Newly opened and re-launched hotel restaurants are everywhere this season. The Glossary reviews the best restaurants in London hotels.
London is enjoying a resurgence in hotel restaurants, with big-name chefs at the helm of the newly opened dining rooms. Hélène Darroze, Jason Atherton, Adam Byatt and Robin Gill are just four of the all-star chefs taking London hotels by storm. From new haunts in old luxuries, such as Claridges and The Connaught, to the latest sky-high hangouts at the city’s design-led outposts — including The Standard and The Hoxton — these are some of the best new and re-launched additions to the capital’s dining scene.
Hélène Darroze at The Connaught
How best to convey the experience of dining at the newly reopened Hélène Darroze at The Connaught? Let’s start at the end, over postprandial coffee, which our waiter Paulina expertly makes, first grinding the beans manually at the table and finally serving it in delicate Hermès ‘Bleus d’Ailleurs’ china cups. Such is the attention to detail paid to even a single cup of espresso. Hélène Darroze, who famously inspired the character of Colette in Pixar’s Ratatouille, divides her time between her restaurants in Paris and London. She’s been rewarded with two stars apiece in Paris and London, but not one to rest on her laurels, she has this year revitalised her restaurant empire, renaming her flagship French restaurant Marsan (after her hometown) in May 2019 and relaunching at The Connaught in September 2019 with a playful new look by Pierre Yovanovitch.
The oak-panelled dining room vibrates with new energy. It’s bursting with colour: here in the ‘Espelette red’ of the tables’ lacquered bases, there in the salmon-pink cornicing. Darroze has worked with historic houses and favoured artisans to offer, at every turn, a tactile new artwork to hold or behold. The ‘Chef’s Table’ is now London’s prettiest, with a table of travertine stone beneath artist Rochegaussen’s cobalt blue fresco. Elsewhere, there’s an Armagnac room — Darroze’s own family are producers — with 250 types and 50 vintages from 30 estates. The menu follows a simple formula: choose five (£120) or seven (£160) courses. Alternatively, come at lunch for the bighearted weekday lunch formula (just £65 including wine, water and coffee).
After a tantalising flurry of amuses — including a pine-infused consommé and a Montgomery cheddar shortbread with balsamic jelly — and a few hunks of campaillou bread with espelette pepper butter, starters are a play of contrasts. Grouse terrine en croûte with foie gras (a favourite ingredient) is classical and robust; cep ravioli is pretty but powerful, boosted with the strong flavours of snails, parsley and wet walnuts. As we discover, Darroze is not shy of flavour: next up is hake with black pudding, and a tender pork chop, its natural sweetness amplified with honey and beer. For me, there’s only one dessert, and that’s the Signature Baba. Many chefs do a version, of course, but none drenched in their family’s own Armagnac (we choose the spicy 1999 vintage). The result is both familiar and familial. It’s these stories, these details, that put Darroze among the greats.
Meal for two (wine wine): £420
Signature dishes: Lobster, tandoori spices; Signature Baba, Armagnac Darroze
What to drink: Wine pairings from the 3,000-bin cellar
Carlos Place, Mayfair, W1, the-connaught.co.uk
Davies and Brook at Claridges
When Davies and Brook finally opened its doors at Claridge’s in early December, it instantly shot to the top of the year’s ‘Best of’ lists. Its Swiss chef Daniel Humm may not be a household name but he’s revered by his peers as the chef half of the partnership behind New York’s Eleven Madison Park, winner of the World’s Best Restaurant in 2017. It was a shock when Humm and his front-of-house partner Will Guidara split so soon before the Claridge’s launch but, judging by a meal during opening week, Humm has everything under control. Already Davies and Brook feels like an old friend.
The dining room looks and feels lovely, the colonnades now accented with crystal, a series of photographs by artist Roni Horn lining the walls. Service is smooth and scrupulous – very much of the top-button-undone Manhattan school. The £98 four-course menu offers no gimmicks, no shocks of flavour. Some might find it a little straight. Not me, however: I find the subtlety a relief.
