Editor's note: in November 2021 it was announced that Claridges and chef Daniel Humm would part company at the end of 2021, based on Mr Humm's desire to change to a vegan-only menu, which Claridges did not want to do. Presumably there will be a major change in the restaurant in 2022.
Claridge’s Hotel has been running using its current name since 1856, expanding from a single Mayfair townhouse in 1812 to six adjacent ones by 1854. It installed the first working lift in London in 1896, and from 1945 its penthouse was the home of Winston Churchill following his election defeat that year. Its dining room has seen a number of high-profile chefs over the years, in recent times the kitchens being led by Gordon Ramsay (from 1996) and then Simon Rogan in the form of Fera from 2014. The latest incarnation, since 9th December 2019, is Davies and Brook, the name being taken from the intersecting pair of streets on which Claridges Hotel resides. The restaurant is notionally run by executive Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park. The chef actually cooking day to day is Dimitri Magi, the Estonian former chef de cuisine of Eleven Madison Park, who in a nice touch once cooked at Claridge's at the start of his career. Three courses from the a la carte menu were priced at £72, and there was a seven course tasting menu at £145. The large kitchen had eighteen chefs working that I could count, with an overall kitchen team of thirty. The dining room can seat 85 guests at one time, plus a further dozen in a private dining room.
The wine list stretched out over 130 pages with over 1,800 labels, so was nothing if not substantial. Sample references were Reichsgraf von Kesselstat Ockfener Bockstein Riesling Kabinett 2016 at £65 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £16, Domaine Jean-Baptiste Ponsot Molesme Rully 2016 at £78 compared to its retail price of £22, and Chateau de Fonbel 2011 at £90 for a wine that will set you back £24 in the high street. For those with the means there was Clos Rougeard Saumur Blanc Breze 2008 at £450 compared to its retail price of £247, and Angelo Gaja Sperss 2013 at £670 for a wine whose current market value is £230. It was good to see some bottles with a decent amount of age, albeit at a price e.g. Ridge Monte Bello 1997 at £710 compared to its shop price of £252.
The meal began with a marinated scallop with apple served in its shell, along with a scallop broth and a bread roll. The scallop had good natural sweetness that was nicely balanced by the apple, and even better was the scallop broth, which had deep flavour (17/20). The bread on the side was made from scratch in the kitchen and was quite interesting, looking like a regular roll on the outside but tasting more like a croissant when you bit into it.
Chawanmushi is a savoury egg custard common in Japan, full of umami flavour. The version here had silky texture and king crab as the main element to go with the custard, along with some black truffle and daikon radish. This was a lovely creation, a little umami bomb with a hint of sweetness from the crab, lifted by the fragrance of the truffle (easily 17/20). Poached lobster with butternut squash and a bisque sauce made with the shells of the lobster and flavoured with saffron. The lobster had a touch of resistance but was not by any means chewy, and the sauce had good depth of flavour (16/20).
Celeriac was cooked in a pig bladder, a technique (“en vessie”) dating back at the very least to the 1930s at Mere Brazier in Lyon, and probably well before that. The root itself was cooked just a little too long, certainly not mushy but at the far end of the texture spectrum from the ideal. However, the truffle sauce was lovely, with real flavour intensity, and rescued the dish (15/20). By comparison with the superb salt-baked celeriac with truffle sauce at The Ritz, this was good but had substantial scope for improvement.
Poussin from Brittany was stuffed with Parmesan, fennel and lemon. Unlike British poultry, which is almost uniformly drab in flavour these days, the poussin here had excellent depth of flavour and was carefully cooked. I was a bit concerned about the stuffing, but the Parmesan was carefully restrained, the fennel was excellent and the lemon was just enough to bring freshness but not enough to overpower the dish (17/20). Black cod (sablefish) roasted with Napa cabbage, miso and Kohlrabi was also unusually good. Black cod with miso was popularised at Nobu, but the version here was classier, the earthy note of the cabbage providing good balance to the slight sweetness of the naturally briny and fruity miso (17/20).
Apple doughnut was a thing of beauty, with a crisp, light coating and exactly the right level of acidity from the apple inside to balance the richness of the doughnut and its sugar. A doughnut is a deceptively simple dish but to deliver one with this level of balance takes real precision. Phil Howard used to do a fine beignet at The Square back in the day, but this was at least as good (18/20). Homer Simpson would definitely have approved of this dish. I was not enamoured with the mulled wine ice cream that came with it, but that is more a matter of personal taste than of any issue with the execution, which was fine, the ice cream having good texture.
Coffee was from Assembly Coffee in Brixton, and was very enjoyable. A simple but pleasant chocolate mint petit four came with the coffee, and at this price point perhaps some fancier petit fours might have been in order. Service was terrific, with one waitress that formerly served me at Tickets in Barcelona. We were also served by an excellent Polish waitress and a very capable sommelier. The bill came to £200 per person including plenty of wine. If you went for three courses and shared a more modest bottle of wine then a more typical cost per person might be around £115.
Davies and Brook was not quite what I expected. Eleven Madison Park has gone through a few phases in its cooking, and somehow I was expecting something flashy yet insubstantial from Davies and Brook, perhaps all presentation and theatre. Instead the dishes were quite classical, precisely cooked and very enjoyable, without a foraged herb or fermented vegetable in sight and the dishes devoid of fancy presentation. The experience was all the better for that, and Davies and Brook has a much more natural fit with the Claridge’s brand than the modernist cooking of Fera ever did. It has only been a few weeks in operation but already it seems to be cruising along, and I look forward to returning.