The grand new venture from Canadian restaurateur Joey Ghazal bills itself as a ‘blend of old-world British elegance, New England extravagance and subterranean decadence’. Housed in a splendid townhouse overlooking Hanover Square that was once home to the Duke of Monrose, the setting certainly fits the bill, calling to mind Mayfair’s sophisticated white tie balls of the early 20th century. With a menu packed full of crowd-pleasers like lobster rolls, oysters and moule frites, and a sultry secret bar where you’ll find nightly jazz bands, The Maine is our London restaurant of the week.
The Maine on Hanover Square is a New England brasserie by way of Dubai, whose inspiration comes from Canadian restaurateur Joey Ghazal’s memories of holidaying in New England. Ghazal’s East Coast vacations were evidently more fabulous than most: for amongst the staples – lobster rolls, clam chowder etc – are shaved truffles, caviar, wagyu steak and a vogueish kale caesar. The setting is very smart (the listed townhouse was once home to the Duke of Montrose) but The Maine doesn’t take itself too seriously. Pound-a-shuck oysters, a cocktail happy hour and £35 prix fixe lunches will have the Condé Nast crew from across the square taking up permanent residence, no question.
Lunch is taken in the drawing room, a handsome Georgian room with an old-world fireplace and ornamental ceilings and new-world mirrored bar and mother-of-pearl chandeliers. Dinner’s served in the brasserie one floor down, a brasserie like no brasserie I’ve ever seen – all swirly carpets, betasselled velvet and shimmering marble, with a live band centre stage. The Maine’s secrets are never ending: another floor down is a hidden bar, accessed only with a key via the bathrooms (they too have to be seen to be believed).
As for the food, the overarching feeling is of abundance: even before the order arrives, the table is set with tomato salad, hot crusty baguette, butter, and a half bulb of roasted garlic. The menu is so vast, it might take weeks to eat one’s way through it: from francophone moule frites, escargots and steak frites, to modern American Maryland crab cakes, truffle mac and cheese, and pork chop and maple glaze.
At The Maine in Dubai, they sell 3.3m of their signature fish tacos a year. They’ve introduced the signature here and it’s an appealing lowbrow eat: soft tortillas piled with crispy fried cod pieces, shredded cabbage and spicy pico de gallo. Charred Brussels sprouts, another Dubai favourite I’m told, are excellent: crispy on the outside, soft in the centre.
Among the lighter dishes are a slightly too worthy lentil salad with sun-dried tomatoes and golden raisins and the ‘catch of the day’, a butterflied sea bass anointed with lemon and olive oil, which is pure elegant simplicity. Desserts such as pecan tart, Maine mud pie, and cookie dough with chocolate sauce and ice cream are everything an American dessert should be: sugary, sweet and perfectly unsophisticated. As fun and frivolous as The Maine itself.