Pecking proverbial milk tops from fine dining establishments across the UK

Monday, 25 August 2008

Grill Room at The Dorchester, London

Park Lane, London W1K 1QA, England *

Open for Lunch Mon-Fri 12-2.30pm, Sat-Sun 12.30-3.30pm. Two Course: £19.50. Three courses: £25


Art – What is it good for? Well, amongst other things, it is very useful for working up an appetite. Having strolled around the Tate Britain in the morning the party of J, B and I made our way to the Dorchester Grill Room for lunch (£27.50 for three courses; choice of four starters, three mains and two puddings or cheese). It was a celebratory occasion worthy of such opulence: B was heading off to New Jersey on the next stage of his academic education, while J was being congratulated for his own recent success in the same field.

The Dorchester Grill Room was suitably lavish, though in a particularly idiosyncratic way that might not suit everyone’s taste. Or, indeed, anyone who has taste. Situated adjacent to the main entrance hall filled with people taking afternoon tea, you are led into a room in which all the walls have huge paintings of, well, Scottish clansmen and clanswomen in full regalia. Sadly none of these noble figures had huge ginger beards – it would have contributed to their chocolate-box look. Perhaps these were not Scottish individuals at all and rather – in the manner of the orientalist paintings in the exhibition we had come from – characters expressing their solidarity with and taste for what they perceived Scottish culture to be. The eccentricity does not stop there. Huge red chairs are dotted around the tables, sitting in which rather made one feel like an old, virile blues singer – Solomon Burke, father of however many children.

It was not going to be a cheap or moderately priced meal. A pre-lunch drink was suggested and then slightly regretted after the drinks menu offered few, if any, options under £10. £11.50 gin and tonics all round. An amuse bouche arrived: a tomato consummé with a small basil gnocchi, two small balls of mozzarella and a light sundried tomato. One of these mozzarella balls had been cooked in a manner similar to el Bulli’s liquid pea ravioli – meaning that the ball is essentially a encasement of extremely thick skin made of the consummé itself and that the ball collapsed upon impact in a hit of intense mozzarella flavour. This was a bright, pretty, flavoursome and hence very successful start (7/10).

The starter J and I had maintained the high level of cooking for a lunch menu. We sampled the fried foie gras alongside a slab of parmesan cream and caramelised onions with a parmesan and shallot ‘custard’. This dish was, if it had to be summed up in one word, ‘rich’. Two words: ‘very rich’. To the point of such richness becoming a fault? Perhaps not. The foie gras and parmesan cream, while of very similar texture – the melt-in-the-mouth variety to recourse to cliché precisely because it is entirely apt – were enjoyable partners. The only balance in texture, however, were the onions, which also provided some much-needed acidity to balance the richness of the other two ingredients (7/10). B, who seems frequently not to have much luck with these things, had a slightly less successful dish of pan-fried queen-scallops covered in a layer of thai basil and accompanied by avocado and breaded oysters. A rather colourless dish, though prettily arranged, was a mixture of delicate flavours which were the antithesis of my foie gras dish. The scallops were particularly well cooked (4/10).

For the second trip running I, along with B, went for roast beef. This was a far more flavoursome meat than Hix, though one gripe was the ignoring or perhaps combining of B’s request for his beef rare and mine medium that it arrived ‘medium-rare’. Huge, bubbly, chewy, light Yorkshire puddings were done very well, as were the crispy roast potatoes and side vegetables. I was a little disappointed with the roast which, a bit like Hix last time, was due to the distinct lack of wow factor, to use another horrible phrase (5/10). I for one was looking across rather enviously at J, whose dish of white pork belly was both more aesthetically interesting and original. The white pork was accompanied by pumpkin macaroni; next to it was pork loin with shrimp chorizo and red peppers. The meat was soft and light, and particularly salty. The peppers were cold, a combination of temperatures which did not compliment the meat (5/10).

A pre-dessert of melon soup, lime sorbet, chopped melon and tequila ice cream was, no doubt intentionally, aesthetically very similar to the amuse bouche. Aside from succeeding to cleanse the palate this little dish was delightfully well done and very pretty. Despite the very intense kick of the tequila the combination of melon and lime served well to leave one’s mouth with a clean, refreshed feel (7/10).

Dessert I had been informed and read elsewhere were the low point of the Grill Room experience. While one cannot expect too much sophistication of ingredients or technique during a lunch menu the desserts here, particularly mine, were pretty basic though not unsuccessful. I went for a strawberry ‘pavlova’ which was not quite a pavlova as much as an arrangement of fresh strawberries, strawberry jelly, little blocks of meringue and black pepper ice cream, with a few dabs of whipped cream around the plate. While the dish could have benefited from a sauce of some description, again the presentation was good and the dish itself was a light, both in terms of flavours and in terms of feeling full after a hearty roast. Black pepper ice cream is a favourite of mine and this was a pretty good example of it, though it could have done perhaps with a little more kick (5/10).

Service was polite, friendly and never intrusive though one gripe was that dishes arrived without much of a gap between them, though the pace was slowed down upon request. This was a very enjoyable meal indeed and the Grill Room deserves its recent plaudits and more