There is nothing like a drab hotel restaurant. It can be a most depressing sight. And smell. That tired, humid, warm-food-that-went-cold-at-the-train-station-buffet-type smell. Tatty chairs, tattier curtains and not much of a view other than the noisy food delivery bay.
Desolate, inevitably empty other than the sad guy reading an old newspaper, awaiting his culinary execution in the form of solid scrambled eggs or cold cuts. And that is at breakfast rush hour. Dinner? Well, the Gobi can seem more hospitable and crowded and with a better chance at healthy or tasty protein consumption.
But that was then and The Grill at The Dorchester is now. There has been a trend, a momentum even, perhaps as much as a momentous shift in the revamping, revolutionising of hotels’ own restaurants (as opposed to the big-name chefs who are brought in), more often than not known as the Grill at Some Grand Palace Hotel.
These invaluable assets have been left to gather dust for far too long and finally hotel owners have realised that those big old rooms are wasted as are. And finally in their slow-on-the-uptake way they have given up on trying to house gimmicky food adventures or spas or more shops nobody buys anything in.
They have looked to their own past glories and realised that these used to be the fulcrum of their business, the epicentre of the cities they inhabited. They /were/ the city, they made the city. The buzz, the fuss, see and be seen, love, intrigue, espionage and menages-à-trois all mingled and mashed at The Grill.
So as with the proverbial bus, they are finally all at it at once, particularly here in London. And as of now you can visit the latest in this trend, and to my mind one of the best, perhaps even the best, so far, The Grill at The Dorchester. I say ‘perhaps’ only because I need to pay it a more anonymous visit before I can bestow the full accolade.
Not that I am famous, but others in our gathering were and that may have had some distorting factor, but I doubt it – not when Alain Ducasse is involved, with his protégé Christophe Marleix running the pass and the rest of what already seemed a well-oiled team and their excellent waiters. I absolutely loved the décor and the fact that the pass is right there, but you don’t feel it is yet another ‘open kitchen’ gimmick.
The colours are warm and enticing, helping the room feel cosier, smaller than most grand hotel dining spaces are. Use every inch, said the accountant. Non merci, said Alain. Good on him and the designer Bruno Moinard for winning that argument.
The food was delightfully light and sophisticated without seeming overbearing or over-complex as I might have feared. It isn’t jumping on the minimalist wagon, staying true to some of Ducasse’s tenets and spirit. Fabulous ingredients are presented simply, beautifully but most of all recognisably.
As a consequence, you don’t feel you have to make a ‘trip of it’ type of dinner. Yes it is at The Dorchester and you might want to spruce up a bit, but that is not such a bad thing and your Angel Wife, if you have one, won’t begrudge you for it either. But it is easy enough to make it a new regular delight rather than a very occasional treat, and that is finally what The Grill should be. And what the others may wish they were.