Tuesday, 17 April 2018

The Colony Grill Room, Mayfair

My evening at the Colony Grill Room, the restaurant at the swanky Beaumont Hotel in Mayfair, did not begin well. Being a few minutes early (I'm always early) and soaking wet thanks to the weather being very April, I thought I'd pass the time by taking a few shots of the grand entrance hallway, which leads through the American Bar towards the restaurant at the back. Now I admit, thanks to the weather, I was looking even more scruffy and unsuitable than usual but I was still taken aback by the speed and ferocity of hotel concierge's reaction to my clicking.

"Sir! No photos. You can't take photos of the guests."

"I honestly wasn't, I'm just taking some of this hallway here, you can't make out any faces."

"No, you can't take photos. People come here for a reason."

I wasn't sure what he meant by that. I should hope they did come here for a reason, and weren't just lost on the way to Debenhams. "Well, I'm here for a reason - you invited me to review your restaurant."

"No photos in the lobby."

Anyway, their place, their rules, though you'd wonder how a 5-star hotel in London survives at all with a no-photo rule in their lobby in the age of Instagram. If we follow even a handful of the same people, I'm sure your feed will be just as heavily populated with the gleaming black & white Claridge's foyer, or that grand marble staircase at the Rosewood. Isn't showing off on social media what hotel lobbies are for?

Fortunately, once seated in a plush booth in the Colony Grill Room, things were slightly less fraught. Oysters may not be the fiercest test of a restaurants skill set, but they were lean and sprightly things, the Carlingford Lough and the smaller Claires both carefully opened and in good condition. I wasn't entirely sure what to do with a few slices of buttered wholemeal Hovis (or similar) they came with, though. House bread (nice crunchy rolls) had already been served. Perhaps someone can enlighten me?

Lobster bisque next, and a very decent example of its kind it was too. Fresh lobster meat and seafood-friendly herbs and veg (chives amongst others) were prettily arranged in the bottom of the bowl before the thick soup was poured on top. To be brutally honest (and this is after all why you're here) I've had more spectacularly-flavoured bisques elsewhere, but even a fairly humdrum lobster bisque is usually worth the effort, and this was far better than humdrum.

A friend's fried artichokes were enjoyable in pretty much the same way - not spectacular, nothing fancy, timed to just have a bit of crunch on the edges and dressed with a sharp salsa verde, they were familiar and gently rewarding without rewriting any artichoke rulebooks.

Things continued in this vein, pretty much. I don't want to sound like I'm being down on the food at all - it was all objectively perfectly decent stuff, better than your average hotel restaurant and not ludicrously priced considering the location. But I got the same feeling here as I did at most other Corbin & King places, that the food is playing second-fiddle to the swish surroundings and sense of occasion, and that myself and the other diners that evening (mainly older couples and the odd celeb - Marc Almond was on the next table) weren't that interested in having their culinary boundaries pushed. This was calf's liver and bacon, the liver cooked nicely medium-rare and bacon nice and crisp, and was polished off quite happily.

The reason I was here was to try the grilled cheese sandwich - apparently it was National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day, and I was told they were particularly proud of their version. I have to say, having tried it, it didn't really do much for me. Perhaps the grated cheddar was deliberately undercooked and chalky - it still looked grated - and perhaps the rather timid colour on the bread was a reaction to the demands of the elderly clientele, but if you're going to go down the American comfort food route you need to commit to it in full, with huge mounds of oozing plastic cheese, crisped up and burned at the edges. Chips were good though, so I'll give them that.

And soon enough desserts were here to lift our spirits. Baked Alaska, flambéed dramatically tableside in kirsch, would have been a bit more enjoyable had the centre not been absolutely rock-solid, although the flavour, once it had been chipped off and sampled, was good.

The Colony had one final trick up its sleeve, though. "Fruit sorbet", ordered mainly because dessert was part of the deal and hardly out of hunger, was quite unexpectedly the most powerfully-flavoured and impressive bit of sorbet work I've had in many years. In fact the last time I can recall sorbet this good it was at Little Barwick House all the way back in 2014, and that I still think about it to this day shows how good that one was. So whoever made the version at the Colony should be very pleased with themselves indeed - give yourself an icy pat on the back.

In the end, I can pick fault with the food as much as I want (and I do want) but as I mentioned before, a slightly less-than-perfect cheese toastie and a less-than-spectacular lobster soup will be of supreme unimportance to the average punter at the Colony Grill. I'm not their target market and that's fine, I can live with that - I wouldn't rush back to the Delaunay or the Wolseley either, other Corbin & King flagships (though of course Zedel is almost perfect, the exception to the rule). But it's clear that what they do very well is own and operate grand, romantic restaurants with an exquisite sense of style and occasion, and they do that very well indeed. Corbin & King are, undoubtedly, fantastic restaurateurs. There's every chance you will love a meal there. Just don't take any photos.


I was invited to the Colony Grill Room. I know, there's been a bit of a run of invites lately, I'll try and make sure I pay for the next one and do it properly.


Alex C said...

I can't help but think that on occasion not having your boundaries pushed can be a good thing, or at least a comforting thing. Thick starched white napkins and unobtrusive service. Good food that doesn't try to be the best thing you've ever had, but is consistently reliable, and you can be sure of a decent wine list. That doesn't sound like a waste of time to me at all though granted it doesn't make for an easy blog to write either. I suppose it's what nanny would have called good old-fashioned stodge :-)

Doc Railgun said...

At least there's one place left that refuses to use garbage cheese to make a grilled-cheese sandwich. I won't even use plastic American cheese at home.

Ta's said...

Sorry it didn't start well.

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