The last time I dined in Claridge’s main restaurant Gordon Ramsay’s name was above the door and Gordon Brown was Prime Minister. Despite returning to the hotel’s bars for special celebrations here and there, I completely missed the restaurant’s Simon Rogan and Daniel Humm years (though after the Ramsay experience I wasn’t in a rush to return to see another celebrity chef attempt to put their stamp on it).
Perhaps inspired by The Lanesborough’s decision to turn its Celeste into a more prosaic ‘Grill’, or hotels like The Goring and The Ritz which have never really felt the need to market their restaurant around a TV chef (apart from the former’s short-lived Siren), Claridge’s has “de-branded” its restaurant. No more egos, no more concepts, no threats of plant-based experimentation that would alienate the hotel’s regulars; instead, like rebooting a superhero franchise, they’ve reverted to the original name, and perhaps like The Midland Grand, appointed an Irish chef who is experienced but doesn’t really seek the limelight. Similarly, the menu has been stripped back to crowd-pleasing dishes – well, pleasing to a solvent Mayfair crowd anyway.
The revamped design tastefully maintains the hotel’s famous art deco look with a luxe brasserie feel thanks to the spinach-coloured banquettes. Far from being a gilded Café Rouge, it remains a safe haven for hedge fund managers, socialites treating themselves and affluent tourists. The integral marble bar is a particularly striking focal point; a martini there beforehand is not just a lovely curtain-raiser to a meal but a necessary anaesthetic before the inevitably ruinous bill.
Ah yes, the bill. For any Mayfair experience like this it would be foolhardy to leave your home without a full liquidity check first. It’s going to be expensive. The prices are available online for due diligence but here’s a quick snapshot: bread is £5 (not gratis like it is at The Devonshire); a cheese course is £25; a beetroot salad is £19; wines by the glass start at £20 (unlike Noble Rot Mayfair’s slightly more accessible £3). There’s no subterfuge there, but when lunch can come close to £200 per head it’s reasonable to expect the food to be pretty much perfect.
In the absence of any amuse bouche, the black truffle buckwheat crumpets (£16 for two) seemed an appropriate choice to accompany the remains of the martini. Here, the pungent whiff of the deftly-shaved truffle and soubise cream (an onion béchamel) were a heady flavour combination but the soubise blocked any porous activity within the crumpet itself. Perhaps this was an attempt to elevate the crumpet to something more sophisticated, but – no disrespect to chef Coalin Finn’s vision – a crumpet should be moist and squidgy. In its simplest yet most sybaritic state, a crumpet is a Yayoi Kusama artwork in snack form: liquid fat should seep through those polka dot holes and spongy centre onto your fingers and the plate beneath. Sadly, these buckwheat hockey pucks were as dense as a PE teacher conference in the middle of an imploding star. Perhaps the solution is simple: spread some of the Claridge’s butter over them – preferably lots of it.
Next up, a leek and watercress velouté split with oil, studded with postage stamps of potato. The colour of this soup was never going to be appealing; whilst being reminiscent of Slimer from Ghostbusters it at least had the voluptuous texture you would expect of a classic velouté. To be truly worth its £13 price tag though it needed more peppery punch from the advertised watercress.
The Dorset lamb loin, whilst beautifully presented, was essentially a £44 canapé. These morsels of lamb were correctly cooked pink but a little tough. Kudos for the sauce Anchoïade though, which was skilfully made with a sheen that reflected the stained glass ceiling.
Swerving clear of the exorbitant cheese course, the meal ended on a high note with the chocolate soufflé tart with some cocoa nib ice cream on the side (£16). Chapeau to the pastry department here – this was impressive.
But all of this – essentially a cocktail, three courses and a snack, house wine, an espresso and service – came to a distressing, bowel-twisting £190. Perhaps a mere drop in the ocean for anyone staying in the hotel’s £60,000-a-night penthouse but, just for reference, the average three course lunch at Bouchon Racine is less than half that (and, I daresay, more memorable). True, Claridge’s offers a set lunch menu for £58 (exclusive of any drinks or sides) but arguably your money goes a bit further with the regional tasting menu at Theo Randall’s restaurant nearby (at the time of reviewing, £75 for four courses and three matching wines, all in).
Value issues and nit-picking aside, the restaurant must be praised for its lovely ambience and attentive service; it was virtually faultless on those fronts. There are fun flourishes beneath the seriousness too, such as the baked Alaska flambéed tableside or the Claridge’s embossed butter. But I left wondering, even once the coffers have been re-filled and the flat re-mortgaged, if it will be another 14 years before I return.
by J A Smith