Although there has been minimal media coverage of the new head chef at the Dorchester Grill since Aiden Byrne left in December, a lot has been going on behind the kitchen doors. Tom Vaughan reports
Goodbye intricate fine dining, hello smoked salmon trolley. Following a two-year accord with Aiden Byrne's complex modern cuisine, the Dorchester Grill has returned to its roots with a more wholesome, comforting menu under the guidance of head chef Brian Hughson.
Moving across from a similar role at Rhodes W1 in London's Cumberland Hotel after Byrne left to set up a gastropub in Cheshire last December, Hughson's assumption of the reins at the Grill has, for personal reasons, been fairly low key these past four months. However, it has meant that he has been able to reshape the restaurant to a more traditional grill room offering away from the eyes of the media.
"No one really knows I'm here but that's good for me," Hughson says. "It has been about settling the team down and getting the place running smoothly with the new menu."
As forward-thinking and tasty as Aiden Byrne's cuisine is, and for all the inherent boldness of trying to re-envision a traditional grill room for the 21st century, there was always an apparent overlap having it in the same corridor as the recently two-starred Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester. It meant the hotel was saturated with refined, intricate food, and lacking in heartier options - guests who had eaten Ducasse's cuisine one night might well pine for a steak or lamb chop the following evening.
Under Hughson, however, the Grill has returned to the high-end comfort food it was once renowned for. The lunch menu roast beef trolley returns to centre stage and the smoked salmon trolley has been reinstated (£19.50).
The rethought restaurant exudes the head chef's homely charm. Hughson says: "When you come to the Grill the last thing you expect is to leave feeling unfull. Some of the dishes might seem over-generous but that's my style of cooking."
Although the high prices of some dishes might deter prospective diners - on the grill menu, Dover sole is £42 and aged Welsh black rib-eye steak is £29 - there are certainly bargains to be had, such as the honey glazed ham with buttered cabbage, smoked sausage and parsley sauce for two people (£36).
In fact, one of the triumphs of the restaurant is a lunch menu that continues through to a reasonable hour of the evening. Diners happy to eat before 7.30pm - late for a pre-theatre menu - can enjoy two courses for £19.50 or three courses for a respectable £25.
Dishes include starters of skate cheeks with garlic risotto and lemon grass cream, and salad of slow-cooked lamb belly with marinated red onion and anchovy; main courses of roasted rabbit leg with pickled cabbage and fondant potato, or braised pollock with spelt and Parmesan and gravadlax sauce; and desserts such as dark chocolate mousse with caramelised white chocolate ice-cream or warm apple sponge cake with vanilla crumble ice-cream.
The principle draw of the restaurant, however, is Hughson's à la carte, which runs in tandem with head of wine Jason McAuliffe's superlative pairings. A starter of seared scallops, dusted in curry salts, with a miniature sardine pie and cauliflower purée (£16.50) comes with a glass of Austrian Grüner Veltliner "Tradition" 2005 from Schloss Gobelsburg.
Fillet of Angus beef with fried quails' egg, duck liver, braised short rib and artichokes (£30) comes with John Duval's Entity Shiraz 2006 from the Barossa Valley, while the decadent and superb mint and chocolate parfait with fresh mint sorbet pairs with a Gaillac Doux Renaissance 2002 from Domaine Rotier in South-west France.
If all of this seems a bit too pricey, diners can enjoy five tasting dishes for £45 or seven for £65 (£70/£90 with paired wines).
RETURN OF AN OLD FAVOURITE
Hughson is also set to re-introduce a one-time staple of the Grill - the dish of the day.
"This place has a huge following from people who want to talk business," he explains. "They want to come in, order the dish of the day and get on with it."
Undiscerning diners won'tnotice the changes at the Grill until they've opened the menu. The name is the same. The room is the same. The beef trolley is still there and McAuliffe is still there doing his expert thing on the floor. But that classic British fare, given a remake under Byrne, is back to its hearty roots.
ALSO ON THE MENU
The Dorchester, 53 Park Lane, London W1A 2HJ
Tel: 020 7629 8888