Davies and Brook, Claridge’s, Brook Street, London W1K 4HR (020 7107 8848). Four course à la carte: £98, wines from £38
Complaining about the prices being too high at Claridge’s is like moaning about the Pope being too religious or Rory Stewart being too annoying. It literally comes with the territory, that territory being a corner in London’s Mayfair. So let’s acknowledge that four courses at Davies and Brook, named after the two streets upon which it sits, costs £98 and move on. It’s what happens when one of London’s grandest hotels imports one of New York’s most garlanded chefs.
You are, however, entitled to raise an eyebrow when, having booked two months in advance, you are shown to the worst table in the room, a thin tableclothed strip against a narrow sofa upon which you and your companion must sit, side by side. There, dinner still costs £98. Perhaps restaurants should introduce theatre-style pricing: the lousier your seat the less you pay.
To be fair, the receptionist did look anxious when she clocked the table and offered to put us in the bar until something better became available. I declined. Although I book under a pseudonym, I’m obviously not anonymous once I arrive. But I can pretend to be anonymous, by just taking what I’m given. What will Davies and Brook feel like from up here on the mezzanine looking down on the beautiful people? At one point my companion tries to pull more of the tiny table her way. “It’s like you’re trying to steal the duvet,” I say. Our waiter laughs and says, “I like your sense of humour,” in a serious way, like Rutger Hauer in Blade Runner, just after the whole speech about having witnessed attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion.
Davies and Brook forces such epic comparisons. It belongs to Daniel Humm, chef of the three Michelin star Eleven Madison Park in New York. I ate there more than a decade ago, when it was an urban bistro serving robust, punchy food. They were famed for bringing a whole roast duck to your table prior to carving, lavender poking out of its arse. But over the years Humm has refined his cooking. Now it catches the eye of those who hand out the stars and of grand hotels looking for a USP.
Until 2018 this dining room was home to Fera, the London outpost of chef Simon Rogan of L’Enclume where the cooking is an expression of the Cumbrian landscape. The experience, while accomplished, felt disjointed here in Mayfair, where crags are in short supply. Before that, from 2001, it was Gordon Ramsay’s first hotel dining room, a place of high-gloss classicism. I reviewed both, so here I am for the third take. The room has been pared down to cool downlit greys, with artfully arranged vases of calla lilies. The ceiling is decorated with long overlaid oval recesses that a lazier critic might compare to female genitalia and in turn use as an excuse for jokes about being screwed, but I’m better than that.
It is all extremely poised, as is the cooking, which has a pronounced Asian accent. The first taster dish, presented in an antique wooden box to emphasise the profound value of the moment, is a saucer of congee, a savoury rice porridge, in a mushroom and ginger broth, overlaid with enoki mushrooms. Mushrooms play a big part in all this. Fabulous, golden-glazed brioche-like bread rolls come with mushroom glazed butter. There’s a second taster of an enoki mushroom salad, laid out in a fan. Among the warm starters, at a £10 supplement, is a king crab chawanmushi, a warm Japanese-style savoury custard over which has been laid strips of crab, black truffle and daikon radish, in a mildly glutinous sauce. Like the congee, it’s clever, if texturally challenging.
Everything is coffee-table photography book pretty. A lightly acidulated ceviche of bass arrives as a disc under rippling pieces of avocado. On the side is a deep green cucumber sauce that tastes of crustless summer sandwiches. A carrot salad, with the crunch of seeds and a quail egg yolk, as if to lubricate a steak tartare, is the best carrots can hope for. It reminds me fondly of the carotte râpée at Brasserie Zedel (price £3.75). A pearly square of turbot in a thyme-perfumed, slightly viscous broth, lies under petals of black truffle and leek. These dishes are the artworks you admire very much in a gallery, but know you could never live with at home.
Then, praise be, the clouds part and the sunlight rushes in. The main courses are simply two of the best plates of food I have been served in London in many years. My cynicism about this kind of high-altitude culinary exhibitionism drains away. Pert, perfectly cooked pieces of black cod are brushed with the lightest touch of miso and grilled. It’s what Nobu’s black cod would be if it learned some manners. There is a sweet savoury broth, and a crisp leaf of dried cabbage, with the intensity of toasted nori.
The other plate holds the evolution of that duck dish I was served so long ago. The birds are dry-aged until the meat has an uncommon depth of flavour and tension. The fat is rendered. The spice-dotted skin is crisp. To one side are curls of daikon hiding a pink rhubarb compote. Bringing it all together is a sweet-sour, blood-thickened jus that softens against the duck. Oh my. Are gastro-palaces like this worth the expense? For cooking of this quality, yes, they are. The standard stays up with a pitch-perfect cloud-like chocolate tart with coconut ice-cream; slightly less so with an apple doughnut.
The latter is exceptionally well made. It’s a sugared doughnut. What’s not to like? But I have to stifle a laugh. The apple filling, which doubtless took endless work, is an absolute ringer for a McDonald’s apple pie. The same happens with the dark chocolate leaf filled with a peppermint cream that accompanies our mint tea. Again, a skilled chocolatier must have worked for hours on this. Only to produce an over-engineered After Eight.
No matter: here is a sealed bag of chocolate and coconut granola with which to remember them in the morning. Which is nice. I pay the heroic bill, made more so by a wine list offering nothing below £38, and wander out into the night. I have eaten some show-stopping duck and cod. I have done Davies and Brook. But taken in the round, I doubt it’s something I will ever quite feel the need to do again.
French-born pastry chef Dominique Ansel made his name in New York with the cronut before, like Humm, opening in London. Alongside his bakery he’s now opened Dominique Ansel Treehouse in Covent Garden. As well as savoury dishes, the interest and the Instagram posts are focusing on desserts for two or three to share. They include a sizable bowl of chocolate mousse for £12 with your own toppings, and a sticky toffee pudding shaped like a bundt cake with a double toffee and custard sauce (dominiqueanseltreehouse.com).
The northwest-based sight-loss charity Henshaws is holding its second Dinner In The Dark fundraiser in Manchester’s Albert Square Chop House on 1 May. During the dinner, hosted by paralympian Lora Fachie, diners will be blindfolded. Tickets cost £75 (henshaws.org.uk).
In other news, London fish-and-chip group Kerbisher and Malt has put its remaining standalone restaurant on the market, but continues to operate in Market Halls, Victoria. L’Enclume chef Simon Rogan is to take the restaurant to Sydney, Australia, for a six-week residency this summer. And chef Michael Caines has closed his Devon restaurant, the Coach House, because of a “major infrastructural fault” within the Kentisbury Grange Hotel, which houses it.
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