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The Grill at The Dorchester 

Grand Hotel dining at its British Best

The Grill at The Dorchester is one of the grandest culinary and dining institutions The room itself is very flamboyant, with rich red drapes and hangings and gold leaf in the Spanish barrocco style. The lights gleamed on the silverware and the fine glasses, but I rather hoped that, as the evening wore on, they would gradually dim a little! Living out in the country, I now tend to dine early, so for a while the patrons were well outnumbered by the staff, who were charmingly welcoming and didn't hover awkwardly.

I went as a guest of business associates last January 2001, and very much enjoyed the special game menu, but didn't feel I was able, in the circumstances, to give the cooking the attention it clearly deserved. When we go out to review a restaurant, I like to be able to concentrate fully on the food and wine. This time I took with me as my guest, Chef-Professor Fran McFadden, of Drexel University's Hotel and Restaurant School in Philadelphia.

 There has been a great tradition of German speaking chefs at the Dorchester. Within recent memory there was the then youthful Anton Mosimann, whose appointment in 1975 caused quite a stir, but he stayed twelve years. Then Willi Elsener had a distinguished 13 year reign, and last year with a new century it was time for another change with the promotion of Henry Brosi to head chef des cuisines. Brosi is a great Anglophile, certainly where food and ingredients are concerned; (he's lived here for 10 years so he must like us just a bit!)

Brosi  uses a well trained independent eye (and palate) to get to the heart of traditional English cooking. Often we take  our own traditions for granted, and it takes an unbiased outsider to see the wood for the trees. So, for instance, his soups like pea and ham, or broad bean were very essences of fresh green vegetable, with no daft attempt to render them as lurid espressos. Potted shrimp hadn't been messed up with wasabi dressing or served on a tower of wilted bok choy. It came plainly served in a little ramekin dish topped with melted butter that tasted as though it had just been fished out of Neptune's larder. But there are also plenty of examples of haute cuisine on the menu, and Fran was very pleased with his medley of grilled South Coast scallops and Dublin Bay prawns, which nestled on a bed of the most delicate creamed salted cod whose texture was miraculously soft. I tried making a brandade de morue last week, but I now know that mine was coarse grained by comparison.

We decided to stick to the very traditional for our main courses. After agonising over various steaks from the grill,, or traditional Shepherd's Pie or Dover Sole (it's always intriguing to see what top professionals do with classics) we plumped for Oxtail and Roast Beef. There is no shortage of trolleys in the dining room. A vast selection of home baked breads was trundled over by a sweet but serious girl who looked astonished when I asked her if she had baked it herself! The next trolley to arrive was a great mobile silver chafing dish which opened to reveal a huge rib of beef from which perfect thick pink slices were carved. The Yorkshire pudding was crisp and good, the roast potatoes fair (almost impossible to get them a la Delia in a restaurant) but the mashed spuds were creamy-dreamy. 

Fran had the oxtail, which is harder to get in the States, given the prejudice there against anything that might remind you of meat's natural origins. The meat had been taken off the bone, slow cooked and reassembled in a ring around yet another delicate stuffing. Carefully turned vegetables in a glossy reduction completed a picture that was both elegant and unfussy.

The next trolley to arrive was that of the cheese - no fromage here, but some of the best English cheeses I've tried. Apart from the good but ubiquitous Cropwell Bishop Stilton, there was the excellent Swaledale, and Golden Cross goat's as good as any French affineur could achieve; and Rooks Nest, a barrel shaped cheese from Sussex with a dark hue and smoky flavour. The cheeses are served beautifully with grapes and nuts. This didn't leave much space for trolley number four. 

Dessert trolleys are now regarded as so naff, that they are back in fashion again - as long as  they are not bearing dodgy Tiramisu and soggy caramelised oranges in some Italian Tratt with dusty raffia covered Chianti bottles. Much depends on the kind of puddings you put on them. At the Dorchester, puddings like warm bitter chocolate fondant with kumquat marmalade ice cream, or plums roasted in muscat layered with blackcurrant sabayon and tamarillo sorbet must be ordered from the menu. But it's nice to be able to look at things, and so I tried a couple of mini portions of classics: a crème brulée which was still crisp on top, and some bread and butter pudding which was nice and light and whose fruit was properly buried, not burnt on top. Fran's raspberry charlotte was much admired, but we wondered whether this graceful concoction was a bit far removed from what our grandmothers would recognise: "It's Charlotte dear, but not as you know it!" (See  note below).

As you might imagine, there's a vast wine list with many of those wines that you and I could only dream of. But there are some very nice affordable ones too, and a very good selection by the glass. We greatly enjoyed a glass of New Zealand Chardonnay from Red Wood Valley, which became even more attractive as it thawed out, the Pinot Gris from Schlumberger was opulent, and the Wolf Blass President's selection Shiraz was a perfect partner for the beefy dishes. There's probably a trolley number five, clinking with bottles of brandy and port, but I had to rush off to catch my train home. If you fancy a treat, and would like to experience an expert and faithful rendering of English Cuisine  but which is free from the extremes of  being fuddy-duddy or trendy, then as they say look no further...

Clifford Mould April 2001

The Dorchester Grill Room - The Facts

The Grill Room, The Dorchester Hotel, Park Lane, London W1
Reservations: 020 7629 8888

Lunch 12.30 - 2.00pm (Daily set menu £29.50 three courses)
Dinner 6.00-7.30 pre-theatre Monday - Friday 2 courses: £20.00
Daily Set Dinner Menu  £39.50 6.00pm - 11.00pm 
Typical a la carte dinner including drinks from about £55.00

 Charlotte: According to Larousse Gastronomique, there are two kinds of Charlotte - the traditional kind that Grandma knew is typified by the apple charlotte, "a confection of fruit [in a pudding mould], lined with thin slices of buttered bread and usually served hot". The other kind, of which I believe our raspberry charlotte was an example, was invented by the French patissier royale, Careme, and is an example of Charlotte Russe. It is prepared as a Bavarois (Bavarian cream) in a ring mould with a base of sponge fingers. Careme sent the dessert out as a take-out for the benefit of foreign emissaries who had entertaining to do. Presumably it was popular with Russian diplomats as the chef had originally called it Charlotte Parisienne. Who the Charlotte was we can only guess...


UK Restaurant Reviews – The Best Of The Dine Online Restaurant Reviews 2001 - 2010

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