Editor's note. Brian Hughson has now moved to Coworth Park. As of August 2013 the kitchen is run by Freddy Pethick-Money, who was previously sous-chef here.
These days the Grill kitchen is in the hands of Brian Hughson, who previously opened Rhodes W1, and previously worked at a series of high-end London dining rooms such as Petrus and Mirabelle. The Highlanders on the wallpaper still look down and the red bedsteads above the banquettes are still here, which creates a slightly surreal atmosphere. The Highlanders look pretty grumpy, but perhaps they have seen the wine list. The menu had a limited choice set offering at £35 for three courses, but the a la carte is much pricier. Appetisers ranged from £16.50 to £29 and main courses from £19.50 for a vegetarian choice through to £55 for a whole lobster or £47.50 for grilled Dover Sole, with side dishes at £6.50 and desserts at £12.50.
The wine list had choices such as Thelema Shiraz 2006 at £49 for a wine that costs £13 in the shops, Haan Shiraz Prestige 2006 at £86 compared to a shop price of £21, while the lovely Jermann Vintage Tunina 2006 was an absurd £169 for a wine that you can buy for £32 in the shops. Mark-ups are no kinder as you climb the list: Opus One 2005 was an eye-watering £680 for a wine that costs £149 retail, and Henschke Hill of Grace 1996 was £850 compared to a retail price of £313. We drank the pleasant Torres Chilean Cordillera Chardonnay Viognier 2008 at £48 for a wine that costs about £9 retail. There are good growers on this list but the mark-up levels are egregious even for a smart hotel. Bread was made from scratch and was very good, an assortment of rolls having good texture and flavour (17/20).
An amuse-bouche of celeriac and fennel velouté was a little short on intensity but had good seasoning and fair celeriac flavour, though the fennel was a little lost (14/20). My mackerel with roast vegetables and kumquat puree had a decently cooked but tiny piece of mackerel that did not have much flavour, while the kumquat was not an obvious pairing with the fish (13/20). Spring salad with goat cheese and purple sprouting broccoli had quite fresh leaves, a slow cooked pheasant egg and a wild garlic dressing, all of which was pleasant but hardly exciting (13/20).
My main course was a quite well-made butternut squash risotto with buttom mushrooms and almonds. The rice was cooked with a decent stock and was properly seasoned, the squash flavour not too strong (15/20). Roast salmon had limited flavour but was served with an excellent celeriac puree, braised lentils and scallop foam (14/20). Mash on the side was rich and creamy, as well it might be at £6.50.
For dessert I had decent Yorkshire rhubarb where the rhubarb had been softened and prepared with enough sugar to balance the tartness of the rhubarb, served with custard parfait that for me needed more vanilla (14/20). Cheese was from Paxton & Whitfield and was in good condition (16/20). Coffee was reasonable (or at least it was when a freshly made one was brought to replace the stewed one initially presented), served with decent petit fours including a fairly moist rum baba (15/20).
Service was attentive and professional. The bill came to £89 each with one of the cheapest wines on the list (£49) and with us both taking the cheap set menu at £35, but the extras added up: £5.50 for coffee and a ludicrous £6.50 for the mash on the side. It would be easy to spend much more than this if you went a la carte or indulged in the highly marked-up wine list. The cooking overall was capable, but it is hard to see this as good value for money.
The previous, and talented, chef Aiden Byrne left the Dorchester to set up his own restaurant (Church Green Pub) in Cheshire in January 2009. The notes below are from a meal with Aiden cooking in December 2007 and are of purely historical interest.
Let’s get the decor out of the way: it is hideous. I’m not sure what the interior designer was smoking when he thought it was a good idea to have ten foot tall murals of highlanders in kilts on the walls, but whatever it is I‘d like to try some. Fortunately, the food is an altogether different matter. Aiden Byrne was head chef at Tom Aikens and has previously worked at the Commons in Dublin, so has a strong track record that soon dispels the visions of flailing kilts. So read on.
Other than the walls, the dining room design is, well, pretty odd. There is a thick blue carpet with red pattern, and the upholstery is mostly tartan, which is nothing if not consistent. Some of the chairs have what can only be described as red bedsteads behind them. That’s the last I will say on the decor.
The menu is firmly rooted in British tradition. The starters are generally the most interesting dishes, with interesting dishes still based on classic ingredients, as we shall see.The main courses are mostly very traditional e.g. Angus beef with Yorkshire pudding carved at the table. In between these hotel classics are more interesting fare, such as pan-fried line caught sea bass with red wine pearly barley. Starters are £16 - £19.50, main courses mostly £26, with a few costlier items e.g. grilled Dover Sole at £42.