One of the restaurants at the Corinthia Hotel, Northall opened in April 2011. The dining room is smart, with very high ceilings and lots of mirrors, and is carpeted so noise levels are low. Its executive chef is Garry Hollihead, who has a serious culinary background. After training under Anton Edelman at The Savoy for several years, in 1988 he won a Michelin star at Sutherlands. He was head chef at l’Escargot from 1991 to 1994. He then worked as a consultant to restaurants such as Embassy, and also worked in Dubai at the Grosvenor House hotel. Sadly he was on holiday when I visited. Perhaps if he had been present the meal would have been better.
The menu was appealing enough, with plenty of choices, all sounding like things you might want to eat. Starters ranged from £8 to £15, main courses £18 - £38, side orders of vegetables were £3.50 and desserts were £8. Coffee was a ridiculous £5.50 for either filter or double espresso. There is a Josper grill on which steaks from £28 - £38 are prepared, and there was an ambitiously priced £15 burger. The winelist had selections such as Berton Shiraz reserve 2009 at £47 for a wine that you can find in the shops for £11, Nadine Ferrand 2010 Pouilly Fuisse at £71 for a wine that retails at £19, and Chateau Pibran 2005 at £126 for a wine that you can find for £43. It can be seen that markup levels were far from kind. As is often the case in London, champagnes were marked up proportionately less than the rest of the list, with Billecart Salmon NV at £89 for champagne that you can buy in the high street for £42.
Bread was bought in, slices of white bread served warm and which had quite good texture. I asked which bakery it was from but the staff didn’t know, and despite my asking no-one ever came back with an answer from the kitchen. However, this turned out to be the best thing we ate all evening (14/20).
A starter of asparagus (£9) with cauliflower, mayonnaise and celeriac salt was surprisingly lacking in flavour, and it did not help that the dish was bulked out with tasteless (but cheap) bamboo shoots; the cauliflower for example had hardly any inherent taste at all (10/20). Scallops (£15) with pea puree had the sort of presentation that one might expect at a suburban dinner party: two small scallops, deathly white in colour, with a few julienned carrots and a splodge of pea puree. Seasoning seemed entirely absent, the peas having very little flavour, the scallops cooked all right but having no inherent sweetens (barely 11/20).
The best dish was bream with roast pepper and almond sauce and sauce vierge. The bream had reasonable flavour and was cooked fine; the tomatoes with it were tasteless, but the lemon in the sauce vierge gave a bit of acidity (13/20). Goosnargh chicken with peas and broad beans was cooked all right though its skin was flabby, but again seasoning seemed entirely absent, and the thin cooking juices were the only attempt at a sauce. The chicken had little flavour, as was the case with the vegetables, nor was the dish very hot when served. With such simple cooking you need top quality vegetables, and these simply didn’t past muster, the lack of seasoning adding to the problem (11/20). On the side, chips were fine but mash potato was lukewarm and again lacked any seasoning. We sent this back and some new potatoes came back in its place; these were fine, and being freshly cooked were at least hot.
The distinctly disappointing standard of cooking was about to get worse. Summer pudding looked all right until it was cut into, but the bread base was entirely dried out and hard, instead of being moist from absorbing the red fruits. This was far below the standard of a summer pudding that you can buy in a supermarket, never mind a good one made properly (7/20).
The service was well-meaning but not very effective. There was a long gap before a drink or menu was offered, the wrong wine was brought, and then when I tried to talk to a waiter about a problem the staff either studiously walked past, as if I was invisible, or huddled around a central station chatting to each other. Eventually when I did get a chance to point out the inedible summer pudding the waiter just walked away, and took the item off the bill. Perhaps this event happens so often here that it does not merit any attention, but surely in any restaurant worth its name the manager might have bothered to come over and inquire further? I noticed that on the next table, the steak ordered rare appeared well-done, and they sent back their chocolate dessert, so our problems did not appear to be isolated ones. The bill came to £88 a head with a good bottle of wine but no pre-dinner drinks and the one dessert taken off the bill. This is simply an unacceptable price point for food that varied between workmanlike and incompetent.