Monday, 14 June 2021

The Foyer & Reading Room at Claridge's, Mayfair

There's a strange kind of light in the Claridge's Foyer restaurant, a sort of otherworldly greenish hue that appears to have no obvious source. There's green detailing in the carpets and and upholstery but certainly not so much that it could create such an odd effect, and examination of the table lamps and ceiling lights positioned around the room appear to just be the normal shade of electric yellow. It's not an unpleasant experience sat in here - far from it - but the soft furnishings and tinkle of the grand piano combined with the bizarre green fug combines to create a slightly out-of-body experience, like you're living in a flashback sequence from an old VHS movie.

In this rarefied if rather discombobulating space, impeccably smart staff seem to fade entirely in and out of existence as and when required - if you need your glass refilling they are there and in the blink of an eye, and then a moment later gone again, leaving you the space to yourself. You should expect a front-of-house of this standard at places (and prices) like these but even so, experiencing international-level service first-hand is never anything less than a thrill, and watching how they dealt with the odd issue that cropped up during the dinner was a masterclass in grace and efficiency.

And yes, I had a couple of issues with my dinner at the Foyer but it's important that all these niggles come in the context of a serious restaurant serving serious food at serious prices, and I'm only pointing them out in the spirit of completeness and the fact that really, at this level, I don't think it's unreasonable to expect something approaching perfection from your dinner.

Speaking of perfection though, the house bread was exactly that - an absolutely stonking sourdough with a moist, warm, tacky interior and a delicate thin crust. How much better to be served a generous chunk of this beautiful rustic creation than some frou-frou cones of ciabatta or oil-soggy foccacia. Full marks for technique and sensibility.

How odd, then, that a kichen that at first seemed so fully in control of its baking abilities should produce these rather lacklustre gougere. They weren't awful, just disappointing - cold, slightly chewy pastry containing a mealy filling of very little flavour, and a world apart from the stunning versions served at the Ritz. And I'm allowed to compare Claridge's with the Ritz, surely?

Lobster bisque needed a bit more salt and a lot more seafood flavour - it could have passed as a tomato soup were it not for the chunks of lobster floating around in it - but I'm still easily able to enjoy a slightly-seafoody tomato soup, and the tortellini were marvellously delicate and light. But again, for comparison, try the version at Sheekey's - much more my kind of thing.

I didn't get to try any of the steak tartare but it certainly looked the part, and the person whose dish it was had ordered it before, so that sounds like a recommendation to me. Like the use of variagated leaves, too.

Tuna tartare was a hugely generous portion, particularly regarding the tuna which arrived in inch-thick cubes piled high over thinly-sliced heritage tomatoes in a nice sharp dressing. OK, this is not the most radical combination of ingredients in the world but a hotel restaurant, even one as illustrious as Claridge's Foyer, isn't about shocking with unusual techniques or flavours (you can leave that to Davis & Brook next door) but serving familiar things as well as they can be served. And I would say the tuna tartare fit that bill.

Rack of lamb was so cleanly, precisely cooked to a uniform pink that they gleamed on the plate, bathed in their own crimson light in contrast to the irridescent glow of the peas and broad beans beneath. And they came with a little jug of dangerously addictive glossy lamb jus, with a texture cleverly thick enough to cling seductively to the meat even when piping hot.

Beef fillet was - eventually - similarly well-received, but I'm afraid they needed a two runs to get this right. The first example, ordered medium-rare, arrived cooked to grey all the way to the centre, an unforgiveable error for your average high street steakhouse never mind a leading hotel of the world. But hey, these things happen to the best of us, and the staff were so apologetic and made things right so comprehensively that it was almost worth the initial disappointment just to see a world-class front of house flex its hospitality muscles. It was replaced, taken off the bill, and all the sides it was ordered with replaced too, so that they didn't go cold. Top work.

All the sides - and boy did we go for it on this front - were perfect. Mashed potato was correctly 90% butter, dauphinoise had a lovely balance between dairy and starch and a golden crust on top like a creme brulée, and chips were crunchy and moreish in the steakhouse style.

I was kicking myself I didn't have room for dessert, but all those various forms of carbohydrates defeated us, and so we filled the time with a digestif instead - in this case a couple of espresso martinis and a Manhattan. The bar work at Claridge's is, as you might rightly expect, some of the best in town, and it's not for no reason they're already back operating at capacity, their clientele (which included me earlier on that evening) spilling over not only onto the new outdoor terrace but to the bar area of Davis and Brook. It is genuinely heartwarming to see them back, and so popular.

As for the Foyer restaurant, well, I had a lovely evening and more than enough went right to make the journey worthwhile, but for an establishment that so often strives for perfection in everything they do, and usually succeeds, it felt like a step behind the rest of their offerings. Compared to the cocktail bars and even the afternoon tea served in the same room (which, by the way, is utter perfection from start to finish), it just wasn't quite there.

But anyway, it's still great to be out and about, and lovely to see the old girl lit up and full of happy punters again. A visit to Claridge's is still, as it ever was, a privilege, and I will be back as soon and as often as my wallet will allow.


1 comment:

Cubbie Cohen said...

The first paragraph of this review is gripping, like the opening of a classic novel. Superb writing.