The ageless beauty of Claridge’s has long been documented, a glittering hotel familiar from Condé Nast Traveller spreads that, over the decades of its fantasyland existence, has become a magnificent dreamscape of precisely what you picture when you contemplate the possibilities of living like the Mayfair uppercrust. The procession of fruity, whimsical cocktails in The Painter’s Room are endless; the highbrow tea is splendid; the seemingly infinite warrens of corridors – some well-marbled, others finely carpeted – wouldn’t look out of place on an Escher; and the lobby feels like a waiting lounge where pillars, costly lighting, hard checkerboard flooring and a never-ending flow of important people are folded into one. Tokyo has the Park Hyatt; Paris has Le Bristol; cinema has The Grand Budapest Hotel; but London – London has Claridge’s.
And among the expensive hallmarks that lure in the droves to the corner of Davies and Brook Street – the André Fu-designed subterranean spa, where the barely noticeable fragrances of burning cedarwood and sage will bring to mind your first trip to Kyoto; the sofas stationed within The Penhthouse that rotate to follow the movement of the sun; the in-house exhibition space that can easily pass as an extension of the nearby Gagosian – it is the lovely, newly renovated stretch of restaurant that is the call of the moment, a temple dedicated to the primal pleasures of seafood and meat.
The newly renovated restaurant space at Claridge's
Hotel restaurants can be places with ever-shifting standards – spotlit destinations where hopes are pinned on a big-name chef who aims to hit it large, somehow, in a venue often reserved for continental breakfasts and omelette stations – but London is a city famous for delivering them, starting, these days, with Nobu’s forever-winning combination of fish, rice and vinegar, then perhaps moving to Heston Blumenthal’s historic cuisine at the Mandarin Oriental, then, depending on your inclinations, is likely topped by The Dorchester’s London home for Alain Ducasse, whose main job is to plough diners with an incomprehensible amount of well-sourced, prime ingredients for the duration of a long evening.
The kitchen at Claridge’s, over the decades, has been a who’s-who of chefly greatness, with a yearbook that includes Gordon Ramsay, who did a 12-year run at the pass; Aulis chef Simon Rogan, whose Fera attempted to transport the seasons-led cooking of his Cumbria restaurant, L’Enclume, to Zone 1; and Daniel Humm, who, with Davies and Brook, brought a white-walled seriousness to the corner of the building as he affixed sombre photography to the walls and breezed in a masterful focus to the kitchen, doing elegant, considered things with conventional luxury hallmarks like foie gras and duck.
In recent months, Claridge’s restaurant space has been reclaimed and brought in-house by Coalin Finn, a chef who helped steer Humm’s vision at Davies and Brook and who formed his bones producing whimsical creations at Pierre Gagnaire’s Sketch, and his current kitchen embodies what any good, serious one yearns to be, meeting the challenge of making the feted dining-room floor relevant once again.
Finn still works within the context of those five-star touchpoints, his line of cooks offering the promise of beluga caviar, agnolotti tossed around with smoked-pumpkin and sage, and lamb loin slicked with a little bit of anchoïade sauce, but they also shirk glamorised tropes to flirt with the edges of lust and desire – a crumpet starter is spread with a substantial showering of black truffle that fades on the tongue like premium hotel-pillow chocolate; a beef tartare, roughly chopped and folded with a bit of confit egg yolk, is flavoured with bone marrow. The prescriptive ordering that the modernist tasting menus of prior restaurants has also been removed, with the hope, instead, to move diners not with dinnertime enlightenment, but with a mission focused on provenance-led cooking and gently amplified flavours.
And, if you’re keeping score, it is all now set in what is rapidly becoming one of the most loved hospitality spaces in the city: an-art directed orchestration of highly desirable racing-green leather banquettes, slabs of Calacatta Viola marble, blocky geometric carpeting and skylights seemingly transported from the art deco. The food is washed with drinks that mix in pomello and grapefruit with St-Germain; pear with Yellow Chartreuse; and peach with Cointreau and a bit of chilli. The paintings on the walls, by Guggi, Sean Scully, and Richard Gorman, will make you feel a flicker of importance. The Parka House loaf – as shiny as moonlight on the water; softer than a Tempur mattress – keeps the beat ticking nicely.
Plateau de fruits de mer
You will, no doubt, order that crumpet and the beef tartare, and the pull of each seafood tower that is whisked past you – like in the manner of Paris’s great seafoods restaurants, Clamato, perhaps, or Le Dôme Café, there will be shucked oysters sat next to a few thick inches of langoustine and thin shreds of crab, the sweet flesh of mussels and clams, and firm, fresh scallop flashed cleanly under a knife – will be impossible to ignore. The steak is seared to a medium-rare, paired with a sauce of hard-cracked pepper and a few trimmings of truffle, and is just perfect with the purée of smooth, sweetened carrots.
And then, your longing – what many might call the male gaze – will be firmly set on the lobster, the great speciality of the restaurant, the marquee dish that has likely appeared on every Instareel within the streets that stretch from Park Lane to Soho, with the crustacean – softly grilled, deshelled, submerged in a suave sauce Américaine – arriving to the table arranged like a diver mid-air and glossy like afternoon sun on a stretch of Tuscan marble, and tasting deeply of itself.
If the final few hole punches in your belt allow, you may want to consider the figs roasted with honey and finished with a sprig of fresh mint and fig leaf ice-cream. Minimally adorned; beautifully composed.
Within the context of a hotel that is prized on its grand detailing and swathes of colour, it would be easy to stretch such a dish to its limits with whizz-kid techniques and combinations. But, all things considered, it is a virtue among the best cooks to shrug off the unnecessary and just let simplicity make a statement on its own.
- Claridge’s Restaurant, Claridge’s, Brook Street, London W1K 4HR, claridges.co.uk
- Starters from £4; mains from £36; desserts from £16
Want more restaurant recommendations? Read our review of Humo, the Mayfair restaurant where chef Miller Prada blends Japanese precision with the fiery skill of a pitmaster…
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