunar eclipse decided to occur just after our deserts. It's hard to express just how versatile and excitingxParamount is. Watching the sun set over London is a unique experience and once the city is plunged into darkness, watching it come alive again in a symphony of illumination over the shimmering metropolis is nothing short of theatrical. This place reminds you of why London is such a special city and the moment is entirely timeless.

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Paramount also benefits from a stunning private dining sanctuary. The Red Room is available for private occupation by parties of 16-30 people. This truly is the pinnacle of an evening at this restaurant and a wonderful way to host a meal in spectacular style.

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Hopefully I've managed to convey some coherent sense of the environment thatParamount manages to provide. Now on to the main event - drinks and dinner!

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The drinks

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I've decided to walk on the enophilic wild side for a while and allow sommeliers to chose all wines from now on. This on occasion leads to deep spells of chagrin but in this instance the experience was enchanting. First up was a "French 75" cocktail. A perfect marriage of champagne and gin (or as Dylan Moran so wonderfully called it "mascara thinner") with lime and sugars; this is about as lively and refreshing as a drink can be. Whilst very fitting to the occasion and atmosphere of xParamount I would suggest that anyone contemplating a decent picnic try a home-made version of this cocktail at least once over the summer.

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The wines by the glass are pretty decent offerings too. The St Emillion needed a little space and time to put on it�s best face but after ten minutes or so it was a superb glass and served admirably as a teaser for the wines that we would enjoy with our dinner shortly after.

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Encountering Julian, the Gallic waiter/sommelier from xBrittany was one of the highlights of the evening. Prior to visiting Paramount, I naturally dug up some existing reviews and was a little nervous as one or two had hinted that the food might be in some way let down by the service. This is categorically not the case and the experience was dramatically enhanced due to the unique blend of friendliness and professionalism of the staff and the outstanding flair and panache employed whilst describing and serving each dish. Julian's knowledge and appreciation of fine wines is remarkable. If this guy isn't head sommelier at a two or three star restaurant in a few years I will be astonished (sorry Paramount!)

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The starters:

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Seats taken, we flicked through the menu excitedly as each offering remarkably seemed more alluring than the last. Whist I had already peeked at the menu online, in situ it proved for an even more enjoyable read.

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Perhaps rather sheepishly, I ordered a dish that has already impressed en-masse and led to several favorable reviews. The double baked Roquefort souffl with endive and pear salad. Wonderfully aerated texture and just the right temperature, this dish was presented beautifully and managed to impart enough of the Roquefort flavour without overpowering the other elements the dish consisted of. The pear shards in the salad were particularly refreshing. It's worth remembering (though of course this is generally the case in good restaurants) that there is no need to season this dish any further than the Chef already has. Adding a little of the rock salt available on the table was probably a mistake on my part.

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My companion ordered the chicken & tarragon Boudin Blanc, shallot puree, puy lentils and chorizo fricassee. This was his favourite dish of the evening and certainly very impressive. In my opinion, an inevitable Michelin winner (are you listening Michelin people?) long may this grace the menu. Perfectly portioned and paired with the right wine, I challenge anyone to find a better version of this dish.

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With our starters we enjoyed (understatement) a bottle of Saint-Romain 1er Cru Maison Deux Montilles A Volnay White Burgundy 2006 (57). This wine has a few uncompromising surprises up its sleeve. First of all the intensely earthy aroma is surprising for a white wine. We anticipated it to be overbearing yet found it to be a remarkably clean and refreshing wine whilst being bold enough to carry the heavy boudin blanc dish just mentioned. Delicious overtones of salted caramel, honey and still floral enough to be a pleasant unaccompanied wine; this is a winning testimony of what white Burgundies are all about.

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The Mains:

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My fellow diner opted for the ballotine of Lemon Sole, stuffed with lobster mousse, razor clams cooked with wild garlic leaves (24) This was wonderfully presented with the ballotine perfectly formed and nestling amongst the seafood delights swimming around it. This is a pleasant dish and would make for a great lunchtime treat with a glass of sparkling wine.

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The dish that I ordered was a little more imposing, a 'trio' of pork with celeriac puree & fondant potato. Undeniably excellent value at 19, this isn't strictly a trio as there are far more elements involved than you would imagine. Deep fried pork with a sweet chili drizzling, braised cheek, tender slow cooked pork belly with gloriously crispy golden crackling neatly stacked on top, and for good measure a 'rasher' of cooked pancetta. This was neatly aligned in the centre of the plate alongside small but flavoursome croquettes of potato fondant, the whole thing running alongside a trail of celeriac puree which brought a nice contrast to the pork. Usually this dish is also served with black pudding and apple doughnuts. I opted to make a swap of the black pudding and chef very accommodatingly delighted me with a medley of various fungi including pied-bleu and morels in wonderfully potent jus. Perhaps now you're starting to get a sense of why this was hard to write as practically every dish that was offered to us was outstandingly well prepared and presented, making it hard to find fault or choose a favourite!