A pre-starter of scallop has us immediately on side, the raw shellfish served over ice with apple and horseradish alongside hot scallop broth and a scroll of freshly baked bread with scallop shell butter. Foie gras is a favourite ingredient. Humm presents the smooth, cocoa-marbled liver as a neat round lid concealing a little tartlet with sharp plum compôte and exemplary pastry. The sommelier plays a classical hand here, recommending an excellent Riesling Spätlese. Next, silky king crab chawanmushi, a set custard garnished with daikon and black truffle julienned to flatter the texture of the crab. The house signature of duck breast with beetroot and an assertive sauce civet is a must-order, paired with a glass of Stéphane Ogier’s Côte-Rôtie. After a hot apple doughnut with mulled wine ice cream, we assume that’s it. But no, our waiter sends us off home with chocolate and granola for the following day. We could get used to the Davies and Brook treatment.
Meal for two (wine wine): £300
Signature dishes: Dry-aged roast duck with honey and lavender; Celeriac braised with black truffle.
What to drink: Dirty Martini
Brook Street, London, W1, claridges.co.uk
Decimo at The Standard
Even before Decimo on the tenth floor of the London Standard hotel had served its first perfect, perfect ham croqueta, it was down as the opening of 2019. Isla, Adam Rawson’s restaurant on the ground floor was a teaser, but it was Decimo, helmed by Peter Sanchez-Iglesias (a star in his native Bristol and a bit of an enigma to Londoners) that we were all waiting for. It doesn’t disappoint. The fun begins in the lift, a pillarbox red capsule that zooms up the hotel exterior to the top floor, and opens up to vistas out towards St Pancras clock tower (which looks close enough to touch) and down over Dickensian streets below. Not even the most jaded Londoner could fail to be transported by the views.
Sanchez-Iglesias, who has two stars (one apiece at his family’s two restaurants, Casamia and Paco Tapas) has looked to both his Spanish heritage and the cooking of contemporary Mexico for inspiration, producing an easygoing menu of tapas, aguachile, tacos and grills. The hero dish, splashed all over Instagram, is a runny egg tortilla with caviar at £45. We say splurge on two portions of crab aguachile instead. The steamed white crab meat, its cool sweetness piqued with black jalapeño, kombu jelly and three-year-old soy, is unforgettable. Our unusual aged natural Albariño is a perfect match. The flavours, the colours, the textures are dialled up to eleven.
How else to grab our attention, which could at any moment wander to the views, the people or the drinks? Turbot comes brushed with ham fat and Mexican oregano before being given the wood-fire treatment. Tomatoes are grated and sliced and anointed with arbequina oil. Even the more modest ingredients have a steal-the-show quality: grill-blackened trombetta courgettes, fried potatoes with alioli and a single roasted fig speared with a vanilla pod are dishes we’ll come back for again and again. Look past the hype: Decimo is a keeper.
Meal for two (wine wine): £160
Signature dishes: Decimo tortilla with caviar; Homage to Caesar Cardini
What to drink: Mezcal
10 Argyle Street, King’s Cross, WC1, decimo.london
Seabird at The Hoxton
When it comes to restaurants in tall buildings, there’s a widely held belief that the quality of food drops a notch for every floor you travel. By this measure, Seabird, located on the 14th floor of The Hoxton Hotel in Southwark, should be a dud. First impressions suggest otherwise. The room’s bright and beautiful, the skyline even more so (I recommend factoring in time for drinks and views on the heated terrace). Every detail has been prettified to perfection, from the ceramic ‘scale’ tiles on the tabletops to the tassels on the cushions and the cream crochet tops on the waiting staff.
This is not your typical seafood restaurant. This new concept is a collaboration with hip Williamsburg raw bar Maison Premiere. Shellfish is the star, presented at a grand central altar with marble counter. Oysters get their own list (London’s longest) and ‘mermelier’ (a sommelier of the sea). We pick a selection from Morecambe Bay, Yerseke in Holland and, my favourite, Gillardeau from Poitou-Charentes. We over-order, partly because portions are vast and partly because it’s all so damned tempting. Keep your head: one ‘small plate’ each is ample. We rather wish we’d given sea bass crudo a miss: the mild, sweet fish doesn’t stand a chance against black olive tapenade. Far better is the show-stopping signature of an octopus tentacle served hot-dog style in a brioche bun, with a pop art squirt of sobrasada aioli.
