McLadden's in West Hartford has established itself in the town's center as a welcoming, Irish-inspired gastropub experience, with nachos, bangers and mash and a colossal selection of draft beers.
Step next door to its newest establishment, however, and you're transported into a different era altogether —that is, if you can find it.
Noble & Co., a new introduction to the McLadden Restaurant Group, is the team's interpretation of a secretive speakeasy. To enter, visitors pass through a subway-themed, graffiti-tagged vestibule to find a nondescript metal door reading "HVAC Mechanical Room." Once inside, they find 1920s-era glamour, complete with glittering antique chandeliers, booths and couches upholstered in crushed velvet, damask wallpaper and rich touches of purple and gold throughout.
Owner Mike Ladden, the president and CEO of the restaurant group, says some guests have been confused by the unique entrance, but others roll with it, some even leaving New York City MetroCards behind. "There's a sense of humor that goes along with it."
Noble & Co., which opened in late November, started as an idea three years ago as a concept rooted in an appreciation for craft cocktails, Ladden says. The speakeasy design tied into that, and he also sought to achieve what he calls "a cosmopolitan, worldly kind of food menu" to match the sophisticated spirits and elaborate decor.
General manager Brent Bushong says Noble's cuisine is "very heavily rounded in French technique"— thanks to the expertise of the restaurant's French executive chef Alexandre Petard — but that the dishes themselves are international, with elements of South American and Asian flavors and ingredients.
Lunch and dinner both start with an array of "shareables": a three-tiered cheese platter ($24); wood-board charcuterie with housemade pâté, terrine and duck prosciutto ($22); East and West Coast oysters and Mayan shrimp cocktail. The afternoon meal features main courses ($19 to $22) with proteins like grilled organic king salmon, roasted organic chicken breast and grilled ribeye steak, jumbo prawns a la plancha, an 8-ounce dry-aged prime burger and a Maine lobster club sandwich, with crispy tempura lobster, spicy mayo and avocado on brioche.
At dinner, starters ($10 to $19) include a baby gem salad with grilled romaine and blackened sushi-grade tuna; chipotle bison tartare with Peruvian purple potato chips; local burrata with tomato chutney; and pork belly "surf and turf" with roasted langoustine tail. Main courses ($19 to $45) include a popular vegetarian Moroccan butternut squash risotto, buttermilk-baked black cod; Dover sole; wild boar paupiette; Rocky Mountain lamb, with chipotle-crusted loin and roasted double lamb chop; and spice-crusted grilled 14-ounce N.Y. strip with roasted black garlic and Noble fries.
Early favorites include the duck degustation ($32) with pavé duck breast, leg confit, foie gras and sunny-side-up duck egg with multicolor cauliflower, fried salsify and dijon cassis sauce; another is a trio of grass-fed beef ($39) with filet, braised short rib, bone marrow spring roll and an assortment of mushrooms with truffled fingerling mash and Pinot Noir sauce. "People like being able to wander through different preparations," Bushong says.
Desserts ($9 to $13) are made in-house, with selections like a passion fruit souffle, hibiscus creme brulee, slow-baked acacia apple tartin with caramelized popcorn and "Grandma's cinnamon beignet" with Tia Maria Mexican chocolate sauce and wild berry jam.
Brunch is a newer addition at Noble, served on Saturday and Sunday mornings with dishes like duck egg Rossini, organic omelet Provençal, picanha steak and eggs and brioche French toast with mixed berries ($14 to $19.) Happy hour is a seven-day-a-week offer, from 3 to 6 p.m. with specials on food, beer, wine and cocktails, and an additional "cafe menu" bridges the gap between lunch and dinner with charcuterie, cheese, a burger and a few additional dishes like fried smelt, duck wing confit, shrimp and chorizo palacio. (The cafe menu is also available for late-night guests.)
All of the menus will change frequently, Ladden said, with regular specials and seasonal shifts.
Ladden said it was important to him to present a complete guest experience at Noble, between the service and food and drink quality. "When you come here, we want to do everything a notch higher," he said. "I don't mean that from an expensive or stuffy kind of way, but we want to make sure that people have fun."
"There's so much thought put into every little aspect, I think the food kind of reflects the design," Bushong said. "The favorites are emblematic of what the restaurant and bar [are] trying to do, where we put so much thought into every particular detail, from the tiles all the way through to the desserts. It's supposed to flow into one common ground."
Ladden designed the large backlit bar, displaying a mammoth selection of spirits, so that it could be seen from anywhere in the dining room, he said. This is where both guests and bar staff get to play: cocktails are both classic and unique, in categories like "light and low ABV," "shaken and refreshing," "strong and stirred" and "adventurous." Large-format cocktails, serving 4 or more guests, include a Noble Mai Tai with lime wheels and edible flowers, and a Russian Spring Punch with Absolut Elyx, lemon nectar, cream, cassis and prosecco.
Ladden says he's happy to see the concept come to fruition and particularly that it was able to debut next door to his original site in West Hartford, as he'd been considering potential expansion to Stamford and New Haven. "West Hartford Center has become great from both a restaurant perspective, and the variety of things you can get," he said. "You've got everybody represented. That's exciting to be a part of that."
He said he hasn't ruled out the possibility of opening more Noble & Co. locations, as he's successfully expanded the McLadden's brand to Simsbury and Northampton, Mass.
"It's a little too early to commit to anything at this point," he says, but, "we did build it with the purpose of being able to replicate it, so we could mimic the model."
Noble & Co., 43 Lasalle Road, West Hartford, is open 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Friday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday. Lunch runs from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekdays, happy hour is 3 to 6 p.m. daily, and a daily cafe menu is available from 3 to 6 p.m. and late night. Brunch is served from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekends; bar is open later. 860-519-1540, noblewh.com.