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The side orders were a pleasant distraction though with such generous portions, they were certainly not necessary. Then again, if you're dining here it's probably not just to serve a purpose and so I would advise you to overstep the boundaries of comfort and take on more than strictly needed. Rocket and pecorino was a delightful salad dressed in balsamic vinegar. The creamed potato was entirely inoffensive and matched the description though with so many other outstanding morsels surrounding it, it's hard to get excited about unadulterated mashed potato. Maybe in this regard, the menu falls victim to it's own success though this is a very feeble attempt to find fault

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With our main courses we enjoyed a bottle of Nuit St Georges Charmottes Hubert Chauvenet Chopin, red burgundy 2007 (63) Julian, the sommelier with whom at this point we had become well acquainted, apologised for his unwaveringly patriotic suggestions. Turns out he was entirely right to adopt this approach as both bottles were perfect bedfellows for the plates we were negotiating.

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The deserts:

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The deserts were the subject of most animated discussion. My colleague who had ordered the raspberry mascarpone crme brulee with basil sorbet (9) wasn't taken with the sorbet element at all. I tried it tentatively and almost immediately we crossed into those murkiest waters of the eternal ice cream vs sorbet debate. For me this is a stunningly delicate infusion of flavours and textures, cleanly cutting through the other offerings that have by now bedazzled your palate. It's hard to describe the joy that such a refreshing desert can evoke. You know the feeling you get when handed a hot towel on a long haul flight and suddenly everything is better? Exactly...

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The caramel souffl with banana ice cream (10.50) was excellent and whilst I might have been tempted to think that two souffls in one evening would lead to a rather monotonous repast, this was not the case as the two dishes couldn't have been more dissimilar. Sorbet argument happily put to bed we washed the deserts down with a delightful glass of Tokaji Aszu 5 Puttonyos, Hungary 2005 (18).

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The verdict.

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If you've read this far, then I applaud your tenacity dear reader and thank you for your patience. The above account is merely a glimpse into the pleasure that an evening of indulgence atParamount, towering high above the skyline of London can provide.

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The cuisine is sublime and will delight even the toughest of customers. It somehow merges simplicity with adventure in a seamless but coherent homage to fine French & British gastronomy. Perhaps it is a tad pricey but in my humble view it thoroughly delivers on all of it's promises and is well worth the expense. If the prices are slightly vertiginous then surely at such altitude and with unblemished access to one of London's finest vantage points, the price is entirely acceptable!

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The wine list is extensive, colorful and above all versatile. The wines that we opted for were very moderately priced and proved to be outstandingly enjoyable. I liked the fact that the sommelier took time to understand our preferences and favourite wines and subsequently challenged us by suggesting varietals that were completely different but very fitting.

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The staff, all masters of their trade are enticing, providing and professional in every way; getting to know them will only serve to enhance your restaurant experience.

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There is of course no such thing as a perfect review but the only things I can fault (and I've tried hard to think of some!) are the facts that the cutlery wasn't to my liking and the crackling that came with the pork wasn't exactly the delicate and graceful operation that you would expect in such sophisticated milieu. Had I miraculously managed to make the surrounding diners disappear for a few moments, this glorious pork morsel would have commanded far more vigorous attention.

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Two of the dishes in particular stood out. The chicken boudin blanc and the basil sorbet that accompanied the raspberry crme brulee.

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Laying to bed any fears that this 'fine dining' menu would consist of small portions, I happily admit that each dish was sent back with a little reminder on the plate and we lingered on a little in order to muster the courage to move. Divinely saturated, buzzing with culinary excitement and itching to come back we departed two very happy diners. A flurry of goodbyes and well wishing from the staff and we were back down to earth.

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Quite simply, this was one of the finest dining experiences I have had in England in recent years and I'm going to be saving all my pennies to go back as soon and as often as possible! To be experienced at all costs...

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What we had

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Drinks:

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French 75:Champagne, gin, lime & sugars (14)

Bombay Saphire g&t (8.50)

Glass of l'esprit saint emillion (8.50)

Glass of viognier (7.50)

Bottle of Saint-Romain 1er Cru Maison Deux Montilles A Volnay White Brugundy 2006 (57)

Bottle of Nuit St Georges Charmottes Hubert Chauvenet Chopin, red burgundy 2007 (63)

Desert wine glasses = Tokaji Aszu 5 Puttonyos, Hungary 2005 (18)

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Food:

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Chicken & tarragon Boudin Blanc, Shallot Puree, Puy lentils and Chorizo Fricassee (11)

Double baked Roquefort Souffle with Endive & Pear Salad (10.50)

Ballotine of Lemon Sole, stuffed with lobster mousse, razor clams cooked with wild garlic leaves (24)

Trio of pork with celeriac puree & fondant potatoe (19)

Side of Rocket and Pecorino salad (3.50)

Side of Creamed potato (3.50

Raspberry mascarpone crme brulee with basil sorbet (9)

Caramel souffl� with banana ice cream (10.50)

Espresso (2.80)

Amaretto (8.25)

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The bill:

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Total for 2 diners, with pre-dinner cocktails, wines, three-courses and coffee / spirits: 318

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