Monday, 27 June 2022

The Lanesborough Grill, Belgravia

One of the side effects of writing a restaurant blog for as long as I have, aside from an ever-increasing waistline, is that you often end up revisiting the same sites as they go through various different incarnations. I first visited the grand dining hall of the Lanesborough hotel all the way back in 2011 when it went by the name Apsley's and was serving (despite the very English name) a pricey - even for 2011 - menu of Italian fine dining. I remember one of the starters arriving on nine separate plates, but not much else, which probably tells you everything you need to know.

After that it became Celeste, where the vast space became increasingly untroubled by customers and earned the nickname Marie Celeste. I remember being one of two tables taken on a Saturday lunchtime, eating another fairly unmemorable lunch of posh Italian dishes. Celeste wasn't a bad restaurant as such, and it is certainly true that finding the right kind of operation to sit comfortably in a 5-star hotel is no easy task, but I don't think I've ever really been delighted to pay over £30 for a plate of pasta regardless of how plush the carpets are.

Anyway it's third time lucky for the Lanesborough - at least I imagine they hope it is - with their flagship restaurant now being called the Lanesborough Grill. As the name suggests, the new menu has much more in common with the grand old tradition of London hotel restaurants (think the Dorchester or the Ritz) than the pretensions of Italian fine dining, and although it's certainly not cheap, starters of £20-ish and mains of £40-ish mean that your final bill will be less disastrous than if you had the full Antipasti - Primi - Secondi - Dulci palava.

The house bread at the Lanesborough is extremely good, a quartered sourdough bun served with a generous puck of salted butter. It's details like this that separate the good from the best of fine dining kitchens, and while the ability to bake bread this good may be increasingly common it's never a trivial thing to achieve.

Octopus was very nicely grilled, with crispy bits of charred tentacle contrasting nicely with the meaty, tender flesh inside. The seafood came arranged inside a kind of chunky salad of Jersey potatoes and sea kale, a remarkably successful pairing. Best of all though was a white almond 'gazpacho' serving as a sauce, bringing a touch of Mediterranean flair to the plate.

Orkney scallop was, in its favour, vast - a ludicrously outsized example whose shell must have been the size of a kitchen table. I still maintain that a cooked scallop is generally nicer to eat than raw, and this was very much raw, dressed simply in tomato and rapeseed oil, but it was clearly an excellent specimen and they'd obviously decided to mess about with it too much would have a detrimental effect. Not my dish, but I didn't hear any complaints.

Next a little interstatial course of buttermilk-fried quail, the coating puffed up with I think rice or oats to great effect. It came on a bed of mushrooms and spring onions and one of those lovely dark green vegetal oils, and was a lovely, earthy counterpoint to the quail.

We hardly needed any more carbs given the main course was going to be a giant pie, but I was intrigued by the idea of hash browns with cheese and so wanted to see what would turn up. These neat little cubes of fried potato had a lovely crunch but added to the usual diced potato filling was a delirious slick of melted goat's cheese, an idea so simple and yet so good I'm surprised I've not stumbled upon it before.

But yes if a menu contains beef Wellington, I'm going to need a very good reason not to order it, and so with no such reasons obvious, order it I did. Presented whole and sliced theatrically tableside, it was an extremely good example of its kind, with beef cooked to medium rare, and a pastry casing not too think or soggy. The sauce was a lovely salty, glossy creation that tasted like it had taken someone a good deal of time and care to get right, and with the Wellington itself came a nice meaty slice of hen-of-the-woods mushroom, another thing I always look for on menus when the season's right. As a nicely generous touch they left us the largely meat-free 'ends' of the Wellingdon, but by this point thanks to over-feeding on that excellent bread and the irresistable cheesey hash browns, we were in no position to make any use of them. Still, nice touch.

Desserts were geometrically beautiful and enormous fun to eat, in the finest London 5-star hotel restaurant tradition. Glazed caramel white chocolate with Poire William was every bit as good as that sounds, with some excellent texture contrasts. And a little brioche pudding flavoured with "burnt orange purée" was also superb, its "milk ice cream" rich and smooth and buttery.

As I mention above, I was no fan of Apsley's or Celeste and accepted an invite to the latest incarnation more in hope than expectation. But the new "posh British" menu sits far, far better in this lovely room than the fussy, faintly pretentious Italian concept it replaces. No, it's not quite the Ritz, but then where is - I enjoyed my meal here far more than for example the Foyer restaurant at Claridge's which is probably its closest competitor. Sometimes, you just want to sit down in gloriously upholstered surroundings and order three courses of skilful, attractive takes on the classics, which is exactly what the Lanesborough Grill delivers in spades. Let's hope this version finds an audience and outlasts both of its predecessors and more.


I was invited to the Lanesborough Grill and didn't see a bill. Expect to pay about £100/head with a couple of glasses of wine.

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