Thematically, the menu is loosely Iberian. A handsome John Dory — I didn’t know God made them this big — is cooked over coals and lavishly spread with mojo verde. It could feed an entire family. It’s accompanied by addictive Canarian papas arrugadas (potatoes boiled in salt water) with mojo rojo. We stick with the Canary Islands on the wine front, relishing the rare opportunity to drink the region’s sprightly wines by the glass. The drinks list is diverting for any number of other reasons too: our heads are turned by a hard-to-get Cuvée des MOF Sommeliers Chartreuse and a shot of Izarra liqueur tipped over a lemon granita dabbed with chantilly cream. Life on the 14th floor is pretty good.
Meal for two (wine wine): £140
Signature dishes: Oysters; octopus roll, sobrasada aioli, padron peppers
What to drink: Iberian whites
32-40 Blackfriars Road, Southwark, SE1, seabirdlondon.com
The Betterment at The Biltmore
Jason Atherton’s latest opening at The Biltmore Mayfair, directly opposite what was his debut restaurant Maze (and is now his old rival Ramsay’s Lucky Cat), sees the arch innovator reimagine the modern British hotel dining room. He’s included a few classics — a burger, a rib-eye, a proper English breakfast — but most other conventions are left at the door. Atherton is dubbing it a ‘theatre of the senses’.
Certainly, there’s lots to take in, from comedy cocktails (our ‘Orange American’ sports a Trump wig of yellow candyfloss) to champagne trolleys, to the receptionists’ off-the-shoulder tops, and a heated terrace that, for all the planters, somehow still feels like a parking bay.
The concept needs a little ‘betterment’ for want of a better word, but that doesn’t stop the kitchen going full tilt. Our langoustine crudo dusted with raspberry powder is supremely elegant, and gratinated brown crab on brioche toast packs a mighty umami punch. We split a whole roast chicken between two. Stuffed with trompette mushrooms and served with retro ‘sauce Albuféra’, it’s blissful (and a steal at £45). With cooking this good, who needs gimmicks? Come for the theatre, stay for the food.
Meal for two (wine wine): £140
Signature dishes: The Betterment burger, braised oxtail, fontina cheese
What to drink: The Orange American
44 Grosvenor Square, Mayfair, W1, thebettermentmayfair.com
The Yard by Robin Gill at Great Scotland Yard
It’s quite intimidating taking wine recommendations from a sommelier with a knuckleduster — what happens if the bottle’s corked? — but it’s all part of the narrative at The Yard by Robin Gill, the new restaurant at Great Scotland Yard Hotel that opened in London in December on the site of the old Metropolitan Police HQ. The 152room hotel is the first UK property in the Unbound Collection by Hyatt. They’ve had fun exploring the law-and-order theme, introducing subtle touches such as epaulettes on the uniforms, a display of bobbies’ whistles and a stunning ‘broken glass’ chandelier in The 40 Elephants bar — named after an all-female roll gang of thieves. The art in the foyer comes from prison arts charity Koestler Arts.
Robin Gill, the affable Irish chef behind well-received south London independents (Sorella, Darby’s, The Dairy), was an inspired signing. I’m always impressed by how complex yet approachable his cooking is. Our waiter lays down the law, insisting we order the Cornish lobster special. This unapologetically luxurious dish with ravioli, lobster bisque and a shoal of brown shrimp is our dish of the night. Another starter of chicken thigh that combines the savoury umami layers of pressed chicken skin with the turbo-charged vegetal ‘oomph’ of a leek and seaweed roll is a clear expression of the Gill style. An Asian-inflected dish of monkfish and turnips is spiked with homemade XO sauce that is aromatic rather than aggressive.
At lunchtime there’s also a set menu, which, at £19.50 for two courses, represents uncommonly good value. Back to our sommelier: it turns out she’s really a sweetheart. Her enthusiasm for the Yard’s cellar is both impressive and understandable: she steers us towards a floral Saint-Péray, an earthy Naoussa from Greece (poured en magnum) and a classic Banyuls to go with chocolate mousse. Further libatory temptations lie behind the secret doors that open to reveal the hotel’s whisky bar, Síbín.
