Few hotels in the world possess the prestige of CLARIDGE’S in Mayfair, a London institution since the 1800s.
This Grande Dame has an historical aura built on the patronage of royalty, politicians, sheiks, and movie stars. Crowned heads of Europe came to Claridge’s to wait out World War II. It has glamour by the boatload. More than an Art Deco icon, Claridge’s is a Super Brand.
Up until about 20 years ago, the hotel’s main dining room was simply called CLARIDGE’S RESTAURANT. It was immensely popular, with a kitchen that turned out the finest renditions of French/British haute cuisine.
In 2000, Claridge’s closed the restaurant and cut a deal with rock-star chef Gordon Ramsay, whose self-named established lasted for 12 years. GORDON RAMSAY AT CLARIDGE’S was a big deal in its early days, but near the end of its life critics ranked it second on their “most disappointing cooking” list and named it the fourth “Most Overpriced” restaurant in London.
They fell out of bed.
Ramsay was followed by Irish born chef Simon Rogan, “the King of British Kitchens,” who opened Fera at Claridge’s in 2014, and won a Michelin star in 2015, but quickly ran out of fuel in 2018. Joanne and I dined at both restaurants, and while each was reasonably good, both were outrageously expensive…not worthy of the price.
The hotel then reached out to New York chef Daniel Humm, whose restaurant 11 Madison Park had recently been ranked first among The World’s 50 Best Restaurants. Humm opened Davies and Brook at Claridge’s in 2019 (the restaurant’s name came from the two streets that intersect at the hotel). The problem was that he opened in December of 2019, only to have COVID shut him down three months later. He managed, as most all of us did, to limp along during the difficult period that followed. But then he had a personal awakening and announced to the hotel that he was converting the entire restaurant to a STRICTLY PLANT-BASED KITCHEN, just as he had done with 11 Madison Park.
The hotel promptly posted a statement on Twitter stating, in very British fashion, “This is not the path we wish to follow.”
Suddenly Claridge’s was facing its fourth iteration of restaurants since the millennium. Some said that its turnover rate – and particularly its flirtation with celebrity chefs during the last few years – was evidence that the storied institution had lost its way.
But now, a new chapter in the hotel’s long history begins.
The restaurant that has emerged is a return to the classics – with a modern twist… and gently ramped-up flavors….the relaunch of an iconic brand, bearing the name…CLARIDGE’S RESTAURANT. Gone is the precious décor, fussy service, tweezered plating and heinous prices. Once again, the restaurant pays homage to the dazzling Art Deco of decades past, embracing its heritage rather than trying to hide it. Note the fabulous starburst skylights, the British racing green leather booths, the heroic columns and the elegant wood parquet flooring.
The new restaurant opened in September of this year. And since Joanne and I were in London in October, we just had to give it a try…a second chance, so to speak.
Entering the new space, the first thing that we noticed was the stunning dining room. It was “MAMA BEAR” – not too pompous, not too pedestrian, but just right. It felt like the restaurant that the space was crying out for. Also notable: The prices were about half those charged by the previous occupants.
On with our dinner…
2 glasses of Prosecco as the “starting gun.”
Then, Parker House rolls – pillowy soft and warm with Claridge’s lightly salted butter formed into the restaurant’s crest.
We shared a snack of skewered BBQ radishes with horseradish and teriyaki sauce. Never had that before…10 pounds.
For her first course, Joanne had a trio of plump and paunchy Fine de Claire oysters with carrot mignonette…15 pounds
I wisely chose the restaurant’s fall feature of pitch-perfect pumpkin agnolotti with crispy deep-fried sage leaves and smoked delicata squash…21 pounds
Perhaps by now the wine was talking and told me that we must have the Black Truffle Buckwheat Crumpets laced with soubise cream (a sort of onion bechamel sauce). At 14 pounds, this was an indulgent bargain.
For the main event, Joanne chose the “Freshly Caught Cornish Turbot Filet” swathed in sauce Grenobloise – ever-so-slightly tart with capers, white vinegar, lemon, garlic and butter, butter, butter.
I chose the grilled bone-in sirloin with shallot rings on top. That was a little weird. While moderately tasty, it was NOT a MANNY’S steak. Perhaps it was grass-fed or what’s becoming popular in England now: steaks from retired dairy cows. It ran 48 pounds.
We had a chance to chat with the folks at the table next to us. They seemed to be enjoying the roasted Norfolk chicken with brioche & lemon stuffing and “sauce Diable,” a rich sort of gravy made up of brown sauce, tarragon, shallots and dry mustard. They also enjoyed the Marquee dish of Softly-Grilled Native Lobster, which was completely shelled and re-assembled resting in a pool of rich, buttery sauce Americaine. Rounding out their selections was Dorset Lamb Loin with a sauce of olive oil, garlic, vinegar and anchovies. HUMM….
Anyway, back to Joanne, me and DESSERT.
Two drop-dead showstoppers: For Joanne, honey-roasted figs served with fig-leaf ice cream and fresh mint; and for dim-witted me, the calorie-laden Baked Alaska. Both were beauties!
And the staff and the service…
The team here was a far cry from the indifferent boys and girls who populate the hipper hotels. Every person we encountered was immaculately groomed, ever so discreet, and unfailingly polite.
The Evening Standard newspaper states that “Claridge’s Restaurant is rapidly becoming the most loved hospitality place in the city of London.”
And Esquire magazine says it “feels exactly like where you should be, doing exactly what you ought to be doing and eating exactly what you want.”
Joanne and I feel EXACTLY THE SAME.