Circular white plates topped with pretty desserts and pastries

Dominique Ansel Treehouse, London WC2: restaurant review

Does a regular diner reach the same conclusions about a restaurant as a food pro, who may get special treatment if recognised?* Critic Hilary Armstrong and olive reader Nika Jones compare notes on the new bakery and bistro from a master pastry chef

About Dominique Ansel Treehouse

Tucked down one of Covent Garden’s rare quiet streets, Dominique Ansel’s second opening in London lives up to its name. A nondescript glass-fronted building has been taken over by sprawling tree branches and ivy, complete with bird boxes and twinkly lights. Downstairs there’s a glass-fronted counter with edible, colourful creations, while upstairs a giant rope-bound tree trunk lives at the heart of the dining room – its branches intertwined with silk blossom flowers and filament light bulbs. There are snugs to cuddle up in, and Moroccan-style wooden benches with tartan blankets and velvet cushions.

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Pasta and pastry dominates – most with a theatrical twist. Soup en croûte has a puff pastry lid that shatters into ready-made buttery croutons. Gnocchi comes as golden pucks bobbing in a glossy mimolette and comté cheese sauce with confit lemon and a cloud of parmesan. Millefeuille is surprisingly savoury – sheets of delicate, flaky pastry sandwich layers of perfectly piped pink chicken liver parfait, alongside marmalade-like candied orange.

For mains, there is pithivier, giant vol-au-vents and steamed puddings made miraculously lighter by way of a brioche crust (think summer pudding, but soaked with mint-flecked gravy alongside its stewed salt marsh lamb centre). Desserts are ‘to share’ – stackable profiteroles that look like toy building blocks, sticky toffee pudding with a two-tone sauce, collapsible tiramisu. The wine list has a few options by the glass and bottle, but connoisseurs might like to save their ‘units’ for 10 Cases wine bar, a few streets away.

Colourful cushions on padded benches
There are snugs to cuddle up in, and Moroccan-style wooden benches with tartan blankets and velvet cushions

dominiqueanseltreehouse.com


The pro restaurant reviewer

Hilary Armstong is a freelance food writer and restaurant reviewer based in east London, and a regular contributor to olive and The Telegraph. Follow her @hilarmable


The punter restaurant reviewer

Nika Jones lives in London and eats out once a week. Her best dining experience was an Italian feast of roast scallops followed by pumpkin cappelletti at Luca in Clerkenwell.


Our pro’s Dominique Ansel Treehouse, London restaurant review…

*I was not recognised.

The #instamoments begin before we’re even inside. We pose under the treehouse, by the bird boxes, beneath a leafy bower. It’s all very silly but we walk in with big smiles that are returned by staff as sweet as any Dominique Ansel creation.

The menu is a celebration of the art of the pastry chef in all its glory – pasta, pies, tarts and more. The £3 bread basket alone contains sourdough, garlic-studded focaccia, lavash and brioche (listed in ascending order from ‘pretty good’ to ‘glorious’). The downside to this farinaceous fervour is that the menu’s off-kilter. With the chicken liver millefeuille unavailable, we struggle to compose a nicely varied order.

Our first dish, a whole baked camembert with friable thins of buttery croissant for scooping the molten lava, nearly finishes us off. It’s an outrageous assault of fat-on-fat and we’re not not into it. If that baked cheese is an escapee from a gastropub, our ricotta-filled pasta parcels, twisted into candy-striped ‘sweets’, could grace the menu of a fancy Italian ristorante. Though not picture-perfect (the sauce lacks sheen and there are tears in the pasta), it delivers a cute trompe-l’œil effect with a sunshine yellow sauce that looks like lemon butter, but is actually marjoram-scented golden tomato cream. The meal’s crowning glory is venison pithivier, layered with celeriac and Savoy cabbage, and swirled with juniper-scented jus. It’s skilful, oh-so-trendy, and a steal at £17.

A whole baked camembert with someone holding a thin croissant cracker and dipping into the cheese
Whole baked camembert comes with friable thins of buttery croissant for scooping the molten lava

The sharing desserts, finished tableside, are Boomerang clips waiting to happen. An oversized crème caramel with jumbo tuile is good but too much for two. Excellent espresso provides digestive relief.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Treehouse is the ultimate Covent Garden restaurant. Playful and approachable, it would make a fun diversion on a day of sightseeing, shopping and theatre.

Total bill for two, excluding service: £55.75

Food: 7/10

Service: 9/10

Vibe: 7/10

TOTAL: 23/30


Our punter’s Dominique Ansel Treehouse, London restaurant review…

The staff seem friendly but stressed, rushing through the narrow spaces between the tables looking panicked. “The kitchen is very busy today,” apologised our waiter, arriving 15 minutes after we were seated. Our drink order was forgotten until we asked again 30 minutes later. An allergy mention was dismissed with “but you’re okay with traces?” and then forgotten. Dishes arrived with no description – except a main of steamed brioche pudding with lamb and carrots. “This is this”, mumbled the waiter. I thought I misheard, but he repeated: “This [pointing to a pot of sauce] goes with this… I think.”

Cold bread lacking in flavour made for a poor welcome. Camembert fondue was gooey and rich but too few buttery croissant crisps came with it. The caramelle pasta parcels arrived lukewarm, with a bland ricotta filling and a sour-bitter tomato sauce. The puff pastry of the millefeuille was limp, held together with thick layers of chicken liver mousse that resembled a mass-produced pâté – blunt, dense and an overwhelming liver flavour. The candied mandarin alongside was sweet and tart but brown butter ‘dust’ again lacked the promised flavour. A giant vol-auvent with mushrooms and chicken, and the aforementioned brioche pudding, were classic comfort food: the former packed with umami flavours, the latter served with smooth, creamy potato mash and sweet carrots. Venison pithivier was “unavailable” when we tried to order it at 6:30pm but appeared on the table next to us two hours later.

Desserts are “for 2-3” to share, with no options for lone diners. The crème caramel could serve four. Peppered with vanilla seeds, it had a silky texture with the right balance of sweetness and slight caramel bitterness.

Circular white plates topped with pretty desserts and pastries
The sharing desserts, finished tableside, are Boomerang clips waiting to happen

THE BOTTOM LINE

Service is slow, and encounters with overworked waiters feel rushed. It feels more like a cafeteria, not a restaurant worthy of an evening out.

Total bill for three, excluding service: £94.50

Food: 5/10

Service: 5/10

Vibe: 6/10

TOTAL: 16/30


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Photographs by Ed Schofield