Meal for two (wine wine): £170
Signature dishes: Chicken thigh, crispy skin, leek and truffle terrine; roast fallow deer, red cabbage, celeriac, hunter’s pie.
What to drink: The 40 Elephants Cup cocktail
3-5 Great Scotland Yard, Westminster, SW1, greatscotlandyard.com
Charlie’s at Browns
Brown’s Hotel has had a rethink of its vintage panelled dining room, installing a new chef — Adam Byatt — little more than a year since the previous one — three Michelin-starred Heinz Beck — arrived. I have a strong suspicion that Byatt’s modern British concept will have the staying power that eluded Beck. Byatt knows London. The Essex lad did his apprenticeship at Claridge’s and has worked in the city ever since, winning a Michelin star at his neighbourhood restaurant Trinity in Clapham in 2016. It’s this experience that has taught him that his culinary egotism comes second to what the locals want.
We settle onto a striped velvet banquette where we’re immediately treated to a boule of still-hot sourdough with salty butter, and a still life with leafy radishes, silky cod’s roe and golden olive oil. From here, we take in the surrounds: good linen, cut flowers, pretty china (remind me to put William Edwards’ Sultan’s Garden on my next wedding list) and a fleet of waiting staff in neat white jackets. Classic grill room dishes — game, oysters, whole fish and roasts — call to us. Game traditions are upheld by the buttery, nutmeg-infused bread sauce that arrives with our grouse. Pommes soufflées stand in smartly for game chips.
A first course of pressed terrine with chicken, ceps and rich duck liver will please the traditionalists too. Byatt’s innovation is to update the old, dare we say, male-skewed grill model with the introduction of lighter international flavours such as a cauliflower, caper and raisin salad, Sicilian red prawns and seared tuna with charred cucumber and clementine. Dessert too is whatever takes the fancy, which for some will mean cheese and port, for others a scoop or two of salted caramel ice-cream. For us, it means a flawless crème caramel.
Meal for two (wine wine): £160
Signature dishes: Daily dishes from the trolley, eg rib of beef and Yorkshire pudding on Sundays
What to drink: Old World wines
Brown’s Hotel, Albemarle Street, Mayfair W1; roccofortehotels.com
Wild Honey at The Sofitel
Anthony Demetre certainly wasn’t out of the kitchen for long. Only two months elapsed between the closure of Wild Honey in Mayfair and its reopening in St James’s — but it was long enough to remind Londoners not to take this fine chef for granted. I’m reminded of this as I sit down at a marble-topped table in Wild Honey’s new home within the Sofitel London St James.
All the Demetre signatures are there, by which I don’t so much mean the classic bouillabaisse Marseillaise and rabbit shoulder cottage pie that have followed him from his Soho restaurant Arbutus, as the set menus and the range of wines en carafe that define his approach. Which other London five-star hotels do three courses at lunch for as little as £27? He does a ‘café menu’ too, an abbreviated version of the carte, which includes much talked-about dishes such as hand cut rigatoni ‘cacio e pepe’ with crispy chicken thighs, and wobbly nutmeg-crusted custard tart. It’s hard to believe it now, but there was a time when such approachability was considered beneath a Michelin-starred chef’s dignity. Demetre broke the mould. Demetre has had a hand in the wine list too, bringing his favourite suppliers with him. Natural wines from Tutto, Dynamic Vines, Les Caves de Pyrene and the like are more often found in hip East London bistros than in glossy global hotel groups. Our textural
Australian Pinot Grigio (pale pink from a few days’ skin contact) is a happy discovery. Menus, as one would expect, are super seasonal. Big flavours for winter days include cod with Shetland mussels and purple-sprouting broccoli; roast heritage beetroot, Christian Parra black pudding, cured wild boar cheek and green sauce; and ricotta ‘gnudi’ with squash, grapes and red endive. It’s good to have Wild Honey back.
Meal for two (wine wine): £150
Signature dishes: Hand cut rigatoni ‘cacio e pepe’, crisp boneless chicken wings; Classic bouillabaisse Marseille-style; Wild Honey ice cream, fresh honey.
What to drink: Negroni cocktails, French wines from the single bottle list
8 Pall Mall, St James’s, SW1, wildhoneystjames.co.uk